Paul Cocksedge by Lucie Young
Paul Cocksedge is the magician of modern lighting. His endless experiments in conductivity and reflection have created some of the most dazzling new lights since Ingo Maurer. Quite simply, Cocksedge’s work isn’t just about another shade or an unusual base, it is about the alchemical process whereby energy is transformed into light, and not just any light, but dazzlingly unusual designs in which the light source often remains invisible.
In NeOn, one of his first designs from 2003, long glass tubes seem to have no visible filament or bulb but are simply filled with a glowing pink-orange gas. In another, Bulb, a vase becomes illuminated when a flower is placed in the water inside. ‘When the flower dies, the light dies too and I think that’s lovely,’ says Cocksedge. The genesis for Bulb was looking at a leaf. ‘I found it had similarities to a circuit board, so I created a circuit up the stem to the top of the vase. It is half a volt. It is very sensitive. It doesn’t electrocute the flower’.
Cocksedge conjures up his unusual lights in a converted wood workshop in Hackney, a formerly rough part of East London that is now considered up and coming. The space is perishing cold in winter, but it is kept warm in part by 2 pizza ovens, which he employs to melt down Styrofoam cups to transform into his Styrene lamps, one of his first designs, invented while a student at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London.
The buzz around Cocksedge’s student work was so great that before graduation in 2002, fashion designer Donna Karan snapped up much of his final degree show, Ingo Maurer invited him to exhibit alongside him at the Milan Fair and Japanese designer Issey Myake offered him an exhibition at his gallery space in Tokyo.
For the Tokyo show, Cocksedge designed a very bare bones, but nevertheless ingenious lamp called Watt. It is a simple bulb attached by a bull clip to a pad of paper. To turn on the lamp, you complete a doodle on the pad with a graphite pencil. To switch it off, you just rub out the mark. ‘It was about the property of pencils and what I could use them for,’ says Cocksedge.
As Cocksedge’s reputation has grown, so has the demand for ever more stunning light installations. At the past couple of Milan fairs, he has wowed the crowds with David Copperfield type ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ stunts. In 2007, he created a room at the Palazzo Trussardi that looked at first glance like a black box, but the room was made of glass walls covered with a filter that blocks the light range visible to human eyes. When the walls were viewed through a digital camera (or cell phone camera) viewers could see the glass to the exhibition behind. To Cocksedge, the magic was that, ‘you saw through the walls like Superman’.
As a small child, Cocksedge was obsessed with Superman. Evidently, the appeal of having magical powers has never worn off. But by his teenage years, his daydreams turned to becoming a pilot. The only problem was: ‘I am scared of flying, ‘ he says. Fortunately, in lighting design, he has found a way to channel his ‘love of suspended things that hang or float’ and an outlet for his scientific interests (he studied maths and physics at school). ‘Very few people know how electricity works,’ he says proudly. And sometimes, he is not sure himself. With the NeOn lamp he admits he understand only 90% of what’s going on. ‘I don’t know why, but you have to have the NeOn lamps in twos. They are not happy as ones and they are happier in groups. They feed off each other like people’.
In 2008, Cocksedge launched Pole, his first mass produced design, for Established and Sons in London. At first glance, it looks like a minimalist umbrella stand. A 1.8-meter long clear acrylic curved cane sits in a grey concrete base. The cane contains a fiber optic cable that releases both an intense and a diffuse beam from a very high-powered LED light. ‘I wanted to challenge our perception that light travels in a straight line and create the illusion of bending light,’ he says.
The same year, he also created one of the most talked about designs at the Milan furniture fair. His shimmering 4-meter high wall of Swarovski crystals looked initially like nothing more than beautiful bling. until you turned away and caught in a rear view mirror that the crystals concealed the image of the Mona Lisa. Cocksedge is rather secretive about how this design works, but says: ‘There is an opening in every crystal …it is based on the principals of light reflection.’
What’s next? Expect the unexpected. He hopes shortly to move into designing a wider array of products (furniture, watches, luxury goods). But in all of his designs he has only one mission, ‘I am striving for the creation of objects which have not been made by anyone earlier.’