by Louis Postel, originally published in New England Home | August 2016: In Our Backyard
The eye moves up the curtain in search of where its pattern repeats. Finding repeats becomes a kind of game. Where to find the next line of peacocks, trellises, and inky down strokes? – It’s a visual game that can become a needless distraction.
But how else to maintain a sense of order without repeats? Imagine all those peacocks just taking off every which way.
As a reflection of consciousness itself, patterns that are too chaotic make us anxious, just as patterns that are too uniform and predictable cause us to become distracted. What we want from consciousness and maybe from textile patterns, too — is just to flow.
And if flow is the goal, who can help us in the home furnishings department?
Enter Ellisha Alexina, a 28-year-old textile designer from Northampton, MA who has broken through to the highest ranks of the design industry with a mixed media process combining hand painting and polychromatic printing. Neither rigid, or reckless, Alexina’s patterns allow consciousness to expand and breath freely, having been locked in for so long.
“Even back in High School I was always interested in pushing the boundaries of process in art. I recall taking rubber cement and painting over it, removing the cement, and reapplying it. Or wetting the paper first before drawing with charcoal. At fourteen I knew that this was not a hobby, but something I wanted to do in life.”
Gauthier Stacey, Jennifer Palumbo, Harbor House, Annsley Interiors, Studio 534 in the BDC, Holland and Sherry in New York and LA, Travis in Atlanta, are all asking the same question of Alexina, “How did you do that?”
Not even her greatest champion and neighbor, the celebrated textile designer Peter Fasano, can explain quite how Alexina does what she does to make the repeats seemingly non-repetitive by subtly manipulating color. If she were doing peacocks — which she is not — no two peacocks would be the same and yet they would always repeat. The pattern would remain consistent, whether in three yards or thirty. Used primarily for window treatments, but also for upholstery, lampshades, and throw pillows, Alexina’s designs can’t’ really be fully appreciated as small samples. They have to be seen as yardage, in large wings in a showroom to witness their shimmering, liquid qualities, like sunlight mottling a lake’s surface.
“In college I was experimenting with textile patterns, modulating colors, obscuring the beginnings and endings of these ten-inch repeats. I brought a few yards to Fasano. He said ‘You need to start your own business, because no one is doing what you are doing right now. If you can continue this in a professional way with a studio that can produce in scale, you will succeed.’ And that’s what I did, putting some samples in a bag and walking around the D&D during market, introducing myself and the samples. ‘How did you do that?’ they’d say and some would buy — this was in 2013.”
Now she’s already outgrown her studio, with its cylinder-stack pyramids of Belgian linen in the hundreds of yards, and rows of non-toxic, colorfast pigments. There you can see samples of her two main collections, Mendel and Vedana in all their various colorways and patterns. Mendel, her first, references delicate textile fragments and hand embroideries of 17th and 18th century Ottoman motifs. They’re tight, and rhythmic. If the Piey pattern looks like you might have seen it before, it’s worth checking it out with many repeats in several yards, say, in ash mahonia. The impact while soft is refreshingly animated. Also within the Mendel Collection, is the Alexina Stripe pattern and colorways. In its full 51” width, the stripes lure you into a dream forest that’s hard to leave.
In contrast, Her Vedana Collection, by contrast, features looser patterns and larger repeats. Vedana is the Sanskrit word for feeling or sensation, the essence of astronomical twilight. The indigo Novella pattern within this collection expresses this twilight story in an abstract, leafy way. “It’s about as bold as I tend to get,” says Alexina. Novella’s companion Mano, or Mind, is a vertical, grid-like pattern, an array of abstract neurons, no two exactly alike, swimming up to some softly illuminated, undefined surface, a depiction of consciousness itself when said to be most in the flow.
Meanwhile, New England can take pride in the creator of all these unique and subtle patterns, patterns that soften the repetitive nature of repeat that has existed for tens of thousands of years in hundreds of different cultures. We can take pride and at the same time leave off shaking our collective heads: How does she do it?