Humberto Campana: “Design for me is a healing of the soul, helping to find new meaning”

Opening a new chapter of creative life, Humberto Campana shares with us his thoughts on the formation of the author’s style, man-made objects, and the sacredness of things

In 2024, the famous Estudio Campana celebrates its 40th anniversary. Over the years, the Campana brothers have become a symbol of modern Brazilian design. Their work is about innovation, craftsmanship, and cultural expression. Their objects challenge norms, combining craftsmanship, a relationship with materials, and relevance.

Humberto Campana, after the death of his brother Fernando in 2022, continues to lead the studio. He presented a solo exhibition, On the Road, at Friedman Benda Gallery in New York. This is the first show, opening a new chapter for both the studio and the designer himself. He talks about the beginning of his career, the essence of collection design, and a new big project in Brazil.

Design your life

I never learned how to create things. I am a lawyer by education. Just one day there was a clear desire to design a life with my own hands. It became almost a mantra for me. And then I began to collect various materials to turn them into sculptures. I have always liked working with metal. After some time, my brother began to help me. Fernando had a very artistic mind and we started making abstract things functional. We have chosen our own path in design. We really didn’t want to tell another story about Brazilian modernism. At that time, intellectual Brazilian design was associated with this historical period. But Brazil is a huge multinational country, and I wanted to create a portrait of this living culture. Various traditions, customs, imperfections – our dictionary contains words from all languages. These were things that had never been created and people were stunned. At first, no one understood us. Everything changed when we met Massimo Morozzi, creative director of Edra. He saw our Vermehla chair and gave it a chance to mass produce it. This changed everything for us.

Art and dreams

We gradually built a bridge between art and design. I wanted to materialize my dreams, my attitude towards art and what excites me. However, I never thought of design as a space that needs to be decorated. I wanted to please myself; for me, design became a healing of the soul: it helped fill voids, find new meaning, heal imperfections. For me, it is extremely important to be honest with myself, not to be influenced – and design has become this protective tool. I may still not fully know what it is, but it is wonderful. Because I love creating things, architecture around me, landscapes and landscapes. We are currently completing a huge park with pavilions in Brazil, and it will be a gift to the entire community. I’m a storyteller and often play with ideas of surrealism. My design language developed in childhood and was heavily influenced by cinema. I grew up in a small rural town with only a small movie theater. I looked at everything: Pasolini, Fellini, Japanese directors, the creators of the French New Wave. I was so immersed in these images that I wanted to construct my own scenario. Design became an opportunity to invite people into an imaginary world and show them its possibilities. This is a world that gives hope.

About  the sacredness of a thing

Most people need a dream, a fantasy. In today’s complex world, many lack this. A collectible item is a living dialogue between thoughts and your home. We never made the thing as such. These are objects closely related to the spiritual, mystical; they can combine aspects of the intangible. I’m trying to create a kind of sacred thing, because this materialized reflection will end up in someone’s home. I want the object to bring emotional comfort, give food for thought, tenderness, and beauty. Most of my items are handmade. When I do something with my own hands, I feel happiness, I feel completely safe. I am the type of person who thinks all the time, this process never stops. And when I feel an idea crystallize, it’s like talking to a higher mind: you feel at peace and are carried away from your daily worries. This gives concentration of thought and calm. When your hands are immersed in the material, in this way you convey your love – the best that is in you. This process transforms a thing into sacred and transfers energy to an inanimate object. People want to surround themselves with things like that, or at least I like to think so. Some objects take years to create—for example, one screen took me nine years to complete. Other solutions require about a year and a half. But even now the creation process looks approximately the same as it did decades ago. For last year’s exhibition at Friedman Benda Gallery in Los Angeles, I made a seat with a support from golden branches. They only grow in a certain place in Brazil and they really look like gold, it’s amazing. The branches were purchased a long time ago, but understanding how to integrate them into the work took two years. That is, on the one hand, it is always intellectual work, but on the other, it is purely physical time to make things happen.

About the new studio

Until recently, I didn’t have much room for collecting. I have always lived in a small house and only recently moved to a larger studio where I housed my and Fernando’s work. Both places are very minimalist, with good proportions. Perhaps the most important thing for me in the house is the feeling of calm, and silence – I need it to get rid of the chaotic perception of life. I always feel happy in my home. There are many prototypes and sculptures of Fernando in it, and I would like to immortalize them. My dream is to have a collection of baskets, I love them. I am fascinated by everything related to the vernacular. Perhaps I would also like to create a museum of crystals and stones: even the most banal stones resonate with me. And the most impressive museum I’ve seen is probably the Vitra Design Museum. It’s amazing: prototypes that later became iconic objects, the very beginning of design. I love teaching and exchanging ideas. I am lucky: I have the time and energy to create and share my dreams, which do not decrease over the years.

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