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George Venson

Very seldom does emerging talent appear, like an apparition, and seize the rapturous
gaze of the design world’s top decorators and doyennes. Such is the case of New York-based
wallpaper and lifestyle brand Voutsa, created by George Venson, 31, whose painterly prints and
maniacal color combinations defy logic—they are bizarre, bold, gestural and genius.

Having begun his small business—which he likens to a Duchampian machine, a living sculpture whose gears he can twist, turn and experiment with—in early 2013, Venson’s Voutsa has quickly become lauded by New York Magazine, American Vogue, World of Interiors and Architectural Digest as a rising star, gently transforming the otherwise outmoded practice of covering walls. Here, Venson explains himself, his product and his recent rise with humility and candor from the comfort of his Chelsea atelier.

Who are you, George Venson? Are you an artist? The founder of Voutsa? Let’s clarify.
Who am I? I am skeptical of identifying myself as an artist because I don’t like the way our contemporary culture and the contemporary art world have defined what it is to be an artist. As a response to that, I started a brand in which the responsibilities and the daily tasks I do resonate for me more with what it means to be an artist than what I see a lot of people doing who we define as artists.

So what then, does it mean to you to be an artist?
To me, to be an artist is freedom and operating in an unknown area, trying to make things. And that’s not to say I don’t think somebody who makes paintings or sculptures is not an artist, but the space I’m occupying as a ‘designer’ or a ‘founder of this little company’ feels almost like a living sculpture. So the things that I do all feel like little aspects of this sculpture, which is an anonymous brand, Voutsa. It’s like a Duchampian machine. It has different gears that I get to spin and turn and see how they intersect and intertwine and I like that. Making the wallpaper was the beginning and it was just out of necessity that I did everything myself because I didn’t have money or people to do things for me. So I painted and made all the patterns, I make everything. My relationship to Voutsa is what I like to think of as pleasantly complicated and it gets simplified often. I think I’m going to be doing more things with the theater or commercial stores. I’m trying to keep Voutsa as open as I can and I’m trying to get away from being pinned as a painter…

But you are a painter by training, no?
I am a painter by training, but I’m an artist that essentially runs a company, which is a very strong contradiction. But I think art often requires the most polarized contradictions. That’s where you get an artwork. You don’t get it by pairing two magically beautiful things next to each other. You get it by sharp contrast.

To bring it back to the product and Voutsa’s offering, as this anonymous sculptural entity, it totally embodies that contradiction. It’s super accessible—anybody can buy a roll­­­­­­—but at the same time it’s also really high concept. It’s shown around the world, it’s featured in the industry’s leading publications, it’s used by some of the premier decorators. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I just focus on these patterns. I try very hard to make them as good as they can be. I try to give them their own life. It’s not that I feel my signature is on them because I’m so good. I treat them like they are really important and they’re going to be around for a long time. I try to make them strong and I think the design world has recognized that effort.
You know, here’s this person that has decided to make wallpaper. They’re all the same size. There’s not a whole lot of variation. But, the patterns resonate enough where a small portion of the world embraces them.

But more than this recognition of effort, perhaps your success is indicative of something missing in the industry, something that you are fulfilling?
I think there’s definitely something missing. What’s missing are artists who run companies. You have artists trying really hard to get into Art Basel and MoMA, but you don’t have artists trying to get into Bergdorf Goodman or the Decoration & Design building.

Who would you say are your greatest inspirations then, whether personally or for Voutsa?
I think I’m just inspired by challenges. People who do challenging things. I really like early Fornasetti—I like brands that I think are similar. I like artists who did things that were similar, so someone like William Kentridge. , I like the patterns of Fortuny, the creative directors of Hermès, those were all high craft. People who’ve done things for operas, theaters or plays.

Can wallpaper be considered art then, or artful?
I think that my solution is to plead no contest to what people want to call wallpaper. It certainly can be treated as a really expensive, desirable thing. Similarly, so could art. It could also be treated as a throwaway thing, just like art.

What can we expect to see for your new collection, due in 2016?
My new collection is going to be an attempt to reinvent a global Chinoiserie relative to the history of Chinoiserie wallpapers. Some of them are going to be more representational; some of them are going to be more abstract. I think I’ll call it Global Chinoiserie: The Seven Wonders.