Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tête-à-tête with Historically Inaccurate

Richard Saja is the witty and creative gentleman behind Historically Inaccurate Decorative Arts. Mr. Peacock first became aware of Mr. Saja’s mischievous and cheeky toile pieces a few years ago, and immediately became a fan of Historically Inaccurate. You may already know that Mr. Peacock is fond of Toile de Jouy and embroidery.

Richard’s current site-specific installation, The Bright and Shining Light of Irreverence: Richard Saja and the Historically Inaccurate School, is at the Kalkin House (above) at the Shelburne Museum. Hurry, the exhibit ends October 23, 2009.


The Shelburne Museum
is an art and Americana museum composed of 39 different structures, including the Kalkin House, nestled in the of Vermont’s scenic Lake Champlain valley. The Shelburne is home to the finest museum collections of 19th century American folk art, quilts, 19th and 20th century decoys, and carriages...and is the perfect local for the clever work of Queens, New York based artist Richard Saja.

Above left to right: "Just this once" 23" round embroidered toile at the Shelburne exhibit; the piece which inspired it—"The Garden of Eden" by Eratus Salisbury Field, which is part of the Shelburne permanent collection.

Mr. Saja turned the Kalkin House (a two story prefab structure designed in 2001 by New Jersey-based architect Adam Kalkin) into a 19th century salon infused with his “historically inaccurate” take on tradition.

Above: A detail from "Just this once."

He used the upper space to showcase his own work inspired by objects in the Shelburne Museum’s collection, including quilts, silhouette portraits, and needlework.

He filled the bottom floor of the house with 40 portraits he commissioned (from Craigslist, Facebook and friends) depicting himself as an albino animal hybrid, and called it, The Salon of Love & Horror (above).

Above: Square Quilt print from the Shelburne exhibit, 44" x 44"—the squares are computer generated noise fields.

Mr. Peacock: Did you always want to be an artist, or did it happen through serendipity?
Richard Saja: As I child, the first thing I remember wanting to be was one of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan...the (shudder) Disney version, I guess because I had bed sheets with illustrations on them from the film that my grandmother had given me. There was something so appealing and compelling to me about running around Neverland in an animal costume and I so wanted a part of that action. When I realized that was not to be I settled on "rock star" but as the glittering, gender-bending excess of the 70's gave way to the aesthetically horrific 80's, I found myself without a clear career goal.

It took about 20 years of knocking about—streets of NY, art school, ceramics, great books of Western Civilization, bread delivery guy, art director on Mad Ave., waitron—to finally land on textiles. It was serendipity ultimately, but all that had come before laid a solid foundation for the work I now do.

Above left to right: A cushion from the Travers series; detail.

Mr. P: What attracted you to work with textiles, specifically toile?

I grew up in the late 60's and early 70's when the world was ablaze in the polyester prints my mother was so fond of. How could anyone not be seduced by all of those super-saturated acid hues? While I credit that for my initial love of textiles, my interest in toile was borne out of a waking reverie where I conceived of embellishing through embroidery tattoos on the faces of traditional 18th century figures. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a ready-made toile print where the figures are large enough to have tattooed faces but I modified the concept and the Toile & Tats series was begun.

Above: Historically Inaccurate's first toile sofa (and detail) from a few years ago.

Mr. P: When did you create your first toil(e) piece? And Frankentoile piece?
My first toile piece was created over the Independence Day weekend of 2001, I believe. I wanted to upholster the seat of an old wooden chair that I found in my basement for my booth at the International Gift Show the following month so while my friends were frolicking on the beaches on Asbury Park, I sat on the porch and put needle to toile. A few weeks ago the chair collapsed (dry wood!) and I cut the embroidery from the frame. 

Frankentoile was borne out of my inability to discard any piece of toile (see pillows above), no matter how small that still had a full print on it. I have bags of scraps lying about so piecing prints back together seemed inevitable at some point. The Son of Frankentoile series is where the concept really shines for me, though: to recontextualize a toile and imbue what is traditionally a very sedate print with humor and mystery through simple patchwork.

Above left to right: A cushion from the Travers series; detail with French knots.

Mr. P: Are you a self-taught embroiderer, or did someone teach you?
Except a brief 1/2 hour tutorial in a bar on the complexities of the French knot (see photo above), I'm completely self-taught. I'll also share that I'm in no way a technically skilled artisan and have included pictures on my blog of the reverse side of some of my pieces as a testament to this fact.

Above: A detail from the Tats & Toile series.

As a kid, did you sew, quilt or embroider?

No. I was way too busy making dioramas of haunted houses. I did however, create superhero costumes using crayola iron-on fabric crayons and t-shirts. Starboy and Timberwolf (he has no pupils!) from the Legion of Super Heroes were favorites of mine.

Above: At the Shelburne Museum exhibit—Saja's Fauxnasetti Bar Towels, an homage to Piero Fornasetti.

Who or what has been an influence on your life and artwork?
The great 20th century Italian designer Fornasetti has been not so much an influence as a kindred spirit from beyond the grave. I wasn't all that aware of his work until a few years after I had begun my design career and I immediately saw great similarities in our aesthetic.

Above: A view of the top floor bedroom tableau at the Kalkin House, and details of the Diversity Quilt (a statement on contemporary Gay culture)—a matrix of men all walking in the same direction with walking sticks stitched in different hues.

The actual source and inspiration comes from everything world is a rich, surprising and delightful one and I think that translates into many, if not all, of my pieces.

Your ProtoBolsters are at the same time endearing and a bit disturbing—I love them! Are the names metaphors for what you were thinking as you created each one, or purely random?

Neither. When I was working on them I thought, "where can I find a nearly inexhaustible source for interesting names? " Catholicism was the obvious choice: they're named after the saints.

Above: A ProtoBolster "chandelier" hanging at the Kalkin House.

I'm glad you picked up on the endearing/disturbing's something that just happens but it happens often in my work and I LOVE it. Things are rarely black and white and to embody 2 completely different emotions in one object really amps me hard.

Portraits from The Salon of Love & Hate, left to right: by Mark Blanton; by J. Tom Legaspi; by Steven Levan.

The Salon of Love and Horror
is brilliant. I know asking you to pick a favorite portrait would be like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, but do you feel one particularly struck a chord and really personified your personality?

Ah, Sophie's Choice! Although I feel like it would be nearly impossible to concentrate my entire personality in one painting, I think the Kristina Carroll piece touches (see below) on an aspect of me that is ever-present yet not really evident.

It's somewhat difficult for me to characterize, but I think it's a wistful but world-weary knowledge that everything is going to be alright...that things always somehow work themselves out in the end and that it's usually for the best: weathered hope, I suppose.

“Weathered hope”...Mr. Peacock likes that phrase and description. I think that sums up many folks feeling right now.

Above: Richard Saja photographed by Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times.

If you’re on the East Coast, plan a trip up to the Shelburne Museum this weekend and see Richard Saja’s dynamic work at the Kalkin House. You can also see more of his work on his website, or his blogs: Historically Inaccurate, ProtoBolster, or The Salon of Love & Horror. Thank you Richard!


Kate said...

Richard is a true artist. And his french knots are superb.

pve design said...

Man after my own embroidered heart.

little augury said...

What a terrific interview and I am fascinated-can't wait to explore in depth-thank you for the introduction. la

MJ said...

but as the glittering, gender-bending excess of the 70's gave way to the aesthetically horrific 80's, I found myself without a clear career goal.

I think he’s finally found his calling.


mimi k said...

Love that term- Frankentoile!

omchelsea said...

I'm feeling a little disturbed now!


I'm charmed by this Mr P!
Lovely Sunday~

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. P, I've just chanced upon your Blog and I absolutely love it.

I'm a big lover of Toile and I love the subversive manner in which Mr. Saja has worked with this beloved material.

Thank you so much for this post, it is truly delightful.



Greetings and Good Evening Mr. Peacock, I thank you for introducing me to Richard's work. I saw the post a few days ago and saved the savoring for this evening, a cool outside but warm inside evening in NYC. I feel Kara Walker in his work, I love the humor and punching of holes in our linear time-oriented thinking, as well as our visual assimilation. Not to mention species hybrid-ation. I don't know who loves it more, me of The Alien, Iti. Adam Kalkin is in my circle of friends so that was another kindred spiriti experience. Thank you and Good Evening to SF! xoxo Jade

Buy Viagra online said...

Really beautiful art, it is hard to find good pieces like these ones.