Welcome Heidi Parkes, our newest member of the Cedarburg Spur Fiber Arts Trail!
Coming from an art background, Heidi says sometimes it takes quite a bit of planning and figuring to do something that would be ‘so easy’ with paint or collage. There are so many art ideas that she loves and wants to express in the medium of quilting. She approaches quilting like a painting.
From Heidi, “When designing a quilt I work at a design wall to view my fabrics much like a painter at an easel. As a graduate of The School of the Art Institute, my focus is on making contemporary art. Like many artists who draw or collage, my art adds something to the cannon of ‘painting,’ and can interact in an art gallery setting as such.
Some common themes in my art are those of mapping, memory, and color field work. I use fabric and shapes to abstractly represent landscapes and places. I use found textiles to incorporate histories and memories in the art. While I work alone, I encourage a feeling of collaboration in my art. First, in my materials, because the fabrics were made, designed, printed, and sourced from places outside myself. Second, I use the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi to collaborate with nature. I ‘allow’ things to happen when dying my fabric and when hand quilting.
I piece and quilt in an improvisational style. This tradition is well known in ‘The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,’ and they are often referred to as having a jazz aesthetic in their art. By improvising, when I start a quilt, I know the general direction in which I plan to work, but I have not pre-planned, sketched in detail, or gridded the design in advance. Much like an abstract expressionist painter, I react to the work as I’m making it.
Each quilt has three layers in which I create interest, design, and meaning. The fabric choices themselves are my palette, and have intrinsic meanings within them. Then, the piecing of the quilt forms the most noticeable image, the design seen from afar. Finally, the quilting holds the piece together, but it is also an opportunity to make a line drawing across the entire surface of the art.”
As usual, I ask all members of the Fiber Arts Trails to fill out an Artist Questionnaire. Here is Heidi’s story as per the questionnaire:
A little bit of background…
MFAT: When did you first become interested in fiber art?
Heidi: As a child, my mother used to sew many of my clothes and Halloween costumes. By age Kindergarten I was embroidering, weaving hot pads, finger knitting, and wrapping all manner of things in yarn. Eventually, I owned a Fisher Price loom, and wove about a dozen blankets for my Barbie’s. Fiber art has always been an important part of my life, from learning to use a sewing machine in Jr. High home-ec, to weaving baskets in the summer, and crocheting scarves for the winter.
Fiber art was so accessible, that for a while I thought I needed to do more complicated forms of art because I had access to equipment like kilns and ventilation. During my sophomore year at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago I found myself making a quilt in my metalworking class, slip casting lace in ceramics, and crocheting around my drawings. It was then that I realized I belonged in the fiber arts department. Duh!! Since graduating from college, I’ve found that the incredible ease of working with fiber, and accessing the required tools is a true benefit of the medium. It gives me the freedom to move, to rent, and to work from a home studio.
MFAT: What about the medium of fiber appeals to you?
Heidi: It’s clean. It involves collaboration, in the sense that someone else has made the yarn, fabrics, and prints on the fabrics… It is not about the seeming isolation and ‘master of the universe’ approach found in painting with a white canvas and new tubes of paint. It is more like collage. As a fiber artist, when I sit down to work, there is already personality and meaning in my materials. The medium is mobile; I can pack a quilt in a suitcase, and work on it in any place that has a table and a heavy book.
MFAT: What type(s) of fiber (medium) do you work with the most?
Heidi: Quilting, mostly cotton or linen. I also embroider, crochet, sew, and knit. I love to make my own clothes.
What theme or ideas are recurring in your work? Mapping, I also make paintings about mapping. I love flying, and had such powerful experiences flying as a child. My mother showed me Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of the sky, and from then on I’ve been convinced that being up in the air is magic. It’s a reminder of how tiny we are. That we carve/sculpt/draw lines into the earth, and mold it all the time. The way the view changes with the seasons and geography. That moment when you look out, and can only see water in every direction, the bigness of it- Agnes Martin captured that, and that was in my mind for my quilt titled, “Ocean.”
Memory, in quilts like ‘the beach,’ I’m interested in recreating the way a place or experience feels. This quilt is about glimpsing lake Michigan while on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. I’m also interested it the memories that are intrinsic to the textiles themselves. ‘Beginners’ was made with my mother’s tablecloth, and it adds to the meaning of the quilt that it is made with a specific found textile.
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that refers to the perfect mistake. Especially when I’m quilting, I allow myself to ‘collaborate with nature,’ and quilt without guide lines. I’m interested in creating a handmade quality in my work that celebrates the make of ‘the hand.’ I like to pair that with impeccable craftsmanship, but it is important to me that it looks handmade and not machine made. That is also why I use the sashiko style thread and stitches; I want them to be highly visible.
Your creative expression:
MFAT: What are your creative challenges?
Heidi: I come from an art background, and am very at home with painting and drawing. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of planning and figuring to do something that would be ‘so easy’ with paint or collage. There are still so many art ideas that I love, and want to express in the medium of quilting. Some of them may be quite a challenge to translate into fiber.
MFAT: How do you approach your work?
Heidi: I approach it like a painting. I work with a design wall. I quilt improvisationally, and by that I mean I start with a general idea of where I want to go, but each quilt is overwhelmingly created in the moment. I enjoy being able to piece little bits of patchwork, and then arrange, and rearrange them on the design wall- that can’t be done with paint! Quilting also reminds me of ceramics. The piecing in like glazing a pot, and I’m imagining how it will be. The quilting is like sending it through the kiln- everything is transformed! It comes alive then.
MFAT: What tool could you not live without?
Heidi: A needle and thimble. I could do fine without a design wall, rotary cutter, templates, and the rest. My hands would be dead in a day or two without my thimble though. Gotta have it!
MFAT: What is your creative process?
Heidi: I think about my art all the time, I observe the world, the fine art that moves me, the fabrics I have access too. That thinking step is the most important part. Then, I choose fabrics and stare at them. I lay them out on the floor, and try to notice the relationships, how they work together. Then I cut a few strips, and pin them to the wall, and stare some more. Then, when I’ve got a plan I sew and sew. I like to work in long stretches best, spending 20 hours over 2 days to piece a quilt. When quilting I love to listen to Ted talks, watch Netflix, listen to books on tape. It is so wonderful to have an excuse to engage in culture in that way. It’ a nice mental break, and it inspires the next quilt all at the same time.
MFAT: Does your location, physically or as an idea manifest itself in your work?
Heidi: Yes, I quilt many of the things that I see where I live and when I travel. I’ve made quilts of the Atlantic, lake Michigan, flight in the Midwest, flight in Chicago, I’ve embroidered aerial maps of my homes in my quilts too. I collect fabrics when I travel, and it is important and inspiring for me to use them in my work. In ‘Have Company,’ I love it that there are fabrics from my travels to Korea, Mexico, Chicago, Naperville, Florida, and gifted fabrics from my mom, grandmother, late neighbor Jean, my brother, my friends Carol and Judy. I see each of them when I’m working on the quilt. Like Proust gets at in ‘Remembrance of Things Past,’ I can’t see the fabrics clearly, I see them through lenses colored with all the past experiences I’ve had with them- that includes my location.
MFAT: What are some of the pleasures you get in your work?
Heidi: Quilting is just the right amount of ‘active thought,’ and ‘doing the work of making’ for me. I’d say it’s about a 25 to 75% split. It is so enjoyable to trust my hands, and to just let them do the work. I love looking at my quilts, it’s such fun to look back at them, because after 50-80 hours of making each one, I really get to know them intimately. There’s a great sense of adventure- dying fabric and wondering about the results, testing out a new technique, trying an idea for the first time, and wondering what it will become while I’m piecing it.
The fiber community around you:
MFAT: What are some of the big ideas that influence your work?
Heidi: Luke Haynes is into the idea of ‘quilt as sculpture,’ I’m into the idea of ‘quilt as painting.’ I love that they can be both, that they can also get stuffed into a backpack, or look so completely different blowing in the wind.
-Mark Bradford is one of my favorite contemporary artists. I love that he refers to his collages as paintings- the collage and ‘decollage’ aspect of his work adding and removing materials. I saw him speak at SAIC when I was a student, and he brought home the idea that the materials used to make the art add meaning to the art. It was a pivotal shift in thinking for me.
-‘Removal’ is my next big goal. Painters like Julie Mehretu remove layers of their work, and it leaves a ‘ghost’ behind. I want to find a way to do that with a quilt- something not too literal, I’m still forming the thought for the art right now.
-some of my favorite art movements are: Abstract expressionism, color field painting, arte povera (poor art), outsider art, and African American improvisational quilts.
MFAT: How do you view the artists of today?
Heidi: LOVE! I’m totally addicted to PBS Art 21, Craft in America, and all the other art documentaries, ted talks, and YouTube talks (like The Unprivate Collection) that I can get my hands on. They are making such exciting work. When I was in Korea, I saw that they are thinking really big there; whole teams of people were making giant installation art. They tackle themes and thoughts that have never been in art before. All the mediums are getting blurred, and can be made of anything, it can move and involve electricity, video, sound, toenail clippings, hair, coffee cup lids, gunpowder- it’s an extraordinary thing! Some favorites are Meredith Monk, Ann Hamilton, Anne Wilson, Cai-Quo Giang, Do-Ho Suh, Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, William Kentridge, El Anatsui, Deb Sokolow, Rebecca Carter, David Hockney, Elizabeth Peyton, Sarah Nishiura, Ghada Amer, Jim Hodges, Kelsey Viola, Wiskirchen, Jessica Rankin, Andrea Zittel, … (italics are fiber artists)
MFAT: Which fiber artist do you admire the most?
Heidi: Polly Bennett and the quilters of Gee’s Bend. When I was a high school teacher, I did the sets for many plays. My favorite was a show called ‘Tapestries,’ about African American culture. The students and I sewed together a quilt top inspired by them that was 50 by 25’ large as a backdrop for the play in 2007. It was an amazing experience. That is the fiber art that I return to over and over again.
-I’m also a big fan of Eva Hesse and Algihrio Boetti. Her manipulation of materials, and abstract imagery is so bold and interesting. Boetti’s use of everyday objects, maps, and skilled assistants makes for such interesting art. Ghada Amer did amazing things for fiber art too, I love how she stretches her work like a painting. And her stance on women’s rights- I love that she is political and taking a stand for women.
MFAT: What is your work motto?
Heidi: Freedom- how can I make a choice in my work that gives me more choices, more flexibilities, more options, more possibilities. I want to be like a sponge, absorbing as much of what’s happening in the arts community as possible
MFAT: Where do you exhibit/sell your work?
Heidi: The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber art, The Orange Gallery in Milwaukee, the Pfister Hotel, The Jazz Gallery in Riverwest, the Riverwest Art Walk. More soon hopefully!
What is your contact info?