The furniture and object designer F. Taylor Colantonio, dressed in a red-trimmed poet’s blouse, gives a gentle shove to a fluted Doric column in his small, theatrically furnished loft in the Campo de’ Fiori neighbourhood of Rome. The column wobbles loose from the wall, revealing itself suddenly to be light as Styrofoam, phoney as a stage set. “Everything in my house is fake,” says Colantonio. “I’m a punk collector. It’s all fake.”
In addition to working on interior design projects for private clients, Colantonio, 30, creates surrealist objects, which range from coiled-rope vases to snakelike rebar candlesticks to transparent rugs. Championed by Alex Eagle, the owner of the Store, and the design dealer Jermaine Gallacher (who both sell his work in their London boutiques), his pieces are often offbeat interpretations of chintzy suburban décor and imitations of antiquity.
At his apartment’s towering picture window, a ceramic tiger — a flea market find as big as a real cub — stands guard, across from a daybed upholstered with hand-painted violet-striped linen. Colantonio composed an intricate savanna mural for the wall above — tropical creatures amid palms and yellow roses — rendered in the chalky children’s tempera paints he prefers. In the dining alcove, in front of a collection of modern ceramic vases inspired by ancient urns, is a black-and-cream vase of his own creation. It occupies a 19th-century walnut table and recalls a Greek kylix, but it flops, uncannily, to one side, its body made not of rigid and impermeable pottery, but of softly coiled machine-braided rope. “The wonkiness gives it personality and gesture,” Colantonio explains, lifting it by its squishy lollipop-like handles. The vase is a vase in idea only. A fake.
The great-grandson of an Italian immigrant, Colantonio was raised in the suburbs of Massachusetts, studied furniture design at RISD and moved to this loft in Rome two years ago, just after completing an artist’s residency in Puglia with a maestro of traditional papier-mâché. Though his works are still fabricated in factories in Rhode Island, rather than in local artisan workshops, Colantonio prefers to live in this ancient Italian city, where he can look to its Classical and Baroque architecture and the Surrealism of Giorgio De Chirico — whose own fake-filled home is nearby — rather than follow the currents of the contemporary design world. “As someone making things, it’s really nice to live in a cosmopolitan setting like Rome, but to be free of the present, to avoid all those trends and influences,” he says.
Colantonio crosses the Tiber River each day to his studio in the vibrant Trastevere neighborhood. The space once belonged to another lover of fakery — the impish artist Gino De Dominicis, who faked his own death in 1969 — but today it is strewn with Colantonio’s current projects. Among these are sheets of wallpaper inked to mimic the striped walls of a circus tent and a series of woven PVC lamps, their clear vinyl surfaces painted with swirls of colours in a homage to Carla Accardi, the Roman artist who helped pioneer the Arte Povera movement.
In the intimate glass-roofed space, Colantonio stands attaching cloth-covered electrical cables to the rainbow-coloured cluster of lights at his tall wooden work table. To his back, a pair of six-foot-tall rope vases stand, slouching like sleepy sentinels; on a vintage armoire hang two blazers, hand-painted by Colantonio with the ancient columns and architecture that decorated De Chirico’s Ballets Russes costumes; on the floor lie a few of what he calls his “magic carpets” — seemingly pedestrian Persian throw rugs that are, in fact, made of transparent plastic and expose rather than cover the floor underneath. It’s a “material shift,” he says, “that removes the rugness of the object.”
“I’m interested in giving people a connection to an archetype, to something familiar,” says Colantonio. But there must always be a surprise, a shift that blurs the line between the suburban and the exotic, the mass-produced and the handmade, the authentic and the fake. “Familiarity is essentially trash, but it offers people the possibility to understand,” he says, as he flaps a stiff crystalline rug down on the floor, handling the unbending sheet as if it were actually supple textile. “I’m genuinely interested in the trash, but I’m looking for the sweet spot between familiarity and the avant-garde.”
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