Chris Fong is an LA-based apparel designer and ceramicist. After completing his BA in product design at Otis College of Art and Design, Chris started making architectural ceramic vessels that are sculptural yet functional. He manipulates line, color, form and repetition to create his abstract pieces.
Interview by Jennifer Wang
Tell us more about your background:
I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii and was always involved fine arts; however I initially came to LA to study film. I wanted to be a writer or a cinematographer but I ended up getting my BA in product design at Otis College of Art and Design. During my senior year I had the good fortune of receiving a fellowship grant which I used to visit the Royal College of Art grad show and travel around Europe and took workshops at Domaine De Boisbuchet with Maria Blaisse and Mischer Traxler. For a few summers I’ve worked for my previous teacher and LA based designer, Tanya Aguiniga who I’ve learned so much from and consider her a major mentor in my life. I’ve also worked for Brendan Ravenhill for a brief time before moving on to my current full-time job as a apparel designer (mainly backpacks/travel gear) for an outdoor backpacking company. I recently moved to Highland Park LA where I’m currently building my home studio.
How did you get started with ceramics?
I really got into hand building at Otis College with my mentor, Joan Takayama Ogawa. I started making architectural ceramics before I went on to learn about mold making and slip casting. The vases were actually conceived in a class where we worked with Gainey ceramics to come up with a few designs. This during my junior year, and at this time in my education, I was really into paper folding and origami. I was also learning how to integrate paper models in my design process which eventually lead to the vase design. I actually made the same pattern of the vases in wool first before getting into ceramic during Tanya’s class. I think there is a simplicity and forgiveness within clay, it’s a medium that truly helps me think with my hands.
Two summers ago, during the trek I made with my grant, I visited Asheville NC and stayed with Michael Sherrill, who was the artist that nominated me for the fellowship. I live with him and his family for 18 days and learned to throw porcelain. He's an amazing maker, and also the founder of Mud Tools. I learned so much from that experience and I hope once I finish setting up my studio I can further my education and continue to make things other could enjoy and home and my work could be a part of their lives.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your pieces?
These ceramic vessels are sculptural yet functional, there is a graphic aspect to them that create a contemporary aesthetic. When you put a bouquet of flowers in the vase the silhouette created is much like a billowing plume of smoke. I think the crisp edges and ombre make you forget that its ceramic.
Where do you draw design inspiration from?
I tend to thrive on the challenges of uncertainty and face them head on to determine whether or not a material can advance my ideas forward. My background is a mix of fine art, film and graphic design, which enables me to view projects from different angles and express ideas by improvising and adapting an assortment of media that can bring out new scenarios of expression. My process is based on research, observation, insight, experimentation and rejection, which calls into question what relationships have the potential of creating non-traditional ways a product or system can interact with the user and produce new experiences.
I strive to change the paradigm of our learned perception of objects and attempt to reconstruct those perceptions through the manipulation of the common abstraction of line, color, form, structure, volume, pattern and repetition. I want to create objects that tell a story, but are also functional, culturally significant, communicate a strong aesthetic and have sustainable considerations.
The goals of my work, is to draw people in and stimulate them without undermining the functionality and purpose of the product. These vases specifically draw inspiration from paper folding, there is poetry in folding paper. Each fold builds on one another to create the strongest shape- the triangle, as the triangles form into an algorithmic pattern a silhouette is formed. In a way paper folding is transforming 2d into something 3d, much like how ideas are translated into reality, sketches are turned into a runway dress and so forth.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
I was first introduced to the world of materials in school and soon discovered a passion for exploring and always stretching the limits of what is feasible with mixing materials and applying techniques, processed and experimentation combined with context to achieve a complete transformation and unique look in the work I produce. The material informs my designs, and so far this is the first product of my own that I am releasing into the world. I think materials are a lot like linguistics, where materials are like words in a lexicon; tools that help to formulate a sentence or an idea to be communicated through design. What’s great is that these products become lexicons, tailored to the user’s life. I love welding and metal bending, and I would be interested in leather working, metal spinning, and jewelry making. Generally I just like working with my hands, its always been a major tool for self expression and communication. Ceramics is my first stepping stone, there will definitely be more to come, I need to finish building my studio first.
Tell me more about your involvement with Nue Market and other exciting projects:
Nue Market was initially conceived by my friend, Melanie Abrantes
, based on previous project that flourished into a collaborative departure between us. We wanted to create a platform for emerging designers, artists and makers to showcase their work, network with the creative community, while fostering entrepreneurship. During the day I design backpacks and travel accessories for an outdoor goods company. By night I’m my own designer. Im currently working on experimenting with matte glazes and colored porcelain for these vases.