Clement Meadmore: Furniture as Art.

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As I continue to research the output of sculptor/industrial designer Clement Meadmore, the more intrigued I become about the man and his creative practice. After chatting to some of the people who knew Clem, I think it’s fair to say that although Meadmore had developed a keen interest in furniture design, it was his passion for sculpture that was the key driving force in his life. But that’s hardly surprising when you look at his furniture or lighting designs. Take for example Meadmore’s corded recliner (see pic above), it’s lines formed from cold bent steel only take on the form of a chair via the addition of countless metres of sash cord wrapped around it’s angular form. This is no ordinary chair; it is a sculpture that can facilitate the act of sitting.

Meadmore’s early designs are unique in that they adopt craft traditions and processes to aid their production. Infact, Meadmore’s earliest furniture was reportedly made with the assistance of a local blacksmith, but unfortunately I am yet to see any documentation of these works. So in a time of mass-production, we have Clem hand building furniture from steel rod and sash cord in his backyard shed. But luckily others also recognized Meadmore’s potential, leading to Clem winning a host of good design awards and gathering praise amongst architects and national lifestyle magazines. Even when Meadmore sold his business (Meadmore Originals) including the rights to his designs, to fund an overseas trip, on his return to Australia he continued to hand build furniture from his backyard on a commission basis.
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Meadmore may not have been a great businessman, but what he lacked in business acumen, he more than made up for in creativity. Meadmore’s Calyx lamp (pictured above) is a prime example of his ability to reinterpret the modernist style. The lamp’s appearance looks sleek at first glance, but as you look closer the evidence of the hand is visible in the welds and the handpainted spun aluminum shades. In the late 1950’s, as Meadmore began to gain recognition in art circles for his sculptures, the production of his furniture designs was outsourced to Michael Hirst and/or Gallery A Contract Furniture of which Meadmore was a partner at the time.

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Meadmore’s DC601A chair (pictured above) produced by Michael Hirst Pty Ltd was originally designed for the swanky jazz hangout ‘The Embers Nigthclub’, located in Toorak, Melbourne. The design of the DC601A is often considered to be more resolved than Clem’s earlier furniture, but its difficult to ignore the chair’s similarities with the furniture designs of American Harry Bertoia, who also went on to enjoy a successful career as a sculptor. 
But these later designs, reminiscent of the wireframes used in 3D software, are perhaps also an extension of Meadmore’s ongoing love affair with abstract expressionism and his determination to render the form virtually invisible. He had succeeded in transforming his furniture into mere outlines constructed in fine rods of steel. Or Perhaps Clem had taken his furniture designs as far as he could, for the transition from industrial designer to sculptor was arguably now complete. If you don’t believe me, take a look at one of Clem’s bespoke designs, a steel and glass coffee table in the NGV Melbourne collection. There is no doubt in my mind that this is an example of Meadmore at his finest.

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By 1960 Clem had truly begun his metamorphosis into an international artist, and in 1963 moved to New York to concentrate on his art career. Perhaps as a parting gift, the same year he arrived in New York he designed what would be the last of his chairs. The ‘Sling Chair’ (pictured below), now in the MOMA collection, was made by Leiff Wessman Associates of New York in 1963. It looks and behaves just like a chair, but the more I look at this most polished of chairs, the more I long for the raw qualities that made his early furniture so distinct and somewhat unique.

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I guess the best thing about Meadmore’s design ourve is that there is generally something for everybody, as long as you like metal furniture. But collecting Australian post-war furniture and objects isn’t just about constructing an interior, its also about preserving and conserving these treasures so that others can enjoy them in the future.

If you want to know more about Meadmore, I recently wrote an article about identifying and authenticating Meadmore furniture which appeared in Australian Modern magazine. I would also like to thank Geoff from Shamrock Furniture (specialists in Australian Modern) in Melbourne for kindly allowing me to use some of his studio photographs of Meadmore furniture for the magazine article. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Australian Modern magazine, it’s produced by the same great team who brought you ‘Brisbane Modern’ magazine and it’s full of great articles about the modernist movement in Australia.

If you would like to see more examples of Clement Meadmore’s furniture and lighting designs, then check out my Meadmore photo set on Flickr or this excellent video produced by a Melbourne collector.

If you have any information and/or questions about Clement Meadmore’s furniture from the 1950’s, or know anyone who bought or commissioned furniture by Clem, please email me at australianmodern@yahoo.com.au

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