The New York-based couple spent some time in Madrid to take part in the Brief festival, a four day event with conferences and meetings with international guests from editorial and graphic design fields; this year it celebrated its 6th edition.
You probably already know that Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree met on an online chat for lonely hearts and as both creatives, one of the first things they made together was a project called Complements as an attempt to reflect on their working and personal relationship. You also probably know that the first picture they took together was sucking on a banana and that now they live and work together in branding, art direction and photography. What a banana can do!
We spent a while with Leta and Wade talking about perfectionism–sort of–, and marriage, with all those little imperfections coming from that. So, read on and find out what you still don’t know about them.
What’s the latest place you’ve visited?
WADE + LETA: Madrid!
First time in Madrid?
L: Uhm, second time for me and first time for Wade. I came here probably 6 years ago just for a daytrip from Barcelona, I saw the Prado and I think I saw maybe the Royal Palace, but I had not been back since then.
In a way, is this city and this experience already settled inside? Is it part of you, waiting to come out for future works? ?
L: I think that what we like to take away from the places that we travel to is architecture, the way that people use spaces, the construction of spaces—that’s something that ends up sort of subconsciously influencing the way that we’ll work in the future. Same goes with colors and palettes from different cities, different buildings and places, those are always like subconscious things that we take away with us.
W: I think architecture is the bigger thing because it’s spread throughout the city and that’s interesting like how design and art have a function within that naturally.
Wade, you’re Australian, and Leta, you’re American–with European blood, right? You also love Japan and in general you travel a lot. Do you think that we can still talk about sort of national aesthetic or today images, trands, design and aesthetic is like globalized in a way?
L: It think that, in general, countries and nations still have their own aesthetic. Travel is more prominent and more accessible, and so are inspirations from other countries. We have so much accessibility, and things are getting blended—it’s all going up in the air. Looking into design history and art history you can see that this feels prominently Spanish, this feels prominently Native American, or something feels quite Chinese or Japanese, but I think that now because of Internet and frequent travels, these borders between different cultural designs are starting to blur a bit.
W: I think we’re all visually stimulated—we’re overwhelmed with visual stimulation at the moment, so there’s definitely crossing over of trends, and moments within typography, design and so on, for sure.
But I think people will still put their sense of place into their work as much as anything. I think that’s what’s interesting in what’s happening now, everyone, every country or city, has a blend of something from outside mixed with your upbringing, so I think it’s just like a fusing of everything.
Talking about experiences, you both had a three-months sabbatical experience lately, both personal and professional, and as you said, it’s been a very rich experience–in what terms?
L: Even though we’re together all the time, it’s so extremely important for us to maintain our own individual identities and we need to give ourselves a chance to step away and recharge before coming back together. That was kind of one of the intentions, the other was that I’ve never lived in another country before. I’m from upstate New York and I’ve lived in New York City and I haven’t really moved anywhere outside of that. Wade made an entirely fresh cultural change moving from Australia to America.
W: The conversation started more from the perspective of the importance of moving somewhere else to find who you are and since I had done that and I changed my life by moving to America, we prompted the question that Leta should do it and do it solo so she can take that time without me and take a risk, or going here, doing that.
There are important questions that come when you do make the leap to go somewhere by yourself: the most personal–but also the most important–questions you can have as an individual, because they’ll tell you who you are and who you want to be, and of course who you want to be moving forward.
You started from zero when you moved from Australia to NY?
W: Yep, no friends, barely any money. My friend and I did a road trip and I ran out of money, and when I got to New York I realized I wanted to be there, and everything made sense.
Creativity and inspiration are a very personal matter but do you think there’s a sort of workout for ideas, if you want to be a creative or an artist?
L: Wade has a really good answer to this! What did you say the other day about inspiration?
W: Oh yeah, for the most part, I think inspiration, like you said, is purely personal: what you see in the world and what you want to take away from that, it’s a combination of understanding, people, cultures, visual stimulation, art, sculpture, etc, and just mixing all those together to find what’s interesting to you. The best way to learn is by copying when you start, to understand principles and techniques, and then you can build on that, and then you find your own little voice, and then you build more little webs from that and it just continues to grow outwards.
It’s a sort of washing machine, I guess, like where you just collect the many different things you love, and you ask yourself how can I mix all my favorite things into one form of communication or one piece of art, or whatever…
It’s always a combination of something else; an individual work is sort of stemmed from conversations, inspirations, travels, a combination of a bigger, more human kind of experience, I guess…
So, just keep your eyes open..
W: Keep your eyes open, and if you like something go down the Rabbit hole of liking it and understanding it, and then go down another one. I think with so much information being thrown on us now it’s easy to be stifled and you don’t want to go down every Rabbit Hole because it might be–
L: … I think that also with being injected with all of this information, it’s very easy to become influenced by what’s immediately in front of you rather than searching to dig deeper and understand further, understand the history, understand the principles, or understand the foundations for why it came to be.
W: Fall in love with something, research more on why you love it and then put your interpretation on it. It’s a back and forth, that’s what I guess we mean by conversation: everything is a conversation.
Design is a conversation, and it goes back and forth, like tennis!
As an indie magazine editor, I’m gonna ask you if magazines are a source of inspiration of yours?
L: Sort of!
Our favorite ways to spend our days when we have free time is just to go to a magazine shop or a vintage book shop maybe and flip through books and magazines and see what things have been made or things that have been shared pre-internet.
There are magazines— like very special, specific publications—where you can learn about dogs or understand the beauty of a special dish, or maybe they are dedicated only to vegetables. I mean, those are the things that we love because they’re so specific and so niche and we wouldn’t otherwise have sought them out.
When we see something interesting on the internet, many times we don’t give all our time to investigating it further, we just pass by. But when you approach it on paper, it’s a different kind of interaction.
L: One thing that’s very nice about having a publication in your hands it’s that there is a finite amount of content versus when you’re dealing with the internet, which is never ending. Looking at a magazine, there’s a start and an end, and it’s a very respectful amount of content handed to you at one time.
W: Someone’s designed it to have a speed in which it can be read, whereas flicking on a phone is designed to be at one speed and that speed is full force and the content never stops growing.
The importance of slowing down to just read something is undeniable.
You admire a lot Arakawa + Gins, and you’re also inspired–as you said before–by architecture, large scale installations and landscape… And one of your most recent projects is a sculptural installation in New York, so the question is: would you like to make a park or a sculptural garden like, for instance, Yoro Park?
L: I mean, it would be an absolute dream. When Wade and I talk about projects that we want to do in the future, we seem to gravitate away from logos and typography (though we will always love it and still do it!) and we’re more inclined to focus on emotional imagery and art direction.
We’re feeling a gravitational pull to design spaces and to fill them with our work and to have complete control over the emotional awareness of those spaces. We want to inject everything we work with into a larger format, and it seems like spaces are something that would be the most opportune way.
I mean, we want to think about not only the thing that fits in the space but how the floors feel, what color are the walls, what is the lighting like? All of these things bring this larger sort of experience to the space.
W: To leave an impression on both adults and children is the ultimate thing we aspire to be doing. It’s like if someone can take an emotional response out of anything we make and take it and give that to someone else, I think that’s the ultimate goal with what we’re trying to achieve. Whether it is a graphic design project or whether it is an installation in an overwhelming kind of environment, it’s always about giving someone a moment of energy to take with them.
Talking about landscape and nature, do you consider in some way environmental issues in your work?
L: We do try to be resourceful with what we’re working with; I mean we’re trying to always think of it when we are making something. What is the afterlife, where does it go, how can we reuse it? We’re trying to think about this more and more with each project that we do, trying to not creating more waste than there already is. It’s difficult, I mean, in the projects that we do, sometimes the agencies we work with require us to make these big things and then they just go to the garbage afterwards. We can at least try to work with more organic materials or something that has a little more longevity or something that can be composted afterwards, like working with natural flowers.
W: It’s those little decisions I think that make bigger sort of movements… We had a party at this place called A/D/O and we had extra stuff from the costumes we made, so we reused to then create another project I’m just trying to give everything that we make—if we feel like it’s going to be wasted—we try to give it a secondary life that speaks to what we want to make creatively. Like the sculptures at the Seaport, we had a very bad time trying to find a secondary home for them, to make them live forever and evolve with their environment, rather than disposing of them after their initial use, but we finally found their final resting place and it suits them perfectly. It’s a farm near the ocean so it’s sort of has all of these land and sea meanings that reinforce the intentions of the work even more now that it’s been taken away from its original environment.
How is a typical day of yours? If you have one…
L: Days are not so typical, but…. We try to sort of wake up at the same time—sometimes it’s a little different. Wade will usually go to the studio much earlier than I will. I’m taking Japanese lessons on the side so I might stay back and have my video chat Japanese lesson…
Really? How’s going with Japanese?
L: I started one year ago, I’m still very much a beginner…
W: She’s pretty good, yeah! I’m horrible, I mean, I know no words. She can get by in a conversation so I consider that to be pretty good! I mean, it’s a hard language to learn.
Please, tell me something in Japanese!
[Yes, Leta spoke Japanese. And then followed a beautiful digression about languages: Spanish, Japanese, Korean and English…]
Loving and living and working together, tell me for what you usually fight… I’m sure you do fight for something.
W: It’s usually bickering. It’s more bickering than actually fighting.
[Followed another funny digression on who should close the door, socks on the floor and little arguments to have fun with just after have bickered about it.]
L: Like any couple we definitely have arguments, sometimes it is just about how we need to talk things out. Just having honesty and being completely open with one another is how we solve anything. At least with this approach we don’t avoid any conflict. When one of us can tell that somebody else is feeling off immediately we feel compelled to ask what’s happening, did we do something wrong, how can we make things better?
W: We’re still married…
You come from different backgrounds. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the other?
W: For me photography, I was definitely too scared to come into it beforehand and this lady taught me everything I know, that’s the big thing I’ve learned which is pretty important.
L: I think that Wade has taught me interaction and also not always being… I mean, I’m extremely careful with the work that we do and sometimes I slow things down quite a bit because the pace in which we work is quite different.
Sometimes I need to learn to emotionally detach myself a bit more in order to finish things or in order to make something, and he’s been really good at encouraging me to do that.
When do you know that a project is over?
L: It can go two ways, I think sometimes it can be ready to present after the first idea, and yet we spend more and more time trying to come up with new things, in which we then realize that the first idea was the best one. Other times it can happen when we have a deadline and the deadline is the ultimate answer.
W: If you want to make everything absolutely perfect, you are never going to get to the next project.
And you can live with that?
W: I’m more comfortable leaving things on the edge to be perfect, but for Leta not so much.
L: I have a problem.
You can’t sleep at night?
What do you think of unpaid projects?
L: I think there’s always a sort of a triangle that you need to balance, where 1 is money, 1 is time and 1 is freedom, and you have to have two of those things for the project to be of interest.
If you only have one of these three then I don’t think it’s the right decision, but if you have plenty of time and you have complete creative freedom then that makes the project desirable.
Now the Brief, and what’s next?
L: We’re going to go back to NY and we have a holiday campaign that’s coming up soon for somebody we cannot share, and after that, we have an exhibition that’s coming in 2020.
W: We’re going back to New York, and then we’ve got two weeks there and then we’re going to Singapore, and in that two weeks we kind of have to design and figure out the mechanics of the show and what we are actually going to be showing. When we come back from Singapore, we will have two weeks to do it, and then we go to Japan for a little bit of a break before having the show. The show is going to be in Tokyo, in January. Please come if you are there!
THE LAUNDRY ROOM
What time do you wake up in the morning?
L+W: 8 o’clock!
As a child, what did you want to do when you grow up?
W: I like to think that I could be a mathematician.
L: I think I would run a cheese store.
Breakfast or dinner?
Your tagline is “music to your eyes” so, what kind of music do you listen to?
L: Instrumental, though it’s all over the place… Okay, for this I say instrumental.
W: I’m all over the place too. I can go from techno to metal to ambient to just listening to people explain things in a podcast within no time at all and my brain is constantly jumping back and forth.
Something you suck at.
L: Handling anxiety.
W: Taking time to cook food properly.
Something you’re very good at.
L: This is kinda weird thing to say… perfecting things. Actually, I should have said that I’m bad at directions.
W: Working fast, iteration, basketball.
Last book you bought?
W: A catalogue of Ad design from a department store in Japan.
L: I think for me was a book to read on my kindle called A gentleman in Moscow [later Leta remembered that actually was Architectural body by Madeline Gins.]
Favorite thing to eat.
L: Cheese again, but also sushi.
W: I can’t decide one now, but it’s something between Indian curry, Thai curry and tacos. Or chocolate. If you put chocolate in front of me it’s gone.
A dirty little secret.
W: I pee sitting down.
L: I enjoy picking my nose in the shower.
Someone you’d like to have dinner with.
L+W: Arakawa + Gins.
Many thanks to Brief Festival to have invited Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree to Madrid.
Wade and Leta portraits © Igor Termenón for Polpettas Magazine. Madrid, November 2nd 2019