Ahead of his show at Emma Scully Gallery, the artist reflects on his design philosophy, which hinges on the embrace of what’s beautiful in its rawest form
Together Over Time—Rafael Prieto’s show at Emma Scully Gallery—came together in Italy’s Dolomites. “The mountains did something to me,” the artist reflects. “Once the seed is planted, I begin to think, to idealize, to read, to write, to create a map in my mind in order to reach realization.”
It was the simplicity of that rugged environment—viewed in quick succession with Venetian architecture and Puglian seaside towns—that etched itself into Prieto’s mind. “It suddenly came to me to play with materiality, elements I enjoy and appreciate, as an homage to their natural beauty.” His resulting nine-piece exhibition spans sculpture, furniture, and lighting, built with glass, wood, stone, and ceramic. The artist leans on the strength of bare elements, crafting design pieces that serve simultaneously as art and functional object. “The tension and harmony between what is natural and what is man-made are of interest to me,” Prieto says. “The desire is to embrace what is already beautiful, and to leave a thumbprint on it.”
Elsewhere, the artist heads Savvy Studio, a design practice based between New York and Mexico City. Its principals are guided by those same sensibilities—a drive to experiment while remaining earnest, to create something new with what’s already accessible in raw form. For Prieto, art follows a certain logic: We’re meant to live in harmony with our surroundings, whether they take the form of a piece of furniture, or a passerby on the street, or a lush, all-encompassing forest. Ahead of his show’s opening, the artist met with Document to expand upon that philosophy, which hinges upon the power of time, a certain curiosity, and the patience to sit back and observe it all.
Elinor Kry: What does the show’s title, Together Over Time, mean to you?
Rafael Prieto: It speaks about the power of time—the way emotions, people, words, objects, nature, and thoughts suddenly come together to make sense.
Elinor: Can you break down the show’s conceptual ties to Manuel DeLanda’s Assemblage Theory?
Rafael: What brought me to the theory was a conversation during a studio visit with the artist Thomas Fugeirol. While I was showing him drawings, we spoke about a French term, agencement, which has never been properly translated to English. Some people have referred to it as assemblage, but the meaning is actually different. I was drawn to this contrast in semantics.
Those little details [led to] more research, and I got to Manuel DeLanda’s Assemblage Theory. I’m putting pieces and materials together because they make sense to me, but they are not necessarily assembled—they’re based on my experiences and feelings about them.
Elinor: Walk me through the creative process behind this project, from its conception to its final installation.
Rafael: It’s been quite special and beautiful. I articulated the show by formulating two pieces: a poem in the form of haiku, and a paragraph based on a book, using sentences from different chapters and putting them together until it made sense.
A lot of ideas came to me during a trip to Italy last summer—seeing, observing. After visiting Venice, we drove north and spent some time in the Dolomites. The mountains did something to me. There’s a merge in my mind between the south and the north, the winter and summer. The simplicity of Puglia matched Venice and its surroundings. Nature contrasted with architecture, and populated urban areas. It suddenly came to me to play with materiality, elements I enjoy and appreciate, as an homage to their natural beauty. [We worked] with artisans to enhance and embrace their uniqueness.
“There’s this freedom in not having to be too literal or obvious, [and still] achieving something meaningful. Playing with words, thoughts, emotions—being free with them, and letting things come together naturally.”
Elinor: When people come to the show, how would you advise them to engage with it?
Rafael: Pay attention to them, touch them, feel them.
Elinor: What does a moment of inspiration look like for you? Do you have parameters for determining whether an idea has come to fruition, or is it more instinctual?
Rafael: Purely instinctual: Once the seed is planted, I begin to think, to idealize, to read, to write, to create a map in my mind in order to reach realization. My studio, Savvy, bases its practice mainly on research—yet, in personal work, everything is based totally on a hunch. Then, afterward, begins the process of sketching ideas and creating images.
Elinor: You’ve spoken about something poetic or happenstance that’s present in this show. Where do you locate those impressions?
Rafael: I would say poetry and concrete poetry, as forms of art, have always influenced my work in a very visceral way. There’s this freedom in not having to be too literal or obvious, [and still] achieving something meaningful. Playing with words, thoughts, emotions—being free with them, and letting things come together naturally.
Elinor: When you first envisioned this project, who did you have in mind as the audience?
Rafael: My friends, and the people I admire.
Elinor: How does your background inform your creative practice?
Rafael: I grew up on a ranch in Mexico. Moments I mistook for boredom I can now look back upon as [opportunities] for contemplation. It was during this period in my life that I truly learned to observe. As I moved to live in cities, I have been doing the same—observing people, buildings, parks, arts and culture, human behavior. Curiosity and appreciation for [my surroundings] are what inform the work I make today.
Elinor: This collection brings natural forms into conversation with the realms of modern art and architecture. Where does that desire come from?
Rafael: The tension and harmony between what is natural and what is man-made are of interest to me—the desire is to embrace what is already beautiful, and to leave a thumbprint on it.
Together Over Time is on view at Emma Scully Gallery between April 6 and June 3.