“It was a stable, a candy shop, then a contractor’s workshop,” says 30-year-old artist Sarah Zapata, recounting the history of the unheated Red Hook space that has become her studio, which is right next door to the basement apartment she shares with her girlfriend. When she took it over in October 2017, “there was all this stuff on these nasty plywood shelves I ripped out. The single thing I kept was this,” she says, pulling out a playing card with ’70s porn on the flip side showing two naked women reclining with legs splayed. “I felt it was a really good omen: The lesbians are here!”
Zapata most often works with textiles — she studied fiber arts at the University of North Texas — and colorful yarn rugs hang on the studio walls and the plywood pedestals from a recent show at EFA Project Space. Stairs lead to a storage loft, and underneath is a studio-within-a-studio, where the artist keeps her main tools, tufting guns, and an industrial sewing machine. Rug-making is labor-intensive, and living next door helps Zapata pull long hours. Even with a space heater, the studio became too frigid this winter for Zapata’s thrifted and eBay-acquired cassette tapes. “My Babyface tape would work for about 20 seconds and then eeeeerrrrrrrr,” she says. Zapata has recently been experimenting with more figurative designs inspired by a trip to visit family in Peru; they debuted in a solo show at Brooklyn’s Deli Gallery in March and required her to use a motorized tufting gun. Zapata used to sip red wine while making her rugs but now considers it too dangerous. “I can’t drink when I’m working — it’s like, you could really pierce yourself.”
*A version of this article appears in the April 15, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!