Luke Haynes studied architecture which gave him the courage to push boundaries with quilting, redefining what was thought of as a quilt. To Luke, quilts are both a utility object as well as fine art. He works in series, continually exploring new ideas and innovating new techniques.
You made your first quilt in high school. How did you discover quilting at that early age?
Quilting came into my life very organically because of my upbringing. My parents had me too young and split up almost immediately. I was raised in poverty living in trailer parks and had a lot of alone time on my hands as a young boy (my parents were both still finishing school and working, therefore not around a lot).
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I had to learn how to care for myself and happened to pick up a lot of domestic skills along the way. I started knitting first, not out of entertainment necessarily, but because I needed mittens and hats to stay warm. There was something really purposeful about the process to me – being able to actually create something that could be used as utility to keep you warm and comfortable.
Then I found quilting and loved that making quilts can do that even more so. Quilting gave me a way to create usable objects that I needed from scraps of fabric and clothes I had lying around.
How does your background in architecture influence your quilting today?
Architecture taught me so much about quilting. I initially went to school for architecture because I wanted to further explore how to create environments of utility and comfort that could care for a person. After having finished there, I realized that I could still achieve all of those goals with quilting.
Architecture is inherently high-design and forces the creator to innovate and redefine the way someone sees a familiar structure (like a house). Architecture gave me the courage to push boundaries with my quilting and redefine what was thought of as a “quilt”.
Quilting: Craft, fine art or both?
Quilts are fine art that are created with craft from the maker.
I love your Affirmation quilts. Tell us more about how they started. How can others get involved in this important project?
The affirmation quilts are a collaboration with my wife, Nicole. She is an artist too and her work for the last years has been imbedding compassion into the world in anonymous and free ways (she will write affirmations and then share them on billboards, airplanes, murals, mirrors, postcards, etc). Together we decided there was a beautiful opportunity to work together to create affirmation quilts!
I started making quilts and she started hand-painting her affirmations on them with fabric ink. Then we started leaving them in public spaces around the country with labels on them that told the viewer they were free to take if they found one! We have done over 30 so far and have been working on this project since 2021.
There are so many ways to get involved with this project! Many people have started creating their own affirmation quilts and putting them up anonymously and freely in their own communities. We also create custom affirmation quilts on a commission basis as a way to fund supplies to keep producing free ones for the world.
How did you initially conceptualize your Sewlebrity series? What was the biggest challenge getting the right perspective with the first quilts in the series?
The Sewlebrity series came as an extension of what I’ve been trying to say with my quilts for years: that quilts are fine art objects and sculpture. With this series, I wanted to use anamorphic perspective to skew the image of the celebrity so that the viewer would be forced to move around the quilt, viewing it from different angles.
I’ve found that so many quilts are just viewed head-on, like a painting – but I wanted to encourage the viewer to move around the quilt and maybe encourage them to view it as more of a fine art object and sculpture. Finding the right angles wasn’t too much of a challenge (my wife jokes that I’m a ‘numbers guy’ so I just did the math to figure it out). I had also created other anamorphic quilts earlier in my career so was able to build off of the process I used in the past.
How does working in a series affect your approach to your work? Do you plan the entire series? Or do they evolve?
I think working in a series is one of the most important things any artist can do. In fact, any time I am planning a project, I usually think of it as part of a series or group of iterations.
It is important to me to not just accept the first idea / piece I make at face value. I want to learn something from every piece I make and let them inform how I want to move forward with the project.
The best projects and pieces are born out of innovating and challenging your original inspirations. You can learn so much from your art if you listen to it and commit to making multiple iterations so it can grow.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I’m constantly working on multiple projects at a time. I’m constantly getting inspired and creating new projects. It is definitely a juggling act in my studio – but I love it!
You are a very prolific quilt maker. How do you balance time in the studio with your personal life and other creative endeavors?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out.
When I am excited about a project, I want to spend every waking moment in the studio working on it. This can sometimes mean 18 hour days for days on end. But then there are other times I am burnt out and need a break and going into studio sounds like the last thing I want to do.
I guess right now the realest answer I can give you is that I just try to listen to my needs and act accordingly. Inspirations ebb and flow, and as anyone who is a full time artist will understand, projects ebb and flow, too. So, I just keep trying to work when the time is right and rest when I need to.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work?
My inspiration comes from my roots from growing up in poverty and my experience working in the arts. How can I make a fine art object that also can keep a human warm at night? I am constantly trying to innovate and build on that idea.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
My studio has looked like a lot of different things over the years. When I was getting started I lived in a garage that also happened to be my studio. It has been in arts communities and studio apartments and at public buildings that were supported through residency programs.
Right now, I use the primary bedroom of my house as my studio. There is always a lot going on – lots of fabrics and supplies and colors flying around. It is definitely a “working studio” as they say. But it allows me to create magic and I’m grateful!
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
As I mentioned before, I really try to listen to my needs and act accordingly to prevent true burn out. In saying that – I tend to do a combination of both. If I’m inspired, I’m working in studio for entire days, surpassing any kind of “studio hour” requirement.
During moments where inspiration isn’t at an all-time high but I still need to be producing commissions, etc., I will go back to 8 hour work days to make sure the work gets done.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
I’m a very analytical person. I’m constantly thinking about things that I see or experience in the world. I’m always trying to innovate or find answers to creative problems.
New ideas are usually born out of what has been in my brain for a while. I want to constantly be creating new things that excite me and challenging myself in some way. I never want to get stuck in the artistic rut where I find something successful and just keep making it for the rest of my life. I don’t want to stagnate. My art is made for my own sanity – and as someone on the Autism spectrum, that feels incredibly proactive!
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
The idea that quilts can be both utilitarian objects that can be used by humans AND fine art objects that can be respected on a greater scale.
How is your work different than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
My work is the same in that I have always been trying to create work that advocates for quilts being fine art AND utility objects. It is different because I am always pushing myself to innovate and I never want my work to stagnate – so it has constantly been growing and evolving over the years.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I create work that I need to create to make sense of the world. It goes beyond just a “career” for me. Creating quilts is literally how I quiet my mind. After a hard day, standing at my sewing machine and sewing for hours is the only thing that feels like therapy. It is integral to my human experience.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
I never have created a piece that I view as completely finished. The idea / concept behind the piece can always be grown and pushed more. I only ever create pieces that represent me doing the best I could with what I had at that moment to express an idea. Then I have to table the idea to make way for other ones.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Everyone is born with creativity. We all have different backgrounds and experiences (especially when young) that may have forced our creativity to come out more or recede back.
Not everyone was given the permission to believe themselves as creative. I believe everyone is. It has been really important for me to use my voice throughout my career to remind people that they can give themselves permission to make the work they want to make and explore the ideas they want to explore. The majority of my classes are based on and formatted around ideas of self-agency and self-exploration.
Where can people see your work?
You can see my work at galleries and museums around the country. You can see portfolios of my work on my website. Who knows, you might just see one of my quilts hanging on the side of the highway sometime (and if you do, be sure to take it!).
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Teaching and lecturing is a huge part of my career and I have spent much of my 20-year career traveling the world to bring classes and lectures to people! I teach many different classes and workshops. I offer a lot of virtual ones now, too! I have my entire year programmed out and if you want to take a class you can find my virtual offerings on my website! You can reach out to me for lecturing / classes at www.luke.art or email me at [email protected]! I’d love to work with you!
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Interview posted March 2023
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