Artist Windy Chien has no formal artistic training but her cultural heritage, love of music and technology merged with her “outsider upbringing” create a unique form of contemporary sculpture. Her studio is located in San Francisco’s Mission District and it is there that Chien designs fascinating works of art from knots.
Chien’s work is a coalescence of all of her life’s experiences – her upbringing as an army brat, her Chinese-American culture, the influence of growing up during the 1970’s as well as her career paths at Apple working on iTunes and over a decade of owning and operating the legendary Aquarius Records (now closed).
2013 began an awakening for Chien, a need to explore her own creativity born from her collective life’s experiences and her self-proclaimed “fringe” status. Chien was at Apple at the time working in the iTunes division and realized she had spent her life promoting the creativity of others – so she reinvent herself once again. Within weeks, she had resigned from the Fortune 500 company to begin exploring her intrinsic artistic skills, creating pieces that focused on the centuries-old art of knot tying and the macramé skills her mother had taught her as a child.
In 2015, she set up her first studio and in 2016, embarked on “The Year Of Knots.” To immerse herself and become fluent in her craft, Chien decided to learn one new knot every day for a year. With literally thousands of knots (or variations of) to master, the artist drew upon sailor’s knots, macramé and the art of Chinese knot tying. At the end of 365 days, she had as many knots displayed on the wall of her atelier. She realized that each piece was a work of art in and of itself, but the entire grouping was an imaginative textural installation. This project was the catalyst of her best-selling book by the same name where Chien shares her personal journey of discovering her artistic voice while also providing illustrative hands-on knot projects readers can create themselves.
Windy Chien designs pieces of art small enough to fit in the palm of your hand to those that are simply massive. Her studio is a space that has soaring ceilings with sturdy beams and pulley system rigs to hoist her large-scale in-progress works up and down. She doesn’t sit at a table or stand an easel but sits on the plush, carpeted floor surrounded by yards of cotton or hemp rope, thread and leather meditatively and intuitively twisting and tying.
She says of her work, “My sculptures and installations merge function, science and history to illuminate what’s most fascinating about knots-the journey of the line.” She draws inspiration from her library of sailor’s knots books, some over a century old, as well as technology (she has an entire line called the circuit board) and her encyclopedic knowledge of music — she was, after all, in the record business for almost 15 years and claims mischievously yet with all seriousness that she could, “sell your grandma a heavy metal album.” She has also learned from Lydia Chen, Chinese knot art master.
Chien collaborates with Longhouse to offer a line of co-branded light fixtures. These pendants have a turned wood cap and finial and studio-blown glass hung by a ‘rope’ of Chien’s intricate knots.
Chien has been commissioned by companies such as IBM, the National Geographic Society, Verve Coffee (she has a piece in the Palo Alto location), Royal Caribbean, Lululemon and Kering Group to create distinctive works for their commercial spaces. She also was commissioned in 2018 by Sunset Magazine to create a piece that was placed in their Sunset Idea House in Los Gatos. In 2017, Sunset also featured her personal residence in their magazine. Her impressive works are highly sought after by private collectors and she recently completed a limited-edition series of smaller pieces and donated the proceeds to the San Francisco Marin Food Bank to help those in need.
She and her work have been featured in numerous periodicals and podcasts including luxe interiors+design, Sunset, Martha Stewart Living, Clever (operated by Architectural Digest), and My Modern Met.
Windy Chien is fascinating, complex and incredibly talented. Her art is personal and symbolic and can be intimately tailored to a space, function or aesthetic. If you are ever in the Mission District, stop by her studio and be sure to keep an eye out for her work in hotels, restaurants and office spaces throughout the nation and Europe. Or, have a custom installation commissioned for your residence.