There was a time when I had to search and search for artists who were making real, serious (and seriously funny) work that included needlework. As I have mentioned before, Elaine Reichek is one of my biggest influences in that seeing her show, "Native Intelligence" back in the early 90s lit a spark for me from which a fire has been raging ever since. As I have been thinking about who to include in my Lion Brand talk, I realize that there are now so many artists working with knitting that I actually have to set up some guidelines about why I want to include them. The main guideline seems to be that I know their work well and have given it a good deal of thought over the years.
Naturally, I will include some images of work by Elaine. She has moved on from knitting to embroidery and other media but she remains a pioneer for the rest of us.
Two Canadian artists also have been major influences. Barb Hunt who lives in Corner Brook (how lucky is that?) and teaches at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College's Visual Art program. Her best known knit piece is probably her pink landmine replicas. For that reason, I am choosing a different piece. This is called "Amnesty" and she knit it for the Canadian Foreign Minister, who was a woman at the time. This was one of Barb's first knit pieces, so for her, it has special meaning as she began to use knitting to explore her ideas about being a pacifist and an artist.
Janet Morton is an artist who lives in Ontario. We have frequently discovered that either she or I have made a piece that the other was thinking about making to the point of being almost scary. Likewise, we have many other non-art shared interests - India, yoga, two children (a boy and a girl), environmentalism...the list goes on. Naturally, I think Janet is great! Vanity aside, Janet IS great. Here is one of her pieces called Femmebomb. It is installed at the 4 story, century old School of Human Ecology at UW - Madison. She covered it in 19 quilt squares made from recycled material, 250 crocheted flowers, 22 buttons made of pink insulation foam, orange plastic snow fence woven with pink cloth, industrial Velcro, wood rope, grommets.
I think those are three artists that I will speak about but, as I said, there are so many now. Besides their influence on my thinking about art, these three also share a depth in their ideas and their use of needlework. There is solid ground under their decision to choose knitting. Conceptually, it works on many levels. I do fear that, with the growing popularity of the "guerilla knitting" movement, some of our work is diluted a little. I want to emphasize that these artists who have chosen knitting aren't really doing it on a lark or because it is fun (although it is), but have philosophically sound reasons behind it.
One of the reasons that the "what a waste, you should be knitting for homeless people" comment is so inexplicable to me is exactly because the knitting is conceptually integral to the validity of the piece as art. Its common use - to make functional objects - is a reference point but in the same way rotting fruit is a reference point for Chardin in his still life paintings. Oh Monsieur Chardin! What a waste of perfectly good fruit! And that dead rabbit could have fed starving children!
Ok, no need to get snarky, but you get my point.
All that said, I did happen upon an image from a recent show in London.
It is a piece called "Still Burning" by Sally Spinks. So, you see, we can have fun too!