I have wanted to make mandalas for a long time. I’ve watched the Dali Lama’s monks make a mandala out of colored sand — an exacting, days-long process that was only complete when the sand was swept up and tossed into a local river. I’ve also had a copy of Paula Nadelstern’s Kaleidoscope Quilts – The Workbook for years, and, even though she walks the reader through several of her kaleidoscopes step-by-step, I have never fully wrapped my head around her process. I’ve even made a photoquilt of snowflakes formed from images of tree tops. But only recently did I finally resolve to take the first step on my journey towards making a mandala; I sat down with some photos and started cutting them into different shapes.
As I began cutting and sewing, I noticed that it was the mechanical images that seemed to work best in the mandalas. There was something about the details of the wires and tubes, bolts and chrome, metal and paint that creating compelling shapes from a distance but also held interesting details close up.
I worked with automotive images previously in my Wheels photoquilt, but this was from a different perspective. Whether you know your engines (“Hey, is that a flathead?”) or you find everything under the hood to be a bit mysterious (“What do you call that doohickey?”) there is something for your eye to explore and reflect on. Once I realized motors were my ticket, I made some prints from pictures I took at various car show this summer and got to work.
For about a week straight, I made a mandala a day, which was it’s own sort of meditative process. Some of the mandalas contain two or three different engines mashed together, others contrast a swath of paint from a fender or two with the concrete that the cars were parked on when I photographed them. Sometimes you can pick out valve covers and spark plug wires, other times there are just lines and shapes formed from assorted metalwork. In all of them, I noticed that when angular, robotic faces started to emerge from the shapes I knew the mandala was revealing itself to me.
I wouldn’t say I found inner peace in this work, at least not yet. But I have learned a lot about how to make mandalas. For me, creating art is about the process; I develop rules for what works and what does not, I iterate, I ameliorate. To make a mandala, I had to just start somewhere and just start making something. I had to take that first step.
This photoquilt was inspired by a box that my wife and I brought back from our honeymoon in Italy. The box is about six inches wide and is made of strips of semi-precious stones which were likely leftover from the other pieces for sale in the shop. When we asked what the pattern was called, we were told they call it “spaghetti.” We both loved the “use the whole buffalo” approach to the creation of the box as well as the overall effect of the random mix of stones, so we splurged and bought the box.
Last year, we finally had the chance to travel back to Europe where I was struck by the unique and colorful doors throughout the oldest part of Montpellier, France. I took pictures of hundreds of them for Les Portes de Montpellier. When that photoquilt was finished, I still had scores of prints left over. What to do? Cut them into strips and sew them back together, obviously.
The similar palettes first gave me the idea that this could work. The jewel tones in the doors of Montpellier are what first drew me to photograph them and the link to the colors in the box was obvious. The European connection and the approach to making use of otherwise discarded materials also tied the two together. There is also a sort of re-imagining of the image here. Unlike most of my other quilts, the subjects of the photos are almost completely obliterated. This results in a focus on the almost painterly surface instead of the details of each individual photo.
The spaghetti box and the Spaghetti photoquilt are two of my favorite souvenirs of our rare European adventures.
Coming up for a name for this photoquilt was actually a bit of a challenge. Originally, I was thinking about something clever like Give Me 300, a nod to the number of high fives in all of the photos. But in the end, I settled on Blanket because the quilt looks so much like a woven blanket from the American Southwest, Mexico, and many other places. In fact, the blanketness was so compelling that I used multicolored cotton thread and added some decorative stitches in addition to those that sew the photos together. So, in a way, Blanket has more quilting than most of my other photoquilts.
The original photo that I used for this photoquilt was taken by my friend Mark Koenig at Ohio State’s Knowlton School of Architecture, a location that has previously been the subject of one of my Ohio Star photoquilts. When I was talking to Mark about making an Ohio Star photoquilt using one of his photos, I chose two images as possible subjects. This is the one I didn’t use. I love the colors and the composition, but in the end I didn’t think the lines would work well in an Ohio Star. After deciding it wouldn’t make a good Ohio Star, I laid the prints out in neat rows, which brought out a repetitive, woven quality. The repetition is similar to several of my other non-Ohio Star photoquilts. But in those quilts, each image varies veryslightly (or fully, completely), whereas in Blanket there is simply a single photo and its mirror image.
What started as a stack of rejected prints has become a bridge between my different series of photoquilts and a chance to try new quilterly techniques. The result has a certain comfortableness that wears the name Blanket well.
The Ohio State Fair attracts almost a million visitors to Columbus each summer. Whether you go for the animals, the butter cow, the deep-fried foods, the games, or the rides, as the cliche goes, there is something for everyone. This photoquilt came out of a series of panoramas I took at the fair in 2015. In this photo, both the straight and the curved lines of the ferris wheel reflect and refract against the cloudy blue sky as fairgoers stream past or line up for a ride. The wheel never fully resolves into a circle, instead merging into its neighbors, each of which is held in place by red steel girders which sometimes float in the sky. The overall effect is like that of a zipper, stitching the fair to the sky.
I usually choose more austere subjects for my quilts because I tend to be drawn to clean lines and shapes, like in the Columbus Museum of Art. But there are times, like in Ohio Stadium, when I can’t avoid a crowd, which usually sprials off into a tunnel of heads and feet. When I use pictures with cleaner shapes, I feel like I have more control. But, sometimes, I need to step outside of my comfort zone to see what happens when I start with a photo that is a bit messier and less organized. Sometimes art, like life, and like the state fair, can be a bit messy and hard to control.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the finest zoos in the country. Opened in 1927 and made famous by Jack Hanna, the Zoo has recently opened polar and African savanna regions. On a recent school field trip with my youngest daughter, I was wondering how I would capture this sprawling place in one photo. The front gates make a nice picture, and the manatees are a unique favorite, but neither one could really be framed in the way I wanted. Fortunately, we made our way to the polar bears during feeding time. There was a crowd up top, so we moved down below the water, where the bears were diving in and swimming around after bits of fish that were being tossed in by the keepers. The fish that swim with the bears were also enjoying a meal. With everything swimming around and the morning sun shining through the water, I got several interesting pictures of the bears, the fish, and the rays of light streaming through the water. When sewn into to the Ohio Star pattern, the diving bears multiply and the fish become brushstrokes that create shapes and designs that I didn’t expect. Overall, the palette really captures the feeling of being underwater.
This is the first piece I’ve done in collaboration with another artist and, therefore, the first time I’ve based a photoquilt on a photo that I didn’t take. I’ve always liked my friend Mark Koenig’s photos because of his eye for dramatic color and line. I recently gathered enough courage to pay him my ultimate compliment, “I like your photos so much that I’d like to cut them up and sew them back together.” I admit that this is an odd compliment to pay someone, but Mark knew what I meant and agreed to lend me a photo for a photoquilt. I first met Mark here in Columbus, and he took this picture in Ohio, so an Ohio Star photoquilt seemed appropriate.
After talking with Mark about a few of his photos, we decided on this image because of the jewel-toned color palette, the interesting angles, and the shape of the lights and the shadows they cast. It was taken at Knowlton Hall at Ohio State, which I’ve photographed for a photoquilt before, but working with someone else’s photo put an interesting spin on the process. For example, I usually don’t include people in my photos, but Mark’s friend Tiffany appeared in this one. I was leaning towards cropping the photo in a way that excluded her, a slight that he assured me she would forgive, but her boots and their shadows still managed to sneak into the corner of the image.
In the end, some of the shapes and patterns that are seen in my other Ohio Star photoquilts appear again in this piece, but, at the same time, Mark’s work shines through and the result is a unique combination of both of us.
Hagerty Hall is the home to foreign languages at Ohio State. The recently renovated building features an open central courtyard with brightly colored, Lego-like modular chairs that can be moved around to suit the conditions of the day. These chairs, against the wall of glass windows, form the subject of this photoquilt.
This photoquilt was inspired by a three-week trip to Montpellier, France. Like many North Americans, I marveled at the age and ornament of many everyday things. In particular, the carved wooden doors to the apartments in the old city were striking to me. Most were surrounded by limestone arches and each one was unique. Walking through the winding streets, all of the doors start to look the same, but by viewing them together, some of the subtle differences can be seen; the different colors of paint, the different shapes and proportions, the different textures in the walls.
This is my first photoquilt that has a front and a back. The front includes the nicest, cleanest, and most colorful examples of the doors I took. The back includes the grittier side of things: graffiti, stray wires and pipes, even some places where doors used to be. The difference is akin to the perfect side of the door we present to the public and the imperfect side that we keep to ourselves. And although we made some good friends in Montpellier, it wasn’t always as easy as we would have liked to open the door to new relationships.
This photoquilt, composed of a series of self portraits, is a follow up to Pickles Are Gross from 2009. Like Pickles, this quilt is composed of 144 photos — a gross — each with a slight variation from the previous. In You’re Not Going To Wear That, Are You?, the photos include every combination of twelve shirts and twelve pairs of pants. Additionally, the subject is looking in the direction of the placement of the photo. For example, in the top right photo, I’m looking up and to the right.
This piece is unique in that it took longer to take the photos than it did to sew the quilt together. For each pair of pants, I changed my shirt, set the camera timer, and struck a pose. I repeated this for the next shirt, the next, and the next until I had posed in all twelve. Then I repeated the process for eleven more pairs of pants. The photos were taken over two days which was a surprisingly exhausting schedule. In fact, I almost gave up after the third pair of pants, but I saw it through. But didn’t go shopping for a new shirt the rest of the year.
This quilt was displayed along with Ohio Star: State Fair at the 2016 Ohio State Fair, where it won the McConnell Art Center Award.
Ohio Stadium is a mecca for Buckeye football fans. In this photoquilt, the sea of fans recedes almost to the horizon within the stadium and individuals morph into each other. The shadow cast by the upper deck creates a striking black line that curves with the horseshoe shape of the stadium. The 24″ x 24″ quilt was on display at the Homeport Gallery through October 2015. The full-sized 4′ x 6′ quilt was completed at the end of October 2015.