Interview: Mattia Bonetti
Between James Barron and Mattia Bonetti
James Barron: Let’s start with the fabulous Pliniana Table. How did you get the green in the travertine?
Mattia Bonetti: Travertine is a stone that comes from Rome, and it’s a kind of marble. It’s full of holes, and when you want to give it more resistance, you have to fill in the holes. Usually people fill it up with a matching color. When I saw this travertine, I thought, “why can’t we give it some color for a change?” We produced this table in several different colors: black, blue, and green, and we could do red.
JB: This seems to be part of part of your process, just to say, “why not?” And you don’t seem to edit your ideas; you follow the spontaneity. You start a process and try it different ways, and then later on you’ll decide if you like it, instead of just stopping.
MB: Yes, for example, I made a table for a client in Florida, and I used the same technique, but I mixed up several colors. It’s funny, because it’s a very sculptural table, this outdoor dining table. It’s made in three pieces, two legs and the top, and I mixed up the colors for the top – it’s something that one can really play with.
JB: So did you play like this when you were a child? Were you always making things?
MB: Yes, I was imagining stuff. Always impossible things made on paper.
JB: What happens when you make a piece? You draw things out, and you have a team of people that you work with, and then you play with the ideas?
MB: I have a team that consists of myself and my assistant. Then we have a number of makers and artisans. Some are just one person; others are small companies of 10 to 12 people that make all of this by hand. With this table for example, the base was first made in wicker. Then we took a mold of it, and it was eventually cast in bronze, along with the [Pliniana] chairs. I like wicker, and I thought, why don’t we make wicker from another material?
JB: There seems to be a sort of perverse humor, even in the weight. When I first saw these chairs I thought, “Okay, I’m going to lift one up,” but they’re really heavy! It seems like you enjoy that reaction. Now, do you see yourself as Italian or a Parisian designer, because of your background?
MB: I don’t know anymore. I could be both. I think I’m made of both.
JB: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Do you look at forms in nature often?
MB: Yes, nature is certainly one of my most prolific sources for shapes, colors, and ideas.
JB: So you’ll find a piece of coral and start playing with the form – you riff on the idea.
MB: Yes, but also art, of course, from antique to contemporary. I also look at other cultures. Most of the time there are several inspirations that go into one object.
JB: And it just goes through various permutations? Let’s say we’re talking about the Clouds Console. Did you try that in wood before it became bronze?
MB: Usually I start by sketching a piece by hand. Then we do technical sketches on the computer, and in a case such as this, we do small scale models. Then at some point I go to specialized people who enlarge the scale model to the real size. Once they’ve gotten the general shape, I go there and work with them on the last stage, because I want to touch it. I’m never totally happy with what they do at first – I have to get my hands on it. It’s very important, and the more the pieces are sculptural, the more I need to be there.
JB: And tell us about the Meander Coffee Table.
MB: The idea really came from writings. Scribblings. I thought, “I can make this into something very visual, something graphic.” Then I decided to make the top transparent, because I wanted you to be able to see the whole thing – the whole sentence. People really seem to like this table.
JB: It’s also nice with the LeWitt Squiggly Brushstrokes, isn’t it?
MB: It’s fantastic! They really work well together. It’s like they were made for each other. It [Squiggly Brushstrokes] is a beautiful piece.
JB: Your lights are interesting as well. The Hyacinth Lamp could also go on the ceiling, right?
MB: Yes, and that piece exists in different versions. This one has five trumpets, but there’s also a version with three and another with one, that way people can play around with them. The idea was that people can choose between five lights, or five mirrors, or one light and four mirrors – they can basically order it any way they want.
JB: It seems like “play” is really one of the key words in your work. You’re playing, and you want the person who owns the object to play with it, to feel a sense of playfulness.
MB: Yes, and I also like pieces that can be integrated into what’s already there – into the environment. I really like a mix: pieces from different countries, different periods, different materials, different colors.