January 4, 2013 | 1:00 PM
As part of The Ultrabook™ Experience, Levi's and Intel partnered to support creative learning with "Friends of MOCA," a unique collaboration of artists and brands coming together to support creative learning through the education initiatives of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). We spoke with designer, architect, and furniture maker Asher Israelow about how arts education and new technology has helped him become one of the most sought-after young designers working today.
Asher makes uncommon furniture—the tables, chairs, beds, and desks he designs and builds at his Brooklyn Navy Yard studio find their balance at slightly odd angles. Amid the careful joinery and sleek lines, Asher often inserts small disks of brass to emulate surreptitious drops of molten metal or a cosmic map on his furniture's wood.
His work lives at the intersection of analytical design and creative inspiration. Asher was recently named one of Forbes' "30 under 30" for Art and Design, and his biggest commission to date—building the furniture for the David H. Koch Theater at New York's Lincoln Center—has spurred other collectors to order his organic yet rigorously constructed pieces.
His designs are immediately recognizable as precise, fine pieces of craftsmanship, and—as he explained to The Ultrabook Experience team—his process involves the skill of an artist and the technology of an architect.
Levi's and Intel are partnering to inspire creative learning by supporting MOCA's educational initiatives. How do you find inspiration for the creative work that you do?
Asher Israelow: Well, for the most part it's from the materials I use, whether it's the aspects of the wood I'm working with or the history of the metal joinery that keeps the furniture together. My mother is a sculptor, so when I was young I was surrounded by interesting objects. I began to intuit—not necessarily understand—how things feel, what they can do, and as I grew up I began to form an aesthetic.
So, activating creative impulses as a child was important for your work today?
Absolutely. Seeing art and learning things about the history of my craft really helped me to contextualize what I liked, why, and what I wanted to do.
How have technology and woodworking intersected in your practice?
In so many ways. I really enjoy the history of technology and furniture making—like how the Bauhaus movement repurposed manufacturing technologies originally developed during World War I to make amazing pieces of furniture like the Breuer Chair, or how computer programs like AutoCad* helped Frank Gehry design things that people hadn't seen before. Now 3D printing and digital, automated routing have made prototyping ideas incredibly easy.
But there's a natural stopping point to the rapid ease of production that new technology enables. Wood ... I work with a living material. Pieces of wood do not act uniformly, so there's this element of old craftsmanship that still pervades what I do. And that tension really excites me.
What kind of software do you use?
I often still draft by hand, so I don't generally use drafting software. But for the brass star map tables I make, I use this free software program called Stellarium*. It plots what the night sky looks like on any date and any place in the world. For the tables I made for the Lincoln Center, I mapped the tables to specific dates in the choreographer George Balanchine's career.
And what do you think about "Friends of MOCA" and the educational programs at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles?
I think it sounds like a vital program. Personally, getting to know art and understanding my critical and emotional reaction to the art I see has been one of the most important parts of my development as an artist. I never liked the work of [the sculptor] Richard Serra when I was younger, but by understanding the context in which he made his huge steel sculptures, and having discussions with other people who had opinions about his work, I learned not only to like his work, but appreciate how I think about what I do.