Ever since I was first introduced to Tom Sachs via the Neistat brothers, Casey and Van Neistat, I have been captivated by his bricolage and handmade DIY aesthetic. The aesthetic almost seems anarchic but it’s quite the opposite as Tom has established an extremely deliberate set of guidelines and codes in his meticulously organized studio.
Tom created a short film titled Ten Bullets that outlines these codes for his workshop. The film is shot using the same aesthetic principles as all his physical sculpture work and that can be seen in its rough edges and DIY feel.
One impressive element of his aesthetic is the ability to make anything look like art. He uses a concept called knolling which is a process of arranging objects so they are parallel at 90 degree angles and that can be seen everywhere in his studio. Everything has a place and the placement of the object is deliberated upon until it sits right with the viewer.
The origins of Tom’s imperfect handmade aesthetic date back to his high school years where as a seventeen year old he would try to make everything as good and clean as possible. This was until he realized that rather than trying to do everything the right way, there was some virtue in doing things the wrong way.
Toms first popular works made in 1995 of the Hermès Hand Grenade and Tiffany Glock (Model 19), models made from Hermès or Tiffany packaging, helped establish the aesthetic surrounding his brand.
He attributes his first “doing it the wrong way” breakthrough to a 1998 full-scale model of the Fat Man, that atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki a couple days after Hiroshima. He had made an effort to make it really slick and perfect and in the build process he decided to hire a fabricator for the first time. The model was all fiberglass and the fabricator executed Sachs instructions perfectly. To the fabricator’s surprise Sachs was disappointed by this outcome as the model was perfectly crafted and he wished he did it himself as he valued the imperfection his hands would have created. That is where the value of the art is in Sachs’ mind. The fabricator did the work quickly and it looked great but he believed any artist could have made it, and Sachs isn’t just any artist.
One essential ingredient of Tom’s imperfect handmade aesthetic is plywood. Similar to the Ten Bullets short film, Sachs also has a short film titled Love Letter to Plywood which hopefully illustrates how important that medium is to his sculpture, artwork, and life as a whole. Sachs has a rule that you must not betray the nature of the material you are working with, so he likes to paint the plywood before cutting it, leaving the cut edges exposed. These exposed edges play into the aesthetic perfectly and show the layers beneath the surface of any product Sachs produces.
Sachs’ aesthetic continues to influence sculpture, art, and peoples own design principles around the world. One of the biggest linear influences I’ve seen from his work has been the effect on the Neistat brothers work. You can see the influence in almost every one of their videos. The attention to detail, the handwritten imperfections, and the DIY approach to fixing things and creating solutions to problems in the living space or workshop. Below are some images that display this aesthetic and it is cool to see that an aesthetic that is seen as so physical and tangible can be applied in video and an online format.
Clark, G. (2016, April 8). Tom Sachs takes a cup of tea with isamu noguchi. CFile. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://cfileonline.org/exhibition-tom-sachs-tea-ceremony-at-isamu-noguchi-museum-in-queens-contemporary-ceramics-cfile/
This was an interesting article, as Casey Niestat and his brother Van are some of my favorite creators based on their style and how much Tom Sachs has influenced them. One of my favorite exhibits that Tom has produced is his “Space Program” in 2007, where he built a control center and a lunar module sculpture with a “booze cabinet, toolkit, and soundtrack necessary for survival on an alien planet” (https://www.tomsachs.com/exhibitions/a-space-program). This piece shows his fascination with space as he has created multiple other space-related pieces. His use of knolling everything in his studio reminds me of building lego sets when I was younger. I would instinctively lay out all the pieces by shapes, sizes, and colors, making the building more straightforward, but I never knew that knolling was an actual thing until a few years ago.
What would you say about Tom’s handmade aesthetic and DIY approach to fixing things and how it contrasts with consumerism, as everything is designed to be mass-produced, consumed, and thrown away?
I think this article is great, Tom Sachs is one of my favorite artists. I specifically enjoy how he sets up his workspaces with knolling, where it almost feels like you see how his mind works. He has also been a great mentor to many creators, Casey and Van are great examples of how being around a person like Tom Sachs can help you be successful. I never knew that he worked with Tiffany or Hermes, but I find those works very interesting. My favorite work by Tom Sachs is his collaborations with Nike making the Mars Yard 1.0 and 2.0s, which he is wearing in the first picture.
What would you say is his most important value from Ten Bullets?