San Antonio artist and gallerist Amada Claire Miller (Hello Studio
) opened her latest solo show, “Motherlode,” at FL!GHT in the Blue Star Arts Complex on October 6. The exhibit, which sees Miller returning to the gallery where she had her very first solo show, back in 2012, finds the artist experimenting on the borderline between art and craft, between abstract painting and textile work.
Using a process wherein she dyes and stitches together fabric, before stretching it over a wooden frame, Miller is able to — in a manner of speaking — paint with fabric. That is, she achieves truly unique pieces with dual identities: resembling striking, minimalist abstractions from a distance and revealing themselves as fabric constructions up close. We recently spoke with Miller about her aims and her process for this new kind of work.
Tell me about the title. It's such an interesting — maybe loaded — word and I'm wondering what the significance of it is in terms of the overall exhibit.
The definition of “motherlode” is “a rich source of something.” I felt like this word was a great way to refer to the material aspect of the exhibition. I’ve received a lot of comments about how the pieces look like traditional paintings until you get up close and see the details of the stitching and textures created by dye. It also refers to the rich history of fiber art and how it’s becoming a more common medium among contemporary artists.
This exhibit represents a kind of conversation between art and craft, between textile work and painting. What are your goals with this conversation and, continuing the metaphor, which speaks loudest or has the most important stuff to say here?
Craft has implications of domesticity and tradition, and is highly marginalized within the art world. I made this work to talk about the history of fiber and to recontextualize painting and its mostly male-dominated history. By melding traditional aspects of painting with typical craft processes like dyeing and quilting, I’m really trying to continue the dialogue — what is art and what is craft? — and talk about how these two similar practices became so segregated ... Women like Anni Albers, Gunta Stolzl, Shelia Hicks and Lenore Tawney have been doing incredibly groundbreaking work in this medium spanning the 20th century, with little recognition. If you look at these fiber artists and their male counterparts from the same era, you can see a very distinct correlation in the work. It’s curious to me why these women have been largely disregarded as fine artists and given little mention in art history books.
Where and how did you learn to work with dyes and fabrics?
I first started using synthetic dyes but was put off by their toxicity and wanted to find a better, more sustainable way to make color. I became interested in natural dye techniques from a lot of reading and research, and experimented with cochineal and indigo first. From there, I found more information about the different types of dye-stuffs you can find in your everyday kitchen or things you can forage while walking in the park ... I began teaching myself to sew earlier this year. My mom gave me a sewing machine eight or so years ago, but I could never keep the bobbin from exploding with thread, so I lost interest until quite recently. I’ve always been trying to achieve hard edge lines in my work, I think that’s what initially drew me to printmaking, and it’s definitely what I was trying to achieve in my paintings, but the results I can get from sewing two pieces of fabric together are unparalleled.
Did you arrive at craft by way of art or vice-versa, or do you think the distinction is problematic?
I definitely arrived at craft by way of art. I started painting in 2012 and was using fabric as a model for the abstract landscapes I was painting. It feels like a very natural progression to be moving to fiber art from that place. In this case, the distinction is paramount. I want people to see these works and reference art historical paintings, the connection is there and it’s a crucial part of our past.
Amada Claire Miller: “Motherlode”
Free, on view by appointment through Oct. 30, FL!GHT, 134 Blue Star, (210) 872-2586, facebook.com/flightsa.