Zak Foster is a Brooklyn-based community-taught artist whose work draws on Southern textile traditions and repurposed fabrics. We’re so happy we caught up with Zak. His work has such a far reach that he was contacted by fashion designer ERL to help create a look for A$ap Rocky at the 2021 Met Gala – that is true textiles fame!
If you recognise his work it’s no wonder. As well as being take down the red carpet of the Met Gala, Zaks work has also been featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as various magazines, websites, and galleries. So let’s get into it!
How did your technique evolve?
When I first started quilting, there was a short moment where I thought my blocks line up just like the quilts I’d admired in museums and books. And while I would later learn how to get that level of precision in my practice, it no longer interested me as an artist.
Instead, I became more interested in reading fabric almost like tea leaves: bringing questions to the materials and watching for answers, answers that often come up in spontaneous moments.
Working intuitively and without precise measurements is something not often seen in quilting, especially traditional quilting. As Zak explains, when he first began, precision was key. From growing with his practice, Zak’s work expanded beyond the rules and limitations of traditional sewing into something new.
Where do you think your creativity is taking you?
My time with textiles has turned me into a story-teller, which has kind of taken me by surprise. I didn’t know I had that in me. These days I feel like I’ll make a piece just to have an excuse to visit history, ask questions, and poke around our assumptions. Moving forward, I would love to find novel ways to tell my stories with quilts.
Storytelling is not exclusive to pen and paper. Art and especially textiles has been used across centuries to act as a social commentary and to record personal stories and folklore. Quilts have been used as protest, as protection and act as heirlooms to be passed through families.
As Zak says, if you don’t yet see yourself as a storyteller, it could be that you need to find the right medium. The power to tell our own stories is a power we all have, and this can take an endless variety of forms.
What other artists inspire you?
I stand on the shoulders of giants: Irene Williams and Harriet Powers are never far from my mind. Williams had a way of working in a world that seemed all her own, and Powers told visual stories in a way that was digestible and at the same time elusive.
I’m also blessed to keep company with some wonderfully talented contemporary quilters: Heidi Parkes, Amanda Nadig, Luke Haynes, among many others. My connections with these artists has helped make my work what it is today.
What is your favourite tool to use in your practice?
The two good hands god gave me. I’ve never been able to do so much with so little.
We often talk about all of the different kinds of sewing equipment that feel crucial to our practice. Zak honours the power of his hands, reminding us that what comes from within is the biggest gift to our creations.
Can you share one creative tip with our readers?
I would counsel folks not to get too caught up in questions around style and voice. Whatever you make will have your voice in it. It can’t be helped. And you naturally hone your voice with each piece you make, so there’s no need to be too intentional about it.
At the same time, our voice is never fully ours: we carry echoes of other artists in our work. Let’s make sure we name those artists as often as we can.
For me, this piece of advise is spot on. In a world of social media when everything is so well curated and documented for us, it’s easy to feel like your work needs to have a certain style and aesthetic.
Social media doesn’t always document the importance of experimenting and the many different forms an artistic practice may take. When we are limited to a certain ‘style’ we miss opportunities to grow and evolve.
Zak’s work teaches us that telling our personal story is a power we can all have. Our artwork grows as we do so living outside of the precision of traditional textiles, even if this is just one part of our practice, can help us to share authentic narratives.
Thanks so much to Zak for taking the time to interview us here at Mr X Stitch! If you’d like to see more of his work, you can check out his QUILTY NOOK community that connects and inspires quilters and makers all over the world. You can also follow Zak on Instagram and take a look at his website.