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A California Artist Lives His Mexico City Dream

Brian Thoreen’s studio and home has a tree growing in the middle of it.

A Ficus tree grows in the studio. Photo: Wendy Goodman
A Ficus tree grows in the studio. Photo: Wendy Goodman

In 2015, California native Brian Thoreen, an artist and designer, was on his way with his son and his brother to the Yucatán when a hurricane hit, so they ended up diverting their trip to Mexico City instead. “I instantly fell in love with it even though I didn’t know anybody,” Thoreen recalls. He kept coming back, getting to know the community of artists there, until finally, in 2018, he ended up renting this space — there’s a studio, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a patio, and a dining area — from artist Thomas Glassford. He and his wife, Tess Lochanski, who is French, have an apartment in Paris, but they spend most of their time in Mexico City when Thoreen is not traveling for exhibitions of his work. To make it perfect, Thoreen says, “I basically didn’t have to do a whole lot.”

I was in Mexico City recently on a trip organized by the Design Leadership Network. Every year, the DLN, which was founded 17 years ago by Peter Sallick, takes its members to a different city. Su Wu was one of the curators that led a group of us on a studio visit to her good friend Thoreen’s space in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood. She also took us to MASA gallery, co-founded by Thoreen along with Age Salajõe and Héctor Esrawe. (Among other shows she has done with the gallery, she curated MASA’s exhibition Intervención/Intersección” at the former post office in Rockefeller Center last year.)

It was raining hard when we entered the courtyard, dripping with green leafy vines, of the home and studio. Once inside, all we could hear was the sound of water ricocheting off the plastic roofing, which is provided with two openings to accommodate the V-shaped split trunk of the enormous Ficus tree that takes center stage in the first room of Thoreen’s working area.

“It feels like having a living animal,” Thoreen says. “It’s really like you are living and working in some kind of living organism, some kind of belly of the beast. The rain, the leaves falling from the tree, birds on top, my cat chasing birds — it’s just kind of a constant being around living things.”

He led us on a tour of his studio with completed and unfinished work and then showed us the living area where he and his wife live while there.

“I like to bring in industrial materials that I resonate with,” Thoreen says, “because my father was a contractor and I grew up doing roofing and construction with him.” His art and design throughout the house illustrate how he has repurposed neoprene and played with materials including charcoal and wax.

The courtyard leading to his studio is ripe with hanging vines beneath which you can stand hidden, as one of his fellow artists does in this photograph. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Thoreen in the studio demonstrating how this cast-bronze piece can be played with and rolled down to reveal the hollowed-out area on top. “I like the idea that the piece is a stash; it’s a hiding spot,” he says. “It functions by hiding its function.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
“I have been doing a series of copper pieces that are these forms that are sliced,” he explains. “This is a new piece that is not finished yet,” he says of the console. “I am trying to figure out if I want to do this very fine walnut burl, this very fine kind of Art Deco lacquered-wood top.” The two blown-glass pieces are part of his work with Vissio, a division of the glass company Nouvel, “a kind of more -xperimental creative glass project” that he started with Héctor Esrawe and Emiliano Godoy. Photo: Wendy Goodman
“My wife and I use the kitchen a lot for cooking and entertaining. She is French and is an exceptional cook.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
The vintage dining table and chairs were found in flea markets. The Tar paper art on the wall on the left, is glued roofing paper. The work on the right wall with charcoal markings “is kind of an exploration of mark-making taking charcoal as the earliest drawing material but turning it into this dialogue between analog and digital. And so it’s a binary code, the marks for the ones and zeroes.” The candles are of his design. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The bed in the guest room rests on a kind of red colored neoprene “usually used for gaskets and seals in large-scale machinery and stuff,” he says. The sheepskin cover is a special textile found in Chiapas that is woven by women who wear it as skirts. “I fell in love with it because it doesn’t have a skin on it,”he says. “It’s not a skin, and it’s not felted.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Opposite the bed, there is a console Thoreen made of six pieces of black neoprene. Photo: Wendy Goodman
“This is one of the first pieces I ever made on my own,” he says of the brass-and-bronze three-legged table. It was shown at Sight Unseen in 2015 and then went to Patrick Parrish Gallery. “I am very happy to have the original prototype back.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
“The pencil sharpener I bought at the flea market La Gunilla. It’s sort of a staple for me. In the shop when I’m building/fabricating, a regular pencil is much better than a mechanical pencil as long as it is kept sharp.” Photo: Wendy Goodman

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A California Artist Lives His Mexico City Dream