In the Studio with Louie Isaaman-Jones
“My dream workshop would be half indoors, half outdoors,” says Louie Isaaman-Jones, sat outside of a cafe in South East London, somewhere near an industrial estate and Millwall’s football ground. Our conversation mingles with the sounds of a big city in spring: birdsong, the rumbling of car engines, train tracks and workmen joking around on their tea break.
“I’m always bouncing between different mediums, different approaches, different fields,” says the artist, whose work can span furniture-making, interiors, gardens, and sculpture.
“I use the tools of a craftsman,” says Louie, who’s wearing a knackered and impeccably-faded Camel cigarettes cap, torn denim shorts, work boots and the Drake’s mock jumper in olive cotton, “but I’m not one. I see a craftsman as trying to master a certain subject, while I’m kind of doing the opposite. I don’t want to master the material, I want to be led by it. The classic skill of a craftsman was always about control, bending materials to your will, which is amazing, but I’d rather work with a raw piece of wood that I’ve found, or a piece of metal, the branch of a tree…”
This love of nature led, for a while, to Louie training at Kew Gardens, a reset after becoming disillusioned with an academic art residency in Holland. “I sort of realised that it’s all bollocks, or that I felt it was all bollocks. Having to over-explain every little detail. At Kew I was outdoors, alongside very practical, hard-working people. I actually ended up with a few gardening clients, I had the knowledge about garden design, but people have worked their whole lives to gain the horticultural knowledge. Out of admiration for the field, I took a step back from it.”
Earlier that morning we’d met at Louie’s nearby studio, a bright corner of a shared workshop. Inside a pair of carpenters were busy blasting wood with power tools, faces taut in concentration. “I think they find it amusing when I’m in here messing around with a branch,” he says.
For our upcoming collaboration with Sebago, Louie has crafted a series of beautiful oyster plates, which will be used at the launch event on 7th June at Drake's Savile Row. He leads us towards the casts, surrounded by hammers, materials and a handful of actual oyster shells, the natural shape and texture of which he was going to be rendering in aluminium a few days on from our meeting. It turns out that a lot of work goes into making something that appears so organic.
He runs us through the process.
“I started by producing studies out of clay and wood. It’s been a while since I’ve experimented with clay, so I wanted to make use of its different attributes. I ended up with two designs that felt strong. One was made more methodically and ended up quite clean and smooth, influenced much more by aspects of modernist design, abstract forms — the works of Noguchi for example. For the second design I chose to work more intuitively with the clay, handling it more violently to create something rough and textured. I couldn’t decided which one to cast, so I decided to do both! The rough and the smooth being a nice analogy for the sea was my thinking…”
“We then had to take the clay models and make a mould of them in silicone. From there we made a plaster copy, which would be used to produce the final pieces. The actual process of casting the plates is a method called sand-casting, which is also appropriate for the project! You basically make an imprint of both the top and bottom of the copy in this very dense, tightly packed, oily sand that’s contained within a metal box. It’s amazing how much detail it picks up."
“From there you heat the raw metal in a furnace, until it’s liquified, and then pour it into the moulds. Wait a few hours and then then remove the finished pieces.”
Back in the sunshine outside of the cafe; coffee and cans of Sprite long finished, we talk about flowers, Tottenham Hotspur being rubbish, and what he wants to do next. He’s moving to a new studio near Hackney soon. In fact, the day after our meeting. He’d love to design a person’s whole house: “garden, interior, all of it." He thinks that chairs should be uncomfortable. “Well not uncomfortable, “but rigid, they should make you sit up straight. I think a lot of higher end design is obsessed with form. I don’t care about form too much, as long as it does its job.”
“Anyway, I’m happy and content with making anything that I can. I spent a lot years sat behind a computer, feeling a bit like a dog in a cage."
“Now I’m just excited to be making stuff.”