The phoenix image is just one that keeps coming back to me. A few months ago, I sold the phoenix quilt I made last year and felt I was in a different place in my life and wouldn’t use that image again. I thought about how I felt stronger and how maybe I was ready for imagery about power and already being strong, not still rising from the ashes. And then, I was hit hard by a few things in my personal life. Really hard. I realized that this idea of rising is recurrent. We don’t rise just once. It is a constant journey. A constant battle to leave behind the things, and sometimes the people, that pull us down and make us feel like we have no where to go, and that rising is not within our capabilities. Some people make us feel that way deliberately. Others do it in much more subtle ways. One of my biggest battles this year has been fighting the fear of insignificance.
We all want to matter. I want to matter. I want to feel like I’m worth a phone call, a kind word, a quick message to ask how I am or if I’d like to grab lunch and catch up. Something. Anything. And, don’t lecture me on how a healthy self-esteem would cure me of needing that reassurance from others and how I need to just know I am valuable deep within. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all of that. Sometimes, though….sometimes I want to FEEL it from another person. And that made me realize that I am still in the process of rising. Of peeling off whatever it is that holds my spirit down. I am still that phoenix looking up and lifting my wings and flying while part of me is still dripping flames and ash and all the things I’m trying to leave behind.
And that led me to this latest phoenix design using a very different technique. My first phoenix quilt, entitled “My Unconquerable Soul”, pictured on the left, was built entirely as appliqués. Every piece was cut and the edges were turned under and stitched down on top of a base batik. In my newest design, the background is a piecing extravaganza! (which is code for nightmare…) There is no way to cut out a bunch of one shape because the same shapes and sizes rarely exist in this piece. Once I piece together the background, I will build the phoenix as I did before, through a series of appliquéd feathers and layers that make up her body. And then the whole thing will be stitched, and most likely I won’t be able to resist adding lots and lots of Swarovski Crystals, though I’m not exactly sure where they will be placed just yet. She’ll let me know, though. When she’s good and ready.
You know, I’ve had better weeks. As I was packing some things up to work on at the studio today, I found this piece that I started a couple of months ago. Sometimes I create happy sea stars and fun octopuses. And then sometimes, I am inspired by life and how it changes. How it pushes and pulls you in these different directions, forcing you to either change with it or hold steady and fight it. And the best solution isn’t always the same choice. Sometimes it’s about the happy things that inspire us–cute animals, beautiful scenery, vibrant colors or a great new piece of fabric. And sometimes, it’s the not-so-happy things and in those moments of pain and struggle, I often visualize images that seem to parallel what I’m going through.
One of those moments reminded me of this painting I had created years ago for a primitive styled production of La Pastorela. In this little Christmas play, there is a very literal mouth of hell. For this production, the director just wanted a very simple, fantastical design and this was my rendering for that backdrop. I don’t know why I thought about it all these years later, but I pulled it out of my stash of paintings and decided I would turn it in to a textile piece. It seemed symbolic of where my life was and I wanted to create something a little less happy-beach-day and a little more true to what I was experiencing. That said, I am an optimist and I always like to feel there is hope. I’ve been contemplating a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel piece for quite some time, and thought it might be cool to combine those two ideas and have the tunnel be this demonic mouth of hell, as that’s what it felt like I was faced with at the time. I came across this Robert Frost quote that I felt fit so perfectly: “The best way out is always through.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the difficulties of my life these past few years, it’s that. There are no short cuts. There are no easy paths that will allow me to circumvent the pain and stress and sorrow that my situation brings me. It is only in walking through the fire that I will be able to pass my demons and step out of the darkness, over those sharp teeth and into the sunshine that awaits. I don’t know how long it will take to feel that fresh air again. Sometimes I feel the breeze and the warmth of the sunshine and know it is getting closer. Sometimes it seems to take forever. But, through it all, I know there’s only one way to go, and that’s to face it head on and walk straight through.
I’ve always loved working with textiles. I’m a painter by trade and worked as a scenic artist in the theatre for many years. But, when I got back to working with fabric, I found my love. Part of what I love is that the way I create detail with the prints and colors that someone else designed keeps me loose and free in a way that holding a paintbrush and zoning in on small details inhibits. Not that you can’t be loose and free with painting, and in fact, painting scenery requires it. But fabric—it’s a whole new world. I love that I layer tons of different prints to create a field or a sky or in this case, that line where they both mesh together. Where a close up view of tall grass breaks the straight horizon line you might see from a distance and the blues and greens blend together. I love all the fun prints that make that happen. So, when it came to these poppies, I decided they needed to be more solid in color. A bold pop of brilliant red with no print to help make them blend. I wanted them to stand out. To stand strong against the meshing of the field and sky. Blocky stems and large, rounded, more abstract flower shapes make them the focal point of this piece. I used orange thread on the poppies to add a touch of highlight to the two red fabrics. The background was stitched in lighter weight blues and greens to add a hint of the sky and grass textures. Heavier weight dark blue and dark green threads finished it off, sketching in stem outlines and a horizontal bold skyline to offset the horizontal stitching of the grass and stems. A little abstract but fully recognizable.
We are all connected. The seas, the creatures, the moon and stars and sun all move together to create life and write our story. We rise and fall like the tides and somewhere in there, there’s a splash of magic.
That was my artist statement for this quilt.
This quilt is one of the first ones I’ve done that has more of a story to it. The original idea was to have sea stars rising up from the ocean and when the cross the horizon line, they become the night time stars. I loved the idea of a strip quilt for the background. It gradates from a dark night sky into a sunset, and then from the bright surface of the ocean dow
n to the darker depths. As I was looking at the original sketch, I thought there needed to be more life and more connection between the sea creatures and the elements. I had this idea that an octopus would have his arm(s) full of sea stars and would be sending them up at dusk. This created an incomplete circular motion, so a setting sun seemed to complete that circle. But, of course we needed to have a moon in the sky with those stars, and I loved the idea of it being a crescent shape to mimic the crescent wave. The moon affects the tides so that seemed like another beautiful connection. I love the overlap of the two crescent shapes, especially since they both are in constant motion. The last piece to be added was the mermaid. Since all the other elements were connected in some way, I thought another creature should be involved in helping the moon to rise up into the sky. When I added her, it felt complete. I love all the bold colors and prints and how they work together to create a beautiful composition that feels like it is in motion.