ENDANGERED PIECES A conversation with Jono Nussbaum
Jono grew up in London but has always been a keen observer of the natural world: “I started drawing animals and insects when I was young and basically never stopped; the complexity of nature continues to challenge and inspire me.”
After studying Art and Design at Chelsea School of Art and Kingston University he moved to rural Italy in 2003.
Like us, you are blessed to live in a stunning part of the world. What inspiration does Monte Amiata bring to your work?
Yes, we are indeed blessed to live here, after 19 years I still feel that my local landscape is a bit of a fairy tale. There is an abundance of nature around me, woodland, macchia, olive groves, rivers and mountain; combined with four very distinct seasons it makes for very diverse variety of life.
My curiosity in nature is undoubtedly the basis for my inspiration and the environment of Monte Amiata makes it easy to maintain a connection and at the very least, appreciate the changing cycles of the natural world. One can almost tell the time by the daily comings and going’s of the animals and birds, and predict the arrival of the annual migratory birds; swallows, swifts, hoopoes; the first songs of the crickets, and the nightingales who fill the valley to play their jazz all night long into summer; all of these occurrences and many more sharpen my senses and add to their creative influence.
You’ve trained as an artist, but you also make fabulous furniture. Do you feel more artigiano o artista?
I did study art and illustration, but I got my degree in industrial and furniture design. I have always considered myself as an artist. My joinery skills grew alongside this, were self taught, fairly unconventional and came as a necessity of my desire to make what I wanted rather than farm out designs for others to manufacture. I enjoy metalwork and am happy to try most any discipline to get the results that I want. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to make almost anything that I can imagine. So in answer to the question, I consider myself as an artist first and foremost, and I became an artigiano along the way.
The body of your work, entitled Endangered Pieces must be hugely influenced by the climate around you. How would you describe what you are transmitting to those who don’t know your work?
Although I live in the presence of an abundance of nature it has not escaped my attention that the numbers and variety of animal populations have decreased in the time that I have been living here. Around the world this is happening everywhere to a greater or lesser degree without exception and we are all now painfully aware of the impact that human activity will have on our future.
Having grown up in a big city, London, I understand the distance that the majority of people keep from the natural world. I’m not talking about Tigers and polar bears or cuddly mammals. What I want to connect is the relevance of EVERY living thing to EVERYTHING living. Yes, mosquitos bite, or at least the females do, but the mosquito population provides sustenance for bats, birds and other insects and are a crucial link in the web, without them things fall apart. I choose mosquitoes as an example because no one likes them, yet they must be appreciated like anything else. Endangered Pieces is describing the beauty of this without discrimination in a language that is gentle and familiar, art.
How would you describe your relationship with locally sourced materials?
The main material I use for my work is wood. Fortunately Monte Amiata is heavily forested and has progressively become more organised and environmentally aware about the proper management of its timber production. There is a great variety of local wood, cherry ,oak, chestnut, ash, cedar to name a few. I look for wood that has ‘character’. Twists and bends, knots and splits. The pieces I make are as much dictated by the form of the piece of wood as by my drawings. It sometimes makes it much easier to find. I like the bits that conventional carpenters disregard.
I do have a preferred timber: Walnut. It might be coincidence that my surname means walnut tree, but I am naturally attracted to the dark swirling grain of walnut wood that can be coloured from dark purple and deep chocolate to pale brown and that I find so sympathetic to work with it’s strength, stability and flexibility.
What is your first memory of olive oil?
Olive oil is the taste of Tuscany, the essence of life here, I can smell it as I think about it. I followed my sister here to Tuscany before she made wine, and first came when I was 18. To discover fresh pressed new oil was a revelation, unheard of in the UK at the time. A piece of unsalted crusty bread, scarpetta, (little shoe), mopping up a saucer of fresh oil…….. if you haven’t, do!!
Can you recommend a great place to eat on Monte Amiata?
Just up the Zancona river valley from me, on the other side below Monticello Amiata is an agriturismo, La Pianore. Owned and run by a Neapolitan family who have been there longer than me, they have this year opened a small pizzeria on select days of the week. When asked by the chef and friend Marcello, “Jono, why do you look so sad?” My reply was, “Now that I’ve tasted your pizzas, where do I go from here?”
He makes truly exceptional pizzas, unconventional recipes, mozzarella soaked in Lemon and herbs, oils and sauces with components from obscure southern producers, vegetables grown from their own spring fed organic gardens. I repeat, Truly Exceptional….and I really do like good food.
Jono’s extremely beautiful work is available to view and purchase via his website. www.jononussbaum.com