it's refreshing how broad the art world has become in the past 15 yrs. it's really opened up to all forms/types of work. graffiti, street art, illustration and crafts now command attention on a much larger level. craft such as embroidery, knitting, quilting etc. are no longer relegated to craft circles in church basements. craft has gained momentum in recent yrs, continuing to grow and is it very exciting. i am increasingly impressed by artists who employ craft as a medium and rock it. emily barletta is definitely high among those artists.
a few months ago i started to see emily barletta's work sprinkled all over the web. her piece center, which was in her show my biology at art star in philadelphia, really captured me w/ it's pinks and reds and glittery beads. by chance through our blogs, i ended up getting in touch w/ emily and asked her to do an email interview w/ me. she so happily obliged.
how did you become involved in crochet and embroidery? is it something you grew up around?
emily barletta: my mom taught me to cross-stitch and my next-door neighbor’s mom taught me to crochet, i was a crafty kid. i made several ugly blankets and many samplers from patterns that are still hanging in my parent’s house. in college when i took an intro to fibers class i already knew the techniques and it clicked.
when you first started what were some of your first pieces like? how has your work evolved?
emily barletta: my first series of works out of college were small hand embroidered and obsessively beaded sculptures. this was good for a while until i became frustrated creating the shape of an object first and then embellishing which kept my work slow and small. this was when the crocheting started as an art form. i think the first piece was roadkill project and then bury me gently. the work keeps getting larger and less detailed so i don’t get as annoyed and fussy as i used to. currently i’m looking beyond crochet and embroidery to newer forms of construction that will allow me to work even bigger and faster.
when beginning each piece do you work w/ a pattern? or do you just begin and go where you are led? would you be willing to talk a little bit about your process?
emily barletta: i never ever use a pattern. planning things from the start = bad art. i create a specific pleasing object over and over again with as much variation as possible, throwing the shapes into bags until i have a good amount of them. then i start assembling. generally, i have no idea how something will look until it is finished.
how much time is put into each piece?
emily barletta: too long, months. pelt took 3 + months of constant crochet and plant sleep took just as long, only it’s half the size. some of the smaller pieces were meant to be bigger pieces that never quite made it. usually if i get bored, i stop and move on and this determines the size of a piece and length of time i spend on it. the pieces for my biology were a solid years worth of work.
your previous show, my biology, is an impressive amount of work. i've read that you suffer from a spinal disease and that this played a large role in this body of work. can you tell us a bit about this?
emily barletta: when i was 12 years old i suddenly grew a hunchback and then when i was 15 i had a major reconstructive surgery that left me 2 1/2 inches taller and with a straight fused spine that does not bend or curve at all. it also left me with a whole new set of problems. this was about the same time i started making art and it became a way in which i could express this thing that was happening to me. if i had never experienced this, i would still make art but i don’t know what it would look like. i have had other surgeries since then and i’m not sure how this thing works out in the end, but i have good and bad days, and good days that are bad days and bad days that are good days, it gets complicated. so i am always aware of my body and this makes me obsessed with thinking about organs, blood, veins, muscles, cells, and internal biological functions, as well as all sorts of interesting diseases and deformities and medical science that i love to read about and then make imaginary representations of. crocheting and embroidering just turned out to be a meditative art form i could do while in bed where i make almost all of my art.
something i really admire about your work is that you take a traditional craft and really put your own spin on it. was this something you set out to do or did it just happen naturally?
emily barletta: this part just happened naturally. i think of my work as fine art. art made out of traditional craft materials can be just as challenging as any other forms, i try not to keep it separate from painting, sculpture, or installation.
are you involved in other crafts? or is embroidery and crochet your main medium?
emily barletta: in college i was mainly weaving, but i also took classes in metal fabrication, painting, printmaking and photography. all mediums are fair game in the future. currently i’m taking a break from crochet and embroidery and trying to create new soft works from found fabrics using the sewing machine to construct the pieces and hand sewing them together.
who are some of your favorite artists? who are you watching right now?(both in the contemporary and fibre arts world)
emily barletta: tilleke schwarz, kiki smith, ross bleckner, anselm kiefer, jules de balincourt and dana schutz. i love the work of frida kahlo, for obvious reasons, francesca woodman and candy jernigan. one of my favorite things to do is wander around to galleries and museums because the most thrilling art might be something i never intended on seeing.
what is in store for you for 2008? any shows coming up, collaborations, etc? any big plans you can share w/ us?
emily barletta: i’m in a group show in philly, in march, at the center for emerging visual artists. beyond that, no big plans other than to continue to experiment and make art.