May 11, 2015
Rob Watt and I meet at Molecule, a new coffee house at the north end of the Santa Fe Arts District, at 12th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive.
May I ask you your age?
Can you tell us bit about your earlier years?
I was born and raised in Denver, living in Lakewood, Green Mountain, and in Mount Vernon. Both my parents worked for the Denver Post. My father was a columnist whose beat was television. He was a television critic and he also wrote about the medium in general. My mother was the Society Editor. My brother also worked for the paper as a copy editor.
Journalism is in your blood. Did you ever work in the field?
Yes, when I was younger. I had studied graphic design for my second Bachelor's degree and for many years I did paste up, literally cutting and waxing. Rather than work for the Post, I worked for suburban newspapers such as the Villager in Greenwood Village. I also worked for the Western Livestock Journal, waxing photographs of cattle. I continued with "paste up" as it evolved into desktop publishing.
When did art become a part of your life?
I have memories of my dad using black ink to draw and paint, and I remember thinking, "I want to do that"! I had the good fortune to attend public schools in Jefferson County. Art was always offered as a part of the curriculum. My art teacher high school, Mr. Jerry Rosenthal, made a real impression on me. He seemed to live the life of an artist. He talked about his work, and his commissions. I seemed to do my best work when he was my teacher. I had work entered in exhibitions and won the Scholastic Award twice - a state-wide competition.
Earlier you had mentioned your "second Bachelor's". Tell us about that.
When I went to college at Colorado College (CC) in the Springs I began as an English major. After a year I switched over to art. CC had a block plan for classes where you took one class intensively for a month. You focused on that to the exclusion of everything else. It was great. In the morning it was the academic side and then in the afternoon is was studio, for as long as you wanted. I really had the opportunity to work on art, on all kinds of art. Still, I was concerned that having this (first) degree in studio art would not help me to find work. Six months after graduating with this degree I enrolled at C.S.U. to study graphic design.
While at C.S.U. I studied many aspects of commercial art, such as layout, typography, and poster design. It was also here where I was introduced to fiber art.
How did that happen?
I knew I would be taking studio art classes along with those focused on graphic design. The school had a policy of requiring you to enroll in two art "sample classes". The art classes that I wanted were closed and so I was compelled to take a class in metal-smithing and fiber. My initial reaction was "ugh, fiber!" I did really like the first class; and the teacher, Tom Lundberg, was very enthusiastic. We studied all kinds of fiber art, from tapestry and weaving with large looms, to batik, to tie-dye. A year after I completed C.S.U., in 1986, I took an intensive studio at the Arvada Center, taught by Tom and the artist Connie Lehman. The studio focused on embroidery and Russian needle-punch, known as Igolochkoy.
So your movement into embroidery was serendipitous, and it steadily intensified...
Yes. From about 1987 I was exclusively engaged with embroidery. Around this time I had some work shown at the Foothills Art Center, where I sold a piece. This was very encouraging. My production at this time was slow, perhaps I produced one piece of embroidery in a year. I was new to it and not yet very skilled. Over the years my production has increased significantly even though I try now to work only during the day when the light is better. There are so many subtleties to the colored thread.
Can you please tell us a bit about your artistic process?
After I develop the idea, the subject for the embroidery; I procure a hoop of the desired dimension, from 3" to say 14" in diameter. Over this hoop I stretch an Italian silk, and onto this taut silk drum I transfer the desired image that I have selected. My images usually come from subject matter that seems to have captivated me over the years; familiar landscapes, 1950s vignettes, geometric patterns, Egypt. Sometimes I find images in books and make copies.
Once I begin the actual embroidery I apply the thread usually in horizontal stitches. To strengthen the work I "couch" the thread by applying the thread perpendicular to the horizontal. This not only adds strength; this is where great beauty and depth is added to the work.
I consider embroidery to be painting with thread. I see a linkage between the work that I do and the kind of painting done by the Post-Impressionist Georges Seurat. In those paintings pure color was applied in such small increments. At a certain distance these pure colors would meld and create a richness. This is what I think about and strive for in my work.
Have you considered creating abstract images?
No. I see myself as a representational artist. I like to show what things look like through the medium of embroidery. I like to translate photographs and objects from life to maintain a certain amount of realism. Currently I am working on a self-portrait for an exhibition in Los Angeles. I have a very fruitful relationship with the Freehand Gallery there. It is a gallery as well as a good craft store.
Do you have any expectations of the viewer?
It is nice when people recognize the content of my work and relate to it; and it is nice to be appreciated for my efforts.
Any final thoughts?
The relationship with the gallery in Los Angeles is good. It would be nice to reach out to other cities and maybe receive a commission or two.