The presence of a loom in the home was once a symbol of domesticity and industry. These works are woven on an upright two-harness tapestry loom that occupies a good portion of my sunroom studio. Tapestry means to make a woven picture. In making a tapestry, weft ends do not travel across the loom uninterrupted. They dovetail at turning points or turn around a warp thread. The process of weaving—under, over and back around—is in itself, excessive and redundant. The freedom to create on the loom goes hand in hand with being bound to a set of rules, or a system, in order to execute that freedom.
In the works submitted, patterns are made from hand picking groups of colored warp threads, row by row. When a warp thread runs out on the loom, I’ve learned to tie on new threads to the ends of the old ones with a system of knot making. A chaotic bundle of knotted warp ends must pass through a reed and heddles, to then be secured to the back beam. While weaving, some of the threads pass over the top of photographic strips and others pass beneath them to form a matrix of intersecting lines that creates a sense of flux and overall pattern.
The subjects that I choose to work with are often women, and I am interested in telling their stories. In order to get started, there has to be a moment of recognition or identification with a subject. Then it becomes a matter of responding emotionally to the charged black and white passages of the photograph. I begin by cutting out sections of the photo in corresponding shapes from drawings. The places of absence become positive white shapes that create visual movement and direction. The reweaving of the photograph on the loom both abstracts and restores attributes of the original photograph. As the subjects seem to float through each stitch, they become more apparent while remaining hidden.
They are also about time and are obsessive about wanting to bring forward something from behind. Like photographs from a vintage album, the subjects can be viewed as voyagers in a sightseeing boat on an unknown waterway. While some of the images that I have used are personal, others are not. Introducing found photos from the public domain has opened up a new freedom in how to look at the familiar with the same critical eye. And as always, I am captivated by the mystery of the interior life of the subjects, and that is timeless.
A maximalist reaction to our world is where my mind is. As the pandemic rages on, my life in my mind, and in the material world which surrounds me, is not minimalist.
We are surrounded by our physical environment and supplies that we may need if food and cleaning supplies run out. We may have moved exercise equipment into our homes and added areas to work or school our children. We are increasingly inside as the winter approaches, or we are limited where to go due to COVID restrictions. We compare our friends’ and families’ degree of COVID precautions against our own. Leaving the house is more complicated. One must remember masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, shopping lists so we don’t forget what we need as we brave the COVID world. And when we bring supplies for life into our home, we have a ritual of cleaning that takes both products and energy.
It is lovely to look at a seascape with its sky and sea and open spaces on the canvas, but that is not the crowded reality most of us live in.
My works now are filled with repetitive images. The mind jumps from one image to another. Initially there is no resting place for the mind to pause. The multiples of the images themselves are both chaotic and orderly at the same time. The work allows each viewer (because of the closeness and repetitive nature of the work) to find pathways through the images, each pathway can elicit a different response or memory. Creating order through today’s pandemic chaos is how we survive.
I use found objects in my art work. By repetition, the objects may fall into order or disorder. In every piece, a transformation takes place. I want the viewer to see a collective image, and then come close to be surprised at what they see.
Image at top: Gail Skudera, World’s Fair, woven mixed media, 14¼ x 11¼ in., 2020 (photo: Jay York).