Fabrics are important on two levels: they create visually striking effects with their bold and clashing colours and contrastingly mesmerising textures (Butler often uses flower patterned fabrics in ingeniously clever ways to create the hair of her characters), connecting the artworks to the realm of fashion and style, and they point at strong symbolisms and at the narratives behind African fabrics (as you may remember from a previous post, a pattern covered in swallows represents a symbol of good luck, but also hints at the process of asking for a favour, while in Ghana the print refers to the transience of riches and to the fact that you may be rich today and poor tomorrow since money has wings and can fly away...). Take a look at these close-ups of Butler’s quilt that reveal the incredible attention to detail that goes into her work—there’s not a stitch out of place. Originally trained as a painter, Butler shifted her focus after making a quilt in honor of her grandmother while completing studies for her master’s degree in arts education. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about contemporary art, help support our interview series, gain access to partner discounts, and much more. Through her works, often striking portraits, Butler depicts African American life in a way that invites viewers to deeply consider and invest in the lives of her subjects while also reframing historical narratives surrounding quilt making. "As a child, I was always watching my mother and grandmother sew, and they taught me. © 2020 Condé Nast. But for all the works in The Storm at Claire Oliver, save one, Butler chose to reach further back into history, with source photos dating from 1870 to 1910, featuring black people whose names were not recorded. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. His presence reminds viewers that children, black children especially, need to be seen, valued, and protected, while The Safety Patrol as a whole offers an imaginative glimpse into the complex and varied lives of youth. One of her biggest pieces is entitled "To Truth and God" and it is inspired by a 1899 picture of the Morris Brown College baseball team. The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, which runs through April 25, is Butler’s first solo exhibition with the gallery. Vogue may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. The Storm, The Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, Bisa Butler Cotton, silk, wool, and velvet quilted and appliqué 50 x 88 x 2 in | 127.0 x 223.5 x 5.1 cm 2020. But a few years later, Butler enrolled in a graduate program for art education and took a fibers class that would forever shift her path. I was the one who wanted to hear the story behind every picture. A Fiber Arts class at Howard University helped her finding an innovative path, reinventing a creative process that allowed her to combine her passion for painting, her love of portraits and photo albums and the sewing skills she had acquired as a child from her mother and grandmother. It’s visually stunning combination of contemporary and ancestry. Related Categories. Bisa Butler’s quilts are exuberant, colorful, and almost photo-like—arresting and complex objects made entirely of fabric that has been carefully cut, layered, and stitched together. Join us and enjoy a wide variety of benefits, including free passes to art fairs, studio visits, and private tours in the company of other art lovers. She has exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Epcot Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and other venues. Butler’s quilt is similar to this collage by Romare Bearden, also in the museum’s collection, in both visual effect and subject matter. You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post. Wife | Mother | Multi-Media Artist | Art Teacher, "All fabric and some coins. September 19, 2019. “I was the little girl who would sit next to my grandmother and ask her to go through her old family photo albums. There is a main difference between the early pieces Butler created and these new ones: the latter have become more nuanced and defined and the artist also employs in them a wider variety of textiles and in particular traditional African fabrics often from Butler's personal archive. On August 13,  American Federation of Arts curator Michele Wije held a lively conversation with celebrated artist Bisa Butler, a textile artist who creates beautiful quilted portraits. Join now! ", An Affirmation Movement for Black women by Black women. Bisa Butler (b. My community has been marginalized for hundreds of years. Money prints hint at slavery, while the jumping horse fabric on the socks of some of the characters in "To Truth and God" it is called "I run faster than my enemies" in the Côte d'Ivoire and it pays homage to the spirit of the young men portrayed. 2020. She thoroughly researches the people of the time and place where the photographs were taken, hoping to glean information about who they might have been, how they would have dressed, and what they would have wanted. One child stands in front of the others with his arms outstretched in a protective gesture, wearing a belt and sash that identify him as part of a school safety patrol, a group of children that protect fellow students and serve as leaders. “I thought for a while that I wasn’t going to be able to make art anymore,” Butler told me over the phone last week. Butler’s artistic talent was first recognized at the age of four, when she won a blue ribbon in an art competition. Bisa Butler: Portraits is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work, curated by Wije and currently on view at the Katonah Museum of Art through October 4, 2020. My baby muse...". Textile Arts. Set on background fabric with a subtle gray and white floral pattern, the children stand in a tight group and gaze out at the viewer, each dressed in brightly colored and patterned clothes that convey a sense of playfulness while commanding individual attention. She composes each figure individually before stitching them together as the final step in the process. One fabric, nicknamed Speed Bird, shows up in several of the works in the new Claire Oliver show: in the background of A New Dawn and on the coat in The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, a portrait of Frederick Douglass, the only widely known subject in the show, and from which the exhibition takes its name. Butler brings African and African American people to the fore of her works, telling their past and present stories in inventive and visually striking ways that focus attention on both their individuality and a collective, historical narrative. “I had been sewing the whole time, making clothing. Bisa Butler, The Equestrian, 2019. She eschews representational colors, favoring layered jewel-toned hues to form the skin of her Black subjects, and often groups figures together into strong silhouettes. Cookie information is stored in your browser and performs functions such as recognising you when you return to our website and helping our team to understand which sections of the website you find most interesting and useful. 1973) is an American artist who creates arresting and psychologically nuanced portraits composed entirely of vibrantly colored and patterned fabrics that she cuts, layers, and stitches together. But that is not our fate. I often start my pieces with a black and white photo and allow myself to tell the story.”. In the children's story Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1989) slaves used quilts as a means to share and transmit secret messages to escape slavery and travel the Underground Railroad. Butler is currently represented by Claire Oliver Gallery, but her big break may come next year: in March 2020 the Katonah Museum of Art (KMA) will dedicate a first solo museum exhibition ("Bisa Butler: Portraits") to the artist's current work and will feature approximately 25 of her vivid and larger-than-life quilts that capture African American identity and culture. I was the one who wanted to hear the story behind every picture. Butler started with relatively small portraits that framed the face and the shoulders of a subject, but her works quickly expanded and she now creates large textile paintings incorporating several subjects, in which she employs fabrics instead of paint and the sewing machine as if it were a brush. We’ve inherited the burden of knowledge and the grief of failed intention. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again. Time spent with her grandmother looking at family photographs informed this practice, and Butler has a certain inherent familiarity with fabric, as her mother and grandmother used to sew and make clothing.