ARTIST JESSI REAVES, QUEEN OF SCRAP
When Bridget Donahue opened her eponymous gallery at 99 Bowery in early 2015, she decided that instead of buying standard office furniture, she would rather commission an artist named Jessi Reaves. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, the 29-year-old Reaves originally studied furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design before dropping out, only to return a year later to study painting. On moving to New York in 2010, she got a part-time job as an upholsterer, where she found herself in a studio full of accumulated bits and scraps. It was these leftovers that became the starting point for her practice.
Each piece is handcrafted and sculptural, yet never divorced from function. She makes furniture meant to accommodate the body — to be used, lived with, and loved. Industrial materials look baroque and decorative with Reaves’s touch. Coaxing out the character from a slab of plywood or a scrap of foam by carving, twisting, beading, veiling, and manipulating each element. Most impressive perhaps are Reaves’s constructions with foam. if you want to know what will make you good it’s nothing (2014) is a wonky lounge chair with two roughly-cut scrap cushions resting on a modernist-style wood frame. The foam cushions are covered with sheer nylon embellished with a beaded decorative motif. Beneath the transparent upholstery, letters and cut marks are casually scrawled on in black marker, almost like seeing someone’s pubes through sexy lingerie. With Engine Room Shelving Unit (2015) she layered, bunched, and gathered dull-yellow polyurethane foam, emphasizing its squishiness, so much so that when the piece was exhibited at Old Room gallery earlier this year, some visitors thought it was made of cookie dough.
For Donahue, Reaves produced the No Reason Work Table and the Keeper’s Glove Chairs (both 2015). The table serves as a communal workstation and centerpiece in the gallery’s office. It’s a clean, white irregular tabletop with undulating contours held up by fleece-upholstered solid X-shaped trestles, secured by two wooden stretchers, each of slightly different diameters, that are punctuated by black knobs originally intended as ottoman feet. As for the Keeper’s Glove Chairs, Reaves took five Karim Rashid OH chairs for Umbra and upholstered them in orange, off-white, and gray fleece and added a sporty nylon-mesh lower-back support. The set is playful, comfortable, clean, and if shrunk down would probably be a good option for a kindergarten classroom. Donahue is certainly happy. “I told Jessi from the beginning, ‘There are no rules or guidelines. Just do what you want and I’ll pay for the production.’ Now all the pieces are sold, and I can’t wait for more!”
Text by Julia Trotta, originally published in PIN–UP No. 19, Fall Winter 2015/16.