Faculty Guest Blogger: Eva Polizzi
Eva Polizzi: When I was growing up behind the Iron Curtain of Europe, anything American was the best thing to happen to a child. The coolest birthday gift was a denim jacket. The most popular club was English, of course. And the best game to play was charade, which we introduced with the following grand statement: “I come from America and this is what I am a master of.” Then, we pantomimed some imaginary dream job because we could be anything, absolutely anything, when we were coming from America. I dreamt of becoming a textile designer, but I couldn’t study art, so I majored in Linguistics. I had to satisfy my desire to create with self-taught fiber art skills: embroidery, knitting, macramé, crochet and sewing. Then in 2001, I finally found myself in New York City learning to weave at the Fashion Institute of Technology. When a year later I moved to Pennsylvania, I had to give up fiber art again, but the desire to live and work as an artist never faded away, no matter how hard I tried to send my dreams into exile. I was living in America, after all, and my heart knew fully well that I could do anything, anything at all.
A few years ago I arrived at several crossroads in my life, and I had to make some difficult decisions. I decided to go back to school to be challenged beyond my self-imposed limitations. I had to grow. I began graduate studies pursuing a degree in sculpture, which turned into working on an MFA in clay with a focus on fibers. I often question the sanity of making such an immense change in mid-life, but I strongly feel I owe myself the courage to walk on this new path. As my graduate thesis work in stitched clay was unfolding and my studies slowly came to an end, I realized that I was not playing a charade any more. I know who I am; I know where I am going. I am realizing my thirty-year long dream of establishing myself as a working and teaching artist.
My work in clay and fibers is rooted in growing up with two loving, caring grandmothers who never wasted anything on their farms. I learned to appreciate the many ways of reusing, repurposing and reinventing every little scrap early on. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to surface treatments that resemble old, torn, fraying and darned textile bits. Later, I discovered other, deceivingly simple yet sophisticated ways of stitching cloth. I am especially inspired by Sashiko embroidery – simple running stitch employed to strengthen cloth- and the notion of Boro – heavily patched domestic textiles- both originating from Japan. With them comes the term Mottainai, which roughly could be translated as ‘too good to waste’ and has become my motto. I command clay as my canvas, but it does not yield easily. Accidental glaze results are then combined with intentional mark making. The process of selecting and dyeing fiber material and experimenting with the right stitch to treat the clay surface so that the two materials become one is sometimes more important than the finished piece itself. The work painstakingly slowly evolves into its final shape through hundreds, thousands of little stitches. In the past few years, working with needle and thread has become an essential part of my life: I stitch almost every day. Louise Bourgeois, whose work has inspired me a lot, said it so many times: stitching is repairing. When I feel broken and torn, indeed, stitching repairs me.
One of the challenges while making my stitched clay pieces (very often inspired by my fondness for simple, overlooked household textiles) is to avoid very direct communication with the potential viewer. I want others to experience the work, to get inside of it: feel it, listen to it and contemplate. Yet, very often I would hear that the quilts, runners, wall tiles evoke very similar feelings and responses to mine. The fragility of cloth and thread, the vulnerability of the clay vessel: they are quiet reminders of our own transient existence.
I do not have any grand particular reason or motive to stitch; I only have an ardent heart. What I create comes from a deep passion, almost a spiritual reverence for the humble material, which could get lost in an austere setting or on a pedestal. Still, it is satisfying to see my work hang in a gallery, most recently in New York City. Rune II was included in First Street Gallery’s 2016 National MFA Competition, and Sashiko III is on display until October 16th 2016 at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition’s Art in Clay: Up Against the Wall juried show.