Artist Windy Chien Wrangles Inspiration Knot By Knot

ART + CULTURE | BY | April 12, 2018
Artist Windy Chien creates sculptural rope works from her San Francisco studio.
Artist Windy Chien creates sculptural rope works from her San Francisco studio.

nce an iconic fixture of 1970s decor, macrame jumps by creative leaps and bounds in the work of San Francisco-based artist Windy Chien.

Diving deep into the storied history of knotting techniques, Chien expands macrame’s traditional repertoire to create her uniquely sculptural forms. She chronicled this exploration in her popular Instagram account, @theyearofknots, displaying a photo of new knot every day in 2016.

And though her work has grown immensely in scale — with installations for IBM and Angel List — for Chien, the process still begins knot by knot. We spoke with the artist about her creative rituals, as well as her TV-binging habits (for research, of course).

Do you have a favorite knot from your “The Year of Knots” series?

That’s like picking your favorite child. But if I have to choose, it would be the family of button knots, like the ones you find on Chinese pajamas. I love how you can weave it to make an infinite variety of styles. They are a true feat of engineering.

Which knots pose the most difficulty?

None of them are really that hard if you learn to do them. Once you know the steps, then you can do it with your eyes closed. It’s all about understanding how the knots work that’s memorizing.

My three-step creative process consists of…

I follow my curiosity. When I was learning one knot every day in 2016, I was in learning mode, because for me, proficiency precedes creativity. Once knotting felt like second nature, I started to explore. What would happen if I made this knot with four strands instead of one? What would it look like if I took that one-inch knot and repeated it over several feet? I still play with scale, quantity, repetition and beauty. When a new piece has a palpable life to it, when it buzzes with energy, I know it’s ready to go into the world.

My morning routine consists of…

Walking the dog, a little bit of yoga, and a lox bagel. Then I head to the studio, which is just a few blocks from my home. It’s really nice that I have this life, where I don’t have to go to an office. I can be a true master of my own day.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party and why?

I’d invite artist Sheila Hicks to learn about the strategies she uses to guide her creative life. I’d also love to have advertising consultant Cindy Gallop, to talk about how to rule the world. Then Nina Simone, for the precious vulnerability she exposed through her music.

What’s one vacation/destination you always tell your friends to add to their bucket list? Why?

Definitely Chefchaouen in Morocco. All the buildings are painted in the most vivid blue (my favorite color), and it’s just the most mellow hillside town.

Which show are you currently binge-watching? What do you love most about it?

I’m watching “The Crown.” I’m obsessed with all the braided trumpet cords that the military officers use to decorate their uniforms in the Queen’s court.

Tell us about your all-time favorite piece in your home.

My grandmother’s needlepoint. I have dozens of them. She was the only other artist in our family, and she also painted in the classical Chinese style. But when her eyesight started to go, instead of making intricate representational imagery with the needlepoint, she would randomly pick colors and stitch them into these cubist-like fields of color patches. They’re super modern looking, yet were made decades ago.

My ultimate dream home would not be complete without…

A sunken conversation pit and a Percival Lafer leather couch. I am clearly a child of the 1970s.


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