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Circuit Board, 72 x 50", quilt.


Avatar, 20 x 30 ", cotton fabric, upholstery material




Artist: Dwayne Frederick Wanner,
Burlington Ontario, Canada

Interview 54

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Originally from a farming community, Dwayne Frederick Wanner studied at the University of Alberta. Following a career in small manufacturing businesses, he took up quilting again in 2000. He continually visits art exhibitions and the tradition of quilting comes together in his art quilts. The quilts of Gee's Bend have been an inspiration to him. Over the years he has refined his style into what he calls abstract expressionist quilting.

Outside his role in business, political and artistic organizations he does find some time for quilting and teaching. He exhibits across North America and his quilts are on continual exhibit at Artists Walk Gallery in Burlington, Ontario.

Dwayne is Chairman of the quilt show committee of the Halton Quilters Guild, Burlington, Ontario and he has produced several shows at the Royal Botanical Gardens. In 2011 he organized "FIbrations" for the exhibition and sale of fibre art to support classical musicians.

"I have been fortunate to experience directly the great art collections of the past as well as the ongoing works of numerous contemporary artists. This experience has provided me with an appreciation of the varied forms that art and beauty can take. I am fortunate to be able to encompass this experience in the art of quilt making ... a necessary art form." Dwayne's Website


Artist: Dwayne Wanner


Tell us about your work?

For the most part, I adhere to the quilt formula of three layers, top - batting - back. I like the format and if you pardon the pun, I find it comforting. I have now reached a technical skill level where this format is familiar and yet I am still discovering its potential. I like the formality of how quilts hang on the wall and the elegance of how they drape over chairs. I like being able to move them and handle them.


Circuit Board, 72 x 50"

For several years I owned a company that did robotic installations in manufacturing plants. I hung my quilts throughout our offices. My young engineers always asked what the quilts were about etc. Finally I decided to make one they could "understand. The result was " Circuit Board" After piecing small squares into the blue background I then embroidered all the circuits. The embroidery was done from a program I wrote for the sewing machine. The embroidered gold thread captured the look of the circuits that my guys were familiar with.

Detail: Circuit Board


From where do you get your inspiration?

Much of my inspiration comes from paintings of well-known artists ranging from Van Gogh through Klimt and through to abstract expressionists. I like the look of Riopelle, Pollack, Klee and even Mondrian. In my trunk shows I make the argument that these artists were really closet quilters. My wife and I attend art exhibitions whenever possible. The recent Chagall and his contemporary Russians at the AGO in Toronto was most inspiring. I had seen pictures of Kandinsky paintings before, but never the real thing. They were most powerful. He really was a quilter at heart. I do not copy the works of painters and sculptors, but look to these artists for use of colour and shape. Truly unique designs are difficult.

Another source of inspiration for me are the simple textures all around me. I look at flagstone pathways, pictures of tree bark, stone walkways, weathered wood, the thick brush and pallet knife work of Gauguin or Riopelle etc. to get a sense of textures and shape ... and then I think "maybe I could do that in fabric." Maybe ...
There is nothing like the feel of the ridges of fabric on a quilt face. The free motion quilting on an over stuffed batting with the addition of yarns and fabric pieces, give a depth that when you look at it, you can feel it in your finger tips.


Avatar, 20 x 30 ", cotton fabric, upholstery material


How did you decide on this medium?

As a child I had helped my grandmothers' make quilts on the farm. These were really recycled fabrics of all types and shapes ... old coats, overalls, shirts, flour sacks, etc. Much later when I had the time and resources, I thought to return to this memory and make a quilt out of old blue jeans and flannel shirts. Also I like the sewing machine and the technical aspects of sewing. Now, especially when I can integrate computer and sewing machine, the challenge of bringing creativity and spontaneity into the programming is widened and the whole exercise takes on the aura of a "project" which I find inspiring.


From an Antique Land, 50 x 50" Cotton piping, Japanese cotton fabric and upholstery fabric border. This quilt was meant to emulate the doors or interiors of ancient buildings in Europe and the Middle East.

Detail: From an antique land


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

I do not work in other media. I tried sculpture, but it did not have the technical and creative challenge that fabric presented to me. Sculpture also demanded a severe minimalist type of creativity that I found difficult. It also required a unique talent to envision the finished work and I did not have this. I think it is the feel of the fabric that attracts me. I did make a jacket or two but decided that was not for me either. I like quilts.


Piping Hot, 30 x 40" cotton ,yarn

Detail: Piping Hot


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

From the late 19th century I like Van Gogh, Gauguin and post-impressionists for the roughness of form, the boldness of colour and the obvious emotion. In the same time period, but not the same school, I like Klimt for his backgrounds and somewhat primal shapes of objects in his collage background of his paintings.
In the early and mid 20th century the artists that appeal are Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Duchamp, again for the simplicity and free character of their designs that capture the essence of the subject. From the late 20th century I like Pollock, Riopelle, Klee, Hoffman, Rothko, Kandinsky and the other abstract expressionist painters.

I spent 40 years wondering through galleries and museums in Europe and North America looking at art and especially the modern period art before I started making quilts. I continually strive to achieve a technique that emulates the force, dynamism and subtle minimalism of these works.

I teach an abstract expressionist quilting class, in which I try to demonstrate the serendipitous and somewhat violent dispersion of colour that is the expressionists. I then combine that with the subtle editing and directed embellishment that gives the quilt its final character.


Silk Road No.1, 60 x 60", cottons, upholstery fabrics, leather couching strips

These silk road quilts were made after listening to Yo Yo Ma Silk Road ensemble of music from the Caucasus region. I though that the caravans along the silk road might have quilts made of rougher materials like this one.


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

If by contemporary you mean late 20th early 21st century I do not have any particular favourites. For the most part, it is the contemporary fibre artists that inspire me most. I pour over the SAQA and Quilt National publications as a major source of ideas and technique.


Le Soleil, 50 x 50", Dupioni silk, cotton, yarn and ribbon couching strips
My inspiration for the small background pieces was from Klimt paintings

Detail: Le Soleil


What other fibre artists are you interested in and why?

I have always admired the work of Michael James as I think he captures much of the tone of the abstract and expressionist group. On the other hand, there are some fibre artists that extend the abstract expressionist ideas with texture and depth of field. The most inspiring of these is Eszter Bornemisza - almost everything she has done

Jette Clover - monochromatic series
Sandra Meech - Arctic Inspiration series
Karen Goetzinger – Waterworks and Fragments series
For minimalist elegance of style, I like Yoshiko Jinzenji


Silk Road No. 3, 60 x 60", cotton fabric, upholstery fabric, suede and yarn couching


What is your philosophy about Fibre Art and what role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

I would contend that fibre art is as legitimate as any other art form and ranks equally with sculpture, painting and architecture. It is the responsibility of every fibre artist to promote the medium in every way possible. Too many fibre artists "hide their light under a bushel" when they should be bold.

I produce the Halton Quilting Guild quilt show every two years. A few years back we moved the show to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario. Attendance is way up because the quilt works are wonderful and hanging them in a big beautiful dramatic venue makes for a terrific show. The show venue is critical. If you hide the art in church basements and obscure "galleries" not only will it not be seen but also a lower value will be implied.

I have also organized a project whereby fibre art is exhibited alongside symphonic orchestra concerts. This project raises money for the orchestra but also establishes fibre art as an art form at a similar level as symphonic music. Currently I am trying to build a reliable database of galleries, show sites and curators who are open to exhibiting fibre art. I am always looking for venues to display fibre art.

Some see a dichotomy between museum/galleries and home decor. I think fibre art belongs in both domains. Personally, I tend toward the "home decor school", as I want the fibre works hanging on walls or lying across beds etc. where they can be appreciated in a very personal way for their colour and texture.



Pollock on the silk road, 60 x 60", Japanese indigo fabric, miscellaneous cotton fabric, leather and suede couching strips


Can you talk a bit about the commercial viability of fibre art and do you find it more difficult to show and sell your work than non-fibre artists?

First of all, it is difficult today to sell almost any kind of art because of the proliferation of "product". The number of painters, sculptors and fibre artists has grown enormously over the last ten years. Much of this has to do with the number of retirees taking up these arts. This trend will continue and this "hidden talent" will hit the market. As well, the digital milieu in which we live, promotes rapid and continuous change. Multiple and ephemeral is the norm which does not lend itself to collecting or long-term exposure to an art object.

On the other hand there is no tradition of "collection" of fibre art. There are quilt collections but not fibre art collections. This may be due partially to the storage implications. When compared with paintings or sculpture, it is difficult to sell fibre art because there is less of a sense of permanence about fibre art. There is also the tendency to see fibre art as "craft" in a pejorative sense. Thereby diminishing value.

Artists like Christo & Jeanne-Claude may capture the world's attention with his elaborate grotesque fibre sculpture, but the fact that it is torn down and discarded does not help with instilling a sense that fibre art is of lingering value.

Paintings on canvas have been exalted by major collections and museums to the point that they have become religious icons. I think the fact that wall quilts for instance, pretend in the French sense of the word, to wall painting gives some support to the legitimacy of fibre art.

Fibre art has yet to find its real niche as an art form. Certainly as blankets and comforters, quilts have achieved a certain cachet akin to tapestries. However the sense of permanence still seems to be lacking. People like my friend Judy Lyons, are working continuously to quantify value and to identify and preserve collections, which adds to the value of all fibre art.


Silk Road Series, 60 x 60"

This quilt also uses blue jeans but I have added Japanese fabric and couched it with red suede and felt


When did you first discover your creative talents?

I have always had a sense of "appropriate presentation". For instance toys that were over-decorated with logos and artifice always bothered me. I can remember receiving a set of cowboy guns, a nice leather belt with a holster at each hip, just like Roy Rogers. On the holsters was written or printed "Roy Rogers". I felt this was artificial and wrong and scraped the printing off and then the holsters appealed to me and looked real. Scratched up, but real.

There were always some colour combinations that bothered me, as did Rococo and Baroque art or their imitations in churches.

I never really drew in the sense of rendering a drawing. I took a life drawing class once and found it too difficult. However, I liked to doodle and create what now would be considered "abstract" drawings. I also enjoyed Japanese Brush painting in its abstract format, not the representational side.

One day about ten years ago, after putting cuffs on several pairs of jeans, I started to play with sewing the jean scraps together along with some pieces from an old flannel shirt, and the whole tradition of quilt making that I remembered from my childhood, started flooding back. From there I went on, to really start making quilts.



Mondrian's Cousin, 40 x 42", cotton
I felt that if Piet Mondrian had a cousin who quilted that the quilt might look like this.


How does your early work differ from what you are doing now?

Every quilter probably starts with traditional patchwork. I soon realized that I did not have the patience, or the skill, to make traditional quilts. As well, my love for abstract painting drew me to a more open style.

At first I saw only an assembled quilt top as a finished product. I resented having to quilt over the pieced top and tried to quilt in the ditch. Eventually I discovered that no one quilts in the ditch. They sew beside the seam.

I then resorted to having the quilts machine quilted by others. My early quilts appeared flat and eventually I discovered couching and related techniques to give depth to the surface. Several judges at shows remarked that more quilting would have improved the pieces submitted. These comments hit home. I spent time looking at more "surfaced" quilts and spoke to judges about this comment. After some time, I came to realize that the quilting was what really gave the piece life. I continue to work on free motion quilting along with other embellishment techniques. Now I look for ways to enhance the surface beyond simply assembling pieces of fabric. I quilt them myself. Although I learned that a moderate size is easier to quilt on my machines and as a result, most recent work has been reduced to about 1 meter square. My latest quilts are becoming somewhat architectural.



Homage a Gustave, cotton with ribbon couching
This piece emulates some of the Klimt colours and format


Please explain how you developed your own style.

Initially my quilts were made from square or rectangular blocks. I would experiment with blocks of different shapes, forms and colour combinations and put these on the design wall and look at them for a day or two. Then by adding pieces and trimming blocks, trying to decide why the combination didn't look right or feel right, I'd assemble the quilt top. Seeing the quilts of Gee's Bend was a big breakthrough for me. The Gee's Bend quilts showed me a practical and more open and even natural or casual way to create abstract design in fabric. I took several classes at quilt shows etc. to learn some of the technique of manipulating fabric, which helped me get to a freer form. I have spent much time examining the techniques employed by other quilters to learn how to make the fabric a more flexible medium.


Cacophony, 36 x 36", cotton, upholstery fabric
This is the best example of the abstract expressionist technique to date


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I have a small "Atelier" which my wife refers to as the furnace room. It is about 12 x 25 ft. One wall is lined with baskets of fabric. I have a nice 3 x 5 cutting table and two design walls. I put many florescent lights in the ceiling because I have no windows in that room. This gives me a uniform and consistent light with which to gauge fabric choices.

I have two large sewing machines. One does only a straight stitch and is used primarily for assembling strips of fabric at high speed as well as free motion quilting. The other is a high-end multifaceted digital machine. This machine can be used for downloaded embroidery patterns, as well as embroidery/quilting designs I can create on my laptop and download to the machine. These machines are set up in a separate room from the cutting room. Other equipment includes strip cutters and embellishing machines.


Dancers in the Square, 20 x 30" cotton, upholstery fabric, decorative yarns
This was made for an auction to support a local symphony orchestra that played " Bolero" the night of the concert.


What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

For me it is always the latest project. Fortunately for me there continues to be discovery in every new piece. The technique gets better; I discover a new technique; the specific colour combinations appeal or repel and I see the finished work differently than I did any previous work.

I am more protective of some such as the "Soleil" piece. One of the latest ones, "Cacophony" is the best representation of my "expressionist" piecing technique. Which means I have to go on to something else.



Have you experienced fluctuations in your productivity through the years?

Productivity for me has always been a function of the amount of time that I can allocate and not serotonin levels. I have many other things going on in my life and so I can only give fibre art, what Sybil Rampen at Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre has called "stolen moments". Time spent on quilting recharges me. My overall method depends, to some degree, on serendipity, which has continued to pay off as far as inspiration is concerned. I think it is the shortage of time that I can allocate to the work that keeps it fresh.


Homage to Mother, process


Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

The amount of texture in the work is growing as I become more proficient and satisfied with my free motion technique. I have tried painting and dying fabric, but I have not found this easy or enjoyable. I did find it messy with too many labels and chemicals. Now I seek out others who are dying fabric in interesting ways so I can use that fabric in my quilts. I will continue with the quilt format of three layers, as I enjoy the work displayed as a wall hanging. I can see my work tending more to sculpture and architecture than painting.

I strive continually to achieve the heavy brush and pallet knife effect of Van Gogh, Riopelle and the like.



Is there anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?

I am very flattered to be part of this series. Having read some of the previous interviews, it is certainly a humbling experience. As well, the series confirms my thoughts about the growth and dynamism of the fibre art medium.



What interests you about the World of Threads festival?

I think the World of Threads Festival is exactly the kind of activity that fibre art requires and I applaud the efforts of those involved. We need more of these types of events. The World of Threads Festival puts the art form "in your face" which can only benefit all of us. I think the project is bold. We need more like it.



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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.