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Justin Bobyn, Potts Point

Words by Elisha Kennedy

Images by Samantha Riles

Potts Point, Sydney

Justin Bobyn is an orthopaedic surgeon and a skilled designer. As an analytical thinker, for him these two roles are interrelated, he sees a problem and strives to solve it, one material at a time.

His designs aren’t limited in scope nor material, he has crafted pieces from furniture to jewellery – a bangle he designed comes customised into an anatomical wrist shape with screws that are personalised with initials, and each bangle comes with a custom matching screwdriver that will turn and loosen the combination of letters.

His apartment where we meet him is on the top floor of a gargantuan, gothic-style building, complete with an iron-gated entry and a wood panelled lobby. It is full of light, expansive views and a variety of objects that he has crafted himself.

Can you tell us a bit about your work as an orthopaedic surgeon?

I’ve been working in Orthopaedics for several years now. I was attracted to the spatial problem solving that is at the centre of this area of surgery. The majority of the surgery I do is trauma reconstruction. Reconstructing bones combines both an appreciation of aesthetics and engineering as you aim to restore form and function to a limb. Also, being fairly impatient, I love being able to go in and tackle a problem and have it be fixed by the end of the procedure….usually.

 

How does your work inform your hobby as a maker of jewellery and objects?

I kind of see it all as the same gig. It’s all about problem solving I guess. With orthopaedic surgery we are using high spec instruments and jigs to make or fix something. I found myself really interested in the instruments and implants we use and started to design these myself. It’s just another way to solve the same problem. You can solve it in the operating theatre, or you can start with engineering and design and influence how that surgery is being done. When I make other stuff, jewellery, sculpture, furniture, or whatever it is that I’m into that week, I see each project as a challenge or a problem. The parameters of the solution are set by the design question and my resources. Then I try and put together the most elegant and interesting way of solving it given what I have at my disposal. And if I don’t have the materials or skills to complete something, I acquire them.

With orthopaedic surgery we are using high spec instruments and jigs to make or fix something. I found myself really interested in the instruments and implants we use and started to design these myself. It’s just another way to solve the same problem. You can solve it in the operating theatre, or you can start with engineering and design and influence how that surgery is being done.

Can you tell us about this apartment? When did you move in and what was it that initially drew you to this place?

I only moved in a few weeks ago. I was living on the ground floor of this block for the last year and fell in love with the building. When a unit opened up on the top floor I jumped at it. It’s got incredible natural light and amazing views. The exact opposite of my previous unit.

Above: White linen doona and linen pillowslips, Clay linen sheets and pillowslips

You have a collection of interesting objects here in your home, tell us about a couple, what are some of the stories behind them?

Thanks, most of the stuff in my place I made myself. The main exceptions being the couches. I’ve developed this habit of trying to make whatever it is that I think I need. The idea being that I would buy less and only acquire what I need and develop a relationship with that piece…the reality is that I’ve just ended up with very little stuff.

I tend to make something and then refine it through use of different materials. I love materials and really enjoy learning about working with new ones. So I might make the same piece four or five times out of different materials and with different techniques as I try to figure out what the best version of that object is. The lamp is a good example I guess. I drew up the shape and then made it from marble, wood and eventually clear Perspex. I do most of my design on my computer, and then can export the design code to different machines to work with different techniques. The shape itself is informed by different things, from other pieces I’ve seen, to camping lanterns, to the spine and nervous system, I’ve probably forgotten the other elements. In the end the Perspex ended up being the winner…I think.

For my implants, I need to use some really high spec equipment and machinery to manufacture them. I use a machine shop that specialises in this kind of product to make these pieces for me. Sometimes I leverage the shop to make some other non-medical device stuff. The sunglasses are inspired by an old pair from the 60s, but I wanted to make a pair out of amazing materials. So I had some buffalo horn custom cut to my spec and then had it machined into an impossible, precise pair of frames with 6 hinges (also custom made) and initialled screws at the temples. I think there are 30 machined horn and brass pieces in the pair.

The leather couch in my room, an old B&B Italia, and the Eames lounge in the living room were pretty much rescued from the dump. They were both in really bad shape when I found them. The lounge chair had broken and delaminated plywood that I had to re-laminate and re-veneer. The leather of the couch was a mess and required patching and the internal foam structure had collapsed. I had to gut the foam and carve a new piece to graft in.

You grew up in Montréal, would you ever return there? What keeps you living in Sydney?

Montréal is a great city, and I can’t imagine a better place to have grown up. But, Sydney is home now. This is where my family and friends are, and this is the city that has most influenced me as an adult. Also, as an Australian trained doctor it’s too much hassle to work in Canada. But it’s more than logistics that keeps me here! I love it here.

 

Could you tell us of any projects you working on at the moment?

At any given moment I’ve got like 15 projects in the works. I’ve recently gotten into ceramics, so I’ve been churning out countless pieces in my workshop. I’ve been playing around with slip casting with porcelain to make these very thin walled vessels, which has been fun. I’ve also designed a few chairs lately. So far, they are just prototypes but I’ll be making some finished models soon. I’m super excited to get these made.

Where are some of your places you like to go in your neighbourhood? (to eat, to explore, to shop etc.)

To be honest, the only place I shop (and I’m there very frequently) is Bunnings. Supplies are pretty much the only thing I buy! It’s also my favourite restaurant, you can’t beat a trip to Bunnings with a sausage sizzle, followed by a day at the workshop.

I’m very much a creature of habit. I tend to go to the same places over and over, often developing relationships with the staff. I live in Potts Point, and probably couldn’t survive without Pizza Boccone (pizza is my number #1 thing ever). You can also find me at Chester Whites on Orwell St or Buffalo Dining Club.

One of the best things about living in Potts Point is being a 10 minute walk to the Art Gallery of NSW. I love everything about my trips there, including the walk there and back. I actually think it’s one of my favourite museums in the world, particularly because of their focus on Australian artists working in European styles. It’s awesome.

What is your morning routine?

I just get up and go where I gotta go! I don’t prolong the time between getting up and doing something, I’m usually too excited to get to whatever I’m working on. If I’m working at the hospital that day, I’m up at 6, and at work by 7. So, I have 30 minutes for everything else including trip to local cafe. If I’m not at the hospital, I’m at my workshop or my lab working on implant design and medical research. Or maybe at the uni with my students.

Bedtime routine?

I’ll typically lie in bed for an hour or so knocking out some design stuff on my laptop. Since I can design most of my stuff using 3D software, I can build things while in bed. It’s amazing. It’s changed everything for me, and can scratch the itch when I get an idea that I have materialise at odd times. It’s allowed me to compartmentalise my life into studio and home. Tools, supplies and mess at studio, only computer design and pen/paper allowed at home. Up until a year ago I did everything in my home…it was chaos. Going to sleep with tools in my bed…it was no way to live.

Since I can design most of my stuff using 3D software, I can build things while in bed. It’s amazing. It’s changed everything for me, and can scratch the itch when I get an idea that I have materialise at odd times.

What are some things that you’re looking forward to this year?

I’ve got a lot of projects I’m looking forward to knocking out and a few great trips. I’ll be heading to West Texas next week for a road trip including a visit to Marfa to make the pilgrimage to Donald Judd’s home and studios. I went last year, and as much as I love his art and design pieces…I was so impressed by his ability to construct a living space. It may be his greatest talent. I can’t wait to go back.

justinbobyn.com


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