What do you get when you combine humor, discipline, fashion, a clean design aesthetic, intelligence, research acumen, sick stitching skills and vast curiosity about the world?
Mark is embroidering a new artwork into the pages of the September, 2013, American Vogue. Every single day.
Mark s stitched pages are fresh, funny and thoughtful, as well as beautiful. Hundreds of his fans check his Instagram stream every day to see what he has to offer.
The Vogue pages are a fascinating combination of imagery everything from altered advertisements to high concept, editorial fashion pages. Mark s creative decisions about what to stitch have the quality of a conversation with the photographers, artists, marketers, designers and models. His interaction with their creations transforms the magazine imagery into another a surprisingly cohesive work of art.
What follows is an email conversation I had with Mark during March 2014. Mark s wit and wry intelligence first captured my attention years ago when I saw his work in his flickr stream (his flickr name is Film Research.) In conversation, that fierce playfulness is even more evident.
What can you tell us the background of the Stitch A Pose project?
For a year I watched with delight and amazement the daily posting of Lucky Jackson’s work. Her ‘piece a day for a year’ really inspired me to do my own version. I don’t know her work and general life situation, but I know that I needed to head start for doing a daily work. I couldn’t just start daily staring at a blank piece of fabric.
Last year I saw this back issue of Vogue, it was the Lady Gaga cover from 2012, and it was over 900 pages long. The first page was a Ralph Lauren ad with a couple on horseback, kissing in the long grass. The first thing I thought when I saw that picture was, “ticks. There must be tons of ticks in that long grass.” And that lead to an idea to stitch on pages of a Vogue.
With the help of a friend I set up an Instragram account, dubbed it ‘StitchAPose,’ altering the line the Madonna song, ‘Vogue.’ Before I knew it started my nightly stitching for morning posting. I love a challenge and I wanted to really make myself create something new every day.
How do you approach the project each day?
I look at the possible pages (you have two for each day) and then choose the one to stitch. Sometimes the existing image makes an idea form in my head, which I then sketch on tracing paper over the image. Once sketched, I then punch all the holes to be stitched on the page, choose floss colors and width of the floss and then carefully stitch until finished. Other times I do research online, reading about the company or product and from that research springs an idea. Unlike most of my other work, which is based on relatively realistic images, the Vogue pieces can be abstract.
The structure of doing something every day, to have to produce something, makes you not wait for inspiration. Once I have a decent idea I go for it right away.
One of my personal goals for this project was to draw daily. I particularly like the atomic bomb image because I can feel see my drawing and see it working with that existing image.
What I love about social media, particularly Instragram, is that people can find and follow you from all around the world, all different types of people. I have had so many kind and funny comments from people who’ve seen my work.
Can you give us a description of your design process for a specific page? How did you make the decision about what imagery to stitch into it? Can you walk us through the steps?
The first thing I do is to really look at the image. In looking and thinking about the image I respond to it. I sit and think and stare at the image and let my mind make associations and connections. Some images evoke a kind of narrative or story, while others elicit ideas based on geometric or organic shapes. I also think about the finished page and if the stitched ideas show up in a photo and if the idea be successfully created by stitching.
For December 12th I began by looking at the image, two people in swimsuits staring out to an open ocean. They are young and probably living between the two world wars, totally unaware of what is coming in their future. The photo is elegant, sepia toned, and connotes a world of privilege. The couple is looking and our focus is on their looking, so I thought of them somehow looking to the future, and the ocean brought the idea of the atomic bomb testing the US did in the Pacific Ocean. The couple is somehow seeing the bomb blast in the Pacific in their future. From there I began to search for images online of atomic bomb blasts, making sketches on the traced image from the page, trying out various configurations.
I m amazed by how prolific you manage to be. In addition to the Stitch A Pose project, you ve exhibited in several shows recently. How has the daily stitching affected the time you have for your other work? Is there any creative bleed over into other pieces?
The daily pieces take much longer than I expected! And the relentless daily deadline is a bit distracting from my other work.
Having said that you are right in that I continue to exhibit in art shows and this is because of my network of artists and curators including Ellen Schinderman, Daniel Rolnik, and Ruta Saliklis.
As an outcome of my daily work I am more confident in my sketching and to make new and novel images. I think of the daily work as a sort of seedbed or incubator of ideas, which I can expand on and change in future pieces. The St Sebastian inspired pieces are sketches for a larger and more complex piece I m currently working on for a museum show. (March 2, March 3). My recent pieces at the Flower-Pepper Gallery definitely were a result of my daily work and both are stitched from my original drawings.
Tell us about how your gather and organize your source imagery. Do you keep a sketchbook, clip file or online idea board of any kind?
I keep an image file on my computer for a history of the images I m inspired by and used. I have a sketch pad by my elbow at all times to make sure I capture ideas. The daily pieces I really try to work quickly and not over-think the pieces. I sometimes like to dive deeply into the research and work longer on a piece. But in general it is like quickly thinking, looking, and then making the piece.
I always think of you as a cerebral artist, in that you seem to approach your work with a great deal of thought. In addition to being visually exciting, it is often rich in subtext. If you re at all like me, there are probably several artists, books or events from your life that are competing for your creative attention. Can you tell us about something that you re interested in right now is brewing into your creative life?
Thank you for that kind compliment. I do love the world of ideas, art history, and always want to learn something new. This past year I read a book on the art academies of France and England. These academies held official art exhibitions from the 17th to the 20th century and had a monopoly on public taste and determined what themes could be presented in art. I like constraints and rules to follow and these official themes caught my attention. Inspired by the religious themes approved by the academies I am currently working on a piece based on St Sebastian, the patron saint of plagues and soldiers. The male nude, or almost nude, is somewhat rare in fiber art and embroidery and I’m trying to change that in my own fashion.
Can you tell us about any other projects you’re currently working on or what projects are on your immediate horizon that you are excited about?
I live on the California coast, near a very famous rock, Morro Rock, and to further my exploring of the royal academic list of approved art subjects I have been thinking more and more about landscapes. I have been looking at works by Marsden Hartley quite a bit as his approach seems like it might work in fabric and floss or paper and floss. Also I had this mad idea to make a quilt about the biological indicators of sexual orientation like hair whorls, finger length, and handedness.
I’m left handed by the way.
How wonderful and generous an artist Mark is! I so appreciate him taking the time to explain his creative process in such expert detail. And his wicked humor is always there.