Jack Craig’s Low-Tech, Primal Approach to Design
Jack Craig arrived at design later in life, after working as an electrical engineer and developing stealth technologies for the U.S. Navy. An element of scientific rigor remains ingrained in the Detroit-based designer’s practice; Craig looks at his studio as a laboratory, where countless experiments and material studies lay the foundation for new forms. “It’s a compulsion to do it differently—building and rebuilding,” he explains. “I like beginning this way because it is exactly that—a beginning. It’s going back to an origin point where you’re just reacting to basic material phenomena.”
This methodology is fundamental in Craig’s signature PVC series—on view this week as part of Johnson Trading Gallery’s new pop-up group exhibition—which involves not only repurposing but completely transforming the piping material. “I think of the PVC work as kind of primitive. It is a modern material that has no precedent,” he notes. For these works, Craig uses a surprisingly low-tech process. First, he explains, “the pipes are spun on a lazy Susan while heating them with a propane heater, then hand grappled into shape” around a stone disc. The resulting forms—fluid hybrids of ancient and modern materials—suggest strange archaeological samples.
His approach to design takes us back to the fundamental moment of encounter between man and matter. Craig says he is doing “what humans have always done—reacting to an alien environment and finding ways for it to perform. This means discovering methods for things to be structure and then for that structure to perform a simple function.”
In the show, Craig also introduces a new series of works—a table and bookshelf—inspired by his travels to Perge, an ancient Anatolian city on the coast of Turkey. Responding to the building technologies he observed in the ruins, where channels were cut in stone blocks and filled in with molten iron to hold the stones together in wall formations, these new works study the structural relationship between bronze and concrete. In each iteration, a concrete armature is spontaneously covered in intricate bronze splatters. “The use of metal in this case is inverted, expressed as an exoskeleton,” he explains, “they are essentially molten 3D structural drawings, done in place, glob by glob. The line work cools as quickly as it is laid in place, solidifying as a load bearing armor and housing impromptu masses made permanent.”
Throughout his work, Craig explores ways of overturning the expected use of common materials. The materials themselves ultimately dictate his design vocabulary, but they always exist as “extreme versions of themselves.” He coaxes out a new language that is simultaneously real and synthetic. “There are two types of sci-fi portrayals of the future—the hospital clean, sleek, shiny metal robots and bubble domes, and then the techno, dirty, sexbot underbelly. It’s pretty clear I’m not the clean one.”