Magda Sayeg, considered the mother of yarn bombing, also happens to be the mother of one of my daughter’s best friends. She is the artist behind the beautiful staircase installation we enjoyed here at Idea City this March during SxSW. I caught up with Magda recently and learned how a serendipitous decision to make a door knob cozy sparked a new career and an international art movement.
So, how did you get started in yarn bombing? My first installation was the door handle of my boutique, Raye, in Houston in 2005. It was winter, and I had to do something to add some brightness or warmth to the storefront. I had my knitting needles with me, so I made a cozy for the door pull. From there, I fell into it head first and was traveling to install commissioned work only a year later. It’s all been a whirlwind.
Who inspires you? I find inspiration in a variety of media. I am drawn to Sarah Applebaum‘s use of vintage materials and color in her sculptural installations. I’m inspired by the patterns and design of Alyson Fox‘s work. Barry McGee and Mark Flood have been favorites of mine for a long time. Also, I have lately been into Christian Marclay‘s use of sound and image.
Tell me a little bit about the process of knitting the staircase at GSD&M. One of the important challenges of each piece I do is in my approach to color. Hot pink looks like a different color against a peachy orange than it does against a blue. The composition of the colors in a piece creates emotional tonality, and considering the scale and form of the staircase installation at GSD&M, this was the driving design concept. I wanted the viewer to be able to “play” the staircase as a kind of visual instrument.
What brands have you worked with? I have been lucky enough to work with some great companies over the last several years. Last fall I worked on a campaign for Insight51 – a surf clothing company based in Sydney – and had a blast. For that project I wrapped the weapons of a 100-ft tall military statue in Bali. A few years ago, I also got to work with Smart – I covered a Smart car entirely in vintage crochet.
How do you feel about the intersection of art and commerce? The relationship between art and commerce is a necessary one, and ultimately commerce enables art to be. Increasingly, artists are living in both worlds – Paul Frank and Shepard Fairey are good examples.
For you, what does it mean to be a creative person in Austin? Austin is such an easy place to work and to be. I grew up in Houston, but I came up to Austin throughout high school, and this city still has that youthful, expectant energy in it for me. I feel lucky to be fully a part of it now.
So what’s next? Will it always be yarn or do you see new media in your future? I’m always researching and developing new possibilities for my work. I just completed a large-scale mural at The Standard Hotel in LA that drew inspiration from those string art kits so popular in the 60’s. I am interested in exploring how traditional needle crafts can inform and transform public space.
What’s your Austin holy trinity? Where would you most like to eat, drink and go for an activity? My Austin holy trinity evening would start at Uchi for dinner. The bar at La Condesa would follow, then I would end the night exploiting Austin’s live music scene. The other night I went to see Morrissey with an old friend. We bought t shirts and relived high school memories. Only in Austin.