Welcome to eMbroidery, a series of interviews with male embroiderers. This month, Mark Bieraugal aka FilmResearch.
Name: Mark Bieraugel
Location: Tacoma, Washington State, about 30 miles south of Seattle
Main embroidery medium: Floss on fabric, mostly vintage or thrift store fabrics.
Noteworthy projects or pieces: A series of 99 stitched coelacanths (fish)
How did you come to be an embroiderer? For some reason I got in my head to learn embroidery. Jenny Hart, the owner of Sublime Stitching came to Seattle to teach a small class, which I took. I had learned about Hart through her ‘Artist’ series of embroidery transfers which includes Gary Baseman, Jim Woodring, Tara McPhearson, and many other artists I admire. At the class I learned a few basic stitches and techniques of handling floss and have been stitching like a madman ever since.
One of my reasons for taking the class is that I wanted to create something like what was being done by so-called ‘low brow’ artists, people inspired by cartoons, the car culture, vinyl toys, and who often came from the world of illustration and graphic art but moved into the fine art world.
What does it mean to you? Finding embroidery was an amazing and life changing thing for me. I’ve always been a person who really loves museums, galleries, reading about art and artists, but have not had a way to join the conversation, to produce art in any way. Learning embroidery gave me a way to express myself in a totally new way. It opened the floodgates of pent up creativity and suddenly I was creating all sorts of new things. I love that embroidery has this incredible history, that there is a massive range of types of the stuff, from kitchen towels to sumptuous gold work.
Where do you like to work? I like to work at home, in front of the TV, where some television show keeps me company and takes my mind off of the sometimes tedious aspects of embroidery. I see from Penny Nickel’s video series ‘this is handmade’ that many others like sofa embroidering. I also like to stitch in public, especially when I am waiting for an appointment or just killing time. I am an out and proud embroiderer.
How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer? People sometimes stare a bit and look at me like I am a special breed of dog. The common thing people talk to me about is how they wish they had time to do hand work of some sort. They have a sort of apologetic attitude, like they should be stitching and feel guilty about not stitching.
Who inspires you? Not to be all kiss-ass but your group of writers and stitchers really make me work hard to up my game in my stitching. Folks which consistently inspire me are Ellen Schinderman, Penny Nickels, Bren Ahearn, and the ubiquitous Richard Saja. The illustrators and artists Ray Troll, Tim Biskup, Amanda Visell, and Mark Ryden inspire me.
One of my work colleagues and a fellow artist, Kendall Reid, really inspired me. He encouraged me to enter into a juried show. I entered, got in, and then found out there are many juried shows which accept fiber art.
Not really a ‘who’ but a what, as I am also inspired by ‘calls to artists’ for juried shows. These shows have themes which spark my creativity, and make me think about new things to stitch. I stitched up the “Visual System” and “Family Tree” pieces from that inspiration.
How or where did you learn you learn how to stitch or sew? I learned the basics of sewing from my Mother, learned more about sewing from a Home Economics class in 8th grade, and learned to use industrial machines in costume shop as an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. I just got a vintage Kenmore 85 machine for Christmas which I am excited to use, not sure on what yet, but glad to have it.
Are your current images new ones or have you used them before? I work with images I have used before, like the coelacanth, as part of a series. I also develop new images for specific shows or for ideas I want to work on. Pretty early on I restricted myself to a smaller set of images as it forces me to be more creative in how I use them.
How has your life shaped or influenced your work? I was a heavy reader as a kid, specifically books on marine biology and the natural world. As a pre-teen I read the ‘biography’ of the coelacanth, about its rediscovery in the 1930s, and its specialness as a ‘living fossil.’ The idea of a creature which as somehow escaped time, slipped by somehow, still fascinates me.
I both love the new and am suspicious of it, so working with vintage fabrics, old transfers, even older fish, all of that stuff appeals to me. I am a bit of a magpie, snatching anything bright, shiny and interesting up and trying to use it somehow. Also I am gay so my series on beards, bears, and beefcake obviously springs from my personal interest in the subject.
What are or were some of the strongest currents from your influences you had to absorb before you understood your own work? I spent quite a few years in the Los Angeles area, and studied animation history and purchased animation art. Some of my pieces mimic a bit of the old type of animation art, where there is a clear animation cel with an image painted on it laid over a painted background. You can see this particularly in the piece ‘Cannonball Run’ but also on pieces which use a designed background and something laid over it.
Also it seems my Catholic background is some of bubbling up in my pieces. You can see that in the ‘Ecclesiastical Coelacanth’ and in a forthcoming piece of a cowboy with flaming fish surrounding him a la the Virgin Mary. And my interest in Buddhism shows itself in my series of designer shoe bag prayer flags.
Do formal concerns, such as perspective and art history, interest you? They concern me in the sense that I believe I am now a small voice amidst the larger conversation between artists, art lovers, and those that pay attention to these things. Art history is an interest of mine, and I have been recently reading books specifically about fiber and needle arts history. I take inspiration from the past, but the past which doesn’t often fit into art history books, such as illustration, graphic design, Kidrobot-type artists, and animation.
What do your choice of images mean to you? I want to produce something which interests me, a thing which slows down my ever moving eye. I enjoy the idea of producing something new, something which hasn’t been seen before. I like the idea of a series, as it allows me to explore and create using a familiar image but work out different ideas, and reuse the image in new and surprising ways.
I like things which both surprise me, make me laugh, and are clever. Not all at once, but I often aim for that type of feeling in my work.
Do you look at your work with an eye toward it like what can and can’t be visually quoted? In other words what you will or won’t cut out? In composing an image I tend to start simple, add to it, and then usually return to the original thought. In thinking about what can be cut I try and work on the edges of my piece, figuring how to use parts of figures, looking to create something dynamic and interesting. Over time I have made my figures, specifically my fish, more and more abstract. My first coelacanths were almost realistic, and now they are sometimes just blobs with fins.
Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us? Not yet, but you’ll be the first to know.
How do you hope history treats your work? I would love for people to enjoy my work, to hang it up, to give them some pleasure. And maybe have a bit of mystery about it.
Where can we find you and your work? The best way is through Flickr.
eMbroidery was created with the support and wisdom of the magnificent Bascom Hogue.
The Kingpin of Contemporary Embroidery. Committed to changing the way the world thinks about needlecraft.