Liam Lee has taken the collectible design industry by storm. Whether painstakingly needle-working felt into fungi-like chairs and tapestries, or riffing on the formal conventions of stoneware vessels, the young New York–based talent looks to freshly reinterpret perceived limitations of traditional craft. His designs reflect an organic formalism that has been popular among design collectors for the past few years, but takes it a step further through his intuitive investigation of nature in all its mystery. “I try to create work that feels—upon first encounter—as if it sprung up from the ground overnight or has grown into its current state without human intervention,” he said.
Trained in set design before foraying into furniture, Lee masterfully magnifies and abstracts the shapes and textures he uncovers through a lens of theatrical otherworldliness. He aims to transform mundane domestic interiors into dream worlds. The designer’s ability to render the ethereal characteristics of unusual lifeforms, plants, and rock formations into tangible, collectible objects has quickly made him a darling of contemporary design.
On the heels of being shortlisted for the 2023 Loewe Craft Design Prize—showcased this Spring at the Noguchi Museum—the stalwart collectible design platform Patrick Parrish Gallery is currently presenting his first solo show. On view through August 4, Catch and Release reveals the up-and-comer’s latest exploration—a deep dive into the ocean—where Lee finds inspiration from the various crustaceans that inhabit its depths.
On view is a collection of luminaires, mirrors, works on paper, and sculptures informed by Lee’s vivid childhood memory of wading in murky water and the bewilderment he experienced in trying to imagine what was beneath the surface. “Despite growing up as a city kid with an apparent lack of greenery around me, the natural world continues to occupy a sort of magical space through its physical separateness from what I generally experience on a daily basis,” he explained. “This notion of an untouched natural world, or distinction between the natural and the man made, is of course a human construct, and it’s exactly this romanticized or imaginary version of the natural that I’m drawn to.”
While iridescently glazed ceramics and freshwater pearls are used to depict the accentuated properties of tentacular polyps, bead-embellished copper mesh is formed to evoke the sinuous shell of an alien-like lamprey, a peculiar looking sea creature native to the Great Lakes. When illuminated, the metal-crocheted Lure 01 fixture glistens like the scales of a deep-sea fish. Along with preparatory drawings and 12 unique ceramic objects, carefully displayed in a cabinet of curiosity-like vitrine, the exhibits also include some of Lee’s earlier (and now iconic) Merino wool–felted armchairs and tapestries. All the one-off pieces were handcrafted by the designer himself. The new works demonstrate his dexterous capacity to master new skills and materials.
“The title of the show speaks both to the aquatic source of inspiration for this body of work, as well as to the process of creating the work itself, which involves at times casting a net and pulling up a form or an idea and then releasing it back into the world,” Lee concluded. “It also nods to the figure of Proteus, who constantly changes shape, but when caught, holds his true form and provides the answer to his captor’s question. I suppose it’s also a way of not holding onto the things you create—a way of catching the thing in your hand for a brief time as it takes shape and then letting it go.”