Teapot, prototype, aluminium / stainless steel, designed and made by Robert Foster, Fink and Co, Canberra, Australia, for Alessi, Italy, 1995
Robert Foster designed this teapot from stainless steel and aluminium as a prototype for Alessi in 1995. Foster is among a handful of Australian designers to be selected by the Alessi company to design home wares for them, along with Marc Newson, Lisa Maree Vincitorio, Denton Corker Marshall, Susan Cohn, Alice Abi and Tom Kovac. However, at this stage, neither this teapot, nor two other designs made by Foster for Alessi (including a fondue set in 1992 and another teapot), have gone into production.
The design for this particular teapot reflects Foster's vision (and that of the Fink company) to challenge perceived notions about the design of functional objects, which are often thought of as 'boring' and devoid of visual appeal. This philosophy is shared by the Alessi company and it is closely linked with the post modernist thinking of the 1980s (particularly that of the Memphis group). This thinking believed that "design should incorporate symbolic messages and take into account the emotional responses of consumers" (Contemporary Silver: made in Italy, p.20). In this teapot, Foster subtly contrasts the organic form of the stainless steel body with the geometric form of the tapered aluminium spout and handle, resembling the flow of liquid through the pot. The playful colours of the ball lid, handle and spout add excitement to the normally routine task of tea or coffee making and a new dimension to the teapot as an everyday object.
As a prototype, this teapot is also an example of a formative stage in the design making process, where the viability of an object's appearance and its feasibility for manufacture are all tested and evaluated before it is considered for production. As is common with prototypes, materials have been used here not intended for the final product, like the aluminium in the handle, which was meant to be injection-moulded. This particular teapot complements other objects designed by Robert Foster and the Fink company in the Museum's collection, including a tea and coffee pot (92/343 and 91/1141) and prototypes and drawings for a Sydney 2000 Olympic Games torch.
Assistant Curator, Design & Society
This teapot was designed and made as a prototype by the Australian designer, Robert Foster, for the Italian design company, Alessi, in 1995. Foster was invited by Alberto Alessi, director of the Alessi company, to design a teapot made from stainless steel with a view to it going into production as part of the Alessi range.
Foster's design concept for the teapot was to create a juxtaposition between the hemispherical body of the teapot and the line or form of the handle and spout. Foster says "the reaction of the vessel being pierced by the tapered handle stretches and distorts the symmetry of the polished bubble of the body. The direction of and the action of piercing implies the function of pouring or the flow of liquid. Its form is a perfect sphere and rests at the junction of the components. Its purpose is to open the vessel, allowing it to be filled, beginning the process of making tea".
The body of the teapot was hammered hot from stainless steel then planished (i.e. smoothed). A bottom was welded on and then it was abraded and hand polished. The handle and spout was carved from a solid block of aluminium (it was originally intended to be injection moulded) and then it was abraded by hand to get the final form, then anodised.
Although the prototype was liked by the company, the teapot was perceived to be "too organic" and Foster chose not to proceed to modify its form for commercial production.
Robert Foster was born in Kyneton, Victoria in 1962. He studied gold and silver smithing at the Canberra School of Art (1981-1985) and in 1993 established Fink and Co, an Australian design company manufacturing unique household objects (including hollow-ware, sculptural lighting and furniture). Apart from working with the design house, Alessi, Foster has also designed for Ingo Maurer (lighting) and his works are represented in all major Australian collections, as well as collections overseas.
Foster was first approached by Alessi to design a fondue set for them in 1992 after Alberto Alessi discovered Foster's work at a group exhibition in Germany called 'Three Silversmiths Three Lands'. After meeting with Alberto at the Alessi factory in Crusalino, north of Milan, Foster returned to Australia and submitted his designs (Foster, however, never received a response). He later submitted two prototype designs for a teapot, but the tyranny of distance again proved difficult with communication. The original hand drawings and sketches for this teapot are believed to still be with the Alessi company.
The Alessi design company, also affectionately referred to as the 'fun factory', was founded in 1921. Uniquely, they do not employ in-house designers, preferring to draw on independent designers who are free of corporate influence. Apart from Foster, other notable designers used by the company include Philippe Starck, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Enzo Mari.
Although this particular teapot did not go into production, the Alessi company have collected a number of pieces designed by Foster's company, Fink and Co.