Esther S White
Since becoming a parent, the boundaries of my studio practice and my personal life have become permeable. To continue making work, I have to be flexible. I have to practice dropping one thing in order to quickly transition to something utterly different. Most of all, I must surrender to circumstance. Initially, my adoption of textiles was a pragmatic choice: I needed to move my practice home. I quickly found that the historical and material concerns of textile art support the central questions of my work. I use printmaking and craft methods to explore themes of memory, time, and my dual identity as an Artist-Mother/Mother-Artist. Starting with blank yardage, I print and dye fabric that I cut and sew into vivid and densely patterned quilts, wall hangings, and installations. I experiment with the limits of representation, making work that incorporates found objects, drawing, and abstraction. I am interested in pushing the expressive capacity of pattern by exploring how repetition and irregularity create space for emotional interpretations of color, texture, and form. My inspiration comes from the rhythms of childcare, labor, and family life. I borrow imagery from the familiar and everyday, teasing out the powerful associations and feelings they hold. By printing, flattening, cutting, reshaping, and recombining I remake my inner world with dye, ink, and thread.
Exercises for the Childbearing Years Statement:
“Exercises for the Childbearing Years,” is a hybrid of printmaking and textile art that I have used to explore chronic pain as a feminine problem, my dual identity as an artist/mother, and the divide between craft and art. In my studio practice, the materials, technique, and content are intertwined, providing tension and direction to build my work around.
I dye and print textiles for improvisational quilts and wall hangings. I layer experimental print and dye techniques one on top of another to create richly textured, complex surfaces. I sometimes combine printed fabric with family textiles and clothing to make collaged art quilts that reference the body, domesticity, and memory. I often start with an abstract idea or emotional state. I print and dye then cut, piece, and re-cut my materials until I find a combination that elicits the emotional state or idea I am interested in exploring. I do not have a sense of the finished design before I begin, but instead know what techniques I want to use or the constraints I will apply. I am most interested in techniques that borrow from multiple disciplines, dancing on the edge of printmaking/surface design, silkscreen/monotype, quilting/embroidery, artistic voice/chance, etc.
The title for this project comes from an old book I bought while I was pregnant. The book is filled with illustrations of women doing stretches and exercises, with ergonomic suggestions for housework and childcare. I found it a little bit helpful, mostly irrelevant. It didn’t do much to alleviate the chronic pelvic pain that started in my second trimester or the “new mother’s tendonitis” I developed when my son was five months old and almost 20lbs. The biggest impact the book has had was to help articulate the new chapter I find myself in, the “Childbearing Years.” As a culture, we focus on pregnancy as a time of change, but it is only the beginning.
Since becoming a parent, the boundaries of my studio practice and life have become evermore fluid. To continue making work, I have to be flexible. I have to practice dropping one thing in order to quickly transition to something utterly different, and most of all I must surrender to circumstance.
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