April Camlin is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with thread and textiles, reconceptualizing a medium that has been pigeonholed to "craft." We visited her in her studio where she explained how her work evolved from embroidering band flyers back in 2010.
How did you get into embroidery?
I was doing it since I was very young. My grandmother was a painter and a seamstress. She taught me at an early age how to sew and cross-stitch. I always knew I was interested in making art and I was never connected to painting. Embroidery felt like the type of mark making that was more intuitive and more comfortable to me. I started working with an embroidery machine 6 months ago because I wanted to work larger. With hand embroidery you spend 2 months on a piece that is 15 x 15 inches and the embroidery machine really opened up a new way for me to think about making work and the kind of imagery I can work with.
Where does this imagery come from?
The patterns are a symptom of the grid. There is only a certain amount of stitches that look good to me that can be made on a grid. I also just really like the vibration of the lines. I started messing around with patterns, interrupt them, and the way the lines were meshing and merging and interacting was very exciting to me. I am working with different geometric shapes and the interruption is the most important to me: setting up a system and then interrupting it.
Do you like a certain way to have your work shown?
It’s hard because I feel like with textiles, you always wonder how much of the material you want to be the focus because it has such a pre-existing context. It is so ubiquitous in our lives. I present it more in a traditional form in a frame on wall because I am connecting to it in the same way that someone presents it as a painting. But I also like installation work. I did a show in Miami in December where I did a big installation that was very challenging. I painted and I haven’t painted in a decade!
The images looked really crazy! Would you want to do more installation pieces?
I have never done anything like that and I like working in installation because there is so much problem solving. We had three days to install that and it was very intense. There was no air conditioning and no plumbing. It was a satellite fair during Miami Basel called the Artist Run Fair. Everyone got a room in this dilapidated motel and everyone got to do what they wanted to do. You don’t always get that freedom in a space so that was very cool.
Do you like to work independently or to collaborate?
I am very much solo and I feel bad because people have asked me to collaborate but I am interested in trying it someday. It would have to be the right person. In general I am a solitary person.
Do you have an idea of what the work will look like or does it grow?
Yes and no. I consider it to be a half of vocabulary of patterns and I am holding them in my mind as I am working but I prefer to work intuitively and let the piece develop as it is. Especially since the idea of interruption interest me so much and I feel like there could be these unintended consequences when you let things develop organically that wouldn’t be as exciting if you had everything planned ahead of time. And there is definitely a bit of appropriation with the machine embroidery because I have to think a lot about the imagery since I have to run it through the program. It has been good for me because it made me think a lot about mapping things but I definitely generally like to wing it. Labor is a very integral element in my practice and I think about it all the time. I think these techniques allow me to work more intuitively. Working at a slow speed allows me to map the image out as I go.
Who are some artists you would like to show ith?
At Spring/Break fair I saw this artist called Christian Little whose work I really liked. I am showing in September with Edie Fake and it definitely feels like a dream come true because his work is just a mazing and I think we approach our ideas aesthetically very similarly. A lot of art that I look like or am influenced by is more traditional and historical textiles without being appropriative and being respectful.
Are you thinking about feminism when making this art?
I think its impossible not to think about it. When you are working with a material that has a lot of pre-existent content it is very important to be aware of that history. History of textiles is very intense when you think about the industrial revolution and the repercussions of human rights and certainly the patriarchal structure of imposing this women’s work or women perpetuating a craft and advancing it and making it amazing and it being viewed as lesser than because of that. It’s hard because I often times want to distance my gender from any kind of work that I do but I think its also important to be open and be aware. I don’t think my work is overtly feministic but I think it’s impossible for a woman not to be a feminist.
How has your work evolved?
I have been making this kind of work for the past three years. I used to embroider band flyers back in 2010 and that’s how it all started. I used to be a lot more connected to the music scene. Now I feel locked in and very good about my aesthetic and I feel very good about the work that I am making right now but I don’t want to keep making the same thing and am excited to experiment. I definitely want to experiment with the embroidery machine and monochromatic tones. I am very sensitive to color and am interested in bringing in more silvers and paler colors. I started this white on white piece and I like how the textures became so much more important. I am thinking about bring painting back into my practice and I am thinking of how to go about that, maybe using dyes.
What music do you listen to?
Mostly audio books and podcasts. I listen to fantasy and sci-fi audiobooks, and Democracy Now, Radio Lab and This American Life, all the classics. I guess I like to listen to a lot of repetitive and meditative music that gets me in the zone to do a lot of stitching, like Kraftwerk. Manuel Gttsching’s album “E2-E4”, it’s so good, it’s just like an hour of this music phrase.