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Ries Niemi is an American industrial artist whose Mute Project is a series of machine embroidered portraits of musicians who have died from COVID-19.
Working as a self described “post industrial craftsman,” Ries uses embroidery digitizing as a large part of his crafting process. His older work often deals with mashups of random text and pop imagery, rendered in machine stitches on handmade paper or other found objects with charisma and confidence.
His use of the traditional medium of embroidery combined with modern day images is offset all the more by the modern technology he uses to create his art. He is a big exponent of the value in learning to use industrial tools in creative ways: ” An artist will always find a ways to misuse a tool more creatively than using it in the proper fashion. By owning my own industrial tools, I can experiment, improvise, and invent in ways that are not possible when hire someone else to make your idea.“
Like many digitized embroidery artists, Ries is clear that just because the embroidery is done on a machine, there is still a huge amount of hand work that goes into each piece. He notes…
“Even though it’s machine embroidery, there is a fair amount of hand in every image to begin with. I usually redraw twice in palette, once as bitmap, then once as vector, rearranging points and adding and subtracting points as needed.
When I embroider, I usually set wacky new challenges for myself – like my first show was largely on tulle and synthetic fake silk, really slippery thin stuff, then I got into embroidery on blue tarp, and lately I have been doing a lot of work on handmade paper, paper bags, and newspaper. So even if I repeat a design, it almost never comes out exactly the same.”
Ries is a man of many disciplines, and there is a sense that his public art projects a positive outlook for the people that interact with it, while his embroideries explore topics that are more personal and more political.
His Mute Project began in 2020 and is a series of embroidered portraits of musicians worldwide who have died from COVID-19: “Their voices have been muted“
Each piece is 8″ by 10″ and stitched on handmade paper. They elegantly capture the essence of the subject, while creating a sombre catalogue of the losses we still feel from the global pandemic. The artwork is illustrative, and simple in it’s appearance, however the technicality in creating dense needlework on paper should be overlooked.
Sadly, The Mute Project is ongoing , such is the nature of the virus. However Ries’ immortalisation of these musical talents is a creative, yet poignant memorial. He continues to produce public art as well as ad hoc machine stitched pieces that respond to the political climate around him, and it’s clear that his creative flow is going strong.