Approaching her work in stages, contemporary art quilter Pat Pauly finds uniqueness and synergy. In her printmaking studio, she creates original fabric, each piece different from the one before, but connected in their inspiration. One might say that these pieces are suitable for framing on their own, but Pat takes them a step further, cutting and sewing until an entirely new work with a new story emerges.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have always made things, which seems simple, but it means that I was always taken with materials and what they would make. So, that desire to understand the physics and nature of materials was always first in how I spent my time.
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In college I was drawn to woodworking and the ability to model and form three dimensional objects. Not to mention construction. My other draw was painting, which was a pure exploration of color and shape.
These two distinct expressions for art are what I refer to when I work in textiles. That I can construct a piece by sewing, as well as determine its presence in color and pattern, that make me work in textiles.
What inspires you to create?
I often start a piece using fabric I’ve printed. I do not print for a dedicated purpose, but rather, just an outpouring of the moment. The printing process is very different from the design and construction part of the work. One requires little thought and is more spontaneous, the other a dedicated concentration. But the work usually starts with a palette of fabrics that I want to use, and that are exciting as a group. So, yes, I work improvisationally, letting the pieces lead the process.
Why textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Textiles allow me to work with my original prints. Also, the development of the work is not static, like a painting which has a given orientation and size. I grow the textile more organically, and the final outcome is a response to its changing course. The pieces of the work can be moved, switched, eliminated and flipped where a painting or collage is built as a whole size that is to be filled in.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
Having studied art and design in both undergraduate and graduate levels, I don’t think that these studies ever became a barrier to my work. They’ve only helped inform how I react, to solve the construction problems and ground my understanding of design.
What role, if any, do traditional quilts play in your art?
Technically I’m a quilt maker, which is odd, because I have no family history of quilt making. So, I was just mildly aware of traditional quilts when I was young. I do reference them in my teaching for the types of composition as well as useful as the jumping off point for designing. The traditional works are often subliminal influences for me, but then many images that I have collected or experienced affect my work, too.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
The theme of leaves recurs in my work. I am always finding ways to use botanical images in printing and composition. There are others, but more subtle. The leaf is one most often pegged to my work.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My work is not so different from other abstract artists. But it’s been pointed out that my works contain saturated color, often high contrast, and large graphic imagery. Plus, as a distance people swear they are paintings. Which is great, as my art professors thought that was my destiny.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Lately my large works reflect landscapes just visited. I don’t intend to pull those images, so I am surprised that the fabrics I pull to work on relate to events and locations that I’ve just experienced. For instance, Bondi Beach came about after I had taught in Australia in the fall of 2019. I laid prints on the wall, and after some iterations, I stepped back and realized it was the iconic beach in Sydney where I had just been. It was clear that the landscape of that shore was “on my mind”. And, heck, why fight that coincidence? Hence, “Bondi Beach”.
How do you know when you have finished a piece or project and it needs no additional work?
There is a point in the process of building a piece when doing more changes nothing. I work quickly and deliberately, and remember that all of the fussing can stall the process. And besides, I’ve had works where I spent considerable time with details, only to toss them out. The piece tells you when it’s finished.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a lower level in my house that is 95% studio. Half of the space is for sewing and construction with a 15-foot design pin wall and tables for assembly. Two machines are close; one is at counter height so I can sew standing. The design walls are clear of other images.
The other side of the space is for the printing studio. It’s equipped with a large print table, a dedicated double sink, and two tall drying racks for the prints. I print fabric that is about 44 square. I’ve recently taken on an off-site studio and am in the process of getting it ready to work. My hope is to make larger works in that space, leaving the home studio for virtual teaching.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
It seems I am always looking for tools that demand less wear on my hands. So, on my dye sink, I have a standard kitchen faucet with a lever and pull-out sprayer. I save that grip and turn of the faucet hundreds of times. My dye gloves are flocked on the inside, which means I can get out of them quickly to answer the phone. Just being able to move easily in the space demands functional tools that allow simple tasks – like catching a call.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I don’t use a sketchbook, but I take many images on my phone’s camera and reference them. I also take progress shots of the work, which helps me to reduce the image and see its strengths and composition.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I tell time by what is on the radio. Since I was gifted an Alexa device, I ask for stations from anywhere, and have favorites. Podcasts and dedicated musical artists are a great choice.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
We pin the creative label on artists, but in reality, creative people find ways to do unconventional work because of a familiarity with the material. So, best to have that ability regardless of the profession. I don’t know if creativity is natural or nurtured, but I suspect it is a bit of both. Encouragement is the key, as was my case, as there were no role models when I was growing up. But there was plenty of encouragement.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
I can’t answer how others can overcome challenges to their creative ability. I teach both abstract textile design, as well as printing on fabric. People with varying degrees of expertise pull off spectacular results after manipulating the fabrics and learning how to interpret their results. I think working in textiles is a matter of learning the possibilities and then cycling through those variables. Eventually they find their sweet spot – you might call it “their voice” – and they follow that path.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I’ve posted every day for over 4,000 days on piecesandresistance.blogspot.com. It’s taught me a tremendous amount. Started with a personal challenge – could I do one thing every day – I learned how to write more clearly, edit more easily, and illustrate the point with a related image. Plus, it’s just fun. I know that people visit, but I really post for my own enjoyment, as a chronicle you might say. Visitors can take away how I do things, how I get through a process, or just an idea of my environment.
Why do you teach? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
My home studio is where I teach virtually. I also travel widely to teach in person, which I love to do. My web site calendar has the where and when. Virtual teaching is great for lots of reasons, not the least is that I treat the workshop the same as if we were meeting in person. We work live, with between 8 and 10 people, and do demos and processes right there. So, just like if we were in person. Organizers find me by sending an email, and that’s on my web site too.
Interview posted July 2022