George Venson, founder of Voutsa (pronounced |voot|– sä), a design company specializing in wallpaper, is currently making waves with his daring colorful designs, featuring an array of patterns ranging from beautiful inspirations such as flowers, to unexpected animals such as chickens, to body parts such as lips – and yes, even nipples.
Venson’s personality offers a mix of deadpan irony, and cavalier charm, both resting beneath hair as defiant as David Lynch or a young Michael Musto. He confidently described the process of his work as being split between the design portion, “which is easier if you have to spend all day in a studio for four days and get a pattern done, you can” and the second, lengthier process, of “turning that pattern into a consumer good.”
Voutsa’s watercolored themes are all hand painted before being placed in contrast with adventurous colors. He explained, “The real target for me are people that want to explore new bold options – like, if you want to paint your wall pink maybe you should wallpaper it pink– but with fish on it.”
In today’s market, Venson has found that “wallpaper is doing really well.” Voutsa’s recent prominent collaboration in Storefront’s Letter to the Mayor, (where its designs were featured on Steven Holl and Vito Acconci‘s transformable walls), in Sight Unseen Offsite (where Architectural Digest listed his design as one of the Top 6 Can’t-Miss Items) , as well as its inclusion in various showrooms nationwide, demonstrate this niche’s relevancy and this overall brand’s growing impact. Yet, it is the audacity of his designs that elevate wallpaper’s possibilities, “when people say it’s so back, I don’t think it necessarily really applies to my work, because my wallpaper is more an art installation method of decorating.”
The conversation shifted from his past work unexpectedly when he exclaimed, “We need to talk about my clothes!” Voutsa’s trademarked tagline “The Walls are Alive” has taken a surprisingly literal turn. “I have always envisioned my designs on the body,” he said. This Summer, he is debuting his latest endeavor: men’s dress shirts, body wraps and pocket squares in collaboration with Paul Marlow. Although he was quick to differentiate, “It’s not fashion. I am not designing fashion.”
Originating from San Antonio, Texas, Venson’s upbringing was “totally suburban everything.” In high school he immersed himself competitively in tennis and by the end “I was among some of the top kids in the country.” He would “go to these tournaments, and there were all these really serious tennis players – who lived in tennis academies. But, I was just there, my dad was taking off work, taking pictures, or we’d be celebrating by eating at the CheeseCake factory.” However, while attending Rice University, his sports career faded, “I kinda closed that chapter. The passion changed. People don’t understand that. Passions change.”
His economic major led him to a soul crushing summer internship. He made an abrupt turn and completely remapped his college career, diving ferociously into an arts degree, “because I literally could not go one minute further,” in economics. As an art student, he discovered there was joy in “being recognized as a thinker and a whole person.” He found his thinking diverging from his former mainstream education, “There was this whole grasping and hunger for an alternative way of thinking.…It was as vital to me to help try to shift people’s thinking.”
“I am really indebted to the Residency Program, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. It brings in all these great artists who are also required to teach at Rice. So I was encountering all these great people who live in New York and LA.” The combination of Rice’s Art Department, “stunning architecture” and the fact that it was “non-competitive” empowered Venson to experiment boldly, in a variety of mediums from painting to writing a fully produced student film.
Upon graduating, the university awarded him a scholarship which enabled Venson to travel the world and leave his home state. “My only complaint” about Texas is that “- It’s not connected to this big world. It wasn’t necessarily just a gay thing, it was across the board, with all issues, and I could not handle that.” He found New York City to be, “Incredible. There is a really complex dialogue happening everywhere, in all corners, in Storefront…in wallpaper, in painting. It’s happening in performance, in clubs, in Bushwick – for instance you even have the atrocious James Franco bullshit going on” and the subsequent “dialogue that followed it.”
At the beginning of Voutsa, “I was encouraged to make beautiful lush wall papers..they were abstract. I started to sell some to bigger companies” which evolved into, “why don’t I just make my own patterns, have commercial success, and then fund my life?” However, “that transition took from age 22 to 29, so it’s been at least six years.”
For those six years Venson “worked for a lot of different types of people,” which he said “was vital.” This time “working a lot of jobs” was “not a waste whatsoever because… I still draw on a lot of qualities I picked up along the way. Even if I worked something and I hated it, maybe it taught me to run a studio, or make calls, or organize my art collection.”
Voutsa’s splash, “happened really quickly.” The location moved from South Williamsburg, to a huge loft in Union Square, as noted in New York Mag, and is now finally headquartered in Chinatown. That first year operating out of Union Square was when “everything came together.” He nostalgically recalled how, “I made all my wallpaper. I built my website. I had my first shows. I had my first press. I had my first visits with decorators.” He sites that “the location [Union Square] and the size [of the studio] had a lot to do with it.” Even though, “I literally had no furniture,” except, “a mattress on the floor.” Speaking almost with disbelief, “I had all this space, at the right time – the universe came together for the first time ever. Since then, I let it move itself in its own way.”
Voutsa is now fully situated into its new home and is better poised to continue its ascent. With a new summer line of patterns, its clothing series, growing representation in showrooms nationwide – or simple joys such as Lena Dunham ‘liking’ a design on Instagram – the future of Voutsa is limitless and like George Venson, full of the unexpected.
Before we both parted, he paused and spoke with the same fiery tenacity that took him from Economics to Art, from Texas to New York City, from artist assistant to Company Owner: “After six years, I am finally making my own life – that’s what you should put in your article. I am finally making my own life.”