Ettore Sottsass was an Italian architect and designer of the 20th century. Born in Innsbruck (Austria) in 1917, he grew up in Milan as his dad was working there as an architect. He later moved to Turin to study at the “Politecnico de Torino” and followed his father’s path in graduating in architecture in 1939.
Moreover, he travelled a lot during his life and it is very probable that his experiences affected him and changed his way of seeing the world. For instance, he spent most of WWII in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia when serving for the Italian military, but he also travelled to India and to the United States.
He began working as a design consultant for Olivetti and designed different objects such as equipments, furniture and typewriters. That is where he developed his ability to bring office equipment into the realm of popular culture thanks to its design and to a specific use of color. His major achievement remains probably the “Valentine typewriter” (1969).
Then, his worked diversified and he for instance designed ceramic sculptures, always presenting them within a context of consumerism. Nevertheless, Sottsass can aslo be remebered for his collaboration with other young architects and designers in the “Memphis Group” of which he was one of the founders. With them, he really experienced other forms of arts that were different from his usual modernist works, and his works are now seen as characteristics of Post-Modernism in design and in the arts
Bruno Munari on the other hand, was born a decade before Sottsass (in 1907) when the “Art Nouveau” was still existing. However, one can say that he was experienced a very similar cultural and artistic influence as he also grew up in Milan.
Nevertheless, he joined the second-generation Milanist Futurist movement at the end of the 1920s in which he worked on painting, design kinetic experimentation but also on photography and on advertising. To some extent, one can draw a link between Munari and Sottsass as they both worked on subjects related to consumerism.
It is nonetheless necessary to note that his work did not restrain to visual arts such as sculpture, painting and graphic, as he also created non visual works such as poetry.
At last, he is remembered for founding the Italian Movement for Concrete Arts in 1948 with some Italian collaborators such as Monnet and Soldati. Basically, this movement promoted the resort to abstractionism and promoted the freedom of associating freely any symbol with reality. In that understanding, colors and lines are concrete by themsleves.
Sottsass and the priority to the object...
Although Ettore Sottsass' work covers a wide variety of objetcs, from industrial design to craftmanship, the artist and his art can be distiguished by a coherent formal language.
Shapes are simple, clear, totemic and geometric. His work is based on elementary graphic cigns, such as circles, squares, lines, dots,... in an attempt to snatch geometric forms from mathematics and intellectual efforts
Color is another crucial aspect of Sottsass' work. It is considered as the expression of life and generates a particular vocabulary enhancing its composition. He breaks away from the quiet, sober, serious and cold compromise of the typical industrial design of his time to create objects that are "more colorful, more joyful, more optimistic". Objects become expressive by the association of unconventional forms and hues and contradictory materials. The excentricity and irony of Sottsass' furniture are emblematic
Compared to the first practical-usage typewriter, produced by the American company E. Remington & Sons, Ettore Sottsass brought color and infancy to the object, making a typewriter a familar, playful component of life, a far cry form its scary, serious-looking predecessors.
Through his movement Memphis, Sottsass makes design a mediatic phenomenon oriented towards spectacular visual communication. Produced in a limited number, his objects are an attempt to depart from the banality of everyday life, giving priority to the imaginary and surprise. They quickly become the visible symbol of a new lifestyle, albeit reserved for an elite. Eventually, it is the minds of people and the world of fashion, advertisement and graphism that he will durably mark.
Sottsass, through his creation agency Sottsass Associati, will later tackle more functional and technical issues, those linked to the constraints of the mass market, to devote his attention to architecture and industrial design. He will work for an international and prestigious clientele (Apple, Phillips, Siemens, Alessi, Zanotta, Fiat) and creates at the beginning ot he 80's the entire image of the brand and design the interior of all of Esprit's boutiques.
Giving priority to the object, Ettore Sottsass has revolutionized the concept of industrial design through a fromal language and the unconventional use of colors, bringing design in the center of a mediatic society of mass-production.