In Bahamian artist Gio Swaby’s colorful sewn portraits, an invisible yet integral thread comes in the form of an invitation to celebrate Blackness and womanhood. Through the language of textiles and pattern, her practice centers on accessibility and facilitating connection with the viewer. “I think about people like me and how I didn’t get into art or museums or anything until I was 19,” she tells Colossal, sharing that the historical exclusion of Blackness in art motivates her to make pieces that reflect individuality and joy in a mirror-like way.
The Toronto-based artist began working with sewing and textiles around ten years ago, and her use of the medium acknowledges the intersection of traditional craft and fine art, viewed through the lens of personal relationships. “My mother was a seamstress,” she says. “I grew up in that world, but I didn’t come back to it as an art medium until around 2013. I associated it with a special love between us, and I wanted to share that with the viewer, too.”
Sharing in connection and conversation is central to Swaby’s process, which involves sitting down with her subjects prior to beginning each piece. Most of the portraits represent women in her immediate circle of family and friends. “I already have a sense of who they are, but I learn more about them, and they learn more about me,” she says. The conversations lead to the selection of fabrics, which the artist chooses based on the individuals’ stories and personalities, with an emphasis on exuberant hues and bold designs. In self-portraits, she considers family histories and memories. She says, “I picked out a hummingbird print for my dad because I heard a story that when he was a kid, he was the only one in the neighborhood who could run fast enough to catch a hummingbird.”
In her larger portraits, Swaby incorporates sewing directly onto canvas as a drawing tool, outlining the contours of faces, hands, and hair. Loose threads dangle from the surfaces, suggesting the reverse—typically unseen—side of embroidery and the individuals’ sense of self being perpetually in progress. The titles of her concurrent, ongoing series imply dualities and connections. In New Growth, vibrant silhouettes celebrate Black hair while also alluding to a person who is thriving; Love Letter references a sentiment passed from one person to another—or perhaps even to oneself; and Another Side To Me recognizes the innumerable, intersecting facets of every identity.
Recently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida, Swaby’s solo exhibition Fresh Up travels to the Art Institute of Chicago and will open on April 8. Find more of her work at Claire Oliver Gallery, on her website, and follow updates on Instagram.
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“Colour is my first passion,” says Sydney-based artist Michelle Robinson, who weaves textured fibers in vibrant hues into lively wall-hangings and accessories. The artist draws on more than twenty years of experience in the soft furnishings and upholstery industry, which instilled a deep appreciation for textiles. She began working with the medium as a way to further explore her love for decor and shares that the process “allows me to continuously play with all the colour combinations that wizz through my brain—and hopefully pass on some of the energy to others that colour can evoke.”
After weaving for four years, Robinson signed up for a masterclass in passementerie, the 16th and 17th century European decorative art—derived from passement, an archaic French word for “lace”—that centers on ornate trimmings like edging and tassels for clothing and furniture. Led by U.K.-based artist Elizabeth Ashdown, the class was an opportunity to learn traditional methods from a practitioner who is committed to keeping the craft alive. Robinson shares that she “was immediately besotted with the possibilities for this historic and beautiful technique and was reminded of all the beautiful braids I worked with in my decorating days.” Her pieces reference the ornamental plaits and trims of furniture and garments.
Robinson creates wall hangings and accessories like bookmarks on frame looms, employing traditional techniques to produce geometric works that have a contemporary feel. Recently, she has been exploring how to scale up the medium, examining how the different threads behave within the structure and retain a sense of nostalgia and playfulness. She explains:
I find myself constantly experimenting and learning new techniques, using primarily all-natural fibres. I also love adding repurposed items like knitting needles and re-spun fibres and finishing weavings with hand sewn details. It’s the details that draw you into an artwork that appeal to me.
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A brisk wind takes a young kite-flyer on an unexpected voyage with his grandfather in a poignant short film by illustrator and animation director Martin Smatana. The narrative of the stop-motion animation addresses the concept of death and loss through metaphor that is accessible to children, using the kite, weather, and materials as symbolic ways to broach a difficult yet important topic. “It explores the relationship between a little boy and his grandpa and shows that death is a natural part of life, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of our journey,” Smatana explains. He continues:
They are both made out of layers, which symbolize their age. The boy has many of these layers… he has all his life before him. But grandfather, on the other hand, has already lost most of his layers, and he has only few left. As he gets older, he also gets thinner, and at the end of his life, he is as thin as a sheet of paper. One day, the wind just softly blows him away and takes him up to the sky…
Smatana and his team scoured second-hand shops in his hometown of Prague to collect textiles and other materials to build the sets, employing different patterns and color palettes to represent the four seasons. A quilt-like landscape created from numerous pieces of cloth references a patchwork blanket that the artist remembers sleeping under when he visited his own grandparents’ house.
Created for the artist’s graduation project at FAMU Film School three years ago, “The Kite” has won more than sixty international awards, was nominated for the semifinals of the student Oscars, and is included in the film library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Explore more of Smatana’s work on his website, where he also shares behind-the-scenes footage of how “The Kite” was made. Follow updates on Instagram.
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Colorful lights strung on trees and lining gutters cast a welcoming, vibrant glow on dreary, winter evenings in Jeremy Miranda’s paintings. The Maine-based artist (previously) is known for his dreamlike works of landscapes and interiors that incorporate both the domestic and outside world, and elements of nostalgia, intimacy, and memory echo throughout the scenes. Often illuminating the magical in the mundane, Miranda has been creating a growing collection of holiday paintings during the last few years that center on Christmas trees and decorated homes, capturing the warmth of the season as it shines through stark, frigid nights.
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First documented in China in 2,500 B.C., the earliest evidence of the cultivation of rice has been found in archaeological sites dating back more than 5,000 years earlier. A versatile crop that can grow in numerous climates, the plentiful grain plays an integral role in cuisine and folkloric traditions and underpins artist Hayoon Jay Lee’s intricate wall reliefs.
Born in Daegu, South Korea, and currently based in New York City, Lee is interested in what she describes in a statement as the “fundamental tension between indulgence and abnegation”—the act of renouncing or rejecting something—in individual, social, and political dynamics. Contrasting ideas of attraction and repulsion, conflict and harmony, privilege and poverty, or East and West provide the groundwork for abstract compositions made by precisely placing thousands of grains into rippling patterns. The surfaces reference topographical overviews, shifting landmasses, swirling motion, and ruptures.
Across Asia, rice is grown primarily by small-scale producers. However, food-chain inequalities and critical impacts from climate change place farming systems, jobs, and food security on increasingly precarious footing. For Lee, rice is utilized “as object, motif, and metaphor: as the building block for civilizations and also as the basis for social inequities,” she explains.
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Games of poker or solitaire have a little more flair with artist-designed decks by Kehinde Wiley (previously). Gracing four 54-card packs are Wiley’s vividly rendered portraits of Black people, all of which subvert portraiture traditions of Western art history as they highlight subjects of the African diaspora. While fragments of the vibrant botanical backdrops adorn the cards’ faces, the reverse depicts the full works, including the artist’s 2012 painting of model Dacia Carter and “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” which reinterprets Thomas Gainsborough’s iconic “Blue Boy” by placing a Sengalese surfer at its center.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.