MINIMAL ME (2017) 24″ x 33″

This work in black and white is an updated version of one of my earliest portraits, and tests my ability to portray a whole person with limited materials:
— in yarn, a rather blunt instrument,
— in black and white only, without even the assistance of shades of gray, and
— with as few actual “marks” as possible.

How much can I take away, and still have…me?

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WINTER NIGHT, STARLIGHT BRIGHT (2017) 24″ x 34″

WINTER NIGHT, STARLIGHT BRIGHT (2017) 24″ x 34″

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ROBBIE (2017) 24″ x 34″

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ROBBIE (2017) 24″ x 34″

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JENNY (2017) 24″ x 34″

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JENNY (2017) 25″ x 34″

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MACK AND KATE (2017) 25″ X 40″

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MACK AND KATE (2017) 25″ x 40″

 

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BERLIN (A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE, IN HALFTONE (2017) 24″ X 24″

BERLIN (A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE, IN HALFTONE) (2017) 24″ X 24″

I visited Berlin for the first time in the fall of 2014, just before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The weather was cold, windy and grey, extending no welcome. We walked for miles regardless, and everywhere we went were scars and symbols of the city’s past—unrepaired damage to buildings, monuments sometimes so mournful I could hardly look at them, and unexpected displays of soldier mannequins, complete with military gear, throughout an otherwise hyper-modern shopping mall. It was depressing. Oppressive. Exhausting. I only wanted to escape, and looked forward to our flight out the next day.

Then I glanced down an alley off a main street as we passed. Cube-shaped paving stones, presumably granite, were piled high in the narrow space. They were obviously new, cleanly cut and not yet weathered or worn, and quite beautiful in their random, yet tidy, mound. I looked around and realized that the same sort of square-cut pavers were everywhere, and that they were completely different from the paving bricks you occasionally find in the United States. I had not noticed them as they passed by the thousands under my feet, but clearly someone was paying attention to them, and was planning ahead for the time when the ones on which I stood would need to be replaced.

In these stones I saw the future of Berlin. Their shape and material echo the city’s long past, yet they are new, and will someday make an old street strong again. They reminded me that Berlin, in spite of its self-imposed melancholy, can be clean and freshly rebuilt when it chooses. The pile of paving stones in that alley will make a little bit of the city new again, someday. They will be part of the city’s future, even as they fit smoothly in with its past.

Materials in the world around us are often full of contradictory but simultaneous connections. They link us with both future and past, both happiness and sadness, danger and safety. The very stones in the street beneath us are both hard, as they withstand millions of footsteps, and, if not quite soft, at least welcoming and helpful, as they provide a regular surface for safe walking or a smooth car ride.

In this knitted image, the paving stones are softened and abstracted to heighten their connection to a clean, optimistic future. I then step back, blurring their link to reality by layering a simulation of halftone printing—as if on paper, itself an ephemeral rather than lasting material—that also adds visual interest. Depicting stones with yarn is the last step in juxtaposing their inherent hardness with their smooth functionality.

Everything around us, if you look closely enough, is both contradiction and connection.

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IN THE MIRROR (ALL I SEE IS ME) (2017) 24″ X 45″

IN THE MIRROR (ALL I SEE IS ME) (2017) 24″ X 45″

Knitters sometimes hide behind their yarn. They focus on their knitting to avoid confrontations with people, and to protect their privacy; when you’re looking down at your hands, no one can see what’s revealed on your face.

Yarn is my medium. To make pictures with yarn is a private, not a public, act; I disappear into my basement studio and work with skeins and swatches until I’ve got the result I want.

With this piece, I am hiding behind my yarn, and also behind a little wooden mannequin. I’m using him (her?) to talk about the incomprehensibly vast range of possibilities open to people today, and especially to those still in the process of growing up. With these possibilities comes pressure to make choices that will lead to a future they cannot possibly predict.

I did not grow up with these possibilities, and I am still trying to understand them. I’m pretty sure about one truth, though, and that’s what I’m trying to say with this piece: it is that we are all just human beings, and this may be the first time in history that we have the real possibility of simply being ourselves. We can be defined by what’s inside, not by the external trappings that the world sees.

To speak about these issues, to make art about these issues, I am not ready—at least not yet–to confront an actual nude model, transgender or otherwise. I won’t be painting before-and-after-transition nude life portraits, or making drawings of genitalia–ambiguous, surgically modified, natural or otherwise. But I can comment on all these things nonetheless, with my little wooden model, by “painting” her (him?) with yarn.

And if you look at me even now, yes, I’ll probably be looking down at my hands. But I’ll also be smiling.

[Shortlink for this page: https://tinyurl.com/imageknits-mirror]

 

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