Our Associate Director, Jenny, had a chance to ask Sophia Narrett some questions about her work before her exhibit I Was Dreaming This opens in the annex.
Your background is in painting, correct? Have you always embroidered? What kind of correlation do you see between your use of the two mediums?
Yes, I used to work almost entirely in oil paint. I came to embroidery by chance. I was experimenting with some embroidery thread for sculptures when I became attracted to the luminescence of the thread itself. The set palette, the linear quality and the inherent color separation of the thread all seemed like interesting parameters for image making, and since my work has always been driven by narrative images it made sense to try rendering scenes with the thread. After this initial discovery I spent two years working almost exclusively in embroidery. At this point I consider both embroidery and painting to be vehicles for illusion, fantasy and visual communication. Of course, the embroidery connotes the tradition of embroidery as women’s work, as well as the feminist artists who subverted that history, while the paintings carry the weight of or are bolstered by the history of painting. Still I would say that my use of both mediums is primarily as a conduit for visual ideas. The chief difference is in the speed. It’s a very different type of experience to build an image in a few days versus months.
Your work is very narrative and suggestive. There is almost a humorous quality to the titling as well as the decision to use a traditionally domestic crafting technique to illustrate these reality-show-like fantastical narratives. Is writing and storytelling a part of your practice? How do you come up with the concepts and imagery for each piece?
I don’t write full stories for my images, but they do begin from some sort of verbal basis. Rather than embodying complete narratives, I think my images work in the way that the intro to a joke does, or a line in a song. It’s the setup for a situation, or maybe the result of something without a cause. I usually start with the core of an idea, something in terms of what the figures’ gestures will be, maybe in relation to an experience or feeling from my own life or something I have seen. I’ve also worked directly from literary moments, taking a specific sentence or passage out of its original context to create another meaning. In the same vein I listen to music while I work and that can often sway the emotional register of a piece or spur new ideas.
Along with thread and fiber we see a lot of fake nylon flowers in your work. Can you talk about how you came to include this somewhat campy material in your work, and how you are able to elevate something that’s purpose is to be beautiful, but is often dismissed as déclassé, and then is rendered beautiful again in your work?
While I’m working I don’t see a division between craft and art materials, although I realize that in the end they may elicit different associations. I think it’s primarily a formal choice. I find artificial flowers beautiful, and when they fill a need, as in for a frame or wreath for a thread piece or as part of my model making process, it feels natural to use them.
How has being an MFA candidate in the painting department at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) influenced or informed your work?
Being at RISD has opened up my studio process. The biggest change is that I have started a model making process involving miniature people and scenery that is becoming source imagery for both the paintings and the embroidery. The ways that I understand the setting and the figures have really evolved since I have been able to create the story in real space. I have also been experimenting with different ways of painting, sewing and printing images, and I’m figuring out how these different mediums can coexist, as well as the implications that they each hold for content. There has been a great dialogue around fiction, romanticism, beauty and darkness that is pushing the content of my work forward.
What can we expect to see from you beyond your exhibit at SPACE?
In May 2014 I’ll be participating in the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. In the meantime, I’ll be posting new work and shows on my website, www.sophianarrett.com
Come to the opening this Friday during the First Friday Art Walk!