Having just learned he’s one of 20 artists nationwide to earn a 2013 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Award, furniture designer and ceramist Louie Rigano 10 ID is getting ready to travel to London for a two-year stint at the Royal College of Art. The family foundation provides up to $50,000 per year for up to three years to selected students “with exceptional artistic or creative promise” looking to pursue graduate degrees in the visual arts, performing arts or creative writing.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the Royal College of Art,” says Rigano, who will earn his master’s degree in Design Products. “The program is similar to the Furniture Design program at RISD in that the focus is on making objects by hand, but it’s a little broader,” he explains.
Rigano has been living and working in New York – building furniture and working in ceramics – since he completed a Fulbright year in Japan right after graduation. He credits his spare aesthetic to that experience in Japan and also to the Wintersession travel/study course that first introduced him to the country when he was a RISD sophomore. “Both the simplicity and level of refinement in Japanese objects have had a huge influence on my work,” he says. “There is a real appreciation there for handmade craft.”
During his Fulbright year, Rigano divided his time between a high-production furniture studio where he might spend a whole day doing nothing but turning table legs, a father-and-son ceramics business where he had a hand in each step of the production process and Nendo, a super-modern design firm where virtually everything was designed using CAD software and nothing was built by hand. This combination of experiences confirmed that his ultimate goal is to run his own design studio and make a variety of products in small batches.
Rigano says that his RISD education has not only influenced his vision but affects him every day. “I can’t drink from a coffee cup without questioning the curve of its rim,” he says with a laugh. “RISD graduates critically analyze everything. It’s like a heightened awareness.”
These abilities to analyze objects and question the status quo are critical components to being a successful designer –and useful habits that Rigano picked up at RISD. Part of his mission when designing a product is eliminating the countless decisions that come up during production. For example, when designing a furniture collection a few months ago, he limited himself to using a single size of wood – 1.25 inches square – for every element of the piece, from legs to crossbeams. “It was sort of an aesthetic experiment,” he says, “that allowed every element of the design to be established in a coherent way.”
Another recurring element in Rigano’s work is a sense of irony. His cremation urn – introduced at last month’s NY Design Week and picked up by Dwell magazine – is cast in a mixture of glitter and clear resin. “It’s a depressing object made out of a really celebratory material,” says Rigano. “It’s a play on extremes.”
Though Rigano regrets leaving the incredible co-op where he’s been working in the city, he’s looking forward to finding a new space in London that he can call home for the next two years. “It always works out in the end,” says the upbeat designer. “I didn’t know anyone in Japan, had nowhere to live and knew very little Japanese, but it just worked out. At least in London they all speak English!”
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