Discovering the Artistry in Fiber| An Author’s Journey By Anne Lee
in today’s art world, traditional methods, processes, and materials are evolving in fascinating, dynamic, and sometimes challenging directions—and the resurgence of fiber art beautifully illustrates these trends. Fiber artists today explore a multitude of materials, natural and synthetic, traditional and unexpected. They combine different fiber techniques together in a single piece, push technical processes, and cross-pollinate mediums. They explore social, political, economic, and environmental issues. They are today’s storytellers.
Excited by these trends, Ashley Rooney and I suggested to Schiffer Publishing that we compile a book on contemporary fiber art; published in 2017, the resulting Artistry in Fiber series—Wall Art, Sculpture, and Wearable Art—showcases the amazing creative energy of over 300 fiber artists captured in 1,500 images and enlivened by their own words. It was thrilling to bring this project to fruition and equally gratifying to participate in the October 4th seARTS Wearable Art Panel to discuss how these artists are pushing the boundaries of this ever-evolving art.
Wearable Art explores the materials, methods, and messages in an art form created for, and enlivened by, the body. Artists frequently reclaim and recycle materials, creating beauty from waste:
Korean-born Yong Joo Kim focuses primarily on “unattractive and mundane” hook-and-loop Velcro to create sumptuous jewelry resembling pleated felt. Others expand the narrative use of natural materials, such as the plant stalks Sharon Kallis grows from seed to final knit piece over the course of three years. Some explore unexpected synthetics—strands of acrylic paint, artificial hair, plastic, fiberglass, tape, and in the case of Kathryn Stanko, strands of thin wire. And, they combine different fiber techniques together in a single piece, braiding, tacking, weaving, and knitting in seemingly endless variations: Rebecca Wendlandt’s exuberant surfaces are a delightful example.
Technically, wearable art soars with the artists’ imagination, experimentation, and expertise. Both Polish-born Ania Gilmore and Argentine-Dutch Luis Acosta manipulate paper into jewelry, but with
strikingly different results: she molds mulberry fibers into malleable pieces that can be further manipulated by the wearer, while he stitches together repeated paper forms. Other artists cross-pollinate mediums, incorporating paint, metal, and all manner of found or repurposed objects. Myung Urso, for instance, often observes “how different elements play out in their own way, helping to define the destiny of each work.”
The artists’ messages are as diverse as they are themselves, influenced by anything from personal tragedy to political awakening. As one of the softer veins of art, the luscious and palpable nature of wearable art—such as in Ana Lisa Hedstrom’s Aphrodite of the Sea—attracts us by its beauty and expression. However, there is sometimes an undercurrent that can be uncomfortable: the piece is made from recycled plastic bottles, and Aphrodite is in fact crying tears of oil in her beleaguered ocean.
Susan Taber Avila’s Vascular Expression, meanwhile, is part of a
series focusing on women’s health issues and in particular cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of women. And, Tina Lazzarine’s collars demonstrate the complex identity of women as both oppressed and empowered, using contrasting hard and soft materials to express these dichotomies.
The creative possibilities in the area of wearable art are endless and bound only by what is personally beautiful and expressive. A wearer can find a means of individual expression unavailable in our mainstream world of mass production. More than pure adornment, the intimate interaction between wearer and art is both physical and emotional; the body literally breathes life and movement into a piece, while also adding meaning and context.
These are works of art akin to a painting or piece of sculpture, and as such should be treated the same way: collected and curated, purchased and preserved, studied and shown.
Published in 2017, the three volumes of Artistry in Fiber (Wall Art, Sculpture, and Wearable Art) are available at Schiffer Publishing (www.schifferbooks.com), Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other stores. THROUGHOUT THE MONTH OF OCTOBER, THE BOOK CAN BE PURCHASED IN GLOUCESTER AT THE CAPE ANN MUSEUM GIFT SHOP Anne Lee can be contacted via email: AnJamLee [at] aol.com
PHOTOS ARE IN ORDER WITH THE TEXT. [Scroll over photos to see artist information]