Introducing: Axle Dean Looslie
Canopy is a platform that’s directly dependent on its community. In addition to hosting beautiful and unique products, we’ve drawn in some incredible creators, thinkers, and tastemakers. We decided to start getting to know some of the people in our diverse community, to learn about what drives the people who create, collect, and curate.
For our first interview we spoke with artist/designer/creator Axle Dean Looslie, a curator on Canopy, and the source of numerous products that can be found in collections across the site.
Axle is a living dichotomy. He has a preference for original works, while simultaneously celebrating mass production. He describes himself as living in black and white and full color. He describes his work as both simple and complex.
Read our conversation with Axle about creativity, product remixing and the tight-rope walk between art and design:
Who are you and what is it that you do?
My name is Axle Dean Looslie. I am a designer and an artist, and I make things with my hands. I have been creating things for as long as I can remember. In a nutshell I say I am a designer because it is very general, but I don’t really like that word because it is limited in defining what I actually do.
So, what you’re saying is, you design things that exist IRL?
Again it is not always so simple.
Professionally I work for a company in Salt Lake, LEEF, designing consumer electronics, flash drives etc. and things interact with your phone or computer. So for instance, we may design an app that bridges the use between software and hardware.
In this day and age, if you are a product designer or an industrial designer, you have to interact at that level with anything — with a car, or a toaster, there is always an interface involved. So there is a mix of both hardware and software. You design the experience between both.
In my personal practice, I work on simple domestic products. Unique products that have their own narratives, and those products I sell to companies and do the whole royalty thing.
What is your typical workflow?
Well everything is a little bit different. It starts when I get inspired, usually on my commute home or during boring meetings. I carry around little notepads and do a little sketch, sometimes I can take a picture and immediately email it off, and see if people would be interested in the product.
Sometimes I will put the design into a 3D software, like Solidworks. I can do a fast rendering, and maybe design a presentation to see if the project is feasible. I actually work a lot with white space, I like how it allows me to quickly tell a story or make an impression.
It’s interesting that your medium for telling a story is a domestic product…
Well yeah, take the Beer bottle opener, it’s kind of a comedy piece. Basically without going into detail my parents met in a bar. Now I’m not necessarily a direct product of that evening, but I think there is something funny, an irony in combining a bottle opener with a pacifier. They just seem to make sense together, look at the forms. It works. I pitched that idea and Suck UK thought it was great and they took my designs and put them into production. Each product has it’s own personality and you just have to let it guide you.
Do you have a style?
I don’t really know if I have a style. I guess I could say minimal and simple. But I could also say complex and unique. It all goes back to creating an emotion in somebody, or something. I am attracted to a lot of different things, and maybe I am the product of a lot of things coming together.
With creativity in general, I draw from people who have refined their skills. Writers, people in film, people who write movie scores. People who can bring all of this diverse material together.
What Pixar does for instance, is so layered and takes so much expertise. I’m really impressed at how they can entertain on different levels, to both children and adults.
So you may not follow a style, but do you have a design philosophy?
There are multiple little things. I believe that everything is a remix – that you have to have something to reorganize. Information that comes to you. The insights of [Arthur] Koestler resonate deeply with my own beliefs about the combinatorial nature of creativity, “this notion that all ideas are as Mark Twain put it ‘second-hand’ born as we constantly copy, transform, and combine old ideas, synthesize existing information, combine eclectic influences, remix material, build on what came before and connect the seemingly disconnected.”
Do you follow any self imposed rules?
There are certain disciplines that I follow but it always depends on whatever I am into at the time. But I do have this core belief, that I gave myself over to the creative field, and I am in it.
I am about ‘aha-moments’, about creating emotions and experiences. Like everything has an experience associated with it, and if you are aware of it you can make people feel things.
Going through some of your work I notice a fruit-shaped fruit-peeler, glasses-shaped contact-lens cases, light switches shaped like other household items. It seems like you like to play with existing forms, that you make a lot of stuff, that looks like other stuff…
Yeah, because a lot of the work is already done. People already have an icon embedded in their minds, something they can relate to. So you can use that to your advantage, because they identify these icons, and can make connections to them really quickly.
The dollar store is the greatest store ever in my opinion. Because when they make something — like a flashlight — they will usually carry the most iconic form of the thing. And then someone will take that form of the flashlight and decide to make it out of wood. You see this happening all of the time. I usually try to the find the most iconic versions of something and work from there.
After looking through your work, and browsing through your Canopy profile, I’ve noticed some nods to Pop-art and Dada. You made Marcel Duchamp dog bowls for instance. What kind of influence do you take from the art world?
I like alot of pop-art. I like how crazy it is that something as simple as Damien Hirst’s Dots can catch on and people can buy into it. Also how art can be fun. Andy Warhol had The Factory where he could mass produce his stuff. I love his repetition and the idea of duplicates — there is something about them that fascinates me.
With art, especially pop art, it’s cool to see what these people are fixated on and what they play with. I have this friend, and collaborator Ben Steele, he is an artist you should definitely check out. He said he saw Hirst’s Dots in a museum and he could see the back of the canvas, and he was so impressed by the stitching, the seams and how immaculate it was. And there was this idea that even though people won’t regularly see that, it still mattered.
You seem to inhabit the space between art and commerce. Can art be commercial?
That is a tough question. It could, but I don’t think it really wants to be.
There is that really cool tension between art and commerce. For instance someone will ask what the difference is between art and design, and the go-to answer is ‘functionality.’ But that is not really the best answer because you can go to a museum and see a shitload of Braun products, in a museum on a pedestal, highlighted and basically worshiped as a piece of art. Yet they are functional. So I don’t know where those live. It becomes a confusing predicament.
Okay, so you mentioned there is a distinction between what you call ‘work-work’ where you design consumer electronics and your own personal practice. It sounds like you operate on a sliding scale, sometimes wearing more of a designer’s hat and sometimes more of an artist’s…
Yes absolutely. But I love shocking my system in general. I will read a Stephen King novel, and then I will immediately listen to something like Elizabeth Gilbert, the Author of Eat Pray Love talk about the creative genius. I like the idea of going back and forth between these different zones, because in transferring between one area to another, things start to come up.
Like a mental remix?
Yes! It’s this weird thing. People will ask if I love my job, to which I will respond “Ehh I’m not sure,” so they will then ask, “well why don’t you do what you love to do?” But I kinda like to have this tension.
In the presence of the everyday job, I come up with the fun stuff. And I wonder, would it all exist if I just did it straight? Would I find it if I just did one thing? I think I have to push myself into areas I don’t always enjoy sometimes.
In school I had to write a design manifesto, but really it is more about me. In it I say I am both black and white and colorful. That’s the best way to describe the nuttiness of what I do. Supporting and cancelling things out.
Before I spoke with you, I felt like I knew a bit of your personality from just going through your work. Do you think that your work is a facet or reflection of your personality?
Absolutely. It is an outward expression of my inward feelings. And it should be that way.
How did you discover Canopy?
A coworker was trying to find a gift for his wife, and he said he found this site Canopy, and I am a huge Amazon guy.
Canopy is awesome because Amazon is so incredibly huge. It works because there is nothing else so centralized on design, and you can see what people like. Also that you can quickly buy. Going through the web you can find really cool things, but they are just a rendering or not in production, but with Canopy, 2-clicks and out the door.
And since I create products I wondered if any of my designs were on there and I immediately found a bunch. And I was like “Oh my gosh” People like this stuff. I don’t really get to see it normally. It doesn’t directly connect to the royalties but it is really cool to see that people are into my stuff.
That is cool, as a creator to see people conspicuously connecting your products. Since Canopy is more than just a platform for shopping it is also this community of real people displaying what they think is cool. So in the same way that I learned about your personality through your artwork, do you think that a person’s consumer choices are telling of their personality?
Oh absolutely. That’s a big reason why I am into Canopy. I don’t particularly like social media in general. I’m kinda private. With Canopy though, you can see and tell so much about somebody based off of what they like. If you were to go onto an Amazon review and click on the person, and see what else they have reviewed you can start to get an idea of what that person is like.
I can tell based on someone’s collection if they are the type of person I would like to go fishing with. If we would have something to talk about.
Also on Canopy I don’t want to just follow the people who like the same stuff as me, I follow people with different taste to learn about different things.
On your Canopy profile you have included a short quote from the playwright Moliere “things only have the value that we give them”
Oh yeah. Is that not the most incredibly true statement you ever heard in your life? Something that means something to you means something different to others. Like there is a great talk by Paul Bloom on value, art, and pleasure. He discusses the differences between say a forgery and an original. Something changes from one to the other. Most people have something unique in their life that they consider valuable, and a duplicate would not share the same value.
I have a carved little toy my dad carved and painted and it has his initials on the bottom. I love it because it reminds me of why I make stuff. There are rough carving marks, it means a ton to me. Even if you made an exact resin replica and I couldn’t visually tell the difference, there is something in the history baked into the original.
So Axle, is there anything you are currently working on that you could tell us about?
I’m working on wooden stacking toys. Kids toys. They are very simple. A tree, a beehive. They invite learning. They are meant to just sit in a house, a toy that can be used, but could also be decor. They are a kinda like the wooden toys that Holland is known for. It is about the wood, moving away from Fisher Price, bedazzled, loud toys you know? Something classic.
Find Axle’s collection on Canopy at:
And more of his work at:
This interview has been formatted and edited for length of content. The interview was conducted by Elie Landsberg.