A conversation with Asa Henzel

JUERGEN TELLER, Vivienne Westwood, 2009 and TOM OF FINLAND, Untitled, 1982. Installation view, Austere, Los Angeles.

Interview  Richard Catty

Pictures   Courtesy of Henzel Studio

Back in 1999, Calle Henzel set up his first factory in Sweden as a means to transpose his background in fine art into woven works. By blending new materials and techniques with traditional craftsmanship from Nepal and India, Calle set the foundations for what is today one of the world’s most progressive luxury art rug brands. Calle is known not only for testing the boundaries of creative expression via his own collection, but for pushing established and aspiring artists to expand beyond their usual scope of materials, methods and artistic mediums through collaborations with one of Henzel Group’s four distinct studios. Each studio operates independently of itself whilst sharing a united artistic vision, resulting in an ecosystem of mutually beneficial inputs and outputs. Connecting renowned artists such as Richard Prince, Nan Goldin and Carsten Höller with Calle’s expertise, Henzel Studio Collaborations welcomes the free transmission of artistic style and ethos into rug designs, allowing artists to realise unique concepts in precise detail that can be embraced as a part of their overall body of work. Similarly, Henzel’s A/C.H Program, established in 2020, allows internationally recognised and top emerging contemporary artists to experiment with a new medium within an internationally recognised and prestigious design house. For larger scale commissioned art rugs, there is Henzel A&D, an ambitious arm of the family run business that works with leading interior designers and architects to create stunning customised and often large scale integrated rug designs for public and private spaces. From whichever of the autonomous creative branches they are derived, Henzel art rugs are always “designed through the lens of an artist”, permitting collaborators to fully communicate their ideas creatively and commercially. Currently exploring digital means of communication is the last of the departments within the Henzel family - Frozen Palms Gallery. The LA and Bastad based showrooms have recently launched an online exhibition to allow art fans to bypass the pandemic and immerse themselves in a Marilyn Monroe themed collection of handmade rugs. The original illustrations of Monroe that inspired much of the exhibition were discovered in the octagonal pages of an obscure Andy Warhol marquette in 1994. As well as this online interactive feature titled The Marilyn Maquette, Frozen Palms Gallery is in the midst of planning physical exhibitions of art and design by emerging and established artists in the fields of sculpture, drawing, textile, collage, photography, installations, reliefs and video art, all of which have the potential to influence the artistic direction of Henzel. The Travel Almanac caught up with family member Asa Henzel to delve deeper into the inspirations, philosophy and ambitions that define the Henzel Studio group.


Rugs traditionally offer a degree of comfort and warmth to a room. How has Henzel expanded on the classic concept of a rug?

We continuously push the possibilities of rugs as pertains to their function, aesthetic role and artistic traits and values, especially through artist collaboration. The program constantly prompts us to delve into new opportunities and challenge ourselves creatively. The discussion and ambiguity surrounding whether our rugs should be hung on a wall or laid on the floor is testament to our approach.

In which ways does Henzel Studio embrace or reject Swedish design principles? 

We don’t start our creative process with design principles in mind. Rather, Henzel Studio was established as an extension of Calle Henzel’s artistic experimentation with textiles as an alternative media. With that equation in mind, our values and inspirations are much more founded in art. We are, however, very informed by the rich history of textiles and weaving that originates from western Sweden, where we are based.  

Henzel Studio Collaborations has worked with notable artists such as Richard Prince and Nan Goldin and estates that include The Andy Warhol Foundation. What sparked Calle’s desire to collaborate and what does he look for in a collaborator?

We have always wanted to collaborate with external creative forces. In 2012, curator Joakim Andreasson approached us to establish such a program with an emphasis on contemporary artists. We have since collaborated on rugs with artists that also include Anselm Reyle, Mickalene Thomas, Wilhelm Sasnal, Marilyn Minter, Linder and Carsten Höller among several others. Our general criteria for selecting collaborators are stature, independent voice and an openness to cross-disciplinary practice. Unconsciously and consciously, each artist ends up synergizing with the next. The result is a curation that, when combined, offers a diverse, aesthetically broad and authentic grouping that has taken shape organically over the past ten years. We will soon be releasing rugs by Kim Gordon. Vanessa Beecroft, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Tim Noble & Sue Webster and Katerina Jebb, among others.

RICHARD PRINCE, 1-234-567-8910, 2013. Installation view, Colette, Paris.  

How does the A/C.H. studio support the development of emerging artists?

With A/C.H. we are very adamant about working with emerging artists. We provide a channel for their work to be viewed and acquired through an alternate media, and an audience that they would otherwise not necessarily reach.

Can you tell us about a particularly challenging project undertaken by the Henzel A&D group?

We do consider challenges as a positive, as it allows us to develop techniques that can only really be acquired through trial, error and perseverance. The examples are countless, but one recent project is a massive rug we developed with assume vivid astro focus for a commission in China via Kooku Gallery in Basel. It is a variation of avaf’s initial rug we collaborated on back in 2013. That was already a very complex piece to develop due to the multi-geometric composition. This time round, the rug was significantly larger and adapted for wall-space. However, we couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. The rug is a masterpiece and testament to art and design informing one another.

Henzel art rugs have a special way of holding one’s gaze, yet they normally occupy floor space rather than being visible at eye level like many other artforms. How does this affect the subject’s state of mind?

A viewer’s natural gaze is naturally trained to anchor on elements other than rugs, but I think visually engaging with materials that are comforting to the eye can certainly soften a person’s mental state . Likewise, objects with undefined traits and functions, which don’t possess a specific call to action such as “sit”, “work” or “organize”, encourage a sense of tranquility.

TOM OF FINLAND, Untitled, 1978, OLAF BREUNING, Black and white people pattern, 2017. Installation view, Joyce, Hong Kong.

The art rugs of Henzel Studio have taken much inspiration from modern, contemporary and fine art, continually pushing the boundaries of what a rug can be. Do you see the relationship going full circle and Henzel rugs influencing artforms from which they originally took inspiration?

We have heard testaments of our rugs influencing artists and designers, especially in the rug industry. There was an instance where a very well known fashion company seemingly adapted our Richard Prince rug as a lead woven artwork for their FW 2015 collection. In relation to whether Henzel affects artforms from which it originally took inspiration, rather than there being a direct synergy, I think we have opened the door for artists to pay closer attention to traditional crafts and explore new natural and sustainable media. Thus, demonstrating that “new” doesn’t necessarily mean high-tech or synthetic.

Calle is known for experimenting with different finishes, often drawing from painstaking research into alternative techniques. Can you give any insights into the use of natural erosion and how that translates into the organic aesthetic of much of his work?

Calle’s visual language is very much informed by Swedish nature, and the drastic effects that four very distinct seasons have on the environment. For countless years, Calle has left rugs outside in harsh conditions for long periods of time, not only to witness the end-result, but take note of the progressive effect of nature over time.  

Henzel has studios in Sweden, Italy and the US. How do these different locations influence Henzel’s creative direction?

Geography, just as nature, influences Calle’s work tremendously. For example, Calle created one of his latest collections exclusively in a workshop in Isola, Milan. For inspiration, we often visit Sicily where our Italian counterparts operate. For us, Los Angeles is of utmost importance, not only as a 360° perspective on our Swedish habitat, but also to further root our artistic program through extensive planning with our curator Joakim Andreasson. Los Angeles is the location of our gallery, Twentieth, where future exhibitions are in the pipeline.

CALLE HENZEL, Kastrup (Closed on Sunday Edit), 2019 (in-situ).

The Marilyn Maquette virtual exhibition is an innovative way of granting access to art during the ensuing pandemic, demonstrating the growing importance of technology as a solution to physical restrictions. Do you see longer term applications of VR, or changes to the way people view art in general?

Yes, and I think there are the obvious positives such as reach and visual control. However, I do think it will lead to the art world speeding up even more than anyone has ever anticipated. It seemed like galleries had reached a saturation point with art fairs, but once the pandemic passes, they will also need to create shows to meet the demand for online cycles, which are even speedier. From our end, we are working with a media that has not changed much over the past few centuries. Thankfully, that means we must adhere to the need for time and patience. There are no shortcuts when creating a handmade rug.

Installation view Frozen Palms Gallery Los Angeles / Bastad:
ANDY WARHOL Marilyn’s Lips, 1962
Acrylic, silkscreen ink and pencil on linen.
ANDY WARHOL Marilyn Maquette, c.1967
Marilyn Maquette #104, 2015, Design by Calle Henzel.
ANDY WARHOL Marilyn Maquette, c.1967
Marilyn Maquette #103, 2015, Design by Calle Henzel.
Akkajaur Night, 2015, Design by Calle Henzel.
© /® /™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Marilyn Monroe™; Rights of Publicity and Persona Rights: The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC.

ANDY WARHOL, Marilyn, 1967. Tarfala Permafrost Night Edit, 2015. Design by Calle Henzel.
© /® /™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.Marilyn Monroe™; Rights of Publicity and Persona Rights: The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC.

The time capsule left by Andy Warhol, where the maquette was found, was an intriguing way of posthumously prolonging discovery of his artistic output. Has this inspired Calle to experiment with archiving, so that his work might one day encounter a renaissance?

I think this digital age is very different from Andy’s day, and ultimately we are all gathering comparable time capsules that exist in clouds. At Henzel, we don’t have the need for an overwhelming physical archive, but we are adamant about documenting our creative processes. We are learning a great deal in this regard throughout the making of our upcoming book. We are also working closely with galleries and museums to secure representation of our art rugs in collections around the world. All that said, Calle is extremely intrigued and interested in the archiving of other artists prior to the digital age and, in addition to Warhol, he sees Kurt Schwitters as a pioneer of embracing artifacts as part of an overall oeuvre.RC

Click here for more information about Henzel Studio.

Continue shopping
Your Order

You have no items in your cart