Portland Textile Artist Kayla Mattes


There’s something irresistible about the work of artist Kayla Mattes. Her bright, large-scale tapestries combine a folky, fuzzy 70s vibe with digital culture visuals — in particular, the user interfaces of the not-too-distant, yet already quaint-seeming past. “I’ve always been really interested in the naïvete of the old Internet,” she says. “How people were, for the first time, becoming familiar with actually using the Internet and building websites and doing it in this way that was very free — like people were okay with using bright pink text against purple backgrounds. Back then the web was so unleashed.” Things have gotten more sophisticated but also more staid, at least in terms of what’s considered smart design. Mattes’ tapestries are a kind of antidote to that, and to the disconnection and depersonalization that spending hours online can sometimes leave you feeling. Her work is plugged in to all the technology we take for granted but she recontextualizes it, slows it down, and the effect is immersive, dizzying, a little chaotic, and oddly comforting.

After graduating from RISD in 2011, with a BFA in textiles and the technical expertise gained from that program, Mattes was initially drawn towards design. She started a jewelry line and considered knitwear, but has since moved in a more conceptual direction. For the past year, she’s primarily been focused on making tapestries in her home studio in Portland, Oregon, where she landed a couple of years ago after a short stint in LA. “It’s a small city but I’m never bored here. And it’s such a beautiful place.“ She’s been able to work mostly full-time on her art while teaching some textile and weaving workshops at the WildCraft Studio School, an arts center in the stunningly scenic Columbia River Gorge.

The contrast between the natural beauty of her surroundings and her creative fixation on screen life has been a productive one. So has working in a medium that is both an ancient craft, and, with the invention of mechanical looms, a precursor to computing. “Part of the reason I use weaving for this subject matter is I definitely see parallels between digital references and the loom. There’s this mathematical process to weaving and there’s a grid that creates some limitations that in a lot of ways parallel the references I’m using.”

While Mattes is “excited about making the tapestries the main part” of her practice, she’d like to “be working more in other realms” too — including sculpture and installations. We’re eager to see where her process takes her, but also very happy to get a closer look at where she’s at now.