Maria Creyts is a Kansas City based artist whose focus spans photography, textile design, and digital medias. Her panorama format photography, or photo friezes, capture an arrangement of textile and surface designs. Maria Creyts is a graduate of Yale University School of Art. Her use of bold color, implementation of West African traditional design, and arrangement of various surface designs for her photography, attracted PatternBase to her for an interview.
First, talk about the medium and materials you work with. What made you choose these materials and medium?
My material is fabric, it’s the common element in just about everything I do. When in Nigeria last year, I was introduced as a textile artist; there’s an unusual appreciation for textiles there and I found a certain delight with the moniker there. Usually I describe myself as an artist.
Ten years ago there was a little cataclysm in my attitude toward studio: with my first Mac laptop I set out for the Big Apple where I signed up for a cell phone and lived out the summer in a Chelsea sublet while completing computer graphics courses at the School of Visual Arts. I was also producing photo silkscreen editions at the time and loved how newfound digital skills could work in tandem with the colorful, painty mess of traditional studio process.
My chief project in studio now is very long, panorama-format photography: photo friezes. I create the subject matter for these works from textiles and see the fabrics I use as a palette of color and pattern. I’m interested in introducing the “artist’s hand” into photography projects and to that end have been working with surface design methods on textiles. Through my production, I unite the realms of traditional studio with a digital approach. For me, this is a key interest.
I love to hear individual stories of what made artists choose their direction. Give a brief background on what led you to be an artist.
In high school I was recognized as an artist, it was the first time I considered myself to be an artist. I skipped lunch in favor of taking classes such as an independent study in ceramics. In that particular course I read of Ken Ferguson whose nation-wide reputation attracted me to Kansas City at 17. After completing my BFA, I went to graduate school at Yale for painting where the program calls for painters to study printmaking as well. Involvement in printmaking led me to photo silkscreen and that led to photography. Through Yale’s MFA program, I was “raised” in a culture of painters. The corridors of the Art & Architecture Building echoed with mention of Josef Albers, the color theorist and one-time Bauhaus artist, with whom some of our professors had worked decades before. I approach my work with the sensibility of a painter, color is a defining characteristic.
Your art fuses different media and functions in between media boundaries. Is there a reason why you choose to do this?
I have worked between 2- and 3-D and in a variety of disciplines ever since becoming involved with art. The inclination to integrate diverse disciplines feels natural, though it is complicated at points. I’m willing to sink teeth into tedious work or shift my mindset from solving sewing construction matters to learning specialized Photoshop techniques in the newest version of the program, and so on. My various projects are interrelated, yet the total picture is broad and you need to step back to take it all in.
Your work is presented differently through apparel in galleries and fashion shows, photos, installations and textile designs. Do people view them differently in each presentation? How so?
I presented a first fashion collection in Kansas City’s 2012 West 18th Street Fashion Show, a popular outdoor event in the gallery district that favors an artistic approach. My presentation was a kind of performance, goals included innovating with fabric design methods and fashion sensibilities from my time in Nigeria. I love how an individual animates the garment, it’s put in motion as a component of the persona. In 2012 I focused on custom clothing design toward refining sewing skills and in conjunction with the fashion show. I always envisioned using the clothing created for the fashion show as subject matter in photo projects – this was beginning of the concept for my current exhibit, “Bespoken,” at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Some viewers feel my sewn subjects are authentic works and tend to see the photo projects as reproductions. In this show both are presented, though you never see the subject and photo side by side – which teases the audience some. The painter in me relishes composition and this is something I control through photography. Two ensembles suspended on hangers almost appear to be gallery goers, drawing a comparison between what people walk in wearing and what’s on display. The installation allows an opportunity to be enchanted by both the sewn subjects and photographs that feature them.
What is something exciting you’re working on right now?
I’m preparing a workshop in adire eleko for Fairleigh Dickinson University students. We’ll use a traditional African paste resist to pattern lengths of fabric before dyeing with the idea of creating something to wear. This is a batik-like process, and I think of batik as wearable painting. It’s a sort of art that can be presented in an informal and immediate way – you just walk in wearing it. Nigerians sometimes hand pattern over existing commercially produced prints or woven plaids. The dual design is really entrancing. This suggests transforming fabric from old clothing into, say, a hat that incorporates one’s own painterly touch.
Describe your studio space, and how you work.
My studio, ESTUDIO mariaurora, is in Kansas City’s West Bottoms about a block from three of the city’s most popular galleries, the Dolphin, Bill Brady KC, and Plug Projects. It’s on the 5th floor with a spectacular view of Oz (downtown Kansas City, Missouri). I’m there every day and generally plan my days around my interns’ schedules. My studio is open from 5:30-8pm most First FridaysMy studio is open from 5-8pm most First Fridays.
What do you do to sustain your art practice and living as an artist?
In addition to revenue from sales, commissions, and occasional grants, I teach art school online.
Lately, there has been focus on artists who live in the Midwest instead of the coasts. What led you to a Midwest city, and what do you treasure about doing so? What are the benefits and disadvantages?
For me it’s the light, I’m like the impressionist who prefers Provence. Artist Philomene Bennett once said to me that since Kansas City isn’t north, east, south, or west, possibilities are wide open. From the Nelson to the Kemper to the Nerman, our museums are open free of charge. The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, opened in 2007, is the beneficiary of “angels” Marti and Tony Oppenheimer who are personally involved with amassing a notable portion of the collection. Collector John Hoffman organizes a monthly outing in a gesture that builds public appreciation of Kansas City’s offerings in the arts. Meanwhile Professor Vladimir Krstic and his M.Arch students envision how the city’s urban plan can be bettered district by district, and architect Charmalee Gunaratne organizes design charettes to afford services to Kansas City entities in need. Any day of the week I might chance to meet my own professor, Wilbur Niewald, whose studio is down the way from mine. In his mid-eighties, he paints daily and in weather that’s fair to middling he’s out putting an urban landscape motif on canvas on site.
Your photo friezes are an interesting mix of medias, and have been presented on billboards in various cities in the country. Explain your concept behind them.
With the printed friezes, there’s the option for a motif that stretches down the entire length of a wall in the context of a public art project or other architectural interior. The digital billboards I’ve shown on have a 7:2 aspect ratio, in terms of image formats this is an unusually wide composition that easily accommodates a length of frieze imagery. I have the digital files, of course, so I just showed my intern how to prep them to the proper specs and sent the files through the internet. It’s been a marvelous opportunity to show the work in different parts of the country, plus on an immense scale.
I used to have a studio in New Orleans, it’s a remarkable area that seeps with history. For my billboard presentation there I put together a series of “lace drawings,” photogram images I printed using a historic darkroom process that affords monochrome images in tones from dull violet to warm chestnut brown. The effect of the delicate compositions stylized through process and shown at a scale of 10’ x 35’ was magnificent.
What’s your advice to emerging artists and/or textile designers?
Guard and grow your individuality, invent your path. Art for free expression’s sake is a credo for those who aren’t especially interested in connecting with an audience.
What’s your preferred way of presenting your patterns?
My digital and freehand surface design work is intended for fabrics to be used in photo subject matter. The ideal with cycling photo friezes is a permanent installation that spans the length of a wall.
I love your use of bold colors. Are there particular patterns, textiles, or colors that you’re currently fixated on? Why?
I see paisley as being made up of so many pictorial vignettes. When working on a paisley drawn by snails’ trails in Africa, my teacher pointed out that the shapes resembled mangoes that grow on the great tree just out the studio door. Paisley designs are uncommon in Africa (though I did see a traditional design picturing snails creating the pattern). Another type of cloth you don’t see in West Africa is seersucker, an excellent hot weather fabric that comes in 100% cotton and doesn’t need ironing. Last year I block printed a design in hot wax on seven yards of grey, green, and ivory striped seersucker for a men’s suit and sewed a dress with a red sash from a fine red, white, and silver lurex pinstripe seersucker. I first became a fan of wax prints at a time when I lived in South London in what was largely an expatriate West African neighborhood, my favorites are pictorial ones; I once saw a young African woman in an outfit sewn from a wax print depicting rolling tires…
What artists are you currently inspired by? Are there any artists who have drawn your attention consistently?
Rather than any one individual, I’m really inspired by a Nigerian sensibility which includes an assertive personality, a keen sense of management, the kind of versatility that only Africans seem possessed of, an openness that makes Americans seem hopelessly aloof, and the prizing of lavish fabrics like hand-drawn batik and hand-dyed indigo, Swiss cut lace, and hand-woven aso oke. Two women who exemplify this are artists Niké Davies Okundaye and Peju Layiwola.
Artist Nataliya Bregel’s 2011 painting show, Loops and Strips, captivated me with its formats for exceedingly wide filmstrip-like compositions. Her wooden hoops suspended from the ceiling encircle the viewer’s head like oversized halos while he or she revolves within to take in the stripe of narrative painting on the inside surface. I’m an admirer of architect Joel Marquardt’s visible contributions to the Kansas City terrain that happen to include the 60 foot Kansas City Board of Trade Building mural as well as numerous public art projects, less formal in nature, that experiment with engaging an audience. Katie Coble and Jennifer Hunt’s 2011 collection presented at the West 18th Street Fashion Show seized my attention with blank, structurally convertible clothing that might suddenly spill forth fluttering, hand painted design. Photojournalist Rachael Jane’s sensitivity toward parts of Kansas City many avoid has led me to experience the black community’s uncommon warmth and showy fashion sense.
Favorite paintings from art history are ones by Sir Stanley Spencer that obsess over details of clothing, his 17 x 90 inch Promenade of Women, for example, and the flickering pattern-filled interiors of Vuillard whose mother was a dressmaker. You see an echo of what I love in a Vuillard in the paintings of Barbara Grossman.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
My exhibit, Bespoken (January 8 – February 8, 2013) was titled in relation to my focus on custom clothing design through 2012. “Bespoke” means custom made and often infers something created through the maker working closely with the client. I love this term both because it indicates uniqueness and for the ideas of collaboration and work completed to fill a certain need. “Bespoke tailors” in London’s Savile Row sew to measure, and having clothes made to measure is common practice in West Africa. My fashion show clothing was made to measure (particularly necessary when working with a 6’5” model), and I have lately sewn dresses to measure for myself, and for clients as bespoke projects.
Maria’s studio is open to the public for First Fridays from 5-8pm (except in cases when she’s away). It will be open this coming Friday. On March 7th, she will also present Design West Africa at Kansas City Design Week 2013 Pecha Kucha Night. It’s free, the doors open at 7:30 PM, and presentations start at 8:20 PM. It’s located in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art auditorium on 4525 Oak Street in Kansas City, Missouri.
Interview by Guest Contributor Audrey Victoria Keiffer