Six Years In the Making, the Elaborate ‘Grand Jardin’ by Lisa Nilsson Pushes the Boundaries of Paper
Lisa Nilsson (previously) has spent years perfecting a technique known as quilling in which thin strips of paper are rolled into coils and then pinched and nudged into shape in a process she likens to completing a puzzle. With a history thought to extend back to Ancient Egypt, the practice rose to more recent popularity in 18th century Europe. Narrow edges of gilt book pages were a popular material, creating metallic surfaces when rolled into place. In her most recent work, “Grand Jardin,” Nilsson has expanded upon this traditional method by building up more dense applications of the medium and assembling on a much bigger scale. Combining shimmering gold pieces with vivid hues of Japanese mulberry paper across the surface, the ubiquitous material transforms into a remarkable topography.
Taking several years to complete, she paid painstaking attention to the complexities and details of the design, balancing intricate organic shapes with precise geometric patterns, all while preserving the composition’s overall symmetry. “The phases of my creative process—as it progressed from the initial spark of inspiration to settling in to work, to decision-making and problem solving, to finding flow, losing flow and finding it again, to commitment and renewal of commitment—were repeated many times over the six years and within the context of widely varying moods,” she tells Colossal.
Brimming with floral motifs and butterflies and contained within an ornate border, the lush details of “Grand Jardin” emerge in the textures of each group of coils and in the intricate shapes of the flowers and foliage. Inspired by the patterns and process of making Persian rugs, Nilsson sees parallels between weaving and quilling, and is amused by the nature of improvisation in a process that is so slow-moving and meticulous. “Having a working relationship with one piece for such a long period of time brought novel thoughts and emotions and required new things of me as an artist and as a person,” she says.
You can find more information on Nilsson’s website.
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A new series of paintings by New Hampshire-based artist Shawn Huckins (previously) proposes thinking about how we wear clothing and textiles in a fresh light. Dirty Laundry continues the artist’s interest in re-interpreting 18th- and 19th-Century European portraiture, an artistic tradition steeped in symbolism and subtle commentary about wealth and class. The garments donned by the subjects of painters like John Singleton Copley or Adriaen van der Werff reflected their status and sense of self through apparel and accessories. Jean-Léon Gérôme’s depiction of a Bashi-Bazouk, a soldier of the Ottoman Empire, is a prescient comment on the nature of clothes and uniform, as those enlisted were often unpaid and dressed in a haphazard mix of pieces they acquired while on the march.
Huckins puts a playful, contemporary twist on the notion of expressing one’s identity through fabric by obscuring his subjects’ faces almost entirely, prompting the viewer to consider what it means to be cloaked or exposed. The artist recreated the compositions in the studio by draping a model with a variety of garments, mimicking the direction and temperature of the light in the original works in acrylic paint.
With their faces covered completely, the sitters are identified only through objects such as a string of pearls, a beloved dog, or a handful of fruit. Huckins says in a statement that “anything more that might be known about these people remains hidden beneath piles of cloth and clothing so ubiquitous it could be our own.” Utilizing modern fabrics like buffalo plaid or gingham, the artist considers how we all dress to convey information about ourselves.
Dirty Laundry is also the title of the artist’s upcoming solo exhibition with Duran Mashaal Gallery in Montréal, which opens on June 2. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram. (via Creative Boom)
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How do we get from where we are to where we want to be with all of these constructs in the way? How do we move forward if we are constantly having to fight back? The past rolls in like a fog and clogs conversations about tomorrow with despair.
April Bey, a Black, queer, mixed-media artist, reminds us that sometimes, in order to get free, we must transcend. Positioning herself within the Afro-futurist tradition, she works with a fictional universe called Atlantica. Atlantica is inspired by the alien stories her father used to tell her as a child to explain racial oppression in the Bahamas and the U.S. Now, based in Los Angeles, Bey uses Atlantica to construct the aesthetics of the future—a reality where Black people are free from the confines of white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism.
As a Nassau, Bahamas native, Bey also incorporates the region’s tropical flora in her work. She positions the futurity of Black people in direct relationship to the environment, which can manifest as a physical landscape buzzing with harmonious texture, and draws on the legacy of Black art and literature that demonstrates how the natural world has always been part of Black liberation.
Her intricate stitching of Black people in grandeur also adds a layer of decadence to these stories that is reminiscent of African diasporic cuisine. Food seasoned over long periods of time or slow-cooked absorbs the depths of those flavors, and when tasted, envelops the palette. The process and attention to detail, alongside the historical and cultural knowledge, are the foundation.
This work, like the environment and cuisine, is immersive. Sequins, eco-fur frames, wax fabric woven into large-scale blankets, and colorful patterns are enticing in their pleasure and vitality. The sense-heavy appeal helps transport the viewer beyond the visual and into the spirit of the body, connecting generations across space and time and planting the seeds of the future. Alexis Pauline Gumbs demonstrates this connection in an essay on combat breathing, which our ancestors used to claim their freedom in a world that would not acknowledge it, and Bey conjures this through-line in stirring pieces such as “Don’t Think We’re Soft Because We’re Gracious.”
Bey’s work adds to the long and transformative history of Black and queer people who have subverted power structures through futurity, love, and hybridity. And how fitting? For she knows that to be queer is to live in the future anyway.
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Alongside an eccentric metallic menagerie, artist Barbara Franc stitches shaggy hounds with frayed fur and coats layered with assorted patches of prints. The fabric creatures are part of Franc’s collection of animals constructed with repurposed materials that range from buttons and vintage tapestries to windshield wipers and cutlery. To create these soft sculptures, she wraps scraps of worn trousers, curtains, and scarves around a padded, wire armature, defining a muscular hind leg with tweed or a stomach with an embroidered fairytale scene. The tattered edges mimic a tousled tail and the fringe sticking up from an ear, adding lifelike texture to the canines.
If you’re near Towersey, Oxfordshire, this August, Franc is offering a five-day workshop on crafting the textile forms at The Phoenix Studio. The West London-based artist will also have pieces this week at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead Heath and with Rockwood Group at Bucks Art Weeks slated for June. You can find more of her upcycled characters on her site and Instagram.
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Asheville-based artist Judit Just of jujujust (previously) transforms twisted ropes, skeins of cotton, and plush, carpet-like tufts into roving, abstract tapestries. Suspended from skinny wooden dowels painted to match their hanging counterparts, the sculptural textiles tend to swell in amorphous patches and curved lines before falling into thick patches of fringe. Just’s color palettes parallel the contrast in textures, with soft, pastel tones alongside bright, neon-like hues.
The artist is currently working on a large-scale tapestry for Culture Object, which opens on May 10 at Culture Object, and plans to release new pieces in her shop this Friday. See more of her process on Instagram.
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In a cozy studio overlooking a garden in Blackwell, Missouri, artist Larysa Bernhardt creates colorful moth sculptures with a needle and thread. Her fabric creatures are embroidered with old tapestries, often portraying historical people, animals, and delicate botanical forms on their wings: one specimen with a rusty orange abdomen depicts a little bird taking flight, while another is blue with a Medieval woman looking at a flower.
Able to stand on their own or hang from the wall, the handmade moths feature eyes made from Czech glass beads and bodies of cotton velvet and Belgian linen. Bernhardt also wires their wings, enabling people to shape them into their desired position.
The artist initially began by collecting vintage textiles, including silk tapestries and wool, and was interesting in analyzing and unraveling their histories, taking an interest in how creatures, such as moths, often inhabit such materials. “I have some very old wool and silk tapestries, and I’m still trying to unravel the stories behind them,” she tells Colossal. “Those will never be cut, they’re treasures, and I’m constantly checking for moth larvae…and just like that, moths entered the chat! What I love and what I fear melded into my work, in what I believe is a magical, albeit slightly menacing way.”
In addition to the material components, the moths are inspired by travel, television shows, books, and “even phrases someone drops in the grocery line to checkout,” Bernhardt says. “I will never tire of seeing how magically creative humans are,” Bernhardt explains.
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