Zoë Mowat's work is the kind that sort of sneaks up on you. The use of smooth lines, a splash of bright colour, the warmth of wood and the soft touch of felt combine to make Mowat's stand out long after you have looked away. The aesthetic is quietly elegant and contemporary while referencing the past.
How would you describe the style of your designs?
My designs have a strong sculptural component with emphasis on simple forms, bold colours and unusual material combinations. I'm especially interested in proportional relationships - how much wood for this much colour, or how much softness (felt) for this much hardness (wood) or how much curve for this much straight edge... I like the business of wrestling with these different elements and finding the ultimate balance between them. And the details really count -- every line, every texture, every connection matters.
You combine different materials within your work, placing a special emphasis on felt. Why are you drawn to this material? What else will we see that will incorporate it?
Industrial felt has a dense yet yielding quality that I like. I feel that it adds a layer of softness, tactility and approachability that can offset the harder materials such as wood or metal that I work with. I also try to consider the small sensory details of a piece - for instance, the effect a layer of felt has on a set of pencils or keys hitting a surface. Currently I'm completing a limited series of handmade rosewood boxes that incorporate felt and colour and that are intended to house special things.
One feels that schooldays are referenced in some of your designs - what sort of influence did your schooldays have on the work you do today?
My mother, a sculptor, taught me to appreciate form from an early age, and I've always been captivated by objects. My most memorable possessions were my childhood toys and I recall constantly collecting things, then organizing and classifying them. I realize that consciously or not, an element of nostalgia seeps into my work, perhaps partially due to my need for a personal connection with things. Recently I've begun designing a series of toys.
How does living in Montreal inform your work?
Montreal is a very culturally engaging city and I am continually inspired by my surroundings. Adapting to life here has actually informed my work significantly. When I moved from Alberta three years ago, I lost everything I owned, including all my work, in a fiery highway accident (my moving van crashed and caught fire on the Trans Canada just outside Winnipeg...). Having to make a fresh start by acquiring (all at once) the necessary day-to-day things increased my awareness of the power of possessions.
I'm curious about how the things we own define who we are, to others and also to ourselves. I'm also interested in the need for the "familiar" and the comfort we find in objects that make associations with our past, particularly our childhood. I'd like to approach future design projects using this increased awareness of the emotional and psychological connection we have with possessions and try to design objects that are lasting and meaningful.