Gwen Samuels is a Los Angeles-based artist who is known for her dresses that she creates out of plastic sheets. What's also unusual is that she prints digital photographic images onto the plastic sheets and then creates striking visual patterns that she hand stitches together.
Here's an excerpt from Gwen's artist statement that sums up her approach: "My garments and quilts are newely made from imprints on plastic sheets. I work with the unimportant and thrown away; plastic, wire, cut-up felt, tape, used dryer sheets, teabags, and other found objects....The pieces reflect my love of the handmade, mended and discarded."
Intrigued? Read my interview with Gwen Samuels to learn more.
I have always loved the handmade. When my kids were growing up, I was an arts and crafts counselor in camp, taught art in elementary school and then went on to instruct teachers on how to teach the creative process.
I have been making things my whole life and have always appreciated work that is made from unexpected materials transformed by the artist.
Textile design developed a way of seeing for me. My eye became trained to see things in repeat patterns. I liked creating compositions with objects in relation to other objects. My earlier work began with some antique lace that I bought at the flea market, laid on the xerox machine and printed. The lace patterns reminded me of my love of garments and I began to piece the sheets together to create dress shapes. Using architectural details in my work came later.
After moving from the east to west coast I was in transition and did a great deal of traveling and taking pictures. That’s when I began to frame my compositions in the viewfinder with plans for textile design in my new work…Since I don’t draw, the camera became a way for me to capture imagery and the computer was an easier way to create my repeat patterns.
Not sure why the plastic sheets became my material of choice. I think there was some connection with my earlier interest in recycled plastic vacuum forms that I collected and collaged. The memory of the encased objects interested me. But the dresses had always been in my subconscious and when they surfaced in my work everything started to fit together.
I’m not sure that it’s really plastic that I love. What I love about the transparencies I work with is the versatility of the material. It has fold memory, doesn’t unravel when cut, it records my images and interacts with light. And that’s all I have discovered so far…
I see that you attended Haystack School in Deer Isle Maine - a lovely spot on the Maine Coast. What was that like?
Haystack School is a wonderful place to be close to nature and immerse yourself in your art. The accommodations are rustic, the food is great and the teachers are top notch. I have been fortunate to go there twice and both times had an incredible experience. My second time I studied with Marian Bijenga and the techniques we experimented with greatly influenced the way I hang my work with straight pins slightly off the wall.
For me, photography is about memory, recording a time and place. My images remind me of where I’ve been and I use those impressions to create abstract compositions that I cut and piece together. Memory is also part of the way the viewer sees my work because I juxtapose the images to suggest other things and it’s only upon closer inspection that the real image is revealed. For example, a ruffle on a dress is really a flight of stairs sewn sideways…
What/who have been your biggest influences on your work?
Influences is a tough question. I look at everything for inspiration. My early work was in craft and I experimented with: weaving, papermaking, basketry, felting, embroidery, knitting, crochet, needlepoint and quilting. All my interests were hands-on and process oriented. So the artists that interest me are process oriented. I also love artists that work in multiples with unexpected materials. Some names that come to mind today: Leslie Dill, Paul Villinski, Issey Miyake.
My materials continue to excite me in new ways. I’m interested in installation, working more in 3-dimensions, creating armatures and stitching my imagery to the forms. I’m also investigating cutouts and layering and how the images interact. And I expect more discoveries as the new process unfolds.
I like that Gwen combines sewing with plastic to create dresses that not only give the impression of being wearable but are also soft to the touch. As Gwen said, she will continue to innovate with her materials and techniques, which has me impatiently waiting to see what she comes up with next.
You can see more at Gwen Samuels. Also, don't miss seeing Gwen's work at the Architecture and Design Museum Los Angeles (July 12-September 8) as part of their annual COME IN! series. This year's show, Les Femmes, features works of women artists.
Plus, Gwen's work will be shown at the Lois Lambert Gallery in Santa Monica (July 21-September 2).