A space long dominated by males, Claudia Moreira Salles is a mainstay amongst a growing number of female creatives at the forefront of the contemporary Brazilian furniture industry, celebrating 30 years of design in 2013 with an exhibition at the Galeria Espasso in New York.
Graduating from the Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial in Rio de Janeiro, Salles began her design career working for Escriba, a furniture company based in Sao Paulo, which she balanced with independent projects for her own studio that focused mostly on craftwork.
With varied influences such as the minimalism of Donald Judd, Euro-Brazilian colonial architecture, Mies can Der Rohes’ modernism, and of course the Brazilian design greats (Neimeyer, Tenreiro, Rodriguez), Salles’s now-distinctive style first emerged most clearly in her collaboration with the legendary Etel Carmona. The pair met just as Carmona had begun manufacturing furniture, seeking to elevate traditional Brazilian woodworking techniques; techniques that would become central to Salles’ own design aesthetics.
Indeed, the use of native Brazilian woods, often reclaimed or else sustainably harvested, is now a key feature of Salles’s works, as she seeks to emphasise the natural beauty of the materials that she favours in her furniture design. Salles’s creations highlight organic variation such as the veins and texture in a manner that indicates her reverence for the natural resources she utilises. This is respect for material is paired with a purity of design elsewhere, a drive to ‘reduce to the essential,’ as Salles herself describes it.
It is in her lighting designs, however, that the team at Frescobol Carioca have sought inspiration this season, looking to Salles’s creations as a point of reference for delicate yet graphic shapes that are translated into similarly balanced prints. In her lighting design we find obvious examples of that principle of harmonious contrast that ultimately typifies all of Salles’ work.
In such creations one finds heavy bases supporting starkly delicate scaffolding, salvaged wood and concrete mixed with burnished metal and opalescent colour, and the careful geometric balance of grid-like straight lines alongside circular forms. This use of curves, however, marks a clear dissent from those used by many of her male predecessors. Whilst the famed works of Niemeyer et al explore the sensuous possibility of such languid forms, Salles’s own use of shape is notably minimalist by contrast, precise and restrained rather than seductive.
Combining her longterm interest in Brazilian woodwork and craftsmanship with more experimental processes, Salles’ lighting designs see her using LED technology, anodised metal and rare elements such as Niobium to create varied results- be it a soft glow, iridescent shimmer or intense colour- that always works to champion the raw material at the core of the piece. We might suggest that in such works, Salles’s lighting comes closest to sculpture, blurring the line between form and function, and merging design for living with uncompromising artistic endeavour.