Zetta Kanta: Impressionist wool
Latvian born, award-winning fibre artist, Zetta Kanta, uses only natural fibres for her tactile wallhangings. Working from her home in Melbourne, Australia, she uses wool and silk to create impressionist-style, modern wallhangings and tapestries that resemble paintings, rather than a non-woven fabric.
It was only after six years of travelling with her talented musician husband, and a foray into freelance graphic design, fashion design and DJing, that she decided to pursue an art course that birthed her love affair with wool.
Along with a passion for fair-trade and environmental sustainability that sees her sourcing wool from local rescue sheep and silk from producers that keep the silkworm alive, she favours softness in her work. This, she believes, promotes healing in the home and a sense of calm in busy public or office spaces.
Love affair with wool
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium? How was your imagination captured?
Zetta Kanta: I see textiles as a medium that has contact with every human being on earth. We cannot live without them; since ancient times people have used animal skins and hand-made items in their homes. Natural textiles, in particular, are kind to us and the earth.
When I discovered wool and the qualities it bears, I wanted to wrap my whole life in it. I love all the practical aspects of wool; its breathability, flexibility, softness and fire-resistance. I wanted to bring this medium to the next level by creating pieces of art. This is how I started to make wall hangings, and my particular passion has been to make these on a large scale.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I have been fascinated by textures in nature ever since I was a little girl. I remember, as a child, sitting by a stone wall in my father’s garden, being absorbed by each little piece of moss growing there. I love nature; its juxtaposition to the modern world – and all that it offers – keeps my interest alive and prompts me towards exploration and experimentation in my work.
I always have been crafty and loved hand-made things. I can’t say that my family is either arty or crafty. However, my grandmother, who I never met, used to spin and weave. When I bought my first spinning wheel home, my mum, with her eyebrows raised, exclaimed, “It looks like this has skipped a generation, but I’m afraid I can’t teach you how to spin”. So I turned to my ever-trusty teacher – YouTube – and taught myself.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I studied Fashion Design in Latvia and graduated by sewing my first three-piece suit for women – along with a jacket, blouse and a lined pair of pants. I was so proud of that suit, but I didn’t know what I could do with this degree that I’d obtained and the skills it had given me. I absolutely knew that I didn’t want to be a seamstress in a factory; that would have felt like cutting off my little wings.
I ended up moving to Denmark and working first as an au pair and then as a PA for a high profile family in Copenhagen. I was so busy that I had to bury my love of textiles and, for a time, I lost myself. As luck would have it, I found a friend from Ukraine who was an amazing knitter. When I gazed at her beautiful, intricate lacework, it was as if I was hearing this echo in my soul to pick up a pair of needles and knit something – anything. I didn’t even know how to knit, so I just held her ball of yarn in my hand and stared at the lovely fuzziness.
When I met the man who was to become my husband he encouraged me to dream again. He totally captured my heart with his tales about the aqua blue ocean and sense of freedom in his homeland Australia. Without him, I would not have had the chance to become a kid again, search my soul and create the things I do now. They have to be dreamed up first and, for most people, there is no place for dreaming in adulthood.
Simon is a very talented multi-instrumentalist and singer and this enabled us to travel around the world for the first six years of our marriage. He would play his music in five-star hotels and I went along as an adoring groupie. With each new contract, we travelled to a different country; we became immersed in a different life with every move – we really felt like we were living the high life!
After those six years, we both felt exhausted and yearned to have a home – a base in which to ground ourselves. So we moved to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia and I started my studies at art college. I was ecstatic! Finally, I was doing what I’d wanted to do all my life, AND I was going to find out exactly what kind of artist I truly wanted to be. I immersed myself in my research and experimentation … and then I discovered wool. That was it! I fell in love with this magical and most tactile of materials – and that’s when my journey really began.
Kitchen and lounge studio
Tell us about your process from conception to creation
My most favourite thing in the world is clouds; they inspire me. I live in rural Gippsland, to the east of Melbourne, and love this place as if I were born here. The sky changes every hour of the day and whilst everyone around me percolates about the rain and the wind, I embrace it in all its beauty.
I am fascinated with the air between me and the horizon and the changes that occur during the day; the shift in the light, translucency of the rain – it is only the birds who can touch this and I’m jealous. It feels like a tutorial from the creator on how to use what you have and create depth in real time – a LifeTube video before the digital version, the man-made YouTube, came along.
Observing this means I have to stop, forget about chores and day-to-day needs, and allow my mind to notice the subtle nuances around me. Inspiration can be found everywhere. It is the discipline of funnelling it through and condensing it into an artwork that presents a big challenge that I grapple with every day. And the size of the work doesn’t even really matter; sometimes creating something small takes more energy than creating something 3.8m wide with the 1.75m drop.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques and how you use them
I spin, I weave and I felt. All three are ancient forms of manipulating fibre and, right now, we are in the middle of their renaissance. I am fortunate that I speak four languages, so I can learn my craft in any of those.
There are so many generous and beautiful people out there that are so happy to share and pass on the knowledge, and I’m grateful to have been on the receiving end of that. I make a point of not keeping any secrets from my students; I love sharing and I find the more you give away, the more you receive.
I do not have a big studio – in fact, my kitchen and lounge are my studio – and we live in a very old three-bedroomed house from the seventies. My romantic side pictures this house as charming and cute and I love my little garden with a lemon tree in it that bends from its abundance of juicy fruit; my mother was in total shock when she visited me!
Felting is not easy, it is very strenuous and really hard on my back, but I simply can’t get over the amazing alchemy in the fabric it creates in the end. It is light, soft, beautiful and so beneficial for any space it hangings in.
What currently inspires you?
Ooh, so many things …
Art that is not made just for the sake of making.
An artwork that brings a message or records history.
Sometimes, it’s artwork that has a voice that cannot be expressed in words.
Artwork that moves me and makes me think.
A practised skill that evokes admiration and respect.
A knowledge that can be only acquired over time.
A gracious and kind heart in this harsh and unforgiving time.
A sunshine with a rain cloud in front.
My little garden and my cat … I learn from her to chill and enjoy a nap in the middle of the day.
Experiment – for a unique style
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
At the beginning of 2015, I witnessed a development of houses going up in a highly sought-after location that is in very close proximity to our local beach. The land that they cleared was home to 100-year-old trees and wildlife that is no longer there. Sadly, local people did not have time to complain or protest about this development, as the decision to clear was made on the 24th of December. There was a great deal of outrage afterwards and some very sad images appeared in the local newspaper of hewn giant trees and destroyed wildlife, but, of course, it was all too late.
So I wrote to the newspaper in response to their article and dedicated one of my works to all the virgin forests that are being logged. Right now this wallhanging has found a forever-home overlooking a national park – a place that will never have to fear being logged. It felt like the perfect circle has been closed.
After this I decided that it wasn’t enough to give just one of my works to such a cause – I made this my drive in creating my art; to speak for those who have no voice – for creatures, animals, bugs and snails, because – yes – they have families too. And even trees have families and favour their own. I have given my work a voice. Maybe I am too shy to speak out verbally, but my work can.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
The phase of experimentation in any art discipline is extremely important. When I studied Fashion Design in Latvia (and that is going back 20 years), my art teacher made us copy works from old masters. I am extremely grateful for that. It made me notice things and figure out techniques that I could not have come up with myself.
One can only learn from the past, and while you experiment and learn, you develop your own unique voice and style. There are so many art disciplines in the world and billions of artists from the past until now and no one is identical to anyone else.
I have not stopped experimenting and probably never will. I love discovering new textures and exploring possibilities for them, so it is very hard for me to answer this question as I honestly don’t know how my work will evolve, I only know that it will.
I have installed numerous large-scale works in public and private spaces. These installations are very exciting to me and I love working together with Australian and international interior designers and their clients. Art created with natural and sustainable materials is gaining more interest than ever and I am grateful that I can share my passion with others.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Be passionate, courageous and surprising. Use what you have – limitations fuel creativity. And if you have a creativity block – book an exhibition. It really is the best medicine for creative constipation!
For more information visit www.zettakanta.com
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