What first drew you to the world of textiles? How/when did you first get involved in rug making?
I’ve always been interested in folk art and craft traditions. After I finished school I just got an urge to try weaving so I found a yarn store in Minneapolis that offered classes out of the basement. Everyone worked on their own projects at their own pace so it was more like renting a loom than a formal class. All of the ladies in the class were very supportive and encouraging. Even after the time I brought in freshly dyed yarn that smelled like wet dog, they were still very nice to me.
What part of rug making/history interests you the most?
I love medieval Islamic carpet traditions. These rugs were incredibly labor and materially intensive and represented vast amounts of wealth, yet they could be folded up and transported easily. They could be used to cover the floor of a mosque or palace, or they could be the door covering for a tent. I think people today sometimes feel strange about physically interacting with an art object, but textiles are designed just for that purpose. It’s really similar to how I envision my own work being used. I don’t necessarily design pieces for a specific function and that’s one of the most engaging aspects of textiles.
I also fell in love with the village of Teotitlán del Valle when I was in Oaxaca. Many of the families in the village operate weaving studios out of their homes and it’s known as one of the major textile centers of the region. There were looms out on the porches, looms in open-air courtyards and many of them had their own racks of nopal where they were growing cochineal. There is also a tradition of hand-making equipment there so most of the looms and tools were handmade. In the US you see all these people with $10,000 looms and they can’t produce anything as technically proficient as the families in Teotitlán del Valle.
How did you go about learning about rug making? What steps did you take to start working in this medium?
Everything I learned about weaving initially was from my class at the yarn store. One of the things I love about weaving is that there are so many ways to correct mistakes. When you’re first starting out, learning those tricks is as important as learning the basics. I started dying my own yarn the same time I started weaving and much of that just came from trial and error. At first, I was using synthetic dyes which are very easy to control as long as you follow some simple steps. When I started getting into natural dyes I learned most of that from instructors at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn. I also did a residency in Oaxaca with a master dyer on his cochineal farm, which is where I got most of my cochineal recipes.
Tell us about your process, start to finish how you make your pieces. How long do they take to make?
I usually start by thinking about color. Sometimes it’s a matter of just being interested in developing a recipe for a certain color and I’m interested in the technical process. Sometimes I’m interested in a certain color because of the concepts behind it that I’ve been thinking about. From there I think about how that color will exist in the finished work. Is it going to represent movement or is the color going to be the dominant structure? I get a rough idea in my head of what the main composition will look like but I rarely draw it out ahead of time. I don’t just want to create a design and execute it. By leaving room for decision making while the piece is still on the loom my entire process from start to finish remains spontaneous, sometimes with mixed results…
I really dislike discussing how time factors into my work because for me it doesn’t. I’m making what I want to make and it takes as long as it takes. I think many people ask that question, unintentionally trying to “otherize” my work. That is they’re trying to separate process and craft media from other types of “fine art” where creative expression is defined by a single click of a shutter or a single brilliant brush stroke. Instant art is genius art, process art is just labor or something like that. It’s amazing how many people ask me this question and how few ask me anything else about the work after hearing the answer, which by the way is always made up. I don’t have a time clock that I punch in and out of every time I weave. It’s not something I have any interest in keeping track of.
Rather than ask how long it takes, a better question is why do you prefer this process to another? Do you see any benefits in the process or the final piece by choosing a more labor-intensive process? Do you miss having free time to do anything else?
As you are starting to naturally dye yarn for the rugs, how has this process informed the direction of your work?
Unlike synthetic dye, every little thing can impact the final color you get from the natural dyestuffs. This can make it incredibly difficult if I have a certain color in my head and I’m trying to match it perfectly. I also, no matter how many times I have been told, don’t write down any recipes or save samples of dyed yarn to refer back to. I still dye in a more painterly way. Throw a little more of this or that in the pot as I start to see the color develop. I’ve ruined some yarn before by being too impulsive with the additives but I’ve also discovered some new hues. There’s definitely a rush of exhilaration in the process. I also love how this method allows me to make choices and sometimes makes choices for me. I might want to use a certain color in a large block in once piece but if the hue comes out different than I had expected it could force me to change the composition to adapt.
You’ve created your own looms to work on. Was this out of a necessity for a unique size? How does woodworking play a part in your studio practice?
The first time I built a loom was right when I started weaving, it was just a simple frame loom. I really wanted one at home, but knowing myself I knew I shouldn’t just buy a real loom until I was really committed. The next time I built a loom was during my residency at TAC. I wanted to weave a piece that was as big as possible so I built a loom the width of my studio space. My interest in building my own equipment also goes back to what I was saying earlier about Teotitlan del Valle. When you go online here to find a loom there are so many that are industrially made and cost thousands of dollars. It’s made it so that weaving in the US is a hobby for the middle class, who else can afford a loom and have room to keep it in their house? For me, it’s been incredibly important to reclaim that part of the process from commercialization. Of course, I have to buy lumber and hardware but in the end, the loom is still 1/10th of what it would cost to buy pre-made, and I get a loom that has all of the features I need.
There may also be a little bit of post-apocalyptic survivalism in there. Once the ruling class fully destroys the planet and we lose access to cheap factory-made textiles, it doesn’t matter if you know how to weave if you don’t know how to build a loom.
Where/what do you look to for inspiration? Has this changed over time or stayed constant?
For a long time, I’ve been obsessed with particle physics and in particular the physics of light. For one, I’m constantly in awe of the scientific discoveries we’ve made about our universe from simply analyzing the light of stars, or how the light changes as it passes through the atmosphere of an exoplanet. That we can understand such profound things about worlds so far away using such elemental pieces of our make-up is something that constantly inspires me.
There’s also this element of truth. Hydrogen is or is not present in the atmosphere and that can be tested and rested by independent scientists. It’s not like arguing about whether the moon goddess is blessing cancers with a scorpio moon rising or whether god loves american capitalism. There is an inherent truth that’s not dependent on personal beliefs.
In terms of functionality and location, where do you hope that your work will live? What would a dream location be to have your work displayed/live in?
One of the best things about textiles, and the reason I try to use stable construction techniques, is that they can be touched and used without causing damage. I create a piece, but it’s up to the owner to decide how she wants to interact with it. They can be hung, laid on the floor, rolled up and left in your closet. Once it’s yours you get to decide how it’s going to be present in your life.
Many of them I envision, and weave, as rugs to be laid on the floor. Since the piece is horizontal as it’s woven it’s just natural for me to picture the composition in terms of being on the floor, but they can really go in any environment.
Which artists or creatives do you look to for inspiration in rug making?
I love James Turell’s installations. I picture one day having a 12-foot loom and being able to create work that can inhabit a space the way his light installations do. I also think about Josef Albers’s color exercises a lot. The color of yarn can look so different depending on if it’s tied in a loose skein or tightly woven into a piece and the way the colors interact with each other changes so much as well.
Do you have any upcoming shows or events you are excited about?
I’m super excited about showing work at Heirloom. I love how different contexts add a different meaning to the work. Being shown alongside Heirloom’s collection of amazing vintage pieces from around the world makes me picture what my work may look like in 50 or 100 years. I would be so honored if at that age my rugs were still considered desirable.
Is there anything we haven’t covered that is important to you or about you that we should share?
I want my work to be both approachable and multifaceted. I want the viewer to bring their own experience to the piece, rather than have me dictate how it should be viewed. But I also want people to start thinking more deeply about textiles and their relationship to labor.
I see people initially unsure of how to interact with my pieces because they don’t know if it’s supposed to be fine art, or if it’s craft, or if you’re supposed to walk on it or just look at it. Asking how long it took to weave is an easy way to try to categorize the work, but actually says almost nothing about the piece itself. I think this is largely because many people in the US have lost a real connection to textiles and the process of making. Our clothes are woven in factories overseas and rug designers and brands outsource production to areas of the world where the value of labor has been artificially devalued. It’s a strange world where textile production is more foreign than auto manufacturing considering how much more crucial fabric is to our daily lives.
Not everyone needs to know how to weave but it’s important that we all start to see the labor in the things that we buy. Was the rug woven overseas because of a long tradition of weaving and incredible technical skills, or was it woven there because the designer in the US wanted to increase profit margins? If you support a $15 federal minimum wage, what wage do you think a textile worker in a different part of the world should make?
Andrew’s work is currently for sale here
Photography by Lynn Hunter