Throughout history textiles have been used by different populations to tell stories relating to a specific landscape, heritage or cultural identity. We live in a globalised world and in a multi-cultural society, but contemporary textiles are still being used to tell stories, quite often in refreshingly unique ways.
The founder of Historically Inaccurate, artist Richard Saja employs for example the traditional toile de jouy - literally "cloth from the town of Jouy-en-Josas" or alternatively "cloth of joy" - as if it were a colouring book.
Saja takes traditional toile fabrics with their decorative patterns depicting detailed pastoral and historical scenes in black, red or green against a white background, and embroiders in brightly coloured or even glow in the dark thread details that enhance or dramatically alter the quietness and normality of the traditional toile.
Saja's "neo toile" pieces with a punk twist are genuinely to be filed under the category "cloth of joy" as they are populated by colourful Gods clad in blue robes discovering electricity, red nose clowns, freakish sideshow characters, ladies with punk mohawks, or bizarre wolf-men reminiscent of Victorian circus acts à la Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.
The artist, who also collaborated with popular fashion brands such as Opening Ceremony/Keds creating exquisite miniature embroideries on sneakers, has also got a passion for digital images and last year created a series of limited cotton throws with prints of patterns generated from digital noise.
The name of your company, Historically Inaccurate, perfectly describes those little "short circuits" or "time glitches" you give to the classic toile with your embroideries - how did you pick that name?
Richard Saja: When I began working with textiles in the late '90s, after just having been laid off from an advertising job, I was partnering with a dear friend under a different name and a business consultant suggested we brand ourselves right out of the gate. I came up with "Historically Inaccurate Decorative Arts" as our tag line and, when my partner and I parted ways, adopted that tag line as the name of my new company. It turns out my advertising training served me well: I used to watch people read the name on a sign when I was doing trade shows and, almost always, confusion would become understanding which would then become delight.
What prompted you to become an artist, do you come from a creative family?
Richard Saja: I do. Distant relatives of mine owned a chain of furniture stores in Italy in the 19th century being excellent wood carvers and a descendant of theirs, a dear, dear dowager aunt who I referred to as "The Lady", worked as a designer's assistant for nearly fifty years here in NYC. A fashion designer would provide a sketch and she would return a few days later with the fully realized garment, overseeing the drafting, cutting, draping and construction departments. I don't know whether it's nature, nurture or neither but I've been intensely creative from a very young age - it just took a bit of time to find my métier and The Lady supported me every step of the way and allowed my talent to flourish through her love and support.
What fascinates you about textiles in general and toile in particular?
Richard Saja: My enduring love and fascination for textiles derives from the absolutely unlimited interplay of pattern, color and texture - there is no other medium where this trinity is so fully realized. Toile, though, is a slightly different matter: the most successful representational toile, although dense with imagery, is meant to disappear and function as pattern where no single element stands out more than any other through the integration and repetition of the imagery it is composed of. By only focusing on single motifs to be embellished, my work breaks this pattern and functions as an inversion. With an economy of means, a whole new context is created.
In the last few years some interior design companies and fashion houses tried to reinvent the toile, updating it with urban scenes - from Timorous Beasties to Sibling, from Sheila Bridges' "Harlem Toile de Jouy" to Mike D of the Beastie Boys with his Brooklyn-themed toile wallpaper. In your opinion, what is it that attracts us to this fabric nowadays, the potential it offers us to tell stories?
Richard Saja: I think that toile is something of a tabula rasa, pages from a coloring book begging for embellishment of any kind. There IS a story there, it just needs to be drawn out and that's essentially the function of my embroidery. When I was designing my SIDESHOW! toile though, I deliberately inverted the way I usually work by creating visual narratives within the print so that I now only enhance through embroidery what is already stated through the positions of the characters. The embroidery is purely embellishment rather than context-changing.
Which is your favourite colour when it comes to threads or do you have a special thread that you particularly like to work with?
Richard Saja: This is an easy one: DMC's glow in the dark floss became my instant favorite the moment it was introduced a few years ago. I frequently use it in pieces combined with other colors so that when the lights go out there's a built-in surprise evident.
Your embroideries have a tremendously fun and irreverent punk edge: would you ever do a proper collection or garments and accessories?
Richard Saja: I've made a pretty conscious decision to stay away from clothing and accessories for the most part because of their perceived value and overall disposability these days. That being said, I have accepted offers of collaboration from a few houses I feel are worthy of the time and effort that I put into my work. I take on projects based on my interest in them and some of these collaborations have yielded great results for me.
You have worked for larger brands including Opening Ceremony/Keds, Christian Lacroix, and Hello Kitty, did you find it limiting or was it refreshing and which collaboration was more challenging?
Richard Saja: I'll only take on a collaboration I feel I'm well suited to and which will be beneficial to all parties involved. I'm frequently approached by companies wanting something very specific who wish to hire me in order to realize their in-house concept but that kind of work is dull and uninteresting to me - I'm an artist, not a craftsman. Somewhere, there's a convent full of very talented, blind and arthritic nuns who desperately need the work, but I don't. As far as past projects go, I found that working in miniature for my Opening Ceremony/Keds collaboration on camp oxford sneakers was incredibly challenging to me, but resulted in some lovely and gentle haiku-versions of some of my more epic embroideries. As a result, I now incorporate tiny, micro-elements into my work to great effect.
There is a lot of talk at the moment about smart textiles and fabrics made using advanced processes such as nanotechnologies, how do you feel about them?
Richard Saja: I think it will be a while before all the kinks have been ironed-out and the myriad of novelties have worn off where we come to a place where they're actually viable in high design - that or we're in for a very ugly future, which is the more probable direction things are going in. Still, anything that reintroduces colors to the masses can't be ALL that bad, can it? At the moment, I'm exploring pushing the limits and capabilities of machine-woven, tapestry-weight textiles and I'm excited to begin exploring sites like CONSTRVCT for digital prints on demand. I see technology essentially as a challenge to be used in unconventional ways.
Which artists or designers inspire you?
Richard Saja: I have great respect for Piero Fornasetti and can only hope to approach his effortless wit and elegance.
Where are you based and are there any museums in the States or in Europe where we can admire your work? Richard Saja: I live in a brick storybook-style row house in Jackson Heights, Queens. I currently have a piece up at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in a show entitled The New Blue & White. You can't miss it - it's right next to the two Rodarte pieces. The Philadelphia Museum of Art also just acquired 3 yards of my SIDESHOW! toile with one motif embroidered in the middle. Their collection of toile is incredible and I'm honored to have my work included in it. I also always have work up on the wall in Philadelphia at the gallery which represents me, Snyderman-Works.
What plans do you have for the future? Any exhibitions on the lookout or any special projects/collaborations?
Richard Saja: I'm currently working on two new toile patterns of my own, each very different from the other. The first I'm calling 1980 toile because it depicts a time in fashion which is very nostalgic to me: all tubes socks, gym shorts and feathered hair androgyny. The other print is based on German and Austrian Rococo engravings collaged together to come up with something quite a bit different. I've also just been offered a 2 person show exploring themes related to the Ottoman Empire and, more specifically The Crimean War that I'm very excited about. And finally, I was awarded a grant from the Peter S. Reed Foundation last year and I'm just wrapping up a larger scale, multi-media, installation piece which is a bit of a departure from my regular work but it's turning out to be marvelous. I update my blog regularly as the work is finished, so stop by, it's a very exciting time in my career!
All images courtesy of Richard SajaMember of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos