Previous furniture collections by artisan Aaron Poritz were already extraordinary, but his newest series pivots in a whole new direction. Soft, sinuous, and downright fleshy, “Big Woods” pays homage to both Poritz’s childhood growing up in the forests of Massachusetts and the abstracted figurative sculptures of Henry Moore. Currently on display at Cristina Grajales Gallery in New York City, the collection comprises seven objects that look like the kind of priceless art you’d see roped off in a museum. However, they’re fully functional as furniture, demonstrating that utility need not come at the expense of beauty.
“Aaron has produced a visual language all his own, evocative of body, plant, and landscape,” says curator and designer Cristina Grajales. “Some of the pieces are supremely sensuous and sophisticated, while others are surprisingly raw and naïve. Together they reveal the full panoply of wood’s potential for expression.”
Poritz approaches furniture design with a deep understanding of wood, and it shows in these pieces. The craftsman grew up spending a lot of his free time in his father’s wood shop and sculpture studio, where he honed his fascination with wood as a material. The surrounding nature inspired a lifelong love of trees and the natural patterns and textures hiding behind their bark.
In 2012, Poritz happened to meet an exporter of old growth trees knocked down by a hurricane. These days, old growth lumber can usually only be acquired via salvage projects or similar environmental catastrophes. Given the opportunity, Poritz decided to embark on his first range of wooden furniture, using his background in architecture and knowledge of joinery techniques to design highly structural, linear pieces. Over the years, they grew more and more complex as he added incredible details like tambour doors.
With Big Woods, Poritz has moved beyond conventional shapes, drawing in a sense of the surreal. The pieces include a floor mirror with a conjoined drawer unit; a stunning desk made in the same pale ash wood and leather; a white oak stool in the shape of a cartoonish hand; a charred white-oak sculpture called Youthful Mistakes that doubles as a floor lamp; a travertine console; a coffee table; and a small, bulbous stool. And despite what the name “travertine” connotes, all of these pieces are made of wood. For some of the pieces, Poritz and his team have shaped, smoothed, and polished various types of wood until it does, in fact, resemble marble.
Poritz established his multidisciplinary studio, Poritz & Studio, in 2014. Artisans in his wood shop help him bring designs like those in the Big Woods collection to life, starting with either ceramic maquettes or miniature sculptures carved in wood. These shapes are digitally scanned and then translated to computer-operated machines that either carve the full-scale pieces from solid wood or build them using stack lamination.
It’s definitely worthwhile to check out Poritz’s entire body of work, which you can find on his website or on Instagram @poritzandstudio. He often posts behind-the-scenes videos of the production process, which can include carving with chainsaws, sandblasting textures, and book-matching beautiful pieces of burled wood.