Candles in the home set a mood, impart a scent, illuminate a dinner table. What if these candles were given more than a flicker of imagination, a spark of something truly transformative?
Artist Andrej Urem, Manhattan Fruitier’s October Maker of the Month, transforms utilitarian candles into gorgeous, livable works of art by sculpting and hand-pouring soy and beeswax into platonic forms. These candles are part of our SPARK collection because they are beautifully designed and expertly crafted.
Learn more about artist Andrej Urem’s inspirations and process in his studio interview.
Artist Andrej Urem in his Gowanus studio with Boston Terrier, Tank.
Your candle collection is unique, one-of-a kind and utilitarian. How did your path as a professional poet, sculptor and graphic designer bring you to this new creative passion?
Art is a language coming from the subtle realm of existence so it doesn’t matter what form of expression it takes or what name you give it. It always stays open for that resonance of communication, free of being defined and categorized as something strictly material.
I don’t see or describe them only as “candles.” For me there is a story that links everything: wax is one of the basic materials for sculptors — the modeling, molding, casting process – the heritage of art that gives me a hint on how to shape my grain of dust and breathe life into it.
Why soy? What are the advantages of using soy in candles vs. paraffin?
The recipe for my candle collection is a blend that contains soy and beeswax. These are organic materials so the candle is in a kind of living state of existence. That blend not only contains more energy for burning, but also has that natural white color and earthy scent. The philosophy behind that is to connect contemporary designed products with environmental processes and materials.
Often candles are expected to have fragrance. Did you toy with the idea of adding scents to your creations?
The current collection is predetermined as an architectural or a sculptural form that emerges from Platonic solids combined with a play of fractal geometry. I don’t see them as traditional candles, but more as a piece of livable art. To add a fragrance to that concept is against my intentions.
Your candles are all individual works of art, but by their nature, ephemeral. How does that influence your approach to creating them?
The play starts not having in mind any final form or purpose — just following my intuition and the flow of geometry to their full potential and then reducing everything to the substance of the certain idea. It is like the Discobolus from the Greek sculptor Myron that captures that moment of stillness in the movement of a discus thrower.
The Discobolus by the Greek sculptor Myron at the British Museum.
Tell us about your creative process and how you utilize 3-D technology to create your forms. How does technology juxtapose with your art?
Nowadays, rapid prototyping really has reached high-end demands for all different occupations from engineering to artists, and everything in between. Most of the 3-D software looks like Photoshop on steroids . . . so it’s easy to get lost and stray, not realizing that this is only a tool to ease materializing the visions and ideas.
At the beginning it was weird not having clay between my fingers and not being able to feel the volume and the texture of the piece. But I have easily overcome that.
It’s not just the candles that are gorgeous. The concrete housing you use for the candles is really incredible and a form of packaging I have not seen before.
The packaging is a house where a surprise lives. I had to make inventive, unique packaging and solve a few demands such as an open view for each model, protection from pollutants and damage, avoiding printing mutations for each model and being able to produce on demand. This concrete idea was the craziest one and it was the complete opposite of what you learn in school. In fact, it’s an example of what to avoid. By playing with different fiberglass reinforcement and cement formulas, I finally made strong and really thin light walls that can hold the integrity of the container and stress in transportation. The logo and all information about the product are engraved on the box so there is no need for a print. Finally, a rubber band holds the candle in firm position in the container that is open in the front and back. Concrete is an ancient material used since Roman times and on a subliminal level, it can easily be connected to architectural, classical and monumental objects. The aesthetic of concrete is, on the one hand, coldness, firmness, stability, and meditation, and, on the other hand, light, fire, movement and life.
Andrej Urem’s unique concrete and fiberglass housing for his extraordinary candle collection. “Lace” candle pictured.
Each design has its own identity and beautiful name, like Rose, Lace, Hara and Balthazar. What inspired these titles?
Each name is given to represent a state of energy or certain psychological representations of being. Some of them are feminine, some masculine and some universal. For instance, in martial arts, Hara represents Qi [the foundation of all the Yin and Yang energies of the body]. And Balthazar is one of the Three Wise Men from a Bible who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Sixty hours seems a very generous life for a single candle. What’s your secret to this length?
All candles have unique ways of burning. The flame slowly makes a cylindrical cavity inside the core of the candle so the outside structure stays intact and it glows like a lamp with a distinct play of light and shadows between transparency of the wax and the particular design of the model. The connection of the wick and the chemistry of the candle make that duration and effect possible.
Andrej Urem’s candles have a unique core that allows the structure of his candles to stay
intact while allowing light to shine through their core giving a wonderful, warm glow.
Give us a glimpse of your studio/work environment. Are you working solo or do you have a team?
I have a friend here in New York who is an artist and a professional mold maker for over twenty-five years. He has worked for numerous very famous sculptors and on important projects. When I showed him my molds he didn’t say anything for a moment and then said, “This is a masterpiece!” Actually, I spent over a year to accomplish just that perfect production mold for my candle collection. Nobody is that stubborn and determined to spend that much effort to solve every little detail that needs to be resolved before that kind of perfection can be reached. So I work alone.
What or who are your creative influences?
I come from a very artistic and intellectual family. My father was a wild philosophy professor and artist who was very passionate about life and culture. My mother was a polyglot. An English teacher and art historian with a wide array of interests especially for botanical subjects. I could easily say that nature is my ultimate creative influence and guide; everything is there as a whole in one, nature is ultimate creator, and everything in between is just reflection or translation of that perfection.
Andrej Urem usually works solo in his Gowanus studio, except when his friend’s dog Tank helps out.
What direction do you see for your art in the future?
The current candle collection is the beginning of a larger design product concept that is on the way to being manufactured sometime next year.
You were a musician in Croatia before you moved to North America. Tell us about your early life there and the evolution of your art.
In the mid-eighties I played drums in a new wave / punk band, then I switched to jazz. I traveled for my whole life and lived in a few different countries …writing and publishing poetry, short stories, working as an artist in many different fields. In sculpture, I started with figurative expression and ended with mathematical algorithms for harmonious patterns and endless movement. I stopped writing poetry for a couple of years, but now I’m back with a different sensibility for rhythm of the words and their fundamental meanings. I’m always trying to respond and communicate with myself and surroundings the best way I know how.
From all your mediums of expression – poetry, music, sculpture, graphic and product design, and candles — what do you feel communicates “Andrej Urem”?
When I was a child, our normal communication in my family was spoken in four different languages: Croatian, Slovenian, German and Italian. There was no formula for understanding each other unless you were able to read between the lines and decrypt nonverbal gestures. Now when I am making candles, for one part of the extended family I am writing poetry. For the other part of the extended family, it is pure nonsense. You cannot please everyone, but certainly you can enjoy having fun most of the time.
It seems that several elements need to be in perfect harmony to create an Andrej Urem Collection piece. How long did you work on the prototypes of the Collection before you said, “Perfect!”?
I made peace with myself when I realized that true perfection belongs to the realm of illusion that we mortals can’t achieve. But the virtue of the journey is living a bigger picture where our imperfection holds a final key. Actual working time is not the essence of that process. So to write a poem or draw a picture or make a candle, you need a whole life that is behind you to make that thing possible. The perfection appears when you burn that little fragile container of light as a reminder that all the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Andrej Urem collection candle trio in “Lace”, “Rose”, and “Hara” design for our new collection of gifts, Spark at Manhattan Fruitier.