Kristjana S Williams at her ICFF booth
Collage artist/designer Kristjana S Williams came to her first high-end luxury ICFF furniture fair at New York’s Javits Center last week partially by way of gas balloon and much of the rest of it via Coldplay.
Indeed the London-based Icelandic native referenced the balloon travel of 1956 epic adventure movie Around the World in 80 Days for her fanciful six- and 12-inch globe designs—which feature gas balloons among other objects dotting the orbs. As for Coldplay, Williams journeyed to ICFF hot on late last year’s release of the band’s four-disc CD/DVD set The Butterfly Package.
“I do a lot of art fairs in the U.K.,” recalled Williams, “and Phil Harvey, Coldplay’s creative director, had a lot of my stuff,” recalled Williams. “[Coldplay lead singer] Chris Martin saw some of it and one day asked if I’d like to do an album cover, so Phil set up a meeting.”
As directed, Williams’ artwork referenced many visuals from the band’s 20-year history, from the geometric “Flower of Life” cover image from the 2015 album A Head Full of Dreams to the digitally-rendered face from the cover of A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002). The front cover butterfly-shaped collage also showed the 268 Camden Road street sign from the address of the flat where Coldplay had their first rehearsal, an image of Martin with his go-to drink vodka-and-cranberry, and the band’s tour piano, as well as Williams’ whimsical re-imagined animals, among them monkeys—both a recurrent theme in her work, and a feature of Coldplay’s video for its 2015 hit “Adventures of a Lifetime.”
“It was my first music-related piece,” said Williams, “though I’ve done a lot of commercial work.”
She singled out the renowned British perfume house Penhaligon’s, for which she created bespoke narrative-based packaging illustrations for the brand’s Portraits Collection of fragrances centered around a fictional aristocratic family; she also made large-scale artworks for store windows and point-of-sale, as well as related illustrations for the Portraits Collection’s added candles and tea product. And she conceived the perfumery’s limited edition print, The Menagerie at Penhaligon's Central.
"The Menagerie at Penhaligon's Central" limited edition print
For another major commercial client, London’s famous Fornum & Mason store, Williams formulated festive packaging for 107 items in the stores Christmas collection—from jam and marmalade jars to biscuit tins and advent calendars. Additionally, she devised surreal three-dimensional festive window displays using key motifs from her work—featuring some 300 owls, roosters and macaws adorned with gems, headdresses and crowns. She also collaborated with the store in creating an exclusive ceramics collection also featuring her festive illustration work.
Perhaps the best representation of Williams’ collage art was manifest in her 3D pieces, specifically, the big Ceylon Elephants Palm Dusk collage housed in a bespoke handmade circular frame. As suggested by the title (an example, said Williams, of the Icelandic language’s syntax), the contents within the deep frame were inspired by a Sri Lankan sunset, and include flora and fauna—and gas balloons—meticulously layered around and upon the round antique world map (with its sunset pink seas) that form the work’s foundation.
The individual elements are computer-scanned and hand-cut Victorian engravings, folded and pinned in place in a process that takes between three and six months, using a similar technique of mounting butterflies and insects on old Victorian specimen trays--and achieving remarkable depth and rich detail.
Likewise, Williams’ “paper theater wall art dioramas” use box frames in constructing “little sets of curiosity,” slotting hand- and laser-cut layers of artwork into bespoke frames in creating three-dimensional graphic art pieces: Her Cobalt Blue Palace diorama, for example, shows a Renaissance Rome palace interior built out of many layers of plates and populated by humans and animals including tigers and even one of famed Brit designer Paul Smith’s dinosaurs, as well as objects like sewing machines and antique phonographs.
"Cobalt Blue Palace"
Williams also showed a selection of wall coverings at her booth, both traditional repeat wallpaper (its pattern repeating throughout) and wall murals that present a single large image that presents a narrative—like the Palmland Wall Mural, which shows a furnished luxury living room.
"Palmland Wall Mural"
“I love having four walls papered, where you can walk into a place and immerse yourself in a location like Palmland and have it take you to another place—rather than Brentford!” said Williams--Brentford being the industrial part of London where she lives.
As for her globes, she displayed the six-inch and 12-inch diameter versions of her East Meets West old London globe, which comes in white, and the World map globes (also using an antique map) that are available in pink and navy as well as the more traditional light blue (large 22-inch and giant 31-inch models are also available, but so far have only been exhibited in galleries and museums).
Williams first designed the globes in 2013 and produced them with an award-winning globe maker in the Isle of Wight. They feature her signature fanciful creatures and objects and offer over 100 historical facts delivered with the sense of humor that also pervades her art.
“I think globes are wonderful things for imagining where you could go in the world,” she said. Both globes employ the traditional technique of applying 12 printed gores (flattened sections of a curved surface) to a sphere, and in addition to the other imagery, feature the gas balloons that for her represent both a means of travel appropriate to the time period and an elevated observation post for seeing the world below.
Williams also stocked a number of her cushions at her ICFF booth, including regular square cushions emblazoned with her artwork, and shaped cushions from her Great Barrier Reef Shaped Cushion Collection, like the Giant Octopus-Shaped Cushion and the Butterfly Fish Yellow-Shaped Cushion.
Overall, her first ICFF appearance was “really positive,” she said.
“Because of Coldplay and the art festivals, I’ve been gradually getting more and more orders from the U.S.,” Williams added, “so the time was right to come here now.”
Kristjana S Williams discusses her work