Frag­ile beauty

MEL­BOURNE DE­SIGN STU­DIO PORCE­LAIN BEAR CEL­E­BRATES THE CON­TRA­DIC­TORY AS­PECTS OF A RO­BUST YET RE­FINED MEDIUM.

VOGUE Living Australia - - In Memoriam - by AN­NEMARIE KIELY

There’s a ce­ramic white bear sun­bathing on the sill of a Mel­bourne show­room that ob­jec­ti­fies the brand iden­tity of its busi­ness, Porce­lain Bear. It’s an in­ci­den­tal, eas­ily over­looked ana­logue for both the at­tributes of the com­pany’s de­signer-di­rec­tors and the base ma­te­rial with which they work. “Clearly we are bears,” says Gre­gory Bonasera, in beard-stroking ac­knowl­edge­ment that both he and his cre­ative part­ner, An­thony Ray­mond, are hir­sute and hug­gable. “But the po­lar bear is also the per­fect me­taphor for porce­lain. He is white, ro­bust and strong, an adapt­able species that sur­vives; both beau­ti­ful and frag­ile.” And adapt­abil­ity in a fast-chang­ing world has whipped the ‘Bears’ — mak­ers of time­less ce­ramic lights and fur­ni­ture — into a re­cent frenzy of ren­o­va­tion (the show­room’s switch to pitch), rein­tro­duc­tion (key pieces have been honed to an essence) and a rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion of tra­di­tional form (new fur­ni­ture pays homage to the Paris train sys­tem). “Métro sounds so much sex­ier than the fast-food sug­ges­tive Sub­way,” says Bonasera of the ep­i­thet given to a se­ries of ta­bles fea­tur­ing bev­elled-edge mar­ble slabs perched on podi­ums of porce­lain brick that bring to mind the tiled vaults of the Paris un­der­ground. “You’ll no­tice the ta­bles have a shadow-line pro­file at the top, al­low­ing the stone to trans­mit light while seem­ing to float.” Pre­sent­ing in three func­tional variations (din­ing, cof­fee and oc­ca­sional) in two mar­ble op­tions (Pi­etra Gri­gia or Giallo Si­enna) on porce­lain podi­ums glazed in basalt, gloss black or nat­u­ral, the se­ries re­mains true to the spirit of its prece­dent. It is two-parts turn-of-the20th-cen­tury in­dus­try and one-part Gal­lic shrug, the French ges­ture of dis­re­gard for what oth­ers are do­ing in a dy­namic de­sign that moves you. There’s also a soupçon of Mem­phis — the Post­mod­ern Ital­ian move­ment that mashed up his­tori­cism and pop cul­ture in the 1980s — a sly ref­er­ence that Bonasera ac­knowl­edges with a nod. Th­ese retro-fu­tur­ist beau­ties float in a black-as-pitch show­room that has been restyled by the Bears to bet­ter high­light porce­lain’s off-white pig­ment. Ray­mond in­forms that they hand-laid the floor with re­pur­posed fence pal­ings “into a ridicu­lously dif­fi­cult her­ring­bone pat­tern that we won’t be do­ing at home any­time soon” and matched its weath­ered com­plex­ion to walls painted in the suit­ably griz­zly Du­lux shade, Waza Bear. In this depth­less space, the Bears have cre­ated leg­i­ble di­men­sion with a cur­tain of slip-cast porce­lain links that clink with a res­o­nant re­minder of the time taken to forge the ex­tra­or­di­nary in­te­rior fea­ture. “It’s all about re­tain­ing our de­sign DNA while al­low­ing for evo­lu­tion,” says Bonasera, with a Dar­winian ac­knowl­edge­ment that small adap­ta­tions mean sur­vival. “We won’t ever change our aes­thetic be­cause it is who we are, but we will hone and re­fine.” And this re­fine­ment de­liv­ers a black-on-black punch in an ad­ja­cent room, where two new lu­mi­naires — the ‘Bi­dent’, a buck-shot weighted brass-arm chan­de­lier with fea­ture porce­lain sleeves, and the ‘Spi­der’, a 10-leg mu­tant that has seem­ingly sur­vived a nu­clear melt­down — shine new light on a de­sign legacy that dates back nearly three decades. “We de­cided to blow­torch the floor,” says Bonasera of the fin­ish needed to com­plete this pic­ture of post-apoc­a­lyp­tic night. “We just love the vis­ceral na­ture of it, the un­even­ness of tex­ture that says handmade.” And it’s this com­mit­ment to push be­yond the pre­scripts of ‘pre­cious­ness’ that has placed this de­sign duo at the apex of their species. Just like the Arc­tic gi­ants who lend them me­taphor and mas­cot, th­ese Porce­lain Bears are the masters of their do­main. Visit Porce­lain Bear at Den­fair, at the Mel­bourne Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre from 2–4 June; porce­lain­bear.com.

Pho­tographed by DEREK SWAL­WELL

Porce­lain Bear’s por­fo­lio of fur­ni­ture and light­ing in­cludes the ‘Métro’ cof­fee ta­ble in porce­lain and mar­ble, porce­lain box with 24-karat gold hand, Ar­chi­tect’‘ fruit bowl, ‘Métro’ plinth, ‘Porce­lena’ beaker, ‘Mili’ bowl, ‘Doc’ vase and ‘Cloche’ pen­dant.

from top: de­tail of the ‘Bi­dent’ lu­mi­naire, a solid brass con­struc­tion in an aged bronze fin­ish sealed with beeswax. Porce­lain Bear founders Ray­mond (left) and Bonasera.

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