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Ettore Sottsass

Ettore Sottsass was one of the leading members of the Memphis Group founded in 1981 with a group of recently graduated designers and journalist Barbara Radice as public relations/art director. The group's main aim was to revive Radical Design. The products created by the Memphis group included limited production creations of unusual objects and functional designs. Most products featured plastic laminate surfaces, bright colours and bold patterns.

Sottsass and the Memphis Group were making a political statement. They attempted to break down the barriers between high class and low class. To some, this concept was alien but to others it offered freedom.

The Austrian-born designer Ettore Sottsass has been described as ' a forward-looking designer who is also mischievous! He began his career by studying architecture at the famous Turin Polytechnic. He was a student there from 1935 until 1939. Sottsass proved to be a talented student who wrote articles on art and interior design together with the Turin designer Luigi Spazzanpan.

On leaving college Sottsass joined the Italian army from 1942 until 1945. After the war he worked for a group of architects before setting up his own Milan based office 1947, which he called the Studio.

After a brief spell in America working for the office of George Nelson he returned to Italy and was given the position of Artistic Director of 'Poltronova'. Sottsass experimented with the new material fibreglass and used it to develop contemporary furniture and lighting.


Fibreglass furniture for Poltronova in 1970.


In 1958 Sottsass worked as an industrial designer for 'Olivetti'. He designed a variety of products such as calculators and typewriters. Some of these products, such as the 'Logos 27 calculator' and the 'Valentine typewriter' were very well known products at the time. His greatest accomplishment whilst at 'Olivetti' was the design of the mainframe computer 'Elea 9003' for which he given the coveted Compasso d'Oro award. Sottsass's influential designs helped launch Olivetti into the world of Italian industrial design

Sottsass's versatility gave him the ability to design and create products in a variety of very different materials. Sottsass became interested in ceramics and began designing ceramics for the New York dealer William Hunter. In 1961 he travelled to India and on his return he designed a number of ceramic pieces inspired by Eastern forms and transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is a form of philosophy where it is required to meditate in silence in order to detach oneself from the everyday problems and anxiety.


A ceramic teapot made by Sottsass in 1969.
 

Sottsass exhibited a series of photographs titled 'Whipped cream memoirs'. These photographs visually documented ''Swinging London''. Following this exhibition he toured and lectured at a number of British Universities. In 1968 Sottsass was awarded an honorary degree by the Royal College of Art, London.

In 1972 Sottsass created a ''House Environment'' for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The room consisted of a series of grey fibreglass containers comprising of such things as cookers, sinks, dishwashers, showers, toilets, storage, seating, beds and wardrobes.

In 1976 Sottsass was asked by the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, New York to exhibit a series of his photographs of architecture in both desert and mountain environments. In the same year the 'Design Centre in Berlin' organised a major exhibition of his work, which was eventually shown in Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Jerusalem and Sydney.


Casablanca sideboard. This was one of the pieces created by Sottsass and featured in the first Memphis Exhibition in 1981.


As well as co-founding the interior design company 'Sottsass Associati' with fellow Memphis members, Sottsass undertook several architectural projects in America, Japan, Austria, America and Italy.

Sottsass designed metalware, glassware and furniture for the Memphis Group until 1985 and eventually disbanded the group in 1988.

Throughout his remarkable career Sottsass drew inspiration from a variety of sources such as popular culture, other cultures and of course his own travelling experiences. His work was colourful and humorous in contrast to the black, modern products of the 1980's. It could never be accused of being bland and dull. In the 1970's he was a leading figure of the 'Radical Movement' and played a very important role in 'Post Modernism' in the 1980s.

In 1994 the 'Centre Georges Pompidou' held a major exhibition of his work covering a career lasting over forty years.

'I don't understand why enduring design is better than disappearing design...' Ettore Sottsass.

 

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