Mary Vaneecke

It would be a mistake to call Mary Vaneecke a quilter. Although she does indeed sew layers of fabric together, the end result of her work isn't blankets, but art that makes you think and sometimes squirm. Vaneecke's latest show at Arts Marketplace, Subversive Stitches, displays work by the mixed-media textile artist that is sometimes political, and always fun and beautiful. Vaneecke will give a talk next Thursday, Sept. 15, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Arts Marketplace, 403 N. Sixth Ave. Need more info? Go to maryvaneecke.com or www.artsmarketplace.org.

Describe your work.

It's mixed-media textiles. There's painting and foil on fabric that has been layered and stitched, and the work at Arts Marketplace ... some of it is political in nature. Five of the pieces have never been exhibited before. My work has roots in the quilting tradition, but I have no artistic formal training. ... I came to the art world later in life and came to it through the quilting world. Then I started pushing the medium to its limits. When you use the word "quilting," most people think of bed covers, but it's actually a technique that speaks to the form of art, not function. Quilting means three layers that are stitched together.

What kind of techniques do you use that you don't see in traditional quilting?

Well, I look at the medium and what quilting can do— layering and stitching—but then I can paint something on the fabric and figure out ways to reflect metaphor and multiple meanings in the layers of the fabric. In one piece, I was inspired by ancient Egypt and a stone carving. I exposed the layers of fabric that you normally don't see to create a marsh scene with birds and insects from ancient Egypt. Layering, exposing fabric, and adding texture and dimension is something I also did with a piece called "Fabric of Our Community," in response to Jan. 8. There are bullet holes in the fabric.

Looking at "Fabric of Our Community," I wonder what inspires you, especially when a topic is difficult.

That piece was difficult. The event will be identified with Tucson for a very long time. I wanted "Fabric of Our Community" to reflect both our anguish and the best we can hope for in situations like that; that's why I included President Obama's quote from the memorial service. I hope the piece is a metaphor for what we went through and how we came together at that terrible time. The creative process can be a healing one, and it was for me, in this case.

How does the general arts community accept your work?

While I see a lot of angst within the quilting community, there is more acceptance from the arts community. Quilter artists—we struggle with ourselves. In the arts community, they are very accepting. At most art shows, textile art is not your typical bill of fare, but I found the arts community to be very accepting. ... I feel good about where I am as an artist, because most people who look at my work say, "I've never seen anything like that." I'm happy to hear that, that my work is not a carbon copy. That's very gratifying to me.

How have you seen that acceptance of textile art in action?

I have found Southern Arizona to be very open to this medium. Several of my pieces were juried into shows at the Tubac Center of the Arts, and one even won a cash prize. The Tucson Pima Arts Council has exhibited my work in two local exhibitions. In July, my work was accepted into Flux Gallery at Plaza Palomino. The focus is contemporary art, and I am their first textile artist. We are seeing great synergy and contrast, for instance, in hanging my ... textiles next to sculptor Peter Eisner's rusted steel. Arts Marketplace is hosting my first solo exhibition ... in part because (executive director) Therese Perreault likes the way my work spans both art and craft. Tucson has always been a melting pot, and I think that attitude pervades the way we look at art, too.

What's the community like for textile-art folks?

There is one group called the Fiber Artists of Southern Arizona. We have a show right now at the Jewish Community Center up through Sept. 14. If you go to the website at fasa-art.com, you'll see the broad variety of art quilts that are available—portraits and landscapes to more-abstract pieces. What I found being in this community is that we are very lucky in that we have the best of both worlds when you compare us to other mediums.

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