I can't remember whether I spotted Bobby Silverman at the ICFF or if he approached me, but either way, we ended up having a nice conversation for some time about his work. I definitely think his booth was visually arresting. His Brooklyn company is called Alsio Design, and he's doing some fantastic ceramics.
He told me his work is a lot about experimentation. He's playing around with a process where he fires the tiles twice with two different colors of glaze, to see how they'll interact. In my opinion, he's getting some incredibly beautiful, uncommon results. But he's also an artist, not just an artisan. That is to say, he's doing somewhat conceptual things with his work, as well.
First, here are the tiles labeled with their colors:
Here's the word "Red" translated into bar code:
And the word "Red" translated into Braille:
He's doing a lot of interesting things with Braille, which is thought-provoking on a couple of different levels. The most obvious is that the text is the word for a color, something of which a person blind from birth could have only the most abstract or symbolic understanding. But Braille is a language that invites, even demands touch. I didn't happen to touch the tiles, as far as I can remember, but I believe they do have some bit of a relief texture. So these could potentially be read by someone who reads Braille. It's sort of interesting to think that someone who can't actually see the tiles could be made aware of what color they are, especially if a number of tiles of different colors were used together in some interesting or meaningful pattern.
Most deeply, it's the idea of touching them at all. Tile is not something that typically encourages touch. It's usually a hard, glassy surface without any particularly appealing texture. Radiant flooring is often employed to mitigate its seemingly icy temperatures. To call attention to this in the very design of the tile is ingenious. I suppose this is somehow related to some of the things I was saying about web design in a previous post, but who knows?
Silverman has also done some wonderfully poetic things with this, as well as conceptual. Here's a quote of William Butler Yeats translated into Braille:
Only God, my dear, could love you for yourself alone and not your yellow hair.
This is a quote of the artist/ designer Andrea Zittel:
Ambiguity in visual design ultimately leads to a greater variety of functions than designs that are functionally fixed.
This is especially cool because it is ambiguous. That is, perhaps more than the simple Braille "Red" (or perhaps less, I can't quite be sure), it might be obvious to the random observer that this says something...or at least that it's more than just a pattern of abstract marks. But very few people will be able to read it, which would make this a great conversation piece. Here in the detail shot you can see the glazing up close:
Is it just me, or is the tile smiling at me?
My favorite of the contexts he shows for his tiles were these very large ones installed poolside for a house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:
Allowing the ivy to surround them was a fantastic idea, and I think this is so dramatic and beautiful. He did tell me that because the work is so time intensive, the tiles can be somewhat expensive, especially these large ones which can so much more easily crack in the kiln. So I started brainstorming. I wondered if the majority of the wall couldn't be tiled with a much simpler (less expensive), single-glazed matching red tile, with the more artistic double-glazed ones at isolated places. He thought about this and said "yes," and asked me if I'm a designer. I told him I'm a writer, but of course, if I'm going to do this at all properly, I kind of have to think like a designer. And that's easy enough. I'm constantly imagining all the incredible things I'm going to do when I win the lottery...or Architectural Record calls to offer me that ten-year contract. I should be around this afternoon, Architectural Record.
Before we parted ways, Silverman gave me this very cool little tile/ business card.
I think now that this post is finished, I'll find a special place for it in my bathroom.
©2010, Ryan Witte