Welcome to my artistic nspiration series. Weekly on Muse Mondays, check in to see what is catching my eye. The goal is to nourish my own artist muse by following wherever she leads with amazement and study, but I’ll gladly share with you. Today’s inspiration is from fiber artist, Chris Roberts Antieau.
As the first non-jeweler in my inspiration series, you might be wondering how I expect to find ideas from such a different medium. My personal art history includes fiber, so I follow a number of artists in that field. Sometimes, the overlap between fields as disparate as hard metal and soft fiber can yield some interesting insights. Whenever I find myself standing in front of a piece in awe, I know there’s something to learn.
It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to. – Jean-Luc Godard
My first exposure to the work of Chris Roberts-Antieau was during her exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore (during a field trip with artist friends after my exhausting participation in the ACC Wholesale Show that year). The above Albino piece literally stopped me in my tracks. I participated in the art quilt world for many years (and have artwork in museum collections across the country from those efforts), but I’d never heard of this artist! Who was she? Where did she live and work?
True, these aren’t strictly quilts. They look more like fabric and thread paintings, totally flat with no batting loft, carefully framed and protected with glass. But the use of fabric and thread and a sewing machine to “draw” was totally familiar to me, and these pieces were just jaw-dropping in their detail and complexity.
The AVAM defines visionary artwork to be “produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.” More typically, the art world calls this folk art.
When I got home and researched Chris Roberts-Antieau’s work, I found that I DID recognize her older work, which is more folk art. These works felt more akin to the other work at AVAM, and were probably responsible for the exhibition there.
The colors on those earlier designs are bright and cheery. The human faces are folksy and usually seen in profile. The themes have a sense of whimsy and humor.
Interestingly enough, despite the labor-intensive nature of the fiber work, the pieces are mostly reproduced to order. Only a few of the biggest and most complex works seem to be one of a kind. Although the artist resides in Michigan, she owns two galleries in New Orleans (on Royal Street and on Magazine Street) for marketing her work. Unsurprisingly, there is a series called The Blues that offers folksy portraits of legendary musicians to NOLA tourists. And there is a new gallery now in Santa Fe, which prompts me to wonder about a more Southwestern inspiration perhaps to appear.
The front rooms of the galleries show a rotating collection of available work, as well as occasional special openings, complete with music and readings. The back rooms are reserved for framing and shipping. It’s clear that a special artist resides here, as every vista is filled with delight.
There are often other creative elements on display, like the amazing Birds of Prey dresses (there are two different ones), embroidered gloves, snow globes, or taxidermy with embroidered masks. The artist is obviously unafraid to take chances.
The pieces that mesmerized me at AVAM were different – more sophisticated, less folksy, more painterly. The humans and animals present were more lifelike, and they have gotten even more so in the last few years. There was definitely an overriding sense of “vision.”
I was immediately drawn to the pictorial nature, but the embroidery details are the real eye-catchers on close inspection.
The artist begins with her sketchbook, drawing page after page of simple designs based on a germ of an idea, often a saying or theme. There may be hints of embroidery details, but much of that is fleshed out later.
The artist calls her technique fabric appliqué, and it seems as if she sat down with a pile of fabric and scissors to cut out the major blocks of color/pattern to fit her sketch. Where in the drawing pieces may overlap, in the finished work transparency reveals those overlaps. Clothing is often suggested entirely in thread, while hands and heads are more substantial fabric. The embroidery serves its purpose in making those overlays more interesting and substantial without making them heavy. From a distance they are less distinct, but they offer interest up close. As a person with machine embroidery skill, I can say that those elements are super time-consuming!!
The newer work uses heavier and heavier embroidery and ever lessening fabric detail. In fact, some of the taxidermy pieces even trim the excess fabric away from the embroidery to leave the fur as background.
Phantom Limb by Chris Roberts-Antieau
After a traumatic high school art class experience, Chris Roberts-Antieau eventually returned to art after the birth of her son. Creating fabric sculptures for the Ann Arbor Arts Fair led to designing wearables and a wholesale show which resulted in hundreds of orders, fifteen employees and eventual burnout. Turning to art for the wall, Chris began the fabric paintings, framed and hung behind glass, continuing to sell to galleries through wholesale shows.When her son moved to New Orleans after college, she fell in love with the city and started showing her work there at Jazz Fest. In 2010, she rented a gallery on Royal Street for a 30 day pop up gallery, and has been there ever since. Her work is collected by major celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Ryan Reynolds, and Mindy Kaling (who purchased Ascension, the piece with the swan, for $38,000).
I reiterate that the point of these Muse Monday postings is to give me a chance to seek out inspiration and conversation with my muse for my own work. Obviously, I can’t copy anything from fiber directly into metal, but there are possibilities for me to break down elements that could translate. What am I drawn to? What can I use?
I can’t help but get sucked into these pieces and wonder about the story behind them. There is so much to see! I think that story is told in details and complexity. How do I convey more meaning and tell more stories through my work? I keep coming back to the idea of adding more, not subtracting.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time studying the embroidered details on these fabric paintings. I feel like the sculptural detail that I get with my metal clay components is the analogue of embroidery detail in fiber. Can I use ideas from her repetition of these motifs in my own work? I need a box full of bits to play with to explore this further. I would like to extend my critter repertoire to include more than birds and bees to include rabbits and deer and more.
In my own fiber work, I frequently played games with transparency and layering. One of my recurring reservations with my current jewelry is that it is too flat, despite the sculptural parts and adding curvature. I’ve been considering layering, stacking, combining intermediate parts into something larger.
Color is one thing that is really at play in fiber that is much harder to address in metal. I do again reflect back to my back burner ideas about more glass paintings as “stones.”
If you’ve read all six installments of this artistic inspiration series, you’ll be able to tell that the same themes are coming up over and over in the analysis.t’s obvious that the muse is speaking loudly to me. I hear! Now, can I act?
My Chris Roberts-Antieau pinterest board
Antieau Gallery website
Chris Roberts-Antieau profile
Chris Roberts-Antieau Phantom Limb Series video, part 1