With my first body of artwork, I explored corporeality through collaged depictions of my own organs. It turned out to be the perfect material for reimagining myself and my life, cutting up and then sewing things back together in new ways: images of back X-rays showing my beautiful S-curve, a giant uterus with a shredded paper bird’s nest in the middle, a liver with black sucker fish at its bottom. My life’s pulp fiction, a series of giant organ self-portraits, was shown at Aucocisco Galleries and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. This healing work is also the content of my new book about the art of embodying your truest self, and is hung at health centers dear to my heart across Maine.
Finding myself better grounded in my own being, I shifted my creative focus outward. I spent hours slow-stitching prayers for the planet with embroidery threads and yarns that depicted the structures that support vibrant growth and alchemical transformations in nature. At first, I focused on creating images of trees, that through photosynthesis convert carbon dioxide and water into the sugar the trees and plants use to sustain themselves, also creating the oxygen byproduct that sustains people and animals. Having a single tree near your home provides support equal to a $10,000 increase in family income. Might a stitched image of a tree provide support, too?
To move beyond my more intuitive collaging and toward a more formal studio practice, I created an artistic process with a series of steps that I’ve followed for about a decade. Using transparent washi papers, I hand-print simple colored foundations with a pattern of tiny marks to guide my slow-stitching. I use a linocut and acrylic printmaking ink to make the foundations. During the pandemic, I started adding actual dried pressed plants and/or flowers to better root myself and my mental health in nature, to help me establish a deeper sense of belonging here. Most recently, I have been teaching myself the art of moku hanga printmaking to improve luminosity, toxicity, and archival qualities. Brushing on rice paste or archival glue creates a non-toxic layer that helps to preserve both the kozo paper and the print from the effects of the plants. I slow-stitch powerful natural patterns that support alchemy—like hexagonal design—on top of the pressed plants and flowers using bookbinding needles and yarns of all colors and textures.
This process, these works, are designed to draw attention to the strength of Mother Nature in literal and figurative ways. They draw attention to some of the living, growing, and changing materials that surround us. They draw attention to the materials I use in my work, each carrying its own vibrant life forces, from the yarn, to the goats, rabbits, and sheep, to the pressed flowers from my garden, the leaves from the nearby berry bog, and the natural pigments and rice starch used in moku hanga. I’ve chosen more non-toxic materials with each evolution of my work in celebration of all nature creates to support us—materials that not only meet our basic needs like oxygen does, but also entice and sooth our senses, as yarn does.
Working with natural materials, drawing attention to the details of thriving ecosystems, has been the practice of the Wabanaki Tribes here in this place since time immemorial. We have everything to learn from their 12,000 years of lived experience and familiar relationships with every living being here. May my art draw attention to that, too.
I have a large reserve of paper that was used to cover the surface of my drawing table. All the spills, test prints, notes, brush strokes, cuts, and bleed-through, in a sense, record the history of my art projects.
The newsprint and recycled brown paper that protects the floor under my easel, over time produces random textures, blotches, and drippings in which I find interesting patterns, unusual color combinations and small, happenstance compositions. The impermanence of the newsprint paper takes on a new tone as it ages and when reversed, calligraphy exercises on rice paper become textural elements.
“Asemic writing” is an abstracted or wordless text that, if anything, conveys visual ideas rather than having semantic content. (It is intentionally hidden or obscured to hopefully engage the viewer.)
Through a process of find and seek, I use these materials in making my mixed-media collages and paintings, embracing the imperfections and celebrating the happy accidents.
The materiality of my art relates closely to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi. It embodies the beauty of imperfection, flaws, and chance as shaping elements.
In the painting Mirage, I have applied crinoline material to the surface in which I have burnt irregular-shaped holes with an incense stick. This is to suggest the textures found in nature, sea foam, or lichen, or decay. In wabi sabi such materials have been described by the oxymoron “enduring ephemeral.”
Image at top: Kimberly Crichton, Birthing, paper, embroidery thread, 35 x 20.5 in., 2009 (photo: Chasing the Sun Photography).