Interview with Kit Vincent

“Fastwater 2”, 45x45", Hand-dyed cottons and silks, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Kit Vincent

Kit Vincent is an interesting and acclaimed textile artist who creates daring and innovative quilts, large abstract works rich in “brushstrokes” of intense color that, thanks to a process of sewing layers of small strips of hand-dyed fabric, blend together to create images in which the various shades of color follow each other in a progressive and harmonious way in a balanced distribution of colors and shapes that creates powerful effects of depth and movement.

Kit Vincent’s textile works have been exhibited in numerous exhibitions and art galleries including the Schweinfurth Art Centre in Auburn, NY, the Mississippi Valley Textile Arts Museum, Almonte, Ontario, the Dairy Barn Art Center, Athens, Ohio, the Museum Tuch Technik Textilmuseum, Neumunster, Germany, the Museum Max Berkin, Heidelberg, Germany.

Below is a link to the artist website:

https://www.kitvincent.com/

Kit, can you tell us something about yourself and your history as an artist? How did you start? How did your passion for textile art come about?

I have always loved art. When I need a quick creative fix, I will sketch with whatever is available. I keep several notebooks going in almost every room of my house, even in the car. Pen and ink are favourites with acrylic paints and collage (both fabric & paper) as runners up. When sketching, I see myself as being on a hunt – searching for shapes, patterns and objects that move me. It may be a shadow, shade, movement, weather, music or other art.

I had a not so early start with fabric and came to quilting through the back door for a very practical reason. A few years ago, my new dining room was an echo chamber. The room needed something large on the wall to dampen sounds. I thought a large colourful mid- century abstract masterpiece would be perfect, but this was not within budget. Given the required size, my only option was to try to make something myself. After all I could sew a bit, I thought… and the easiest approach would be to make some sort of wall hanging.

What I knew about quilting back then you could put in a teacup.

I found an article at the library on Judith Lazelere’s work and it described her strip piecing technique in detail. I was impressed not only with her beautiful large quilts but also with this efficient technique that needed no extra quilting I thought, only piecing…perfect!

Inspired by this, my very first quilt measured no less than 8 by 8 feet. It hung beautifully in my dining room for several years even though it was a technical a mess in back.

More importantly…I had caught the quilting bug.

Back at the library, I soon came across another article, this time featuring the work of Nancy Crow – a quilting giant. Her large bold fabric compositions stopped me in my tracks and were proof that sewing and quilting could be fine art. Nancy Crow’s stunning work reminded me of the large colourful mid-20th century abstract paintings that I loved somuch. I immediately signed up for her classes and I have benefitted from her creative spirit and artistic insight ever since. This was the kind of work I wanted to do.

I learned how to compose and piece large abstract and semi abstract compositions. I soon found that I was successful in shaping fabric with a freehand rotary cutter and composing directly on a design wall.

“Chaos Redux”, 60×60″, juried into Quilts=Art=QuiltsSchweinfurth Art Center, Auburn, NYSeptember 26, 2019 – January 5, 2020, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

“Chaos Redux-detail”, 60×60″, juried into Quilts=Art=QuiltsSchweinfurth Art Center, Auburn, NYSeptember 26, 2019 – January 5, 2020, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

What are your sources of inspiration? How do you choose the subjects of your works? Can you tell us about the birth and development of one of your artworks?

Inspiration can be elusive….there is no formula for it. Travel, a news item or simply a piece of fabric will do the trick. In the case of Mégantic, I happened to be listening to a news item – the disastrous train derailment at Lac Mégantic in Quebec on July 6, 2013. The quiet, organized stillness of my studio jarred with the chaotic sounds of witness descriptions coming from my radio. A runaway train had dumped roughly six million litres of petroleum crude oil into the town centre and its lake, killing 46 people. The fire ball burned for days and could be seen from space. Indeed, that night the water was on fire in Lac Mégantic.

My work changed that year. I began to let go of the clean quilted surfaces and the no loose threads of past work. My preference was to cut and layer fragile strips of raw fabric over a composed substrate. In this case, the fragility of delicate strips of raw fabric over a composed, gridded substrate seemed appropriate.

“Megantic”,46×46″, First Prize and Juror’s Choice Awards, Quilt=Art=Quilts, Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center 2013, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

“Megantic-detail”,46×46″, First Prize and Juror’s Choice Awards, Quilt=Art=Quilts, Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center 2013, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

Megantic II”, 60 x 43″, Pushing the Surface Invitational Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum 

How do you plan a new work? Do you follow a scrupulous design activity or do you let your instinct orient you?

Working with cloth excites the explorer in me. I have found fabric to be a sensual and easily manipulated ground. It can be made to have weight, mass, and texture. The processes that I use allow me to build in texture and layered meaning into this work. My aim is to discover new expressions that feel contemporary but are rooted in the history and practice of quilting. I use a mix of surface design with traditional quilting techniques, beginning with white fabric that I dye, print and paint. It is less constraining than stretched canvas. It can be dyed, painted, folded, cut, stitched and embroidered at will.

I see fabric less as cloth and more as un-primed, un-stretched ground. Working with textiles can be very time consuming. That said, I savour ‘the new’ that comes through this process.

“Seagate”,47×65″, Hand-dyed cottons and silks, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

In your artquilts you use the fabric in a three-dimensional way through the overlapping of layers of fabrics of different colors, you manipulate the fabric giving it the appearance of large multicolor brush strokes. How did this technique come about? Can you also tell us about the use of colour in your art works?

Usually I begin with a grid, made up mostly of several panels, a nine or 16 patch, each approximately 20” square. These panels consists of a backing, batting and a pieced top. To these panels, I pin and eventually sew several strips of coloured fabric.  Each strip is cut to measure and applied in a specific direction, to create a line, a mark or a group of lines that produce a coloured shape. A second narrower strip is often applied over the first to underscore a colour contrast or bridge a too harsh gap between two shapes. Pinning and sewing these strips is the slowest part of my process but is not unlike applying daubs of paint or collaging shapes to a coloured surface. These fabric strips butt into each other and work together to create overall patterns within each square and across all square panels.

Each panel sets the tone for its neighbour. The only thing I know up front, is the approximate size of the final piece and a sense of the overall texture and colours. The top layer works with the underlying shapes to create a visual dance or a chatter that will feed neighbouring panels. This is the part of the design process I enjoy the most.

Nightshift”,80×80″, Quilt National 2017 Dairy Barn Art Center, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

Nightshift-detail”,80×80″, Quilt National 2017 Dairy Barn Art Center, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

““Nightshift-work in progress”,80×80″, Quilt National 2017 Dairy Barn Art Center, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

What do you think is the most important difference between a craftsman who work with threads and fabrics and a textile artist? When does a textile work become art?

Fabric is an art medium that has yet to be discovered and explored. I relish being part of that exploration. When I first pulled out my sewing machine, the art versus craft debate was in full swing. Technology and multiculturalism have since ushered in a whole new palette of artistic options and resources for those who choose to work in fibretoday. Traditional biases are on the way out. Now we see and often read about shows where work by artists trained in the traditional fine arts, are shown alongside work by fine artists using materials traditionally associated with crafts. This is a goodthing!

“Tricolour White”, 72×72″, Mastery: SustainingMomentumExhibitDairy Barn Art Center, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

“Tricolour White-detail”, 72×72″, Mastery: SustainingMomentumExhibitDairy Barn Art Center, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

Are there any artists or artistic currents that inspire you?

There are many, but I will mention three as they all loved fabric and found innovative ways to use it in their art.

Louise Bourgeois: France, 1911- 2010: This artist grew up surrounded by the textiles of her parents’ tapestry restoration workshop. Fabric played an important role in her artistic work. She was a life-long hoarder of household textiles, which she cut up and re-stitched, transforming them into art. I can relate completely to a statement she made about this work: ‘I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole.’

Robert Rauschenberg:USA, 1925-2008: He was fascinated by the sculptural possibilities of fabric and didn’t hesitate to use it in his work. For instance with Bed, 1955, he framed a pillow, sheet and quilt to a wall, scribbling over the surface with pencil and paint. I read that these bedclothes were his own, so this piece could be seen as a personal self-portrait. When I saw this piece in New York City, I was in awe with how powerful it was. I was fixated with the small quilted log cabin section of that piece; a well-known and universal patchwork design that we can all relate to. Instead of painting a replica of this bed, he used the bed itself. The log cabin fabric blocks were transformed from their original utilitarian function to part of an overall work of art hanging on a museum wall. I was drawn to this subversive aspect of putting a soft hand-stitched bed covering into a hard- edged contemporary artsetting.

In 1974, Rauschenberg produced a series of printed layers of silk, muslin and cheesecloth (Hoarfrost editions). The prints were intended to hang by nails on the wall, uncovered, so that they could move freely with the viewer. These resulted from his fixation on the large sheets of gauze used by printmakers to wipe down lithographic stones. When hung to dry, these strips shifted and floated in the breeze.

Henri MatisseFrance, 1869-1954: Matisse owned a huge fabric stash; he also came from a family of weavers and so fabric was key to his visual imagination. His studio in Nice was a treasure house of Persian carpets, Arab embroideries, African wall hangings, and any number of colourful cushions, curtains, costumes, patterned screens and backcloths. In fact we see a lot of these in his compositions. He used what he called his working library of textiles to furnish, order, and compose his wonderful works of art.

“Chaos 3”, 59×59,McCarthy Memorial Award, Quilt National 2015, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

“Chaos 3-detail”, 59×59,McCarthy Memorial Award, Quilt National 2015, Private Collection, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

Your Moby Dick 3 art quilt is on display with the international exhibition Color Improvisations 2, curated by Nancy Crow. It is one of the most important exhibitions in recent years in the field of textile art and art quilt in particular. Can you tell us about this artwork and this experience?

I remember Nancy Crow comparing pieced quilt making to painting. She used to say “if you can paint it, you can quilt it.” This was fuel for me… but unlike painting, fabric colours, shapes, and lines cannot be brushed on or glued together, but need to be sewn. All of the parts, shapes and lines had to be cut and assembled by eye. The quilts chosen for this exhibition had to be large abstract, machine-pieced compositions, primarily from hand- dyed fabrics. I made three pieces specifically for this show, each 84×84.” I was thrilled when I found out that Moby Dick 3 was accepted!
Color Improvisations 2 grew out of what Nancy Crow called her ongoing mission to bring back the majesty, strength, and energy of large textile works, specifically large quilts. The exhibition premiered at the Museum Tuch+Technikin Germany in March 2016, and traveled to several other venues in Europe in 2016 and 2017. In North America, portions of the exhibition were shown at The Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, Canada; The Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, Pensylvania; and The Huntington Museum ofArtin Huntington, West Virginia; while the entire exhibition will be shown at The Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, Ohio.

“Moby Dick 3”, 84×84″,photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

How has your work evolved over time? What are the differences between your first and most recent works?

My early work represented numerous explorations into all types of imagery and media. Some of this work was representative, namely embroidery and surface design work. I also experimented with fabric collage that eventually brought me closer to abstract design.

Currently I work with abstract imagery, focusing on my own designs.

My current work represents a departure from the tightly quilted pieced work I’ve done in the past.  I’ve selected to work this way as it excites the explorer in me. In short, I am trying to explore what fabric can do that is new…for instance, can fabric behave like paint? Lately my compositions consist mostly of an all-over design with a greater emphasis on gesture or “brush work” with fabric strips. I want to emphasize colour and texture, very much the same way an impasto painter works with paint on gessoed canvas.

Recently, I have felt the need to breathe new life into this work. My goal is to create a magical colour vibration with several layers of dyed fabric sewn atop each other. Making abstract art with cloth involves varying degrees of ‘getting it right,’ doing something with it, perhaps even redesigning it. I get a thrill by honouring and universalizing my own personal views.

“Tricolour Red”, 72×72″, Mastery: Sustaining Momentum ExhibitDairy Barn Art Center, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

“Tricolour Red-detail”, 72×72″, Mastery: Sustaining Momentum ExhibitDairy Barn Art Center, photo credit Paul Vincent, copyright Kit Vincent

What are you working on right now? Do you want to tell us about your current textile projects and current or future exhibitions?

In terms of new stuff, I am attempting to see how far this approach will take me. I’m playing with different substrates, painted, printed and even paper-fabric collages; my earlier compositions consisted mostly of pieced substrates.

I am working with larger lengths and widths of dyed fabric strips sewn to these new substrates. I have also begun working with dyed cotton jersey strips – easier with curved lines. I have attempted to hand-stitch these strips, giving some new compositions a ‘big stitch’ look… mixed results with this, but not ready to nix it just yet, lol.

This approach to quilting takes a lot of upfront work, experimentation. The discoveries can be exhilarating or frustratingly annoying. It is all part of my learning curve. For me, this work helps me better understand the materials l have in front of me.

A couple of new pieces are slated to be included in a new publication “Exploring Art Quilts with SAQA: Volume 1” (working title), authored by Martha Sielman, by Schiffer Publishing. Anticipated publishing is set for June or July 2020.

Then,

Moby Dick 3 will be on view with Color Improvisations 2 Springfield Museum of Art

107 Cliff Park Rd Springfield, OHIO (timelines to come)

Megantic II is currently on view with Pushing The Surface Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum

300 north Whitewoman Street,

Coshocton, OHIO

Moby Dick 3 is currently on view with Color Improvisations 2 Huntington Museum of Art

Huntington, West Virginia July 13 – October 13, 2019

1 Comment on "Interview with Kit Vincent"

  1. Very interesting article. Kit is a master of her art. Such talent!

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