Contemporary Fiber Artist: Eye of the Needle – Marianne Fairbanks
Bold geometric shapes and vibrant colors are what first draws viewers to Marianne Fairbanks’ art. But a closer look reveals something deeper. Fairbanks says her art operates on different levels. “I DO want people to look from a distance and see it and be sucked in by how graphic it is even at a long distance and then by walking closer the complexity is revealed. And the fact that it is a woven surface.” Fairbanks took an unconventional path to weaving while studying painting at the University of Michigan during her second year of college. “When it clicks, it clicks.”, according to Fairbanks, “It just was the materials and processes that sucked me in.” It was also the repetitiveness and problem solving that excited Fairbanks. “How do you put these strings together to make a textile. It’s the engineering of it.” From there, Fairbanks spent time adding to her knowledge and skills with art-curating and working collaboratively on community projects. And then 7 years ago, she re-imagined her solo practice. “I like the idea of wonder and your eye being dazzled” says Fairbanks. Now, as an Assistant Professor of Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin Madison Fairbanks is charting new conceptual territories but not in a subtle way. “I don’t work quietly”, according to Fairbanks, “I think sometimes textiles have the potential of being quiet because they are so beautiful.” Fairbanks is “turning up the volume” on weaving with the creation of “The Weaving Lab” where she and her students explore the utilitarian, conceptual and social potential of cloth made in a public space. For her own practice Fairbanks likes using a Jacquard loom, unusual materials and techniques that challenge the viewer’s perception of what a textile can be. By digging into her deep into her imagination, Fairbanks is able to create award winning and innovative work. “I’m often playing with maybe painterly ideas about mid-ground, background and foreground, but then doing it in relation to textile images and patterns. By making them bold and bright, I sort of foreground a lot of the patterns that are happening at a scale that you usually don’t see with your eye”, according to Fairbanks. All of this is in pursuit of elevating textiles from their historical category of utility to one of contemporary art. Fairbanks says, “The thing that is so cool about textiles is that they are in our everyday lives and we look to them for that utility, but when it comes to the sort of appreciation, the complexity and patterns, we tend to discount them.”
Historically weaving has been only thought of as a two-dimensional object but Fairbanks wants it to be more three-dimensional. She says by examining our history of textiles and looking at other cultures it helps her to think about ways to push the process. “I’m thinking about history of weaving. I’m thinking about tents and Nomadic structures; structures where the skin was the textile and it allowed a Nomadic lifestyle”, according to Fairbanks. And she says, “I’m a builder” and by examining the past it allows her to reimagine a future; one that is full of bright and bold weavings of many different materials.
Contemporary Fiber Artist: Eye of the Needle – Kirsten Meier
Kirsten Meier is “all in” when it comes to one specific color. It’s in nearly every piece of art she makes.“ I’m just so attached to the color pink. I just love it. It makes me happy” according to Meier.
The multidisciplinary artist loves fashion and collecting and art performance but works mainly in fiber, creating rugs and weavings. Meier says the repetitive nature of creating her work imbues her to the art. “I think with textiles especially there is such an amount of time that goes into it that the person is ingrained into the piece.”
Meier took a circuitous path to fiber art. She has been sewing since childhood and allowed herself creative permission to make “herself the art piece.” She was also influenced by the lineage of musicians and artists in her family tree. But when she went to college it was for painting. Soon after she changed course after a material culture class at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. “It got me thinking about objects more and the objects I’ve surrounded myself with”, according to Meier. And what she surrounds herself with are objects that bring her “visual joy”, things like vintage hearts and q-pee dolls. Meier says these vintage pieces come with a loaded history. “I love it when an object can reveal its’ story to me and reveal its’ past and that absolutely influences my practice.” Its’ imagery is often represented in Meier’s art. “I’m really drawn to the vintage hearts aesthetic but as I’m making it, I’m also thinking about what it means to give yourself to someone and to reveal yourself to someone even if it means they could leave at any moment and take that piece of you with them.”
Meier approaches each creation with spontaneity. “I think of it as painting when I’m doing it in a more gestural and improvisational way. I think that it’s important for the process and the color palette. I think about painting, doing traditional oil paint class, I’m thinking of palettes before I start and as I’m going”, according to Meier. She says each choice informs the next and it becomes a weaving of relationships. “It’s cyclical “, according to Meier and it’s also about language and text and how use of words can bring out a more serious side. “I do want people to see me in the work”, according to Meier, “With the bright colors they say, ‘I can see what your house looks like in this or I can see how you dress.” And how Meier dresses is something she has been pondering. It’s working its’s way into her artwork. “I’m so hyper-feminine and I dress hyper-feminine maybe 50/ 50 percent of the time and I’m so attached to the pink but I’m also working through my gender and being LGTBQ. I feel masculine but I’m drawn to this hyper-feminine artwork.” Meier says creating her art is a way of relaxing from thinking about large life ideas. “It’s something that is quiet and introspective in a life that is very overwhelming and stressful at times.”
About Linda Marcus
Linda Marcus is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Drawing on her long history as a TV News journalist and fashion designer, Marcus’s work in fiber and sculpture touch on issues of memory, identity and materiality.
Marcus is a self-taught artist. She graduated in 2004 with a Master’s degree in journalism and philosophy from Marquette University and in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
Marcus has won numerous journalism awards and her fashion designs were featured nationally when she was a contestant on season 16 of Project Runway.
Marcus was recently awarded an art residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber arts as well as the Charles Allis Museum and numerous galleries across the country and art publications. Currently, Marcus is the creative director and co-curator for the Saint Kate Arts hotel in Milwaukee.