A colleague has sent me a remarkable video of a conversation with the Irish surgeon Dr Denis Burkett done in 1993 some months before his death.
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Making a connection with wood
“I trip on size. I like massive pieces.”
Scot Sardinha is talking about wood. And wood is his work.
Growing up in Glencoe, Trinidad, surfing the seas surrounding the island, holidaying in Cape Cod on the windswept eastern seaboard of the United States, Sardinha would stumble upon driftwood. Mysterious, beautiful, thick pieces of the natural world, washed up on the sand, darkened to a deep brown colour by the ocean waves.
“From the time I was able to get a feel for wood in my hands I immediately connected with it and loved the energy of wood.”
Later in life, while doing a degree in fine art at Rutgers in New Jersey he realised the powerful simplicity he could achieve by “turning plants into art and design. Thinking of the idea and executing it to a finished product.”
His finished products currently consist of a spectacular range of coffee tables called Inha Living. “Inha” being the last four letters of his name.
Looking at the tables it’s hard to imagine they are made of plywood—usually thought of as the material of cheap flatpack furniture—they are so solid and beautifully carved. One piece, Wave Table, weighs a staggering 685 pounds and measures 6.5 feet by four feet. The undulating wood supports a table top made of three-quarter inch thick amber-coloured glass. These coffee tables colossal by any furniture standards.
It also requires a head shift to get round the fact that these things were created by a computer design and a mechanical router which follows his pre-programmed designs.
They are made to order, of course, not mass-produced. And they aren’t cheap—each piece costs five or six figures in US dollars.
He thought carefully about the market he wanted to aim for and weighed up the pros and cons of “the mass consumption model versus the niche market,” before deciding he wanted to penetrate a unique market. He doesn’t rule out producing lines for commercial retailers in future but for now, his artistic furniture has an emphasis on the word ‘art’.
“The struggle between being an artist and a manufacturer is an ongoing negotiation,” he says.
Sardinha’s client list includes A-list Hollywood celebrities like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. Sardinha has been friends with the couple for years and has been based in Los Angeles since 2002, a place he now calls home.
LA is a place where this kind of expressive and expensive art has a ready-made market—a place built on style where interactions with agents and producers are conducted over swanky coffee tables.
It’s also fair to say there is now an emergent (if small) market of wealthy Trinis with good taste in art and furniture. Sardinha would love to see his work in people’s homes in his country of birth.
He visits Trinidad regularly with his family and has a strong network of friends and family here.
“As a Trinidadian national I’d like to get the brand established here. I only did two group shows (exhibitions) here before I bounced out,” he says.
“But a big part of my influence is from Trinidad with its multiculturalism and the colours of the Caribbean.”
He’s also into simplicity of design. The minimalism of the work is something you would see amongst the oeuvres of modernist European designers. “I like simple lines, they command more attention from the eye. Sometimes I’ll see a root of a tree and think to myself—just one cut and a piece of glass…”
It took him a while to get to the minimalism he’s found. From 1993-2004 his work was more intricate, decorated. Then he changed style, but it was a seven-year process before Inha Living.
The process of programming his sketches into the computer and investing in the equipment took time. By 2011 the line was finally finished.
I ask why he cut back on the intricate details. “Someone told me,” he says, simply.
Like in writing, architecture, music, sometimes simple works best, and often artists only realise this through critical appraisal followed by self-reflection. Somebody introduced him to the Buddhist mantra “simplicity is the way of the elevated mind,” and it stuck.
In some ways, Sardinha’s latest work achieves a middle ground between European and Caribbean (or African) art.
The piece Pink Poui shows the colour and display of the tropics, of nature. But there are also the flat smooth edges of the industrialised north.
In New Brunswick, New Jersey, Sardinha lived in an upper floor apartment where no furniture could be delivered up the stairs. He began making everything for himself from wood—bed frames, kitchen work surfaces, lamps. Soon friends began asking where he got them and when he told them they were his own creations, they wanted some.
Those early beginnings are echoed in the way his commercial set-up operates now. The movie directors and style magazine editors who buy his work show it to their circle of friends and so it grows, organically so to speak.
Working in an art gallery in his senior year at Rutgers, he realised that there was a meeting point between wooden furniture and art. “The only way you can see a piece is to do it from beginning to end,” he says.
His work is environmentally friendly, it contains no nails or screws and he uses formaldehyde-free glue. And as well as plywood (which is ideal for his purposes, as its multiple layers can be manipulated) he has plans to work with some of his favourite—woods, teak, tapana and balata, found in Trinidad’s rainforests.
“Tapana is so hard it bends nails,” he says, “I think they were used for the railroads.”
The rail roads were ripped up long ago but this son of the soil’s art is enduring.
To see more of Scot's work visit www.sardinhastudio.com