Behind This Artist’s One-Of-A-Kind Sculptural Furnishings


black sculpture that looks like a bench with other pieces in a garage by J McDonald

J McDonald’s Chimera Bench, Chimera Chair, Mirror Mirror and Hydra Lamp await their journey from his studio to Objective Gallery in Shanghai.

“The idea was to take an organic, sculptural form and collide it with a rectangle,” J McDonald says of his wall-mounted Innersection Vanity. “It’s like a Venn diagram, but instead of two circles, it’s a strange, spiraling bean boomerang overlapping with a square,” McDonald notes of the enigmatic piece composed of gypsum cement and bronze plating. Within a form in gypsum cement, bronze plating frames a mirror. The piece—like much of his practice—is about reconciling disparate materials, approaches and environments while ensuring one doesn’t overpower the rest.

white humanoid sculpture by J McDonald

Hanging Lamp, will debut at McDonald's upcoming show in Shanghai.

black ovular sculptures on white wooden planks by J McDonald

sketch of art piece by J McDonald

Artist J McDonald using an orange scraper on his white sculpture

Materiality, provided for instance by a coat of gypsum cement, plays a central role in pieces like his Hanging Lamp, which will debut at his upcoming show.

“There are forms in nature that are endlessly fascinating and inspiring, and there are geometries within urban settings that infinitely intrigue me,” McDonald shares. “Yet I find none of these as interesting in themselves as the places in which they meet—the moments of displacement or transition.” The multifaceted artist recently traded the hurried pace of Brooklyn for the reflective Hudson Valley, where, from his new studio, this complexity can be explored with “more space and trees, ladybug infestations and solitude,” he says.

McDonald began his career in architecture, learning traditional West African construction methods such as waddle-and-daub building; skills that carry over to his contemporary practice. “I still use techniques that can be traced back to this training. Plaster and gypsum are just a more finished and durable iteration of earth,” notes McDonald, who often merges these mediums with metal to evoke the contrasting rigidity of man-made industry.

To make his one-of-a-kind sculptural furnishings, his designs “go from hand-sketching to the digital world, where they are overlaid with engineering, and then back to the physical world where they are produced using a combination of modern technologies and age-old methods,” he explains. In many ways, this approach embodies the dualities his finished pieces represent: since many of the tools we employ are tailored to producing rectilinear forms, the introduction of a more amorphous shape requires the reintroduction of the human hand.

The designer’s ability to juxtapose these complementary qualities results in works that are as aesthetically stimulating as they are visceral. And, with upcoming shows at New Zealand’s Bonham Gallery and Objective Gallery’s Shanghai flagship, the questions they posit are propelling his quickly expanding practice oceans away.

Photography by Winona Barton-Ballentine