10 Major Women Artists I Couldn't Live Without

I was preparing a post for my online craft class, Interwoven, when I realized there are so many women artists who have influenced my work. It was actually more difficult to edit the list of influences down to a manageable number than it was to create a list that was somewhat endless. I didn't edit the list to include only women--there were a few men in the Interwoven post--but I noticed that it was predominantly women.

Most of my creative influences have been other women artists, writers, designers, and crafters. There are so many major contemporary women artists who have created--or are still creating--absolutely groundbreaking, gorgeous, brilliant, and undeniably important art. I mean, I don't even have to say that right? Because it's (hopefully) so obvious to humans everywhere.

 (Kiki Smith, Sojourn)

But then I was at a wonderful gathering of women artists in San Francisco last night and we got into a discussion about male artists still dominating the major museums and galleries and how this dominance has (somewhat absurdly) even bled into the contemporary craft-based art world, particularly within fine arts institutions interested in craft.

The craft movement is undeniably, predominantly women. Not entirely, of course, but predominantly. And the craft movement has been dominated by women throughout history--quilting, embroidery, applique, sewing, stitching, weaving, and the list continues. These were "women's domestic arts" right? And that's what makes these techniques so interesting in a contemporary fine arts context... right?

(Louise Bourgeois, EUG√ČNIE GRANDET)

But somehow this women-dominated work is quick to elevate male artists using the same craft techniques. Maybe it becomes a gender juxtaposition to show a man alongside the "women's tools"? Maybe we want to think of these men as pro-feminist, or pro-women's traditional techniques, or pro-women? Maybe it's an attempt to show various artists from various backgrounds? Maybe, but sadly, if I'm really honest I think that's being generous.

(Ana Mendieta, Silueta)

Instead, I think it's more likely a way to "validate" the work as not "just women's work" but work that is also "important (because it includes important men)". Of course, this is ridiculous. And, of course, I'm not going to try to give a blanket statement here about feminism, art, craft, or the misrepresentation of women, or the lack of women being represented in major arts institutions, or which women are being represented and which women are not. But nonetheless, under-representation of women artists in arts institutions is still happening. Period. And until it stops happening we need to continue having these conversations. Yes, even in 2014.

(Eva Hesse, Right After)

I also thought about the film !Women Art Revolution where the director, Lynn Hershman Leeson, stands outside of the Whitney Museum and asks museum-goers to name three women artists. And sadly? They can't do it. An article about the movie says, "The revelatory and in some ways troubling film about the history of feminist art includes a telling montage near the beginning. Museumgoers outside the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York were recently asked to name three women artists. They struggle to get beyond Frida Kahlo".

(Yoko Ono, Whisper Piece)

As I prepare for my own solo exhibition I keep looking to my creative mentors for their guidance. I look for inspiration, complication, questions, persuasion, encouragement, and further dialogue. I look to them for guidance mostly when I get stuck in the questions. I also look for solutions or ways to keep moving forward.

So... I've decided to share images and links for 10 major women artists I couldn't live without. That's right, I couldn't live (or work) without. They are that important to me, and I dare say, many of them are important to numerous contemporary artists working today, though not everybody's list would ever be the same.

 (Kara Walker, My Complement...)

It seems somewhat crazy to me that I need to make this list--so much of my community is compromised of incredible, talented, committed, working women artists. But it also feels important that we keep having this conversation. That we keep sharing our influences, resources, and inspirations. And that we share these lists. And it also feels important that we discuss how women artists, crafters, designers, writers, performers, and other creatives have shaped our work. Influenced our lives. And been our mentors.

(Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present)

On the National Museum of Women in the Arts advocate page they begin with the Guerrilla Girls quote, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83% of the nudes are female". And just as we might be thinking, "But this is outdated information because women today have so many more options in the arts" then they give us the next fact: 51% of visual artists today are women but only 28% of museum solo exhibitions spotlighted women in eight selected museums throughout the 2000s.

(Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party)
So I felt compelled to make my own shortlist--10 major women artists who have been essential to my own work. I chose 10 "major" women artists because these women have been represented in major art museums, art institutions, prominent galleries, and national publications. Their work is vast, complicated, complex, and also important. These links will undoubtedly lead to other links that will allow for greater research, reading, images, inspiration, exhibitions, etc. They have each made a major contribution to contemporary art (some with more widespread recognition than others) and they have all impacted my work considerably.

(Margaret Kilgallen, Untitled)

Like any shortlist, my list is also problematic. It's imperfect. But it's my personal shortlist and it's a place to start. Of course, I could have made a list of 100 women artists (not all with major arts institution recognition but all influential) but that might be an entire book and not just one blog post. And that, of course, would be a valid effort that I just might tackle someday, but I also think that list could quickly become 1000. Yes, 1000 women artists who have been influential--the intersections and weaving could grow unwieldy and complex. Where do you ultimately draw the line, right?

  (Sheila Hicks, Procession Temuco)

So much more I could write about this topic, but here is the list of 10. (For the record--it was very, very hard to edit this list down to just 10 artists.) Each image (above) is one of my personal favorite works of that particular artist, but of course this is just a fraction of the volume of her work. Below I've listed each artist's name with two separate links--different links in the first and last names. All artwork shown above is from the artists' website, gallery, museum, etc and the images are from the artist, gallery, museum, or related articles, press, etc. The artists are listed in random order below.

5. Yoko Ono

6. Kara Walker 

And, as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Your additions. The women artists you've found the most influential ranging from Frida Kahlo to your own community of peers. May you get lost in their links--so much to see, read, hear, and absorb.



Work-in-Progress: Preparing for Exhibition

I'm preparing for my solo exhibition, Still Time for Us Together in the Woods, and cannot believe it is just three weeks until I begin installing the show. So soon! It's so exciting to see this exhibition coming to life after it has been in the planning and preparing stages for so long. And yet it almost feels like an entirely new exhibition from the one I created last year that was postponed and ultimately rescheduled to open on Friday, May 2, 2014.

I remember when I was reviewing my poetry thesis with my professor in graduate school she encouraged me to start sending the manuscript out to publishers soon. She warned that in just a few years it would feel dated to me and I'd no longer be interested in sharing it with the world. Not with the same excitement and urgency that comes from new work.

She was right: Complicated manuscript did not get any less complicated with time but it did get less urgent and happier to stay timidly tucked away in my file cabinet. I think maybe that's part of what I'm most interested in with this show: It's based on that manuscript of poetry but it isn't about poems. Instead, it's about the world of the poems. The questions in the poems. The images and characters and frustrations and intimacies that live in those poems. The complications of the poems or the parts that are most difficult to represent. Thankfully, all of these things can live inside of poems.

But turning these poems into work that can be experienced in 3-dimension has been another complication. But I've decided to let it be complicated. I'm turning my attention to the details. I've become somewhat of an expert on 1950s day dresses available in local vintage shops and on Ebay. Finally, I've purchased two--one for each of the performers. Next on the list is making a storyboard for the video content and selecting images for silkscreens. With just three weeks to go? Yes, with just three weeks to go. I'm actually not too worried about the timing--it feels oddly manageable.

I feel like I'm watching it all come to life like a viewer--asking silent questions, drawing my own conclusions, and trying to absorb all the various elements in the room. In some ways, I'm just trying to get out of the way and let the work have enough space to breathe. I have to trust that I've thought about the details and the questions enough times, from enough angles, with enough various microscopes that now the bravest act is to just let it be. To create enough space around the work so that it can still draw from intuition and simply take form. 

I am concentrating on the stitches, the framing, the pattern in the fabrics and how they work together, the behind-the-scenes details of press releases and documentation, and then just letting these details keep my head and hands busy. For some reasons, I am less afraid of getting it wrong this time. I am less afraid of critique. I feel like this moment is one very important moment in a long lifetime of making art. Maybe it's because I've been reading this thesis for 7 years, looking at these images for 2 years, and thinking about this show for just a few months. Maybe it's just the continuum. Maybe that just makes it easier to keep making.

So...If you're in Oakland, I hope you'll join me on Friday, May 2, 2014 from 6-9 at 48th Street and Telegraph Avenue for the opening at Rise Above Gallery. If you're reading this from out-of-town I hope you'll continue to join me here in this digital space. Digital attendance is very much appreciated too! Though, I admit, it would be fun to gather you all in one room for a cocktail.



Natural Plant Dyes: Shibori, Coffee Grounds, and Silk

A few weeks ago I tried my first 100% thrifted silk shirt in the dye vat. I was so pleased with the color saturation, wash fastness, and clarity of the design. More simply--it worked! I'd been stashing my husband's coffee grounds in canning jars in our refrigerator and when the second jar was stuffed to the rim I decided it was time. I also decided that I wanted to try my hand at shibori dyeing techniques. I tried a few different folding, binding, and tying techniques when I was at my friend, Kathryn's, indigo dying party last summer (more photos here) but I wanted to try again. And, well, again and again.

So this silk top was dyed with coffee grounds, no mordant, and the pattern was created by folding the fabric first in vertical rows and then in small, tight triangles. I tied the triangles with string and left the bundle in the dye pot overnight. I squealed when I opened the shirt and saw the triangle patterns so clearly across the fabric. Then I squealed again when I rinsed the shirt in cold water and mild soap and the coffee dye did not run out of the shirt and down the drain diluting my own tears with it. Okay, I have not yet cried over my natural dyes but that doesn't mean it's out of the question.

My mentors are growing--I still love, love, my friend Sasha Duerr's book, The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, but I'm also referencing Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess, and Eco Colour by India Flint. These three artists have made natural dyes the center of their careers and their wealth of knowledge is so incredible. I also love how each expresses her own connection to gardening, plants, sustainability, and nature. And discusses how this relationship influences her creative work. I've been loving Shabd Simon-Alexander's book, Tie-Dye, for inspiration with various dyeing techniques too.

I had to laugh when I hung the dyed top on my bedroom wall to snap some photos and it seemed like it had been hanging there forever--it just slipped right alongside my bedroom colors, patterns, and textures. Funny how we start to get more and more consistent the better we know our selves. I suppose I might still surprise myself every now and then but I think I mostly recognize myself here and there. Maybe one day the challenge will be to make work that doesn't look like me--as a way to expand in a new direction. But for now, I'm happy to see my consistency from pillowcase to wall hanging to coffee dye.

My kitchen is now officially doubling as a natural dye studio. I stash separate jars of used coffee grounds and used avocado peels and pits in my refrigerator. And there's a big brown paper bag full of onion skins on the counter top that continues to grow. I can't gather light-colored, secondhand, 100% silk and %100 wool garments fast enough--almost as soon as one comes into my possession it finds its way into a new dye pot and quickly turns a shade of flower, food, or would-be-compost. To say that the dyeing process makes my heart race might be my biggest understatement of 2014. But, hey, I've got until December to change my mind.



Save the Date: Friday, May 2, 2014


I'm opening a new solo exhibition at The Rise Above Print Shop Gallery on Friday, May 2, 2014! The show, Still Time for Us Together in the Woods, is based on the show of the same title that was cancelled last spring when the gallery flooded. But now it's literally six times bigger and in a bigger space on a busier intersection in Oakland. And I'm about six times more nervous. And six times more excited too.

The exhibition is based on my poetry thesis from graduate school. It's not a literal translation from text to image but the world of the exhibition is based on the world of the manuscript. And the original artworks at the center of the exhibition are very much based on the stories and questions in the thesis.

Can sustainability and wilderness be meditations that disrupt or re-pattern our chaotic modern lives? How do we express intimacy? How do we communicate with lovers? And how does intimacy translate to our relationship with the environment? What happens when we impose human values and even domesticity on woodland animals?

The ten mixed media pieces are created from vintage photographs, images from children's books, embroidery, and applique with legendary Liberty London fabric. Each piece started with a vintage photograph from my family's stash or from found images I've collected at flea markets and thrift stores. Then I found animal photographs in children's text books and used the photocopier at my local library to make the images align. Then I made new digital prints of the hybrid photos and embellished them with fabric and thread. Then I created the rest of the installation from this hybrid space.

So how do ten prints become six stations in an interactive installation? Good question. The simple answer is scale: The new gallery space is so much larger than the first gallery space so I had a new opportunity to expand the work. The more complicated answer is about cross-disciplinary work creating an opportunity for dialogue and new ways of thinking.

The exhibition will include the ten original mixed media pieces, an interactive photo booth, a video by my husband--video and performance artist, David Szlasa--a collage of vintage photographs, original soft sculptures, one copy of my thesis, and two amazing local choreographers (Hope Mohr and Erin Mei Ling Stuart) performing live on opening night.

Join me! The exhibition will open on the evening on Friday, May 2, 2014 as part of Oakland's Art Murmur first Fridays art crawl. The exhibition will be up through Saturday, May 31, 2014 but the live performers will only be on site for the opening night. All ten original artworks will be for sale. There will also be soft sculptures for sale. And there are several opportunities to interact with the photo booth and the live performers. The gallery is located at 4770 Telegraph Avenue on the corner of 48th Street.

I hope to see you there.



Trusting Imagination Outside of the Creative Process

"Sometimes the people around you won't understand your journey. They don't need to, it's not for them."

I keep thinking about this quote I found over on Pinterest. I keep thinking about how it resonates with my work as an artist and writer and maker. But I also keep thinking about how it resonates with my work as a parent. My work as a wife. My work as a friend. A daughter. A sister. A dreamer. A doer. A lover.

I keep thinking about how often we spend so much energy trying to fit in. And I don't mean trying to fit in a high school peer pressure kind of way. I mean fitting in at work. Or among our peers. Or among our families. Or among other creatives. Or among the very people who trained us, mentored us, taught us, led us, or otherwise helped us find our way. I mean fitting in among the people who actually matter.

And then I think about this quote and I think about how our choices can't always resonate with the people we love or admire and, frankly, I'm not sure we're taking the chances we should be taking if we're getting smiles and nods and pats on the back all around. I think it's our job to stay close to our intentions. Our priorities. Certainly our values but I think we have to challenge our selves to do this even when it won't make sense to the people we love. Maybe mostly then. This all makes me think about courage, vulnerability, and belonging in the important work of Brene Brown.

I'm tidying up the end of a very huge work project and I'm about to turn 180 degrees to complete another. The first has kept me very busy for the past five months and the second has played a smaller part in my thinking for almost two years now but it's about to take center stage. And as I'm tying up one project and committing to another I'm overwhelmed with this sense of my own individual journey. My imagination. My inspiration. My vision. My center.

And I'm realizing that all I really have is my inner compass. I mean, I have my family, my friends, my colleagues, my community, my experiences, my education, my training, but what I really have to drive this work right now is my own inner compass. And all I can really do is try to get as clear as possible on what I see, hear, want, need, imagine and then try to make that manifest out in the physical world where other people can see, hear, experience, and engage with what I'm making. It takes real courage to align with that compass in a public space. But what is our journey if we are not courageous, right?

It's not that different from making anything else that takes imagination and inspiration. A wedding. A party. A special event. Building a home. Redecorating a room. Planning a garden. Or even planning a family. It takes guts, right? Not just making art but making a meaningful life. And really getting clear with our selves on what we want for our unique journey. How we want it to look, feel, sound, taste, smell, and who we want to be there holding our hand when we bring the whole thing into view. Because if it's really our own and it's really unique to our vision then it's probably going to confuse some of the people around us. Because it should. It's not for them.

It's so hard to put a finger on imagination and yet it guides us to every major milestone. The risk required to imagine anything and then to see that through all the way to completion. A new baby. A new city. A new adventure. Or just a new project on our work desks. But I think it's mostly about trusting our imagination and culling our own unique journey. Being courageous. Filling up with love. And really owning our inner compass and the direction where it points.



Dyeing With Onion Skins Makes Me Squeal

That's right--squeal! I can confidently say I am smitten with natural dyes. The allure of the ever-changing color outcome combined with the promise that if I keep experimenting I'll get better at predicting the results and then combined with the constant need to harvest plants, flowers, leaves, and otherwise use compost scraps to make beautiful colors has absolutely found its way into my heart. I might have to start raising sheep just to keep up my habit. (I'm only half kidding here, Mom.)

I've been collecting onion skins for weeks and finally had enough of a small heap to try my luck with a dye vat. I also had very skilled and committed help in the form of one very curious toddler complete with a green robot t-shirt so how could I resist? He loves peeling onions and he loves peeling garlic. He's my star assistant when it comes to making soup. I mixed yellow and red onion skins for this dye vat and I love the mottled, variegated results.

My mother gave me this white wool sweater years ago and while I loved the felt-like texture and those sweet floppy buttons I could not bring myself to wear white dry-clean-only anything. I spend 1/2 my week working from my home studio and 1/2 my week tending to my very active 2 year-old and somehow playing in the sandbox, climbing the slide at the playground, and drawing with chalk on the sidewalk are not dry-clean-only activities. When I'm in my studio I'm certainly not wearing white either.

So somehow this pretty wool sweater found its way into the box of mittens and hats that wait patiently for cold weather in the corner of my closet. (If you are reading this from my native New York please do not hold my California winters against me. I too have a soft spot for snowflakes and fireplaces and really heavy winter coats. Trust me.) But I knew this sweater had potential to be a regular contributor to my everyday wardrobe I just wasn't sure when. Well, it turns out the "when" was when it was combined with hot water and onion skins. Yes, ma'am.

So I followed the onion skin recipe in my dear friend Sasha Duerr's wonderful book, Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes. This book is really my go-to for natural dyes though India Flint is a close second. I pre-soaked the white sweater for about an hour, boiled my onion skins, removed my onion skins from the dye, and let the sweater soak in the dye vat for several hours. I was so thrilled when I removed the sweater and saw the deep amber, coral, and orange hues all mottled about. Working with 100% wool was so much more satisfying than working with 100% cotton. Especially as I'm still resisting mordants in my home kitchen for now. Just for now.

I rinsed the sweater and hung it to dry on my tiny clothesline (Admittedly, it's about 3 feet of twine strung across the top of our back steps, but it's as close as I can get to a clothesline in this current apartment so I'll take it). I also think it really helped to just rinse and air dry instead of using the rinse cycle on my washing machine. I'm so pleased with this sweater that I could just squeal. Okay, I did just squeal but it's quite difficult to translate a squeal across the Internet so you just have to trust me on the squealing. I love it!

I also took the scissors to the sleeves because they were too belled for my liking--I tapered them down a bit and now I've been wearing this sweater every chance I get. Amazing what some onion skins and a tiny bit of thread can do to revitalize a garment. Now, I'm collecting thrifted silk and wool garments at every turn. I think I need to work with animal fibers for awhile and see if I'm happier with the natural dye results than working with plant fibers like cotton and flax.

For now, I'm squealing with this onion skin dyed wool and scheming up my next natural dye concoction. I think maybe eucalyptus leaves, sour grass flowers, avocado skins, or another round of coffee grounds are in my future. Truth be told, I can hardly wait! As for the sheep? Well, they certainly wouldn't fit into our 1.5 bedroom apartment so they will have to wait too. Just for now.



My Poem in the Pocket

This tunic has a poem hiding in its pocket. Like a journal. Or a secret wish. Or a hidden tattoo. It's something like a worry stone you might rub between your fingers but instead of rock it's made of fabric, ink, and poem. Some of you might remember when I worked with my friend, Jen Hewett, to make hand-printed labels and poem tags on linen.

I couldn't wait to insert a poem in a seam or pocket or hemline somewhere but the moment kept escaping me. I'd design garments with the poem in mind but forget to include them before the bindings were added or the seams closed. But this time I kept the poem pinned to the pocket as I made my way through the pattern so that I would not forget to include it in the final piece. Hooray! There's a poem hiding in the pocket--my first garment with a poem stitched to its underside. 

I posted about the Taproot Tunic pattern a few weeks ago. I love Sonya Philip's patterns and I was so excited to see this tunic included in the latest issue of Taproot magazine. I haven't had much time to sew lately and my momentum was halted by the challenge of French seams. (Thank you to those of you who offered advice in the comments.)

After three different attempts I finally asked the pattern maker herself if she thought it was possible. She simply said, "No, I don't think it is because of the bulk in the armpit." Exactly! Because of the bulk in the armpit. And with that I gave up on my French seams (Okay, I kept the French seams everywhere except for the side seam that creates the armpit) and then the pattern chugged along like a steady little sewing train. No more glitches.

The linen labels Jen printed are now a favorite. I love knowing that the entire garment is made from natural and biodegradable materials from fabric to labels to thread to binding. (I was just reading in Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change that designers often overlook the material content of their notions and trims prolonging the landfill life of otherwise biodegradable fabrics. It made me think that I should also pay closer attention to my zippers, buttons, threads, and trims. So I'm making this effort. ) The fabric for the binding is a printed African fabric that has been waiting in my stash for many years now but it's finally found its mark here--a dash of pattern and color along the gray linen edges.

Now, I cannot wait to wear this new frock. I fear I might need to make another soon. Maybe very, very soon. Hey studio deadlines, you have some competition with the tunics. Perhaps you can all play nice and make time for each other at the studio table, okay? Okay then.