Madeline Weinrib's Own Voice

Art and Design: Listen and let go

Madeline Weinrib talked with HAND/EYE editor Keith Recker about her multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural approach to creativity, design, and business. Her answers reveal something about the link between art and design, and about a healthy sense of letting go of preconceived notions to make room for creativity: something found in abundance in her New York City shop and atelier. 
H/E:  You are a painter, a textile designer, a carpet designer — and other things, too, I would imagine. How did you arrive at this unique mix? 
MW: I wish I could tell you that there was a plan, but NO. It all developed organically. I studied painting at Marymount and Parsons in Paris, and afterwards was 110% committed to fine art. There was such a strong line between “Art” and the decorative arts then. I wouldn’t have imagined trying both. But sometime around 1994 I came across a craft-paper-brown carpet with a black pattern that was just so beautiful. I was doing a lot of charcoal on craft paper drawing work at the time, and all of a sudden I saw carpets as surfaces for creativity – just like canvas and paper. So I created my first carpet collection and fell in love with the process. That was my entry into being a painter and designer simultaneously. 
H/E: At heart you are a painter. How do you “clear the decks” and make time for making art? 
MW: “Work” is always going on in my head. I might be doing something unrelated to painting or designing, but on some second tier my mind is always working on the next thing. Since I love doing my work, there’s a sense of play and freedom about it, so I can’t say necessarily that I have to clear the decks. It’s always happening. It’s a pleasure, therapy, something I look forward to, rather than something I see as a “discipline.”
H/E: Does your painting influence your design work? 
MW:  Painting for me is really a personal thing. I’m not thinking about anyone. I’m looking inside and really being with myself. The design work is different. There, it’s all about other people and their homes.  What fabric can I create that will have a great dialogue with their carpet? What carpet can I design that will make a good foundation for all of their furniture and pillows. And so on and so on.  I sometimes experiment with colors or patterns that I don't necessarily "feel for," but which I see in what my customers are talking about or wearing. These experiments can be great: I sometimes find myself considering a re-do of my apartment with a hot orange and gold carpet that I would never have imagined living with. fun and shocking.
But back to art and design. The struggle to create either is so similar: how do you find your own voice? Everything has been done already. People have been making functional objects and paintings for thousands of years. The challenge is exhilarating.  I know that my textile and carpet work got better when I became less conscious of making it different from my painting. And my painting got better when I stopped thinking at all about separating it from the design work. Each category has its own integrity, its own scale, material, process. It’s all about being committed to the work in front of you. 
H/E: What do you learn from? Travel? Artisans? Historical textiles? Customers? 
MW: I love listening to customers – the colors they want, the places they’ve been, the way they describe their homes.  
And I am always having a dialogue with the artisans who make my textiles and carpets. They all have their own style and method. When I let go of needing everything to be exactly “how I want it,” some real collaborative creativity emerges.  Ikat fabric arrived from an artisan workshop one day, and they had sewn panels together without matching the placement of the motifs at the seam. At first I was ready to throw the stuff out the window -- but as I looked at it, the interruption of the field of pattern was better than what I had thought of. That creative accident is now a signature element of the line.
Reinterpreting old, historical symbols is also important to me. Somehow I feel as if I am continuing the human story this way -- making product that is worth keeping around because it's beautiful, of very high quality, hand made, but also because it has meaning ghat will last. That's always a question for me: will this last? Can I last? 
H/E: What would you say to artisans preparing to enter the US and European markets? 
MW: Find ways to understand the aesthetic of the market you want to enter. There are real differences in what people perceive and appreciate.  The challenge for artisans is to see what people who are not artisans and who live in another culture will value highly enough to purchase. “How do I make what I do seem beautiful to these customers at this moment in time?”  Linking with designers can be a big help, as they are, on a visual level, professional translators. 
H/E: What’s next on your design agenda? 
MW:  I don’t want to say, because we might jinx it. I always have several things in the works at any one time, and some don’t work out for whatever reason.  So let’s see what lasts through the process! 
For more about Madeline Weinrib, visit www.madelineweinrib.com as well as her atelier on the top floor of NYC's ABC Carpet and Home at 888 Broadway.

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