After an exceptionally successful exposition of Jules Wabbes in 2013, BOZAR now shines a light on another great Belgian designer of the post-war era: Ado Chale.
A metalsmith and artist, this Brussels man creates objects from crystal and petrified wood and is more artisan than ‘designer’ in his approach to furniture making. His daughter Ilona is the exhibition curator, and she tells us here of her father’s many guises.
“We used to go hunting for minerals at the weekend. My mother was a mineralogist and both my parents were crazy about fossils and minerals. And so we used to hop into the car early on a Sunday morning and go looking for marcasite on the beaches of Nord-pas-de-Calais, or Fontainebleau sandstone. To be honest, we didn't always enjoy it as kids. But they were always on the lookout for new wonders of nature.’
“That’s how it all started: scratching and rooting around in the natural environment. He started using the materials as inlays, usually semi-precious stone. He started off with jewellers’ ‘waste’, the sort of stuff they couldn’t find a use for. Then, later, he travelled the world looking for new materials. Madagascar, for example, or Arizona in search of petrified giant sequoia. He even made tables from peppercorns.”
“He had to learn everything himself. He was an autodidact through-and-through. He began by making tables from cement, which are impossibly heavy. Then he started experimenting with resins. He did a lot of research and tried all kinds of new chemical combinations. I have childhood memories of him in the cellar: mixing resin, polishing stones, hammering metals. Like an alchemist in his cave. He was always looking for techniques to bring his ideas to life.”
“The goutte d’eau is the first table he made from bronze, in the late 60s. And it may well be his best-known piece today. It had a different name to begin with. My mother thought it had a pre-Columbian side to it, like an object from the Maya culture that you might find in the jungle. And so the first name the table was given was le soleil Maya.”
“My father is a dreamer. My mother took care of the contacts, handled the sales, ran the gallery. He had nothing to do with any of that. All that mattered to him was beauty, the pleasure of creating, working with the materials. There is something obsessive about his ability to lay out hundreds of mother-of-pearl studs. He would spend three hours a day placing buttons side-by-side. But the result was amazing .”
“When I was a child I knew that my father was an artist. We were a bit marginal. A bit different. I realise now how privileged we were to grow up in that environment. In a world of beauty and openness. And it was the Sixties; you could feel it: the air was ripe with possibility. And my parents were surrounded by interesting people. We threw parties and dinners. Architects, artists: all kinds of people would come to visit. Many went on to be famous.”
“I’ve had a leaning towards music for quite a while. So have my brothers, for that matter. I’m not sure where it comes from. My father did used to whistle all the time. Not just any old tune; he was actually something of a whistling virtuoso. As a child I would hear him whistle from morning to night. Vivaldi, for example. My father is an optimist. Take a positive view of life. Don’t dwell on misfortune. Go ever forwards.”
The Ado Chale. Alchemist. Artisan. Designer retrospective can be seen at BOZAR until 24 September, entrance free of charge.