Dyeing and distressing flokatis, Anna Betbeze transforms the traditional rugs into captivatingly offbeat works of art.
A staple in Greek homes for centuries, flokati rugs became an icon of 1960s and ’70s style after haute hippies began adopting them for their interiors. Today a particularly rarefied breed of these fluffy wool floor coverings is finding its way into residences of the international beau monde thanks to artist Anna Betbeze, who has embraced flokatis as her canvas of choice.
To create her critically acclaimed works, the New York talent burns, bleaches, and even buries the rugs, then coats and embeds their fibers with vibrant pigments. The results—mesmerizing tapestries that blur the line between painting and sculpture—earned her a solo show at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012 and the American Academy’s prestigious Rome Prize for visual arts the next year. Her latest pieces are currently on view at Luxembourg & Dayan’s London gallery through April 2.
Betbeze (pronounced bet-bees) began experimenting with household objects as a graduate student at Yale, where she would paint on Eames chairs or mold mounds of industrial carpeting into topographical sculptures. After moving to New York in 2006, she continued to explore those impulses, eventually turning her eye to an enormous flokati in her own apartment. “I spent hundreds of dollars on Manic Panic dyes,” recalls Betbeze, who used the punk hair products to apply vivid hues to the rug’s shaggy fibers.
The artist now employs more efficient industrial-strength dyes, and she sources unique handwoven carpets from private homes in Macedonia. Recently, plaster and gesso treatments have been creeping into her practice—producing more rigidly sculptural surfaces—as has a focus on blending hundreds of colors to achieve subtly graduated tableaux reminiscent of Ad Reinhardt’s “ultimate” paintings.
“I’ve been thinking about work that is difficult to photograph,” Betbeze says. “These pieces have to develop in the eye. It’s about slowing people down.” Her new creations certainly stop people in their tracks. “You can smell the burnt fiber and imagine slipping your hands through the holes,” she says. “People always tell me, ‘I want to roll around on them!’”