Khai Liew, designer, Bruce Nuske, ceramist, Bruce [cabinet on stand]. From the Collec+tors series, 2010. Collection Art Gallery of South Australia. Gift to the Collec+tors Appeal through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation, 2012. On display, AGSA, Adelaide. In early 1972, Khai Liew was a struggling university economics student in Adelaide and, like many students, he needed to furnish his shared rental house. He began frequenting secondhand furniture shops, but what began as a necessity turned into a consuming passion.
He began to buy, collect and conserve dilapidated colonial furniture. Once restored, the furniture was sold in a shop he had established. He found this venture infinitely more interesting than his previous job working late nights as a waiter to pay for university.
As it turns out, one of his earliest customers was Ron Radford, who had arrived in Adelaide in 1980 as curator of Australian painting at the Art Gallery of South Australia. About 10 years later Radford became the gallery’s director, and in 1995 he took a “leap of faith”.
Though Liew was not a designer, Radford commissioned him to design the new furniture for the gallery’s extensions.
As Peter Ward says in his book Khai Liew, Radford was so confident of Liew’s ability to design that he was prepared to put his judgment to this critical test.
Radford’s belief was the beginning of Liew’s career as a designer. Since then, Liew has taken on high-profile commissions such as the bedroom furniture for Sydney’s Admiralty House, the governor-general’s residence, and a private commission of designing all the furniture, including rugs and lamps, for the Sydney home of art collector Judith Neilson. He is also one of the artists in the Adelaide Biennial (until June 3) and one of the design team shortlisted for Adelaide Contemporary, the new art gallery planned for North Terrace.
American white oak, porcellaneous stoneware, graffito decoration 130cm x 212cm x 50cm