Nick cave and a collaborator standing in a workshop with fabrics.

Nick Cave Mines His Creative Processes in a New Collection for KnollTextiles

Inspired by his Soundsuits, the collection of upholstery and wallcoverings balances art and function.

Raised in Fulton, Missouri, Nick Cave is an artistic polyglot who fuses sculpture, high fashion, dance, and culture into beautifully constructed pieces, most notably his wearable Soundsuits. Therefore, when presented with an opportunity to design a collection for manufacturer KnollTextiles, his challenge was to create something functional that also felt true to the essence of his unique body of work. “When someone looks at this collection, it has to feel and read of Nick Cave,” he says.

A poetic man, Cave says he aspired to develop a collection of upholstery and wallcoverings that could speak elegantly “about the way in which a Jacquard is created, the way in which a woven is integrated with a taffeta,” rather than simply showcase a technique. In this way, Cave has created a line of two-dimensional fabrics that appear to have depth. Inspired by his Soundsuits, the new collection balances art and function. 

To achieve that equilibrium, “I would go way out and pull back in,” Cave says in explaining how he adapted his three-dimensional ideas to the flat medium. He also applied the notion of building, by layering collage and assemblage techniques to create patterns such as Big Floral, a wallcovering with botanical beaded designs printed over olefin composite. It has texture and appears as if the surface were encrusted with fantastical beaded flowers. “It’s really me just breaking rules, asking alternative questions,” he adds.

the artist Nick Cave seated with a piece of fabric
The artist with Guise, an upholstery pattern inspired by his artworks’ beading.To capture Cave’s vision, his process of collecting and combining fur, beads, sequins, and buttons was reproduced in Knoll’s production steps. COURTESY LYNDON FRENCH

Cave developed one design by printing a pattern on top of a textile with a metallic sheen “so that the metallic [finish] finds its way back to the surface to some degree, based on light and reflection.” That method adds another layer of depth to the material. As an Alvin Ailey–trained dancer, performance artist, and fashion designer, Cave brings the totality of his art world experiences to the work. Whimsical and intricate, the result is a well-choreographed collection, with pieces that can share the spotlight when used in the same room. “This is where dance comes in,” he says. “It’s all about the coordination. How does the wallpaper support the drapery, support the upholstery?” 

Cave is director of the graduate program of the Fashion Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and much like a fashion designer preparing for a runway show, he anticipated designers assembling separate pieces from the collection in various combinations to create harmonious looks. The overall color palette evokes a sense of calm, like the Taurean greens used in the Vert upholstery. “There is a strength to the collection, and there’s a timelessness to it,” Cave explains. 

worker assembling fabric
CAVE-LIKE Embroidered and woven, Doily is layered like Cave’s Soundsuits.
detail of a colorful fabric designed by Nick Cave
MORE IS MORE Cave’s multimedia artwork informed the collection’s multidimensional patterns, including Forest and Big Floral wallcoverings (above).

It’s also uniquely Cave. It evokes his studio process of excess, building, and surplus. Usually he starts with found objects like rusted tools, figurines, or dominoes that speak to him, then sometimes files them away for months, even years before he incorporates them into his work. “I’ve bought things and held on to them until they have found their way. It could be like two, three years before it finds its way into the work.” 

In the collection for Knoll, as in his art, he also weaves together global cultures. “I’m looking at African textiles. I’m looking at [Caribbean] carnival. I’m looking at Haitian voodoo flags,” Cave explains. It shows in Forest, a wallcovering inspired by an installation—“Architectural Forest”—created from painted sections of bamboo curtain, and Until, a drapery inspired by an installation of the same name made from nets of brilliantly colored beads that was displayed at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The patterns are saturated in rhythm, motion, and vibrant earth tones. “These textiles are communicating in a very interesting way,” he says. 

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