*Featured photo: Ripple 1 56x47cm, woven copper wire, copper strip, patina, copyright Frances Solar
Frances Solar is a Canadian-born artist who, after an education in Interior Design at the University of Manitoba, turned to fiber art, focusing on weaving.
By using textile techniques and industrial recycled materials, the artist creates sculptural metal vases and interesting wall artworks that, while recalling the idea of a traditional American quilt, deviate from it thanks to the experimental use of unusual rigid and heavy material such as stainless steel and metal washers to recreate shapes that give a feeling of fluidity and flexibility.
Solar’s numerous awards and recognitions for her work include: the Fine Craft Artist of the Year Award, 2017; the Niche Award 2017 Finalist; the Niche Award 2016 Winner, Scrapyard Quilt (mixed media) and Finalist, Rumpled (fabricated metal); the Brentwood Arts Exchange, Excellence in Fine Craft Award, 2015.
Interior designer by training, how and why did you come to experiment with textile techniques?
I’ve always been interested in textiles.Many years ago I discovered the book ‘Beyond Craft:the art fabric’ -the book showed monumental woven sculptures from the 1940’s to 1960’s by artists using non traditional materials like rope, sisal etc. I learned that textiles no longer had to be functional, produced in factories or at home by anonymous people, many of whom were women—the Art Fabric is one of the robust visual arts of our era . At the time I was weaving simple home goods like placemats, but beginning to design wall hangings, blankets , small rugs, clothing, using traditional fibres, then later strips of cut up fabric, leather. and fur. In the mid 1990’s I participated in workshops with John Garrett,who was working with all kinds of found materials and metal scrap: Dorothy Gil Barnes,using wood, and Arlene Fisch, art jewelry using textile techniques.I began adding metal to the baskets I was then making .The next step was to thread my two floor looms with copper wire warps and begin weaving metal fabric. I use simple woven designs so all focus is on a richly coloured, textured surface.
The use of industrial materials, primarily copper wire associated with weaving is a feature of your work. What role do these unconventional materials play in your artistic practice?
These unconventional materials when woven create the textures I am drawn to. By replacing the traditional functional fibres with wire and metal,I achieve the textured surface , color , light, vibrancy that appeals to me. The metal cloth can also be manipulated to shape something sculptural and dynamic.
What is the central theme you develop through your works?
I work intuitively without much preplanning.I make a small sketch and assemble a group of wire colors that might work together. The weaving process is spontaneous,Improvised.I find I can’t create any other way. I’m surrounded by rugged mountain landscapes and deep forests, and It is there that I find the play of light ,shadow, colors , textures and layers which influence my work. The central theme of my work is those same elements that reflect the geology of the earth. I have been using a two shuttle weaving technique called ‘Bound Weaving on Opposites- which allows the design of bold stripes and diagonals with the coloured wire. Exciting things happen to these patterns when the the flat woven piece is bent ,folded, and manipulated into a Rumple or Ripple.
Vessels is your series of metal sculptures made using loom weaving techniques. What is the idea and concept that inspired this body of work?
I used to collect Canadian Indigenous baskets, as well as making a few nonfunctional baskets using traditional materials — But it was seeing John Garrett’s bent, manipulated metal sculptures that inspired me to try shaping my flat loom woven metal fabric into sculptures. I called them ‘Pleated Vessels’ to acknowledge their textile origins. They are without purpose , or function, except to look gorgeous to others!
A work to which you are particularly attached or that has played an important role in your artistic growth process?
Rumple #1 is the piece that is important to me and represented a breakthrough
artistically . I had wanted to weave a flat wallhanging ,with strong ,colorful bold stripes. But when I hung it up, I was completely disappointed. I hated it. Finally after several weeks I took it down and started folding it with deep vertical folds.The flat panel was transformed into a wall sculpture with a lively, dynamic and vibrant surface. That piece was the beginnings of my ongoing series of Rumples.
Let’s talk about “Scrapyard Quilts”, a contemporary metal interpretation of the classic American quilt. This work is made by sewing industrial-type elements such as gears and copper wire onto a steel mesh, creating individual blocks that evoke the shape and structure of a classic geometric quilt. What is the conceptual link between your quilts and traditional quilts?
The strong geometry of the classic American Quilt has always interested me . The basic small block pattern in a quilt is by itself not too interesting, but when many are assembled and stitched together, subtle shifts in color, alignment and pattern occurs and a bigger more complex modular design results. I use this same concept for Scrapyard Quilts 2 and 9. where the linked squares of stainless mesh have woven copper elements. copper wire, industrial scrap, bike parts stitched onto them. The Traditional Quilt recycles old fabric from other sources .The Scrapyard Quilts are also recycling old material to make an entirely new work. I don’t know how to weld or solder so all the fastenings are textile based. The Supernova Series began as my participation in an exhibit celebrating Galileo. A dazzling assortment of circles, woven copper, copper wire, bottle caps, industrial scrap, coins, bike cogs, glass were stitched onto a stainless mesh panel. This bas relief textural piece loosely referenced the planets.
What is your main source of inspiration today? What projects are you working on these days?
I’m continuing to design and weave the Rumple and Ripple series because they have so much more to offer. My daily walks in the woods and mountains keep me well, in body and mind, and creatively. I’m exploring some new ideas in a series of Bias Plaited copper baskets, that have interesting sculptural potential.