Magda Sayeg stitching for the Mexico City Bus Project, 2008
Fittingly, the seventh and final artist profile features who many would consider is the poster-lady for urban knit graffiti: Magda Sayeg of Knittaplease fame.
Currently based in Austin, Texas, Magda began Knittaplease in 2005 as a response to the dehumanizing qualities of an urban environment. As her website says: “The simple juxtaposition of this woven material placed within an urban environment has inspired a new generation of knitters who no longer view function as the sole purpose for knitting. This new approach to knitting questions the assumptions of a traditional craft while adding a previously unused material to the world of street art.”
We were able to nab Magda before Winterlude opening weekend for an hour-long conversation over Skype. Here’s what she had to say about urban knit and street art movements, her creative background, how the city has influenced her work and where she sees this whole movement going.
KnittaPlease graffiti at National Gallery of Australia, 2009
S&N: How long have you been making things, in particular knitting? Are there other ways you get creative e.g. music, design other ways?
I’ve been making things my entire life. I’ve never been the kind of kid to be bored and demand instant entertainment. I’m 36 now and if I were bored I’d even cut up newspapers and make hats.
I come from a family where creativity and being an artist wasn’t considered a legitimate profession. As I got older, there was less concern for my parents’ approval so I explored food. That was back in the 90s, when coffeehouses were the cool thing. When I started making food I had such a creative time doing it. I did it for 10 years but then the work load became too intensive. I decided one day to get into craft and making clothes and making things and did a craft market and that just filled me with a newfound interest. I picked up on stuff that I liked as a pre-teen, which led me to opening a shop where I carried good design like from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduates, which perhaps was too cutting edge for Houston. I found myself really frustrated. That’s where Knitta was born. I was looking at the ceiling and then just picked up knitting needles for the first time in 20 years. I would spend hours and hours knitting – there was an instant satisfaction. So when I made that knit graffiti piece for the door handle, I was thrilled with it. I never expected other people to enjoy it as I did. But people who walked by would ask about it. I decided to call up my friend and explained this whacky idea of putting material on steel or signposts. At the time I didn’t call myself an artist or graffiti artist. But people loved it – they got out of their car and took pictures. I decided then I wanted to do every STOP sign in the city.
Mexico City Bus Project, 2007
S&N: You’ve travelled around the world with Knitta. What’s been your favourite piece that you’ve installed? In what city?
The bus in Mexico City is my all time favourite. (S&N: The project took a week for the six yarnbombers to complete, using repurposed knitted and crocheted blankets. The bus was hollowed out and used as a workshop space for the community arts. The bus is still parked at Plaza San Luis). It’s like I left my child there. I went there with a bunch of material and secretly didn’t know what I was going to do with it. But with the good support of some local people, we got it done in 4 days. It brought a whole new attention to my work – it was like a springboard to my career. I had the Guiness Book of World Records calling. Normally this kind of thing only responded to people who were into craft and the DIY movement.
With travelling you get to meet people all around the world. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my professional career, nothing has every warmed my heart like this. I never had this feeling with retail. I get to connect with other people around the world, who are still friends. Knitting brings such a powerful connection.
Austin, Texas, 2009
S&N: How does your city of Austin inspire you creatively? How has travelling to different cities inspired you?
Knitta was born in Houston. Houston is inspiring for its food, international flair, but has no appreciation for history or urban planning. Everything is new, little that is old. Freeways, cement, but a lot of trees. Austin has civic pride and it’s changed my attitude. Austin is so beautiful in terms of art but still has a struggling arts scene because it’s a music and film town. But the energy is so great and positive.
In terms of my inspiration, I’m a blog addict for sure. I’ll give a nod to a handful of artists who inspired me when Knitta was a sparkle in my eye, everything from graffiti artists to museums to children. Barry McGee, Jeff Koonz, Tom Freidman. I also absolutely love graphic design. Mike Perry’s blog. I’m constantly inspired by different things from Turner classics to fashion.
Travelling to different cities helps me explore my work. I do approach every project differently. There have been times where I’ve been asked to do something the same as the last project but I like to do different things, to progress. I have a dream list of projects I’d like to do.
It’s interesting, a city like Venice you can’t think of as being the same urban context as other cities. It’s not urban, it’s ancient but it’s beautiful. It was the only city in the world that was made with the intention of not using cars. I’ve asked myself, do I even invade this city with relics? Though because it’s so ancient, I think the young people yearned for something different. I do see myself going back. I’ve been invited to Italy five times in the last year and a half. Juxtaposing urban contexts in all sorts of ways creates a dialogue with someone because it engages the person unexpectedly.
Venice, Italy, 2009
S&N: What’s up next for Knitta and your other creative endeavours?
As far as projects go, I’m doing large-scale projects in Austin and then Rome and then Estonia. I’m doing a lot of work with corporations. It’s actually worked out quite fun and I think it’s fine working with sponsors. The bus for example wouldn’t have happened it wasn’t for Aboslut Vodka. I am working on the Knitta book and now gatheirng all submissions. It’s kind of unknown territory putting it all together. I’ve got a new website for myself as an artist. I do feel I want to use my name more than Knitta. It was a little bit of collective that I started with Knitta but I am doing more solo-oriented projects so I feel less of connection. But I’m not laying it to rest yet as of yet – it’s my comfort zone.
S&N: Where do you see urban art headed in the next few years?
Right now I see cities and people that are responsible for the development of cities paying more attention to the idea that this (knit graffiti) is a legitimate art form. Though that could be good or bad. What I do see though is different kinds of graffiti that won’t be so banned or outlawed. People are putting down the spray can picking up everything from LED lighting to moss to Banksy‘s stuff to Space Invaders. I remember there was a time when skaters were not allowed to skate anywhere. Now every city is competing to have the biggest skate park. I think cities will start paying more attention to the voices of the citizens. I’m definitely seeing this in my own work.
Many thanks to Magda for taking the time to chat with us. Watch for her upcoming art picture book on knit graffiti to be released in October 2010. Also check out her newly launched website to see more photos of her work, as well as the KnittaPlease blog. Look for her trademark knit graffiti in a city near you.