SOME THOUGHTS ON THE WAY TO AN ARTIST STATEMENT…
NOT A BLOG, BUT AN OCCASIONAL
DISCUSSION OF IDEAS I’M WORKING ON
February 10, 2019: Guest blog post at Fiber Art Network
Read One Stitch = One Pixel: The Art Knits of Melinda Stees here.
January 22, 2019: What is kilo-minimalism?
Making my knitted images starts with the principle that one stitch equals one pixel. But knit stitches are generally MUCH larger than printed pixels—in fact they are about 1000 times larger—and I have begun using the term kilo-minimalism to describe how the images work in spite of this size difference. My works are minimalist in that they use a very small number of pixels (stitches), but they are kilo in scale because of that 1000x size difference between pixels and stitches. To “blow up” an image the way I do would in some contexts be considered unhelpful because the process adds what microscopists call empty magnification—the image gets larger, but there is no new information added. In my pieces, though, the enlargement process paradoxically adds visual impact and interest. The strong contrasting colors can catch your eye from across a room, while the knitted texture will pique your curiosity when you’re up close enough to see it.
My work st = px playfully turns the “one stitch = one pixel” rule on its head (see more about this below), because in it every “stitch” gets one pixel…except where it does not (in the images of huge knit stitches). A “twisted” sense of humor may help you get the joke.
To see what I’m talking about, look at this:
st = px
January 20, 2019: Artwork as drama
Some of my pieces have begun to feel like theatrical works as much as artworks, as if they are tiny dramas presented as a single, static scene on a simple stage set. The stories are acted out either by mannequins—posed in great detail that requires me to think as an actor, as if I were in the mannequin’s place—or by nothing more than hands, which I have always seen as full of personality and revealing of character. I am the least actor-ly person I know, and I am inept at deliberate emotional subterfuge and misdirection, but in my little (mostly digital) mannequins I have found a safe space to try out “speaking” messages I’d have a hard time delivering in person. And in telling stories with hands, I’m “acting” on a long-held fascination with how expressive (if sometimes inadvertently) our hands can be. Whichever set of performers I’m using, making these little dramas is an absorbing process, and there are endless stories still to knit!
To see what I’m talking about, look at these:
THE START OF IT ALL
YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO
IN THE MIRROR (ALL I SEE IS ME)
HOW MUCH HIGHER?
How will YOU take a stand? (Unexpected 3D #1)
March 2018: The rule of stitch = pixel
Working with yarn = THINKING: about gauge, graphs, and how to make a 3D thing out of a single strand. And making art = SEEING: with a pencil, camera, or Photoshop. I search for ways to engage both THINKING and SEEING, and to compel the viewer not just to look, but to puzzle over some surprising mix of subject, method, material and scale—small things made large; large images blurred with ultra-low resolution; pictures painted in yarn; yarn morphed into pixels. I want you to wonder and ask questions about what you see. You may ask some of the same questions I asked when I made the work; it’s even better if you ask different ones.
My pieces are knitted poster-size artworks. They are big enough to startle, and to insist that every portrait subject, whether human or animal, is a hero, and every inanimate object has its own secret beauty. Up close, each piece looks something like the surface of a sweater, but back away and you will see a picture of near-photographic detail that catches your eye from across the room.
The fundamental principle behind my manipulation of images, and their presentation in knitted yarn, is that one stitch = one pixel. A knitted stitch (st) is much larger than a printed pixel (px), so a knitted image will contain far fewer stitches than the pixels in a printed image of the same size. My knitted images are essentially digital images, though, and in the presentation of digital images, pixels are the carriers of information; therefore I want as many pixels (stitches) as I can get in order to communicate as much visual information as possible. My work involves constant experimenting with ways to negotiate this conflict, and to make every pixel count.
Of course, the fundamental principle that one stitch = one pixel can be playfully turned on its head, too, as in my piece st = px, in which every stitch gets one pixel…except where it does not, in the very large stitches pictured on one side of the piece. I also happily admit taking advantage of the fact that most people never have seen any sort of knitted artwork before, and I love to twist this unfamiliarity, sometimes with humor and a little sleight-of-hand, to make my knitting simulate some other medium or material, from photography to sketching or painting, from old-fashioned analog printing to hand-torn paper.
I have several special interests that often lead me to the subjects of my works:
- Most recently, I have begun exploring ideas about people through a buffer of posed mannequins. I find it’s a way to express challenging thoughts with softer edges, so that they slither rather than bludgeon their way into the mind of the viewer. An added benefit is that it gives me a potentially limitless army of cooperative models with which to enact any scenario I can imagine!
- I also enjoy trying to capture both human and animal personalities in portraits, a very different process from expressing ideas using anonymous mannequins.
- The ongoing “Handwork Project” (begun with THE START OF IT ALL) will create a series depicting human hands working at all manner of skilled physical tasks, allowing me to explore the idiosyncratic, rugged beauty of these hardest-working, most essentially human parts of us.
- Finally, I love the challenge of showcasing microscopic organisms at mega-scale—how many pixels/stitches do you need to accurately and beautifully depict an object that is less than 1/10 of a millimeter in length?
All these subjects present their own difficulties in my low-res medium; they make me constantly question my assumptions about both what is possible, and what works best.
I use cotton yarn in 100+ colors, a vintage knitting machine, a unique internal mounting system and many types of handwork at every stage to create these pieces. My goal is to make work that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.