Ettore Sottsass & the Memphis Group

James Brough – 3172532

Ettore Sottsass Photographed by Mario Ermoli for Limn-Magazine
Ettore Sottsass Photographed by Mario Ermoli for Limn-Magazine Image from www.marioermoli.com/portfolio/sottsass/.

Born 1917 Innsbruck, Austria, Ettore Sottsass got his degree in architecture at twenty two. In 1946 he was working in Milan, mainly as a designer of private environments and interiors, as well as furniture and other objects (Sottsass). He described his work as allowing him to explore his interest with “the existence and survival in artificial earth spaces” and that others acknowledged him as being the first designer to break away from “functionalism” with a focus on how colour and materials could work in contrast to “rigidity of structure” as symbols for life and vitality (Sottsass). It was in 1981 that Ettore would found the Memphis Group, a collection of designers that would radically change design in Italy and all over the world (“Ettore…”).

"Carlton" Room Divider by Ettore Sottsass, Wood & Plastic Laminate 1981. Image from https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/objects?exhibitionId=d1debf05-fe5b-4d90-8674-fc60b5dca3c9&pkgids=441#!?perPage=20&offset=160
“Carlton” Room Divider by Ettore Sottsass, Wood & Plastic Laminate 1981. Image from https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/objects?exhibitionId=d1debf05-fe5b-4d90-8674-fc60b5dca3c9&pkgids=441#!

The groups work encompassed the idea of the gesamtkunstwerk. Like the Bauhaus, the group had a wide variety of creations from textiles to lamps, chairs, and even the odd drawing. Seemingly every aspect of the living environment was considered and redesigned by the many members.

"Gabon" Textile Design by Nathalie Du Pasquier in Cotton fabric 1982
“Gabon” Textile Design by Nathalie Du Pasquier in Cotton fabric 1982
"Ashoka" Lamp Design by Ettore Sottsass, lacquered metal 1981. Image from https://www.memphis-milano.com/products/ashoka?_pos=1&_sid=f9ff5140c&_ss=r
“Ashoka” Lamp Design by Ettore Sottsass, lacquered metal 1981. Image from https://www.memphis-milano.com/products/ashoka
"First" Chair design by Michele De Lucchi, enameled wood and metal 1981. Image from https://www.memphis-milano.com/collections/michele-de-lucchi-1/products/first
“First” Chair design by Michele De Lucchi, enameled wood and metal 1981. Image from https://www.memphis-milano.com/collections/michele-de-lucchi-1/products/first

Here is a collection of many Memphis Group pieces altogether in a live setting.

"Memphis Collection Room View" Photograph and Collection from Dennis Zanone. Image from http://www.memphis-milano.org/
“Memphis Collection Room View” Photograph and Collection from Dennis Zanone. Image from http://www.memphis-milano.org/

In 1985 Sottsass felt he had fully explored this aspect of his designs, and not wanting to be tied down to one movement left the group. Two years later the group officially separated (Schwartzberg). The groups work had a significant impact on design in the years following its formation, influencing design styles that are immediately recognisable today. Television shows like Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Saved by the Bell feature sets influenced by the Memphis Group (Schwartzberg). These styles become iconic to the 80’s and 90’s.

Set from Pee-wee's Playhouse. Photo from https://www.thecut.com/2017/05/the-memphis-design-movement-is-having-a-moment.html
Set from Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Photo from https://www.thecut.com/2017/05/the-memphis-design-movement-is-having-a-moment.html
Set from Saved by the Bell. Photo from https://www.thecut.com/2017/05/the-memphis-design-movement-is-having-a-moment.html
Set from Saved by the Bell. Photo from https://www.thecut.com/2017/05/the-memphis-design-movement-is-having-a-moment.html

The groups style is still alive today seen in current designs by some of the original members like Alessandro Mendini who created skateboards for Supreme (Carson) . A collaboration between BMW, Garage Italia Customs and Michele De Lucchi, who’s 1981 chair design was shown above, re-imagine the companies i3 and i8 with Memphis style interior and exterior (Boeriu).

Memphis inspired Skateboards by Alessandro Mendini and Supreme. Image from https://www.creativebloq.com/inspiration/10-iconic-examples-of-memphis-design
Memphis inspired Skateboards by Alessandro Mendini and Supreme. Image from https://www.creativebloq.com/inspiration/10-iconic-examples-of-memphis-design
Memphis inspired BMW i8 exterior. Image from https://www.bmwblog.com/2017/09/13/2017-frankfurt-auto-show-bmw-i8-memphis-style/
Memphis inspired BMW i8 exterior. Image from https://www.bmwblog.com/2017/09/13/2017-frankfurt-auto-show-bmw-i8-memphis-style/
Memphis inspired BMW i8 interior. Image from https://www.bmwblog.com/2017/09/13/2017-frankfurt-auto-show-bmw-i8-memphis-style/
Memphis inspired BMW i8 interior. Image from https://www.bmwblog.com/2017/09/13/2017-frankfurt-auto-show-bmw-i8-memphis-style/

Ettore Sotsass and the Memphis Group were a collection of creators that shook that design world when they were formed in the 1980’s and have had lasting impacts on designers and pop-culture from then and still today. We explored designers and movements from around the world in class not were not mentioned in the current version of our textbook. The Memphis group and its designers would be an excellent addition to them in an updated version of the book, allowing us to explore design right up until the brink of the 21st century.


Works Cited

Boeriu, Horatiu. “2017 Frankfurt Auto Show: BMW i8 Memphis Style Edition.” BMW BLOG, 13 Sept. 2017, www.bmwblog.com/2017/09/13/2017-frankfurt-auto-show-bmw-i8-memphis-style/.

Carson, Nick. “10 Iconic Examples of Memphis Design.” Creative Bloq, Creative Bloq, 19 Jan. 2018, www.creativebloq.com/inspiration/10-iconic-examples-of-memphis-design.

“Ettore Sottsass.” Memphis Milano, www.memphis-milano.com/collections/ettore-sottsass.

Schwartzberg, Lauren. “The Memphis Design Movement Is Having a Moment.” The Cut, 29 May 2017, www.thecut.com/2017/05/the-memphis-design-movement-is-having-a-moment.html.

Sottsass, Ettore. “Sottsass Biographies A & B.” Design Quarterly, no. 89, 1973, pp. 34–34. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4090789. Accessed 31 Mar. 2020.


Design & Aesthetic of Good At Falling – James Brough

The Japanese House - Good At Falling  Amber Bain -Singer/Songwriter Samuel Burgess-Johnson - Artwork & Layout
The Japanese House – Good At Falling
Amber Bain -Singer/Songwriter
Samuel Burgess-Johnson – Artwork & Layout

Amber Bain is the Singer and Songwriter behind The Japanese House and its debut album Good at Falling . From the U.K., Amber is a 24 year old musician who’s music is described as electro folk and mournful synth pop (Buerger). When speaking on the albums songs, Bain tells Alexandra Pollard of Independent ‘“Most of the songs were written before the breakup, which is weird because it does sound like a breakup record,”’ (Pollard). The theme of break ups and life changes are present as well in the albums visuals.

Samuel Burgess-Johnson, an artist and art director most known for his work in the music industry with bands like The 1975, is the creator of the albums artwork and layout (Maher). As Amber describes the album being about a break up, it is an important visual influence for the cover and of the albums vinyl inside; space and distance have a heavy aesthetic impact as well.

Inside Flaps of Good At Falling  vinyl packaging
Inside Flaps of Good At Falling vinyl packaging

The albums cover features a minimalist design. The photography is by Jim Mangan, and sets Bain in a vast landscape. She pops out as a bright red figure surrounded by the white sand. The photograph both creates a sense of isolation as well as serenity. Johnson does a great job at using the photography of Mangan to influence the cover design. He reflects the both the isolation and serenity of the image with the composition of the type. The bands name rests lightly in the top right corner as if it floats in the sky. Where photograph cuts almost halfway down the cover, the empty white space helps to create a subtle separate space for the title to sit. While the title is very small in comparison to the size of the album, it still manages to dominate the lower half, and draws your eye directly to it as a second focal point, after Bain in the landscape image. The track listing sits on the front of the album, where it usually sits on the back, yet it does not distract from the main composition. This allows for the feeling of emptiness to be carried into the back of the album, which is comepetely blank apart from the Label name and copyright in the bottom corners.

The inside of the folded album packaging features another photo by Mangan and more type listing the people involved in the albums creation and Thankyou’s from the singer. Mangan’s photo once again emphasizes the feeling of space and isolation. Bain lays on the ground as the landscape and sky seem to go on for ever.

The combination of Mangan’s photography and Johnson’s layout design work together to create a sense of distancing ones self from the rest of the world, as well as a strange mixture of sorrow and serenity that reflects the overall mood of the album.

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Words Cited

Buerger, Megan. “The Japanese House: Good at Falling.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 4 Mar. 2019, pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/the-japanese-house-good-at-falling/.

Maher , Daniel Milroy. “Multi-Disciplinary Artist Samuel Burgess Johnson on His Work for The 1975.” It’s Nice That, 25 Mar. 2019, www.itsnicethat.com/articles/samuel-burgess-johnson-graphic-design-the-1975-250319.

Meek, Andy. “After a Breakthrough 2019, Here’s What’s Next for The Japanese House.” Billboard, 6 Dec. 2019, www.billboard.com/articles/news/pride/8545414/the-japanese-house-interview.

Pollard, Alexandra. “The Japanese House Interview: ‘If People Think I’m Using My Sexuality, Then so Be It. Let’s f**King Use It’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 2 Mar. 2019, www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/japanese-house-interview-amber-bain-album-good-at-falling-marika-hackman-a8804331.html.