David Gates designs and makes “striking pieces of three-dimensional art, inspired by, but not delimited by the idea of cabinet furniture.” (Emma Crichton Miller, Crafts Sep/Oct 2017).
London-born London-based David combines studio furniture-making with formal research. His work is exhibited and collected internationally. He received the Gold Award at the Cheongju biennale 2015 and was a winner of the Jerwood Contemporary Makers 2010. David holds a PhD by thesis from King's College London having researched the use of talk as an aspect of practice amongst professional craftspeople.
Trained as a designer he has always found making and the workshop to be the most expedient way to explore ideas, working from photographs, sketches, and models through to samples and experiments. Recent design and making work centres on the collecting cabinet. His work makes use of mass, volume, balance, and structure having a clear relationship to architecture, yet is also wholly functional. Spaces, interiors, ledges, and shelves reveal themselves through doors, tambours, drawers, and fall-flaps suggesting places to store and display objects.
David is drawn to industrial and agricultural architecture and infrastructure. This includes storage depots, jetties and wharves, grain silos, coastal defences, radio towers and pylons, as well as the detritus and paraphernalia that often populates these sites; containers, crates, and access and moving equipment. Looking across to the cranes, buildings, and conveyors of the Tate & Lyle factory, his riverside studio is close to the remaining Thames-side wharves and jetties and on the way to the flat landscape of the estuary.
There is a peculiar rightness to many of these structures related to their expediency, function, and immediacy. Their rationality and utility generate a sculptural and aesthetic integrity. None of the cabinets are ‘of’ a particular structure or building although some are more strongly related to particular sites. However, they all embrace an overall aesthetic and approach that emerges from observation, photography, and drawing.
All of the cabinets are explicitly three-dimensional. Unlike much cabinet furniture, which has a definite 'front', these pieces have multiple elevations of interest. This is part of a strategy of slowing down, of taking time to engage with a piece and explore the openings, niches, and drawers and the part they take in the overall form. Additionally, the architecture they are drawn from, as a contemporary vernacular, rarely present themselves with a grand front elevation. The furniture shares this quality of being structures in the round whose forms and points of interest shift and change as one's viewpoint moves – there is an element of chance in how they are encountered and assessed.
On the one hand the provisional and utilitarian nature of this kind of architecture and infrastructure seems at odds with some of the qualities that often define studio furniture; those of slowness and precision. On the other hand, besides drawing on a visual language of forms and composition, the making processes used in the furniture are echoic of the deliberation and appropriateness of the architectural constructions. Works are made as individual pieces, but as individual pieces hand-making (including using machinery in non-automated ways) is often the most appropriate way to realise a design. Joinery is selected because of its rightness; a dovetailed and slipped drawer is still the soundest way to make a drawer durable and functional. Dovetails and mortice and tenon joints form the basis of a constructional repertoire and describe something of the work's construction. The intersections of various components are visible, joinery, beyond being visually interesting itself, indexes what happens below the surface.
The non-specificity of each work’s relationship to visual source material is reflected in how their future use is imagined. Their function is deliberately vague, no precise function is prescribed as each piece is designed and made. All the cabinets are functional but this emerges through later use, each becomes particular to a specific context: their vagueness lends them to the particular.
This makes clear the paradox that although imagined and made as a discrete object each work will exist as part of a complex of social and material inter-relations. Indeed, this is what makes the work become meaningful. To use a linguistic metaphor, the furniture, the objects it contains, the space it occupies, and the practices enacted around it all exist as mutually constitutive contexts and texts.
PhD research 2008 - 2017
Thesis title: The Makers’ Tongue: Small Stories of Positioning and Performance in the Situated Discourses of Contemporary Crafts Practitioners.
King’s College London. Supervisors: Alexandra Georgakopoulou, Professor of Discourse Analysis and Sociolinguistics and Celia Roberts, Professor of Applied Linguistics.
1985 – 1988 BA hons. Furniture and Product Design, Ravensbourne College of Art and Design.
1984 – 1985 Art Foundation Course Diploma, Ravensbourne College of Art and Design.
2017 Collect, Gallery Spotlight; new work with Helen Carnac. Sarah Myerscough Gallery.
2016 PAD London Sarah Myerscough Gallery 2015 Cheongju Biennale, South Korea. Gallery LVS
2015 Collect, London. Sarah Myerscough Gallery.
2015 Methods of Making. National Centre for Craft and Design.
2015 Art Geneve. Sarah Myerscough Gallery. 2015 Crafting Anatomies, Bonnington Galleries, Nottingham Trent University.
2014 On Display, Sarah Myerscough Gallery, London. London Design Festival.
2014 Collect, Saatchi Gallery, London. With Contemporary Applied Arts.
2013 Beauty is the First Test. National Centre for Craft and Design, and touring nationally.
2013 St Mungo’s/Woodworks project: A Design Process. London Design Festival, Victoria & Albert Museum.
2012 The Tool at Hand. Milwaukee Art Museum. Wisconsin, USA. (Reviewed: Journal of Modern Craft vol 5 issue 3 pp351-4.) Touring USA 2013-14, Philadelphia, Houston, and Portland.
2012 Tankerekker. Telemark Kunsterersenter, Norway. Solo show.
2012 Pairings 2 Stroud International Textiles. Site-specific installation with Alice Kettle and Jane Webb at The Museum in the Park.
2011 Loop, Intelligent Trouble. Contemporary Applied Arts, London. Participation and group curation.
2011 Collect at the Saatchi Gallery, London, with New Brewery Arts.
2011 HOST, Velvet da Vinci, San Francisco. Curation and participation, an installation of collaborative making.
2010 Intelligent Trouble, Under The Counter, Jewellery in Conversation
Smiths Row Gallery, Bury St Edmunds. Publication in preparation.
2010 Pairings - A Conversation. Manchester Metropolitan University and touring nationally, Catalogued ISBN 10-1905476531.
2010 Starting Points. Site-specific installation of two works 100 Legs and Liquorice Straps. Siobhan Davies Studios, London. (Reviewed: Journal of Craft Research volume 2 pp161-5).
2010 Jerwood Contemporary Makers, Jerwood Space, London, and touring to March 2011 Naughton Gallery Belfast, Innovative Crafts Edinburgh and National Gallery of Craft, Kilkenny, Eire
2010 Intelligent Trouble; A Curious Exchange. Contemporary Applied Arts, London. Participation and group curation
2009-2011 Taking Time; Craft and the Slow Revolution.Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and touring,Reviewed: Journal of Modern Craft volume 3 issue 3 pp373-5.
Catalogued ISBN 978-0-9526832-9-2
2009 In Transit, Munich.
2008 Focus, Contemporary Applied Arts, London.
2007 Collect , Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
2003 Helen Carnac and David Gates, Flow Gallery, London.
2002 Still , Applied Arts Agency, London.
2001 St Pancras Chambers, Grand Midland Hotel, London
2000 Sotheby’s Contemporary Crafts, London, collaboration with Hikaru Noguchi
1999 Innerspace, The Orangery, Holland Park. London.
Authoring of refereed conference papers and book chapters
From In Our Houses to The Tool at Hand: Breaching Normal Procedural Conditions in Studio Furniture Making. In Marchand, T. (Ed) 2016 Craft as Problem Solving. Pp115-132 Ashgate.
History in the Making; the use of talk in inter-disciplinary contemporary craft collaborative practice. In Sandino, L. & Partington, M. (eds) 2013. Oral History in The Visual Arts. Pp 55-66. Bloomsbury.
Triangulation: Working Toward a Practice of Collaboration. Co-authored with Kettle, A. & Webb, J. In Collaboration Through Craft. Ravetz, A. Kettle, A. & Felcey, H. (eds.) (2013) pp 45-58. Bloomsbury. The Trouble With Verbs. In The Tool at Hand, Catalogue. 2013. Chipstone Foundation.
Refereed conference papers.
Locally-made identities: Interactional positioning in the small stories and counter narratives of a group of crafts practitioners.'Discourse: Multidisciplinary Perspectives symposium' The English Language & Linguistics group at the University of Sussex. 18th November 2016.
"Meaning Making in the Moment: Small Stories-in-interaction Enabling Critical Reflection". To Think is to Experiment symposium, Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London. April 29th 2015.
“Stories From The Workshop: Communicative Practices Amongst Craft Practitioners”. Making Futures Conference, Plymouth College of Art September 26th-27th 2013. Published in online journal of proceedings: plymouthart.ac.uk/research/journalvol3/david-gates-stories-from-the-workshop-communicative-practices-amongst-craft
“History in the Making; the use of talk in inter-disciplinary contemporary craft collaborative practice.” Oral History Society conference, Victoria & Albert Museum, 2nd-3rd July 2010.
“Sweepings; talk in inter-disciplinary collaborative craft practice” Pairings conference, Manchester Metropolitan University. May 2011.
“Triangulation Theory.” A paper written collaboratively with Alice Kettle and Dr Jane Webb. Pairings conference, Manchester Metropolitan University. May 2011. Published in Collaboration Through Craft, 2013, Berg.
“Lost For Words; Developments in a New Language.” New Craft Future Voices, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. July 4th-6th 2007.
ISBN 1 899837 55 8 pp256-262.
Subject of peer review and critical writing.
‘The Journal of Modern Craft’, vol 5 issue 3 Oct 2012 pp351-354. Exhibition review; The Tool at Hand, Milwaukee Art Museum. Jennifer Geigel Mikulay.
‘The Journal of Craft Research’, vol 2, April 2011, pp161-. Exhibition review; 60/40 Starting Points Series 2010, Siobhan Davies Studios, Heidi Yeo.
‘The Journal of Modern Craft’, vol 3 no.3 Nov. 2010 pp373-5. Exhibition review, Taking Time; Craft and the Slow Revolution, Martina Margetts.
‘Studio; Craft and Design in Canada’, Fall/Winter 2010, pp38-42, ‘Making Time’
‘Perspectives’, Sept. 2010, pp60-62 ‘Playing With Time’
Work held in collections.
Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, Oslo, Norway. Silo; a collecting cabinet.
Crafts Council Collection, UK. Perpetually Ajar II
Cheongju biennale collection. Perpetually Ajar.
Nationally/Internationally Recognised Awards
2015 Gold Award at the Cheongju Biennale, South Korea for the piece Perpetually Ajar.
2015 Perpetually Ajar and From Greenwich to The Barrier both shortlisted for The Wood Awards.
2011 Winner, Wesley Barrell Craft Award for Established Makers.
2010 Winner, Jerwood Award for Contemporary Making.
2006 Wesley Barrell Craft Award for Established Makers, highly commended runner-up.
1988 New Designers. Winner of lighting design award.
1988 Awarded Royal Society of Arts and Department of Trade and Industry Bursary.
Selected Public Commissions
2011-12, North Cotswolds Community Hospital. Memory Assets. Permanent installation of a series of artworks. Commissioned by NHS Gloucestershire.
2007, Paget School, Birmingham. Design and make furniture for an inter-disciplinary reconfiguration of part of the school building collaborating with architectural, metal and colour specialists. A Creative Partnerships project with Craftspace.
2006, St. Botolphs church Aldgate, London. Design and production/installation of display system for ‘Heirlooms” exhibition.
2005, Bilston Craft Gallery, Wolverhampton. Design and making of nine pieces of furniture for the Craftsense permanent collection including a reading table and benches for a newly created public area. This was a collaboration with artist Helen Carnac.
2003-20015, St. Giles church, Farnborough, Kent. Grade II listed building largely dating from the middle-ages. Design and making and installation of extensive cabinetwork and fittings to two vestries, altar frontal chest, choir materials storage. Commissioned by the diocese of Rochester.
2002, University of Westminster, School of the Built Environment.
Boardroom furniture: table, credenzas and chairs designed with John Miller and manufactured by myself.
Lecturing and Teaching
Sept 2002- 2011, London Metropolitan University, Senior Lecturer 0.5 fractional, 3D Design and Craft. Course organiser 2002-05 for the BA(hons) programme. Module leader and supervisor across modules in studio design, workshop practice and contextual and theoretical studies at BA, MA, and FdA levels. Wrote course materials including writing and launching new courses.
Various periods of teaching have been undertaken at Camberwell College of Art, Ravensbourne College of Design, Central Saint Martins, University of East London.
Selected other professional esteem.
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Chair and Convener of the Penland Fellowship in Wood.
Panel member for furniture, Crafts Council Setting Up Award scheme.
Mentoring for the Crafts Council Hothouse scheme.
Works published in
“Star Pieces, The Enduring Beauty of Spectacular Furniture”, Chislett, H. Linley, D & Cator, C. Thames & Hudson 2009. ISBN 9780500514825.
“500 Cabinets” Hemachandra, R. Lark Books, 2010. ISBN-10: 1600595758