Art quilts, made like paintings to be hung for display, versus the traditional functional bedcovers, are a relatively recent development in the quilting world. The art quilts of contemporary fiber artist Kate Stiassni are among the most striking of this new art form. Examples of her latest work may currently be seen at the ArtQuilt Gallery in New York City. According to Cathy Izzo, Co-Curator of the ArtQuilt Gallery, Ms. Stiassni has a "unique vision as a textile artist. Hand-dyed fabrics are her paints, and her sensitivity to color, design and texture give her work a richness and depth that make her distinctive, graphic compositions sing."
Ms. Stiassni's quilts are entirely abstract, using a variety of graphic shapes and curving forms in unusual combinations. Her quilts are also very colorful, using contrasting but complimentary and vibrant colors, to form pleasing patterns, often providing a sense of movement. "I love the supple and tactile nature of fabric and its ability to absorb rich colors. I strive to express energy and movement within my work. Yet I also try to create spaces that allow the eye to pause or to pivot in its journey. I think of my work as having Spaces in Between, and I'm fascinated by how these spaces can change from one viewing (or viewer) to the next, as the relationship between figure and ground emerges and collapses in perceptual shifts."
She explains that she usually begins with a simple idea, playing around with the abstract forms until they create tension or a harmonic feeing. Describing her design process, she explains that she sometimes begins designing with fabric or on paper. Other times she experiments with configurations on a design wall, then encourages her unconscious ideas to take over. In "Not Your Grandmother's Quilts," a review of her Lakeville show by Carola Lott in tmiartspage.com, she is quoted as saying "I enjoy the challenge of putting together technically difficult configurations. It is a bit like solving a puzzle, figuring out how all the different pieces fall into place." She has said that in selecting colors it is best not to overthink but to just choose colors that one loves. She generally sticks to traditional quiltmaking techniques, cutting cloth by hand, then stitching together by both hand and machine. She credits artistic colleagues who have added the surface stitching to some of her quilts and another who hand-dyes some of the fabrics. Color choice is also important, which she selects from a wide range of hand-dyed fabric. She feels that her process is both intuitive but also carefully thought out when it comes to finally joining the pieces together. "I'm a firm believer that every cut, line and stitched seam leads somewhere, so I try to remain open to the process, to change and variation, and to exploring both traditional and modern techniques." She concludes the introduction to her current catalogue by saying, "I feel very lucky to be doing work that I love. I'm intrigued by the creative process, and the work that inspires it. I hope that my joy in creating this work touches those who view it."
Ms. Stiassni studied architecture, art and design and her sharp eye for structure, shape and pattern is evident in her work. "Patterning, juxtaposing color, arranging, restructuring, allowing for serendipity" are all elements with which she works in approaching a composition. Many of her motifs come from the two very different environments in which she lives, New York City and Northwest Connecticut, ranging from the architecture and urban environment of the city to the wooded hills and open fields of the country. The stark line of a building or a curving branch translates into her work's angular geometric shapes and curving organic forms. The titles of some of her pieces evoke the origins of her inspirations: "The Four Seasons", (32"w x 32" h), "Urban Renewal," (23" w x 22"h), and "Ice Matters," (46"w x 65"h) which depict shard-like shapes in white, black and blue/grey. "Terra Firma, (48"w x 37"h), from the Lakeville show, celebrates Northwest Connecticut's remaining open land and the neighbors who continue to farm it; "Country Bridge," (70"w x 70" h), also from that show, was inspired by structural elements of a Falls Village, Connecticut, bridge, in addition to the idea of a bridge, something transending or crossing a barrier. "Playing with Grey I and II," (both 32"w x 32" h), with blocks of red, orange, yellow, black and grey, bordered by lines of white and grey, present a Mondrian-like composition of colorful forms.
Many of her works appear to be a study of perspective and how that is achieved through changes in color and positioning. "Seeing Double, (35"w x 30" h) presents similar pattern configurations of triangles upon other triangles but in different color combinations of black, magenta, chartreuse and three shades of blue. In a deceptively simple but really sophisticated design, "The Light at the End of the Tunnel, (98"w x 58"h) draws the viewer's eye into white spaces at the center of almost twin compositions with several diminishing layers of borders that suggest frames within frames, each composition using the same colors of yellow, green, blue and purple but in different arrangements. "My Two TVs," (76" w x 42"h) from the Lakeville show, inspired by the memory of her family's first color TV on her 10th birthday, uses similar shapes with a similar configuration, with irregularly shaped frames within frames, drawing the viewer's eye to an irregular white square at the centers of the twin compositions, suggesting two framed TVs in red, black, grey and orange.
"Rhythm and Rhyme" (45"w x 71"h) uses both curving and rectangular forms in red, orange, peach, purple and tan to suggest curves dancing around, or entangled with, more angular forms. In "Opposites Attract," (47"w x 40"h) from her Lakeville show, a forerunner compositional idea to "Seeing Double" and "Light at the End of the Tunnel," in which half of the design is almost a mirror image of the other, but with subtle variations of shape and color, she explains that she "wanted to see what happened when colors were moved from background to foreground within similar shapes." Another experimentation is shown in "The Inner Sanctum" (44"w x 21"h) from that previous show, in which she explains "Black and white, white and black...I often like to explore how positive and negative images influence each other."
Ms. Stiassni grew up in New York. After graduating from the University of Vermont she studied architecture, art and design at the Columbia School of Architecture, Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She worked in journalism for 20 years, including covering stories for 60 Minutes, after which she began a new career renovating and building city and country homes. She began making quilts in 2008 and became a fiber artist because "I love the idea of rendering shape, line, and color with the medium of cloth." She also gives credit to Margaret Stiassni and Oswald Savage, grandparents who were both exhibiting artists, for inspiring her to become a fiber artist.
Stiassni has also studied with internationally renowned fiber artists Carol Taylor, Nancy Crow, Terry Jarrand-Dimond, Carol Soderlund and Jan Myers-Newbury. She exhibits her textile work nationally in art galleries and juried exhibitions She is a member of the Surface Design Association and Studio Art Quilt Associates, and serves on the board of the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council.
"Spaces in Between: Contemporary Textiles," September 10-October 19, 2013, The ArtQuilt Gallery, New York City. A catalogue accompanies the exhibit and is for sale there. Ms. Stiassni will give a gallery talk on October 3rd at 6 pm. For more information, please visit www.artquiltgallerynyc.com and www.katestiassni.com.