• UO Happenings: Man-Made Quilters Show

    This is the new generation of quilters: the eight artists whose work will be featured this month in "Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters" at LA's Craft and Folk Art Museum are part of a loosely-knit (no pun intended) community of male artists using quilting as their preferred medium to explore technique, design, and experimentation. In anticipation of the show, we were able to talk with a few of the artists to see how they got started, what their creative process is like, and take a closer look at their modern interpretations of the traditional craft.

    Ben Venom

    What got you started at quilting as an art form?
    My textile work is directly inspired from the Gees Bend quilt exhibition I saw at the De Young Museum in 2006. I was blown away by the attention to design, craft, and handiwork by women from a very rural region in the American South not too far from where I grew up. They did not have a lot of materials at their disposal and would use recycled denim jeans, blankets, and fabric scrapes to construct some really amazing work. I like the idea of up-cycling or re-use...Nothing is thrown away! Though I originally began my practice as a painter and printmaker, I began to transition to textile-based work in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute. While in graduate school I was slowly learning how to use the sewing machine via trial and error. Mistakes are a large part of my artistic process. After seeing the Gees Bend quilts I decided to push the boundaries of my art and attempt to make a quilt. This first quilt would contain my collection of heavy metal band shirts. For years I had amassed a large pile of torn-up and threadbare band shirts that I could never throw away. It’s not cool when your Slayer shirt turns to mesh. Ha! From there my work has progressed to include all types of material including donated and recycled fabric, denim, and leather. 

    By stitching the donated fabrics into a unified piece, the quilts are able to display a multitude of personal histories. Everyone’s unexplained stain, tear, or rip will be included and when displayed visitors will be able to see a piece of themselves woven into this larger history. A collection of memories, dreams, and past experiences will be on view in the form of a functional quilt. 

    How does quilting differ from other mediums?
    It allows me to use all types of textiles and create a piece that is simultaneously conceptually strong and functional. I am able to re-invision the story of the material through a softer lens. The work is able to operate in three different worlds: fine art, crafting, and the counter-culture scene. I am influenced by and reference material found in vintage tattoos, the occult, folklore, mythology, military patches, gang insignias, and motorcycle clubs. The viewer is assaulted with imagery of soaring eagles, charging tigers, whips, and chains. Art and function fused together in one piece creates a dynamic experience for the viewer. The final product is durable, wearable, and functional. 

    What is your creative or inspiration process like?
    Research, research, research! Everything I do begins with some amount of research into a particular topic or interest. After that, I will come up with a general idea in my sketchbook by taking notes and doing some quick drawings to work out my idea. From there I move the design into Photoshop or Illustrator and refine the design to its final size. The next step involves cutting all the fabric into pre-determined shapes that fit into the overall design much like a puzzle. Finally, I sew all the pieces together with the quilting stitch that holds all three layers of the quilt together.

    Luke Haynes

    What got you started in quilting as an art form?
    My path was through fine art and then architecture. I grew up in the Southeast within a supportive craft community so I picked up knitting early. After going through art school I decided that my work was driven by function and human interaction...architecture was the next logical step. After that I worked in the field for a few years, but decided to start my own business that I could control all steps of: quilts are malleable architecture. It just made sense.

    How does quilting differ from other mediums?
    Quilts are objects. I am a sculptor of environment and function that can be displayed as wall art. I don’t only allude to imagery, I am also creating a functional object. 

    Where do you pull inspiration from?
    All over the place. Most often my exhibitions are designed to answer a question or to pose a design prompt to solve with materials or scale. I also look to architecture and design: when there is function involved I think the maker has a different responsibility to the user or viewer. [Afterward, I make] digital mock ups, then a few small studies, and then its time to create the piece. There are times that I have to make it again if it doesn’t meet my standards or isn’t good enough for the exhibition.

    Joe Cunningham

    How did you get started as a quilter?
    I was trying to impress a girlfriend with how openminded I was, but ended up liking it too much to quit.

    How does quilting differ from other mediums?
    People think they need to learn how to draw or paint, but anybody can make a quilt any way they want. Ugly paintings need to be painted over or thrown out; ugly quilts will still keep you warm.

    Can you walk us through the process of making a new quilt?
    I usually try to figure out a new way to make a quilt, one that will best help me express my thought, feeling, or idea. Then I start cutting and sewing as soon as I can, before I have too clear an idea of what it should look like. I try to find out what it will look like by making it. I use existing fabric, and work any way the quilt requires: by hand, by machine, or by robotic machine. Few—if any—preparatory sketches. 

    Shawn Quinlan

    How did you get started as a quilter?
    Around 1994 my stepmother bought a scrap quilt in a thrift store which was made of really cool 1950's fabrics. After examining it, I mentioned I would like to learn how to do this. A few weeks later my stepmother found me a used sewing machine and I was hooked ever since.

    How does quilting differ from other mediums?
    The main ingredient in a quilt is the fabric. The more obscure and interesting the better—such as reusing curtains, clothes, tablecloths, or sheets. Also, there are so many different places one can find fabric: thrift stores, eBay, and quilt shops just to name a few.

    How are you inspired for a quilt's concept and how does it come together?
    Many of my ideas come from current events that I come across at my day job editing video in television news. Taking a mostly improvisational approach when starting a piece, I build on a few chosen images which seems to take on a life of their own. It brings with it even more inspiration and ideas—as if the work were speaking to me, adding to the process.

    I work on a big styrofoam wall that I can pin the fabrics to. I audition and audition many fabrics from my stash. Arranging and rearranging, cutting and replacing until I get the desired effect and just the right composition. This can be the hardest part. After that it’s just a matter of pulling it together with thread to make it a singular voice. After it is pieced together, it is ready to be quilted with the top layer being the design, middle layer being the cotton batting, and the back being either pieced fabrics or one whole cloth. The quilting process itself is very therapeutic and relaxing.

    Aaron Mcintosh

    How did you start quilting?
    I begged my mom to teach me to sew when I was nine or ten, and she finally relented and showed me how to hand stitch. When I was 12, I taught myself how to use the sewing machine and off I went. I made lots of little quilts, as well as clothes for dolls and for myself. I would show these things to my grandmothers and they were impressed, offering me sewing tips sometimes. I went to college and studied textiles. I eventually arrived at the quilt as a personal artifact with a lot of cultural specificity, as well as an “open” medium with lots of room for material exploration.

    How does quilting differ from other mediums?
    The quilt is an excellent platform for my content precisely because of the family connection, and also because it is a medium with multivalent trajectories. Whether personal or communal, minimal or maximal, staid or kitschy, high or low, quilts are flexible, open objects, full of possibility. Piecework itself can be traditional, rigid, or structured, but it can also be loose, intuitive, and unhinged. I think of identity as similarly accessible, and along the lines of crafting—it’s something we work on, obsess over, and tend to do with care. So I’ve chosen this patchwork medium to unload a lot of disparate thoughts about my identities: queer, Appalachian, textile nerd, academic, hopeless romantic, son, feminist, and artist. 

    What is the actual creation process like?
    I tend to study forms for quite a while before deciding what direction to go in. I am often converting print media material into quilted forms, so that can be an elaborate process of reproducing magazine images onto cloth so I can cut and sew into them. In recent works I have been tacking to one-to-one representations of forms, such as a taxidermy black bear, firewood, dead trees, and weeds. These 3D works have used the language of quilt piecework in unusual sculptural ways. That is to say, my process of creation is driven by the needs of the work. 

    Dan Olfe

    How did you first start quilting?
    After we commissioned a quilt artist to create a wall hanging for our new contemporary house, I thought, “I can do that.” So I went to my computer and started designing.

    How does this medium differ from others?
    My wife and I feel that quilts (and other fiber art) are better for decorating a home because they don’t have sharp reflections like paintings and other smooth art.

    What is your creative / inspiration process?
    I get an idea for a design based on my previous work or from something that I have seen. 

    After you are inspired for a piece, what is the actual creation process like?
    I try out various designs on a computer, and finally settle on one that works for me. Finally I have my design printed on cloth, and quilt it with batting and a back on my sewing machine.

    "Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters" runs at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in LA from January 25-May 3.