On The Square

Recycled by Design

By Brett Morris

May 12,2017 | 00:00 EDT

Where other people see junk, Clare Graham sees limitless artistic possibilities. The 67-year-old obsessive collector and found-object artist stockpiles massive quantities of everyday items - bottle caps and buttons, dominoes and Scrabble tiles - in his Highland Park, Los Angeles studio, where he sets about turning them into sculpture, furniture, or anything else that takes his very active imagination.

On Saturday, May 20, Rago offers bidders the chance take home a piece of Clare Graham magic when they offer works by the Californian artist in their Modern Design sale. Comprising five lots, these wonderful pieces combine vivid color and stylish design so seemlessly that occasionally, one has to remind oneself that they are made from recycled material. The transition is complete!

Lot 2188 is a real eye-catcher - a chaise longue made from aluminum soda and beer cans, and studs. Dating to 1997, this stunning piece has been exhibited the world over, from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum at the Smithsonian Institution NY, to the Design Museum in London, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal.

Graham grew up poor in Atikokan, Canada, where he learned the art of frugality. Nothing was worth wasting - therefore, nothing was waste. With Lot 2189 - a two-panel screen also made of aluminum soda and beer cans, and studs - he achieves great symmetry and a mezmerizing color pallet using material we dismiss as junk.

Do any of us give the humble tin lid a second thought once the can opener has worked its magic and set the contents free? Clearly Clare Graham has! With Lot 2190 - a lounge chair made of time lids, he take a collection of this disposable, easily forgotten metal and turns it into a functioning object possessing great beauty.

Offerings by Clare Graham in Ragos Modern Design sale arent restricted to just furniture. Graham has a great reputation as a sculptor, and Lot 2191 is an example of the artists creative gifts. Titled Button Scholars Rock, this innovative piece is made from buttons and wire and set on carved and stained wood. 

For a time Graham taught a bronze casting foundry class at Cal State Long Beach in the evenings, and by day ran the Entertainment Art Department at Disneyland. He continues to be a prolific producer of eye-popping pieces like Lot 2187 - a minimalist cabinet design covered in laminated photographs.

Ragos Modern Design sale is set down for Saturday, May 20 and contains over 270 expertly curated lots by a host of industry leaders including George Nakashima, Phil Powell, Wendell Castle, Gio Ponti, Paolo Buffa, Carlo Bugatti, Hans Wegner, Axel Salto, Paavo Tynell, and Manuel Marin. Look now at the full catalog.