Hutton says: The short answer is: lots. Verner Panton is kind of my spirit animal. One of my first design jobs was managing a textile showroom that sold Panton’s rugs and fabrics. So, I was immersed in his world early on. One of his gifts to me and others is that he changed the way we looked at geometry, color and pattern. What could be bigger, more durable or more radical than a designer who pioneers a new aesthetic? Imagine the fugue state of walking into one of his exhibitions where you see through layers of cobalt blue, hot pink, lava orange and soft gold in crazy shapes. His work acts upon you, but also provides agency because you can pick the spot that delivers the experience you want. He designed with control, but also infinite variation and changed the way we live.
There was something in the air. Dan Flavin’s early fluorescent work paralleled Panton’s innovations. One was a minimalist fine artist and the other was a maximalist designer who pioneered what today might be called, “experiences”. To me, they were both using hallucinogenic color and light as legitimate subject matter. I’m very interested in and influenced by the lushness of these ideas.The sexual revolution was in full swing, especially in San Francisco. Free love, baby. “Free” is the operative word in what was a complex, but joyful break with the past. Panton was Danish, so he was rooted in cool classicism, but knew how to drop those expectations with pleasing results. In my way, I do that too.I feel close to Panton for other reasons, as well. His stick-to-itiveness should be an inspiration to all designers. He sketched The Panton Chair in 1956 and prototyped it in 1959. It took him eight years to convince a big manufacturer like Vitra to make The Panton Chair. Understandable, because it definitely had the shock of the new. But, it is challenging to think back to a time when this chair we love now struggled for market acceptance. Originality is closely correlated to long-term value, but getting something new out there is still challenging. Let’s just say, I feel his pain.
Panton was a utopian. He experimented with new materials, a simple geometric language and radical lifestyles as the path to a brave new world. I think we could all use a little utopian thinking in the current dystopia.
I studied sculpture and fine art so I’m very aware of color theory. As a designer I aim for delight. By temperament I’m called to moments of big social change: Paris between the wars, the 60s the 70s, the now. Panton’s groovy work is one of my sweet spots. I don’t think the eye would be used to programmable, colored LEDs without Panton’s precedents. You could say that without Panton’s vision there wouldn’t be market acceptance of the colored lights seen in every new car, home, appliance, public space...on and on.
I dived into these possibilities with a table that is part of my to-the-trade furniture collection. The Chroma Table is something I think Panton would have liked because it engages transparent colors to product both primary and secondary colors via filtered light. Like Panton, I’m interested in new materials. Many San Francisco clients are art collectors or work in technology. Both groups admire innovation and value a certain restlessness. Panton had that, too.
Another example is a guesthouse I did for Sandra Jordan, who designs the Sandra Jordan Prima Alpaca textile collection. She wanted a place for guests, but also a venue to display her full-on Latin chromatics in an expressive way. That sort of thing can be tricky, but Panton was in my mind during the project. Photo: John Merkl
For starters, the installation is big; eight colorful feet in diameter. You can see from the sketch that the window design is based on Panton’s concentric circle pattern. Like my Chroma Table, transparent colors change dynamically as you or the sun move around it. The only other elements are a white Panton Chair and a new cube table of clear acrylic filled with colored cylinders. Within this cube a formal placement of the cylinders create a dynamic color experience as you proceed. I’m getting a lot of mileage out of Panton’s inspiration; one idea portrayed at least three different ways.
The concentric circle target pattern is constructed of polished acrylic in transparent red, yellow, blue and white. I chose natural matte edges because due to some weird effect, a polished edge creates defined lines. The color layers are hung ten inches apart, which means the cohesive target geometry won’t be visible except from across the street. Anyone closer will see the exploded primary colors and dynamic greens or purples.
I think the simplicity, geometry and dynamic colors have enough mystery, impact and innovation to make Panton smile.
Event information, here.
Link to Business of Home coverage, here.
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