Object from the "Ruins" series by Roberto Sironi - "Contemporary ruins" made of artificial marble, a product that had its heyday in the late 19th century.

The Storyteller

The artist and designer Roberto Sironi creates objects that tell stories about lightning and burnt wood, about the Etruscans and old bread stamps.
by Uta Abendroth | 12/20/2018

Over the last few years, looking backwards has become a trend in design. Art Deco inspirations, vintage design, retro looks – yesteryear dominates the here and now. Roberto Sironi is one of those who likes to take his cues from the past, and his project “Madre Pane” is one example of this. This is a collection of different colored fireproof ceramic stamps that reflect – both symbolically and decoratively – the old Italian tradition or marking loaves of bread before they were put into a communal baking oven. “‘Madre Pane’ developed on a trip to Matera, a magnificent town full of history,” explains Roberto Sironi. “Until the first half of the 20th century, it was normal to mark loaves of bread using wooden stamps, for example with the initials or symbol of a family, so that they could be given back to the relevant owner after baking. This custom, but also the colors of the buildings carved into the rock and the untouched Mediterranean landscape, inspired me to create objects that are supposed to express the feelings I had in that place. I believe the intensity of a project is strongly dependent on the emotional intensity of the journey from which it developed.”

The artist and designer Roberto Sironi

Another trip, this time to the Alps, took the 35-year-old to a place where the forest had been set alight by a lightning strike. The remains of the trees, scorched by the fire and charred black, became a source of inspiration. He took a few charred branches with him to Milan and for the resulting “Fuoco” project sought the help of the Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, a company that specializes in metal casting. The age-old technique of bronze casting made the experiment a success: The scorched wood, brittle and fragile, becomes a strong, lasting material and thus completes a work that was started by nature. The objects, including tables, stools and candlesticks, highlight the symbolic significance of fire, one of the key themes of humanity. The fact that fire can have not only a destructive element, but can also preserve something for eternity, represents the inspirational springboard for Sironi: “You can view every project from different perspectives, which are nothing more than two sides of one coin.”

Table from the "Fuoco" series, for which Sironi had charred wood cast in bronze.
Mirror from the "Fuoco" series

A technique going back thousands of years to the ancient Etruscans, who lived in the area that now comprises Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio in the centuries before Christ, provided the inspiration for the experimental Milan-based designer to create the three “Buccheri” vases. The forms are hand-carved using a special tool made of boxwood, and then baked for three days in a steel box with charcoal. This process gives the vases their typical black color with silver nuances. The minimalist-archaic forms allow the beauty of the material to come to the fore all the more. Each vase is a unique piece and combines an extraordinarily tactile quality with a very slender wall thickness. The “Buccheri” are manufactured in the medieval town of Gubbio, and Sironi greatly values the opportunity to discover new historic and artistic details on every visit, as well as the chance to gain inspiration from materials in situ – after all, as a creative himself, he knows the value of working with natural materials such as stone, alabaster, and ceramics.

Two "Buccheri" vases by Roberto Sironi, carved from wood and then charred in a controlled process.

Roberto Sironi has no clear, unmistakable design style, which may be due to the fact that he works in the areas of art, design, and academia without distinguishing between them, as he doesn’t discern a difference, he says. He continues that “materials are everything to me, they grab me.I try to use materials in the way a painter uses paints.I have huge respect for materials such as stone and wood, which need years, centuries, or even millennia to develop. Knowing how to use them is crucial to me. ”Sironi is driven by a desire to tell stories through his work.These are based on careful research, which incorporates various different aspects: It’s all about rituals and anthropological references, but also historical reminders and contemporary design. In this process, he manages to recreate the old in reduced form, and to create objects full of poetry, which are exhibited in some of the most important art and design galleries and institutions, such as the Carwan Gallery in Beirut, the Gallery S. Bensimon in Paris, the Bazar Noir in Berlin, and the Triennale in Milan.

The bank "Palmyra" from the "Ruins" series is made of artificial marble and an I-beam.

Roberto Sironi explains the application of contemporary design to a foundation of old traditions thus: “I believe that looking at the past is one way of planning the future. I’m interested in history – it is an important element of our social roots. Design is one way of re-experiencing it, recalling it, and passing it on. It’s not about nostalgia, but rather the awareness that certain behaviors and customs from the past are important when we reflect on our lives today.”

The "Ruins" collection as part of the "Unsighted" exhibition, which took place in Milan in April 2018.
The objects of the "Fuoco" collection by Roberto Sironi