Meet James Arendt: our visiting artist from Conway, South Carolina.
Arendt is an artist whose work explores the shifting paradigms of labor and place through materials that resonate with work and the people engaged in it. Influenced by the radical reshaping of the rural and industrial landscapes in which he was raised, he investigates how individual lives are affected by transitions in economic structures. Denim seems created to be abused, worn out, patched, stained, and burnt through, which are characteristics that mirrored in the people he chooses to represent.
Arendt is one of the exhibiting artists in Contemporary Craft’s new exhibition – Transformation 10: Contemporary Works in Found Materials, and the 2017 Raphael Founder’s Prize Merit Award Honoree.
The Studio is excited to have Arendt as one of our fall 2018 visiting artists. He will be teaching the workshop, “Rise Up! 3D Fiber Techniques“, on Saturday, September 22, 2018. Join Arendt in the studio and explore fabric manipulation techniques to give your fiber art a new dimension!
CC: What is your artistic background?
James Arendt (JA): I was born in Flint, MI and raised among farms and factories. After the plants closed, I ran away to art schools (Kendall College of Art and Design and and University of South Carolina) and pursued fine arts as a remedy for the ghosts that haunted me.
I’m a broad-specturm enthusiast for ideas and techniques and sample liberally from traditional and emerging methods as a way to buttress my studio practice. My formal training is informed by the make do ethos of the people I grew up with. They taught me to knit, weld, and learn new things under the hoods of cars.
CC: What are the main inspirations for your work?
JA: The lives of people who work. I wanted to speak about labor and the challenges of navigating a shifting economy.
CC: What inspired you to choose denim as your main fabric choice?
JA: Oil paint was developed to paint the flesh of kings and gods. I needed a material that was closer to the people I know and love. I remember my father patching his jeans at night with the sewing machine. In school, this memory of thrift and pragmatism was one direction I explored around larger themes of work and labor.
To “make do”, or manage to get along with the means available, meant you solved problems with the materials at hand. Jeans contain the dust of the cotton field, are made supple by the sweat of garment-makers, and imbedded with the fading of 2nd shift evenings. It mixed well with my own memories, and I could transform it through art into something better.
CC: What are some of the challenges you face when making sculptures out of fabric?
JA: No matter if it’s joining the thickness of two layers of fabric or making an installation, there are always problems to solve. I enjoy researching how this was done historically and developing my own solutions. This process of discovery helps me continue to be excited in the studio.
CC: What is your favorite part about creating your sculptures?
JA: Every sculpture is an opportunity to explore a new approach to fabrication. I enjoy trying something unorthodox, learning a new technique, or rescuing a skill that that might be on the edge of extinction. My practice takes me to unexpected places: My studio has become refuge for antiquated industrial sewing machines that need care and attention, rubber inner tubes, and solvents of questionable origin.