STUDIO VISIT | FORT MAKERS

THERE IS NO I IN TEAM, OR FOR THAT MATTER, FORT MAKERS. THIS MAY BE PURELY COINCIDENTAL, BUT THEIR COLLABORATIVE APPROACH TO ART AND DESIGN IS INTENTIONAL IN EVERY PART. THOUGH THE APPROACH IS NOT THE FIRST OF ITS KIND (THEY DRAW PLENTY OF INSPIRATION FROM THE BAUHAUS,) THE STUNNING DESIGNS THAT THEY PRODUCE FROM THEIR STUDIO IN NAVY HILL ARE ENTIRELY THEIR OWN. 

To begin with would you mind telling the story behind the name Fort Makers?

Fort Makers is inspired by the Bauhaus and our name relates to this artistic movement. Bauhaus in German literally means constructing house, or building house. We wanted to create a new term similar to this that feels American and contemporary. We chose Fort Makers because we collectively are a fort of makers: we gather around the mission to make things together, and we believe that great things can be achieved when many people join together to create something. More brains equal a bigger, better brain. Plus, I used to live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, so that put the word in my head. 

A great thing about our name is that it reminds people of making forts as a kid. Fort Makers is in many ways a playful brand. 

With the range of projects and products that Fort Makers produces it feels like it’s more about the group and the total body of work rather than any one person or piece. Would you agree with this?

Yes, I'd agree with this. Fort Makers is intended to be a brand, and a brand should have a strong and individual point of view. I think we achieve this, and it's my job as creative director to guide us in doing this. We want the brand to feel cohesive and we want all of Fort Makers' projects to relate to each other. But we also really want to highlight the individual artists. I want people to know of the names of Naomi Clark, Noah Spencer, Keith Simpson and Elizabeth Whitcomb.

Fun and play seem to occupy a central part of the Fort Makers thesis, while you continue to produce really elevated and exciting work. How do you make serious work without taking yourself or the work too seriously?

We're really inspired by the Eames brand. They incorporated humor and playfulness into their branding and marketing, while also being taken seriously.

We take our work very seriously and we want it to be appreciated as art, but we're going about achieving this in a different way than many artists do or have done, via the design world.  

You have to laugh at yourself, always. It feels so good to laugh! And my co-founders Naomi Clark and Noah Spencer are hilarious. We want to enjoy life as much as we can, and we do this by poking fun at ourselves. 

Good art only comes about when its collaborators are mutually respectful and equally passionate.
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Given the open structure of Fort Makers as a collective, how do you organize the creative workflow in terms of who creates what, how designs are decided upon, executed etc?

Sometimes there are many people working together on one project, like for our installations at MoMA PS1, or for our residency and gallery show at the 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia . But most of the time it's me and a single artist working together on a project. We all pitch ideas and create a consistent open dialogue about our brand. While we all critique our work, it's my job to greenlight projects, to tie all the projects together and to steer the brand. I'm the creative director, but the only way I feel comfortable in leading is when all of the artists I work with are excited and satisfied. Good art only comes about when its collaborators are mutually respectful and equally passionate.

Moving forward what is the next project or product that you would be most excited for Fort Makers to explore?

Noah continues to receive commissions to make large-scale wooden sculptures. He recently made a multi-piece bench and light sculpture for the interior courtyard of a minimalist ranch in Colorado. This was definitely a continuation of Noah's Line Light series. He put an LED light on the underside of the bench. This is Noah's best work yet, and I still haven't seen it in person. I have to go to Colorado soon!

I'm also excited about the large, painted furniture that Naomi's been making. We just debuted two painted circular ottomans at Volta NY and they're really cool. My ultimate goal with Naomi is for us to create three-dimensional, multi-layered paintings in people's living rooms. Imagine a room that is one large abstract painting, where the painting lives on the room's walls, chairs, curtains and pillows. I have to see this!

This coming fall Naomi and I are making a tent that will be erected for a client's wedding in a historical mansion on the Upper East Side. Naomi is going to paint the tent's fabric! It's kind of Royal Tenenbaumish, don't you think? We can't wait!

PHOTOGRAPHS BY MELISSA WALBRIDGE

INTERVIEW BY ISAAC FRIEDMAN-HEIMAN