The Living Splendors of Ayala Serfaty


By Véronique Lorelle


Created in felt or glass lace, the creations of the Israeli designer instill poetry and humanity into everyday objects. Works on show at PAD in the Tuileries in Paris until April 7.

Among the intriguing pieces that Contemporary Design collectors will see from April 4 through 7 at PAD 2019 Paris under a tent in the Tuileries gardens, are three organic creations by Ayala Serfaty: a constellation-like wall light, a stool resembling tree bark and a large speckled armchair baptized “Kuramura Pollock” in honor of the American painter, inventor of drip painting. These wonders are presented by Béatrice Saint-Laurent who founded Galerie BSL in 2010 and represents the Israeli designer in Paris while Maison Gerard promotes her in New York.

Fifty-seven year old Ayala Serfaty entertains a special, almost intimate relationship, with her creations. “This is the last time I will see you” she apologizes, caressing a sculptural armchair, soft to the touch like a lamb’s fleece but visually as rough a crackled earth. Just sold to an American client, this piece made of 4 kilos of fibers woven on a metal structure, required some four months of work.

This frail artist with pale blue eyes invented a unique way of creating highly original furniture. She uses the technique of felt, “the first cloth ever invented, primitive, that requires no machinery” she emphasizes. In her workshop in Tel Aviv, she superposes wool, silk and linen fibers mixing colors like a painter. She then humidifies, rubs, and presses the material until it transforms into its final felted form.



Crystals and Coral

Like an animal skin, the earth’s crust or a rocky surface, each piece is different. The desire to make felt emerged with the discovery of an installation by German artis Joseph Beuys (1921-1986). “I remember enormous rolls of felt covering the walls all the way to ceiling and a large piano. I felt the protective presence and acoustic quality of the felt, even though the piano was silent...” she explains. With a diploma from the Academy of Fine Arts of Bezalel in Jerusalem, and 10 years after her studies at Middlesex Polytechnic she learned to fashion this material and decided to apply it to furniture.

In 1994, Artifact Gallery in Tel Aviv, showed her first armchair. The success was immediate. “I realized that through this furniture, people understood my message. The time that I spend on each piece, the imprint of my hand... everything that allows me to construct these objects that I hope to have humanized.”

Along with her signature chairs, Ayala Serfaty creates equally breathtaking lighting sculptures. She heats fine glass rods blown in Italy until they partially melt and join together. Little by little appears a lace or cobweb-like structure that she coats with a polymer that also filters the light. “Glass lace? I discovered it thanks to a final projec by Eytan Hall in the ceramic department of the Academy of Fine Arts of Bezalel. The idea of spraying polymer came from works I had admired at the MoMa in New York, George Nelson’s “Bubble” lamps from the 1950s and the Castiglioni brothers’ lamp from the 1960s.”

The result? Lights like crystals of sparkling snow, clouds, corals or lichens she perfects with the help of Eytan Hall, now part of her workshop where four peopl work. Ayala Serfaty does not regret her evolution from her beginnings in painting to this unexplored territory in which Art, Design and Crafts become one. “There is such freedom in working textiles, colors, fibers or glass rods. One can express feelings or emotions like in a 3D painting. In ancient times, we painted on walls of caves or on ceremonial vases. There was no art for art. Art was a domestic thing, expressed on objects from daily life and that brought comfort and consolation. In this sense, I make domestic art.”

Her inhabited creations, a number of which have been shown at the London Design Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and are in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the United States, have evocative names. The series of sensual and protective felt armchairs is called “Rapa” (“the healer” in Hebrew). The name echoes the idea so dear to Joseph Beuys who claimed to have been treated and healed during World War II by this material. The lighting sculptures with their glass visible like bones, cartilage or veins under their skin of polymer are name “Soma” (“the body” in Greek). They are the incarnation both of the power and the fragility of human beings.

Far from copying nature, the inspired Ayala Serfaty breathes poetry and spirituality into objects from our daily lives. “I bring inanimate objects to life” she says, hoping “that people will see more splendor on Earth in their company”.