Welcome back to Future Heirlooms, my bi-weekly post that gets the insider information from some of the most exciting contemporary embroidery artists working today. I do apologize about my lack of post last time but I was distracted by the fact that I was giving birth to my brand new son. Tesla Wyeth was born April 20 after 29 hours of labor, 26 of which were at home all natural!
But to make up for it we have a treat- an interview with embroiderer Allison Manch. I thought Allison’s work was perfect to feature this week to remind you and inspire you to submit to the show that I am curating of work using text, from the tongue. The deadline is this Friday so think fast if you want to submit some work. Info here.
Allison uses found linens and embroiders text from pop culture, often from 80’s movies and hip hop music. Obviously a child of the 80’s, something I can truly relate to.
Where do you live? Does this affect your work?
I live in Seattle. It’s a great city for art because I’ve always found it an easy place to throw together art shows and find like-minded people. I don’t think living in Seattle directly affects my subject matter but it has a very supportive art community.
How did you begin to embroider?
When I was in junior high school my mom taught me to embroider. We used to embroider sea creatures on my blue jeans. She also taught me to cross stitch. My mom didn’t really do much embroidery when I was a child but she definitely was skilled with fabric. She used to do a lot of soft sculptures for my brother and me when we were children. I can remember this amazing city scene and a cactus that she made. I really loved those things.
Are you self taught or formally trained? Do you think this affects your practice, if so how?
My mother taught me some very basic stitches and I learned a few other when I took a fibers class in college. For the most part I learned my technique from books and trial and error. Lots of trial and error. This affects my practice because I don’t feel any need to be a traditional embroiderer. I always figure that the more experiments I can take with my embroidery the better the outcome will be.
Right on with that, This is why I love embroidery too!
How does the practice of embroidery affect the conceptual aspect of your work?
I love embroidery but it can easily be construed as decorative and therefore dismissed by contemporary art audiences. For that reason it is necessary for me to put extra focus on the conceptual framework behind my art. There is also a vast, really amazing history of embroidered artwork. Initially I tried to make my work look old or reminiscent of historical embroidery but now I try to make it as contemporary as possible.
Describe your studio and studio practice.
Currently I do all my work at home, mostly in my bedroom or on my living room couch. A lot of my recent work involves dying and bleaching textiles which has made me move my practice to the bathroom and the living room table. I don’t have a traditional studio space.
Generally, I sketch out my design and then transfer it to fabric with carbon paper. I then outline the design with embroidery thread. I use a plastic embroidery hoop for most of my work and a quilting hoop for some of the larger pieces.
How has your work evolved since you first began working with embroidery?
When I started to embroider after graduate school (I studied photography for my BFA and MFA) I made very simple text pieces, pretty much all straight stitch. I didn’t consider composition or color. It was really loose and free. Once the text started moving faster I sought out a new challenge and incorporated portraiture in my work. I spent a lot of time trying to find black handkerchiefs for a piece that I wanted to make then it occurred to me that I could just dye the fabric. Ever since then I’ve worked a lot with dye and tie-dying.
No wonder I love Allison’s work- I too started as a photographer, began embroidering with simple text works, and moved to portraits. Kindred spirits we are.
Most of your work is text based. Can you talk about what draws you to text both conceptually and visually?
Text artwork is very approachable and universal. I like that it doesn’t have to be overtly conceptual. However, I enjoy using text conceptually because it creates odd juxtapositions between pieces. Visually, I am drawn to use text because I like the imperfection of handwriting and hand drawn fonts.
Most of your text is taken directly from popular culture- can you talk about how you select what to use and why you choose to approach your practice this way?
How is the act of appropriation important?
Appropriation is a great way to make an immediate connection to your audience. It is easy to draw an emotional response from a viewer when she or he is able to connect to the work. Sometimes these connections can be positive memories and occasionally they are negative as well. I have received both kinds of feedback about my work. My recent embroidery appropriated Richard Avedon photographs. I did this in direct reference to artists I was thinking about at the time such as Sherrie Levine and Barbara Kruger who both made a career of appropriating imagery (specifically photographic imagery). I have a real soft spot for photography and photo history and I try to incorporate that into my embroidery work whenever possible.
What is the next direction or step for your work?
At this point I am trying to work more with scale, making larger embroidered work and attempting to work more with sculpture. I am also trying to learn more about drawing and painting so that I can incorporate more complicated designs into my embroidered pieces.
What else do you spend your time doing? hobbies? jobs? activities?
Do any of these inform your work?
I work full time at an art museum in Seattle. It’s great because it provides me with a ton of daily inspiration and it also keeps me on a strict studio schedule.
I also watch a lot of movies and television and listen to a fair amount of records. This all informs my work a great deal. I’m a pretty quiet person so I have spent most of my life soaking in other people’s stories, pop songs, and movies. My artwork is a way that I can spit all of that information back out to the public.
My work is available for purchase through the Grey Gallery and Lounge in Seattle
Allison submitted her work thankfully to from the tongue, you should too.
Until next time keep stitching!!
Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributing to the online journal Hello Craft. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, a goldfish.