Julia Kennedy - Oasis
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Rhea T - Bittersweet - Saatchi
Art Director and storyteller Rhea Thierstein
Set designer and art director Rhea Thierstein is a storyteller and weaver of magical escapes. Have you ever flipped through a magazine and seen fantastical sets of photographer Tim Walker, or passed the windows of Hermes and Selfridges to see beautiful, out of this world creations adorning these giant fine-art shadow boxes and wondered who put that together? The creative mind behind such whimsical concoctions is Rhea Thierstein. Painstakingly detailed giant paper mâché wasps and butterfly sculptures, a pirate ship made of ice sitting and cascades of flower arrangements fit for the fairy courts of a Midsummer Night’s dream? All created in Rhea’s North London Studio. And her clientele is testament to her success as the one the fashion industry turns to in order to execute their famed editorials and advertisements. Apart from forming part of Tim Walker’s dream team, Rhea has worked on projects with Vogue, Vanity Fair, W, Vogue Italia, AnOther, British Vogue, Wallpaper, Love, Dazed & Confused, Mulberry, Uniqlo, Claridges and Seldriges. And what is so alluring about her personal brand of creativity? It pulls us right back into the fantasy of childhood and then adds an haute couture flair of extravagance. It only makes us wonder what other magic does Rhea’s imagination have in store?
“Being asked by Tim Walker to create and make hats for Monty Python for Vanity Fair – that was the first moment when I had an overwhelming feeling that I could really do it.”–Rhea Thierstein
ABOUT RHEA THIERSTEIN
CM: You create in so many different creative domains, what do you call/define your area of work? your title?
I straddle a lot of very different practices – fashion photography, art, site-specific installations, costume and moving image. It’s exciting to respond to new environments and working in different ways. I wouldn’t call myself a set designer, I see myself more as a creative or an artist.
CM: When did you know you wanted to pursue this as a career?
It was when I first came across Shona Heath’s work. I was impressed with the diversity and the playfulness that came across in her work. It was at the time when the digital age monopolized the creative industry and I found it liberating to see a ‘craft’ profession still existing and striving.
CM: Where did you study?
I studied science and art at college in the New Forest and photography in Bournemouth.
CM: What do you consider your first career-defining success?
There are a few. The first was being asked by Tim Walker to create and make hats for Monty Python for Vanity Fair – that was the first moment when I had an overwhelming feeling that I could really do it. The second was my Selfridges window for Bright Young Things. It was a real showcase for me and my work and gave access to a very varied audience.
CM: What is the depth of your involvement in the production process when collaborating with a client? Do you propose the idea? execute and make various props for shoots with your own hands?
Every project is very different and my intial involvement also varies a lot. There are a lot of different processes involved at every stage. Sometimes the client wants me to come up with a concept or they would like me to develop an idea and sometimes clients have a very clear brief, and I just take on the physicallity of creating it. I use set builders for larger projects and a small army of assistants to create the more hand made elements. I try and make as much as I can myself.
CM: You work in so many different creative areas- from set and costume designer, art, and direction- which creative world do you love to work in the most?
I love experimenting with materials and using my hands – so anything sculptural or painting. I also enjoy researching and developing ideas. I really like the variety I have with of all of my projects.
CM: How do you prepare for your projects, does it begin with sketch?
A lot of the time it’s reference images to define a mood or a feel for the project. Mood boards are very important and communication and response from the client is always key – if there’s a client involved. I’ll then start experimenting, do mockups or make a small version to create a visual. It’s always easier to have something in front of you than to pre-empt the elements or visual ideas.
“I love the mechanics of insects, flowers and anything natural.”–Rhea Thierstein
CM: What is the common thread in your work? Your signature style?
Anything to do with nature if possible – I love the mechanics of insects, flowers and anything natural. Colours and textures are also important to me in my work. It depends on the project really, but I am always very aware of putting my creative voice in to the piece or design I’m creating.
CM: Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. I love to travel, spend time in rainforests, visit behind the scenes at the NHM, exhibitions, teaching, books, the internet….
CM: What artists inspire you?
I love Kate McGuire’s work, Tessa Farmer and the BP painting awards are always very inspiring, I really enjoy seeing current exhibitions to spark new ideas and processes, or revisit a technique I’d forgotten about.
CM: Your dream collaboration?
I’d like to do more personal projects to be perfectly honest – I love collaborating, but am really starting to develop ideas and would like to explore my own work at the moment.
CM: What are you working on now? Next?
I’m currently working on an advertising job and then designing and creating a section of a very exciting immersive event, which is due to go live in May. There’s also a small piece I created for an exhibition at Somerset House, which will be auctioned off for charity in May. What’s next? I’d like to do more personal work, maybe have an exhibition. You never know what’s around the corner – that’s what I love and hate about this profession! I’m also currently a creative practitioner at UAL, on their performance degrees, which is so lovely to be able to support the next generation. It’s really inspiring working with students and seeing the diverse subjects and interests they have.
Photography © Copyright 2015: Rhea Thierstein – Andrew Meredith – Julia Kennedy