'My perception of light is so strong and distinctive, almost an obsession. This forces me to continuously play and experiment with the reflection and the art of light.' Ingo Maurer
Ingo Maurer is a man on the move. Anyone in the lighting industry and in the design world knows the name. For a quarter century, he has demonstrated that lighting can be highly creative, dazzling in concept, minimalist in detail, and provocative in its humor and reaction. Despite an established reputation, however, he continues to develop designs and explore emerging technologies, constantly reinventing himself and his work.
I first met Ingo Maurer in Philadelphia in 2002, when an installation of his creative and poetic work was showcased at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and subsequently, in Milan in 2003 during the Salone di Mobile and Euroluce. We recently sat down in New York City, Maurer's second home after Munich, to chat about his work and his inspiration.
In 1966 he was awarded the 'Chevalier des arts et des lettres' by the french minister of culture for his first lighting fixture entitled Bulb. 'While staying in a pensione in Venice, Italy, I looked up at a hanging light bulb over my head. From there my design evolved.' This lamp was his first international success, and first recognition as a creative lighting designer.
Inspiration strikes at unexpected moments. 'I spent New Year's Eve 1979 in Haiti with my wife and some American friends. After we'd celebrated in a dance hall, we went out into a little village square at dawn. Two wires had been stretched across the square with a big 500-watt light bulb hanging from them with no mounting, nothing: it was simply soldered onto the wire. I was totally overwhelmed by the sight of this bulb in the sunrise. When I got back to New York, I immediately started stretching cords. Initially I tried it with high-voltage, but that failed, not least of all due to a few safety regulations that I think are totally antiquated. We spent years developing the idea and almost went bust. The bank refused us the small loan we needed at the end with the justification that the stuff we were doing was un-sellable, we should do something rustic instead. In the end we made it even without the loan, and the success wasn't long in coming.'
Maurer attributes his success to his 'design team,' and to his wife and long-time partner, Dorothee Becker. Her design, Utensilo, a wall-mounted storage system, is one of the best-known plastic designs of the late 1960s. A true-to-original version has been reissued by Vitra Design Museum.
Several months ago, Maurer called his staff in Munich to an open meeting and gave them two hours to come up with new ideas for 'the team.' The results were humorous, spontaneous, and in some cases very creative. This is how Maurer involves his team in the design process. Maurer is generous with his time for young, emerging designers. His youngest staff member is only 21, and for the last two years he has asked Paul Cocksedge, a 24-year-old designer from the Royal College of Art in London, to exhibit with him in Milan at Spazio Krizia.
Maurer does not design with the intent of commercial accolades, even though he founded Ingo Maurer, LLC, the company arm of his studio in order to produce his work. He could well sell his successful business, but that would leave him with, as he says, 'little control to pursue my next idea or concept.' He has his design team-his 'family'-to support. He could also design for other lighting companies, or have other venues produce his work, but that process displeases him. What pleases Maurer is how people react to lighting projects. Sitting on the sidelines, he watches people observe his work. 'They look and appear curious. They walk in with frowns on their faces, and then they begin to understand the presentation. They look and look again, and then, the smiles.' Seeing this reaction is Maurer's ultimate reward.
ON THE FUTURE
His recent works include an installation at the Toronto Airport; an installation in Frankfurt, Ingo Maurer: One Night Only Burning Beauty; the lighting installation at Galleries Lafayette Maison, in Paris; and the design of a spa in San Paolo, Brazil, where he has 'discovered' Corian. 'All the walls, floors, ceiling, including the pool are covered in Corian. It is quite an amazing material,' he says. While most of us at his age would probably retire, Maurer continues to pursue his passion for understanding the impact of light and design. 'I have many design concepts unfulfilled,' he explains.
Maurer is a compassionate man, and lives his passion for lighting. After my interview, I saw him the next day at ICFF at the Javits Convention Center, where he was 'in a rush.' Rushing to discover, to see, and to be involved.
James L. Crowell, is a lighting designer in Philadelphia and principal of Crowell Design in Radnor, Pennsylvania.