In Harmony with Nature: How a Russian Designer Turned Furniture into Art
The life of Radik Vasiliev changed in 2013, at a time when he already owned what seemed to be a successful venture - a small souvenir shop. Concurrently, Radik was engaged in renting sound equipment for events and nurtured a passion for photography. After starting his own photo studio, the young man was surprised to discover a growing fascination with crafting wooden items. This is how his business originated, gradually evolving into a unique form of creative expression.
From business to art
Radik recalls that his first successful commercial project in the new field was making mirrors with illuminated frames from solid wood.
«It was beautiful from the esthetic point of view, as any type of lamination of modern materials won’t be able to recreate a real wood look, and less so, its tactile effect. Besides, wood is a completely recyclable material and any damage is much more easily mended than with other materials"he explains.
The next step involved crafting wooden counters. Radik recalls that during those years, many of his acquaintances started opening their own shops, and the trend for wooden interiors and commercial fixtures, which had long existed in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, finally made its way to the small town of Penza. Soon, Radik Vasiliev began creating wooden furniture and taking on an increasing number of private orders. In 2018, he won the Grand Prix at the international competition ‘Penza – The Heart of Craftsmanship’ in the category of ‘Items made from birch bark, wicker and wood’. The following year, he assumed the role of the head judge in the same competition.
Nevertheless, Radik admits that despite his successful business, he was drawn to a more creative realm. His first original wooden figurine was "Rostok" (Sprout)- a slightly modified replica of the renowned monument in Penza. In 2016, he became a member of the Artists’ Union of Russia and secured the first place at the prominent international festival "Jazz May", held in Penza, in the category of "Best Project in the Field of Culture". At the same time, Radik’s fascination with the life of trees grew stronger.
«During the pandemic, when we were forced to avoid contact with people, I spent a lot of time wandering through forests and realized that there was a wealth of ‘abandoned’ materials. These were trees felled by storms or those that perished while competing with others for light and nutrients. They simply fell and decayed. It was during this time that I conceived the idea for a new workshop where I could maximize the use of the materials provided to us by nature", - explains the carpenter.
Radik managed to find investors and procure the necessary equipment for long-term leasing for the project.
«I personally started exploring forests and gathering materials. When I posted images of my finds on Instagram, noting that a particular trunk could be used for crafting a chair or a bar counter, I was surprised by how enthusiastically people responded to these posts. They realized that the furniture would be crafted from real wood that had been part of a forest they might have walked through just a few days ago, creating a special ambiance around these pieces", - explains Radik.
Gradually, the wood craftsman began creating even with the scraps that are typically left behind in a carpenters’ workshop.
«The high point came with my exhibition at Azzi Art Gallery in Los Angeles in May of 2023, where I showcased figurines crafted almost entirely from wood scraps. Each piece had its own story, reflecting unique aspects of tree development.”, – Radik shares.
For instance, in a composition resembling a river flowing between two banks, the ‘river’ itself is composed of wood scraps that are typically never used in production.
«I filled them with a specialized resin, intentionally raising the hardener temperature slightly. This caused it to boil and solidify instantaneously. As the resin boiled due to the high temperature and rapidly solidified, bubbles formed, creating the illusion of a breathing tree", - explained Radik.
According to him, this isn’t merely a metaphor. Radik asserts that every tree, even when severed from its roots, remains alive until it turns into dust.
«Any wooden furniture crafted from solid wood always breathes and adapts to the climate in each house and room. It is important to bear in mind that all of this remains vibrant forever“- he believes.
Another of Radik’s creations is a wooden heart crafted from what are known as ‘caps’ – growths on trees that resemble large bumps or "warts".
«Much like pearls form within mollusk shells, trees can also begin to encase foreign objects with these outgrowths. What sets them apart is that the fiber structure within these growths is chaotic. Such a pattern is impossible in the regular parts of the tree.", explains the sculptor.
The photographs of the sculptures presented by Radik display charred edges. The creator clarifies that these aren’t deliberate artistic elements, but rather the remnants of a real fire that devastated nearly his entire workshop in April of this year. The only items that survived the blaze were a series of notebooks with wooden covers, intentionally designed for burning.
«These notebooks carry a kind of therapeutic effect. They comprise 13 sheets, each containing questions about situations from the past that you should let go, or people whom you have trouble forgiving. Beyond the psychological aspect, there’s a touch of mystery: one should begin filling in the notebook during the full moon, and complete and burn it during the new moon, which symbolizes the beginning of new life. I ordered a trial batch of 40 notebooks and, without realizing, loaded them into my car. Therefore, they stayed safe.", - recalls Radik.
Following his sculptures and custom-designed notebooks, Radik began specializing in a unique category of designer furniture, tailored for specific orders. In the spring of 2023, Radik along with a small group of like-minded individuals, organized the all-Russian exhibition of designer furniture "Artcraft" in Penza.
«Designer furniture is a distinct category where the pieces themselves can be considered as art objects. These are one-of-a-kind pieces that can’t be mass-produced. Consequently, as I delved into this kind of furniture, I didn’t aim to expand production since such orders can’t be efficiently scaled. In Russia, numerous exhibitions focus on large-scale manufacturing. But, I wanted boutique workshops crafting unique pieces to become known as well. So we set up our own exhibition dedicated to the convergence of art and craftsmanship", - explains Radik.
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The exhibition featured well-known industry bloggers and designers, including those from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Radik plans to organize a similar exhibition in September and hopes to invite participants from other countries this time. In the meantime, he also has aspirations to make his mark in the United States.
«When I started delving into eco-friendly technologies and zero-waste production, I realized that in Russia, I had no one to even discuss this with. People didn’t understand why I was using compressed wood shavings to fuel my furnace instead of using whole boards. They didn’t care about recyclability of materials. On the contrary, I believe that we should strive to live sustainably on this planet", - Radik is certain.
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