You can learn a lot from one person’s trash. Gather more and a different image begins to form. Philadelphia-based artist Nick Missel has come to believe that our trash defines us, a philosophy that’s at the heart of his furniture designs: “Instead of a collection of pixels, balls [of trash] are a composite of human existence, memories,” says Missel.
Joshua McHugh Photography
Growing up in St. Louis, Missel was always interested in painting and photography, but on the advice of the teaching staff at the Kansas City Art Institute, he ended up in the sculpture department. In the world of 3D art, Missel challenged the look-but-don’t-touch attitude he had come to perceive, which led him directly to furniture design. “The separation of art has always bothered me,” he says. ” I didn’t understand. Sculpture is something so corporeal. You should interact with him. It was then that Missel began to explore furniture design, crafting a piece or two for himself, but always seeing it as a way to develop sculptural processes, not a career path.
From Kansas City, Missel moved on to the Rhode Island School of Design to pursue a master’s degree in sculpture. After graduating from RISD in 2016, he continued his education at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, where car trouble led to something of an artistic epiphany. “The engine of my 1986 Chevy truck blew up while I was [in Maine], and I had to buy a new engine,” he says. “It was a classic car, an American muscle. There was something nostalgic and interesting about bringing back that dead heart of America.
Missel rushed to make a resin cast of the failed engine, but in his haste he didn’t wait long enough for the silicon to harden. Instead of abandoning the project, he curiously withdrew the silicon, expecting disaster, but what he found exceeded his greatest hopes. “I [realized it] was way more interesting than I thought,” says Missel. “And that said more about what I was trying to say than what I thought I was doing.” The warped part seemed both alive and dying, much like the sense of “Americana” the Chevy’s engine evoked. Talk about lemonade.
Joshua McHugh Photography
From there, Missel moved to New York and worked her way into its design scene, working with furniture names like Fernando Mastrangelo, Rossana Orlandi and Facture Studio. His break came when he submitted a silicone piece to In Good Company, a design show co-hosted by Mastrangelo and Orlandi. Missel won the Best in Show award for “Negative Bench”, a fanfare of feathered laminations. The piece caught the attention of interior designers, including from New York Elena Framptonwho for the past two years has placed Missal’s work in projects that have subsequently been published in Gallerywhich accelerated his career.
Courtesy of Nick Missel Studio
Most of the commissions Missel receives come directly from interior designers – hazy, textured, otherworldly pieces crafted from an original cast of stacks of cardboard or plastic. To achieve this, hours and hours of work begin with preparing the pile for casting, sealing each crevice with clay or glue before treating it with resin, creating a rubber mold and then remelting it into using a combination of fiberglass and resin. Then comes what Missel calls “studio chemistry”. He covers the mother mold with silicone rubber, layering additional pigmented rubber from the inside to give it its base color. The part is allowed to harden before Missel removes the “skin” to produce the exterior of his parts. The treatment Missel uses is her trade secret, giving a non-sticky finish to her designs. And the surprising thing about furniture is that it’s squishy, really squishy. The silicone cases are filled with expandable memory foam which, depending on the size of the room, can provide up to 6 inches of volume. When finished and cleaned, each gives off a soft, colorful glow.
Missel’s furniture has a lot to say, but it doesn’t sacrifice utility. The surprisingly comfortable designs are made from post-consumer waste, and while his pieces may not initially strike a chord, he hopes each provokes the question: what do we do with our waste? The sculptures objectify and immortalize consumption, itself an ephemeral quest for gratification. In this, Missel’s photographic roots have found expression in 3D furniture as art. “If I was just playing with form and material, I would call myself a furniture designer,” he says. “But I think there’s more to it – I hope [each piece] is surprising, exciting and a unique experience that you can’t really find [elsewhere].”
Homepage image: Nick Missel sitting on one of his “Cube” stools | Joshua McHugh Photography