“For me, there is energy and nobility to sculpting and casting metal, a feeling only achieved when making things by hand,” says artist and designer Michael Aram. Thirty years ago, he left New York City and packed his bags for India.
This year is a milestone as it marks 30 years since I took what would become a life-altering journey,” says Michael Aram on his website. “It was a trip which would impact me both personally and creatively. In 1989, I left the life I knew as a young artist living in New York City and packed my bags for India to set up a second home and workshop.
“There I discovered traditional metalworkers forging everyday objects in the most extraordinary way. Humbled by their talents, I observed their processes and techniques and began to work alongside them. My thought was to create functional objects with decorative and artistic design.”
Aram is an American artist who has dedicated his career to craft-based design. Inspired by a trip to India at age 25, he established a second home and studio there, where he continues to draw creative inspiration today. His work can be found here at Maison Haim.
“I was drawn to working in metal since I loved the ability to forever capture spontaneous gestures through the casting process,” Aram writes. “For me, there is energy and nobility to sculpting and casting metal, a feeling only achieved when making things by hand. To this day, I remain in awe of the skill and dignified humility with which these craftsmen approach their work. The pieces we make together reflect that energy and collaboration between artist and artisan.”
Trained as a painter, sculptor and art historian, Aram has applied his diverse background to the decorative arts. Lyrical and often witty, his work encompasses a wide range of media and reveals a rich source of inspiration: nature, mythology, narrative storytelling and purified form. His work is also a celebration of craft and age-old hand working traditions. It is the enduring fusion of originality, narrative and craftsmanship that has become his hallmark.
Fascinated with the richness of the living crafts tradition which he discovered on his first trip to Delhi, Aram would seek out craftsmen in the old city by listening for the sound of metal being beaten and by searching for the aroma of baked molasses, a signal of the sand-casting process. The artisans he encountered were making ordinary objects such as buckets, shovels and scissors, but for Aram their traditional techniques were extraordinary. He spent countless hours observing artisans as they made things the same way families had made them for centuries. Touched by the talent and humility of these gifted artisans, Aram set up a studio in India. Today, over 200 artisans work alongside him in his workshop there.
Aram is inspired by his surroundings and often makes sculptures of “objects that might otherwise be overlooked in the everyday”. Nature is his biggest muse, as is the handmade process. His work “combines the imperfections innate in the handmade process with the perfectly imperfect beauty of nature to create objects that reflect humanity”. Many of his pieces are ingrained with a rich storyline, inherent symbolism and deep-rooted meaning. Sometimes his work is simply an exploration and celebration of the handmade process. Highlights of an exclusive interview for Prestige Living:
What inspired you to become an artist and designer?
Ever since I was a child, I loved to make things by hand. Since the only people I knew who made things were artists, it was natural for me to want to study art. I suppose if I weren’t an artist perhaps I would design buildings or other things.
What do you think is the secret to great design?
I feel there needs to be a strong connection between your heart, your eyes and your hands. I was on a design jury, and it was very funny looking at other people’s work with a critical eye. Like the tables were turned. Sometimes it feels that what gets labeled good feels arbitrary, but then there is always a special feeling to things which “work”.
How do you think ideas about luxury have changed since you started, and how would you describe your own style?
I think the concept of luxury is so subjective today. For me, luxury is associated with freedom. Freedom not to care, freedom to be comfortable, freedom to make your own rules. I think that in the past “luxury” may have had a deeper material connotation, which is still valid, since naturally we still love quality and having the very best.
How did you become inspired by the Indian crafts tradition?
Being from NYC, I did not grow up seeing living crafts traditions around me. Instead, everything had a more “mass produced” quality. I feel there is something powerfully inherent in objects made by hand.
Where do you work – in your office, on planes? What does your office look like, by the way?
I have an office and studio here in NYC and also a separate office and workshop in India. My NYC office is full of art and antiques and is a total mess. The India office is much neater, and there are always different works in progress on my table. I think that I design wherever I am, but honestly, when I am in the workshop, designing just becomes more fluid.
How good are you at giving direction or delivering criticism?
I suppose you would have to ask them… I like to think that I am guided by kindness, and feel like I try to be diplomatic. However, at the same time, I have what I call my “truth serum” moments, which are when I just say it like it is. I think both are invaluable.
Do you have to be a bit of a psychologist or a psychiatrist to keep clients happy?
Absolutely. I always say that nobody wants to be left behind or not be considered. We also have to be grateful to have our clients and for the work that they give us. I think it is important to listen always and learn.
What are the best and the worst things a client can do when choosing and working with an interior designer?
I feel that any client who decides to work with a creative professional must do their homework and study the portfolios of the designer. If you are passionate about their work, then it is a good fit. If not, best to work with someone else.
How has the rise of the internet, e-commerce and social media affected your life and your work?
None of us could have imagined how much our lives would be affected by the internet. We think back to cell phones, answering machines, fax machines, etc. with such a sense of nostalgia today.
It is hard to fathom the world that is now at our fingertips. You know you are in trouble when your 6-year-old tells you “Just Google it Dad!”. It is fair to say that knowledge is power, and that the internet has given us all a lot of power to know things and to make informed decisions. It has also allowed us to gather information with very minimal effort. My hope is that we will hold on to things in our lives which are important to us. Things which gave us pleasure and meaning.
The growth of e-commerce has had a huge effect on retailing. How do you see the future of furniture retailers? What do they need to do to attract customers into their showrooms?
This is a good question. I think perhaps they can lure customers into their showroom for the touch and feel experience, which is so valuable. Also, with a great sense of customer service and education. Of course, I think added technology would also be valuable in the retail showrooms.
What has doing business overseas taught you about interior style tastes in other cultures – especially in Asia?
I think that at a certain level there is an “international aesthetic”. That said, there are cultural mores and predilections which I find exciting and inspirational. I think that my Asian customers show a great sense of sophistication in their choices and appreciate my love of nature, which is inherent in my work and which is often neglected in an Asian aesthetic.
What’s your next big project?
Currently, I am working on a large outdoor sculpture. I am very interesting these days in making pieces on a larger scale which can interact with the landscape.