When your first jobs include constructing cabinets for Toby McGuire and set props for Lady Gaga it can be tough to generate a worthy follow up act. Fortunately for Niki and Simon Haas of the Haas Brothers that hasn’t been a problem in the least.
On the designing duo’s resume these days? Overseeing an installation of water-spitting gorillas at a Floridian mall, for one, and taking over Barney’s holiday window display this past December. The latter saw the design duo nixing St. Nick’s customary reindeer in favor of a feel-good, psychedelic theme populated by the firm’s trademark creatures; eyeless, under-groomed critters that look like they ambled off the pages of Where the Wild Things Are…and underneath an L.A. underpass. The Haas Brothers aren’t known for subtlety and that’s exactly what’s soldered their place in the design world over the past decade.
While other artists have taken capsule-like approaches to their work, the Haas Brothers have been fabricating a wondrous, Suessian-like world that transcends styles, trends, or years. As the brothers continue to build their empire, their L.A. studio remains their ground zero, serving as both lab and factory. It’s where the duo’s ideas spark, gel, bond, and ultimately come to life. Which is all to say that when we were granted a backstage pass to the brothers’ studio, we took the opportunity to make it a monumental event (i.e. the latest installment in the DECASO Seminar Series). Prior to the tour, we took time to talk shop with Simon. From what he and Niki love most about L.A. design to what projects are next in the pipeline, Simon gave us the scoop on all of the things that keep the Haas studio powered up and churning out the fantasy.
What makes L.A. feel like the ideal place to set up shop? Or, why is L.A. such a hotspot for creatives, do you think?
When we set up shop here, New Yorkers were still dismissing L.A. as vapid and pointless, which was actually ideal! I think we relished that because it meant we could do whatever we wanted without anyone paying attention. It felt like the Wild West. Though that’s changed a little now, back then there was a feeling that anything was possible. Now L.A. is the best place because it’s just the best place. The weather is great, you can create your own social world, it is still kind of possible to get studio space on the cheap.
Are the pieces you create indicative of ideas or images that began in your youth, or have they all been fully developed in your adult lives?
We remember all of our childhood books and love them still, but I think the childlike quality in our work has been more fully developed in adulthood. We recognize that there is beauty in expressing the inner child and in appealing to another person’s inner child. I think that one of the central problems of adulthood is reconciling childlike behavior and sensibilities with what is expected of a functioning adult in society. Art has an important function in that context because it allows the inner child to live and be pleased. We embrace childlike art fully and hope that our work always appeals to both children and adults.
How does collaboration factor into your day-to-day, or over a longer period?
Collaboration is day to day for us. We have a studio with 10 people in it who are all actively creating and ideating work. We keep a familial relationship with everyone we work with and try to do away with strict hierarchical structures and just let everyone play on an even field. Niki and I consider ourselves more team captains than individual artists with a crew of fabricators. We also collaborate with people around the globe and from different walks of life—this is immensely important to us because it broadens our view of the world and unlocks doors to creating things in a manner we never could have imagined.
Does material inspire form, or does form dictate material?
Absolutely both. Niki is more on the form side and I am on the material side. We are always in conversation with each other and inspired by each other. I might make a material application that inspires Niki to create a form, or Niki comes up with a form that becomes a materials puzzle I can’t wait to solve. Everything in our way of working is very fluid and un-regimented.
You’ve been designing since 2010. Does evolution between exhibitions come naturally, or do new collections require conscious thought and planning?
The evolution comes naturally because our curiosities keep shifting, but there is certainly conscious planning to make sure we can deliver on what we are dreaming up. Since we make so many unique pieces, the production can’t really be streamlined; each object is a lengthy journey on its own. The difference between fantasy and reality is the only thing holding us back from having a million outrageous shows a year, so we must think and plan to refine our vision.
How does humor factor into your work?
Humor is omnipresent in our studio and in our work. We love the idea that an object can be a pun or a joke without words—that an object can serve a function that language usually serves. If something we make can interact with someone, we are accomplishing something real, and humor is an authentic, universal and direct way to communicate with someone you don’t know.
Your beasts and furniture have so much personality. Are they ever based on people?
Niki sculpts most things while thinking of people he knows and loves. You might think of every one of them as a portrait that maintains anonymity because only he knows who the subject is.
What does the future hold?
The future holds much more exploration—lots of work based on nature—and hopefully also a cartoon that we have already started work on. We can’t wait to show the world everything else we’ve got going.
All photos by Marisa Vitale