Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia born 1952
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: furniture, cabinets, wood (blackbean)
Khai Liew brings a particular cultural reading to his practice as a furniture designer, illustrating the diversity of style that characterises current design in Australia. Self-taught as a designer, he was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and arrived in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1971.
This commanding elevated cabinet is from a series of cabinet designs based on Liew’s research into nineteenth-century English decorative styles and the elevated cabinets of Arts and Crafts designers Charles Ashbee and Ernest Gimson. While the overall form of his work also references French decorative and Danish modernist design of the 1920s and 40s, the precise and highly refined detailing of this cabinet draws inspiration from the earlier tradition of fifteenth-century Flemish and English ‘linenfold’ relief carving, popularised in the British Tudor revival styles of the nineteenth century. Liew has abstracted such historicism and visual literalness into an origami-like object that reveals little of its content. Precise, bevelled edges allow an apparently seamless transition between the lightly attenuated relief decoration that wraps around the Kokoso cabinet and its two-door structure. Its asymmetrical geometric base structure provides a striking and visually dynamic contrast to the organic rhythm of the relief carving, while the grain of the blackbean provides the only other form of decoration on this cabinet.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014