We have lost one of the greats of Canadian design: Edward Lam.
Edward Lam, who, as partner in the artistic Moss & Lam, created countless works that grace the interiors of international hotels, restaurants and retail environments, public and private spaces, died of a brain aneurism on Monday at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. He was 54 years old.
With his wife and professional partner, Deborah Moss, Lam established Moss & Lam: a professional studio dedicated to creating custom art pieces. From their studio in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, they have collaborated with some of the world’s leading designers, most notably Yabu Pushelberg, with whom they have worked since their inception in 1989.
Forming Moss & Lam they boldly challenged norms, proving that talented artists can produce commercial work while also maintaining artistic integrity. Blurring the lines between fine art, illustration, applied arts, furniture design, Moss & Lam works in any media, ignoring all limits of categorization.
Moss & Lam’s ‘Wave Wall’ for the W Hotel’s Blue Fin Restaurant in New York is perhaps their most famous work. Inspired by the restaurant’s seafood theme, a double-height wall of hand-carved, Gobi plaster waves intrinsically merges with Yabu Pushelberg’s interior design. Startlingly dramatic and quiet, the wall is both sculpture and background. It preempted a vogue of textured plaster wall finishes and was copiously copied as a standard off-the-shelf building product.
Lam attended the Ontario College of Art and Design, originally studying as a painter but graduating in performance art and video. He began his career as a conceptual artist when that media was at a highpoint in the late 1970s. He developed skill at developing strong themes, creating cinematic experiences and orchestrating complex projects. At OCAD he met Deborah Moss who shared his fluidity with various media, particularly painting and film.
Over the years Moss & Lam created magical installations using an endless variety of materials: bamboo reed schools of fish and porcelain star fish in Chicago, silk branches sewn into oak skies in Beijing, plaster coral ceilings in Bal Harbour, mother of pearl flowers pressed into glass screens in Hong Kong, subtly painted wallpaper in Milan, pen and ink fantasy landscapes in Hollywood, abstracted gold leaf walls in Mexico, wire drawn fashion drawings in Paris, hand painted birds and plaster book leaves in New York, burlap patchwork walls in Washington – to name only a few. Each time they have played with the material at hand, testing its qualities to exploit its transparency, malleability, luminosity, irony and durability.
They have also experimented with the possibilities of expressing the hand craftsmanship while also using technology to deal with the logistic issues of creating works that needed to shipped and installed on site, or to reduce fabrication costs. The resulting works are more than expressions of beauty, they purposefully respond to the client’s desire to create a particular retail or hospitality experience. Even when subtle, their work cannot be considered as background to these spaces, but rather a key to creating a unique ambiance.
An example is Moss & Lam’s ‘Pisces’ mobile for the Lotte department store in Busan, Korea, behind which Lam was the creative force. Designed in concert with the architecture of the new store, Pisces is an 11-storey mobile composed from 130-foot long strands, threaded with silver acrylic fish, highlighting Busan’s connection to the sea. The almost 1,700 wire lines were mapped digitally to create sections of overall spiral of swirling schools of fish, hand-threaded and labeled at Moss & Lam’s studio, individually packed and shipped and then hung from an armature by Lam and his Toronto team over two weeks in Korea. The combination of void and artwork made an important shift from the traditional Korean retail concept. Rather than maximizing retail space, Lotte gave customers a break from shopping, offering instead a vertical landscape that expresses beauty and luxury, with different views and sensations as shoppers traverse the store.
In 2012, Moss & Lam developed ‘Ursa Major’ for Toronto’s Interior Design Show, IDS12. This venue presented an exciting opportunity to highlight the studio’s multidisciplinary processes and its ability to produce large-scale public sculpture that captures the imagination. The two almost 12’ high, sculpted dancing bears with three dimensional drawings made from Swarovski crystals in their bellies, were a highlight of the show, prominently featured in local and international media and heralded a statement of great authenticity, creativity and humour. The piece was admired by Joe Mimran, creative director of Joe Fresh, and a version of the sculpture was exhibited in the windows of the Joe Fresh flagship store in New York over the winter holiday season of 2012-13.
Lam was endlessly pursuing new projects and directions. At the time of his passing he was working on several large-scale commissions including an installation for Nuit Blanche that will be on display in the Joe Fresh store on Toronto’s Queen Street, and a mobile for the Kitchener Public Library by Levitt Goodman Architects.
Deborah Moss will continue to carry Moss & Lam forward and the dedicated employees of Moss & Lam will continue to work through this moment to keep all projects moving ahead.
Edward Lam is survived by his wife Deborah and his daughters, Charlotte and Poppy. Funeral arrangements are being planned at this time.
Moss & Lam’s studio offers a rare and exceptional talent that blurs the lines and possibilities of creation. Their work is not static or repetitive. When presented with a germ of an idea or a problem to solve creatively they keep pushing until they find a fresh solution that can be provocative, engaging and appropriate for the project. They have also branched out into whimsical furniture pieces, installation art and fine art.
He and Deborah share an adventurous sense of curiosity that is ever- evolving. This also extends to their openness to both listening and engaging in discussion and exploration has often made their projects better. Edward had a natural curiosity, generosity and respect for others. He was hard working and always open to new thoughts and experiences.
—Glenn Pushelberg, Partner, Yabu Pushleberg
I met Deborah and Edward in the late 80s. They were just starting their business and my home, at the time, was one of their early projects. In all the years I've known Edward, he was never one to ever speak boastfully about his incredible career -- one that reached the pinnacle of the luxury market with his unique creations for retailers and hotels for world famous design firms like Yabu Pushelberg and Tony Chi. Edward was this humble genius forever reaching new heights of creativity defying every client's expectations. He was an amazingly patient man and an incredible friend, husband and father to his two girls. Up until the last time I saw him and Deborah, he continued to be this mellow guy with a twinkle in his eye with a playful spirit. I shall miss him terribly.
—Judith Tatar, Director, Tatar Art Projects
Edward Lam was an inspiration. He was a talented, creative and imaginative person who always had a smile and an encouraging word. I had the pleasure of working with him and Deborah on the great big Ursa Major Polar Bear Project at IDS2012, an installation that clearly demonstrated how these qualities can result in great success within the Canadian borders and far beyond. He will be greatly missed.
—Shauna Levy, President, The Design Exchange