When New York-based rug designer Lucy Tupu is asked the rather banal question, “Where are you from?”, her response is not merely a geographical reference point. Her answer is an insight into her work. “New Zealand is my sense of place,” she says with conviction. It is that very “sense of place”, its color, light, odor, wild and wide beaches and the invisible thrum of Polynesia running through it all, she says, that informs her designs. And “sense of place” also includes the lessons she learned from her Samoan heritage about closeness, community and sharing that makes her partnership with GoodWeave® an obvious choice. “Our clients want to know that these products we are making come from a reliable source with no child labor and that the workers are protected,” she says.
Lucy’s Samoan heritage is strikingly evident in her Falelima collection for which she has reached deeply into her family’s roots. These rugs, hand tufted of felted yarns combined with New Zealand wool and delicate silk, explore the rich motifs of traditional Samoan tattoos, or tatau as they are called. The “Falelima” series is inspired by Polynesian body art’s repeated triangles representing sharks’ teeth as in “Sefulu” or the more organic stylized quadrefoil leaves of “Ono” and “Tolu”.
Lucy’s very first collection was also a reference to her home country. Those rugs, she explains, are an homage to the distinct features and pops of radiant color found in New Zealand’s native birds. She points to the wool and silk “Tui”, for example, with its fluid wing-like curves in shades of teal, blue, purples and greens. “The colors are deep so there are rich greens, dark olive and blues which are very Polynesian to me.”
Interestingly, although the underpinning of Lucy’s aesthetic has its roots in New Zealand’s flora, fauna and its people, she was equally influenced by sixties and seventies vintage design, which was popular in her youth. Today in her Manhattan studio she has shelves of fashion and interior design magazines and books from that period and still enjoys perusing them for inspiration. She points to “Moa”, a rug that boldly demonstrates those influences. “The pink and orange really stand out,” she says with palpable pleasure. “I’m just drawn to lots of color and big shapes and forms.”
She has also found common ground artistically with another New Zealand artist and ex-pat, Max Gimblett, with whom she is collaborating. He too is known for his colorful canvases. “I just love color in all different forms. It could be fashion or it could be a painting.”
Lucy Tupu has been in New York more than a decade now and she admits the city is firmly part of who she is as an artist. But, she continues, in the end, no matter where she might live and work, she remains deeply affected by her earliest aesthetic and her earliest values. GoodWeave’s mission is consistent with those values, she says. “This is one way I can make sure the weavers are taken care of.”
Learn more at www.lucytupu.com.