My personal style signifier is stripes. It started in art school, after I saw a striped T-shirt in a shop window and went back to buy it. I still have it. Stripes are about buoyancy and standing out. You start wearing striped shirts because it makes you feel light and airy. Now it’s an obligation; when I get dressed in the morning I think, “If I don’t wear a striped shirt, I’ll let everybody down.” I have a thing for colour, generally. In high school, I remember I managed to get a pair of red Sperry Topsiders. Now if I go shopping, I’ll see exactly what I want in the kids’ department.
My style icon is Picasso. He wore striped pants and, whoa, they weren’t vertical; they were horizontal. I found a seamstress with the fantastic name of Penny Peacock who made me a pair. I’ve also had some correspondence with Paul Smith about collaborating. We’re both stripe guys – and collector-enthusiasts. Now, there’s a guy that’s got a lot of shit. He’s got labels and buttons and packaging and God only knows what. He’s very funny, though. I love every time I see him.
The last thing I bought and loved was a Vespa. I’ve had a lot of Vespas and Lambrettas over the years. I had been thinking about getting another one, but my wife forbade it from day one. Finally, I said “I’m going to do it” – and it’s one of my great joys. Vespas are a metaphor for happiness and freedom. I traded a painting for this one, which makes it worth more to me. We took it apart and painted it; I got it upholstered; and we made a sculpture for the front fender. I have it in the middle of my studio and every now and then I whisper: “I’m going to go ride it.” It sounds like a movie from the late ’60s: the old guy that gets out on the motorbike and sets off a shed of fireworks.
The best gift I’ve given is my Echo Park Pottery mugs. It’s gratifying and surprising how excited people get about them. Although the gift my wife will never let me forget is when I gave her a shovel I had painted gold.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is phone calls. The computer has generated what Malcolm Gladwell would call “thin slicing”. Text or email seem to generate more questions, or cancelled appointments. There just isn’t that rapport, that connectivity that you get from another person on the other end of the line.
I’ve recently been reading a series of books by Naomi Hirahara, a Californian writer. She was a reporter and these are mystery stories based around a Japanese gardener in LA. He is 70 years old at the beginning of the first book, and ends up at 86. Her observations on southern California really reach into me.
The design that changed everything was Le Strutture Tremano, the table designed by Ettore Sottsass for Studio Alchimia in 1979. As a single, very simple piece, it held it all. All the information was there about a moment and a change. So many people were antagonised by it, but Sottsass found all of us… Everyone who was involved with the Memphis movement is kicking ass. Look at the work of Nathalie du Pasquier: how she’s been translating African-inspired fabrics into painting and sculptures – she has really evolved. I am constantly looking at her, aghast and jealous and envious and impressed and enthusiastic.
The site that inspires me is in the South Bay, near where I live in LA. There’s a little section of beach and on the way to it you go through a hillside that is completely unbuildable. It’s just a stretch of maybe 600ft but it’s utterly wild California, just for a moment.
I’ve recently rediscovered political cartoons. My dad was involved in the labour movement in the ’30s and I grew up interpreting the world in this way. His collection of cartoons is huge. One of the great cartoonists was David Low, who created the reactionary British character, Colonel Blimp. He was relentless. Then there’s a guy called Ollie Harrington, a black cartoonist who ended up in East Berlin. And dad collected a whole book of cartoons by Conrad, a cartoonist for the LA Times, just on Nixon.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe is a pair of red Italian braces from Cappelleria Melegari, in Milan. I’m wearing them right now – they’re amazing. Stamped on the clip: “Made in Italy”. God bless them. cappelleriamelegari.com
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Japan, just before everything locked down. My wife is Japanese-American, third-generation, and we first went to Japan together 30 years ago. Tokyo is, essentially, really ugly, but everything they do is so beautiful. Like their knives. I bought a black steel one at a shop in the kitchen supply district. This place had sushi knives, $4,000 knives, a knife etched with Mount Fuji – and then sort of in the middle of everything else was this kitchen knife with a rough handle. And I thought, “What’s that? That’s different.”
When I need to feel inspired, I do something mundane like sweep my studio. It’s definitely a form of meditation, but you might also describe it as a humility. The things that inspire me aren’t the high-end signifiers like a beautiful car or a Carlo Mollino design. Instead it’s the little things like dust motes in the corner, or light on a table.
The festive tradition I look forward to most is our annual wear-your-best-pyjamas-or-bathrobe Sunday brunch at my studio. We’ve been doing it since the early ’90s and eat lox and bagels with onions and capers.
This year I’ve been thinking differently about sex… But really, I’ve been thinking about everything differently. I was brought up in a very political, radical household; my parents were what in the US are euphemistically called “card-carrying communists”. We were always very aware of what is now being codified as Black Lives Matter. Recently I’ve been following DL Hughley on Instagram; he’s a black comedian who’s really showing the scope of things.
In my fridge you’ll always find Japanese condiments. They’re pickles, by and large – takuan [yellow daikon], rakkyo [green onion bulbs], nasu [aubergine], shoga [ginger] and umeboshi [plum] in hot rice porridge, which is good for the stomach. The front of the refrigerator is really the centre of the house. It’s where everybody puts the very personal things that are outside of curation, the things that really define your life. I have pictures of the potter that I worked with for 22 years. Pictures of our grandchild. Newspaper clippings. Goofy magnets. My dad and I always met at the refrigerator in the middle of the night. When he died, I dreamt that we met there. I told my friend Nathan about it, and he said, “Oh, yeah, he’ll do that. When he comes again, ask him what it’s like on the other side.” And sure enough, there we met again, in front of the refrigerator, in my torpor, and I asked him. His answer? “I can’t tell you.”
The next big thing in design will be when someone goes off the tracks. I can’t wait. And I hope they invite me. A lot of design at the moment is very understated, almost like 1950s stuff.
An indulgence I would never forgo is my morning espresso. I’ve gone to great efforts to get it right. Espresso is not an extraction; it’s an infusion. I buy coffee by a Milanese roaster named Portioli and now I have a commercial machine, a Faema E61 Legend. It’s a reproduction of a 1960 machine and it’s completely manual. I’m a purist. Portioli coffee, from £4/100g, from teacoffeeonline.co.uk; faema.com
The artists whose work I would collect if I could are William Wiley and Tom Knechtel. Nobody’s heard of them but I love their work. But then again, I wouldn’t mind having a Calder. A Miró? Especially an early Miró – even a late Miró. Or a Picabia? That would be unbelievable.
My favourite room in my house is the bathroom, because it is the overthrow of one’s puritanical impulses. My bathroom now is miniature, like a boat, but if I were to build a house, the bathroom would be the centrepiece from which the rest of the design flowed. I’ve seen my dream bathroom at a house just down the way. It was on the third floor so that you could see all the way up to the San Gabriel mountains – and there was no wall. Admittedly the building wasn’t finished. Now there’s a large glass window – and it’s still really good, but...
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would chuck it all in and become somebody’s assistant. Back to sweeping. My wife said to me once, “You’re just lucky to be doing what you’re doing.”
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