If memory serves me correctly, I met Tracey Reinberg about six years ago in an Echo Park café where I was studying Italian for an upcoming trip to Europe; the wiry brunette with blue-green eyes had noticed the pocket dictionary in my hands and addressed me with the kind of vocabulary that meant years more experience than my recent six-week crash course had given me. The exact content of her Italian address was delivered too quickly for my head to fully comprehend, but her easy demeanor and warm smile invited further conversation, so we chatted about where I would find excellent pizza in Rome, her favorite theater, and what café I should not miss. She showed herself to be a witty wordsmith (in both Italian and English) with a taste for zippy compact sportsters and old chairs hung high above dining room tables. I was kept on my toes. Impressed. From that moment on, we were friends.
This spark has made the award-winning surface and textile designer a valuable commodity in the industry for over 14 years. It is found in her creations for Maharam, Knoll, HBF and in her metallic light-shifting vinyl wall coverings for Koroseal. Much of her surfaces instantly grab your attention, their energetic, well-ordered systems giving you enough of a puzzle and a wink to keep your mind occupied.
These designs may well be representations of an inexhaustible energy, it seems. They are products of her constant search for new design challenges and innovative application. The challenges of her craft often entail a respectable amount of decision making: where should fibers intersect? In what direction should lines run? How will these graphic elements translate to weaves, and how will they affect the overall character?
“There’s an incredible human effort in creating industrial textiles,” she says. “If you think about it, every [manufactured] surface was designed. Someone had to think about car upholstery, carpet, leather, jacquard mohair. They had to think about how the nap would lay, how the fibers would feel to the hand and look in different light. In my work, often the challenge is to make plastic not look like plastic.”
Reinberg hasn’t always worked as a pattern problem solver, however; when she was in her early twenties, she planned on a career in photography. After first enrolling in photo (and Italian) courses at the University of Texas at Austin, she found an opportunity to study a year abroad at the Instituto Europeo di Design in Rome, adding furniture and interior architecture coursework to her schedule. A move to New York in 1992 led to a short stint shooting book covers for various publishers and exhibiting her work at galleries. Here we see the layering, reflection and repetition in her compositions that have now become a signature in her textiles. The interest in design stuck with her through it all. With it came a restlessness that could only be satisfied by exploring other applied arts, and less familiar surroundings.
In the past three years, Reinberg has lived in L.A., Toulouse, and Seattle, and spent some time in Morocco to meet with ceramic craftsmen for her current venture, Kismet Tile. Supervising the execution of her designs is of utmost importance to her and always will be. Still, her home country keeps calling her back, the place “where there is this tremendous freedom to be anything you want to be.”
“There’s something liberating…here, that I didn’t expect, that you don’t find in other countries,” she explains. “In France, people did not believe me when I told them that much of my training in design was self-taught. We are a very unpretentious people here in the U.S. It’s something that has shifted my restlessness.”
This “restlessness” seems to be more a product of her energy than the aimlessness it suggests, and has been helpful in pushing her to do the unexpected. Throughout her tile work, one recognizes hidden systems and infinite possibilities. As a result, Reinberg’s designs remain fresh while still paying respect to the basic principles of art. There are, of course, historical antecedents; her tiles are not unlike Moroccan zillij or Josef Hoffman’s Wiener Werkstätte textiles, early Russian Constructivist prints or a Verner Panton dream sketched on a hundred party napkins. Movement is achieved by daring use of color and the spatial relationship between individual tiles. A mathematical beauty runs through the various configurations she discovers, especially when patterns are reflected repeatedly.
Reinberg prefers the title “surface and textile designer” over “textile designer,” reminding me that she already has her crosshairs set on new applications beyond fabric. Though most of her time is spent flitting from computer to client, her head is busy with future projects: pool tile, glass, architectural elements, and furniture, to name a few. If her non-linear trajectory is an indication of where she’ll end up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Tracey Reinberg modular yurt someday, its tiled metallic panels reflecting beams of light across a grassy yellow field.
Images Courtesy Tracey Reinberg