"The enamels are exactly the meeting point between the Sottsass designer and the Sottsass artist."

Enamelled copper tondos, 1958

Enamelled copper vase on wooden base, 1958
Enamelled copper vase on wooden base, 1958

Pastel on blueprint, 1958
Pastel on blueprint, 1958
Ceiling lamp for Arredoluce, 1957
Ceiling lamp for Arredoluce, 1957
Elea 9003 computer for Olivetti, 1958
Elea 9003 computer for Olivetti, 1958
Sottsass own apartment in Milan, 1959
Sottsass own apartment in Milan, 1959
Anodized aluminum bowls for Rinnovel, 1955
Anodized aluminum bowls for Rinnovel, 1955

You now, how we like the early work of Ettore Sottsass (1917 - 2007). The guru of the Italian design worked in 1950s in the style of the specific colorful modernism on the edge of the period organic design and new creative attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s. This Sottsass work of the 1950s is very rare to see and is highly collectible now.

Now you can see it in Rotterdam, where is held the exhibition of artists`s objects in enamel, which he created in 1958. The exhibition is held until 1st May 2011. Called Enamels 1958, the show is curated by Fulvio and Napoleone Ferrari from Casa Mollino and is currently being held at the Kunsthal Rotterdam and features over 100 objects and drawings of his form studies with enamels from 1958.

We asked our friends Fulvio and Napoleone Ferrari from Casa Mollino to make a short interview about the exhibition, as well as about Sottsass work of 1950s. Here is it...

What about is the exhibition in Rotterdam Kunsthall exactly? What is the curatorial concept?
This group of objects is well representative of Sottsass work of the 1950s, a moment in which he was both an architect and a painter. The enamels are exactly the meeting point between the Sottsass designer and the Sottsass artist.

Is it the traveling exhibition?
The exhibition started in summer 2010 at Kulturhuset, Stockholm, and will travel. At the moment there are not yet fixed scheduled museums for the future.

What do visitors see there exactly?
The exhibition in Rotterdam brings together about 70 vintage plates and vases in enamel and wood, and about 40 original sketches and technical drawings hand painted by Sottsass.
The enamel works date from an exhibition in the "Il Sestante" gallery in Milan from November 1958, and further limited production by the gallery.

What is the typical for Sottsass enamels? What is the difference from his another work?
The technique makes them peculiar, while the idea behind them is in the line of Sottsass research work of those years.
The peculiarity of enamel consists in its vitreous nature which gives to colors a thickness, a material consistency. Colors are for this reason deep colors, not flat colors on a flat surface. Enamel is cooked in the oven at around 1000 degrees, each color at a different temperature. Originally the enamel is a powder, which before cooking in the oven has a different color from the final one. There are also impurities in the material, which after cooking, sometimes comes out in strange and impredictable effects. Enamel involves a very skilled artisanal work. Sottsass surely loved all these qualities and the magic that is involved in the process of making enamel.

What are the true moments of these pieces? In which point or idea is their artistic power?
In a way we can assimilate the enamel work to abstract painting, but in a particular sense. Sottsass was very intrigued by primitive civilizations and their ability in creating powerful symbolic systems of drawings and decorations and paintings. Like totems. Very often these symbologies refer to cosmological signs. Sottsass studied these antique civilizations and throughout all his life visited their ruins all over the world. He was fascinated by creating a universal language acting on human beings as the wind does, or the stars in the sky, or the aurora, the snow, fire, a tornado, the forest...
Sottsass had always been very conscious in not making design simply a matter of function but a mean to place "man" inside, in contact, with the universe. In his own words he is looking to create objects that "make a person feel alive, that suggest ideas and action, explain the past and the future, instruments and things that one can look at or use, with which is possible to live together".

What do you think? How important is this part of the Sottsass work for his later period and whole life?
There are several shapes or symbols that Sottsass will use for the rest of his life and work. For example that kind of red star on a plate or the shape of a particular wooden base.
When he was young he built up a vocabulary that he kept using.

Do you see in this work something like the predecessor of his postmodern period?
In the sense I was saying above, anyone of these little enamel vases is conceived as a totem just as Carlton bookcase is, for example. And then the use of colors is fundamental, even if the palette of colors is different, they are used in the same way, as an alphabet to define and give meanings to objects.

The Sottsass work of the 1950s is very interesting, but quite unknown. Can you mention another Sottsass design from this period?
Sottsass designed the first Italian computer for Olivetti company in 1958, for which he won the Compasso d'oro prize. His lamps for Arredoluce are also a significant project of those years. In the 1950s Sottsass began designing ceramics, the most consistent part of his work, for over 50 years he will design far over 1000 different vases.

And what about Sottsass work for the company called Rinnovel? Can you tell us what is it exactly?
Rinnovel was an Italian company based around Milan. In 1955 Domus published an article with aluminum objects (vases, bowls, boxes, little tables) produced by Rinnovel and distributed on the American market by a company called Raymore, owned by Richard Irving, a man who aimed at renewing and making "Modern" the design of objects for the house and that already commissioned Sottsass the design of ceramics, which where also produced in Italy.
The serie of aluminums make use of anodization to bring colors into the objects, their style can be put in relation with the "Spatialism", a movement of which Lucio Fontana was the most eminent protagonist in Milano, but for Sottsass also the ideas of Antoine Pevsner could be considered a strong reference.

Ettore Sottsass made some very nice interiors and reconstructions in Milan and Torino in 1950s. Does something exist in original state now? Can we see his furniture from the period somewhere? In some museums and so on?
Don't think that anyone of his interiors still remains, but it would be a beautiful surprise to find one. The publications on Domus magazine are the best sources to know his 1950s work. Some furniture were sold at auctions in recent years. It is a very rare work. Beaubourg in Paris owns some pieces.

And what about you? You are specialist on Carlo Mollino most. Are there some other your interests except Mollino and Sottsass?
Beside Carlo Mollino who takes the large majority of our work, and Sottsass, we are interested in Italian postwar design in general with some specific argument, as for example the furniture of Gabetti & Isola or the Italian lightings of the 1960s, to which we devoted studies and publications in the past.

Do you plan some exhibitions or another projects into the future?
The next most important project is a Carlo Mollino retrospective exhibition we are helping to organize at Haus der Kunst in Munich, for the period September 2011-January 2012.


Photos by Enzo Asaia, Courtesy of Kunsthal museum and Casa Mollino