Friday, January 8, 2010

Kathy York frequently asks, "Why?" and then "Why NOT?"

The name Kathy York is becoming forever linked with fabric art described as 'extraordinary' and 'unique' and of course 'awesome' and 'beautiful.'  Her work also receives awards accompanied by the question 'wherever did she get that idea?'

Kathy asks a bit different question and takes a few minutes here to share some insight into her rich art  and embold us with her infectious energy and sense of humor. 

Along the way we get the idea that whatever we can imagine -- we can do.... Dawn

From time to time, I will get a wild hair of an idea for a quilt, usually one that is huge in scale. Unfortunately once it takes hold, it is hard to shake loose. I frequently want to kick myself for taking on such a monstrous project.

Oh WHY did I get THAT idea????

I have heard the perspective that who cares how long it will take. The time will just pass anyway, whether you do it or not. So, why not just do it?

The first really big project was Little Cities. [First photo]

It started out as a bit of a joke. I made a tiny little log cabin block, 1” in size, and a big log cabin block, about 15” in size. I wanted to try to make a quilt out of very different sized blocks. I took the blocks to my quilting bee and announced my intentions. My friends looked at me with surprise and incredulity. I didn't have any idea of what I was doing, but had a palette of colors selected and I was just itching to get started. I knew that I was ready to revisit the log cabin block and that it needed to be BIG, as it was for my king sized bed.

I had many false starts on the project, including altering the color palette to include some warm colors. I learned a lot about color values while making the blocks. I also learned to paint dots on fabric to alter the values. That's when I had the idea to put the little 1/2” satin stitched circles in 1” blocks. The more I made, the better it looked. Then I realized how many I would need to make the vision a reality. It was overwhelming to say the least and I got that need to kick myself again.

Something made me do it anyway.

Maybe it was persistence, maybe it was a need to prove something, maybe it was just obsessive? But, when I finished the quilt (2 years later) and stepped back to look at it, it was so incredibly satisfying. I was really pleased with it and proud.

Then it won a first place award in Houston and I realized that other people liked it too!
This is when I realized that my art is bigger than myself. It affects other people and that is a great, great feeling!

And I don't remember now why I needed to make 3D fish, and embellish them with beaded costumes swimming in patterns like synchronized swimmers, but on about the 200th fish, I started asking myself the same old question, why? Why so many fish?

(There are over 400 of them on the quilt.)

Why did they have to be three dimensional? Just because.....

[Photo: Synchronized Swimming: 51" x 51" $5000 This is a whole cloth quilt. You could call it shibori, but I called it tie-dye. I tie-dyed it and then over dyed it with another set of circles. Because I was experimenting, I decided to make two identical or nearly identical large pieces and used the second piece for the back. The fish are made from almost all commercial fabrics. They are 3 dimensional, stuffed, quilted, embellished and are fitted with copper wire on the inside to make them 'bendy fish'. They have copper wire pectoral fins, painted eyes, no mouths. Each set needed it's own original costumes, so I went to town decorating them. It was a fun project. Not all the fish can be seen in their entirities because some of them are diving below the surface so only their tales show. Others are just coming up to the surface, so you can only see their heads. The blue masks for the fish in the circle on the left were each custom fitted for each fish and made from a collapsed mondo play ball. See Kathy's blog for more detail.

Fast forward to the present.

I begin to see a theme emerge, 3D fish in a 3D city world, and you have Little Fish in a Big City. [See photo. 60x60-inches]

I had the idea for a futuristic city partially submerged by the rising sea levels of global warming. The fish would be the taxis. I already knew how to make the fish, but the buildings were new. And I had no idea if they would stand out properly or sag. In fact, I made all the buildings before sewing them on to the quilt without knowing the answer to that question.

The answer turned out to be that most of the buildings did great, perfect! Some of the tall ones had their issues and I had to resort to some rather elaborate problem solving, but eventually all were whipped into shape.

And looking at all those buildings (whose fabrics were all created with batik, bleach discharge, and over dyeing), and all the fish (whose fabric was a screen printed thickened dye), and the quilt (all hand batiked fabrics, densely hand and machine quilted) probably know EXACTLY what I was asking myself about half way through!

A small comfort, but at least now I know the reason I am an artist.

I get ideas, and I take risks!

Note: Little Fish in a Big City was Kathy's Quilt National 2009 entry.

Little Fish is all about global warming and the where will I fit in? Sea levels rising, engulfing cities, the new transportation, fish carrying all the people. Look closely at the bottom right corner for the little fish for whom the quilt was named. This quilt is dedicated to environmental refugees everywhere.


JYA Fiberarts said...

Kathy does very interesting work. I personally love the long-project quilts, and kind of feel at a loss when I don't have one going. All these great ideas feed not only our souls, as artists, they delight the people who witness our creativity. Good job, Kathy!

kathy york said...

Thanks! I have to agree with you that art feeds the soul. As much as I complain, the long and tedious projects have their advantages too. They give me lots of time to think about my work and they satisfy my demanding muse.

Michigoose said...

Kathy, I was really happy to see your piece at Quilt National. I think one of the things which is wonderful about your work is that it is fun. It makes you smile to look at and it seems like you have fun making it as well.

Your color choices are similar to my own, and I am pleased to have had the opertunity to see more of your work hear (way to go Dawn!).

I also appreciate the struggle it is to go from concept to completion in your three-dimensional works. I'm still struggling over one of my pieces (not dimensional, but oddly shaped and using organza).

Thanks so much for sharing!

Connie Hudson said...

Kathy it's always a privilege to be around you when you get into the "I want to try" mode. It stretches all of us. Thanks for showing me that work can be finished even when you're tired of it!

juanita said...

I am so in awe that I don't know what to say! Just keep on doing these wonderful 3D works. They are an inspiration to us all. Following our 'crazy' ideas can lead to fabulous quilts...thinking outside the box takes on a whole new meaning with your work.

Linda Cooper said...

Oh Kathy,
What fun! I saw your Little Cities at some show and loved it, but I didn't connect it with your
QN piece. (?? How on earth did you sew it and how did you ever ship it?)
I too have played with the 3rd dimension, but no way as daringly as you. Keep up the wonderful and humorous and thought-provoking work.
Thanks, Dawn, for bringing her to us.

kathy york said...

Thanks everyone! Thinking outside the box can be helpful in lots of situations! Regarding the shipping, everyone asks me that... I just sort of slid the quilt into a box with lots of padding on the corners. The buildings were stabilized with popsickle sticks and rubber bands. I really appreciate the encouragement!

Lisa said...

Kathy's quilts are so beautiful! I'd love to see the fish quilt upclose. I'm hoping there are more closeups on her blog. I love to look at quilts and figure out "How did she do that!"

kathy york said...

Many thanks! If you want to see more about any of my fish quilts, you can go to my blog. I have labels on my posts. Just click on the one that says, Art Quilts: Fish Series.