Louise Silk is a Pittsburgh-based artist, writer, and quilter. For over forty years, she has been creating art that combines aesthetics and functionality with meanings and memories for family, friends, individuals, and organizations. In additional to creating exhibition-level artworks and running a zero-waste studio, Louise also join forces with her daughter at SilkDenim, a web-based shop selling one-of-a-kind, handcrafted 100% recycled clothing, bags, and quilts.
Her solo exhibition – ReNew – is on view at Contemporary Craft’s BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery in Downtown Pittsburgh through May 2020. Her artist demonstration on every Wednesday during the run of her exhibition is on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we are happy to share more about Louise and her creative processes here. Louise also sent us a video to show us her studio, so make sure to read until the end!
Contemporary Craft (CC): Can you describe your work that is now exhibiting in ReNew for people who can’t see it in person?
Louise Silk: The work is divided into three sections: “Quilts”, “Denim”, and “Words of Wisdom”. The quilts, mostly kimono shapes representing angels, are made of tee-shirt remnants in a freeform patchwork. Piecing circles, in combination with stretchy knits is technically demanding, making it fun to bring everything together into a workable format that transforms wasted cloth into a greater purpose.
I partner with my daughter, Sarah, as SilkDenim, where we emphasize the craft & beauty of re-making 100% recycled materials into individually crafted objects. Our mainstay is denim because of its rugged practicality and unique ability to improve with age. The pieces in ReNew use the most challenging parts of deconstructed denim: the waistbands, the back seams, and the pockets. In addition to the spiritually inspired angels, two of the denim pieces, Dina’s Coat of Many Colors Ketonet Passim and No Hate Flag, are politically motivated. Dina, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, is the biblical accounting of women’s violation and relates to the current #MeToo movement and No Hate Flag is my response to the lives lost at the Tree of Life massacre.
“Words of Wisdom” was inspired by traditional samplers that used phrases like “a stitch in time saves nine”. I modernized that idea by using encouraging phrases and quotes that permeate the internet today with the intention of creating a more positive dialogue during the current political environment. This is the project I worked on while doing artist demonstration on-site at my exhibition. I documented some of the work on my Instagram (@Silkquilt).
CC: What draws you to fiber arts? Why were you drawn to upcycling and reusing materials?
Louise Silk: I have always been drawn to cloth. The only thing I did particularly well in high school was sew. I have a B.S. degree in Home Economic Education. The transformation to Fiber Art began with an article in MS Magazine in 1972 about quilting as a women’s art form.
Fiber is pervasive throughout our environment and particularly relevant to our everyday lives, making it the perfect medium for unending exploration. Upcycling and reuse became the only sensible way to keep working sustainably within our current environment.
CC: Tell us more about your how you work and about your creative process.
Louise Silk: It seems funny to say, but my work is very organic. I live in a 2700 sq. ft. loft with a plethora of materials. The content of my ongoing process flows from what’s on my mind, how I am feeling, what’s happening around me.
CC: How does your background influence your work? And how has your work evolved over the years?
Louise Silk: I am in process on a memoir called “A Patchwork Life” that explores the evolution of my work. Once again, the best description is organic and fluid. The quilt I made in association with the writing is a series of fourteen flags – each representing a chapter of my work. I will also make a kimono/angel for it.
CC: What are your inspirations?
Louise Silk: Spirit practices like Zen and Kabbalah; engaging in a thoughtful process; contemporary art and artists; high fashion and interior design.
CC: What is your dream project? Or if you have completed one already, what is it?
Louise Silk: I would love to have a major gallery exhibit that was an enclosed environment made totally of quilts.
CC: What’s the most fulfilling part about being a maker?
Louise Silk: Every day is exciting and meaningful.
CC: Tell us about your favorite artist or artists that inspires you.
Louise Silk: My favorites are Louise Bourgeois and Magdalena Abakanowicz, both fine artists who use fiber in their work.
CC: What role does the artist have in society?
Louise Silk: I have always been a little ahead and to the left of the general society and as much as that is true for other artists, we help to inspire and forge the path.
CC: What is the best piece of advice you received as an artist?
Louise Silk: Be open- don’t hesitate- discover connections-follow your gut- take it further.
CC: Lastly, what is art/craft to you?
Louise Silk: Pure inspiration.
Louise Silk: Studio Tour | Video by Steve Root
You can also see more of Louise’ work on her website or on instagram.