‘That’s cool … what is it?’

There’s fine art and functional art — then there’s the art of Gregory Lavoie, which fits somewhere in between.

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There’s fine art and functional art — then there’s the art of Gregory Lavoie, which fits somewhere in between.

Take Arthropod: the interlocking chair designed by the Red Deer native is built upon a series of wooden wheels and pegs, looking something like a medieval torture device — or a child’s Tinkertoy.

“I wanted to create something that could be pulled apart,” said Lavoie, whose one-of-a-kind birch creation is among only three Canadian designs featured in two art books — 500 Chairs: Celebrating Traditional and Innovative Design and Chairs: the Lark Studio Series, both published by a division of the Sterling Publishing Co. from the U.S.

Arthropod can be disassembled and put back together into any number of configurations. It was inspired by Lego and Tinkertoy — as well as centipedes and other creatures with segmented bodies, said Lavoie, whose designs often contain a built-in tension between contrasting organic and mechanical elements.

The artist, who teaches continuing education classes in jewelry and metal work at Red Deer College, conceived his chair three-dimensionally on the computer in order to precisely design the variable locking mechanisms in the wheels and pegs.

All the pieces had to be accurately cut from Baltic birch plywood, with the curved portions created by laminating layers of wood, then pressing them into a mould.

The high-concept chair wasn’t exactly built for comfort, admitted Lavoie, who prefers designs that are original and have a certain shock value.

“I’m not interested in designing just functional pieces that you see and don’t look at twice . . . I like when pieces create conflict within in the viewer that they have to resolve themselves.

“Hopefully, with something like this, people will say, ‘That’s cool. What is that?’ before realizing, ‘Oh it’s a chair,’ ” said Lavoie, who likes “pushing the boundaries and having people question things.”

The 28-year-old has created such fanciful designs as a wearable shower head that connects to a tap (“It’s scary, because people don’t necessarily want it wrapped around their neck, shooting water in their face,” said Lavoie with a chuckle), a wearable cereal bowl for anyone eating on the run, and a take-along, wrap-around pillow that could be an instant nap-aid for a somnambulist.

On the more serious side, Lavoie has also sculpted a series of beautiful knives inspired by sea creatures.

The bronze handle of one looks like the ribs and backbone of a fish. Another has a tentacle-like design and a third has raised Fimo polkadots. All the blades were made of a fusion of two different metals, creating a wood-grain-like effect.

While the knives could be functional, Lavoie admitted they would be cumbersome to use. “I wanted to create pieces that didn’t leave people fantasizing about violence.”

Lavoie studied visual arts at Red Deer College and the Alberta College of Art and Design, and industrial design at the University of Alberta. While he mainly trained in jewelry and metal work, Lavoie prefers to dabble in various fields, saying “I get bored working with one thing.”

Back when he was in high school at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive, Lavoie said he never got good marks in art class. In fact, when he told his art teacher he was thinking of studying either art or aviation, the teacher pushed him toward the latter.

But everything changed when he got into three-dimensional materials, said Lavoie, who got top marks at the Alberta College of Art. “I don’t know, maybe the assignments were too restrictive in high school. . . .”

He now lives with his pharmacist wife on an acreage south of Camrose and hopes to get some exposure from his chair’s inclusion in the two design books.

Lavoie said the really special part about having Arthropod appear in them is that he was first inspired to become an artist after leafing through a book of contemporary chair designs in his youth.

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