Jose Zanine Caldas was an iconoclastic designer with an overwhelmingly experimental career, spanning modernist ‘plywood base’ design to brutalist wood carving.
A self-taught artist, designer and architect, Caldas was born on the southern coast of Bahia in Brazil. At age 20, he opened an architectural workshop in Rio de Janeiro where he worked with modernist pioneers such as Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer.
In 1948, he and two partners started Móveis Artisticos Z. Their simple and organic pieces in plywood were produced at a price that was accessible to the emerging market of amateurs with an eye for modernism.
In the early 1950s, Zanine left the company and returned to his home state of Bahia. Inspired by the local craftsmen who carved boats and furniture from felled trees, he began experimenting with chiselling and carving large, sculptural works that became the focus of his later career. He also stood out with his pavilion-type architectural constructions in richly coloured hewn logs. A devoted steward of the forest and proponent of environmental protection, he wrote extensively about his connection to the forest and tried, whenever possible, either to use felled trees or to plant a tree for each one he used.
Zanine's work has been exhibited in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and throughout his native Brazil. In 2015 his work was included in Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela 1940-1978, a travelling exhibition organized by the Americas Society.