Published Thursday, September 24, 2009 10:17 PM PDT
Checking in with...Tony Clark:
Furniture with Thai inspiration
By Imran Vittachi
Local artist Tony Clark owns and operates CLARK Functional Art in Costa Mesa. He designs and creates custom pieces of furniture, home decor and works of fine art from sections of old-growth trees that he’s found and reclaimed. Many of his pieces, he says, come from stumps of felled trees that were abandoned in northern Thailand. Clark, an avid
runner who lives in Newport Beach with his wife and toddler son, stumbled upon his first find in Chiang Mai, Thailand, several years ago, while running there with members of the local Hash Club chapter. Clark, 46, gave up a successful career as an executive at Northrop Grumman Corp. to pursue his love of woodworking and creating art full time. He has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and an MBA from UCLA, as well as a master’s in computer science from USC.
What is functional art?
Functional art is art for the home. It’s art that you place in your home and that you use everyday. It becomes a part of your life.
How is your business unique?
I custom-make pieces for clients. My art is unique in the fact that I import reclaimed exotic woods from Southeast Asia that would be lost, if not found. And I am rediscovering this wood and presenting it to people, so they can see the beauty; otherwise it would rot in the forest or just be lost forever.
How did the idea come to you?
I’ve always been in love with wood. And I saw the beauty in the wood and also in other types of material — like metal, resins and glass — and I wanted to bring them together in an art.
How did you find your first pieces of wood?
It was quasi-serendipitous.... We would drive out to the middle of Thailand, and there would be a big log in a lake. And it was a tree trunk. We would dig it out of the ground and clean it up. I didn’t really know at the time what it was, or how beautiful it would be. It was kind of like discovering a treasure....
And just being an opportunist when you see something. There was this huge tree trunk in the River Ping. It was a rosewood tree. (The trunk) was 9 feet in diameter at the narrow end, and at the roots it was, you know, maybe, 14 feet in diameter.
What type of wood was in the first trunk that you extracted?
It was an old teak tree. There’s many species of teak in Thailand. Most of the forest is teak.... There’s (also) many species of Thailand rosewood up there, and another wood called the East Indian walnut, and acacia, which they call monkey pod, of all things.
What are some of the oldest trees that you’ve worked with?
The oldest tree was the (Rosewood) tree that washed out of the River Ping. I estimated that it must be at least 2,000 years old.
How is your business friendly to the environment?
I’m not using any felled trees. These are all old stumps that have been reclaimed. The wood that I find is in barns. They’re in old restaurants. They’re part of bridges. They are just pieces sitting there, not being used.
It sounds like you had a prosperous career before as an engineer. Did you have any worries about becoming a full-time artist?
All the time. It’s a struggle, but I will persevere. Life is a journey, and it’s about the adventure that you have on your journey. And this is my journey.
CLARK Functional Art, Inc.
Address: 1630 Superior Ave, Building H
Costa Mesa, CA 92627 USA
Tel: (949) 375-1367