Stefan Rurak faked his own death on the French Riviera, renovated gilded-age hotels in Poland, and was questioned by the FBI over a misunderstood piece of performance art, all long before crafting furniture. It was Stefan’s fascination with Zen Buddhism, and the powerful parallels he found in the act of woodworking, that eventually drove him to apprentice under one of New York City’s most respected custom woodworkers. Stefan Rurak founded SR on the vision that furniture can not only fulfill functional needs but also have the expressive power of fine art.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Primarily I am a custom furniture maker and fabricator. My background is as an artist so my work is largely informed by that mode of thinking.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? Recently I just finished showing in design week here in NYC. Currently I am still working on new pieces for the Sandy Project and next month my first park commission for public seating in Beacon, NY.
What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other designers are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? Keeping things affordable. The nature of making everything by hand and working in Brooklyn, dealing with the overheads, cost of material, all these things make it difficult to compete with operations from abroad. At the end of the day all you can do is focus on making your product quality and unique.
How did your interest in art or design begin? My background is in visual art. I started out copying comic books, and got really good at the figure. Then in college I got exposed to all these new forms of art; art history class had a huge influence on me. I really got into performance art of the 70’s, and was really inspired by artists like Yves Klein, Chris Burden, and Marina Abramovic. I was doing film photography and loved the process. I was staging images and these became performances. I started testing my body, and it’s that physicality along with some other things that brought me to the woodwork. I view the process of creating in the shop as one long performance.
How has living in New York affected your design practice? It keeps the pace fast. There are so many people working in the same and similar fields, so many creative hungry people that it really pushes you to work. That’s it, just work. It is probably unhealthy, but I guess it’s ok because I love what I do, so there’s no problem doing it all the time.
What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I use a diverse species of wood. I don’t discriminate, it’s totally dependent on what the project calls for. It’s all FSC certified unless I find it and then I have no way of telling. Recently I have had a good source of NYC water tower wood coming through. I love using that because it has a good story and good character. It smells excellent when you cut into it. I build pieces from it and am setting them on fire. It’s an ancient Japanese technique, I’m really into the process of building pieces and then torching them.
What artists or designers are you interested in right now? Chris burden always, RIP. Matthew Barney, but haven’t seen his most recent piece. Kehinde Wiley at the Brooklyn Museum is fantastic.
What’s your favorite thing about your city? It’s gonna sound lame but there are these things I call “New York moments” that are rare but are what makes it all worth it. They explain the reason why I’m there. It’s like when I built some pieces for Marina Abromovic, I mean I read about her and followed her work, but interacting with her, working with her and sitting with her while she critiqued my work…only in New York.
What is your snack of choice when working in your studio? Whatever my girlfriend bakes for me that week.
What are you really excited about right now? This park commission I have going in Beacon, NY and my vacation to Turkey.
What are you listening to right now? The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream.