Amy Putansu first encountered fibers work as a child growing up in coastal Maine, which led to her exploration of nautical themes in a series of weavings currently on view in the 2019 March Exhibit at Sager Braudis Gallery. Gallery Director Hannah Reeves asks the artist about the ideas and processes behind the work in this month’s blog feature.
HANNAH REEVES: What does it mean to be a conceptual weaver? Do you ever find that the prescriptive nature of a traditional craft and your desire to communicate a deeper idea through your manipulation of the medium are at odds at all?
AMY PUTANSU: I find that my craft is entirely in alignment with the concepts and moods I want to express in my artwork. Weaving fabric by hand is so sensual and I am intimately involved with every single thread. I can manipulate these threads into softly undulating waves with the specific weaving technique I use. The common backdrop of my recent work relates to the sea, both reflective of my heritage and as metaphor for aspects of our existence. My pieces are all multi-process, once the "canvas" is carefully constructed, I use my knowledge of materials (fiber) and colorants (dyes) to further develop a piece to its conclusion. It is not unlike painting, just with a different set of tools and materials to achieve color, composition and line.
REEVES: Could you talk about your preparation of the works in this series? In particular, the mounting and framing seem to help people to engage these pieces as compositions better than some fiber art examples I've seen.
PUTANSU: From the beginning I approach the works as singular compositions and I think the framing makes the work accessible. However, this solution came about because I was finding that the fabric stretched taught on the loom, while in the weaving process is actually the best expression of the material. This is what inspired me to stretch and mount the pieces in the beginning. The most recent four works (Amplitude, Resonance, Threshold and Potential) allow the fabric edges to show, floating in the frame. This is possible because of the stiff nature of the raw silk woven cloth. The appearance of tiny knots and raw selvages does bring the work even further into the fiber art realm while still presenting as a singular composition or picture. I think it is the best of both worlds.
REEVES: Is there something about the time-consuming nature of your medium that draws you to it? I wonder to what extent that time investment plays into the meaning of the work.
PUTANSU: Hand weaving, especially with such fine and uncommon materials that I use, requires extreme precision and order. I feel so intensely involved with the making of my work, from the actual construction of the substrate, to the line work that may be achieved by stitching or net-making, to the addition of color through the dyeing of cloth. The repetitive nature of making cloth allows a lengthy meditation on my subjects. I am able to handle each and every aspect of the work multiple times and with great care. The time intensive nature is also due to the multiple processes that each piece may go through. For example, yarns may be dyed before the cloth is woven, painting on threads may occur during the weaving process and/or after. Further dyeing or color extraction may occur on the finished fabric as well as hand stitching and knotting.
REEVES: Who or what are your artistic influences?
PUTANSU: I look at a lot of painting and printmaking, like Agnes Martin and Helen Frankenthaler, and Mark Rothko. I respect the courage of the minimalist approach. The lack of excess, the refinement and distillation holds so much. I think it's daring and I envision myself someday being that daring in my work.
REEVES: I always like to ask: What is your studio quirk?
PUTANSU: I can't have extraneous clutter in my work area. I find that the more tidy and organized I can be in my space, the fewer mistakes or technical problems arise. The whole process is rather exacting. I also have to have excellent lighting.