German Aguirre reinterprets nature through design
Words Laura Goldstein
Photography Albert Law
Like a surgeon performing the most delicate of operations, he uses tweezers to precisely place each seed into intricate patterns on furniture tabletops whose designs recall swirling Tibetan mandalas. A Brazilian amethyst morphs into an ageless geological sculpture; a rotating conical pendulum of burnt wood and gold leaf is transformed into a mechanical embodiment of a Japanese dry sand Zen garden.
In the hands of sculptor and furniture maker German Aguirre (pronounced Herman in Spanish), the pieces are as contemplative as they are functional.
“As a child growing up in Lima, Peru, my mother’s and grandmother’s antique store was an endless playground of lampshades and pieces of things to build with. I’ve always been mechanically minded,” laughs German from his studio, German Aguirre Design Atelier in West Vancouver. “But it was my gap year as a guide in the Amazon that changed my whole world. I admired the artists of Peru and their use of stones, wood, engravings and natural elements. I want to tell a story through my pieces but with a modern interpretation.”
Before eventually putting down roots in West Vancouver, German trained in visual arts and design at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and in product design at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. After graduation, he moved to New York, where he worked on collaborative projects, including Hugo Boss fragrances, Bose SoundWear and a 3D printer concept at Aruliden-NYC.
When he and his Canadian wife, Dr. Kelly Barnett, decided to relocate to Tucson, Arizona for her work in 2015, German became mesmerized by the natural landscape, gemstones and minerals native to the area.
“I wanted to tell a story on a more mentally conscious level that was really meaningful to me,” he explains, describing his transition from product design to sculpture and furniture.
His Seed Line Collection of tables, ingenious Lazy Susans and wall-mount art are created with seeds native to Peru: huayruros, quinoa, chia, shihuahuaco seeds, black beans and shells. They are inlaid in colourful and meticulously patterned layers of eco-friendly, water-resistant resin.
“I love working with reclaimed ash and charred wood, although birch plywood is usually what I use to build the tables,” he explains.
Having drawn out his patterns by hand first, German then projects them onto the tabletops and begins the arduous process of placing thousands of seeds, one at a time, to form the intricate patterns.
It’s truly a labour of love for German, who recently completed a custom Lazy Susan for an 80-inch dining table for American singer/songwriter Kelly Levesque (she has collaborated with David Foster, Sting and John Legend) and her husband, Canadian Fraser Walters, a former member of The Tenors, for their getaway home in Kauai.
“In this piece I’m symbolizing how the power of their music can shape mountains like the majestic Napali Coast along Kauai’s North Shore. Together they create this world around them through their passion, love, talent and creativity to ensure a safe and nurturing space for their family of five. This I represented by a five-petal flower, which is the shape that Venus, the Earth and the sun create with their orbits,” German explains.
With huayruros, quinoa, black sesame and black beluga lentils embedded into the design, the tabletop shimmers with colours derived from malachite, turquoise, carnelian, rose quartz and azurite semi-precious minerals and crystals.
He is currently working on a 12-foot dining tabletop for a family in Whistler; it’s inlaid with seeds that will convey their love of the mountains, skiing and ancestral history.
German’s sculptures embody both the geological past and the contemporary present. His seemingly endless curiosity and insatiable thirst for spiritual connections with nature led to his creation of Ahora. Reminiscent of a Japanese Zen sand garden, it is a conical sculpture suspended in a steel frame and finished in gold leaf. An electric motor rotates the hands through the sand, analogous to the passing of time.
And, with his passion to reinterpret gemstones in new and exciting ways, German creates mineral sculptures, such as the egg-like Gaia’s Womb, in which a stunning citrine geode metaphorically symbolizes the gestation of life, and appears to defy gravity within its wooden frame. He also created a one-of-a-kind commission for actress and Oscar winner Goldie Hawn.
“She wanted a heart-shaped faceted crystal mounted on a pedestal for her partner of 40 years, actor Kurt Russell, for Valentine’s Day one year,” says German.
“It’s been Kelly’s and my dream to eventually open our own wellness retreat emphasizing healing through the creative arts—and I will design it,” German says. “My wife, who just gave birth to our second child, specializes in internal and integrated medicine.”
German and Kelly have done two workshops together—one on Bowen Island and the other at Loon Lake Retreat in Maple Ridge. As German explains, “I conduct a forest walk gathering natural seeds, branches, stones, et cetera, which we use to design simple sculptures, and Kelly creates curated experiences devoted to well-being, such as the relationship between diet, nutrition and emotional health. Family and the interconnectedness of the human condition with nature mean everything to me.”