Twenty-one years ago, Tony Knoll was a busy man. By day he was carving and assembling ornate mirror-frames from his own original designs. At night he was also running a successful gallery in what was then the heart of Melbourne’s art district in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.
Tired of lugging around heavy picture frames, Tony’s craft-inventor brain was turning over ideas for a new way of preserving and displaying images.
In his mind the challenge was three-fold:
As a gallery owner … to use lighter materials that did away with chunky timber frames and fragile slabs of glass.
As a creator … to craft a frame that imbued its own sense of history to the overall piece, while not overpowering the subject.
As a committed recycler … to source his materials from entirely rejuvenated and repurposed items that would otherwise be heading to landfill.
The first lightbulb moment came when he accidentally spilt a liquid substance on a mirror that he was casting. Not only did the dry piece come away cleanly, but it had the most beautiful smooth surface which was perfect for holding colour. Next, he started experimenting with hessian as a way of reinforcing the surface and for a while this looked like the best option. Then he began thinking about polystyrene – the much-maligned packaging that it seems no-one had worked out how to recycle efficiently. It turns out that polystyrene was even better than hessian for giving his panels structure and strength. And happily, fruit and veg merchants were delighted for Tony to take the bulky toothpaste-white boxes off their hands.
Countless trials later Tony hit the sweet spot. With timber sourced from demolitions, renovations and roadside collections and polystyrene crates discarded from local fruit and veg markets he finally had the light, tactile and beautifully understated object he’d been dreaming of. Panelpop was born.