Stitches to Strokes: How An Artist Turns Antique Embroideries into Spare Paintings

Emily Nathan
Oct 2, 2014 4:08PM

The understated abstractions of Clare Grill are heavy in their smallness, comprised of measured strokes and balanced planes of color. Each is shaped by a tight internal logic, in which component parts operate in conversation with one another and do not seem to conform to representation, figuration, or any visual rules that exist outside of their literal frame. That impression is misleading, however: as Grill herself has explained, these spare compositions are often derived from, and even based on, objects and images that are very much of our world—source material the artist moves away from as her process progresses, directed in every gesture by the shapes, colors, and textures themselves.

A recent body of work, for example, was born from a collection of antique embroidery samples. In these delicate, hand-spun objects, young girls have stitched their names and all manner of traditional iconography, from flowers and vines to lace motifs. The embroideries are sweet, to be sure, boasting vibrant colors, pink buds floating against blue skies, and feminine patterning in the shape of hearts and stars—and yet they are brought morbidly to ground by their textual content. Nestled between and among the more whimsical visual elements, the girls have inserted words and phrases that hint at the oppressive fear underlying their own existence: excerpts from the Bible suggest a suffocating awareness of impending sin, the terror of hell, and even visions of their own death.

Struck by the strange power of these bespoke compositions, Grill sought to translate their moving emotional content into surface and color—a sort of improvisational conversion that precisely embodies how she works, as evinced by a new body of work on view at Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven through October 4. United under the title“Petal, Pedal, Peddle,” the works on view may occasionally evoke impressions of a starry sky, or a quilted blanket. But the only truly consistent element of these paintings is the inherent tension that develops between each of their moving parts, keeping everything in place. A pigment may speak to its partner hue across an expanse of white; a heavy form may be mirrored in a void. Working in layers, the artist often covers earlier iterations with thin washes that build on one another, but those faint impressions, like the sources from which they may be inspired, hover hauntingly just beyond the surface—ghosts in the machine. 

Emily Nathan

Petal, Pedal, Peddle” is on view at Fred Giampietro Gallery Sept. 5th – Oct. 4th, 2014.

Discover more artists at Fred Giampietro  Gallery.