From afar, Cindy Hsu Zell's wall sculptures look simple and straightforward. But up close, you realize the intricacy of each work — the braided rope, the purposeful knots, the flowing curves. Carefully constructed from sustainably sourced natural fibers — and materials like metal and wood — each piece asks that we take a breath and really consider the materials in front of us. It's a slow and sometimes tedious process that brings them to life; Zell hand dyes and spins the rope and lets the materials guide the final look of her pieces.
The artist began her creative journey as a student at USC, where she focused on sculpture and animation. She took these skills to a job at Anthropologie, where she created window and interior displays. But soon, she wanted to expand her creative freedom. She decided to strike out on her own, starting her own business as an artist and the owner of jewelry brand WKNDLA. You can find her wall sculptures at exhibitions around the city and on her website. Zell often creates custom commissions for interior designers, working with them to craft something that fits into a specific space. Her practice is a lesson in not only making aesthetically pleasing pieces, but considering how they might impact the space around them.
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"There's limited wall space in a home, so it's truly an honor when someone chooses my work to fill them," Zell tells Hunker. "I hope they create a sense of calm."
No surprise here: her North Hollywood home also exudes a minimalist, soothing vibe. The airy 1930s craftsman incorporates natural materials with hanging plants, neutral colors, and welcoming textures. She often keeps lavender, lemon, or eucalyptus essential oil diffusers around her space. Zell kept the original wood floors and decorated the space with handmade pieces from artists she met at craft and trade shows.
Some of her favorites include pieces from A Question of Eagles, Julia Ballenger, Rachel Saunders, and Rami Kim. For her living room, Zell commissioned a custom couch cover from Küdd:krig Home. She's also collaborated with the brand to create a few special pieces, such as the arch pillow she keeps near her couch. You can also spot Zell's own wall hangings around the space.
And we'd be remiss not to give a special shout-out to the furry feline posing so perfectly in this photograph. Zell adopted her cat, Timber, five years ago and calls her "the queen of the household."
"We built a special bench behind the couch so she has somewhere to sit while looking out the window, and she doesn't need cat beds because she prefers sleeping on our bed and the dining table," Zell says.
Zell currently keeps her studio in the backyard, creating a separate space for her artwork and process. Her wall sculptures explore the curves of the materials she dyes and spins herself. The final look of the piece might differ from her original idea, but Zell appreciates this organic process. She lets the materials take the lead.
"I don't like to force materials to do something they don't want to, so it's useless to stick to a sketch too closely," Zell says. "A lot changes during the process, and individual pieces end up serving as studies on gesture, curves, drape, and weight."
She also collaborates with ceramicist Alyson Iwamoto to complete some of the pieces with specially-designed porcelain and stoneware elements. Porcelain arches, for example, help support the weight of each piece or the way the rope falls.
And if you immediately feel like reaching out and touching each piece, Zell totally understands. In order to experience the full materiality of each piece, she often encourages people to go up to the pieces and brush them.
"There's usually a prohibition against touch in museums to preserve the artwork, but my pieces are so focused on exploring material and texture, that I'd like for people to experience them with all the senses," Zell says.
As her process evolves, Zell hopes to incorporate even more mediums into her pieces. She constantly searches for new techniques to learn as well. In her artistic practice, Zell encourages us to think about how what we put on our walls can truly change the energy of a space.