“Sigve Knutson combines an intuitive language with almost architectural forms. This impressed me, as did his maturity at just 26 years of age”, says Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, who in 2010 co-founded Carwan Gallery in Beirut, the first contemporary design gallery in the Middle East. He came across Knutson’s work on Instagram last autumn. Soon thereafter they collaborated on two shows in Milan during this year’s Salone. “We received great feedback from the press and from design professionals, and even managed to sell pieces. In Milan, Knutson was already the talk of the town.” Bellavance-Lecompte then invited him for his largest solo show so far during Beirut Design Week in May, where Knutson’s drawings were presented alongside a large selection of his objects.

The way Knutson digests the world is through his abstract drawings. He always carries a sketchpad along with him wherever he goes. “His drawing practice is refreshing in a design world dominated by 3D printing and digital production. In the exhibition, we showed his drawings as an essential part of the process”, Bellavance-Lecompte says. “With his drawings, Knutson goes back to basics, while at the same time he’s very adept at communication as well as research and technology. And when it comes to creating, he does so with his own hands.” Knutson nods and adds, “Through drawing, which is something very raw, I look at what we’re missing if we only rely on technology to shape objects and reality.” The drawings inspire him to make objects. This inspiration can be anything – images, a beautiful tree, or industrial landscapes. “In any case, I draw a lot. And I view all my drawings as a whole. I can’t just copy a drawing and make the ob- ject based on only one. It’s more like inspi- ration – I try to connect drawing to crafts; my aim is to find immediate ways of working with materials.”

Six legged Stool, 2016 / Drawing Objects series Untreated Abaci Wood / 30 x 48 x 50 cm Courtesy of Carwan Gallery, Beirut
By using certain methods and material combinations that allow him to work intuitively and spontaneously, Knutson creates objects in the same free way that he draws. “I make wax models, for instance, or I work with clay. I always try to find techniques that only require one step. Clay, aluminium, silicone, hammered aluminium: you name it. I also create my own materials, like wood-glue mixed with wood-dust and paper. I like to work in my studio, by myself; no craftspeo- ple are involved, even though I am a totally amateur craftsman. I’m not a ceramist but I do a lot of ceramics. Which is beneficial – since I make many mistakes, which leads me to total failures and interesting surprises. I also never do tests: it’s all about objects. I work very intuitively and try to surprise myself. As you know, Scandinavian designers make super nice objects; we’re known for that. I want to acknowledge the human side, organic forms.” Even though Knutson is a designer, many call him an artist. “All my objects play with functionality – they have a purpose and are functional.” Some are obviously chairs or tables, others are more sculptural, and some are in-between. Interpretation is also important. “I very much enjoy learning what other people see in my work, and I don’t like to provide a how-to manual for my pieces.”

Whether or not he stirred up agitation with his peculiar work in the chaotic, sparkling, cosmopolitan, trilingual, war-fucked Beirut, we wonder how probable it is that he’ll shake up visitors in the calm, prosperous, decent, middle-class, mono-cultural, well-organised Oslo, where he will soon have an exhibition. Knutson: “The design scene in Beirut is very different from what I am used to and what I am doing. Quite a big part of it here is about expensive, flashy materials in coated bronze, precious stone, and the like, while I use completely inexpensive materials. You don’t need to do much to make a piece of gold look precious. With a low-cost material you have to be more inspired to make it look valuable. Many people visiting the show at Carwan Gallery were intrigued, apparently. Of course, the reputation of Design Academy Eindhoven is always a good starting point, as it is known to educate makers who tell personal stories through design. I guess that’s what I am doing.” Bellavance-Lecompte enthuses: “Sigve Knutsen’s work has this power to completely mesmerise visitors. Forget what you were thinking about design so far. You have to start again, reset your ideas!”

Sigve Knutson, 2017 / Photo: Thomas Ballouhey
Beirut’s effect on the young designer hasn’t gone amiss. Bellavance-Lecompte, who before settling down in the Lebanese capital, lived in Montreal, Milan, and Berlin, describes how Knutson’s first encounter with the city left him dazzled. “Scandinavians usually think of Italy as the ultimate in chaos, so can you imagine arriving in Beirut?!... This was his first introduction to the Middle East, and even his first time outside the Western world. Leaving the airport, he was immediately thrown into the utter havoc of the traffic.” Chaos, hybrid abundance, juxtaposed contrasts, cosmopolitanism, ... this also transfers to the local design scene. “All possible tastes are covered: you have experimental designers, refined Europeans, mainstream brands, etc. Beirut is a mixed culture with people who are educated in French, American, or classical Arabic schools, and everything between and around those. They all blend in, somehow, with many different ideas and approaches. Together they produce this wonderful Lebanese mix. Many people have also studied abroad and returned, bringing extra influences, knowledge, and international networks. The Lebanese have also established themselves as important collectors, including those from the diaspora. This is a huge and diverse design landscape. Even compared to London, it’s impressive.”

According to Bellavance-Lecompte, Knutson has been introduced to Middle Eastern culture in the leading design city in the region. “Dubai tried, but never reached this level.”

Wood Clay Chair, 2016. Drawing Objects series 45 x 46 x 76 cm. Courtesy of Carwan Gallery, Beirut
Red Clay Sculpture, 2016. Drawing Objects series 29 x 7 x 42 cm. Courtesy of Carwan Gallery, Beirut
At the end of August, a solo exhibition will present Knutson’s unconventional work to the local scene in Oslo. How will Knutson’s design approach affect the neat and tidy Norwegian design scene, with its tradition of clean lines? As Bellavance-Lecompte suggests, “He definitively has the potential to stir up a discussion about design in his home country.” Besides, un- like other Scandinavian designers, not many Norwegians have reached out on an international scale. So Knutson might just be an excellent ambassador for Norwegian design, but not as we know it.

Drawing Objects is at Carwan Gallery, Beirut, until 14 July 2017.

Drawing Objects is at Galleri Format in Oslo, 17 August – 10 September 2017.

This article appeared in DAM63. Order your personal copy.
Carved Wood Tray, 2016 / Drawing Objects series Untreated mahogany wood / 51 x 37 x 4 cm
Cast Aluminium Hanger, 2016 Drawing Objects series 70 x 20 x 137 cm. Courtesy of Carwan Gallery
Wood Clay Shelf Tower, 2017. Drawing Objects / Exhibition view / Milan Design Week
Drawing Objects, 2017. Exhibition view / Carwan Gallery / Beirut. Photo: Marwan Harmouche
Drawing Objects, 2017 Carwan Gallery. Beirut Design Week. Photo: Marwan Harmouche