Sky Orb 1 (2015)
35 x 36 inches
Quilt, Linen canvas, muslin, batting, thread
Jean Amber Young uses the beautiful landscape of Northern California as her inspiration, fragmenting it to create abstract environments. Quilting fabric canvases and sculptural forms not only brings the beauty of nature indoors, but allows the work to take on an organic quality mirroring it’s inspiration.
What are you first memories of textiles?
My first significant memories of textiles are from my childhood home. I grew up with antique furniture, unique upholstery, and Native American and Persian rugs. My mother collects vintage lace as well, so I have early memories of those pieces being something special.
What is your background in art and textiles?
I earned my MFA at San Francisco Art Institute in 2010. I was in the painting department, but I moved away from oil painting pretty quickly and began experimenting with yarns, fibers, fabric, and sculpture. I began teaching myself how to quilt in 2013 from experimentation, books, and a lot of YouTube videos.
Do you do all textile mediums or mainly quilting?
I mainly quilt and make artwork using quilting techniques, however in 2015 I took an interest in weaving for a while. I occasionally make small wall hangings.
Where do you work?
My studio is located in Berkeley, California. I have a sewing area, a large table to work at, and a cutting table. I try to keep part of my studio clear of fabrics and materials so that I can hang work and see what things looks like installed on the wall.
Can you talk us through the process of designing a quilt?
I have a few different methods for designing a quilt. I use a quilt design program for the Sky Orb pieces because it makes it easier to make sure that my lines and corners are precise. Other works are more improvisational, and therefore I don’t create a design or pattern to adhere to. In some of the earlier quilts from 2013 – 2014 I cut out the shapes I wanted to use and experimented with arrangements the same way collage artists might.
How long does it take to make a typical piece?
It depends on the scale, whether or not I end up wrestling with a design (read: taking it apart to make changes or fix mistakes) and how complicated I made the pattern. Some of the larger pieces have taken over a month, maybe two to dream up and construct, while a small piece can take inside of week if the design is simple.
How do you describe your work?
I build abstract, otherworldly environments out of land and sky imagery. The collision of discernible imagery with a fragmented presentation creates ambiguity and a slippage into abstraction. The resulting composition is recognisable but fantastical, familiar but garbled. Each piece, it’s own world, is built to highlight these duelling experiences.
Why do you fragment the image?
At different times deconstructing the image has meant different things. Fragmentation is a vehicle for abstraction and a break from reality. By cutting images apart and rearranging them I am given an opportunity to build something fantastical, but still recognisable.
Can you explain the concept behind the more sculptural piece Land Form III ?
I am partially drawn to quilts because even though you can display them on a wall, at the end of the day they are blankets, which makes them objects, and makes them possess a sculptural element. Land Form III maximises the natural behaviour of fabric, which is to wrinkle and fold, while incorporating quilting techniques. The Land Form pieces are experiments in creating organic forms from fabric, and referencing what can be found in nature. They have always looked like little hillsides to me.
You grew up in a very creative family, are you musical too or has art always been your passion?
I was fortunate to be raised by creative people that nurtured and encouraged my creativity. They recognised early that I was more interested in visual art than making music, so they fostered that interest, which I am grateful for. There were times over the years when I expressed a passing interest in musical instruments or singing, but nothing stuck. I have always been more interested in making visual art.
What inspires you?
I’m a Northern California girl, and grew up in the woods. My artwork is highly influenced by the Northern California land and sky. I’ve always been drawn to nature scenery, especially on the property I grew up on. I’m also very inspired by other quilters, especially quilters using unconventional fabrics or improvisational style. The Gee’s Bend quilts and Rosie Lee Tompkins’ improvisational quilts really knock me out.
Do you have any advice for aspiring textile artists?
As obvious as it sounds, being true to your vision is really important, no matter what is going on in the art world at the moment. That’s how you develop a perspective and a creative language that will be an asset to you no matter what project you are working on. Trends come and go. Make the work you want to make. Keep challenging yourself.