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On The Lake. Photographs, cotton, thread, satin, stitched. 40" x 20" 1990. photo Judy Martin. collection of the Canada Council Art Bank.

Artist: Judy Martin of Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada.

Interview 21: Judy Martin exhibited in 2005 and 2009 World of Threads Festival exhibition the Common Thread International Juried Exhibition Part 2. She also showed in the 2012 Festival exhibition Quiet Zone at the Gallery at Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre in Oakville, Ontario.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.

 

Biography

Judy Martin, textile artist, lives on Manitoulin Island and is represented by the Perivale Gallery in Spring Bay. She grew up on a farm in the Fort Frances area of North-western Ontario. She holds an honours degree in fine arts from Lakehead University. A charter member of Artists North in Thunder Bay, Judy exhibited both watercolours and textiles with that group. She has since had twenty-four solo exhibitions of her quilts and paintings.

The textiles that Judy Martin produces are beautiful, labour intensive and complex. Personal yet universal, traditional yet contemporary, they reveal her interest in contemporary art movements and her passion for the family and our environment. Judy's work is notable for the amount of hand stitching it carries. Not only does stitching make the time spent with each piece visible, the handwork adds the sense of touch, a sense more psychologically profound than the sense of sight. Judy has exhibited her work throughout Canada and the United States as well as in Japan and Europe. Her works are in public collections; the Government of Ontario, the Cambridge Gallery, the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Amy Hallman Snyder collection and the Canada Council Art Bank. Judy Martin was the only Canadian to be juried into the prestigious Quilt National exhibition in 2011. Website & Blog.

 

Artist Judy Martin. Photo: Ned Martin.

 

Tell us about your work?

I make large hand stitched wall pieces. Most often they are made from fabrics that I have dyed myself. Recently I have been re-purposing linen damask tablecloths and wool blankets in my work. I've been making quilts for thirty-five years. I love every part of the lengthy process.

 

Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

From a young age I loved to work with thread and cloth. I sewed doll clothes and embroidered pillowcases. I sewed my own clothes from age twelve till thirty-two. I knitted, crocheted, and sewed gifts for my family members while in high school. Now I notice that my daughters also feel connected to thread. I don't think I really chose to be a fibre artist. I evolved into one. Actually, I think of my fibre artwork as poetry. In my early work, colour, images and text are juxtaposed poetically, while my newer work is pared down to just the essentials, similar to a poem.

 

Hemlock Wraps. Hemlock twigs, hand dyed fabrics and threads, wrapping. Sizes are variable, 3" to 11" high. 2011. photo Judy Martin.

 

From where do you get your inspiration?

I keep journals. I must have nearly two hundred journals, as I've kept them since 1985. In these journals I write down my ideas, and record family events and conversations. I look at my own work and analyze it. I sketch it many times as I plan it out. I also sketch my environment. I read a lot and write quotations into my journals. I study women artists and describe and make sketches of their work in these journals. I write down what they say about their process and how they manage their lives. I clip images from magazines and make pasted collages amongst the writing and sketches. These journals are my greatest inspiration and I re-read sections from them every day. They ground me and lift me.

As well, my daily view of moving water and the horizon line is a significant inspiration. Over the course of a single day, throughout the seasons, I see a wide variety of changing colour and light. I live on a peaceful island in Lake Huron and feel safe here. I am aware of the placement of the sun and the moon. My recent work refers to these, all these natural and cosmic phenomena.

 

Two wrapped forms. Quilt batting, assorted fabrics and threads, suede or linen cord, lead weights. 10" x 17" x 5" 2008, 8" x 15" x 3" 2007. photo J Martin.

 

Which specific historic artists have influenced your work?  

I have been influenced by many artists from art history. To go more in depth, I have been fascinated with art all my life and am humbled by my on-going study of it. I got my first fine art degree in the early 90's and was very influenced at that time by the work of feminist artist Miriam Schapiro and by the ideas of Judy Chicago. It's hard for me to say specifically which one influenced me the most in my career. I feel that I have been influenced by so many artists and types of artwork. I like Giotto from pre renaissance times - his figures are so simple. I like Velasquez, the humanness of his faces; I like Goya, the passion of his narratives; I like Picasso, the flaunting of his masculinity and the sheer immensity of his vision; I like Matisse, such simplicity in his lines and shapes; I like Van Gogh, such wonderful brush strokes and inner passion; I like DuChamp, his notable use of the every-day and mysterious; I like David Hockney, his thoughtful use of the photograph, the gesture. Whoops, those were all men I just mentioned. Oh well, that was art history. 

 

 

And Still Maintain a Normal Life. A two sided piece. Cotton and linen threads, wool flannel shown, wax batik on cotton, procion dye (not visible), hand stitched. 20" high, 8-10" wide, 3" deep . 2010. photo J. Martin.

 

 

What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?  

I look to the fine art world and to the women who have succeeded in it. Their courage and self-knowledge inspire me. I could list fifty women artists who have been an influence.

Key to my early formation as an artist is Mary Cassett who painted mothers and children (and famously said that a woman artist could not be a mother as well).

I remain influenced by Joyce Wieland's paintings and quilts about love and Canada affirmed me. Her feminine imagery and honesty were very important to my development. I love her use of feminine imagery and domestic technique.

 

Studio View of work in progress with indigo fabrics dyed by the artist. A variety of stitch and paste resist methods are shown. The pin walls in Judy Martin's studio are made from 12" square ceiling tiles and are 9 feet high. Photo J Martin (2010)

 

Mary Pratt's beautiful paintings of domesticity and Betty Goodwin's of mortality and longing inspired me to not be afraid to be a female artist in all the best senses. I felt supported by these women artists. They were role models for me.

I can't forget Frida Kahlo, who painted herself bravely facing down the troubles of her own life. I read her biography and was mesmerized by her work. Kahlo's art was her salvation, and as a young mother living in isolated Kenora, North Western Ontario, I was inspired by her to speak about my own life. It empowered me to confront and tell my own life story through art. I've let some of 'my own life story' go as I mature, but she was very important. 

 

The Power of Red. Dyed fabric, hand stitch, a cloth book. Text by W Wordsworth 1807: "The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting an spending we lay waste our powers. Little we see in nature that is ours. We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon" 9" x 7" x 3" when closed. photo J Martin.

Detail: The Power of Red.

 

I subscribe to several magazines about textile art and I purchase monographs of artists I admire, such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, and Eva Hesse. Living on Manitoulin Island, I feel quite isolated from the art world. I rely on reproductions and interviews with artists. These really help push me closer to the edge.

I admire the work of Louise Bourgeois. I love that she works with the emotions in such a frank way. Nearly every piece she makes refers to some personal trauma or desire, many of them from her childhood experiences. My current favourite quote by Louise Bourgeois is "The needle is not a pin". By this I think she means that the needle has the capacity to mend things, to join things together in a solid way. Reparation is a common element in the fabric work by Louise Bourgeois, and it is not just material things that are mended, but psychological and phenomenological things as well. One of my favourite pieces by her is a tower made of tapestry blocks, fragile and tippy, like the old lady she was when she created it. It refers to her childhood experiences of helping her parents repair European tapestries, but it leaps ahead eighty years or so, to be a self-portrait of the artist in her dotage. All done with a needle!

"Art is the guarantee of sanity" Louise Bourgois. I love her idea that art is therapy.

 

 

Heart to Heart. Cotton thread, linen, procion dye, hand stitched. 22" wide by 34" high. 2010. photo J. Martin. Included in Fibreworks 2010 at Cambridge galleries.

 

 

I always felt that my quilts were art, even when they were based on traditional pieced bed quilts, like log cabin and nine-patch. For me, those patterns were like a secret code and I used that female language as if I were writing poems and secret stories. I made narrative metaphoric quilts the whole time that I was an active parent.

Now that my children have grown, I feel myself moving into a new, more abstract phase with my art making. I am influenced more now by Agnes Martin and some of the contemporary Australian Aboriginal painters. I want to make simple, minimalist, abstract pieces about nothing other than how we feel when we are alone in nature, looking at the horizon line. Everything seems perfect then. We feel the immensity within ourselves.

 

Metaphysical Thinking. wool flannel, found paper, transferred text, cotton thread, hand stitched. 30 scrolls 6" x 24" when unrolled. 2005. photo J Martin. These were created for A Book Arts Mosaic. 25 boxes of 26 books by 38 book artists, sponsored by the Canadian Book Artist Guild and sent around Canada to be exhibited and collected by libraries and galleries.

Detail: Metaphysical Thinking.

Detail: Metaphysical Thinking.

 

What role do you think fibre plays in contemporary art?

Fibre art is hugely important to contemporary art these days. It's wonderful. For me, the slowness inherent within the creation of any type of textile work gives contemporary society what it is yearning for. The repeated hand touching in work made with threads speaks directly to so many. Also, ecologically, the re-use of waste materials can be done so effectively with textile methods. See for example, the work of El Anatsui, recently on exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. His work is all made from small pieces of recycled metal 'stitched' together with copper wire. Fantastic!

The art I like today relies as much on the process of making, as it does on the conceptual "idea". Imagination is important, but there is also a real and recognizable object made by real human hands. This labour and time spent with the work is tangible and I think it is a powerful connection to others. Because it takes a long time to make, because it is full of the hand's caress, the art stirs up emotions. It stirs the inner self.   We remember something even though we may never have seen anything like it before.

It's a wonderful time to be a textile artist!

 

 

Memory of Wikwemikong. Linen thread, hand dyed rayon and linen fabrics, embroidered quilt. 30wide x 70" high 2008. photo Sarah Warburton. Included in World of Threads Festival 2009.

 

 

Which is your favourite fibre medium?

I love to densely hand-stitch painted or hand-dyed fabrics. In my new work I like to completely cover the surface with stitch. The repeated touch, the strength and weight of miles of thread, and the sheer amount of time and physical labour it takes to do this adds emotional energy to this work. I am influenced by embroidered cloth that I've seen from India, Pakistan, Iraq, and parts of Africa. I want my work to have such beauty and power.

Most of the dyeing I've done has been experimental. I work with large pieces of cloth and use fibre reactive dyes and pre-reduced indigo. Last summer I began dyeing with local plants and that was very satisfying although quite a learning curve. Rarely do I use a commercial fabric off the bolt without dyeing or over-dyeing it. I often over-dye fabric several times in order to get unusual colours. Twice I over-dyed completed quilts, a risky thing to do. It changed everything. Art is an adventure.

 

What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

I began my professional career with watercolour and ink paintings of my children's daily life. The figure remains very important in my work, and is referenced nearly all the time. For example, the reason that I like to work large is so that my quilts could, if needed, actually cover and protect a family.

 

 

Fragile as a Leaf in Autumn. Dyed linen, cotton threads, piece work, hand applique and hand embroidery, hand quilted. 70" wide by 84" high, 2004. photo Sara Warburton. Private Collection.

Detail: Fragile as a Leaf in Autumn.

 

 

What other fibre artists are you interested in?

I own most of the Art Textiles of the World series of books published by Telos, and I use them as support and inspiration. These books, along with the book Whole Cloth by Mildred Constantine and Laurel Ritter, have been my gateway to an international world of art textiles way beyond my Manitoulin Island home.

As well, I have most of John Gillow's and Sheila Paine's books on World Textiles. Both have taught me about the symbolism and value inherent in cloth and embroidery from around the world, and I call on this symbolic language repeatedly in my work.

I admire the American artist Kiki Smith, her fearless jumping off the deep end into a wide variety of materials, in order to address essential issues of being human. She uses the textile arts of embroidery and dye processes in combination with printmaking, sculpture, and installation. I guess what is most memorable about Kiki Smith's work for me, is its totally feminine and playful quality - she makes no apologies for loving animals, fairy tales, lace doilies, but she puts them together in such thought provoking ways. It's just really inviting and full of wonder. I'd love to be able to engage my viewer in the same way that she does.

"I like that feeling when you're making art, that you're taking the energy out of your body and putting it into a physical object. I like things that are labor-intensive: you make a little thing and another little thing and another little thing, and eventually you see a possibility." Kiki Smith.

 

 

Shield for an Open Heart. Block printing, watercolour paper, metal thread couched to book pages, silk. 22" wide by 35" high. 2010. photo J Martin. Private collection.

 

 

I love Eva Hesse's work, its fragility and monumentality, both of these opposites at the same time. My favourite piece of hers is one where there are sheets of latex hanging like clothes in a closet, they just seem so human. It's called "Contingent".

Because of my Finnish heritage, I have been looking at textile artists from Finland, and because there seems to be a common aesthetic of simplicity, also Japan. Both of those cultures have an elegant yet earthy aesthetic.

Japanese artists I admire are: Kyoko Kumai, she works with stainless steel filament and has developed her own technique of knotting and weaving to make three dimensional pieces that resemble wind blown grass. She is trying to make the invisible wind visible. She is able to capture something that we have all seen, something we all remember. 

Noriko Narahira: My favourite pieces by her are those that are large, hang from the ceiling and are full of holes. I find them to be very emotional. Human sized, the vulnerability they carry is palpable. She uses machine stitching.

Chiyuko Tanaka is famous for her grinded earth pieces. She weaves extremely simple shapes from hand dyed threads, and then lays them on the ground and rubs them with a stone. They pick up the colour of the soil, and also show the effects of time.

 

 

Trinity. Linen damask, silk, dyed line, hand pieced, hand applique, hand quilted. 22" wide by 30" high, 2011. photo J Martin. Collection of Little Current United Church.

 

Finnish artists I admire are: Aino Kajaniemi, she uses tapestry weaving to make small, simple, sketches of solitary women. The subjects of the work are self involved, and I like how the viewer wants to build a narrative about them. They are interesting and they make me consider my own life as interesting.

Mirja Winqvist: I like how she uses ordinary or recycled materials to make three dimensional archetypal shapes. I am interested in her use of brown paper that she rolls with a glue mixture into little twigs and then from those small components, constructs eggs or boats that are strong yet light. Her simple, calm work belies how labour intensive it is. 

Pila Sakala: There is not much web information about Pila Sakela who is now in her mid 70's. I found her in Art Textiles of The World Scandinavia. A weaver for decades, she changed techniques in the nineties and made large smocked pieces from oiled newspaper and silk. Their size and the repeated and unusual use of domestic stitching inspires me. 

All of these artists spend as much time with each piece as the work requires. Their labour and the time it took are as important as any other material to the finished work. That kind of attention is a gift for the viewer.

 

 

Light of the Moon. Acrylic paint, wool and cotton threads, canvas, paper. Stitched Collage. 36" wide by 41" high. 2009. photo J Martin.

 

 

Generally, in my own work, I like to stay with domestic techniques, but repeat and repeat the same shape or stitch. I often work very large, but even in smaller works the amount of time invested is visible. All of the artists I have mentioned use these same ideas to ground their art.

Work.  Time.  Repetition.  Thought.  Inner self.

I maintain a blog that profiles Kyoko, Noriko, Aino, Pila along with some others. I'll be writing about Mirja and Chiyoko soon. The link is to my modernist aesthetic blog is http://modernistaesthetic.blogspot.com

I like the anonymous quilt makers who looked at their surroundings and created beautiful and meaningful repeated patterns. I am in awe of those women. Amish quilt makers, their placement of colour is fantastic. Nancy Crow is so passionate about her work, I own both her books.

 

Judy Martin with her quilt Cross My Heart at Quilt National in May 2011. silk, painted and dyed linen, silk threads, pieced and hand stitched quilt, 35 " wide by 33" high, 2010. photo Ned Martin. Dairy Barn Arts Center, Athens Ohio until September 5, 2011, then on tour. Private collection.

 

I continue to look at art and my two most recent favourites are Rebecca Belmore, who grew up near where I grew up in North Western Ontario, and Sheila Hicks, a weaver and conceptual installation artist. I've been looking at Sheila Hick's small weavings in a book called Weaving as Metaphor. She made about 300 or so, and they are each so simple, yet complex. I love the minimalist quality that I see in.  

Rebecca Belmore is like Kiki Smith in some ways I suppose, working with a wide variety of media, including a lot of textile media, in order to address some very real and important issues for our contemporary society. She is an aboriginal artist and addresses Canada's colonial past in much of her work. For example, WILD, a beautiful satin bedcovering with black hair, as if from an aboriginal woman stitched to it, that was installed in the Grange at the AGO in 2001. However, her work is not just about aboriginal politics, but about all of ours. Just one example is the Thin Red Line, a sculpture made from men's suit jackets, sewn into sand bags and piled up as a sacrifice/barrier in an anti war statement. Each jacket is embroidered with a single red line down its back. I saw this piece in the National Gallery in December.  

To sum up, with all these artists, I am inspired by the fact that they go beyond the decorative and the functional ideas of the textile works they make, yet those are never left totally behind. Instead, those attributes are combined with political and emotional ideas and that is what I find inspirational. That's the kind of art I want to make. It's very difficult to do this, and I admire that these women artists are able to pull this beautiful yet thought provoking work off.

 

 

Gathering Myself. Silk thread, vintage bed linen, hand stitched. 22" x 30" 2009. photo J Martin.

 

 

Tell us about your studio and how you work?

I live on the lake, and prefer to spend most mornings either on my deck or in my sunny window stitching. I hand stitch for three hours each morning. After a break for domestic chores, correspondence and a walk, I go to my studio in Little Current in the afternoons. I have a wonderful space above the post office that has four large north facing windows looking over the North Channel. The pin walls in this space are ten feet high and I design all my new work in that studio as well as do any machine sewing.

This year I have been leading a lengthy textile project in the local community. We are creating four large liturgical meditation panels that have a symbolic connection of large circles contained in large squares. The materials are mostly recycled domestic table linens, but there is also some silk. These 90 inch square panels are embroidered and hand quilted by me and by any members of the local community, who wish to come out for a few hours to stitch and have fellowship.

I will be showing them in a solo exhibition at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in 2012. Hopefully, they will eventually hang permanently in the Little Current United Church. 

I work with the community every Thursday in that church's hall from noon until 8 pm as a volunteer artist in residence - women come and go throughout the day and I teach the techniques and do them with the women. It's a huge project in many ways. We have nearly completed one of the panels. I just thought I should tell you about this project as it is just about the only thing I'm doing right now.   Very rewarding, but a very large project!

 

The House With the Golden Windows. East Wall.

 

The House With the Golden Windows. Installation of four panels, each 6 feet high, 4 feet wide, double sided 1993. The outside walls are made from glossy magazine papers stitched to artist canvas, and hand stitched metallic fabric windows. Each of the four panels has a different roof colour, representing the four seasons, the four directions, the four times of day and the four ages of a woman. The inside of the walls are made from pieced and embroidered silk or cotton and have 'windows' made from stitched photographs of the views from inside the artist's Kenora house. This image is from the group exhibition Quilted Stories in A Space Gallery, Toronto , 1994. photo Judy Martin

 

 

Is there anything else about you or your work that you would like to share with us?

I have gone back to school! In 2006, I began part time studies with OPUS school of textile art in the UK. This school is affiliated with Middlesex University, and I will be receiving a second BFA degree, in 2012, this time with a specialization in Embroidered Textiles. Recently, the founder of OPUS (Julia Caprara) died and the school changed management and its name to the Julia Caprara School of Textile Arts. It is a distance education degree, I speak on the phone and email my tutors, who are all excellent.  

I recently wrote my dissertation and studied textile artists from Finland and Japan. I chose the two cultures because of my own heritage (my father came to Canada from Finland at age 5) and because of the pared down simplicity that is a common aesthetic. Also, Japanese textile artists have been at the forefront of textile art for the last thirty years and participate in the large European biennials. 

I have been reading and learning from the Art Textiles of the World series of books long before I began this European art degree and would highly recommend them. They are published by Telos. 

 

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.

 

 

Love's Illusions. Painted and photo printed papers, painted fabric, ribbon. Stitched. 1998. photo Judy Martin.