My work of thirty-five plus years has been developed using needle and thread to construct and embellish fabric. Early pieces were heavily stitched, woven, knotted; background fabrics were completely covered. Currently, more open spaces are present; background areas are not fully stitched. An obvious freedom or openness developed. And the work is more content-oriented.
At the end of 2010, after reflecting on past personal and professional influences and activities and thinking about ways to add pictures to my work, I discovered a means to laminate paper to silk. A chance discovery of a You Tube video by Claire Benn illustrated a process that excited me.
My interest in pictures goes back to those days during childhood when I liked to look at pictures, no matter the source. That inquisitiveness has been a basic fact of my life, even today. I like to look at pictures. But, at the same time, I like to see beyond what is in the picture, what might also be outside the picture, that which is unseen, but has meaning. Evaluating the image, the why and how of it, are important factors for thought. This interest led to my doctoral dissertation topic at Florida State University where I developed an art critical method to teach secondary students how to read advertising images presented to them in print media. A study of advertising brought many insights on how we are manipulated by advertisers to buy products presented on those glossy pages of magazines. Advertising has a hook to draw us into the picture, to make us desire the product because it will do something for us, like making those wrinkles disappear and, consequently, we, the consumer, will buy the product. As artists we desire for viewers to look at our work. We want to draw them to the image. In a way we do exactly what advertisers do: grab viewers to look and see what is presented to them.
Graduate work at the University of Georgia led me to use digitized and manipulated images of fashion faces, transforming them into multiples akin to the faces found on magazines in the newsstand. During my childhood days, a newsstand across the street from where my mother grocery-shopped, provided my sisters and me a place to go to look at magazines. I was intrigued with the covers, especially what was pictured on the fronts of “Life” and “Look”. The images of my fashion faces were presented in stacks of 75 to 100 images, mimicking the way magazines are stacked on shelves or placed in racks for us to view and be tempted to buy.
With the discovery of a way to use pictures in my work, I set out (early 2011) to develop the “Stitched Statement” series – using pictures/text by laminating paper to silk and, at the same time, continuing my use of stitch to illuminate those areas that bring the pictures to life. Re-contextualized images become new visual statements, thus different story lines for interpretation. Like advertising, I want to draw viewers in through the mixture of images and words and allow them to interpret what they see from their perspective. I am telling a story, whatever it might be, through image and text. To make the work more personally mine, I add my own drawings that fill and relate/contrast to negatives and positive shapes/spaces within the picture plane. The drawings are not added all at one time. They are introduced during working stages. Many of these images are borrowed from previous mummy-like figures and fashion items that were present in my embroideries, such as the “In Fashion” series. The only stitch used is the straight stitch and its variations. The way I use the stitch and where I stitch evolve as I proceed with the stitching.
Essentially, I believe my inner voice directs and guides me. This is the way I live my life and consequently, it affects my art making practices and my teaching responsibilities. Over time, my art has evolved. I rediscovered past influences and have adapted them into my visually stitched statements of today. Hopefully, I will learn more about “me” as I move further on this path of rebirth in both my art and life.
— Mary Ruth Smith