I should've known it would come to this. I mean, I started quilting because I wanted to play with color and shape. It's true. There I was at the turn of the millennium, dissatisfied with my job in software documentation, completing those self-inventory worksheets to help me find my path in life. You know, the ones that ask you to think about your strengths and interests--what made you happiest as a child, which fictional character you most relate to--so that you can find the right career for you. At the top of my list was playing with color and shape but I didn't know what that meant.
Despite my deep and abiding love for my box of 128 crayons, art was never in the picture. Art seemed like something that other people did and I never thought it applied to me. Fom my vantage point I was left with two option for playing with color and shape: making stained glass or teaching pre-school. For some reason, both seemed like terribly dangerous options.
But then on a routine trip to the mall I discovered my life's passion. The local quilt guild was having an exhibit for National Quilting Day and filled the mall's center stage with an amazing exhibit of quilts of all types. I took one look and that was it. Before I left the mall I had committed to taking a beginning quilting class. Before the first class was over I was hooked. I became a quilter.
Quilting appealed to me because it was like one of my much loved coloring books: all hard edges and sharp forms and well-defined rules. Here you had a quilt block pattern and there you filled it in with fabric. Easy peasy. And in the beginning, that is what I loved: selecting a pattern, choosing fabrics, and then playing with different combinations of colors to fill in the shapes.
I soon discovered that I wasn't content to just use published patterns, so began designing my own. When standard techniques were insufficient to what I wanted to make, I learned new ones. My love for quilting was about more than playing with color and shape within a well-defined set of forms and rules--at the core of it was the desire to express myself. I had first defined myself as a traditional quilter, then as a contemporary quilter, but eventually realized that I had become a quilt artist.
Over the past summer, I ventured outside the lines even more and brought paint and glue and paper into my studio. It was a summer of risk and abandon; playing with bright tubes of thick acrylic paint, collaging reclaimed papers on old upholstery samples, mixing different colors to create my own. I became seduced by the possibilities of paint--how it softened hard edges, smoothed sharp forms, and ignored the rules. In essence, I was making my own fabric, albeit in a non-washable form.
Monday, December 27th, 2010 at 2:34 p.m. was the moment at which I realized where this all has lead. I was making pages in my visual journal using a brayer, gel medium, and pages of an old semiconductor catalog. I thought to myself "If I can get part of this done by March, I can use it in my quilt guild talk." A few beats later I realized that while I might see exactly how this journal with not one shred of fabric nor one stitch relates to my quilt art, it might not be the right direction to take for my talk.
It was one of those incandescent moments that I shall remember for the rest of my life. In one simple, glorious instant I realized that all art is equal. In my mind, there was no distinction between paint and stitch, between paper and fabric, between mixed-media collage and pieced quilts. All was expression, all was vision, all was art.
In that single, revelatory moment, I shed all the modifiers and qualifiers that I had carefully assigned in my self-definition. No longer would I have to self-consciously call myself a quilt artist, a fiber artist, or a textile artist. The bright light of realization sloughed those descriptors away and left standing alone an abiding awareness that resonated deep within. In that shining moment I realized that I am an artist, full stop, without hesitation, reservation, or qualification.
And now that I've shed those rules about what art sits in this category versus that category, I'll use whatever I can get my hands on to try to express my vision. Fabric, paint, stitch, paper, canvas, ink, glue--it's all the same to me, juicy fodder for creation.