JERSZY SEYMOUR (1968-) is a product and furniture designer whose work combines a raunchy humour with innovative use of materials. Born in Berlin, Seymour grew up mostly in London, but has lived and worked in Milan since 1999.
When the guests arrived at a party thrown by Sputnik, the Japanese design collective, in a disused garage on via Meda during the Milan Furniture Fair, they discovered Bonnie and Clyde, a life-size polyurethane foam replica of a 1985 Ford Escort Coupe, in the middle of the space and animated images of copulating cockroaches projected on to the walls.
Both the car and cartoon cockroaches were the work of Jerszy Seymour, the Berlin-born, London-educated, Milan-based industrial designer. "Dear Teruo, This is an idea for a project for Milan, which excites me, it is a way of mixing and scratching culture," he had emailed Teruo Kurosaki, the Japanese entrepreneur who founded Sputnik. "…Bonnie and Clyde’s car. A real car cast in building polyurethane, hollowed where the inside can be used as a sofa, bed (it is like an old four-poster bed), chilling out place or eating place."
Like the rest of Jerszy Seymour’s work, the Bonnie and Clyde sofa combines a sense of fun with innovative use of materials and a raunchy wit. All three themes underpin everything he has designed from mass-manufactured products, such as his playful 1999 Pipe Dreams blow-moulded polyethylene watering cans and 1998 Captain Lovetray injection-moulded ABS tray for Magis, to one-off projects like the Captain Freewheelin Franklin remote-control table he created for the first Sputnik exhibition in 2000.
Born in the Spandau area of Berlin in 1968, Seymour moved with his family to Canada the following year and then to London in 1970. He studied engineering design at South Bank University followed by an MA in industrial design at the Royal College of Art. After graduating from there in 1994, he went to Milan and collaborated for a time with the Italian designer, Stefano Giovanonni. Seymour then moved to New York in 1997 where he worked with Smart Design only to return to Milan in 1999 to open a studio there.
Like Marc Newson, the Australian-born industrial designer and fellow Sputnik collaborator, Seymour’s work can be deceptively playful. At first sight, his zest for bright colours, cartoonish forms and jokey pop culture references is so dominant that it is easy to ignore his technical inventiveness and his innovative choice of materials and manufacturing processes.
The distorted curves of the 1998 Captain Lovetray ABS plastic tray manufactured by Magis, for instance, are reminiscent of a sun-warped frisbee. Yet whereas conventional plastic trays have compressed rims which twist when loaded up with objects, the inverted rims of his Captain Lovetrays tense when loaded thereby stabilising the tray.
Similarly, the most distinctive features of the Ken Kuts collection of Murano glassware, which Seymour designed for Covo in 2001, are its bright orange hue and the sexual images he etched graffiti-style in the glass by "vandalising" it with a knife when hot and soft.
Yet his "vandalism" is also an elegant example of the modernisation of a traditional industrial process. While his 1999 Playstation Chair is part-armchair, part-chaise longue, part-foot stool and part-table because the rounded hollow of the seat stretches out into a footstool or table on which the sitter can eat a meal or play with their Playstation. Because the polyurethane foam structure has no internal supports, it is also light and easily portable.
Similarly, the 2000 Free Wheelin Franklin remote control table bears the sporty number of a racing car on its vacuum-formed plastic top and is named, according to Seymour, after a "fast-walking, pill-popping, hash-smoking character from the 1960s cult comic The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. It is also an inspired example of DIY technology because Seymour simply mounted the table top on the motor of a ready-made remote control car with four wheel drive, a rechargeable gear box and a maximum speed of 17 mph.
Even the Bonnie and Clyde sofa is an example of material reinvention: its expanded polyurethane foam is usually used in the construction industry. "A car already has human dimensions," continued Seymour’s email to Teruo Kurosaki of Sputnik. "Put inside, it creates a connection between architecture and furniture. It responds to the fact that more people want to live in open ex-industrial spaces like a kind of way of being compatible with spaces not meant for living or creating spaces in huge modern restaurants not meant to be impersonal. The car is a romantic symbol of freedom and, maybe now, true luxury is freedom."
Visit Jerszy Seymour's website at jerszyseymour.com
For more information on British design and architecture go to Design in Britain, the online archive run as a collaboration between the Design Museum and British Council, at designmuseum.org/designinbritain