My mom’s mother taught me. She would watch my sister and I when my mom was at work and she would always teach us a craft or have an art project for us. These art and craft days with my Grandmother are not only where I learned to knit, but they definitely shaped my lifetime goals and interests.
In my undergraduate studies as a painting major the pressure of filing a canvas was too much. To have a rectangle, to make a plan for the rectangle, execute the plan, and then edit until satisfied after leaving art history class and learning about and looking at all the great painters in history was too heavy a burden. I could not relax or work abstractly; I painted lots of representational figurative paintings, usually of wrinkly old women.
Knitting allowed me to use colors and keep productively working without being able to see what I was producing at the moment- so I could keep working without being overwhelmed with responsibility. I could work intuitively and spontaneously and experiment without editing. That’s how it started.
After I got more comfortable I eased into having taken more responsibility for the images- that’s where the painting came in. I could knit intuitively then pin it up on the wall and be able to formally visually react to it in a calculating, responsive and responsible way.
I think I am a very slow evolver. I was finally able to be prolific with knitting, but my motivations and inspirations seem to change at a snail’s pace.
At first it was a color and material study- I would grab whatever struck me, without thinking how the next patch would interact with the last patch. I made a lot of 3-d forms, used a lot of textures and different stitches.
Then I read Greenberg’s Modernism and I was a changed woman. I realized how important the image was. I am still infatuated with him, that article, and his formula. I made connections to his instructions on how to make a pure painting to my own instructions on how to distill knitting- so it could be that same kind of universal language. I got rid of crazy textured yarn- I only use one kind now, so that the textures do not become a focus. No more three dimensions, and definitely took all functionality out. With those things gone, the pieces can more easily flux between image and object.
After that revelation I was able to concentrate on color interactions within the pieces. Then I was crazy about rainbows and finding ultimate color combinations. Then I started thinking about Joseph Albers and color mixing.
Recently and right now I am interested in making installations that interact with the architecture of a room. At the same time I have been inspired by my houseplants- usually the exploding or falling has something to do with some part of a plant’s growing process.
When I started, the painting on the wall was a way to reconnect with the image I made while knitting. When I would cast off and pin the knitting on the wall, it was so uncomfortably foreign to me- since I would have been working on it for so long, only able to see it balled up in my lap. I was always surprised by the outcome. It was a way to identify my sensibilities with the abstract images and a way to be responsible for an end product.
More recently I use photoshop to preplan my ideas. I am now finally able to trust my ideas and execute them. However I don’t use the sketches while I’m making the knitting or installing or painting – I just use it to flesh out my ideas in the beginning.
When I am working on the knitting part of the work I watch a lot of series or movies, which is where I extract all of my titles. The majority of the titles come from the book or movie The Princess Bride, the food titles come from the TV reality show Hell’s Kitchen, and one comes from Lord of The Rings.
Although I watch a lot of different things, I only take titles from few. I take from the ones that have some value I want to instill in my work or myself. The Princess Bride is my goldmine. I am most excited about creating a distinct balance of irony and sincerity, which PB captures beautifully. When that balance is acquired the thing becomes neither ironic nor sincere; it transforms into something new. I feel it becomes something that is unable to be questioned, like a hypothesis that has not yet been tested. No one is arguing that it does work, they just believe and have faith and hope that it will work, even if it is the silliest idea on earth. Like the idea that you should coat your miracle pill in chocolate so it can more easily be digested and bring a dead person back to life so he can win his true love and help avenge the death of his friend’s father. Or the idea that you should try to reference nothing by painting large areas of flat color so that it can become a universal visual language for everyone to connect with. That excited unquestioned faith is what I am ultimately after.
But also from PB I want the true love, conviction, friendship, triumph, and commitment. I want Chef Gordon Ramsay’s handsomeness, high standards, and willingness to help. And, Lord Of The Ring’s magic and perseverance.
The level of connection I feel with the image after it is finished.
Right now, my studio is on my couch. I knit at home and when I need to make an installation I either have a physical place I was making it for, or I can create a room in Photoshop. After rearranging my apartment to make a blank wall I can take a photo of what I made, then cut and paste it into my new clean Photoshop room and make the ‘painting’ on that virtual wall.
I love lots of artists- Some of them that inspire me the most are Jim Lambie, Mike Kelley, Polly Apfelbaum- particularly their use of the room- They take them over in a specific way with amazing colors and textures- but instead of transforming them into something they were not, they sublimate and embellish while retaining original integrity.
The critic Clement Greenberg is who shaped my work the most- his essay, ‘Modernism’ made a huge shift in the way I thought about and made my installations and their flatness; he brought me back to painting ideas.
Richmond has a wonderful art community. There is always something exciting going on, and everyone seems to rally, be genuinely interested and supportive- even if they’re not directly connected with the artists’ community. It is easy to find good people to talk to, studios, shows, equipment, jobs, and a cheap quick JetBlue ticket makes for a lot of nice trips up to NY. Richmond is pretty great.
Right now I am in a group show in Brooklyn at Homestead, I have a few small pieces at Frederieke Taylor Gallery in Chelsea, and so far for the near future in I’ll be in a show in Santa Monica, California, and Pullman, Washington.
Thanks to Valerie for taking the time to answer our questions- check out more of her awesome work on her website here.