Threadbare | THredˌber | adjective: (of cloth, clothing, or soft furnishings) becoming thin and tattered with age.
Massachusetts local artist Jess Rowell can tell you all about her figurative form of threadbare art. Using vintage finds—photos, magazine rip outs, dated lifestyles—and funky colored thread, Rowell layers old with new to create badass embroidered pieces and ideas. Think of it as subliminal art; by layering old photos with threaded snippets of her reality, Rowell offers up her own interpretation of it all with wonderfully inspiring creativity, livening the good, the bad, the ugly and the old.
And just like her fore-threaders, Rowell leaves a lot up to chance; one never knows when inspiration will strike, especially when several mediums come into play. In addition to embroidery, Rowell adds sketches and watercolors to her portfolio, as well as some seriously sweet artistic license and edge. Blanketing faint watercolors with hard black sketch lines and textured hand-sewn thread is a rare and bewitching art form; just when subliminal layered art started to make sense, Rowell adds musing color palettes and personal pen marks to entice us even further. Amadeus readers, we give you Jess Rowell.
So, who IS Jess Rowell?
I’m a 23-year-old, kitchen grunt, self-proclaimed artist. I grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts and attended college in Manchester, New Hampshire (the polar opposite of Disney World). Really, I just like making stuff, it’s sort of my defense mechanism against boredom.
How did you originally get into embroidery?
Embroidery happened for me during my junior year at college. I remember starting to grasp a personal drawing style but also really wanting a change in my process. I used to make patterned and detailed drawings and was getting sick of the whole thing. Basically stitching took the place of the repetitive nature of my earlier drawings. It’s cool too because most of my energy goes into the stitching itself and thats has caused me to care less about the way my drawings actually look and embrace a simplified style.
What’s the biggest piece you’ve ever embroidered? What was it and where did the idea stem from?
I made a pair of large portraits for my senior project, I think they are each about 2.5 x 3.5 feet. One is of JFK and the other is of the character, Dave Bowman, from 2001: A Space Odyssey. These two portraits were made as a personal challenge because I sort of avoid figures at all costs. I started with just JFK, which was basically a sketchbook idea brought to fruition and was then pushed by a couple professors to make a second portrait.
Tell us a little bit about your old-school, vintage inspirations.
A lot of it comes from going to thrift stores and antique stores and the dump because I collect “old stuff” and naturally the things I surround myself with influence my work. Also I find myself around other people who collect “old stuff” and people wanting to give me their “old stuff” and I justify obtaining it all by claiming to be an artist.
What’s it like working with such a mix of materials and meanings, like a dollar bill and purple thread.
It’s fun! I definitely have an interest in collage and mixing materials, trial and error, making something that sucks or doesn’t work out but embracing it for that reason. The embroidered bill was actually something I just made on a whim when there happened to be thread, a needle, and money sitting on the kitchen table. Making stuff this way is so great because there is no pressure when there are no intentions other than experimentation and sometimes you get lucky and make something cool or learn something new.
Whats your favorite texture? What’s your favorite place to find your fabrics?
Maybe it sounds boring but natural cotton cloth is my favorite. It’s just so familiar and soft and visceral in a way. I like hunting for fabric so really anywhere, yard sales, junk piles, Salvation Army. I look for vintage fabrics in the bedding, curtain, and tablecloth sections of thrift stores.
What/where/who is currently inspiring you?
There is so much stimuli/inspiration coming from everywhere it’s hard to pinpoint it. There are things that I love, like quilts, clothing, music, Pyrex bowls, and knickknacks that constantly inspire me and then there are people I love and the things they care about that also inform my work. When I’m specifically looking for inspiration I look at Louise Bourgeois or Frank Stella’s work.
What do you like about zines? Is it the process or the tangible piece?
For me it is definitely the process. I rarely reproduce my work because something about embroidery doesn’t translate well, for me at least, into prints. I did, however, make small works with the intention of scanning and printing them and I loved it. Mapping the layout, binding each one, I guess just the repetitive quality of the whole thing, it was sort of therapeutic. But don’t get me wrong, I love the tangible object itself too. I mean being able to hold/own something that someone gives enough of a fuck about to go out and make themselves is great and feeling that connection with people is awesome.
For more from Jess Rowell: http://www.jessrowell.