Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

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It's no surprise that Stefan Rurak has a background in visual art. One can tell in an instant by the sculptural and tactile qualities of his pieces that an artist's hands, and mind, are at work. With a personal history in a range of media, including performance art and painting, Rurak has amassed tools and methods which have lent a fluidity to his practice that is hard to come by. He approaches the process of creating without boundaries, and the results are pieces that eliminate the traditional distinction between art and furniture. This artistic complexity manifests in an ultimately restrained aesthetic that he deems as "hand-made and warm minimalism." Read on below for our Q&A with the artist for details behind a handful of his works and the philosophy of his practice.


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Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background as a designer and artist?

A: I found my way to this point through visual art. I have worked in a diverse range of media, ranging from things as conventional as painting to performance art. Increasingly, I became aware that the mediums I was drawn to — such as silkscreen printing, film photography — were really a pursuit of a craft that relied on a skillset as well as a system of tools. Combining that with my desire for physicality, as exhibited through my performances à la Burden or Abramović, the leap to furniture was not so great. It is a highly physical craft that yields work that satisfies not only aesthetics but utility. I figured that I would be more likely to make a living selling a table as opposed to a painting.

Q: What is your process of creation?

A: It starts with something as simple as a scribble, or is a response to a challenge to satisfy a desire.

Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

Stefan in his studio

Q: How do you know when you are creating a piece of functional furniture, versus a sculptural art piece (such as your Knob Sculpture)? Do you see your pieces of furniture as sculptures in themselves?

A: This is something I am interested in greatly and my clients have been allowing me to investigate this more and more. I see it all as one. Art, design, function, sculpture. I draw no distinction, however our culture does — it needs to create boundaries, needs to draw lines in order to create narratives. As we all know, society has a need to box things up and explain. This is what is most interesting to me about my "panels." These are flat works that I have been doing for some time. With these pieces I literally use the same materials, tools, techniques, and processes I would for furniture but in an application that serves no function. It is simply an aesthetic piece of art. What I find fascinating (and perhaps I shouldn't share) is that these pieces, proportionate to the labor invested, sell for more than the furniture. I find it interesting that a work that is aesthetically satisfying yet serves no utilitarian function is valued higher in the marketplace than one that is both aesthetically satisfying and satisfies a utilitarian need.

Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

Knob Sculpture, Stefan Rurak Studio

Q: What inspired your Prairie Credenza design which combines art/painting on the exterior of a piece of functional furniture? How do you achieve such materiality in your work?

A: Increasingly I am trying to invest more influence from my "panels" onto the surfaces of the utilitarian function. I am glad to see that this pleases clients creating a more unique piece and it allows me to push the work further. I strive to disintegrate the lines between art and design and consider it utilitarian sculpture. In regards to the "materiality," I believe this is achieved by using the hands, literally allowing the marks of the hands to remain present.

Q: When you design pieces, do you design based around voids you see in the marketplace, or do you design it for a particular project/space and then realize it has broader appeal?

A: I typically design for specific spaces, based on cues or inspiration, to solve specific problems or satisfy requests.

Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

C-210 Prairie Credenza, Stefan Rurak Studio

Q: As for your Protrusions End Table, how can you see this piece being used?

A: This piece can be used as a side or end table. What is nice about this series of work is that the knobs are magnetic, so this is taking the work in another direction: user interaction. The piece can be continually altered and modified by the user.

Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

Protrusions End Table, Stefan Rurak Studio

Q: What was the inspiration behind the SCW Drawn Case? Do you decide the drawings before you take them to the work, or do you freehand the drawings?

A: Again, the inspiration for the drawings comes out of my "panels." I have developed what one might call a personal language. I use a series of symbols or shapes that I tend to repeat in my work. These have no meaning but they appear to convey one. Simply put, these are shapes, lines and gestures that make me feel good. I do not decide the drawings before I apply them to the steel.

This is an extremely high-stakes process. We spend countless hours constructing the cabinet, meticulously finishing it and the very last step is taking an angle grinder and drawing into the face. (Other furniture makers think this is hilarious.) The marks have to be confident — any slip or mistake will be permanently reflected in the steel and there is no way to conceal or erase potential mistakes. I enjoy this tension, that in the matter of a second one could undo forty plus hours of labor. There is no margin for error and thus every mark is true. There are no lies.

Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

SCW Drawn Case, Stefan Rurak Studio

Q: Could you talk about the industrial-style lighting you create? What is your process and inspiration there?

A: The Scarpa Lights are very architectural. Their name is an obvious nod to a famous architect but beyond this, I am drawn to the beauty of life shining from perceived detritus. As I mentioned before my work is largely process-oriented. This is something I have retained from my performance practice. Process is what is most fascinating to me and therefore many pieces are process driven. For the Scarpa lights, we hand cast each shade with rebar embedded. After the cure, we then de-mold the cast and systematically break the cast to create the "shade." Creation through destruction.

Studio Visit: Stefan Rurak Studio

Scarpa Lights, Stefan Rurak Studio

Q: How would you describe your overall aesthetic?

A: I am strongly drawn to simplicity and minimalism. However what minimalism often lacks is the traces of its making, specifically the marks of the human hand. It is important for me that our work shows traces of its making and the marks of the maker. Perhaps it is best considered "hand-made minimal" or "warm minimal"?

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