How to Make It

Honoring Wood

Design Miami

London-based Darren Appiagyei’s carved and turned vessels celebrate nature in the raw

Darren Appiagyei’s London-based practice is fueled by his deep fascination with wood in its rawest form—a predilection that grew out of the artist’s Ghanian heritage and traditional Ghanaian wood carving techniques. In his Banksia Vessels, for example, named for the Australian wildflower, Appiagyei deftly sculpts the oak burr to highlight the textural qualities of its three distinct layers: the crispy outside, the velvety inside, and the woody core. We sat down with Appiagyei to learn more about his unique work.

Woodturner Darren Appiagyei in his studio, called In the Grain. Appiagyei's Banksia Vessels. Photos © Jermaine Miller

For those who may be new to your work, how would you characterize your practice?

My practice is simply about honoring wood—allowing the wood to speak for itself rather than refining or polishing into something that it is not. When I turn wood on a lathe or carve into wood using gouges or an adze, I embrace its intrinsic beauty, whether it be a knot, crack, or texture. While carving, the grain of the wood reveals itself to me, and I very patiently listen, observe, and act.

How did you become attracted to your art form, and how did you learn to do it?

I came to do woodturning by chance. I was studying 3D Design at Camberwell College of the Arts in London, and we had a unit where we had to learn a new skill. The lathe happened to be free. The aim [at the time] was to get my work done as soon as possible in order to pursue another passion of mine, table tennis. But in the process of turning the wood, I fell in love with the journey of discovery—I found it quite therapeutic. It began very much as a process of trial and error, as the technicians at Camberwell didn’t know how to use a lathe. So I taught myself through YouTube and experimentation.

Banksia Vessel by Darren Appiagyei of In the Grain. Photo © Renjoe Film

We’ve read that you draw inspiration from both nature (and its imperfections) as well as the African art that you grew up around in London. Can you say more about how these influences come together in your work?

Nature is innately beautiful. It's the little things we grow accustomed to—the intricate grain on your house door, the bark on a tree, the variation in textures on pavement. Inspiration is all around us, and it’s about being open to it.

I believe nature has a way of vandalizing what has been manufactured. It’s like a flower that grows through concrete pavement; it shouldn’t be there, but it is with its overpowering beauty which shines so bright. Seeing nature in its essence speaks to me. It reminds me that all I have to do is embrace it and showcase its beauty.

I am originally from Ghana, and growing up in London in a Ghanian household—seeing objects such as the Ashanti stool and tribal sculptures—really left an impression on me that wood is beautiful in its rawness. Wood doesn’t need to be sanded down and polished in order to be portrayed as beautiful. There is a connection, an understanding of a wood through touching the rawness of the material.

Coarse Oak Vessels by Darren Appiagyei. Photo © Jamie Trouce

What stories are you telling with your work? Or what do you most hope viewers will take away from your work?

I hope that viewers appreciate that there are a variety of woods out there in the world with different densities, textures, and tones. Wood is beautiful in and of itself. And more importantly, I hope through my work and the documentation of my work that I am able to educate people that things aren’t made overnight. We live in a microwave generation where we expect to have things straight away, which is not reality. It takes time and effort. ◆


Darren Appiagyei’s work is available on DM/BX through J. Lohmann Gallery.