Our contemporary world is complex. With technology allowing for consistent communication, as well as an ever present world wide web that can stimulate any craving, we have become seemingly distracted. When together, in social settings, things feel distant. As if no one is actually there in the present moment; the only truly tangible thing that ever exists between us. Even individually, it can feel as though our current experience regularly demands our attention elsewhere. Each chime and vibration calling us anywhere but the present; anywhere but with ourselves or with each other.
Such a reality has made our reliance on intuition less and less crucial. Historically, intuition was once recognized as something of a sixth sense. An internal superpower of sorts that protected us from the potential harms of our external environment. When we felt threatened, our intuition would serve in forewarning us. Could it be the very thing that allowed us to survive and evolve as a species? Perhaps, to some understanding, intuition is most closely related to our deeper selves, relaying to us through code the parts of existence that can at times be difficult to face.
Artists, though, heavily rely on this gut feeling. For them, it disables the divide between the conscious self and the inner, less discernible, self. The soul. That part within oneself that holds truths. The pain we may carry; the gratitude; the guilt; the joy. The connection is imperative to creativity for an artist. When these truths are faced, the artist uncovers another piece of the puzzle that makes them whole. What others may choose to avoid, the artist confronts, allowing themselves to traverse the darkness. In the end, the experience always brings out something spiritual and special.
2020 put each of us through a similar tumultuous journey. One we could neither hide from nor avoid. In facing the crises, many of us turned to creative outlets almost as if out of necessity. So many emotions were pouring out all at once that a source to express them through became essential. Cooking, writing, painting, sewing. The self-reflective journeys our intuition could take us on via creative expression were endless.
Textile artist Debra Weiss is no stranger to such emotions. It’s what leads her through the process as she intricately weaves stitches and patterns across her textiles. As a VAWAA artist, she recently mentored a group of sixteen creatives through a five week series on textile collaging. To beginners and experts alike, Weiss demonstrated varying techniques such as the running stitch, blanket stitch, chain stitch, macrame - and allowed each individual to reimagine it and apply it in their own special way.
The theme of the series was centered around our respective reflections of the past year. Using intuition as the governing force, we let our emotions and experiences of the past year connect us to one another. We shared openly, without judgement, the deep and vulnerable parts of our stories. It felt easy to share as empathy emerged through the process and connected us to one another's struggles. Through sharing, we recognized similarities amongst ourselves that may have otherwise lay dormant. In this way, sharing and creating had set us free.
This piece, which illustrates the universe with a dark, seemingly empty hole through the center, was done by Stacey Renfroe. The stitching demonstrates a personal take on Debra’s technique, and exudes a relatable emotion. In the center, barely visible, as if now only a remnant from a distant past, are words stitched in grey. The words reflect fragments of 2020 and remain as an open invitation to contemplate the difficulties we overcame, on our own terms and time.
"The medium was something new for me", says Renfroe. "It was a safe space for me to explore my feelings about 2020 and end with a piece of art as a reminder."
For Nancy Walter’s, a graphic designer who otherwise expresses herself through a digital medium, stitching was also something new. Using a thrifted linen shirt, Walter designed a piece of artwork that quite literally allows her to wear her heart on her sleeve.
Her jacket exemplifies the waves of struggle that persisted through the year. On the front are features of all the unexpected events that seemingly never ended, as well as visualized symbols of wolves and snakes that appeared to her via nightmares. The sleeve acknowledges the people that offered support through the difficult moments, such as teachers and coaches. And on the back is a tribute to all those who tragically passed. Her schnauzer, Owen; her sister; those who lost their lives or homes via the fires that raged across California; as well as the ever growing number of COVID deaths, which we all remain fearful of.
"It was cathartic", says Walter of creating something so special from such tragic moments. "I can’t wait to wear it!"
For Lynn Adamo, working with textiles and learning from Debra are both somewhat familiar. She has taken all three of Debra’s previous VAWAA sessions on textile collaging, and in an earlier life used to sew, knit and quilt. And yet, this too was something different for her to explore. As a mixed media artist focused on the creation of mosaics, Adamo’s usual practice, with its focus on hard materials, is quite the opposite. Still, she found familiarities between the composition of varying materials through mosaic versus that of collage, noting that the two have more in common than she previously thought.
"The organic process of developing a concept and design with new materials was freeing," says Adamo. "Debra’s teaching style is relaxed and engaging. There is no wrong, and there are really no rules. She taught us basic stitches, then let us explore.
Going forward, I’m excited to incorporate fiber and textile into my mosaic work. I’ve always liked juxtaposition of opposites: bright/shiny, hard/soft, durable/ephemeral. The journey will continue with these new techniques. "
Lori Gubin, whose piece is seen above, may have summarized the tone of the five week series best. An artist herself, she was no stranger to intuition, and used it as a resource to make sense of the past year’s traumas.
"This piece helped me process 2020, she says, which started with a lot of happy times, quickly turned into a lot of uncertainty as the pandemic began, and shifted into endless days. As the year drew to a close I experienced a bit of brightness and promise of the future even while things were still unraveling."
Perhaps things will continue to unravel, as they sometimes do in life. With uncertainty as the norm, we can always rely on change to disentangle us from tough times. Yet to fully escape means we must also allow ourselves to go through it. To feel the difficult parts of life that will always come and go. More importantly, if it is change we desire, then we must consider our own faults and wrongdoings in the present, allowing for our intuition to mature us into better future versions of ourselves.
As we move forward into a new year, which presents new sets of challenges and uncertainties, I reflect on Lori’s words stitched onto her work...
"Let your desired future self, not the past, be the thing predicting your current behavior."
Written by Svitlana Hrabovsky
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