Brooklyn is filled to the brim with perhaps the most creative people on the planet, and my neighbors Stephen Antonson and Kathleen Hackett are poster children of the talent pool. Among other things, they are the authors of the new book HOME FROM THE HARDWARE STORE, and right before the holidays, they surprised me with a copy hot off the press. I have been studying it ever since.
The authors have cleverly repurposed materials from local hardware stores to create 50 projects ranging from candle sticks to furniture, as well as toys and costumes for any kids’ playtime fantasy come true.
Needless to say, Kathleen and Stephen speak my creative language to a “T,” so I was thrilled when Stephen invited me to his studio to check out what he is currently working on. I was first smitten when DOMINO Magazine ran a piece on Stephen and his work a couple of years back. Then I started seeing the handiwork from his namesake firm STEPHEN ANTONSON BY HAND all around – in editorial, in show houses, and stores. Collaborating with such tony interior designers as James Huniford, Peter Marino, Miles Redd, and Victoria Hagen, the spaces were always special in print, but Stephen’s pieces stood out to me.
It was a super cold day when we sat bundled in Stephen’s ground floor space, comparing notes on what it takes to be an artist now, talking shop . . .
DS: Pretend budget and time are not an issue, what is your dream project? What would you just love to do or make?
SA: I went to Lacoste School of the Arts in France for college, a seminal experience. My dream is to return to the south of France to live with my family and work out of a studio on the grounds. Honestly, I don't have a specific project in mind right now (though I don't want to spend my time renovating a farmhouse!) —just being there and responding to my surroundings with my art is enough. I am drawn to discovery as opposed to seeking things out.
SA: My two young boys encourage the playful, nonsensical side of my work and my wife gently guides it toward refinement! On a day-to-day basis, they are the three greatest inspirations, as saccharine as that may sound.I've always been inspired by something architect Louis Kahn once said: ".....the wonder of art is that it is separate; only man can make it. Art tells us that nature cannot make what man can make." Hmmm.
DS: Since much of your art is intended for interiors, are there particular interiors that you love, that inspire you?
SA: I love the raw possibilities inherent in abandoned buildings. I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh during the period when the steel mills were shuttered. Together with a few friends, we had a dinner party in one of them -- a folding table and chairs and tons of candlelight. That's it. It was remarkably romantic, yet raw. I'm drawn to the eclectic classicism of designers like James Huniford and Jacques Granges. Junk stores in small towns also have their allure.
DS: And humor seems to play such an important role in your work too. Do you think that makes your work less serious or taken less seriously?
SA: Absolutely not. Calder seemed to do OK by it. For me there always has to be an element of play. Without it, life becomes Sisyphean.
DS: Is there an artist or designer’s particular piece that you love so much that you wish you had made it? I know that I have many . . .
SA: There is a painting at MOMA by Matisse called the Piano Lesson. A boy playing a piano in a bourgeois Paris apartment. There's nothing radical about the subject matter. But I can stand in front of it for hours. It combines music, sculpture, and painting in one picture. It's thrilling and maddening at the same time because of the way he painted it. It looks unfinished which is the exciting part because it comes across as very spontaneous, not overworked or over thought. Then there are liberties that he took with the painting —some of the brushwork seems tossed off and there's a crazy shadow on the boy's face that I don't get at all! And then there's Harry Allen's piggy bank, but that's an entirely different story.
DS: If you would trade it all in and take on another career, what would you do?
AS: When I first moved to New York, I played the bass in a band called Ms. Lum. It saw some success in the 1990s. We had a record deal with Bar None records and played around town and up and down the east coast. I miss making music -- I would love to perform in small clubs again.
DS: So you are the original romantic. I think that’s what traps all of us artists initially – the romance of making beautiful stuff, music, food. That inspires me. A lot.
Good food for thought!