Fiber Art: Natural, beautiful, tactile
Photos: Robby Schaeperkoetter
December 14, 2018
Fiber artist Josie Brown creates art with nature. Her exquisite wall hangings, made using natural fibers such as merino wool, are tactile and entice the viewer to touch. We talked to her to find out more about the evolution of her three-dimensional work.
Talk us through your journey as an artist My journey as an artist has been one of reinvention and trial over decades of writing, performance art and painting. The times when I stopped creating were times in my life when I felt less fulfilled and more restrained. Having an artistic outlet helps every element of my life, from my spiritual, intellectual and emotional wellbeing to health, love, and relationships. How did you discover fiber art? I love the three-dimensional nature of fiber art and soft sculpture. The first time I laid eyes on a large-scale wall-hanging, about five years ago, it spanned the entire wall of a cathedral-turned-restaurant space in Downtown LA, and it immediately called to me. It was a piece by Tanya Aguiñiga. It had so much depth and volume and I so desperately wanted to touch it and run my hands over it. It was a single color, but there was so much feast for the eyes. After that I became obsessed with fiber, hand-dying yarns, bleaching bone, stringing wood beads, and weaving. It’s been an incredible journey that has led to a lot of passion and satisfaction; luckily the community of weavers, fiber artists and soft sculpturists are very supportive and welcoming – it’s a world for anyone. What inspires your process? There are two factors for me that combine. There is the tension that’s necessary for the piece to take shape on the loom itself, and there is the flow that I’m trying to achieve emotionally and mentally to help me compose something. It’s a symbiotic relationship. When you see a shape take form and you see colors come together, you become swept up in it. I think instinct drives a lot of how a piece will evolve. I rely on that instinct and I just trust myself. Is there a particular piece that you are most proud of? I’m working on an Elements collection inspired by climate change. The first is called ‘Scorched’ and it’s a deliberately sparse piece meant to depict the devastating effect the extended fire season can have on wildlife and nature. Each piece within the collection will use fiber and soft sculpture to reveal the response of nature to rising temperatures and the response of humans to our changing environments. Your pieces contain fluid, unstructured, natural lines and shapes. How does nature inspire your craft? I find such huge inspiration from nature itself; it unlocks a lot of experimentation for me personally. Nature may seem like a boring subject to some, but the juxtaposition of humanity, light, color and industry within nature gives me endless ideas and inspiration to develop from. Recently you worked with merino. What drew you to that fiber? Merino is one of my absolute favorite materials to work with – it’s so lush and strong. I always feel very confident in knowing that when I’m working with merino I’m putting something with a lot of natural dexterity and strength into a piece. There are times when you can place of a lot of duress onto the fiber, pulling and looping, knotting and threading it – merino holds up beautifully no matter the process. You’re originally from New Zealand. Is there still a piece of your heart there? New Zealand is known all over the world as a breath-taking haven of beautiful and natural landscapes, friendly people and crystal clear waters reflecting stunning mountains. And while that is true, I believe what makes New Zealand so exceptional are the values that are reflected in its identity and in turn, mine. For the first piece in the collection that I did with icebreaker (pictured), called ‘Equality’, is an ode to that sense of Kiwi equal-ness. It’s a large piece made from a deliberately limited palette and exclusively from New Zealand merino and South Island sheep wool measuring 1m x 1m and featuring Mitre Peak in Milford Sound. What is the most important message that you hope to convey through your work? Every piece has its own message; sometimes they’re personal, intimate, others are more bold and global. I aim only to evoke feeling and draw the hand to touch. If I do that, then my message will always be sensed by the eye of the beholder.