A rising star of lighting design, the young British designer PAUL COCKSEDGE (1978-) creates visually spectacular and technically ingenious lights that celebrate the magical and transformative qualities of illumination.
Whether he is working with inexpensive found materials like polystyrene vending machine cups or exquisite hand-made glass, Paul Cocksedge designs and produces visually arresting lights in surreally sculptural forms that often engage the user by enabling them to switch the light on or off by placing a flower in or out of a vase or joining up the pencil strokes on a piece of paper.
Born in London in 1978, Cocksedge studied industrial design at Sheffield Hallam University and product design under Ron Arad at the Royal College of Art in London. While studying there he met his business partner Joana Pinho and was introduced by Arad to the Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake and German lighting designer Ingo Maurer, both of whom have staged exhibitions of his work.
Since graduating from the RCA in summer 2002, Cocksedge has emerged as one of the UK’s most prolific young designers. He has exhibited his work at the Design Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum and was one of the four designers nominated for the Design Museum’s Designer of the Year prize in 2004.
Q. How did you first become interested in design?
A. I am not aware of a specific starting point for my interest in design and this is partly due to never having an imposed view about ‘design’ or what ‘design’ is. My growing interest in design has been a natural and gradual process. Over time I have found an approach to design which is stimulating and exciting and fits with my personality. Similarly to when I was younger, the path ahead is not prescribed.
Q. When and why did you decide to focus on lighting design?
A. My interest in lighting came from my experiments at the Royal College of Art. On graduation, my work did not feel like finished design, it felt more like the beginning of an ongoing experiment. So far these experiments have progressed into lighting pieces.
Q. Which of your earliest projects were most important in establishing your reputation as a designer?
A. Styrene. As a material and process it has taught me a way of producing design – in terms of form and shape – which is separate from the culture of finished controlled products. It is a collaboration between myself, heat and the natural mystery of the material. As a project, Styrene communicates the energy of its own existence.
Q. What are your main preoccupations in your work as a designer?
A. As a designer I am preoccupied with sustaining the freedom to create, experiment and embrace new works. I see this freedom as essential as it is this freedom that allows me to work in the way that I do.
Q. Can you describe the development of the Styrene light?
A. For Styrene, I first began to experiment with the material by exposing polystyrene cups to heat. To me they seemed to come alive as though they were dancing and transformed from disposable mass produced products to precious unique forms. From here I learnt how to control this process and began to grow sculptural pieces.
A. My interest in Neon was stimulated by the idea of sending electrical energy through gas to make light. Something invisible to suddenly glow is a beautiful phenomenon which I wanted to capture in its most pure form, regardless of the technical constraints voiced by sceptics.
A. The starting point for Bulb was never about designing a vase or a light. It was based around designing a piece that brings together three natural elements and combines them to create something magical. At the beginning of the project the idea of ‘when the flower dies, the light goes out’ sounded unreal, but to me this is now clear.
Q. And Watt?
A. The concept of taking a pencil and drawing a switch has been a fundamental motivation for Watt. To utilise the natural properties of a pencil for switching on a light as well as maintaining the principal of purity when designing the object was an important balance to achieve. There were many prototypes and refinements produced and these were driven by my aspiration to create an object which was in harmony with its raw ingredients.
Q. What do you consider to be the main challenges facing a designer today?
A. As a 25 year old establishing myself as a designer, there have been many challenges. The main one for me has been maintaining a climate of freedom and I believe this is an on going challenge for many designers today.
Q. What or who has inspired and influenced your work?
A. My time at the Royal College of Art was inspirational from the outset and this was down to three tutors whose creativity gave me energy, enabling me to be free and excited about design. While at the RCA, I met my business partner, Joana Pinho, whose professional influence impacts greatly on the business. Ingo Maurer (the German lighting designer) was a key factor in helping me make the transition from academia through to establishing myself as a designer.
1978 Born in London
1997 Studies industrial design at Sheffield Hallam University
2000 Begins the Design Products course at the Royal College of Art, London where he is taught by Ron Arad
2001 Exhibits his work at the Issey Miyake Gallery in Tokyo
2002 Graduates from the Royal College of Art.
2003 Ingo Maurer, the German lighting designer, presents his work in an exhibition at Spazio Krizia during the Milan Furniture Fair.
Opens a studio with his business partner, Joana Pinho, whom he met at the RCA
Wins the Bombay Sapphire Glass prize.
2004 Exhibits Styrenissimo, a large scale installation of Styrene, in the Design Museum Tank
Participates in the Brilliant exhibition of contemporary lighting at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Shortlisted for the Design Museum’s Designer of the Year prize
Learn more about Paul Cocksededge's work at paulcocksedge.co.uk
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