Theme: Simply Beautiful

For the past 12 years, Southern Guild gallery has pushed South Africa’s leading designers out of their comfort zones, challenging them to create groundbreaking, collectible work that has altered the world’s perception of African design.

Central to the commissioning of limited-edition pieces is co-founder Julian McGowan. “I look for the strange and the unusual,” he says of the creative process involved in commissioning these pieces. “Sometimes it’s design that’s just there for the joy of the viewer and the need of the designer to produce.”

As such, McGowan loves to work with designers who produce and think like artists, and he often drives them to work outside of their preferred medium and processes. “If you’re a brilliant designer, you can do anything,” he says, adding that he has encouraged ceramicists such as Chuma Maweni to transfer their skills to wood, and fashion designers such as Rich Mnisi to turn their eye to furniture. “Collectible design is not a quick business,” he says. “It sometimes takes years to create a piece, but that’s what makes it so extraordinary.”

Southern Guild shows regularly at leading international fairs including Design Miami, Salon Art + Design in New York and PAD London, resulting in sales to top collectors and respected museums. They also frequently collaborate on curated African shows with prominent international galleries.

As a designer himself, having spent many years creating sets and costumes for theatre and opera, McGowan thrives on putting together and building the gallery’s shows. “Curating a space is important to me,” he says, adding that there is nothing as inspiring as an empty room.

McGowan admits to getting bored quickly, and this is apparent in his constantly evolving aesthetic. “I’m always looking at things online, and browsing exhibitions, fairs, and museums when we travel. You could say I’m an aesthetic junkie.”

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.