Q & A With Aleksandra Zee

Q & A With Aleksandra Zee

Acclaimed Bay Area woodworker, Aleksandra Zee, built two large-scale geometric wood installations that permanently adorn the ceiling of the historic Barn during her artist in residence in January 2020. We sat down with Aleksandra to learn a little more about the artist.

How did you get your start as a woodworker? It’s not every day you meet a wood artist in the tech-steeped Bay Area.

It all started a long time ago. My first job out of college back in 2008 (graduated with a degree in Fine Art) was for Anthropologie as a Display Artist. There was one for every store back then and each store had a glorious studio in the back, filled with every possible creative tool including a woodshop. I deeply fell in love with every project that centered around wood, from abstract installs to tables and fixtures, I knew it was my calling. I worked there for about three years and came to the conclusion that I wanted to make at for myself and not for a company, so I quit and slowly began growing my business.

Your color palette is carefully focused, featuring a range of neutral and natural hues, with a few selective pops of black or blue. Where do you draw inspiration for this palette, and do you ever veer astray?

I am deeply inspired by monochromatic color schemes and places in nature where you can find that. The high desert is where I find my inspiration, from the stillness of sunrise to the warmth of sunset, I love how the color palette changes and stays within a muted color palette always.

You dress in near-perfect synchronicity with your artworks, which links you, as the artist, indelibly to these pieces and vice-versa. Is your personal style a form of performance art? Are you “part” of the installation so to speak?

Life and work and how I dress and decorate my home all come from the same inspiration. Utility, minimal, clean and monochromatic. It is calming to me, and feels like a true representation of what I am inspired by, what I make and where I find peace.

Where do you source the repurposed materials for your three-dimensional pieces? Is there a story behind their provenance?

What is important to me is not repurposed materials but sustainably farmed lumber. FSC stands for ‘Forest Stewardship Council’. An international non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting responsible forestry. FSC certifies forests all over the world to ensure they meet the highest environmental and social standards. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on a wood or wood based product is your assurance that it is made with, or contains, wood that comes from FSC certified forests or from post-consumer waste. It is most important to me to be conscious about the material I use and how it is farmed.

Has anyone ever likened your works to those of pioneering modern artist, Frank Stella? Your use of geometric abstraction is reminiscent of his style, albeit with more physicality given your use of wood.

I have never been likened to Stella, his work is beautiful, striking. For me and my pattern play, I am intrigued by something looking on infinitely, twisting and turning into itself and creating more dimensions with slight color variations within the same color palette.

FLOAT, your collection of functional sculptures, deftly weaves form and function in these “everyday” home furnishings that are works of art in their own right. Did you start with the use case and let the design expression follow per the mantra “form follows function?” Or vice-versa?

It was a bit of both. Coming off the wall was where this all began, how to bring my work and pattern into the space of a room, to be interacted with. I tossed over shapes and what inspired me in a minimal sense. The cube and rectangle are what I landed on and perfectly wrapping that shape continuously was the goal of the work. For the final design element I wanted them to hover over the ground, by adding a base that was smaller than the dimension. I love how these pieces look together, stacked on each other or just alone in a room. I am looking forward to expanding on this work and making new pieces this year.

You recently installed a large-scale, geometric latticework in the ceiling recess in the historic Barn at MacArthur Place. What led to this commission, and how did you customize this piece to the site?

It was a collaborative effort from conception to execution. The design was aimed to be striking and complement the space. It came out as a beautiful custom project that was built perfectly to fill the space.

As someone who creates art in 3D, your use of 2D photography to bring your work to life (especially via your IG feed!) is impressive. Photos of your work seem to capture an immersive and engaging environment. What is the role of photography in articulating your design vision? And who is your primary photographer?

I take all of my own photos. I feel it is very important to fully document the work in detail, to offer a deep look into my process and see the detail that each piece contains and the environment the work lives in. A photo will never be as good as real life, but It can be close, when we are living in a world where we can tune into makers from across the globe offering a glimpse into the life of my work is something that I enjoy.

In your book, The Way of the Woodshop: Creating, Designing & Decorating with Wood, you talk about community over competition. How does community play a role in your art?

Community is a huge part of my work and growth as an artist. Having a solid community that is there to bounce ideas off of, share work with and partner on projects takes the “stepping on others to get ahead” mentality out of the picture completely. Being inspired by your community, and working with them opens the door for growth and expansion.

What’s next on the horizon for you? Are you excited about any shows or commissions in 2020?

2020 is for rest and inspiration. I am looking forward to a period of rest, and rebooting. 2019 was a year of pushing through projects and lots of hard work. This year is about creating new work and making space to do so. I am so excited to take a breath and bring some zen-ness into the studio.

Learn More About The Artist