David Wiseman Goes into the Wilderness of Decorative Arts

In today’s contemporary design landscape, David Wiseman’s reverence for the forms and stories of the natural world is refreshing, compelling, and even quite spiritual. Wiseman’s designs recall ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, in their formal precision, balancing the delicate and substantial by concentrating on the qualities of materials and techniques. He presents objects with the same subtle complexity inherent in the forms and phenomena they are inspired by, in some cases invoking a similar sense of awe.

  • Installation view of “David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament,” R & Company, New York. Courtesy R & Company and the artist.

Wiseman’s new show at R& Company, titled “Wilderness and Ornament,” highlights new works that illuminate his relationship to nature and the fantastical context it provokes. Bronze and porcelain are used to preserve otherwise fleeting moments, like the ephemeral bloom of a cherry blossom, a cracked egg, the twisted form of a lily of the valley, or a hanging hare after the hunt. A room is lined with an installation of plaster and porcelain panels, offering a fresh take on decorative bas-relief that is clearly inspired by wilderness.

The reverse is also true, as this group of works collectively conjures its own, mythical sort of wilderness. Each piece hints at being a component of a narrative yet to be glimpsed, or perhaps, solely to be imagined. Together, they comprise a thrilling aspect of Wiseman’s practice—an engagement with architecture that incorporates fantasy and storytelling for a special, holistic experience of art in space.

  • Installation view of “David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament,” R & Company, New York. Courtesy R & Company and the artist.

In advance of his new show, Wiseman spoke to Artsy about the importance of materials, his dialogue with architecture, and his fascination with the concept of the gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.

Artsy: What role does history play in your approach to objects? Do you draw upon your own experiences or emotions, or upon established decorative traditions?


David Wiseman: My process always began with my sense of wonder and awe for nature. I couldn’t help but create works that attempted to capture that awe.


I inadvertently engaged with the history of decorative arts, but not really by design. My initial aesthetic goals were simply to bring nature indoors, in thoughtful and meaningful ways, creating poetic works that celebrate the wilderness, seamlessly integrated into walls, ceilings, and functional objects. But after placing my works in homes and engaging directly with historical architectural genres, I suddenly became aware and inspired by the works’ decorative precedents. I particularly love the treasures created by the Wiener Werkstätte and traditional Japanese design.

Artsy: The exploration of materials is a big part of the decorative arts and particularly in your work.  What processes of research and investigation inform your use of materials? Do you use found elements at all?


DW: There are different inherent attributes in each material I use, and I firmly believe in the making process as a means of material investigation. Many of the objects could only have been fashioned after spending hours grinding bronze, homing in on the specific surface treatments that I believe brought out the extraordinary beauty within the material.


Discovering a quality in the material isn’t enough—my real challenge is not only in understanding how to harness attributes within the material, but applying it to a concept that is worthy of the beauty within the material itself.


I use found objects all the time, but all are manipulated in some way or another to bring out a particular quality. Some examples are the vintage bead chains on all of my “Glacier” lights. They came from a warehouse in Rhode Island—overstock from some long forgotten jewelry manufacturer that I then patina in different metallic tones and bend to accommodate the electrical cables. When stacked as a chain, I love how the organic teardrop quality and the rhythm of colors contrasts with the precision of the facet-cut crystal. Other examples are the buds, branches, and blossoms that I come across on walks that are then cast in various different media.

  • Installation view of “David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament,” R & Company, New York. Courtesy R & Company and the artist.

Artsy: What would your ideal commission be?


DW: I would like to realize my dream of the gesamtkunstwerk—the total work of art, where every facet of a room is considered and part of one singular expression. For my show at R & Company, I created an entrée toward that dream—a paneled plaster and porcelain room. Applying this idea to a larger public space like a concert hall, opera house, or theater with the same intensive level as previous generations have done would be my ideal.

  • Installation view of “David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament,” R & Company, New York. Courtesy R & Company and the artist.

—Honora Shea

David Wiseman: Wilderness and Ornament” is on view at R & Company, New York, May 11–Jun. 25, 2015.

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