Iron Spine Aloft

Iron Spine Aloft billowing on the front lawn of the Rye Arts Center
A few blog posts back, I spoke about seeing plastic trash flapping in the trees along the roads in my travels. I have reinterpreted that imagery by creating a public art installation, made from plastic, that is gracing the front lawn of the Rye Arts Center, strung between two trees. Iron Spine Aloft can be seen as you drive by the arts center until the end of April. Feel free to stop in and enjoy it up close. Make time to go inside and see Fiber Now: Textile Artists on the Cutting Edge, in which five of my pieces are presented alongside the works of eleven other talented fiber artists. Do email me, if you're in the neighborhood. Perhaps I'll be able to meet you there and we can talk art, stitching, texture, recycling and the circle of life. You can also join me for two BYOB workshops that I'll be teaching on March 21st and 28th.

I am hoping to continue creating large-scale public art installations created from repurposed plastic. I am working on a series of proposals to further this endeavor. Raising public awareness about the excess of single use plastic in our society and the problems of litter in our environment are at the forefront of my art practice. If you know of an institution to which you think I can submit such a proposal, please let me know. I welcome your input.

I have posted a few videos of the installation on Instagram and Facebook for your viewing pleasure. I'll be posting more in the near future, as well as a more substantial video detailing the creation of Iron Spine Aloft from start to finish, which I will post on my YouTube channel when completed.

Iron Spine Aloft detail


Iron Spine Aloft detail


deep in art in the depths of winter

Work in progress - Home Portrait © Natalya Khorover Aikens 2019
Home portrait work in progress
February has been a busy month so far and promises to continue to be so. I am simultaneously working on two projects in the studio. They could not be more different from each other.

One project is a home portrait for a sweet family with a brand new daughter. I am loving incorporating her hospital hat, onesie and sheet music of special songs into an image of their home. I am taking time to thoughtfully hand stitch all the pieces in place, making sure all the right details are included.


I am furiously stitching on my Bernina sewing machine for my other project: the installation for the Rye Arts Center exhibit in March. I have pieces of plastic bags and various sheeting all stitched together; I am about half way through stitching the outlines of the fire escape on them. After that, I will piece all the sections together. I'll likely spend a few days cutting out the negative spaces between the outlines. I am still figuring out the logistics of hanging the piece in it's outdoor space, between two trees.


Making sure to keep my inspiration tank full, I was recently on a photo safari in NYC. And while I was quite busy trying to get good shots of buildings, rusty bridge undercarriages, and sidewalk cracks, I could not help but notice plastic litter in leafless trees. I abhor litter of any kind, but it's especially plastic litter that makes me want to weep. For goodness sakes, if you can't recycle it, is it so hard to put it into a garbage container? To carry it just a few more feet to the trashcan on the corner? Ok, rant over.


Here's the interesting thought... as much as I despise seeing plastic trash flapping in the wind on trees, I am also inspired by it. Is that crazy? I don't think so. I think that the installation that I am working on right now is partly inspired by the plastic bags I have seen caught in tree branches along highways. In my case, the plastic that will be waving amongst trees is obviously not trash. It is quite intentional. I can't wait until you see it!
Snowmelt, blue skies, bare trees through the clear plastic lens of Urban Edge/Iron Spine Installation detail © Natalya Khorover Aikens 2019
Snowmelt, blue skies, bare trees through the clear plastic lens of Urban Edge/Iron Spine installation detail

studio update

Here's a review of what's been happening in my studio this week. Lot's and lot's of stitching!

I've been stitching the small pieces that will make up my extra large installation.

I made a quick visit to NYC for some inspiration.

I tried out one of the stitched plastic pieces on the window to see how translucent it is.

And another as well

And then the Polar Vortex came and I watched art make art in the snow...


Now I'll focus on a commissioned home portrait, so next week I post warmer looking photos to help everyone thaw out from this frigid cold...



a week in pictures (and videos)

Some weeks are crazy busy in the studio, and I have lots to share. Others seem that way, but because I am working on the same project day in and day out, I feel as though I have nothing to share.

But even when I feel that way.... I realize that I do have plenty to share. Sometimes not in words, but always definitely in pictures. Here are a few pictures and videos of what I have been working on this past week.
Layers of plastic waiting to be stitched for one of the portions of my installation in progress

a thread nest encased in a plastic air pocket

plastic thread nests being stitched

rain on a portion of Irons Spine/Urban Edge installation hanging on my deck

A little video of a portion of Iron Spine/Urban Edge installation moving in the rain.


Lucky that the pup needed to go out on a frigid morning during sunrise as I got to take this video of the plastic crackling as it moved in the wind.

Hope you have enjoyed these peeks into my studio happenings, stay tuned for more soon!

going big, bigger and BIG!

portion of Iron Spine/Urban Edge installation is being weather tested!

The first month of the new year is only half way done, but my calendar is already filled with plans for the start of 2019.

First on my agenda is ArtShow:Bedford starting January 25th. It's a wonderful, small show in the picturesque town of Bedford NY, now in its 46th year. All proceeds from the show go to local charities supporting a wide range of services. 

In March I am delighted to be participating in Fiber Now: Artists on the Cutting Edge presented by the Rye Arts Center in Rye, NY. In conjunction with the exhibit I will be teaching a Stitching+Embroidery workshop on March 21st and 28th. As part of the exhibit I've also been invited to create a large installation −more than 15 feet across− on the front lawn of the center. The installation will help raise public awareness of plastic pollution crisis we’re facing, while enabling me to repurpose plastic into my art. I believe this installation for the Rye Arts Center is a perfect fit for my art practice. 

At the moment I am rifling through my stash and pulling out the biggest, sturdiest pieces of plastic that I have to start assembling the substrate. I’m conducting weathering tests for the plastic and my stitching. I took a portion of the Iron Spine/Urban Edge installation and hung it on my deck to see how it holds up to the wind and weather for the next month or two. This experiment will inform some of the design and construction choices I’ll have to make going forward.

pattern for the installation to be is laid out on the floor taking up all the space!

another shot of the weather test from Iron Spine/Urban Edge

thoughtfully repurposed

If my solo exhibit had a title, it would be Thoughtfully Repurposed.

But it doesn't have an official title, and as it's coming down on Friday, I thought it was time to share a few photos. Those of you who were able to see it, I sincerely appreciate that you came, your kind words mean so much to me! Those of you who are too far to come, I appreciate all your well wishes also. Thank you.

art and seed pods at the entrance

Iron Spine 6XL makes it's debut surrounded by older relatives

Rhetoric with Iron Vessels: Reclaim Love and Iron Vessel: Enough

The top portion of Iron Spine/Urban Edge installation

another view of Iron Spine/Urban Edge installation

a small portion of the bottom of Iron Spine/Urban Edge installation

Full view: Iron Spine/Urban Edge

a visitor from the insect kingdom

food matching art/art matching food

viewer matching art

artist with art (Iron Spine/Urban Edge)
What a whirlwind summer!

documenting the process

Why? Why do I use the materials that I use for my art?

I have always thought the answer is obvious. But lately I have been giving it a lot of thought, talking about it with other artists, and I have discovered that it's maybe not so obvious... and I am not sure if I can always speak about it clearly.

The basic answer is that I like my materials. I like the way they behave, I like the way that they feel, I love what I am able to achieve with them. I also love that I am creating something beautiful out of trash. I love that I am keeping even a tiny amount of plastic out of the sieve that is the local recycling process. And maybe somewhere out in the ocean, one less little or large aquatic creature will have one less bag to strangle itself in...

I have decided to start documenting my process. And in writing about it, maybe I'll make clear to my collectors and even to myself what it is exactly that goes into loving my materials and why I feel it's important.

In the last few weeks I have spent quite a bit of time communing with these materials of mine. I need to prepare quite a bit of them for future artworks and that meant a lot of time with scissors in hand. The plastic supermarket shopping bag seems so pedestrian. Yet so graphic. I am cutting apart all the graphics, the lettering. Only to put in back together again in completely different ways. This, below, is my pile of large-ish letters.

I have also been sewing plastic netting to vintage linen. I am in the process of trimming away the excesses now to reveal the lines and I just could not throw away the trimmings. For now I am gathering them in a container, one day they will tell me what to do with them.


On my walk with the pup one day a couple of weeks ago, I spotted these plastic bags. Trapped in a tree and gently swaying in the breeze, there was something beautiful about them. Yes they are trash, yes they are polluting the area... and yet... 

Unfortunately I could not reach them to take them off. But they inspired me, as did that scene in American Beauty of the plastic bag dancing with the wind. 

And I love this quote from the script : "Ricky Fitts: It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes." 

So yes, I'm going to dance with some plastic bags....soon.



Back to the graphics of those plastic bags - I am also cutting out all the verbiage. It talks about how to recycle this bag, or where the store is located. I am interested in only the graphic nature of those lines. And I have amassed piles and piles of long and short, skinny and fat ribbons of plastic lettering. They will be my brush strokes...


And then there are pieces of plastic that have no graphic value to me. Or color value, or they are just in a awful shape and would not hold up to torture by stitching. Or I don't like the feel of them and don't want to use them in my art.

Those bags, and bits and pieces, and small hard plastic parts that get thrown in the trash and then quite likely wind up in the Pacific Garbage Patch; all those things, I am stuffing them into rinsed and thoroughly dried containers.

Those containers eventually become 3D buildings. Sculpture if you will, stitched sculpture. On their own they are very light, stuffed full of plastic they are still light, but have a bit of sturdiness to them. Enough to keep them upright and not blow away in the breeze.


I hate styrofoam. Yes hate is a strong word as I always tell my daughters. But I hate styrofoam and avoid purchasing anything in it. But sometimes it's inevitable. Especially if someone well meaning gives me something in styrofoam. I have discovered that if it's clean and dry, I can break it apart and stuff into my containers. That puts it to good use.


Most of the plastic bags come from my own household. I have been saving them for years, before I knew what it was that I wanted to do with them. Since I have started using them for my art, several friends have sent me their own collections. At the moment I have more than I can use for a long time. I now do grocery shopping with reusable bags and very rarely bring plastic bags into my home, and yet still have so many to make art from...

Since I have started filling the empty containers with rejected plastic and bits and pieces, I have become aware of how many of them there are! How many I have thrown into the trash, not even the recycling over the years... and I think of how many have found their way into the ocean. That thought saddens me.

Besides An Inconvenient Truth and the Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, see The Plastic Ocean and see what we're up against...


Here's how I used those strips of verbiage in a recent piece, Iron Spine 8, 12"x12".

fire escape love story

I love fire escapes. There. I've said it. Wait. I may have said it before. Well it's true. I do love them. Let me count the ways. I love their graphic lines, their rusty or sleek texture, their negative space, the layers upon layers of straight lines, the angles.
research...

research...
 I love interpreting them in stitch. Large, small and medium.
detail of Iron Spine 4 (snow dyed pine thread on plastic)

detail of Iron Spine: Hot in the City ( embroidery thread on plastic and thread snips)

Iron Spine xs2 (variegated thread on plastic)

details of Urban Towers (embroidery thread on plastic and fabric over repurposed containers)

detail of Green News ( thread over newspaper and plastic)
And extra large of course.
in progress Iron Spine 6XL

in progress Iron Spine 6XL

teasing apart thread nests

Yup, that's the title of this post. I'm sure any long time reader of this blog must have suspected that I collect thread snips from various projects. I pile them up into little cubbies until I figure out a way to use them. I try to keep them in color families, but sometimes I fail and then I don't stress about it.

Recently I thought they (the thread snips) would make a great texture representing a brick wall and heat rising. So I used them in this piece - Iron Spine: Hot in the City.
fire escape detail

another fire escape, more to follow, but please note the threads in the back ground



Iron Spine:Hot in the City ©Natalya Aikens 2017
As you might suspect, I have a few more thread nests to unravel. Here's some that I am using for the sky in a piece about water towers. Still working on this one.
teasing out the thread nest over repurposed plastic

sketching out the water towers

building up the rungs
Stay tuned! Hopefully this piece will be finished before the end of the month..

a conversation

As I prepare to share some of my art with you, please enjoy this interview recently recorded with Nathalie Kalbach. It's really more of a conversation than an interview, Nat is lovely to talk to! And you'll love her new book Artful Adventures in Mixed Media! So grab your favorite beverage and settle in...

click for the interview!

slow art

Happy New Year! Wishing you all lots of love, peace and creativity this year!

I wanted to share the progress of my current XL artwork. I started it sometime in November, and if you follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you may have seen a few posts about it. It's truly slow art... it's quite large (for me) and is all hand-stitched so far. Thus the time factor. I am working on it in bits and pieces and sometime spurts of time. I take breaks to work on other art, some faster more immediately gratifying art. But I am really enjoying the pace of it.

This piece is a continuation of the experiment that I started last year with this piece. It's coming back soon from a photoshoot with Quilt National, and I cannot wait to see how it works with this new piece.

So here's how it's been coming along...
I cut out a very large paper stencil of a fire escape and traced in thread

audio books are great to listen to when I do this type of work, podcasts are great also

it started to look like this

the base is a very old linen bed sheet from my family, it might have even been used a drop cloth once as there are white paint splotches on it. I spent some quality time mending all the worn spots.

this is what it looked like when the stencil outline was done

then I started pinning bits and pieces of vintage lace to it


I intend to cut away some of the lace after it's stitched down

this is what it looked like at the beginning of the process. The idea behind all the lace layers is that I want it to resemble/represent a wall behind the fire escape

just lace didn't work, so the fabric scraps came out to play

this started looking better!

and better!

somehow it took on a spring like feeling... I don't think it'll stay...

this is when I got done layering my scraps and lace. Now I have to stitch it all down and cut away the excess so that the fire escape can be seen again

it's off the wall and on my dining room table, and I'm auditioning threads. Not only will they need to keep it all together for me, but they'll need to add color and texture
Stay tuned! I am trying to stick to working on it for at least an hour a day. I have lots of other projects that I have to be working on, but I don't want this to stagnate. Or keep taking up my dining room table....

something different

My friend Jane always challenges me. She's very good at it. Come to think of it... I think she might be responsible for planting the seed for all my 3D artworks.

And here's the latest one. Jane provided the wood block, as she's good with power tools also. And I covered the wood block with my art. I repurposed some older work that no longer felt right, used up some scraps from other pieces, added a ton of hand stitches. I'm pretty proud of what came to be. It's kind of raw and different and mine at the same time.

Urban Tower (three views) Natalya Aikens © 2016

Urban Tower Natalya Aikens © 2016 





By the way, you can see Urban Tower at the Nest Arts Factory until November 15th.

framing things

I have been focused on the business side of art lately. (With a bit of teaching prep thrown in!) And that meant frames this time!

I have listened to advice of experts and spent the time (and money) and framed quite a few of my pieces. Let's just say it's been a learning curve.... I have been adhering my embroideries to stretched canvas for a long time now, and then painting the edges, and I really love that look. So I was afraid that it would get spoiled in a frame. But it's just a matter of the right frame though... I went for simple and black, some shadow boxes, no glass, except for three little pieces that benefitted from mats also.

So here are some examples:
my dining room table production line...


you can see the three glassed and matted pieces here
I even framed two larger pieces. This is a corner of Iron Spine 4
Manhattan Bridge got framed
so did the Whitestone bridge

I really liked putting my abstracts on a white background and a shadow box.

Tappan Zee bridge got framed, I'm waiting patiently to do the new TZ soon!

Iron Spine 1 also got framed.
I am resisting putting these pieces up on my website as I have a few events coming up where they will up for sale. So if you're interested in these just shoot me an email! natalya@artbynatalya.com

fire escapes, bridges and water towers

I thought it's about time that I shared full images of all the new pieces I have created in the past few months. Now that I have premiered them at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show, it is time to see them on the blog. So without further a do here they are: 
Iron Spine 1xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Iron Spine 2xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Iron Spine 3xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Iron Spine 4xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Iron Spine 5xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Water Tower 1xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Water Tower 2xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Water Tower 3xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Water Tower 4xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Water Tower 5xs (6"x6") © Natalya Aikens 2016
MNHB span (12"x12") © Natalya Aikens 2016
TRIboro span (12"x12") © Natalya Aikens 2016
TZB span (8"x8") © Natalya Aikens 2016
WHTstone span (8"x8") © Natalya Aikens 2016
GWB span (8"x8") © Natalya Aikens 2016
Soon I will have these up on my website with juicy detail images. Stay tuned! And thanks for stopping by!

afterglow

The show that I have been preparing for all summer has come and gone.. Funny how that is, isn't it? You think, you plan, you work, rework, work more and more, reconfigure, pack, repack, set up, lose sleep, work the show... and then poof! and it's over. But as exhausting as it was, today I am basking in the afterglow of it all.

I am very happy with the new work that I created specifically for this show. Happy with the older work that I was able to display. Happy with my display too, thanks to the friends from whom I borrowed equipment and the friends that helped me decide on the set up and then helped me take it all down. Thanks to all the friends to who came to visit me at the show and supported me with their kind words.

It was a wonderful weekend in every possible way, from the weather to crowds to the booth neighbors. And to all the lovely people to who complimented and bought my work!

Here are a few pictures of how my booth looked. This was the first way I set everything up. A few hours later on Saturday I reconfigured things, but was too distracted to take new pictures. I have never before talked about my art as much as I did in these two days. People needed explanations of not only my techniques, but also of my materials and my reasons why I do what I do! So it was a great experience for figuring out the best way of explaining it all, over and over. Talk about refining my elevator pitch!




And then on Sunday... I was in for a HUGE surprise! I got an award for Best New Artist! It was a total shocker for me as you can see in the photos below. The award is brand new and is given out in the name of Sylvia Rogers, who was a long time supporter and co-chair of the Armonk Outdoor Art Show. Her whole family was there to present the award, it turned out to be quite a big event.
that's the look of shock on my face..

posing with the whole Rogers family, that's Sylvia's husband in the green sweater
co chairs of the exhibit, Marian Hamilton and Susan Geffen

I am honored and humbled to be the first time recipient of the Sylvia Rogers Best New Artist Award. Thank you Rogers family and the Armonk Outdoor Art Show!!
PS Thanks to Sam Morrell for the pictures. And the video below (hope it works, fingers crossed!)



details

They say it's all in the details. And the details are what I have been focusing on in the last week or so.
Over the summer I have been preparing for the Armonk Outdoor Art Show. I have created ten new small artworks, five new medium artworks and have wired for hanging several large artworks which have been created over the last two or so years. I created a banner, participated in a preview exhibition, figured out booth logistics and I'm almost ready! Now I have to make labels and lists and decide on the display. This is the first time that I will be participating in such a show, so perhaps next time the prep will be be easier.

Here are a few enticing details so that you get a taste of what I've been up to.
edge painting is a bit like cake frosting


can you tell there have been a lot of edges to paint?








Full reveal is coming up soon! And if you're in the NY tri-state area, I hope to see September 24th and 25th!

XL

I just scrolled back through my blog entries to see when was the last time I mentioned about this large piece that I have been working on.... February! Geez, how time flies... I thought that perhaps I have mentioned it since, not here, but I did on Instagram.

Perhaps I wrote about it so few times because the progress on it has not only been slow (hand-stitching!) and also in fits and starts. Weeks went by between bursts of activity as I pondered where to take it next. I layered imagery of my beloved fire escapes one at a time, slowly, in what turned out to be a slightly abstracted composition.

Late last night I took the last few stitches and declared it finished. Haven't taken any official pictures yet, I intend to do so next week, so meanwhile here is a whole slew of closeups! Presenting a peek at Iron Spine 5XL.










It measures 77"x 51". The base is an old linen sheet that has served my family so well that it's threadbare in spots. ( I have a few more of those rescued for future stitching.) It has layers upon layers of repurposed plastic bags stitched to it by hand, a few dryer sheets, and some vintage lace. I've used a variety of threads: rayon, linen, cotton and paper pine which was snow-dyed eons ago.

Believe it or not, I cannot wait to get started on the next threadbare sheet..... I think I know exactly what I want to do to it!

getting close

My first mini-series is almost finished. The hand-stitching is done, now I just have to adhere them to canvases, trim, paint the edges and wire for hanging. I think I'll leave that for a bit later when I'm not in the mood to stitch, because I'm really in the mood to keep stitching.

I've had the pleasure of keeping really long studio hours while my kids were in camp and really got into the groove. Now the kids are back and studio hours are kind of limited, until they go on their next adventure, but I'm squeezing in every minute I can.

I'll reveal the miniseries in its entirety when all the edges are finished. Meanwhile, here is a tease close-up of each one.

First the fire escapes, they are done with the simplest, cleanest stitches.





And now the water towers, these turned out to be much more complicated than the fire escapes.






Next up - bridges, or perhaps bridge parts.... I'll let you know soon!

architecturally fitting

I am delighted to have another exhibit opportunity this summer with a group show "Diverse" at the law offices of Ashenfelter, Slous, McDonough and Trefenen in Montclair, NJ. It is a wonderful industrial office space that is a perfect fit for the City Lines series from my portfolio.

Here are a few pictures of the exhibit. The opening reception is past, but of you'd like to see the exhibit and you're not a client at ASM&T, contact me and I'll be happy to show you around.

Architectural Fragments and Urban Perspective
Sunrise and Specular Reflection
Specular Reflection and Architectural Fragments
Sunrise
Home Portraits (on loan) and three different fire escapes

Next up - lot's and lot's of hand stitching! Progress report coming up soon!

in the mail

I shipped off my piece today for the SAQA Auction 2016. Hope it raises lots' of money for this organization that helps provide so many opportunities to artists.

My artwork is a further exploration of fire escapes that I just can't get enough of. I'm calling it Iron Spine 3. The back ground is comprised of re-purposed plastic bags, machine stitched in the skyscraper architectural theme. The fire escape is hand stitched from various ribbons and cotton embroidery floss.



Iron Spine 3 © Natalya Aikens 2016