Converting ideas into two-dimensional images drives the work of quilt artist Karen Maple. She starts with a story, often about social injustice, and creates compelling contemporary images using the traditional art of quilting.
What inspires you to create?
I have always loved to explore new ideas and create things in many different domains. At one point I realized that the simple physical part of making an object with my hands was also relaxing.
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Why Fiber? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I began my artistic journey with photography but found the medium a little limiting. I explored painting for a couple of years and found that medium a little too wide open. Somehow quilting fell in the middle with more constraints than painting but freer than photography.
What I really like about the quilting world is that you can reach a wide audience with your work. A reasonable number of very large quilt shows occur throughout the country, and other quilters are eager to see the quilts in person. Other artistic mediums are much more exclusive and difficult to break into.
Almost all of my current works have stories to tell and almost always begin from the story. I make a fair number of statement quilts about injustices in the world. But even most of my minimalist quilts start from an idea.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time? Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
I like to work on one project start to finish.
I typically start with an idea such as “community” and try to figure out how I can show that idea in a two dimensional form. This thinking process usually takes a fair amount of time while I play with different ideas in my head. Once something is established, I then create the quilt in software (Affinity Designer) at the exact size I want the finished piece. Using the shapes in the software, I then calculate the amount of fabric I need to buy as I keep only a small stash. Then the rest of the process is somewhat conventional piecing. I then baste the sandwich together with homemade starch in order to use my small longarm that uses a clamping system.
Which artists do you admire? What draws you to their work?
Despite being a modern quilter, I admire the old European masters. Tintoretto’s mastery of perspective is amazing. Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is just a fascinating illustration of life. Francisco Goya’s “The 3rd of May, 1808” can make you viscerally feel like you are in the scene. More current artists I like are Lewis Hine, Edward Hopper, Donald Judd, and Wangechi Mutu. A diverse group of artists with the ability to convey meaning beyond the surface.
What is the most challenging part about being a fiber artist?
In the fine art world, statement and political pieces are generally well accepted as part of genre. For example, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” shows the horrors of war and is the most popular piece the Museo Reina Sofia en Madrid. Unfortunately in the quilting world, a vocal part of the attendees does not want to see any political commentary at a quilt exhibit. Some jurors take this into consideration when reviewing entries.
Interview posted December 2021
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