Meet Alison Bailey, our latest featured 2016 LEAP finalist. Her unique, yet familiar-feeling, jewelry is an exploration of opposites: hard and soft, ephemeral and permanent. You can find her work in the Store throughout October, November, and December.
CC: Tell us about your work
AB: The work I make is meant to provide comfort through its weight, smell, tactility, color, and pattern. Fabric appeals to me because of the vibrant colors and the strange and wonderful patterns printed on it. Repetitive processes such as sawing, filing, sewing, embroidery, and beading relax me both mentally and physically. The fabric connects me to the women in my family who have worked with their hands, often with fiber. The stark contrast between metal and fabric is an important aspect of my work. Metal is cold and hard while textiles are warm and soft. Over time textiles will break down and the fibers will wear thin. The metal components of my work highlight a less resilient material.
CC: Please share with us how your background and education influenced your work.
AB: I learned to sew at 7 from my mother and grandmother and it ended up greatly influencing my work. I took my first metals class in high school and absolutely loved it. I was lucky to study with Teresa Faris for five years, who influenced my life greatly with her knowledge of metal as a material and the art world in general.
I used fabric and stitching techniques combined with metal in undergrad but it wasn’t until I took a textile class called Design for Industry with Christine Zoller at East Carolina University that everything came together. My work in undergrad was heavily patterned but was almost entirely void of color. In Christine’s class I learned how to use Photoshop to develop my own patterns and fabrics. By the end of the class I had a portfolio of almost 100 designs in different color ways. After taking this class it wasn’t long before these printed fabrics made their way into my metalwork as a focal point of the piece. Color was what my work was missing. I realized that what I loved so much about fabric was the color along with the patterns. My experience in graduate school lead me from simply piercing patterns in metal with little color to using fabric, thread, beads, enamel, Prismacolor, tin, semi precious stones, and pearls to add color.
CC: Why were you drawn to you particular medium?
AB: I am drawn to stationary repetitive tasks. Sewing and sawing are my two favorite things to do because of this. When my hands are busy doing a repetitive task my body and mind relax. For me the first time I sawed metal was atrocious, but I found that the less I fought the saw and just let the saw act like an extension of my body I was able to relax and truly enjoy the feeling of cutting through metal. I have still not found something that makes me feel as good as sawing does. Metal as a medium was also the only medium I really had to struggle with before I was able to understand and appreciate it.
CC: What inspires you?
AB: Patterns and fabrics that remind me of my grandmother and my childhood inspire me. I loved the patterns that decorated the mismatched silverware and the rim of the CorningWare plates that both my grandmother and mother owned. As a child I was obsessed with deciding which spoon or fork I would use at the dinner table. The patterns on the silverware and other tableware became my source of entertainment during dinner. When she died I received some of her quilts and fabric remnants. The floral, calico, paisley, and myriad of patterns on those quilts and scraps continually inspire my work.
CC: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an artist?
AB: A friend once told me that when you are stuck on what you’re currently making, or can’t bring yourself to make something at the bench, to channel that energy into making a piece for someone you love. This is something I do every time I get stuck. When you’re making something for a friend or loved one it’s easier to step out of your comfort zone and experiment. The body of work I created in grad school stemmed from a piece I made for a dear friend when I was stuck. I incorporated fabric into a piece, just because I knew my friend would love the fabric. After making this piece my mind was completely open to a thousand ideas on how I could further incorporate fabric into my work.
CC: What advice do you have for other considering a career in the arts?
AB: It’s incredibly hard, but just keep making things. Even if you don’t sell or don’t get into exhibitions or galleries, it’s important to keep moving forward. Keep working even when you hate it and even when you don’t want to. Keep working when life is hard and also when everything seems to be going great. Just keep making yourself do it. If you’re struggling with something, move on to something new. Make a small piece of jewelry or switch mediums for a while. Also, be willing to go where the work is.