Doug Johnston’s new coiled creatures land at Patrick Parrish

What It Is

By Anna Carnick

Since 2010, Brooklyn-based designer Doug Johnston has used a unique process of coiling and stitching rope—“a cross between throwing a pot and additive sculpting,” as he puts it—to craft charming and often curious objects. Working with his hands and an industrial sewing machine, he makes pieces ranging from baskets to lighting to less defined vessels. His creations are varyingly functional and beguilingly amorphic. They feel at once familiar and foreign.

This month, Johnston presents his latest, and arguably most intriguing, works to date in a fantastic show called What It Is at New York’s Patrick Parrish Gallery.

While many of Johnston’s earlier pieces have existed comfortably at the intersection of art, craft, and design, his twenty new works are a conscious expansion of that hybrid nature. Some forms are altogether fresh; others, such as Those Pants, Kogetsudai, and Backpack (Lantern), for example, add new layers of functionality to earlier compositions, further blurring boundaries and allowing him to delve deeper into the nature of objects that he finds especially fascinating. 

As Johnston explains, “Many of the pieces in the show are somewhat direct recreations of other objects, but shifted into other purposes by the addition of lighting components or by becoming vessels. In those cases,” he says, “the objects were referenced because they, at some point in my life, have influenced me to think about the capabilities of humans to manipulate the world around us into objects, spaces, networks, and so on, and in turn inspire me to develop my own capabilities of material manipulation.”

What It Is also introduces a new material into Johnston’s work. In addition to the coiled rope and stitched thread, some pieces incorporate urethane resin—both to reinforce the pieces’ structure and to add a striking aesthetic, textural element.

Throughout the works, there’s a great sense of thoughtfulness and freedom. Referencing his coiling method—a practice that he’s become increasingly expert at over the last half decade—Johnston notes, “This process of making has become my preferred method of inquiry into the ontology of human-made objects and spaces . . . Through this exploration, pieces are allowed to come into their own, often improvisationally, due to the imprecise and slight unpredictable nature of the process.”

And that unpredictability is at the heart of Johnston’s appeal.

What It Is is on view through December December 31, 2015 at Patrick Parrish Gallery: 50 Lispenard Street / New York, NY / To learn more about Johnston, check out our feature interview, Joy Division. And for those planning to visit Design Miami/ next month, Johnston will be debuting a new lighting project at the fair, again with Patrick Parrish. We can’t wait!

  • Text by

    • Anna Carnick

      Anna Carnick

      Anna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.