When French sculptor Marc Sparfel left the École des Beaux-Arts, precipitated by “an overwhelming feeling that I was wasting my time," he did what most people in need of a fresh start do: He moved—to Barcelona, specifically, where he spent his first few weeks wandering through the streets of his new hometown. It was on his long walks that he discovered the material that would form the basis of his current practice: discarded furniture.
“I was immediately intrigued by the amount of furniture abandoned in the streets,” says Sparfel, who has lived in Barcelona for almost 15 years now. “Initially, I found the furnishings by chance during my walks, but later realized that in every neighborhood there is a set day to leave large items in the street. So I started walking around the old town according to the ‘furniture days’ of each neighborhood to recover the material bit by bit.”
The worn wood of the desks, armchairs, and armoires fascinated him—soon, he found himself methodically taking apart each piece, bit by bit. What began as a hobby slowly became an integral part of his creative process, and today, almost all of Sparfel’s sculptures are made from the mottled remains of abandoned furniture. Usually he focuses on animal forms and masks, crafted from the sinuous legs of old Art Nouveau armoires and broken Thonet armchairs. You wouldn’t expect it, but furniture lends itself to figural art. Cow spines grow naturally from bent birch armrests; it’s hard not to be charmed by elephant ears made from the wicker backs of 19th-century café chairs.
Today, Sparfel’s old town neighbors know him and what he’s looking for on his daily walks. “The neighbors [have] begun to leave me chairs in front of my workshop,” he says. “This is my forest, my world where I walk with pleasure, always excited by the surprises the new harvest brings, where I hand-pick the best pieces, and choose the woods as if they were fruit on a tree.”