I first saw Tilleke Schwarz’s work in an exhibition called Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The needlework was displayed proudly as contemporary art by extraordinary female artists. Boundaries were pushed as textile art was made. Friend, Maira Kalman, also had work on view.
Tilleke’s work resonated with me with its elaborate technique and profound artistic statement. At the time, her first book Mark Making (2007) had quickly sold out, so when her self-published second book, New Potatoes, came out a few years later I readily ordered 10 copies.
A remarkable artist and story-teller, Tilleke hand-embroiders on dyed cloth to narrate “the oddities of everyday life”. Her chosen text and images express humor superimposed with true, matter-of-fact information.
I am fascinated with Tilleke’s creative process from conception through construction: the collection of ideas and objects, storytelling, composing, dyeing woven linen, and hand-stitching with a variety of thread – each different in color and quality.
In an interview, Tilleke says she was told to “stitch like you draw” and says hand embroidery (couching is her favorite) allows for a richer texture in her work. Citing pop art and European samplers as inspiration, her works include texts from an Icelandic telephone dictionary, lists, email disclaimers, prehistoric birds, Lithuanian toilets, flowers, household items, and always a cat.
Using these elements that respond to contemporary culture and speak on social and political issues, Tilleke hopes we will create our own interpretation of her works. Call it what you’d like – folk art, textile art, contemporary art – we simply realize there are always new ways to make art. Tilleke is a visionary who crosses into many of these movements.
The image above inspired us to devote this week to Indigo and Tilleke. Intricate detail, colorful stitches, personal stories, and powerful messages cover Tilleke’s dyed linen.
Thursday, we will feature a DIY project worked a la Tilleke Schwarz. We were able to find our own sense of humor as our project was conceptualized then constructed. We know you will too.