After more than a year of conversation, design and development, in May 2014 I opened our new store at Central Embassy in Bangkok. It was an enriching, challenging, at times fraught, and eventually satisfying experience.
Working with me on the design was Victor Wong of Fastboil Paris. We were always working to create a space that emanated a sense of material sophistication and artistic expression within a well defined structure. But first and foremost we wanted to create a beautiful ‘jewel box’ in which to show the objects we make in the workshops.
I want to describe one aspect of the design - in fact the final piece of the jigsaw and the last element to be installed before the stock arrived a week before the store opened. Running along the top of the 'north' wall (the wall you face upon entering the shop) is a mural. The creation of this mural has been turning around in my head since about 2003 when I visited the De Young Museum in San Francisco with my close friends Bob and Alice Piccus, and saw some ethereal murals by Gottardo Piazzoni in a room there. They were huge, natural scenes that glowed with the sense of air and light; 'Land and Sea' as they are named. I decided that one day, when I had the time and opportunity, I would begin to work on larger decorative panels.
The lotus pond in Kyoto, Japan that inspired the mural.
So this shop was the perfect opportunity and I based the mural on a photograph I took of a lotus pond in the grounds of a temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto. This mural - in fact a triptych - sits high in the shop and is both vivid and very quiet. You will probably not see the likeness of the bent reeds reflected in the pond immediately. You might see touches of Klimt or Miro; trailing lines of gold or strange cuneiform shapes. I let the piece develop every day, adding layers of the materials we work with in search of the floating feeling of old Japanese screens; natural lacquer, gesso, gold and silver leaf and mother of pearl, trusting that the final piece would retain its own sense of time and mystery through the decisions we made during the process.
Etching the design onto gesso before applying the traditional gesso and natural lacquer.
Finally I rubbed the silver leaf in places to frame the piece in situ. It is an exceptionally technical piece in terms of the care and attention that went into planning but it seems to capture and enhance greatly the entire project with all its challenges and successes. I have to admit to standing in wonder when it was finally put in place. The triptych took about 350 hours from start to finish over 2 months. Along with the bronze columns, straw marquetry, parchment panels, polished stucco, lacquer, rough granite and gold that decorate the shop, it is the jewel in the most challenging and personal store I have ever designed and made.
Silver leaf is applied using natural lacquer and then burnished and rubbed to reveal the layers below.
Over 350 hours of craftsmanship were devoted to creating the tryptich mural.
The murals hanging in the Central Embassy, Bangkok shop.