Welcome to Part 2 of this fascinating ACrafty Interview with Arlee Barr, textile and quilt artist. Arlee’s responses are so engaging that the interview was split into two parts! Here’s a link to Part 1, if you missed it or would like to refresh your memory.
I took a look at some of your first Flickr uploads from 2005. How would you say that your work has changed over the last eight years? AB: There was a long period where i lost myself, literally and figuratively, in the explosion of “mixed media” where every colour was used, every texture, every technique, every found and bought object with every commercial product imagined. The only thing that held it all together for me, however weakly, was the fabric that was the base i worked from, and the fact that suddenly i was making something that was not wearable, that didn’t have to fit anyone, but that was possibly art. When i discovered natural dyeing and other organic cloth marking methods, my whole approach changed. Initially even with these elemental fabrics, i used a fair bit of machine work, then slowly moved into just hand embroidery, finding that the look while more delicate appearing, was quite strong and unifying. As i continue to “find the image” in the unique marks inherent in the process of staining or dyeing, they are becoming works with an amalgam now of machine and hand. I use a lot of free motion embroidery as it can be very gestural, using those areas as either accent or a base to build on with hand embroidery. When i was first doing hand embroidery in my 20’s, i knew only of satin stitch and french knots, but now i prefer cleaner lines and the effects from simple stitches with a few fancies thrown in along the way for texture. I let the fabric move as it will (i loathe embroidery hoops) and with those basic stitches used experimentally, can control the depth of manipulation and the resulting texture.
I’ve pared down my colour use, and refuse to use “technique driven” response as art. It’s not important to show the kitchen sink in everything you create. As i get older, and ironically, my eyesight poorer, i focus literally and figuratively more on the details.
Has an art project ever challenged you in an unexpected way? AB: I’m currently working on a large project (“Anno Suturae”, 48×72”) that i initially thought would take a year. As it turns out, it’s evolving into 2 years at least, and will have to be pluralized! All hand worked, it’s incorporating things i’ve learned or are still testing with hand stitch. Because hand work takes a lot of time, trying to divide my attention for work that will be seen and work that is intensely personal, has been hard.
How has art affected your character? AB: I’ve evolved into more of an intuitive maker than a deliberate product artist. I’ve learned patience, perseverance and a more critical eye to what i am expressing and how i utilize needle and thread to externalize that. Patience first and foremost is what you have to have as an artist: patience for the process, the technique and most of all your own satisfaction and soul. Patience is trust, learning to find your own voice and knowing your instincts are right.
Can you share a story about how your art has affected others? AB: When i created “Mother’s Heart”, i received a lot of messages about how heart issues of all sorts had affected people’s lives. From poignant memories of of loved ones and their subsequent death, to a painful revelation from a former nurse, to feelings of revulsion and anger, i had no idea of how it would be perceived by others: i had intended only to show Mother Nature as i saw her, with the use of naturally dyed and ecoprinted fabrics and hand stitch. She’s a force, and one that directs all doings and it was an homage to her, rather than a representation of the body or health issues. A fascinating lesson in interpretation!
What do you have coming up in the future? Why is it appealing to you? AB: The future is now! I’m striving to create a body of work as it gives continuity and purpose to my life, and am hoping to finalize a solo show in the next year. A few years ago i was ready to throw in the towel and never make anything ever again–my dear Greyman was explicit in his words “if you quit being an artist, you will go crazy–and so will i!” It made me realize that having been creative all my life, that there was no stopping at any point for any reason. I can’t imagine not making or planning *something*. Even with the immensely destructive June 2013 flooding in Calgary Alberta that affected me personally in my home based studio and emotionally speaking, causing a bit of a “drought” in my creative process, i have found new hope, new work emerging and a stronger appreciation for Mother Nature and the inspiration i find in her.
Much of my imagery and subtexts relate to what is internal to me; i can only hope that someone else can feel what i am saying. Having dealt with mental health issues all my life, i can only say that it is healing, calming and necessary to express myself as i do in this medium. Cloth is soothing to everyone, from birth to death and all the days in between. I do believe that today’s world with all it’s supposed cosmopolitan and sophisticated attitude yearns for a more personal, grounded approach to art, one without heavy concept, overly political statement or existing for sheer prettiness’s sake.
You just don’t quit on yourself!
Once again, many thanks to Arlee for her participation in this ACrafty Interview series! As she commented on Part 1 of the interview, Arlee was glad for “the opportunity to ‘explain’ [herself].” I think we are all the beneficiaries of her generous insights into her work.
Please note that Arlee does not want any of the images that she provided above copied, Pinned, or used in any way without her permission. An excerpt from her Flickr profile: “Please do not add my photos to your Pinterest without asking me–this violates the copyright clause that say *I* have exclusive right to decide where my work is distributed–my photos are ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.”
Would you like to be a part of the ACrafty interview series? Just contact me! You might also be interested in reading some more ACrafty Interviews with multi-crafter Diane from CraftyPod, needlepointer Haruhi Okubo of Cresus-Parpi, tatter and chainmailler Jeff Hamilton, potter Nancy Germond, basketweaver Tina Puckett, quilter and pursemaker Linda Martin, and cross stitcher Meredith Cait.