'Memphis' style lamp

Wood and metal
Nationality of Designer
Manufacturers Location
Plastic, wood and metal
121x 35 x 35 cm


'Memphis' style reading light


Second-hand shop 


None, excellent condition

Why it's in the Collection

Bought in a second-hand shop, presumably the product of a DIY bodge solution to only having a desk lamp to hand and needing it raised, this lamp's materials date it to 1960s. In need of a method to finish the ends of the three legs, the maker has applied oversized black spheres, perhaps due to lack of more proportionate versions, perhaps due to aesthetic preference. The repurposed low table appears to become a stylised disk and sheds some of its original function, while the single brightly coloured feature of the lampshade is all the more emphatic through its drab accompaniment. In its state of spliced incongruity, the lamp looks surprisingly similar to furniture designed by Memphis Group in the 1980s but precedes the postmodern Italian design and architecture collective by almost 20 years. 

The notion that a style stemming from a heavily theorised and sought after school of design such as Memphis could be accidentally arrived at, years before the conditions or individuals that caused it coalesced, disturbs some of the freshness, distinctions, and integrity we usually assign to labels like 'modern' and 'postmodern' as well as more implicit assignments of high and low/folk/popular art. Many Memphis works today sell for thousands of pounds; this lamp was probably made from few purchased materials with the only investment being the maker's time. Can this modest, homespun lamp evidently from a domestic rather than commercial workspace, impact ideas of originality and authenticity? For many, it will evoke nostalgia for post-war era when a have-a-go or make-do-and-mend attitude still lingered. 

Memphis was well known for declaring Pop art as one of its driving inspirations. This lamp was most likely made when Pop was a dominant force in British and American art. Its association with Memphis seems less incidental and more a direct product of its shared influences. It should be noted that Memphis purposefully departed from the strict relationship between form and function modernism demanded. This lamp, on the other hand, despite its faults, usefully functions as a bedside table and reading light according to what appears to be its initial intention. 

About the Designer/Maker

The identity of the designer of this light is unknown, but speculative suggestions include: an infant Peter Shire touring in English Wolds; a collaboration between Martine Bedin and Nathalie du Pasquier both aged 7 on a Christmas break to Penrith in the sixties; the subconscious doodling of George Sowden on the road from Gloucester to Milan circa 1970. Whoever they were and whatever their intentions, they pre-empted Memphis style while many of its founders were still at school and undermined the very category of the postmodern in one fell swoop - most likely from shed in middle England. 

About the Manufacturer

The Memphis Group was an Italian design and architecture group founded in Milan by Ettore Sottsass in 1981 that designed postmodern furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass, and metal objects from 1981 to 1988. 

Colourful design and abstract decoration as well as asymmetrical shapes characterized the Memphis Group’s work. Allusion to exotic or earlier styles including classical Egyptian and Greek architecture was disrupted by disproportion. Their disregard for established rules of design set out by orthodox modernist practice marked them out as a revolutionary new movement. In opposition to the austerity of modernist design they proposed an exuberant melodrama of colour and scale, encouraging ephemerality as opposed to the durability of post-war modernism, to usher in a philosophy of design suited to increased financial liberty realised in 1980s.