It’s design week in Toronto: in galleries along Queen Street West and Dundas West designers are furiously installing a range of shows focused on myriad themes and objects, all of them part of what’s officially called the Toronto Design Offsite Festival or TODO for short (Jan. 23 – 29). Popular annual events include Capacity (featuring female designers), Canadian design retailer MADE’s Radiant Dark and the Gladstone Hotel’s always surprising Come Up To My Room, where design teams transform vacant guest rooms and hallways with always beguiling results. Do Design spreads out across the Dundas West neighbourhood Jan. 26 – 29.
With the obvious exception of Capacity, independent local designer Rob Southcott, left, is or has been a part of virtually all of those events. He’s also shown work in the Prototype and Studio North exhibits at the Interior Design Show, Canada’s biggest design event, now in it’s 12th year (Jan. 26 – 29). IDS has put Toronto on the design map and while the event pales compared to world-beating festivals in Milan, New York, Kortrijk or Cologne, Toronto is definitely making a mark, thanks in part to the explosion of coverage on design blogs and other media that permit the design world to check in with us whether they make it into town or not.
I met up with Southcott yesterday where he was dropping off work for one of four offsite exhibitions he’s taking part in this week. We met on Dundas West where one of his manufacturing partners, IMM Living, is sponsoring Not Forkchops at The Department Gallery (1389 Dundas Street West, January 25 – 29). Southcott’s piece in the show is called UrbanDrift, above, a new kind of desk organizer that allows pens, letters, iPods or BlackBerries to be housed temporarily.
Just down the street at Cooper Cole Gallery, Southcott is taking part in this year’s Associates group show where a band of indie designers has challenged themselves to create objects that have associations with other objects. The theme is well illustrated with Southcott’s entry, Cork Board Clocks, below, two objects, now united, that help users organize their time.
On the artier side, Southcott has created a piece called Reticulation, left, that will show as part of MOTO at the Domison furniture store (35 Jarvis Street, January 25 – 29). And at Regent Park’s 40 Oaks Community Centre Southcott is participating in a group show staged by the Toronto Christian Resource Centre and Public Displays of Affection, which does pro bono design work benefiting communities in need.
It’s a busy, busy week with openings and design events and Southcott is doing what he can to pump up the buzz with an e-blast to his database of clients and contacts. He’s one of the few independent designers who actually “works” the media and it’s the reason he’s featured here today. Design is ultimately about the products being created but profile is also critically important and that’s something Southcott understands.
“The e-blast will reach a lot of clients who won’t actually make it to the shows,” he points out. “So it keeps them up to date with what I’m doing and keeps me top of mind. It’s part of my daily hustle and my attempt to keep my brand alive. It’s hard to cover all the bases — to be creative and still keep up with the business and promotional aspects. I’m a one man show, I wear a lot of hats but I love what I do and I hope it’s reflected in all these various things I produce.”
Southcott is probably best known for his antler chairs, United We Stand, and his Totem cups and bowls produced by IMM Living and sold at the Art Gallery of Ontario gift shop, among other retail outlets.
Southcott is something of a restless creative spirit, not content to restrict himself to materials or processes. Wood, ceramics, and now rubber with UrbanDrift, Southcott wants to keep challenging himself and taking advantage of new technologies. For instance, UrbanDrift is a prototype that was created using revolutionary 3D printing technology, in this case laying down layers of rubber rather than ink. It’s a fascinating field.
“Right now we’re at a critical point where technologies that were very expensive,” says Southcott, “have come down in price to the point where they’re affordable to people like me.”
The designer recently added a laser cutter to his arsenal of tools at his Liberty Village studio/workshop.
“After doing this for six years or so people are starting to recognize my name as an independent designer from Toronto,” adds Southcott, “and hopefully as somebody who’s always trying to push new works out there.”