Traveling Show Displays Beauty, Breadth Of Fiber Arts

Jun 8, 2016

Audio Pending...

Some people might not think of sock monkeys as a piece of art. But a new show featuring all different textiles -- including sock monkeys -- wants to change your mind. The exhibition features a type of art known as surface design. All that’s needed is some type of fiber, and a surface to transform. The rest is up to the imagination.

The new art show is whimsical. It’s innovative, colorful, and contemplative. The pieces are as diverse as the artists who made them.

Take the brightly-colored, silk-painted tree rings. The ombre scarf, expertly draped over a mannequin. Or what appears to be a painting of a jockey and a race horse. Upon closer inspection, you can see tiny stitches actually make up the texture.

“Fiber Fusion” is a traveling art show — the first surface design show to travel around a state. People mulled about the grand opening in the Tri-Cities, where 77 works of art are on display. The show will eventually make stops in Redmond, Port Townsend and Everett.

Surface design maybe be less familiar than other types of art, like painting or photography, but it has an active group of artists in Washington. It’s a form of textile art that’s created when any sort of fiber — like yarn, cloth, or paper — transforms or manipulates the surface of a textile.

In the late 1970s, the art world saw a renewed interest in textiles, and surface design became more popular. Thirty years ago, these work included only pieces dyed, printed or painted on pre-existing cloth. Now, surface design has expanded to include sculptures and wall hangings and wearable art.

“It’s more than just working with cloth. You have to know how to handle different types of tools - everything from drills to powered saws,” said Jeanie McMacken, a surface design artist from Port Townsend, Washington.

You’ll see that range on display in this show.

One sculpture is made of tiny strips of cane, randomly woven together in the shape of an oversized egg.

In the middle of the gallery, a five-foot-long tube sock sits on a pedestal on the floor. It’s covered in dozens of vintage sock monkeys.

And at the other end of the gallery hang four small squares. Look closely and you’ll see they’re actually sections of newspaper spun and knit together.

Layne Goldsmith, an art professor at the University of Washington, helped select the juried pieces.

“The fact that this work exists all together in this room, is a totally unnatural thing — to bring all these pieces together that are so diverse,” Goldsmith said.

But, Goldsmith said, that’s the beauty. The gallery displays of the breadth of surface design — and what each person brings to their finished product.

Take Jeanie McMacken. She likes to make people think when they look at what she has created.

In this show, McMacken displays a tribute to those who died in the Paris terrorist attacks. She wanted to express her heartbreak in a way that could inspire contemplation. So she turned to her art — and began experimenting with gun powder.

McMacken carried an old Pyrex pie dish to a field, poured in musket gun powder, and lit it.

“It creates this enormous amount of smoke. When it floated up, it maintained the round shape of the Pyrex dish,” McMacken said.

That visual of the smoke gunpowder floating through the air helped her conceptualize the finished work, which is haunting and thoughtful.

A white silk dress floats toward the gallery’s ceiling, almost like a cloud. It’s burnt with gunpowder, its edges singed. Stiffened white and gray tulle rises toward the top of the dress, representing billowing smoke.

“This is my vision of one of the women who was sitting at cafe that night, having a lovely dinner, and now she is a spirit,” McMacken said.

But this show isn’t just for artists like McMacken with 30 years of experience. At each stop around the state local artists get to display their works, alongside the juried selections.

Vicki Gerton has been involved with surface design for decades. She has several pieces on display in the Tri-Cities, and one that will travel around the state.

But she says, most of all in this show, she enjoyed mentoring newer artists, those hanging something in a gallery for the first time.

“And that, to me, is thrilling. They’re assets to the show. They don’t look like, ‘Oh, that’s the newbies. They don’t look like that,” Gerton said.

That gives newer artists a chance to try their hands in surface design, without the pressure of a juried exhibition. And Gerton said, with each stop around the state, the local artists will give the show a new look and new life.

Next stop: Redmond.

Want to catch the show? It will be at the following galleries:

The Gallery at the Park, 89 Lee Blvd., Richland, through June 23.

VALA Art Center, Redmond, Washington, Nov. 16, 2016 - Jan. 13, 2017

Northwind Arts Center, Port Townsend, Washington, Feb. 2 - 26, 2017

Schack Art Center- Everett, Washington, March 9 - April 15, 2017

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