Design Changemakers 2023: Marcelo Suro’s Pieces Are Playful, Yet Consciously Made
Who: Marcelo Suro, designer
Where to follow him: Instagram at @MarceloSuro
Designer Marcelo Suro‘s objects are dynamic. They have a movement to them, and sometimes a gravitational pull.
“Fools gold,” versions one, two, and three, for example, is a series of bronze-casted lamps that appear somewhat knotted, melty, and drippy. The lamps are Suro’s favorite pieces he’s worked on this past year. “A glimpse of what ain’t there” is a lowboy lounge chair that, fittingly, embraces negative space. “That looks dicey” is a hanging lamp that resembles a chain link, a bit precariously balanced. And “The pink robots won” is a freestanding lamp that could pass as a one-eyed, three-legged little creature; the lightbulb is the eye, of course.
Suro says he’s always taking notes — bits of conversations or songs or things he sees in the wild — to find the perfect names for his pieces. “There’s always room for quirkiness and also for some humor,” says Suro.
He’s a 2022 Savannah College of Art and Design grad who has exhibited pieces internationally: in the U.S., Italy, the Netherlands, and Mexico, including at the 2018 Campamento Design Fair, at which he won an award for his beam-shaped lamps.
Bradley L. Bowers, an industrial designer and a 2021 Design Changemaker, praises Suro for both his ideas and his quality execution. “More and more, the design landscape has shifted toward concept-heavy explorations,” says Bowers, who nominated Suro for 2023 Design Changemaker consideration. “Marcelo explores a concept, but then follows through and makes it concrete. The real challenge of design is in bringing a thing to life. I think Marcelo is beginning to build a career that endeavors to be as creative in bringing his work to life as he is in conceptualizing that same work.”
Suro was raised around art and ceramics; his grandfather opened a factory in the 1960s in Guadalajara, Mexico, called Cerámica Suro — later taken over by Suro’s father, José Noé Suro — where staff artisans produce tiles, lamps, and decorative pieces. The factory has also hosted more than 500 visiting artists from around the world. Suro says growing up in this environment imbued him with a special understanding of the materials and processes that go into object design — of materials that are (and aren’t) forgiving of mistakes, of materials that are (and aren’t) sustainable, and of the people involved and fair wages it takes to make one single piece or mass produce one. “And, of course, when you have that [understanding], you can apply that to your work, and you can experiment further,” he says.
So what sort of experimentation can you expect from Suro in 2023? More playfulness, including more work with bronze, a yet-to-be-publicly-shared collaboration with a U.S. brand, and more gallery shows. Suro is splitting time between New York and Guadalajara, where he’ll show a few pieces in a collective show with Ballista Gallery in March and then have a solo show in October. “I have to work on on a bunch of different pieces for that,” he says. “Hopefully, they’ll all be new, so everything will be seen for the first time.”
When he’s in New York, Suro works for artist Misha Kahn, whom he cites as one of his inspirations, in Kahn’s Brooklyn-based studio. “Marcelo is the most recent addition to the studio, and I think his curiosity is a nice addition,” says Kahn. “He’s also just very high-energy, which I love. I think his personality comes through in his work — the pieces always feel energetic and buoyant, which is also what Marcelo is like! I think his having studied industrial design but really having a passion for looser creative pursuits (sculpture, if we’re being binary) comes through in his work. And he’s just getting started, so I’m sure that combination of sensibilities is going to keep adding to how compelling his work is.”
Read more about Suro’s artistic past, present, and future below.
AT: Tell me how, when, and why you got started doing what you’re doing.
MS: Ever since I was a kid, I sort of grew up surrounded by architects, artists, and designers that would go and work on their own projects. My house wasn’t a very conventional house because [my father] was always surrounded by sculptures and paintings.
AT: What do you look to for inspiration now?
MS: Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of sculpture and installations, I would say. I think it’s a very natural thing to look at when you do 3D design or 3D objects. And I would say that I don’t look at a lot of conventional design. I look for designers who do things handmade, like Wendell Castle, for a sort of classic example. Ron Arad, Mark Newson, people that have studios and produce things on their own.
I think [a handmade object] carries a big part of the personality of the person who made it. Not only can you see, like, even, fingerprints or signs that it was handmade, but also it reflects a big part of who the maker or the designer was.
AT: What three words would you use to describe your own work or style?
MS: Loose, soft, anti-static.
AT: Is there a specific piece of yours or project of yours that you think is indicative of what you’re trying to do?
MS: Possibly the set of coffee tables that I did that were shown at Design Miami. They were these color-fused tables. The top is glass — fused color glass — and the legs are ceramic, and within close proximity. I was able to make it very seamless and almost hide the fact that I’m using two different materials.
AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?
MS: Well, I hate cold lighting. Something that I noticed this year quite a lot as I’ve been traveling is that every single airport in this world has the coldest lighting possible. So every light I buy, every lightbulb I put in my house, has to be warm. I think lighting — the lighting itself and also the pieces that I put in my apartment — make a big part of home. And also, lighting is something that I work with, so I have this big obsession with the pieces themselves.
AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2023?
MS: Personal, conscious, handmade.
AT: What change are you hoping to create in your field, or what changes do you think you’re making in your field with your work?
MS: I think a lot of people in Mexico would say that if you do design, you sort of go work in a consultancy or in a studio doing just product design all the time. [I want to show] that there is a different path for design, that you can work on your things and sell them yourself or through galleries — to show that it’s a more open field than it seems.
AT: How do you define success in your field?
MS: I would say that if you’re always busy with something or thinking about what to do next, it’s definitely a sign of success. If you’re bored, if you don’t have a lot of things to work on, it’s definitely a sign that things are going wrong. That’s the main thing I look at when I’m beginning the year or ending the year. And also how happy you are, because if you’re not happy doing it, then why do it?
Interview has been edited and condensed.