Los Angeles artist Tanya Aguiñiga rests on Sloth, one of her pieces… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
When he first purchased a few of Tanya Aguiñiga's furniture pieces several years ago, antiques dealer Joel Chen found himself attracted to the timeless aspect of her work.
“You can have a whole rococo room and put one of these in there and it would fit in just right,” he said, pointing to the piece that Aguiñiga calls Giraffe. The massive chaise swaddled in vintage textiles appears to march through the space on six chunky legs, straddling eras from prehistoric to postmodern.
The Atwater Village artist has produced about a dozen new pieces that recently went on view alongside a decade of her earlier works at the JF Chen gallery in Hollywood. It couldn't be a more appropriate venue: Here in Chen's cavernous showroom, surrounded by two centuries of chairs, you can see how Aguiñiga manages a nod to both contemporary design and ancient craftsmanship.
“It still feels like an additive process,” she said, “starting with an airy form and filling it in with bright colors that are very hand-worked and part of a particular tradition.”
Tanya Aguiñiga grew up in Tijuana and San Diego, and the cultural exchanges of the border also have long been a thread running through her work. She gleans craft techniques and learns about new materials by embedding herself with indigenous artisans throughout North and South America. (Her current area of exploration: textiles in Peru.)
One wall of the JF Chen show essentially documents the career progression for Aguiñiga, 34, who was first featured in The Times in 2008 selling her felted bird figurines at indie craft shows and has since risen to become one of L.A.'s most intriguing young artisans, praised by curators and pursued by collectors.
With her signature Felted Folding Chairs, the cold aluminum frames of mundane seating are elevated and humanized by hand-felted wool. An Aguiñiga rug in the new show mimics the forest floor, complete with logs that appear to bulge from the ground. Dozens of her woven and dyed rope necklaces and bracelets will be familiar to boutique-browsing L.A. women. Arching above it all, like rainbow stalactites: a massive wallhanging that Aguiñiga knitted from shredded Mexican serapes.
Of her new work, most intriguing are the abstracted animals, an idea that came from the artist's residency in Chiapas, Mexico, where Maya women taught her how to make textiles using giant “backstrap” looms affixed to poles or trees. The Maya artisans turned their woven wool into tiny animal figurines, which inspired Aguiñiga to create her giant creatures as an hommage.
“I really liked the idea of abstracting the shapes but still making them functional as couches and stools,” she said. You can sit on pieces named Tarantula and Sloth, of course, but your first impulse might be to hug them.
Two other new collections have evolved from experiments with rope. The Paper Clip lounge chairs are stretched with supple vegetable-dyed leather and rope that's gathered into patterns with the same nylon fasteners used to build kites and fishing nets. The result is a graphic quality that almost approaches the style of the quirky 1980s Italian design movement Memphis.
Aguiñiga's series of baskets on view were designed with ridiculous proportions: large, splayed wooden legs but a storage compartment with the real estate to hold only one small object. “A single apple, or a cellphone,” Aguiñiga said cheekily.
The artist is branching out to something she calls “performance crafting,” experiments making art in public places that will be featured on KCET's “Artbound” series. Meanwhile, the PBS documentary series “Craft in America” will profile Aguiñiga in an episode scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Nov. 16 on KOCE.
Aguiñiga attributes her evolution to the prevailing spirit of Los Angeles.
“It's been this weird progression,” Aguiñiga said. “The more I'm in California, the more I feel free to go a little more wacky and sculptural.”
Tanya Aguiñiga's latest designs are featured in a show titled “Morphing: Design in Contemporary Crafts,” which also features furniture by Michael Wilson.
Where: JF Chen, 941 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Ends Nov. 21.
Information: (323) 466-9700
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