Sunday, March 22, 2020

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Modern Quilts!

I'm very excited to share that two of my quilts will be published in a new book by the Modern Quilt Guild (MQG)!  Modern Quilts: Designs of the New Century

The MQG has been an amazing support to me, and in 2016, my quilts "Places Unfold," and "Night Flight no. 1," won awards at QuiltCon in Pasadena, CA.
"PlacesUnfold," 2014, 1st Place for Handwork
"Night Flight no. 1," 2015, 2nd place for Improvisation

In 2017, the MQG recorded me in a webcast where I described my process in making these two quilts.  MQG members can watch the video for free here

I'm very excited that today three of my newest quilts from 2017 were accepted into QuiltCon 2018.  During the last year, I've been very excited about wholecloth quilts, and all of these works are the result of that exploration.
"Wholecloth, 2" 2017

"Wholecloth, 4" 2017

"But, I Tried to Remember" 2017

This is also the year that I've changed my MQG membership from being an individual member to being a member of the Chicago MQG.  While I've lived in Milwaukee for over two years, I was born in Chicago, and still love so much about the city.  The community in the guild is inspiring, knowledgeable, and talented.  Also, they bring in some really great speakers!!  

Last month I lectured and taught for the LA MQG, and got to show them my newest quilt, "Winter 36 Times," before I dropped it off at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Art (WMQFA) for their 3rd annual Fiber Arts Biennale: Keeping Warm.  This quilt is the follow up to "Places Unfold," and also a push forward since it's made entirely with hand piecing and hand quilting, and it has several textile 'artifacts' in it to add to the meaning.  I'll be teaching a workshop called "Improv Hand Piecing with a Specific Theme in Mind," about this approach on 1/27-28, at the WMQFA.

"Winter 36 Times" 2017

The new MQG book can be pre-ordered here

Monday, November 9, 2015

Night Flight Quilt Series at the Charles Allis Art Museum

"Night Flight no. 2"   58x57" WxH

"Night Flight no. 3" 75x57 WxH   

   At a very young age my mother showed me Georgia O’Keefe’s cloud paintings, and I was then hypnotized by the window every time I flew.  By the fourth grade I was flying solo to visit my grandmother in New Mexico and sketching the crops and patterns on the Earth in a self-made sketchbook.  While I grew up loving flight, there are a significant number of people who fear it.  This intense, visceral reaction to flight is part of the power of the series.

    In the winter of 2014 I pieced ‘Night Flight no. 1,’ while preparing for a January trip to Seoul, South Korea to see my college roommate, whom I hadn’t seen in a decade.  In November I’d flown from my home in Chicago to Florida to visit my mother, and I’d filmed many of the views from the sky.  'Night Flight no. 1' represents that moment of flying over an unknown city, while looking out the window of the plane.  ‘Night Flight no. 2’ depicts a moment much closer to the Earth, when preparing to land in an urban setting- I was inspired by a photo I took of Chicago, but it could be anywhere.   'Night Flight no. 3' was made with the exhibition at the Charles Allis Art Museum in mind.  The Allis family made their fortune selling farm equipment, and the city of Milwaukee was much smaller when they built the Allis home (now the museum) in 1911.  This quilt depicts an imagined moment in flight above Milwaukee that includes the lake on the right, and a large expanse of agricultural space on the left.  It is richly pieced in the dark areas to highlight the complexity of nature and agriculture in areas that are devoid of light and appear 'empty' when flying overhead at night.  The 'latitude lines' in this quilt are sewn in navy blue pearl cotton.
   In both quilts I used a Seminole Patchwork technique to create a grid affect for the lights. It was by far, the most efficient and appropriate technique to use.  It is an interesting choice symbolically: the Seminole Indians originally lived in Florida, but in the 1840’s they were forcibly moved West of the Mississippi, mostly to Oklahoma.  About 200 Seminoles remained in Florida, and they have since had many lawsuits over land and have had a continued presence in Florida.  In the 1920’s they were introduced to the sewing machine in Florida, and that is when they invented the Seminole Patchwork technique, because of its efficiency for pattern making with the sewing machine.  This history amplifies the transient nature of maps, countries, and clusters of human population.
   My hope is that the work allows the viewer to contemplate place, the nature of a map, and the way a map differs from the actual sight of that same location when seeing it from above.  We draw visible lines in the Earth all the time with roads, and draw invisible lines on the Earth with maps and latitude/longitude lines.  It is only very recently that the Earth has begun to glow at night.  Just 200 years ago, without the light from homes and roads, the scene would have been very dark. 
   I like that the images depicted are beautiful, and fill me with awe.  I like that they depict scenes that are ever changing.  This reminds me of reading Proust, that we experience many selves in a lifetime, and even in a day.  Chicago is named the second city because the first was burnt down in a fire.  Between 2005 and 2015 I have witnessed countless changes in Chicago- it is a new city every day.  How does that idea show up in my art? I piece improvisationally.  This means that I don’t use a grid, specific plan, or even stick to a particular source image.  I sew areas of patchwork together and then pin them to my design wall.  I arrange the pieces together as I go.  I studied Jazz and Blues Aesthetics at SAIC, and I’ve researched a great deal about African American Quilting.  I see the evolution of cites, and the geography of the planet as an improvisational patchwork as well- we are constantly co-creating the way our world looks from above.

    One of my favorite qualities of quilting is that the resulting image is layered.  The fabric, piecing of the fabric, and quilting each tell a story.  It creates the opportunity tell many stories, and show a complex image to the viewer.  I quilt using Japanese Sashiko style stitches.  I use the technique because the large stitches can be seen.  The traditional Western stitch is ideally so small and regular that it looks ‘as good as if a machine did it.’  I prefer the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi.  The perfect mistake.  Sashiko quilting is sill usually very regular, organized, and they draw a template on the fabric to follow.  I also quilt improvisationally, meaning that I sew without lines to follow, and allow myself to create the quilted pattern in the moment.
   The night flight series is my only exception to that.  I use tape to follow as I quilt so that I maintain horizontal lines across the surface.  These lines represent latitude, an invisible set of lines that we have drawn on the Earth to aid in navigation.  Still, they waver in places- it is a nod to the hand, and like a bit of occasional static in a television screen- a reminder that they are invisible.

    The fabric is another key element for creating meaning in the work.  In #2 I found three dye lots of the same navy blue fabric.  These three subtle variations work together to create complexity in the large expanses of darkness- they activate the negative space.  In #3 I used black fabric instead of navy.  When composing the lights, I included fabric from two vintage dresses, likely from the 40’s.  I purchased them in the early 2000’s and used to wear them for special occasions.  In other quilts like ‘Beginners,’ ‘Lots of Cream, Lots of Sugar,’ and ‘Flower Fence,’ I have used vintage tablecloths.  The sourcing of fabrics and the inherent conversation about the transformation over time are important to me in the work, especially as it relates to the Earth itself changing over the same time period. 

    Flight has become a highly structured, rigid, fearful, controlled experience in our post- 9/11 world.  That is not at the forefront of my mind with this work.  It is much more about the joy of flight, and the constant fluctuation of the Earth’s surface.  I am interested that this art might spark conversations about topics like flight control, immigration, border control, light pollution, electricity, and globalization- but it is not at the core of the work.  Similarly, I titled the series after the ‘Night Flight’ novely by Antoine de Saint-Exupery because of the joy he expresses for flight.  While there is a connection to WWII, and his death at sea, it is not my primary focus.  In an age where flying can be a hassle, this series looks to reinvigorate that experience as a reminder of the wonder and excitement inherent in flight.

   Many people who fear flying do so because of the lack of control.  This work is about a lack of control, impermanence, co-creation, living in the moment, and my enjoyment of those things.  When Lisa Walker England wrote about me in her blog recently, she cited ‘freedom’ as a guiding element in my personality and my art.  I do feel free flying, I think it’s absolute magic that I can literally be in the clouds for a while, and then land in ‘another world’ in a days time.  Our planet, and life itself are anything but static or predictable.  The improvisational approach in this series is a nod to the ever-changing qualities of the Earth’s surface.

Night Flight no. 1 and 2 are currently on view in the Charles Allis Art Museum in Milwaukee as a part of the "Threshold" exhibition curated by Niki Johnson.
"Night Flight no. 4"  34x48"

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Bradford, and Having a Conversation with One's Art Materials

    Recently my friend Matthew Lanci & I had a great conversation about artistic collaborators. That my first love of pottery introduced me to 'The Kiln Gods,' and that in works since, I've looked for collaborators in nature, time, found paper, antique lace, and fabric. Matt is doing a beautiful photography series on his instagram where he looks for landscapes in the dirt on the street. Both of us feel inspired by the aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the perfect mistake as collaborator.  
   While piecing my quilts, I will often have YouTube or Ted on in the background.  Last night, while working, I stumbled across this wonderful lecture.  This Un-Private Collection video with Mark Bradford and Katy Siegel reflects on the conversation that Robert Rauschenberg and Bradford have with their found materials, "It's about not having the fantasy that we're alone in the world."  Speaking to the idea that using art materials with a history imparts an interconnectivity in the art itself; moving it from artistic isolation to a larger conversation.
   I first heard Bradford lecture while I was a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago around 2003, and I was deeply inspired. I met him in person later in 2011 during his show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  I shared with him that he had caused me to think more deeply about my art materials, and that my art students in Naperville, IL were all learning about him. (Then he said that story made his night!) I taught for nine years, and my former students have nearly all seen his episode on PBS Art21, which means I've likely watched it about 70 times. I plan to re-watch this Un-Private Collection lecture several times this week, it's that good!

Flashback 2011, meeting Mark Bradford!!!
    In my recent work, I absolutely feel that it is conversational in nature.  A dot used to be so easy in paint, and now piecing it in cloth requires planning, strategy, and a ruler.  That new relationship creates limitations and obstacles that impact the work.  Moreover, the materials themselves have a way of speaking.  As Siegel mentions, it was important for Rauschenberg to start with something other than a white canvas.  As a quilter, I start with fabric, and all of those textiles have a unique history.  I've spent time this year collecting textiles from South Korea, Mexico, New York, Florida, Michigan, and in my home town of Chicago.  Some fabrics are new and have a history of place and print designer; others are vintage, gifted to me, or dyed.  While listening to this episode, I was piecing the next quilt in my "Night Flight' series.  I purchased navy blue linen at my local Jo-ann fabrics store, and I discovered that I had collected three different dye lots.  Rather than complain, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to have a conversation in my work. These three subtly different shades synchronized together to create something deeper.  A subtlety about the meaning of the piece, and an awareness of the complexity required to construct each dot of light in the cloth.

A photo of my quilt in progress, as captured on my instagram feed at @heidi.parkes

    I hope that you enjoy this conversation like I did:

    The first quilt in the series I refer to is, "Night Flight no. 1"
More images available at

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Art Quilts

See, and my Instagram account for the most up to date information on my art.

This summer I devoted myself completely to quilting, the results are below in these 6 pieces.  I have reflected a great deal on my work, and its direction.  In my new artists statement you, dear reader, will find many of the topics I have explored in previous posts, especially on the topic of memory:

In my work, I create a scaffolding of fabric, piecing, and quilting that allows me to reference many ideas on a single plane.   The raw materials are textiles from domestic culture, fashion, family heirlooms, and scavenged prints.  I integrate them with fabrics that I have embroidered, stained, dyed, or designed.  This cloth is then beset with hand stitches, evocative of the slow process involved in construction.  When composing these elements into a quilt I rarely adhere to a set pattern, relying instead on improvisation.  At times remindful of color-field painting, I often begin my work with an idea, feeling, or place.  I yearn to reconstruct my world employing aerial views, photographic documentation, and artifacts- all the while aware that my goal is far more complex than the visual of a single point in time.  The moments I choose to replicate are unique to me, and simultaneously innumerable in the lives of others.  Like so many women before her, my maternal grandmother planned a collaborative quilt to celebrate my birth, and introduced me to the art of quilting.  My work continues a family tradition, but congruently incorporates new information from varied quilting traditions, and my multidisciplinary training in art.  Often inspired by painters, I feel an artistic connection with Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter, Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin, Wiliam Kentridge, El Anatsui, Do Ho Suh, the quilts of Gee’s Bend, and the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi.

Beginners, 64x61' September 2014
 All cotton, machine pieced and hand quilted.  I am obsessed with the movie, 'Beginners.'  In this quilt I attempted to capture the feeling of the film, and especially the father's home.  The focus is a hummingbird and berry fabric that I found at Mood in New York.  I thought it was funny, dynamic, and interesting to look at when I purchased it.  The surrounding white fabric is my mother's tablecloth, around which I've celebrated untold holidays and celebrations.  The tablecloth was full of stains, and holes where a lace pattern was cut.  I deconstructed the tablecloth, and the embroidery that remains on it is a reward for the viewer who steps closer.  So much of the film is about new beginnings, and reinventing the self.  That freedom is evoked in the 2 bird patterns, and the quilting which is reminiscent of the wind in the air.  Its clean architectural lines and color blocking juxtapose with the lyrical quality of the wind, hummingbirds, and nostalgic family heirloom fabric.

Ice Cream, 56x58" September 2014

This all cotton strip quilt was machine pieced and hand quilted.  The fabrics are a combination of vintage heirloom, new prints and solids, and hand dyed by me.  The colors were chosen around the ice cream fabric I recently purchased, and the feeling invoked is that of the crisp summer air and sky.  The hand quilting was done with mint green crochet thread, and travels about the quilt in a haphazard and unconventional path.

City Landscape, 58x61" August 2014
 Three shades of herringbone linen mix with three shades of tan, machine pieced and hand quilted with pink DMC cotton thread.  The quilting pulls out the smallest hint of pink in the herringbone pattern of the middle blue.  Thinking of the city, more the way it feels than looks- this quilt encompasses areas of density and space.  I moved back to Chicago this summer, and the new feeling of living in a tight space, with the expanses of the lake, suburbs, and farmland so nearby influenced this work.

Ocean, 59x59" August 2014
Machine pieced and hand quilted in herringbone linen.  This quilt is inspired by Agnes Martin, and uses a grid to reveal a seemingly endless expanse of ocean and space.  At a distance, this quilt is composed of equally spaced squares on a background.  In traditional quilting, these squares and the background would be composed of identical pieces.  Upon closer inspection, however, my background is composed of long strips, small squares, and many haphazard pieces along the way.  The herringbone patterns in all the blues emphasize this disorganization by flowing vertically or horizontally at will.  Traditional at a distance, it is bold up close- much like the ocean which can be calm or rough.  Seen from above in an airplane it is a solid blue, but from the side of a boat it is full of waves, currents, fish, and reflections.

The Beach, 63x56" July 2014
 Machine pieced and hand quilted in cotton.  I was inspired by living near the beach, and traveling along lakeshore drive.  Some days the sky is bright blue, and others the morning fog is so thick that the horizon line becomes invisible.  Driving, I catch glimpses of the the beach, water, waves, the bulwark, volleyball nets, and boats- these peeks out my window create a fragmented view of the 9 mile expanse of water, and influence the abstract nature of the composition.  This work was hand quilted with DMC embroidery floss in varying shades of blue to create an ombre effect.  This allows the dark sticks to show boldly against the sky, and the light stitches to shine against the water.  The blues are hand dyed with synthetic dye, the browns were stained with coffee and red wine, the yellows were made with boiling turmeric powder, and the pinks and whites were store-bought.  Like the African-American quilts made in Gee's Bend, the border is not square, becoming thinner at the base.

Places Unfold, 59x59" June 2014
Cotton thread.  This is the most time consuming quilt I have made to date, easily logging over 80 hours of work.  I conceived the piece on the theme of wanderlust, as I was living in Naperville, and preparing to move.  These 36 equal squares each represent and aspect of travel, discovery, my personal history, and wandering.  The map in the top row is an accurate map of the Arc de Triomphe, while the maps on the right depicted my childhood subdivision, and current home at the time. There are views from above looking down at the Earth, and views looking skyward.  Many squares show wandering in various levels of order and disorder. Others diagram umbrellas at the beach, 6 lane highways, American cities and European cities, oceans, lakes, and rivers.  It is about the feeling of being on this planet, moving about the expanse of the Earth, and observing the wonders that exist at every turn. 
The back of "Places Unfold"
I find the backs of my quilts extraordinarily beautiful in their simplicity.  Each back is different, but they all offer an opportunity to highlight the hand quilting.  It is common to create evenly spaced lines, or to follow the pattern of the quilt's front.  In contrast, I use this moment to explore the handmade quality of my work. The hand quilting composes the majority of the time a quilt takes to create, and develops a scaffolded effect in the work between the quilting and the piecing.  In nearly all  my art in all mediums, I am attracted to the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi, the perfect mistake.  I allow the quilting to wander across the expanse of the work, and much like the transformation clay undergoes when in the kiln, I am surprised and in wonder at the visual effects hand quilting bestows on the work.  I use thick threads to quilt in the spirit of the Japanese sashiko technique which also emphasizes the stitches, rather than the Western aesthetic of 8 stitches per inch.