Above Image: A still life of the Ariadne container, tray, and plates in Wood Onyx. Photo by Michael Druce.
In his iconic Ode, 19th-century poet John Keats pays tribute to the eternal form of a Grecian urn. In a modern iteration of this homage, New York-based designer Matthew Fisher evokes the timeless beauty of Attic shapes in his stone and wood vessels.
The son of a paleontologist and a dancer, Fisher moved to New York at age 14 to study at the School of American Ballet. After dancing professionally, he matriculated at New York University where, as he shares, he “quickly discovered an appetite for anthropology, and more so the study of ancient cultures’ architectural works and artifacts examined through an artistic lens.” Fisher earned his BA in Ancient Art and Architecture, and went on to earn an MFA from the Pratt Institute.
In 2021, Fisher began a partnership with esteemed French design house Liaigre, and soon after, secured representation with De Sousa Hughes. He debuted his namesake collection that same year, comprising vases, bowls, candelabra, and trays in marble, travertine, onyx, and other elegant and richly hued materials. Here, Fisher shares how he draws inspiration from these enduring substances, as well as from the Classical forms of art and dance.
Your origin story dovetails with your work with ancient materials. Would you share a bit about your fascinating childhood?
My father’s work as a micropaleontologist kept the topic of geology near the periphery of my childhood. On more than one occasion, my brothers and I would accompany him on the hunt for fossils at quarries near and far. We would learn about strata—the layering of sediment—and the geologic processes that formed the cross sections of earth in which we were digging. At the time, this information was digested purely to determine in which layer to begin in order to unearth a shark’s tooth, or the holy grail of a cephalopod fossil, before my brothers. My formal appreciation for the noble material of stone comes from my study of ancient cultures, but my connection with it is deeper. When I look at stone, I feel that I am reading a piece of the earth’s story rather than just looking at a pattern of veining.
Matthew Fisher in the studio. Photo by Jaka Vinsek. A box and bowl in Moonstone onyx.
Your first collection under your own name appeared in 2021. What qualities did you want to convey with the first body of work that would represent purely you?
My namesake collection allowed me to find my voice as a designer. The collection shows the beauty I see in form without excess and demonstrates the reverence I have for ancient cultures. The quality I sought with each design was a quiet timelessness arrived at through distilled influences of past and present. My work, much like myself, will never be the loudest design in the room. Quite to the contrary, I intend for it to merge with the world of its user, to provide purpose and function to the space it occupies.
How did you adapt, both intellectually and physically, from dancing to designing with stone?
The beauty I find in dance has always been in the movement of a body through space. There’s something misunderstood when a live art form like dance is presented as a static image. I struggled for a long time to find a link between my knowledge of movement and my work as a designer. The connection exists in the interaction between surface and detail: In dance, without the connections or transitions between steps, the magic is lost. Details are like the main steps of a dance, the motions that occur on the beat of the music, while surface and materiality flow between these moments. How one links detail and surface in design can be as charged as a dancer’s expressions through movement.
Vessel 4 in Breccia Diaspro marble with rope handles from Collection 2.
Your work exudes equipoise—that moment when a dancer is suspended, almost still, in the midst of movement
Those little breaths of suspense provide dimension and make it appear as if one can “see the music and hear the dance,” as George Balanchine famously put it. Years of experimenting with syncopation in my movement has certainly translated to the manner in which I approach design. This quality is part of my theory of surface and detail, where the punctuation of a detail provides the suspense and breath between the connection of surface lines. To achieve that, I might place a detail to catch light or shadow, to offset veining, or to break the line of a curve.
You’ve cited architect Peter Zumthor as an inspiration. He is for me as well—he writes with such reverence for the presence of objects and spaces. Would you share a little of what you draw from his work?
Thinking Architecture is a text I return to time and time again. Zumthor writes, “Details when they are successful are not mere decoration. They do not distract or entertain, they lead to an understanding of the whole of which they are an inherent part.”
Would you share a bit about the process of creating your collections?
The journey of a piece varies for each design and depends on the material from which it’s produced. The precision detailing and finishing of the work is performed by my small team, which makes the pieces in the same communal shops where I began.
Most of my initial collection was completed through a process of turning the material on a stone lathe. Thanks to a very patient fabricator, whom I still work with today, I had access to this machinery and was taught the limitations and tolerances of different stone types, which now informs my design process.
And how do you find the gorgeous marble, travertine, and other stone for your vessels, which feature such rich veining and color?
My father’s career gave me early exposure to and familiarity with stone as a geologic process. It wasn’t until I began sourcing stone for my work that I realized I could use this early education to inform my search for material. This journey, over many years, has afforded me a network of quarry contacts across the globe who are kind enough to reach out to me when they find something varying from their standard production, frequently a small pocket of truly unique material for which my work has become known.
I’ve long felt that we’re in a new Romantic age—that lyrical beauty, an appreciation for poetic craft, and a reverence for nature are once again moving to the fore. Does this resonate at all with you?
I do hope so. Romanticism was flush with reaction to changing social norms due to the onset of industrialization. What I find most resonant about this time was the awareness of the fragility of man and a resurgence of awe for nature. I think we’d all agree that the global climate is ripe with the ingredients to spur these sentiments once again. I’ve tried to encourage them in my work. I don’t partner with digital retailers who try to mechanize the offerings of design across overly saturated global platforms. I look for representation that still curates and creates conversation between artists led by individuals with a name, face, and point of view.
The Matthew Fisher collection is available through De Sousa Hughes.