Exploring the line between the manmade and the mortal

Peter Marigold's Bleed

By Tamara Warren

When Peter Marigold set out to create the Bleed series, he mined his past to compose work that is structurally simple, but deeply profound. The result is a series of striking, stained cedar cabinets that forge an alliance between the dueling forces of creativity and mortality.

“I wanted to make objects that hover somewhere between wooden boxes and human beings,” Marigold says, speaking from his studio in his hometown London. Prior to graduating with an MFA from the Royal College of Art in 2006, he studied sculpture and worked as a set builder. This background in theatrical thinking is clearly reflected in his narrative-driven approach; and the dramatic character of his pieces echoes the urban environment in which he works. Despite his consistent use of natural materials, Marigold is ultimately interested in the way people perceive and interact with objects. “I prefer a flea market over a forest any day,” he says.

Marigold’s pieces hold a mirror up to human nature, whittled down to its most essential core; raw and weighty in spirit, but idiosyncratic and earthy in form. Thus, in Bleed, his cedar wood cabinets are composed of simple, block-like shapes clad in tongue and groove panels—calling to mind small sheds on British farms—which become ennobled by steel fasteners that have been treated so that black pigments seep down the pristine surface.

To achieve this hemorrhaging effect, the nails are stripped of their protective zinc coating using hydrochloric acid and the wood is heavily wire-brushed to raise the grain and then soaked many times in diluted vinegar. Then he leaves the constructed Bleed pieces outside—exposed to the elements—and the black “bleeding” pattern slowly emerges from the natural chemical reactions between the rain, the unprotected steel, and the tannin in the timber. This innovative technique creates a dark, emotive motif along the wood’s surface—a soulful complement to an otherwise unembellished form.

According to the designer, the title of the series has an intentional double meaning. “On the one hand, the steel is bleeding into the cedar, but I am also interested in the point at which a regular manmade form takes on character, the point at which nature takes a foothold in the things that we create to drag them back down into the mud. The mortality of the manmade becomes evident.”

Peter Marigold in his studio Photo © Peter Marigold
I am interested in … the point at which nature takes a foothold in the things we create. Thus far, Marigold has produced six cabinets this year and will complete the final two pieces of the Bleed series for the Decorex fair, following the London Design Festival.

The story of Bleed, however, actually began with another series created in 2009. That was the year Marigold was named Designer of the Future at Design Miami/Basel. (Though, by then, he had already spent a number of years cultivating his practice.) For the award, he presented Palindrome, a collection of cabinets that are half mold and half cast, resulting in mirrored details and textures—more focused on symmetry and form than practical notions of utility. That process is part of the continuum in Marigold’s work to parse naturally occurring elements for familiar characteristics that are not always attributed to designed objects.

“In all of my work, I see continuous themes. Even in the silly, one-off ideas, there are recurring techniques and forms,” Marigold says. “With the forms of the Bleed pieces, I actually intentionally referred back to the Palindrome series that I created for Design Miami in 2009, giving the wardrobe and cabinets almost identical proportions to those pieces. I felt this was interesting, to suggest a kind of standardization to my objects that then have different filters of processes placed upon them.”

And so with Bleed, Marigold picks up where he left off, almost like adding another layer of skin to the surface of an object that’s part of a larger conversation. "In this way, the actual process is, by its nature, only a surface treatment. I like this lightness,” he says. “It’s just an application, rather than reinventing the wheel, [although] they are intentionally melodramatic at the same time. It’s only an effect.” Marigold's outstanding new work with Bleed captures the ambitious intention—in both physical and conceptual terms—that was laid out in the sketches he began for the series almost three years ago. “I wanted to make work that talks about our relationship with the objects we make and nature’s impact on those objects—an eternal, ritualistic conflict that defines who we are in the universe.”

  • Text by

    • Tamara Warren

      Tamara Warren

      Tamara has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Detroit Free Press, Forbes, Details and over 100 other newspapers, magazines and websites. She founded the car culture site Gotryke.com. The Detroit native lives and works in Brooklyn.