Mary McFerran: Reaching Beyond Myself

1. Mary McFerranTSGNY: Do you call yourself a fiber artist?

Mary McFerran: I’m a fan of “mixed media.” I do work in textiles, mostly embroidery and fabric collage. But I also incorporate found objects, painting, and printing.  And I’ve started to work with some simple structural elements like wire, cardboard, foam core, and wood.

“Mother,” 2017, 22” x12”, print, stone, wire, paint, photo.

TSGNY: How would you describe your working method?

MMcF: Drawing has always been at the core of my work: drawing as mark making and as a tactile approach to defining space. I usually get an idea for a piece or project and make notes in a sketchbook, but not elaborate drawings. Sometimes I do make more involved drawings as a way to “warm up” and get the juices flowing. Another way I begin working is to assemble a variety of materials, which can include scraps of fabric, photos, rocks, whatever I have around, and arrange the assorted elements until I’m satisfied with the composition.

Work in progress, 2017, drawings and photos for “Ancestor Museum”

TSGNY: How did textiles become a part of your practice?

MMcF: I was working on a collage and experimenting with glues to attach various found objects when I realized sewing was the solution. This led to my realizing that embroidery was mark making, like drawing.

“Eternal Love,” 2017, 21”x 19”, textile, print, wire.

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working with textile techniques?

MMcF: I was drawing and doing watercolors on paper. I discovered the world of textile art when I was living in London and started taking some classes at City Lit College (an adult education center). It felt so right for me. My textile work started with simple and minimal line drawing using the backstitch, then expanded to surface-design techniques and printing on fabric.

“She Sleeps,” 2011, 15” x 11”, embroidery, cotton, thread (detail).

TSGNY: Does your current combination of media enable you to do things you couldn’t do with drawing and watercolor alone?

MMcF: Mixing media and working in fiber arts allows me greater freedom to experiment with my ideas. My background was in academic fine arts and it seemed like there was a weight from the history of painting and printmaking that I don’t feel with fiber work. Even though there is a strong historical tradition of women in craft and sewing, they seem more open, with endless possibilities of new techniques and combinations.

TSGNY: Do you intend to keep adding new techniques?

MMcF: I’m always tempted to try new techniques, but I think I should try to limit myself to avoid getting overextended. I’ve set myself the personal challenge to improve my standard of craft. When I am in the flow of an idea I just want to work, not take time to perfect things. This can sometimes lead to messy work habits.

TSGNY: How do you combat that tendency?

MMcF: I try to force myself to take my time. Hand sewing can be helpful and I might reserve areas of a piece for hand stitching. I also work on several pieces at once. Research helps by forcing me to slow down, engage in reading and observing, rather than just making.

“My Son, the Doctor,” 2017, 50” x 35”, section of The Ancestor Museum installation, mixed media, box, assorted textiles, paint, bottles , print on fabric.

TSGNY: How big a role does research play in your work?

MMcF:  Research is a mainstay of my practice. The “outside” information enriches my internal tendencies and helps me reach beyond myself. Several recent projects grew directly out of research. “The Ancestor Museum” evolved from research into family genealogy.

TSGNY: How did your genealogical research lead to “The Ancestor Museum,” and can you tell us about the scope of that project?

MMcF: As I found familiar names on census records and in old city directories, I imagined my grandparents and great grandparents as children living in their family units in the old parts of the city, or in the towns I had always heard of. I read about Irish immigration and estimated the years that my ancestors came to America. Objects that I had saved from my own grandparents combined with photographs, my memories, and family stories started to coalesce.

“Collage,” 2016, 21”x 18”, Spoonflower © print.

MMcF: I took photos of some of the “heirlooms” in my possession, which are mostly everyday items that are interesting to me because they mingled closely in my family’s lives and retain that energy. I printed the photos on fabric and combined them with textiles or other objects to create assemblages, almost like small shrines. In my open studio installation, I included the original objects along with the artwork. I’ve also created a book that is a catalogue of my art and includes family stories and memories.

“Barbara Connelly-glovemaker,” 2016, 12” x 12”, mixed media, box.

TSGNY: You mentioned that other recent projects were driven by research…

MMcF: I became fascinated by the Jungian interpretations of beasts in fairy tales in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” That eventually led to “Wolves, Brides and Fairytales.”

“Lessons from mother wolf ”, 2016, 32” x 24”, burlap, dye, stitching, rope.

TSGNY: How did you get from Estés’ Jungian interpretations to your “Wolves, Brides, and Fairytales” installation?

MMcF: By interpreting age-old myths and fairytales, Clarissa Pinkola Estés creates a new reference for readers to understand our own psyches. She posits that within every woman lies a powerful force, filled with good instinct, creativity, and ageless wisdom.

“Wolves, Brides, and Fairytales,” 2016, installation – rear view.

MMcF: Estés presents the wolf mother as an archetype of fierce knowing and a protector of her young. She suggests that — like wolf pups — women need a similar initiation, to be taught that the inner and outer worlds are not always happy-go-lucky places. Women need to listen to their intuition to know when to walk or run away from a predator. The example of the Bluebeard fairytale is a good one: when Bluebeard leaves on his journey, his young wife does not realize that even though she is exhorted to do “anything she wishes-except that one thing,” she is living less, rather than more.

“Wolves, Brides, and Fairytales,” 2016, installation – side view.

MMcF: As a mother of two daughters, the mother wolf medicine resonated with me. So many challenges in life have no clear solutions. One must rely on intuition. This is something women know deeply, if they are encouraged to do so. My “Wolves, Brides and Fairytales” installation aims to convey/conjure archetypes by displaying wolf images, text from fairytales, drawings of young and old women, and a variety of earth and natural elements. The installation is designed so the visitor can walk through a forest-like path and discover hidden parts of herself.

“Wolves, Brides, and Fairytales,” 2016, installation – front view.

TSGNY: Has your shift in process from drawing and watercolor to mixed media and installation changed your outlook as an artist?

MMcF: It’s become less of a goal to show my work in a gallery setting. I’m interested in alternative spaces, especially for installation. I’m also interested in community work that allows me to teach or share skills with others.

TSGNY: Finally, are there any living artists who inspire you who you feel we should be aware of but may not know?

MMcF: Well, I’m certainly inspired by some well known artists who are no longer living. I’d start with Louise Bourgeois’ autobiographical work, her drawings, use of fabric, and installations. Agnes Martin is a longstanding art hero of mine. Although I could never be as restrained as she is, I admire her for that very reason. Her ideas about imperfection and spirituality resonate with me. Robert Rauschenberg’s show at MOMA blew me away. He was experimenting with so much. I love his collaborations with Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. As far as living artists, Tracy Emin has been a big influence on my work. Her style of irreverence has been very freeing for me. I like her distorted drawings, and the way she’ll use any material to express her ideas. Among fiber artists, I would include Tileke Schwarz, Alice Kettle, Hannah Lamb, Shannon Weber, Cathy Cullis, as well as more familiar names like Sheila Hicks, Judy Pfaff, and Elana Herzog.

TSGNY: Thank you, Mary. You can learn more about Mary’s work here.

Marilyn Henrion: Continuous Exploration

Marilyn HenrionTSGNY: Have you always been a fiber artist?

Marilyn Henrion: I was originally a painter after graduating from Cooper Union in 1952. However, having four children in rapid succession while working full time kept me from pursuing my own creative work for over twenty years. When I returned, textiles spoke to me in a way that paint never had, and that became my medium of choice.

"Patchwork City 26," 2016, 36" x 24", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 26,” 2016, 36″ x 24″, linen collage.

TSGNY: What was it about textiles that spoke to you?

MH: The tactile quality of the fabrics is greatly satisfying to work with in a way I didn’t find in painting. To me, something about the surface texture of the finished work is more accessible and visually appealing than any other medium.

"Patchwork City 65," 2017, 36" x 24", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 65,” 2017, 36″ x 24″, linen collage.

TSGNY: How would you describe your earlier textile work?

MH: Up until around 2006, I was creating hand-quilted pieced works. The style was geometric abstraction. My aesthetic was deeply rooted in the urban geometry of my surroundings as a native New Yorker, as it still is today.

"Patchwork City 60," 2016, 36" x 18", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 60,” 2016, 36″ x 18″, linen collage.

TSGNY: While your current work is still rooted in urban geometry, photography now plays a major role. How did that come about?

MH: My creative process is always evolving, and my current work reflects that. I’m still incorporating the method of piecing fabrics that was present in my earlier quilted works, but the more recent works take advantage of new technologies: digital image manipulation and pigment printing on fabrics. Working with my own photographs of urban architecture, I digitally manipulate the images which are then printed on fabric (linen or silk). In some cases, I also incorporate the hand quilting you would find in my earlier works, but I would call the resulting works mixed media rather than quilting.

"Patchwork City 28," 2016, 36" x 24", silk collage with hand quilting.

“Patchwork City 28,” 2016, 36″ x 24″, linen and silk collage with hand quilting.

TSGNY: Are you setting out to photograph specific parts of the city, or are you gathering images more spontaneously?

MH: I use my iPhone to photograph the city as I walk around. Most of the images are derived from the cast-iron buildings of my Soho neighborhood and lower Manhattan, where unexpected visual treats lurk around every corner.

"Patchwork City 66," 2017, 48" x 24", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 66,” 2017, 48″ x 24″, linen collage.

TSGNY: What prompted you to explore this new direction?

MH: I belong to a gallery that gives members a solo exhibition every two years. For me, that means making a new body of work for each solo show. Every two years since 2000 I’ve explored a new subject or idea, and sometimes a new method of presentation. The collage technique I’m using in “Patchwork City” evolved from the necessity of continuous exploration.

"Patchwork City 67," 2017, 48" x 24", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 67,” 2017, 48″ x 24″, linen collage.

TSGNY: What were you doing before “Patchwork City”?

MH: In the preceding series, “Soft City,” I was using urban images derived from my manipulated photographs, but as “whole cloth” hand-quilted silk works wrapped on canvas substrate. I used hand stitching to animate the surface of the works and reveal the city’s soft side, the beautiful and complex patina of each façade. The irregular qualities inherent in the materials and construction humanizes the urban geometry.

"Broadway Windows," 50" x 40" , digitally manipulated photography, inkjet printing on cotton, hand quilting.

“Broadway Windows,” 2013, 50″ x 40″ , digitally manipulated photography, inkjet printing on cotton, hand quilting.

MH: For the new series, I print the images on linen, cut them apart in random strips, and re-assemble them to create collages on stretched canvas that convey the cacophony of ever-changing urban landscape. Although some of the new works also incorporate hand quilting, most are primarily fabric collage on canvas substrate, with no stitching.

"Patchwork City 73," 2017, 48" x 24", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 73,” 2017, 48″ x 24″, linen collage.

TSGNY: It sounds like you welcome the challenges of this two-year cycle.

MH: The challenges keep the work interesting: exploring variations on a theme, experimenting with various methods of presentation. And the labor-intensive nature of my methods — the mathematics of measuring and piecing, scaling a sketch to actual size — which might be a challenge to some, is a joyful, meditative experience for me.

"Patchhwork City 61," 2016, 20" x 10", linen collage

“Patchhwork City 61,” 2016, 20″ x 10″, linen collage

TSGNY: Do you envision taking the photographic work in any other directions?

MH: I’m finding that my current collage works lend themselves to reproduction very well, especially on brushed aluminum. i am exploring the possibilities of marketing a line of limited edition custom-sized prints targeted to an audience that appreciates my work but cannot afford to purchase originals.

"Patchwork City 60", 2017, 48" x 24", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 62″, 2017, 48″ x 24”, linen collage.

TSGNY: Thank you, Marilyn. You can see more of Marilyn’s work on her website. A documentary DVD about her work and life, including her interactions with luminaries such as Joseph Cornell, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselman, and the Beat Poets, is available here.

"Patchwork City 25," 2016, 36" x 18", linen collage.

“Patchwork City 25,” 2016, 36″ x 18″, linen collage.

Lisa Lackey: Always A Maker

TSGNY: How do you describe your technique?

Lisa Lackey: I refer to my work as textile paintings. Fabric and thread replace the medium of paint on a canvas.

"The Conversation 5/6," 20" x 16", fabric, thread and acetate on canvas, 2014

TSGNY: Is this a recent development in your way of working?

LL: It’s been a gradual evolution. From my earliest memories, I’ve always been a maker.  I am always making something. Starting in my high school years, I began learning how to work in practically every medium, as I explored to find where my passion lay. That exploration and learning of processes made me a versatile art teacher — my profession for the last 18 years. But it wasn’t until I returned a few years ago, full circle, to my childhood love for sewing that my work found its genre.

"In the Shadows 5," 30" x 24", fabric and thread on canvas, 2015

TSGNY: Does working in thread enable you to do things you were not able to do in other media, like painting?

LL: I’ve never been a painter. I tried it along the way and was never enamored with it.  What I’ve always loved to do is sew and piece things together. There was a time when I made all my own clothes, and even had a business designing and manufacturing a line of women’s clothing. About three years ago I kind of stumbled onto collaging fabric and using hand and machine stitching to develop the details of the image.  When that happened it was like a light bulb went off.  All my artistic “parts” finally coalesced into an art form that spoke to me.

“The Conversation 4,” 20” x 16”, fabric, thread and acetate on canvas, 2014

LL: I bring to my current work everything I’ve learned from working in other media. Taken directly from photographs, my images are about the culmination of everything compositional: depth of plane, color, pattern, texture, and positive/negative spaces while witnessing, capturing, and recording unadulterated and universal moments in time.

“Sister’s Foot,” 14” x 11”, fabric and thread on canvas, 2015

TSGNY : Does working in thread pose challenges you didn’t face when working in other media ?

LL: The biggest challenge in my work is size: both small and large scale. If the image is too small, the fabric pieces disintegrate under the pick of the needle.  And if the work is too large, it no longer fits under my sewing machine because of the stiffness the canvas creates.

“Selfie 103115,” 16” x 12”, fabric and thread on canvas, 2015

LL: Stretching the work for hand-sewing was another challenge I had to overcome.  The thickness of my work prevents it from being put into an embroidery hoop or wrapped around a quilt frame.  To solve this dilemma, I ended up developing my own stretching frame, inspired by frames used to stretch drying animal skins.  I lash my canvases to a wooden stretcher frame using a series of buttons and drilled holes. This gives me the tension I need to do the hand embroidery without the work becoming crumpled and distorted.

"Skin Frame Detail," 18" x 18", embroidery thread on canvas, 2015

LL: I like the stiffness of canvas, the white of the gesso and the texture.  It helps me keep the work flat and undistorted even after much sewing. I love the graphic quality of a flat solid plane of color and abhor when bubbling occurs on any large area of fabric. Although I fuse the fabric down, I machine-sew each of the fabric edges down for extra stability and because I like the way the outline looks.   When a piece is too big, I run the risk of it delaminating after being curled and re-curled to fit under the sewing machine’s foot. I am currently working on a piece that will finish at 36” square, a size I have never attempted before and am not sure how I will accomplish.  It will definitely stretch my process to a new level and probably add a few more gray hairs to my head!

“Sisters: The Other Feet,” 11” x 14” fabric and thread on canvas, 2015

TSGNY: Who inspires you?

LL: I love the work of Alex Katz, Chuck Close and Georgia O’Keefe. Among current artists, the sewn portraits and recent paintings of the verso images by Cayce Zavaglia are amazing.  When I saw one of her portraits in person for the first time, I was struck by how small it was. Its scale creates an intimate almost private experience with the viewer.  Then she turned them around and showed us the backs, or “verso” as she calls them.  Her latest work is a return to her painting roots, where she is painting those verso images on enormous canvases, thread by stunning thread.

My most recent influence is an artist I stumbled onto by chance: Lori Larusso. Her paintings have a wonderfully simplified, bold graphic quality that I love. At first glance, they actually tricked me into thinking they were fabric, and not acrylic paint at all. In some of the pieces, like those in the series “It’s not my Birthday,” it almost feels like you could lift each color and peel it away as if it were tactile.

TSGNY: Thank you, Lisa. You can see more of Lisa’s work on her website and in her book, The Composition of Family.

Hyunju Kim: NUBIGi–Time Resides In It

TSGNY: What is your fiber technique and what are your primary materials?

Hyunju Kim: I use a sewing machine. My main material is thread. I also use cotton, fabrics, uniforms, and stockings. For the past three or four years I have been using recycled fabrics and materials for my art.

TSGNY: What are the origins of your current body of work?

HK:  Drawing was always a big part of my childhood. I spent my days drawing whenever my mother was working. As I began to realize how my mother’s absence affected my childhood, the drawing I was working on at the time caught my attention. Every dot on the piece of paper began to look like the stitches made by a sewing machine. Each dot and each stitch represented the flow of time. This marked the beginning of my work.

"NUBIGi 080" (2008), 90" x 72", sewing on cloth.

HK: My search for identity around the sewing machine established the ground for my creative work. Through my artwork, I am reviving thirty years, if not more, that my mother spent at her sewing machine. The sewing machine was her means of earning a living, but it was both a playground and resting place for me. This reflection on my mother’s sewing is the raw material for my work, and  the process of recording and expressing that carries a very special meaning. Sewing is a repetitive action that has therapeutic effects on me. As I sew on the sewing machine, I remember my mother and enter my own world.  There’s a certain irony, because sewing is how my mother earned her living, and I am making it into an art.

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working primarily with a sewing machine?

HK: Before I used the sewing machine, I painted and did collages. When I started to use threads, I focused on the space between the thread and canvas. It was close to minimal.

"NUBIGi 080" (back)

TSGNY: Can you explain what you mean by focusing on the space between the thread and the canvas?

HK: I would cover a canvas with white cloth and grab some areas of the white cloth and twist them. Then I would wrap white threads around them, and all around the canvas. Because I wrapped the white thread around those areas, there would be some space between the thread and the canvas. When in contact with light, the thread would cast shadows on the canvas, creating more lines.

"NUBIGi 083" (2008), 102 "☓76 ", sewing on birodo (similar to velvet).

TSGNY: How and why did your work evolve from these minimal pieces?

HK: When I was just using threads, I did not make any images on the canvas. I chose modern, simple colors like white or black. When I researched other artists who use threads and sewing machines in their work, most of their work was simple. So I thought I should create something to differentiate my art style from theirs. I started to draw faces that represented human emotions. It was more fun to do.

"Nubigi 083" (back)

TSGNY: Does drawing with the sewing machine pose any particular challenges?

HK: Because the process is very mechanical, it is very difficult to make my work look natural. I want to make my work look like a painting, so I try to look at many pictures to make it as life-like as possible. I also do a lot of sketches with different materials: crayons, paint, or colored pencils. When I draw something, I try to imagine each stroke or line as a thread. So the colored pencil is like the needle with the thread.  When I begin new artwork, I choose the colors and compose the image on the canvas. I like to make sketches by hand, imagining how the threads would be sewn on the canvas. Sometimes, when I draw sketches by hand, I learn new ways to draw and interpret the lines. Drawing by hand allows free movement compared to a sewing machine. It helps me develop different styles and techniques.

"NUBIGi 085" (2009), 16 "☓19 ", sewing on birodo (similar to velvet).

TSGNY: Did working with the sewing machine change your artistic intent?

HK: My intent has not changed. The main focus of my art is not the drawing itself. My main focus is time. All of the titles of my work include the term “Nubigi” and a number. The numbers just state the order of my work. Nubigi means sewing in Korean. Each thread is a symbol of time. If a thread changes in color over time, it goes to show that time still resides in it.

"NUBIGi 091" (2014), 27" x 27", sewing on cloth.

TSGNY: Finally, are there any artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about?

HK: There are two artists whom I particularly admire. The first is Francis Bacon, the Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, raw imagery of human emotions. His work always gives me ideas about how I should develop my techniques. The second is Kim Sooja, who was born in South Korea. Her work includes videos and installations. She is known for using traditional Korean scarves in her performances.

"NUBIGi 093," (2014), 11.75” x 11.75”, sewing on cloth.

TSGNY: Thank you, Hyunju. You can see more of Hyunju’s work here.

Theresa Ellerbrock: Loosening Her Grid

TSGNY: What is your fiber process?

Theresa Ellerbrock: I work in Joomchi, which is similar to felting. However, instead of using wool, joomchi uses hanji, Korean mulberry paper.  You begin by layering the hanji — at least three layers – and spraying water between the layers to saturate the paper completely.  You roll or brush out each layer from the center to eliminate any air bubbles, which keep the paper fibers from bonding.  Then the long sequence of agitating the hanji begins.  First you roll the finished layered work between two sheets of bubble wrap, with the bubbles facing the paper, using a wooden dowel as the core support.  After an hour of rolling this wrapped tube, continually agitating with your hands, you begin another sequence without the bubble wrap.  At this stage the fibers have begun to bond.  Now you can fold and coil it in many different directions, continuing the squeezing and agitating process, all the while keeping the hanji wet.  This continuous agitation causes the wet paper fibers to tangle and adhere to each other. There’s a point in the sequence where you can actually feel the fibers relax, the moment when you realize the fibers are bonding.   Three layers are now bonded into one. You begin to sense the transformation of the material. Through the process of Joomchi, the hanji is transformed into a more flexible and durable material.

"Sea Change," 2014, 25” x 39”, Korean mulberry paper.

TSGNY: How did you start working in Joomchi?

TE: I’ve been weaving and papermaking for the past 30 years.  My current work began to evolve in a new direction after I studied the Joomchi technique at Haystack with Jiyoung Chung, an amazing Joomchi artist who has revived this traditional Korean folk craft and pushes the boundaries of its possibilities.

"Earthbound," 2014, 26” x 36”, Korean mulberry paper.

TSGNY: It’s one thing to take a workshop, quite another to bring the process back to the studio and make it the focus of your practice. How did you come to that decision?

TE: The first step was when I realized I did not need to go to a papermaking studio to make Joomchi.  I am not starting with wet paper pulp, which requires specific equipment to make.  I begin with already made hanji paper.  More significantly, I also realized that working with this technique gave me more freedom than I had in the weaving process.  I am not limited by the grid.  Yet Joomchi has some of the same qualities as a textile.  It can be sewn, dyed, cut, and burned.  The possibilities are endless. Joomchi felt new and familiar at the same time.

"Summer Fields," 2013, 25” x 36”, Korean mulberry paper.

TSGNY: Can you talk a bit more about the work you were doing before Joomchi?

TE: I was weaving with linen, cotton and horsehair.  I was also making paper, beginning with the wet pulp and collaging into the pulp while still wet. I love process and am always interested in learning different ways of working.  I begin my work by choosing material I am drawn to.  The ideas come from envisioning ways to transform that material into something visually engaging.

"Natural Mystic," 2014, 25” x 25”, Korean mulberry paper & raw silk yarn.

TSGNY: From your description, Joomchi sounds quite daunting. Even though it frees you from the grid, does it create other challenges?

TE: The challenge in working with hanji is understanding its properties and limitations. Although it is a strong paper it can tear during the agitation process if not handled carefully.  It takes a bit of experience to understand how far the material can be pushed.  The naturally dyed hanji paper can bleed — some colors more than others — during the wet agitating process.  You need to be aware of how the colors you choose will interact with each other.  Sometimes you can use this bleeding as an interesting effect. The time it takes to get fully through the Joomchi process can also be a challenge.  It requires perseverance and focus.

"Nightfall," 2012, 25” x 37”, Korean mulberry paper.

TSGNY: Given the challenges, does Joomchi enable you to do things you have not been able to do in any other medium?

TE: In the process of dobby weaving I am always limited to the grid. Joomchi offers complete freedom from this limitation.  It’s interesting that the grid is so much a part of my language that I am still incorporating into my Joomchi work, although in my latest pieces the grid is morphing into a less ordered set of lines.

"One Afternoon," 2012, 24” x 24”, Korean mulberry paper & raw silk yarn.

TSGNY: Finally, are there any living artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about?

TE: There are so many artists who inspire me.  To name a few:  Winifred Lutz, Martin Puryear, Sean Scully, Eleanore Mikus, Mel Kendrick, Paul Wong and Michael Olszewski.  I also take inspiration from ancient weavings, especially Peruvian, from the incredible craftsmanship of Japanese artisans, and the work of Navajo weavers.

"Indigo Blues" (detail), 2012, 25” x 25”, Korean mulberry paper.

TSGNY: Thank you, Theresa. You can see more of Theresa’s work on her website. She will be showing at ART101 in Brooklyn from September 12th through October 12th.

Linda Friedman Schmidt: Transformation Through Clothing

TSGNY: What role does fiber play your artwork?

Linda Friedman Schmidt:  I am a self-taught artist, and discarded clothing is my paint. I start with discarded clothes of all kinds, everything from swimsuits and lingerie to socks, sweaters, pants, dresses, shirts, coats in all types of fabrications. I use natural and synthetic materials, solids and patterns, knits and wovens, although I have stopped using wool because it presents extra conservation problems. Each finished work contains many pounds of discarded clothing.

I cut these castoffs into strips by hand. The cutting is an important part of my process and pleasure: the breaking down of the old. It also provides a needed respite from the visual concentration required for hooking in a painterly fashion.

Studio with work in progress.

TSGNY: If the clothing is your “paint,” do you always use the material in its original colors?

LFS: Yes. Nothing is dyed.

TSGNY:  Once you have the strips prepared, what happens?

LFS: Before I start a new piece, I create a “mood board” the way a fashion designer does, with inspirational photo clippings and swatches. As I work, I alternate hooking and cutting, deciding which color I want next as I go. I hook the strips onto cotton warp cloth with crochet hooks or rug-hooking hooks, which are like crochet hooks with a more substantial wooden handle. My hook is now a unique shape. It has conformed to my technique and become crooked from my handwork. I hope it never breaks. My hooking technique is not the same as that of traditional rug hookers because it is self-taught and remains the same today as when I began. I work on a large custom-made frame with rollers on the top and bottom, which means I’m unable to see all of my large works in progress at once.

"Ridicule," 2012, 22" x 21", discarded clothing.

LFS: My slow method of creating a portrait is to break the human face into individual bits of information. Working on one section at a time enables me to give undivided, painstaking attention to every detail.

"Tear," 2012, 20" x 14", discarded clothing, placemat, acrylic.

TSGNY: You mentioned that you are self-taught. How did you arrive at this technique?

LFS: In 1998, I was at the local library, waiting for my daughters to choose their books. I was browsing the shelves and saw Rag Rug Inspirations.  I had never seen a hooked rug, nor ever heard of rug hooking. I was generally unfamiliar with folk art.  And I was not at all interested in making rugs. But the transformation of the rags grabbed my attention. I was looking for a way to continue my life’s work of transformation through clothing and realized that this was another way to do it.  When I got home I experimented with a crochet hook and a piece of burlap in my lap and taught myself how to hook. I felt an immediate affinity for the technique, and a strong impulse to hook every day, although I never had an interest in making rugs.  My interest was — and remains — transforming clothing.

"Exposure" (self-portrait), 2011, 51" x 44", discarded clothing.

TSGNY:  What kind of artwork were you doing before this?

LFS: I did not start making artwork until I was 49 years old. For many years I was an artist “in the closet.” I’d known I was an artist since early childhood, dreamed of being an artist when I grew up, but my family only valued my academic achievement. I begged to go to one of the NYC specialized art high schools but was not allowed to apply, nor could I attend an art college.

"Push," 2010, 20" x 33", discarded clothing.

LFS: As a pre-adolescent I became interested in fashion illustration and began experimenting with the idea of transformation though clothing. Fashion illustration led to an interest in fashion design. I began deconstructing and reconstructing old clothing into trendy new styles for myself. In my late teens I crocheted art-to-wear sweaters and accessories using geometric shapes that I transformed into fashionable styles. Julie Schafler (of Julie’s Artisans Gallery) discovered me wearing one of them, before she had the Madison Avenue shop. I also sold some of them at the original Henri Bendel store, where I started working as a salesgirl in 1971. At 21 I sold  ideas for creative transformations to Woman’s Day, which wrote: “Seeing possibilities for an entirely new life for everyday objects is a gift.”

TSGNY: No wonder you say that transformation through clothing has been your lifelong theme.

"My Own Two Feet," 2013, 46" x 36"; discarded clothing.

LFS: In 1973 I appeared solo on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily, snapped on the street as a chic, super-stylish New Yorker – but unbeknownst to them, I was actually wearing my own thrift-shop transformations. That same year, at 23, I took my $10,000 life savings and opened a tiny women’s retail specialty store just a few blocks from Bendels. I called it LONIA (my birth name, which had been changed on our arrival in the USA). At the beginning I did not have enough capital to stock the store and created much of the merchandise myself. I also developed a passion for visual merchandising, an art form that’s also about transformation and embellishment. The challenge was making any and all merchandise gorgeous and desirable. I was regularly written up in national and international publications about visual marketing and was even awarded a patent for visual merchandising display forms I designed. After closing the store in 1987 to become a mom, I occasionally collaborated with my husband, an architect, as color consultant on his jobs. In 1994, I won the Benjamin Moore Color Award, presented by the American Institute of Architects for best use of color in an interior.

"The Scream Within," 2007, 27" x 30", discarded clothing.

TSGNY: Once you started working in this technique, did you find that it posed any particular challenges?

LFS: One challenge is that I cannot produce quantity. Galleries are looking for artists who produce large amounts of art. My process is labor intensive to the extreme. One of my artworks can take as long as six months. This means I have less work to choose from when submitting for exhibitions that require art to have been created within the past two years.

But for me the pleasure is in the process. There is joy, peace and love in the creation. This is my spiritual journey, immersed in every detail, experiencing the pleasure of the now, the hands working, moving in a steady rhythm, the rhythm of life. When I finish a piece I feel sad. I may have fewer pieces to choose from for exhibition entries, may not have a gallery representing me, but my work has been extensively exhibited in top-quality exhibitions and curators are beginning to know my art and request specific pieces which they invite me to exhibit.

"The Bad with the Good," 2009, 41" x 43", discarded clothing.

LFS: Will new technology become another challenge? Photographers and artists are already using technology that facilitates the printing of any photo onto a textile and the weaving of any image into a tapestry. Will this devalue the work of textile artists? A gallery in New York City is representing a photographer who gets his photographic images woven into tapestries he orders online. We are a fast-food nation and now there is instant textile art. What is the message?  Does this devalue handwork?

TSGNY: Although you break down your images into tiny units that might be analogous to pixels, you are clearly committed to creating those images through handwork. Do you think your process enables you to do things you wouldn’t be able to do in another medium?

LFS: Yes, because clothing is our second skin, an extension of the self, it is an autobiographical medium that evokes memories and deep feelings. Discarded clothing can represent devalued, dehumanized, and discarded humanity. It is laden with the symbolism of forgotten past lives.  Clothing can serve as relics of victims. My process enables me to rescue and give new life to this discarded humanity. It allows me to transform a painful past.

"Fear of Moving Forward," 2011, 49" x 38", discarded clothing.

LFS: This medium also enables me to connect with the countless others, long gone, whose garments live on in my work. It represents the profoundest level of intimacy, enabling me to touch strangers and interweave the energy of many with my own.

As a teenager I learned that clothing could be used to gain visibility. It is still helping me gain visibility as an artist.  We’re all aware of the stigma attached to textile art in general, which makes it more difficult to be taken seriously by curators of contemporary fine art, and harder to get into exhibitions other than textile exhibitions. I have overcome this  because my work uses textiles to carry a powerful message of transformation and healing. I am telling my own story, but also retelling the stories of our common humanity. I depict the emotional universe. I expand the genre of portraiture into larger social, cultural, and political issues:  race, gender, immigration, human rights, war, and power.  In addition, my artwork is about recycling, a rebuke of materialism, a concern for the environment. I am not afraid to make viewers feel awkward, uncomfortable, to raise issues that are disturbing.

"When Every Day Is Halloween," 2008, 27" x 32", discarded clothing.

LFS: I needed freedom from clothes that were binding, and now I use clothing to refashion my life, transform sad into glad, old into new, ordinary into extraordinary.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists who inspire you whose work you would like us to know?

LFS: Artists I admire include Chuck Close, Alice Neel, Marlene Dumas, and Christian Boltanski.

"Sustenance from Strangers" (self-portrait), 2010, 36" x 33", discarded clothing, home textiles border.

TSGNY: Thank you, Linda. You can see more of Linda’s work on her website. She is also exhibiting at CONTEXTILE 2014.

Sandra Golbert: Finding Dimensionality

TSGNY: How would you describe your fiber process?

Sandra Golbert: I use a great deal of fabric manipulation, making a flat piece of silk into a sea urchin, or a barnacle. In my beading, I make the traditional peyote stitch into what I call my ‘distressed peyote stitch,’ which takes a flat surface and makes it into something three-dimensional. To me, flat is boring, unless you’re a Picasso or a Van Gogh. Finding dimensionality is the part I enjoy most, the search for a new way of going ‘3D.’

"Urchin I," 2008, 6" x 6" x 6", silk organza, silk thread, beads.

TSGNY: How did that search for dimensionality begin?

SG:  It was a question of geography.  My fashion designs appeared in Vogue when I was 21 (I had won a competition for ‘sporty tropical outfits’ sponsored by the Fashion Council of Puerto Rico, and the winning designs were published and sold at Saks). But then we moved to Mexico. I could no longer make debutantes’ or bridal dresses like I did at home, because I was an ‘alien’ (in the best sense of the word). I tried doing colorful Mexican-inspired watercolors, but flat work never appealed to me, even then. I wanted things to pop. So I took all the embroidery techniques I used in my fashions and went ‘to the wall,’ making heavily embroidered wall pieces. When we moved again, this time to Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles, I had my first solo exhibit of what I called my ‘yarn paintings.’

"Serengeti," 1998, 57" x 24" x 5", hand-dyed silk hung from gold wire mesh.

TSGNY: How would you describe the yarn paintings?

SG: I made them with wool yarns, a lot of them bought during a trip to Bogota, Columbia (they have wonderful yarns). I also used some cotton. They were all based on a backing called ‘monks’ cloth,’ a cotton open-weave fabric that is perfect for embroidery with thick yarns and a large needle. Many of the pieces included a tufted stitch called, I believe, ‘turkey work’ which was used a lot a the time. I cringe to think of it being used in my work now. Very Rya rug!

TSGNY: How did you get from the yarn paintings to your current work?

SG: Many incarnations. I am all over the map. When I moved from Curacao, where I was doing the yarn paintings, I didn’t make art for a long time. I ran a business for almost 10 years. Then I received commissions for three hotels from an amazing architect/designer who was a great admirer of my work. These pieces had to be more sophisticated and rather flat, since the accumulation of dust was a factor — not that I wanted to do yarn work any more. So I kept to the idea of ‘no wool’ — just fabric manipulation and cotton embroidery.

"Silk Rain I," 2009, 16" x 15" x 3", hand-dyed silk, gold wire mesh.

TSGNY: What can you tell me about the hotel commission called “Amanece”?

SG: “Amanece” means ‘dawn approaching’ and is the title of a famous Puerto Rican song about the farmers coming down from the hills with their harvest (probably coffee) at dawn to market. The installation is In the lobby of La Concha Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico. It fills eight cases, 6′ x 6′ each, and is made up of approximately 7,000 pieces of hand-dyed silk;  with three rows of silk pieces attached by threads, then hung on acrylic poles.

"Amanece," 2007, hand-dyed silk.

TSGNY: Do your fiber processes pose any particular challenges?

SG: I have had four operations on my right hand, and I’m about to schedule surgery on my left hand. Who says art in fiber is easy? But I don’t stop for anything….

"Tree-Bark Bracelet," 2010, seed beads, Biwa pearls, 99% pure silver.

TSGNY: Would you say your artistic intent has changed as you’ve moved through various techniques of fiber art?

SG: My intent has always been to enjoy the process of making art, which I have been lucky enough to have achieved. Working in handmade paper or hand-dyed or manipulated silk makes me laugh out loud! People say my silk Silent Chimes are joyous, which makes me even happier.

"Thai Chimes" (detail), 2007, 54" x 12" x 12", silk fabric, wire.

TSGNY: Speaking of handmade paper, have you also lived in Japan? I notice at least one piece with a Japanese title.

SG: Unfortunately, no. It has been the lifelong dream of three generations in my family to go there — but none of us has made it. I love all things Japanese, and it shows in some of my work. Think Shibui and Wabi Sabi (especially the latter, as I love ‘planned imperfection’). I’ve made a set of pieces that depict the Japanese goddess of papermaking (Kawakami) reclining with an ‘offering’ of a small basket, a piece of paper and a ‘sign’ on wood that says “Goddess – Paper’ in Japanese. The upper box (Imadate) is the place where the Goddess taught papermaking to the Japanese.

Kawakami/Imadate, 2010, 28" x 5" x 4" (x 2), handmade paper, waxed linen.

TSGNY: Even though you haven’t yet made it to Japan, would you say your travels have influenced your work?

SG: The greatest influence in my work, both the art and the jewelry, is the ocean. Having lived on so many islands and being an ‘island girl’ from Puerto Rico myself, I find the sea to be a great source of ideas.

"Barnacles," 2007, 18" x 6" x 2", silk, silk thread, felt backing.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists who inspire you whose work you feel we should know about?

SG: My daughter’s work inspires me. She began art very late in her life and works very had making wonderful and quirky things. A favorite artist and friend who paints and works with fiber, is Luba Shapiro-Grenader. Her work is wonderful and she is under-appreciated.

TSGNY: Thank you, Sandra. You can learn more about Sandra’s work on her website.

"Cure," 2013, 44" x 21" x 2", linen, cotton, silk, cording.


Juliet Martin: SAORI and Spontanaeity

TSGNY: What is your fiber process?

Juliet Martin: I weave on a Japanese SAORI loom and make fabric to sew into sculptures and tapestries. In Japanese, “sa” is the first syllable of “sai,” the Zen idea that everything has its own individual dignity. “Ori” means weaving.

"Men I Have Known: Carnival Kiss"; 2012, 19" x 30" x 9"; acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving,

TSGNY: How does SAORI differ from other kinds of weaving?

JM: SAORI is abstract expressionism through fiber – emotional expression that emphasizes the creative, spontaneous act. The loom has just two heddles. I do not use a shuttle. My fingers comb the weft. This encourages improvisation. It’s as spontaneous as I am.

TSGNY: Once you weave the fabric, what happens next?

JM: I sew sculptures in reaction to the base I have made.

"Men I Have Known: California Boy"; 2013, 17" x 53" x 9"; acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving.

TSGNY: Would you describe the whole process as improvisational?

JM: While I start with a form in mind, most often the materials shape the sculpting process. I am always generating ideas. I have over a hundred little notebooks. Often as I fall asleep, I jot down ideas so I won’t forget them by the morning. On the subway, I develop a palette for the project. Once at the loom, I create the “paint” to make the “painting.” But I can’t help breaking the guidelines I set for myself – for instance, I may select a palette of only blue, but if I’m blocked, I’ll add a bright pink thread.

"Blue"; 20" x 20" x 8"; acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving, burlap, driftwood, safety pins.

TSGNY: Was there an “aha!” moment when you knew SAORI was right for you?

JM: My first lesson produced my first weaving, and almost immediately I felt an unmatchable bond with the medium. I randomly grabbed my first color combinations from the scraps basket – mismatched light blue and neon orange. I knew it was right. I have always worked with color experimentally. Weaving lets me stretch those wings. I am consistently told that I have “good color sense”; SAORI was so intuitive that I could employ it right away.

First Lesson/First Weaving; 2011, 20" x 12"; acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving.

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working on the SAORI loom?

JM: I studied painting at Brown University, but it never reflected my intentions. I went to SVA for graduate work in computer arts. Computers, whose technical rules enforce structure that I could not find in painting, forced me to think more clearly, pushing me creatively. Even now, in weaving, I can make the creative “most” from a technical minimum. I taught and produced digital art for the next decade. I created Web-based art pieces, produced games, and designed digital interfaces. Then, wanting to work in something tactile, and to escape imitating machine-made sculpture, I was a ceramist for around five years, which piqued my interest in textures and materials.

"Dirt"; 2009, 16" x 5" x 5", stoneware.

TSGNY: What have you carried from ceramics into your textile work?

JM: When I worked in clay, my hands left beautiful scars in it. When I started weaving, being reduced to two dimensions left my work feeling unfinished. My visual sentence needed exclamation points and question marks. I took an old piece and cut it up and ran it through the sewing machine. It was done—it showed my voice, my hands. Now I weave with a three-dimensional shape in mind, or I work more freeform. I try to make the shapes as if they made themselves, unbridled and whimsical.

"Stuffed Rosaries"; 2013, 12" x 60" x 12"; acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving.

TSGNY: Did SAORI enable you to do things you had not been able to do before?

JM: I can improvise. Once the warp is set on the loom, you can create freely. The canvas opens itself to self-expression. Decisions may not lead to your preconceived vision, yet your actions create a new vision. Loose threads are embraced rather than rejected. I like to add distractions to add life to something static; for example, roving or ribbon. The difference in texture is liberating.

"Men I Have Known: Online Romance"; 2012, 20" x 30" x 10"; acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving.

TSGNY: Does SAORI weaving pose any particular challenges?

JM: I have to monitor the materials when setting a warp or weaving the weft. Metallic threads shine but break. Wool yarn will shrink. Mohair can rip. But this awareness means that if you run into something unexpected, you can turn mistakes into design elements. One “mistake” is weaving together two types of yarn, wool and acrylic, and then drying at high heat after washing. The wool shrinks and felts but the acrylic keeps its original shape. The contrast makes for beautiful, organic results, but the product has to overcome the process. In SAORI there are no mistakes.

"Virgin White"; 2013, 55" x 34" x 7", acrylic yarn, wool yarn, cotton yarn, wool roving, driftwood.

TSGNY: Finally, are there contemporary artists whose work inspires you, perhaps ones we may not know?

JM: In college I was introduced to the stuffed animal sculptures of Mike Kelley (on view at MOMA/PS1 until February 2). I saw that even lightness and humor could be challenging and edgy. I am so happy to have seen Tracy Emin. Her blunt, smart work satirizes gender politics. As a fiber artist, she uses traditional women’s work and turns it into empowering tools. Joan Snyder is a visual feast. Her colors and textures are vibrant and chilling: reds, yellows; her abstract flowers fall off the canvas. Her paintings hark to fabric.

TSGNY: Thank you, Juliet. You can see more of Juliet’s work on her website and can learn more about SAORI weaving here.

Elaine Longtemps: Music and Message

TSGNY: How would you describe your work’s relationship to fiber?

Elaine Longtemps:  My work is linear and my line is painted rope. I paint all sizes of rope, from heavy clothesline and the thick cotton flex used in upholstery to mason line, cable cord, and thin polished-cotton twine.  In some pieces, I’ve used stiff venetian-blind cord, and also experimented — unsuccessfully — with sisal.  In my current work, I try to use as pure a cotton rope as possible.  With the exception of cotton flex, I wash my rope in the washing machine to remove the stiffener, then stretch it tightly around the posts in my cellar so that it dries straight.

"Stress and Release" (2010) 8.5" x 20" x12" Painted mason line, cord, cotton flex, painting, twisting.

EL: I have used up to 1200 lengths of rope in one piece, so depending on the number of lines I need, I measure and cut the dried rope, mix up big storage containers of Liquitex, which has just the right consistency for my purposes, and then paint the ropes, three to six at a time. In some pieces, I create gradations of color on the ropes, which means I have to paint each rope individually to blend the color.

Painting the rope.

EL: When I do a large hanging piece on canvas, I make a hole in the canvas and push one end of the wet rope through the hole to the back, holding the wet part out of the way while I do that.  After I knot it in back, I press the wet rope against the canvas, and it offsets the paint onto the canvas, giving me a double line, in effect: the rope and then the pressed image of the rope.  I often mask off areas where I don’t want the wet rope to offset.

"Extension and Velocity" detail showing offset on canvas.

EL: With the twisted pieces, I let the rope dry overnight and do the twisting dry but coated with wet Elmer’s Glue. It’s a sloppy process: the ropes get whipped around as I twist them.  Working with wet rope is generally a messy process.

"Methane Migration" (2012) 11" x 28" x 16"; painted twisted ropes.

TSGNY: Other than the mess, have you found that working with rope poses any particular challenges?  If so, how have you overcome them?

EL: Working with painted rope has given me some unexpected challenges, the most important being gravity.  In the twisted pieces, the pull of gravity presents a lot of problems.  A piece might be sticking up straight and very full when completed; but over a period of time, it will droop from the pull of gravity.

"Piggy Back" (2008) 20.5" x 18" x8.25" Painted rope, mason line, cord; painting, twisting

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working with rope?

EL: I was painting large canvases with oils, doing fine line pencil drawings, etchings and intaglio.  You could describe my work as proliferating biomorphism.  I literally studied nature through a microscope.  I was very influenced by the drawings of Arshile Gorky. But I was never very happy with my “brushstroke.”  I could never find a way of painting that really pleased me.  I was always painting forms that seemed to be leaving the canvas, or wishing that I could attach something to the canvas.  When I finally came to rope, it seemed to be the solution I was seeking.

"Adieu Ma Bonne Amie" (2008) 14" x 22" x14.5"; painted twisted rope.

EL: Working off the canvas in the twisted pieces has also been very challenging, because I have to consider it from all sides; and there is always one side that looks better than the other.  Sculpture should not have a back and a front, but making it “work” from all views is really difficult for someone who worked two-dimensionally for so many years.  Also, I like to work large. I thought I would be able to make large, twisted pieces; but I find that there is a limit to the size I can work in with the twisted rope.  Rope is also very heavy.  Moving and storing the large pieces and the crates they require has been extremely challenging.  Lately, I have a new challenge, and that is finding the rope I need.  Rope is not being manufactured as much in the USA, and I no longer have a local supplier.

TSGNY: Did you discover the rope in an “aha” moment, or was it more of a gradual evolution?

EL: I would say a series of “aha” moments. The first was a fiber exhibition at MOMA in the early ‘70s. It was more exciting than any painting exhibition I had ever seen.  Unsatisfied with painting, I started doing things like inserting strips of torn bed sheet into my canvases or cutting the painted shapes right out of the canvas.  I experimented with layers of sheer fabrics and deconstructing canvas by removing some of the weft, sewing some of the pieces together and stuffing them with cotton batting, adhering them to the walls with glue and pushing the loose strands of canvas into place with my hands to become part of the wall.  I experimented with cardboard, window screening, chicken wire, wood.  At the same time, I had this idea of creating a visual music.  I drew a grid on heavy vellum and inserted black threads at certain intervals.  Then I tried the same thing by painting string and inserting it in canvas. That was around the time I had my next “aha” moment, when I climbed a flight of old wooden stairs to a dumpy little back room gallery to see the work of Eva Hesse.  Her work blew my mind.  I went out to Amalgamated Cordage in Long Island and bought cases of wash line. My final “aha” moment was after seeing a small exhibition of dance notation at Hunter College, after which a friend took me to see a show of new music notation at the Metropolitan Opera House. I realized then that what I was trying to do was not impossible.

"Extension and Velocity" (1972) 106" x 72" x 3" Painted rope, pencil, canvas, drawing, painting, knotting, draping.

TSGNY: Can you talk more about what you were doing with musical notation?

EL: I’ve always been fascinated by the “calligraphy” of music, the notation itself.  When I began studying the new notation of musicians like Bussotti, Cage, Kagel, Lutoslawski, Schnebel, and Stockhausen, to name a few, and the dance notation that I saw at Hunter College, it struck me how visual this notation was, how the music notation was a graphic art. So why couldn’t the reverse be true – why couldn’t graphic art, or any visual art, be notation for music?  I believe this question was the basis for Wassily Kandinsky’s drawings and paintings.  The grid that I draw is actually very much like weaving.  The horizontal lines, the weft, represent the measure of time in the music.  The vertical lines, the warp, represent the notes in the music.  For every horizontal line representing a measure, I record all the notes from the original score that are within that measure. I select music that is related to the subject I have in mind and then, measure by measure, plot out all the notes on a pre-printed grid and enlarge it on vellum.  I might throw the grid into perspective or not let it show in the final piece at all.

Musicgraphics for Song of the Gopis.

TSGNY: So would you say your intent changed as a result of working with rope?

EL:  If anything, it has broadened as challenges came along. The twisted pieces are very spontaneous; but the hanging pieces on canvas are carefully planned and thought out, since their underlying structure is based on specific music notation.  I have never lost interest in the underlying music structure of the two-dimensional pieces but along the way, I realized that my passion was not just the music, not just the materials, but communicating a message.  I really feel as though some of my best pieces have been the ones where I have communicated with my viewer in some way, although often not in any way that I could plan or anticipate. If a viewer comes away with an emotional reaction — happy, sad, angry, thoughtful — then I have communicated.  My titles are an extremely important part of my work, and are a clue to my meaning.  For instance, I did a piece a long time ago called “No, It is Not Sleep, That is Merely The Outward Seeming ….” and goes on to quote a line about wheat and how the grain is silently developing inside until it bursts its envelope –  that piece was really about motherhood and being an artist, about not being able to get to the work because of the baby’s needs, but how ideas are forming inside the artist’s head until they just burst forth like the wheat from the grain.  Very subtle; no one got it.  Even the music series, Inversions, has to do with infinity, how things just go on and on, repeating themselves over and over in a different form.

TSGNY: Some of your pieces with words seem like a more direct, or political form of communication.

"CORKGUN" (2009) 33" x 17" x 12" Painted cotton cord, mason line, inkjet printing on fabric, iridescent stainless-steel paint, string, cork; painting, twisting, cutting, piecing.

EL: I think a piece like CORKGUN communicates even without the words.  Cross By The Side Of The Road does the same thing. I wish I could say the same of all my pieces! I never really thought I was making political statements when I started to add words.  I never really give an opinion; I don’t make a judgment; I just tell a story.

"Fire From Water (or Fracking America)" (2012) 52" x 19" x 18" Painted rope; inkjet printing on fabric, twisting, cutting, piecing, whipping.

EL: It’s important to me that pieces like CORKGUN or Fracking America are based on careful research. I am very careful to have accurate information and to document my sources. I research newspaper articles, magazine articles, online articles and documents for each subject I’m looking into.  I can end up with piles of information.  Then I take bits of that information from here and there and just start typing in a large format, say 24-point type, and changing typefaces as I go along.  I cut these apart and select the ones that interest me the most, retype it all and print it on fabric.  Then I cut it all apart again and reassemble it, gluing or stitching the fabric strips together.

"CORKGUN" detail.

EL: I end up with a jumble of facts and quotes that, hopefully, end up telling the story. All the stories are real.  I don’t make them up; they really happened.

"No One Is Listening" detail (2008) 6.5” x 24” x 17”; painted mason line, cord, inkjet printing on fabric, thread; painting, twisting. piecing, sewing.

TSGNY: Finally, who are some artists who inspire you whose work you think we should know?

EL:  I find inspiration in the work of my fellow artists at TSGNY and in our speakers, the drawings and paintings of the late Arshile Gorky and Wassily Kandinsky, the works of Sheila Hicks, Dale Chihuly, Julie Mehretu, and Jim Dine, the colors and imagery of the Apocalypse tapestry in Angers, the quilts of Faith Ringgold and the paintings of the late Charles Wysocki. One recent exhibition that truly impressed me was the Sheila Hicks retrospective at ICA in Philadelphia a few years back.   One would think that I might have been influenced by her, but I had never seen Hicks’ work before that exhibition. When I walked into that show and saw her work for the first time, I cannot describe the excitement I felt. I think I actually exclaimed out loud. I have also been particularly inspired by three books:  The Art Fabric: Mainstream by Mildred Constantine and Jack Lenor Larsen, Notation in New Music by Erhard Karkoschka, and Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

Inserting painted cord into new large work on canvas (pins mark rope placement).

TSGNY: Thank you, Elaine. You can find more of Elaine’s work here.

Nancy Koenigsberg: Metal That Floats

TSGNY: What fiber techniques and materials do you use in your work?

Nancy Koenigsberg: My process is very elementary. I work either on a frame loom or on the wall with a loose warp and a grid on paper. The works I do on the frame loom are woven, often with a modified soumak wrap around a single warp. Many of them are modules, which I then layer or join to make larger works. The later works are not done on a loom; they’re square-knotted. In both the woven and knotted pieces I work with metals — either coated copper or annealed steel wire.

Tempest, 2011, 48" x 48" x 7", coated copper wire, woven on a frame loom and sewn.

TSGNY: Metal is not immediately associated with fiber techniques like weaving and knotting. How did you arrive at wire as your primary material?

NK: When I began to work in fibers in my current mode (as opposed to the needlepoint rugs and furniture coverings I was designing for my own company), I went to the New School and studied mostly off-loom techniques with Gayle Wimmer.  Then I became interested in working on a floor loom as well as a frame loom, using natural materials — cotton and linen.

Light, 2011, 48" x 48" x 8", plied twisted copper wires, woven on a frame loom.

NK: It was a gradual evolution from natural fibers to metal:  first telephone wire, then copper, then steel. The first wire was a gift from a friend, and when I saw what could be done, even with telephone wire, it was an aha! moment. The same was true when I purchased a small roll of steel in a hardware store in order to form a more rigid work for the free-standing pieces I was making.

Tumble II, 2001, 24" x 8" x 12", annealed steel, coated copper.

TSGNY: How would you compare the woven and knotted work?

NK:  I really prefer the knotted works.  There’s more flexibility in size and shape, and it’s possible to break the grid. The woven pieces are worked on a frame loom with nails on four sides, which creates a regular grid. With the knotted pieces, I work against the wall, and often have gridded paper under them — either to give me regular squares or to show that the squares should not be regular.  It is amazing to me how even and regular the pattern becomes without anything to steer it off.

Denver 7, 2012, 13" x 13", coated copper wire, woven and knotted.

TSGNY: What are the particular challenges of working in wire?

NK: As far as physical challenges, some of the wire created hangnails, split nails and calluses. Gloves do not work for me.  My doctor tells me tetanus shots are a must since I get materials from many sources.  In the realm of creative challenges,  I have recently returned to working in series: same size and similar materials. For a recent show in Denver I made a series of twelve small works, 13″ x 13″. The curator stipulated a limited palette, certain particular hues. It was a challenge to create that number given these parameters.  But I loved doing it and plan to set up a similar series again soon.  Often in my larger works once the design and materials are determined there is not a lot I can change, so I am doing the same thing for a long period of time.  Here I was able to make lots of modules within the set of guidelines I was given and then combine them in different ways, which kept the process alive and interesting.

Denver 4, 2012, 13"x13", coated copper wire, woven and knotted.

TSGNY: What does wire enable you to do that you couldn’t do in your earlier work in natural fibers?

NK: For free-standing pieces, I am able to achieve strength and rigidity through the wire. But the wire isn’t necessarily rigid. In my most recent work I have used fine-gauged wire to create soft draped pieces, which retain the floating quality I am striving to achieve.

Thirteen Nets, 2005, 72" x 96" x 15", coated copper wire and glass beads, knotted.

TSGNY: Did working in wire change your artistic intent?

NK: Unlike my earlier dense, opaque work in natural materials, with the use of metals I became interested in light and transparency.

Red 2, 2012, 32" x 49" x 6", coated copper wire, woven on a frame loom.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists whose work inspires you who you feel we should know about?

NK: I spend a great deal of time looking at drawings and sculpture. For many years I have been following the work of Alan Saret and Mark Sheinkman  I am particularly interested in the linear aspects of their work. Two other artists who have inspired me are the late Joanne Segal Brandford of the US and the late Mira Schendel of Brazil.

TSGNY, Thank you, Nancy. You can see more of Nancy’s work here and in a two-person show at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich Connecticut, A Fine Line: Kennedy & Koenigsberg, from March 14 to May 1, 2013. Nancy is also founder and president emerita of the Textile Study Group of New York, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2012.