Sunflowers & Grafitti’d Sky in the Garden State is a large-scale wall-based work by artist Woolpunk® in the Laurie Stairwell exhibition space at the Montclair Art Museum. It consists of a photo highlighting inspirational communal land use and dietary wellness, juxtaposed by a spray-painted sky-blue mural that is visible from behind the sunflowers. The use of the graffitied wall in the photo reminds us of the air-polluted sunsets, which are so beautiful that they make us almost forget what causes them. “The sunflowers are treated as mutating militants filled with patterns and iconic images multiplying throughout the community garden,” the artist says.
Woolpunk® always loved street photography, in particular the Subway Portrait series of Walker Evans and Martha Rosler’s the Bowery Series. “Seeing these works for the first time changed my perception of what photography could be,” says Woolpunk®. The photo used for this artwork was taken of a community garden in Jersey City a few years back, referencing communal land use for social good. In addition, the artist kept in mind that to fill with sunflowers the space Laurie Stairwell space, with its floor to ceiling windows, would play off the four changing seasons and consequently become inspirational throughout the year. Though this is a happy landscape photo, the artist aimed to bring awareness to landfills made by textiles waste, a huge problem globally. Woolpunk@ says observes that certain countries have figured out how to create circular economies through recycling fibers, like in Italy or upcycling textiles in places like Africa.
“I wanted to create a local circular economy of sorts through art by using the museum as a vehicle for change. This is a donation process that I have used in the past, like the Gimme Shelter Project (2014),” says the artist. The museum agreed to lead a donation drive and the response was overwhelming. The artist handstitched the 30-foot photo over four months combining the materials received from the donations with artist studio scraps, and buried the words Make Things Green into the photo—tricky to see but if you look hard, it’s there. The concept is loosely based on the Beatles the “Paul Is Dead” phenomenon. “I like the concept of subliminal messaging through stitching. I hope in a small way it makes a difference,” she says.
In the early 2000’s, the artist transitioned into identifying herself and her work as “Woolpunk”. This name, attitude, and creative head space allowed the artist to envision her work for the sole purposes of making art with no outside expectations. As the artist recently explained on All Of It With Alison Stewart on WNYC,”…as an older woman artist, I needed to create a space for myself where I was not a mother or a daughter. Once I started to own that I was Woolpunk, that is when my work started to become what it is today”.
Woolpunk® employs materials and techniques sourcing women’s work creation, historically; she machine-knits fiber installations, quilts sculptures, and embroiders photographs. Her work consequently champions social change, addressing homelessness and foreclosures, water contamination, and deforestation. Referencing her unique stitching and use of fibers, she trademarked the name Woolpunk®, which she has been using creatively since 2004. This past year, the artist’s public art installations, sculpture, and embroidered photos were exhibited at the World Trade Center, the windows of Bergdorf Goodman, and the gallery at F.I.T. In 2014, Woolpunk® founded the Gimme Shelter Project and hosted statewide community stitch-ins to bring awareness of the homeless increase in New Jersey. The project was highlighted at Parson’s School of Design. Her work has been exhibited internationally and the embroidered photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Zimmerli Museum, Hudson County Community College Foundation Collection, Eileen Kaminsky Foundation, Collection, and Montclair Art Museum, among others. You can take a listen to her conversation in All of It with Alison Stewart at WNYC here.