Windy Chien is a one-of-a-kind talent. Full stop. The vivacious Chinese-American artist first came to our attention (and everyone else's) in 2016: She went viral before it was a thing. Turns out documenting one's journey of learning to make a new knot every day for a year is a real crowd-pleaser.
With The Year of Knots, Windy became an instant artworld darling, lauded for her mesmerizing (and deceptively simple) hand-tied rope sculptures and large-scale installations. Museums, restaurants, hotels, galleries and art collectors in San Francisco and beyond came a calling—and haven't stopped. Just a few of her clients include: SFMOMA, Nobu Hotels, Google and Kering.
As longtime fans, we're thrilled to welcome Windy to our collective. In fact, she's the first non-jewelry designer Cast has worked with. The Knot Life collection showcases her singular brand of creativity and artistry. But before the bling drops (soon), we wanted to share more about the woman, her cool pre-artist life in San Francisco and how she became the undisputed queen of knots. Highlights from our conversation here.
In Windy's Words
On hooking up with Cast: There is nothing I like better than collaborating with capable people at the top of their game, bringing expertise from another world. I’ve never worked with metal before and was fascinated to learn from the Cast team. They shared how clasps work, the way the different metals behave, that charcoal jade is even a thing! The reason I love this is, despite the fact that I make fine art, my roots are in craft. Craftspeoples' fidelity is to the materials first and foremost. Working with Cast's artisans was a pleasure for these reasons.
Bling inspo: When it comes to jewelry, my inspiration has always and forever been my grandmother, whom I’m named after. Winifred Chien wore big rings, every day, several of them on each hand. She’s why I think a wide cigar band is the best ring style. I’m also a pathetic fool for Chanel pearls, the more the better. I recently acquired the most incredible Chanel pearl necklace with multiple strands tied into an enormous knot, like a chic over-the-top bolo tie.
Playing with personal style: At my record store in the ‘90s, I was a "thrift store girl." At Apple, I did "secretary drag" with pussybow blouses and pencil skirts. I also went through an "art teacher caftan" phase. These days, I’m twisted fashion-forward with a lot of quirks. In my dreams, I’m a Japanese male fashion editor wearing all Kapital denim, Comme des Garçons and Yohji. In real life, I wear Issey Miyake and Julia Heuer pleats daily.
Busting out of the 9-to-5: After 14 years of owning and operating an independent record shop (San Francisco’s Aquarius Records) and, then, almost a decade at Apple/iTunes, I was yearning to work with my hands. Instead, I was toiling in an office on a computer keyboard, and I felt so envious of people who made tangible beautiful objects.
When I considered doing the same myself, I had a sudden revelation: my work at the record store and at Apple was about supporting other people’s creativity. I had never thought I was allowed to focus on my own creativity and so it had gone neglected. I gave notice at Apple less than a month after the revelation. I thought, if I’m going to have another life, I need to make a change now—so I gave myself permission.
Getting knotty: I knew I wanted to make tangible objects but didn't know what form that would take. I attended weekend workshops in everything I was interested in—ceramics, stone carving, woodcarving, woodturning, weaving, interior design. You name it, I took a class in it. Finally, I took a macramé refresher class (my mom had taught me in the '70s but I couldn't remember how to get started) and within five minutes, I thought: I love this. The repetitive motion, the flow. It felt good.
For me, the process is as important as the result. I have to love how the process feels. I went very deep into knotting. But then I realized that most of my work looked like everyone else’s macramé objects. That was epiphany number two…I realized macramé all looks alike because the craft uses only a handful of knots. But the world of knotting is so much larger; in fact, there are almost 4,000 documented and named knots in the world. I decided then and there to teach myself one new knot every day of 2016.
The Year of Knots is born: By the end of 2016, I was fluent in what I have come to realize is a truly universal language of knots. (Knots cross oceans, centuries, genders, occupations…we all wake up in the morning and tie our shoes.) I had an installation of 366 knots [it was a leap year], and I knew then that I had become an artist. And I’ve been doing it full time ever since.
Favorite child: I recently knotted a 28-foot-long dragon for the de Young Museum. Installed in the huge lobby in front of a monumental billboard-sized Hung Liu work, I wanted to respond to Liu’s message of the fraught history of Chinese immigration and exclusion in the United States. I knotted a dragon, which is familiar to us during Chinese New Year parades. But instead of its usual celebratory red and gold, I rendered it in white, the Chinese color of mourning and death. There's a long history of Chinese knotting, but I had never made a work so directly addressing identity—and my community’s issues—via the language of knots. So this was a deeply meaningful project for me.
// Keep an eye out for the Knot Life collection coming soon and see more of Windy's work on her website