The Designer behind our Place and Space Rug shares the collective vision: one centered around community, culture, and shared identity.
Rrres estudio fuses the natural beauty of old world craft with the ingenuity of modern design. The mind behind rrres is graphic designer Javier Reyes, whose Dominican roots can be pointed toward for the Oaxaca-based studio’s Latin American sensibilities. With an emphasis on indigenous artisanal practices, the studio’s wool, cotton, clay, and palm leaf offerings tell a story of its cultural origins alongside its unique design elements.
As you explore the studio’s dynamic and colorful website, you will stumble upon the boldly simple declaration: “rrres means nothing.” The project’s ambiguous name suggests no mystery at all, noting that the inspiration behind Reyes’ works is in the sum of all parts, in the collective that creates it. The studio encompasses the vast lands it hails from, the heritage of people it represents, and the generations of craftsmanship that is a pillar of rrres’ works.
"A lot of the work at the beginning especially was related to the impressions I had living with the artisans, working together with them. You completely disconnect from your own; no matter where you come from, we’re not used to this kind of background. It’s very special and very beautiful."
Among the most inspired and signature pieces are rrres’ handmade, 100% wool rugs — the work that initially inspired Elysian Collective’s intrigue. The Place & Space Area Rug, custom made for Elysian by local artisans in Oaxaca, is a tapestry of the culture it originates from: boldly designed, energetically spirited, and abundantly inspiring. The piece is dyed with natural resources local to the area, including indigo, flowers, and tree bark — all of which create the vivid colors mixed and matched together.
In an illuminating Q&A, we spoke to Javier Reyes to gain more insight on and hear the story behind the artist's creative process, environmental inspiration, and community connections.
EC: What does your work say about you? Are there any specific works that best express who you are as an artist?
JR: It’s the overall project. The idea is to work with artisans directly, the system we have, it’s the bare minimum of four people in the studio so we try to do everything as personal as possible. The kind of production we want to pursue gives us the opportunity to distribute more money equally to everyone. We’re not working on a ways of, let's just produce this year 10,000 pieces of this, and a couple more here and there, and sell it as much as possible. Nothing wrong with that, nowadays that is the way most people work. You can’t work with a factory and be like, I'm ordering ten.
In the case when I came here, I saw the possibility to work with artisans directly in a more organic way that translates to: you order one piece. The project itself speaks the best of who I am in that way, with trying to be honest with everyone; not only artisans, but the people I’m selling these pieces with. I want to be transparent with what is the cost of this piece, what you’re supporting, what this means. The idea inn the future is to develop more programs or things that return to the community, because I believe that money is not the way of paying back or contributing. It’s one step in paying each artist fairly and working ethically with everyone, it’s a big step in the world we live in nowadays. The question is what can I return to the community that’s not in the form of [payment]? It’s an interchange…the idea is to move more toward leaving something behind in the places that we work that leave some kind of an impact. How can we return some of the things that have been given to us?
EC: Where in your outside environment do you pull inspiration from? What do you want to communicate about Oaxaca and your connection to it through your work?
JR: My interest in the past six years has to do a lot with Latin America…I come from the Dominican Republic so we have a particular history that normally not everyone Latin America experiences. Just thinking about myself, I didn’t see the full depth of things so when I went to Europe and lived there, it was interesting to see that side of the mix we have in Latin American. When I came to Mexico and I started working with people who have roots with their indigenous heritage, these two worlds collided. It made sense to work toward understanding more of the history and culture that we are right now, that is this mix of crazy and incredible things. What inspires me in what I work on is seeing the similarities between Mexico and Dominican Republic and other places in Latin America, and seeing similarities in the ways that we have and in this need of creating and making things colorful, the combination of colors, and the risk.
Going around the theme of knowing history and culture in relation to Latin America, a lot of pieces have to do with things I learned here from the beliefs and the people here have a very strong culture. They keep their traditions alive. Latin America is a mix of things; a melting pot of different cultures mixing together, and creating a new one. In this case, it’s being preserved, especially in Oaxaca. It is very special for that. A lot of the work at the beginning especially was related to the impressions I had living with the artisans, working together with them. You completely disconnect from your own; no matter where you come from, we’re not used to this kind of background. It’s very special and very beautiful. Without romanticizing their culture, I was able to see the relationship they have with death, the dedication they have with the altars they keep in their houses to honor or remember people in their family from the past. A lot of the series at the beginning had to do with the life that they had…Being as an observer and trying to portray that in some of the series.
There was a lot of inspiration from architecture, especially in Mexico City. It’s a city that was very impressive to me, and maybe I feel attracted to that architecture. You can never figure out what’s going on. We don’t have rules for anything and that applies to the way we build our cities, build our society. It can be very frustrating but it can be very beautiful at the same time.
Mexico City was the trigger for all the shapes and all the solutions; it is very geometrical. When I see this, I always go back to Dominican Republic and where I grew up, and seeing patterns I recognize. So a lot of inspiration was coming directly from a general idea of architecture.
The Land series, which is the last one, was very special. It takes elements from this architecture and there is a lot of subtle language with the shape that looks like an eye or one that is rounded, it could be [an image of] corn or the eye. It has connotations that relate to the architecture but also mixing it together with the beliefs and the people I work with.
When I am working on pieces for rrrres, the idea is to [not just] focus on Oaxaca, but what I wanted to say, which is the statement I have on the website, is “made in Latin America.” That’s more important than just showing the product itself, making the statement that this is Latin America as my point of view in one detail that is in design, art, or expression. My intention is just to show the pure side. I feel like in design, the perception of art that we have is the conception in Europe that it’s just about the aesthetics we should apply. I’m trying to make it...what is Latin America? What is it for me? That is an intention, trying to just portray a little piece of an essence of what I feel is our culture.
EC: What drove you to collaborate with your local community and feature their creativity and handiwork in your studio?
JR: I moved to Oaxaca to have this direct contact [with the community]. Six years ago when I started, I was not able to live here and it was a very different process. When you come here, it’s special and it’s really beautiful, but when you start living here there’s a sense of responsibility not to be confused with “oh, I’m going to save these people,” [because] that’s not the approach. You feel that you’re giving some knowledge or access to information, and feel the need of: How can I share this? How can I contribute to this place?
The place has something that resonates with people. In my case, it expanded or opened my eyes to the culture and it was a way for me to understand and the work started flowing. I always think I’m in Oaxaca for that…giving me this possibility. I wanted to be as honest as possible in the process, concepts, production, who we work with, and what we leave behind.
EC: Is there any part of your process that you think people should know?
JR: The process is very spontaneous. It’s not premeditated sometimes; I just have images that start [to come], and then I start to recognize why I do certain shapes. What has helped a lot in the last years is focusing on the context I’m living in. Trying to be away from references and a lot of ideas; a lot of people get stuck sometimes and looking at books, Pinterest, social media, looking for these kinds of answers. It’s a great relief and it works very well when you also detox from that and focus on wherever you are. I would like to be resonating with the place I am and finding a relationship between how I feel in the place and where I come from, and where I am at the moment. My work resonates with the place and what is happening in that moment. It’s a constant collaboration.
EC: Are you and your team working on new collections? What’s the focus right now?
JR: I’ve been working on furniture, even creating lamps mixed with clay. We’re working on textiles that are made of cotton that are not similar to rugs, [more like] wall hangings. The last series, Land, has been doing very well and I want to make the right decision. I’ve been working on different series — there’s a lot of new things that aren’t necessarily rugs that are coming out; furniture, textiles, ceramic pieces, and adding more palm sculptures.