Monday, July 21, 2008

Quilting Art: Visiting Ai, and Joan and Joanie

[Joan Dreyer's Flag from the Homeland Series]

Last Friday evening, Warren and I hopped a plane from Austin to Newark for our latest round of interviews and photos for the Quilting Art book. On deck for Saturday was Ai Kajima, originally from Japan and now living in Brooklyn by way of Chicago. Sunday was designated for meeting with Joan Dreyer and Joanie San Chirico.

Let me say that, while the flight to Newark was excellent, the flight back was awful (stuck on the runway for three hours, two of those without air conditioning—really). And riding buses and trains and subways to and fro NY is hardly my idea of a good time—over at my other blog I bitch and moan incessantly about poor, woe is me in the city!

But as for actually meeting my goal of capturing great material for the book? Well that, despite all the logistical hurdles, was a smashing success.

Oh where to start? I want to not give away too much, since I am writing a book about all of these artists. Meeting Ai was really interesting because she is, as far as I can tell, very much a free agent, not especially connected to the quilting art community. Which is not to say she has a shunning attitude. It’s just that she went to art school in Chicago and then followed an art path and happens to be into working on her own. There’s a gallery that reps her in NY. And she spends much of her time working on these really interesting collage quilts, which often feature pop cult characters and images. One work-in-progress we saw was a huge montage centered by Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin embracing a buff and topless Bruce Lee.

[quilt by Ai Kajima]

Ai clips these characters from recycled fabric—kids’ bed sheets are a favorite—and fuses them together, usually without a back piece, just directly piece on top of piece. The quilting itself is fairly microscopic and, as it follows the images on the front, winds up looking like a thread painting on the back, which is typically black.

Next stop, back to NJ. Sunday morning Joan Dreyer picked us up at our hotel and immersed us in such a humongous pool of hospitality and art talk that I’m still processing the kindness and the education. I’m excited about every single artist that’s going to be in the book but I was really drooling for a chance to see Joan’s x-ray “quilts” up close. I’m not even sure I should put quotes around the word quilt there. Technically Joan uses layers and stitches and so, there you go, that’s a quilt. I suppose some critics might disagree but really, who cares?

In addition to Joan, we were lucky enough to get to meet Joanie San Chirico, who is a friend of Joan’s and who lives close enough that she volunteered to drive up. The four of us spent hours talking quilts, art, textiles, and history. Both artists explained their philosophies and also gave us super up close looks at the detail work. I came away feeling like my brain had grown some. Not only does it still sometimes surprise me that I’ve wound up writing about this world, but I’m also continually amazed at the education I’m receiving. The more I talk to the artists, the more I semi-joke that I’m going to go back to school to study the history of textiles.

[from Joanie San Chirico's Catacombs series]

I want to send out an enormous thank you to all of them. Warren and I are pushing it hard, packing in these weekend trips on a tight time/money budget, and Warren especially is pushing it, since he has traditional work hours to keep during the week. That all of the folks we’re meeting are being so generous with their time and knowledge and food and hospitality continues to make us increasingly excited about a project we were already thrilled to take on.

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