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Meet An Artist Going Against The Grain

Wood artist Aleksandra Zee carves a name for herself with a new book and one-of-a-kind furniture and sculpture

Oakland–based woodworker Aleksandra Zee isn’t intimidated by turning heads when she walks through a lumberyard. “I feel like I’ve gone through such a journey as a female and I don’t have anything to prove, so it takes the pressure off,” says the former Anthropologie display artist, who once constructed elaborate designs such as paper dresses. “It’s about keeping doing and being confident in your own skill.”

Zee—who ventured out on her own eight years ago with made-to-order intricate wood panels and private commissions awash in beiges, caramels and coffee tones—has recently penned her first book, The Way of the Woodshop, a DIY guide for budding woodworkers, and debuted Float, a furniture collection replete with linear tables, cubes and lighting. We sat down with the Orange County native (who just launched a line of functional sculptures incorporating hardwood and concrete) to talk about everything from her foray into furniture to her take on the San Francisco design scene.

Wood panels and cubes

Why wood?

Woodworking takes patience; building, refining and finishing all take time and detailed attention. It’s an imperfect material with cracks, knots and irregularities. As an imperfect being, I find that by working with wood and all its inconsistencies, I can also tackle my own.

Why expand from art to furniture?

My new work is an extension of the work I have been creating for the past 10 years. I wanted to interact with the space itself instead of being limited to the wall. My goal with my new sculptural work is to play with form, function and space. Almost like a run-on sentence, from the wall to the room, from non-interaction to function. My Float pieces can be used as tables, benches, seats, and can also stand alone in a room as sculpture, stacked on one another or all alone. I want them to be able to live anywhere.

Whitewashed furniture and accessories

How has design in San Francisco influenced you?

It definitely reflects the California lifestyle: functional pieces, monochromatic colors and a focus on handmade. Being born and raised in California, I feel like my work fits within that aesthetic. When making my sculptural pieces I wanted to evoke a sense of calm, a moment to pause, pieces that enhance a space but don’t demand all of the attention.

Name two art inspirations.

Constantin Brancusi. His use of repetitive shapes, occupying a space with minimal shapes and the play with negative space and minimalism in his work is stunning. And Georgia O’Keeffe. Her watercolors are my personal favorites. What inspires me most about her is the love she felt for the desert, her home, and how she was drawn to the simple things in life.