LEANDRO creates complex, sumptuous surfaces using traditional textile
techniques in unconventional ways. Her diverse repertoire includes drawing, hand embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving, and she ultimately balances all these in a symbolic exploration of her cultural identities as both Latina and North American. Melissa lives and works in Chicago. She
is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the School of the Art
Institute of Chicago, while maintaining an active exhibition record.
After winning the Juror’s Award at the 57th Annual Beloit and Vicinity exhibition in 2014, her solo exhibition Recuerdos de Un Paseo is on view at the Wright Museum of Art in Beloit, Wisconsin until August 2, 2015. Her work is included in the group exhibition, Mom & Pop: Family Business in Art and Life, curated by Anthony Stepter. It opened last week at Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago and will be on view until September 11, 2015.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history with the various techniques you use in your practice. How does each feed into the others?
I originally began with traditional floor loom weaving and then quickly
moved to weaving with the aid of a digital Jacquard loom. I also have
an obsession with learning and inventing new techniques while using my
hands for repetitive and methodical systems of making.
and stitching follow a particular pattern—over under, up and down—but
intentionally causing inconsistencies in that pattern to achieve an
unconventional outcome is extremely satisfying. I’d like my work to
constantly generate or branch off into new ideas. My process of making
and thinking through ideas never completely ends. I often go back and
fourth with imagery and process by using reoccurring marks and patterns
from finished or in-progress works.
At the root of my practice is a perpetual interest in considering how to create harmonious combinations of process, material and pattern within a given object or textile. Over time, I’ve developed a working method that often calls for the fusion of materials into new textiles and surfaces through processes like heat-fusing, weaving, felting and paper-making. For example, I often build up multiple layers of plastic, paper, felt, yarn and fuse them together to create a new substrate. The materials are often cheap, cast-away domestic objects, like upholstery, tablecloths and polyester fabric. Through the process of weaving, elements of the original materials are hidden, exposed and thus fragmented. I use embellishment techniques like embroidery and stitching to further build up, expose or hide pattern and color.
OPP: What role does translation—in terms of materials, media, and language—play in your practice?
I’m interested in moving sourced pattern and drawn lines through
multiple processes of translation. I often begin with a base
process—small-scale line drawings, two-dimensional collages or cyanotype
prints, for example—that is consistent and has limited freedom in its
output. I create these intimate, abstract works during moments of
transit, extended travel or moments of boredom, usually in a sketchbook.
Then I translate them through embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making,
felting, heat-fusing and weaving. I enjoy the idea that my paper pieces
can move through multiple iterations until they are drastically
different from their original form, both in scale and texture.
this has been through the use of cyanotype or “sun prints.” Cyanotype, a
photographic printing process that uses the sun for exposure, leaves
only an impression of the original object. I imprint family trinkets and
mementos, fabric, lace, leaves, rocks and small sculptures, but their
nuanced textures and colors are stripped away. What remains is a
distorted—translated—image of shapes and lines.
From here the
image is traced, photocopied, cut and collaged to create new drawings,
weavings and sculptural objects that only slightly echo the original
linear elements of the cyanotype. The sentimentality of these objects
becomes blurred and sometimes totally lost. My titles connect the final
work with its original inspiration. Spanish phrases, words and slang in
my titles often refer to being on journeys, endless paths, lost in
mazes. Alternatively, there are more specific cultural adjectives about
character and class.
I am conflicted by being a part of two different cultures, identifying myself as both American and Latina. I struggle with bouncing back and forth between thinking and speaking in English and Spanish. I’m continually concerned that one culture is becoming more dominant than the other. My practice has become a means to seek out systems that highlight these stark differences while forcing them to coexist within the same plane.
OPP: I love your idea of language as the "warp and weft of a mixed culture." Can you expand on that as it relates to Spanglish?
In Miami, it’s common for people to speak in English but regularly use
Spanish words or phrases as a form of slang. Although, I don’t live in
Miami any more, I still occasionally use Spanglish and process thoughts
and memories in both languages. As time progresses, it becomes difficult
to differentiate whether memories were in one language or another;
things are lost in translation.
This mixing of languages has often lead to the creation of new slang words, which correlates to the mixing of material textures in my practice. I combine natural with synthetic, bright with muted, digital with analog, just in the same way Miami was a collision of cultures, music, food and so on. There is also a huge contrast between the rural landscapes of Costa Rica—my family’s home country—and the more urban, party town that is Miami and now my urban home of Chicago. I find comfort in merging the physical qualities of a very rural landscape with the rich, hyper extreme colors that surround me in the U.S. Through material investigation, I believe this play between local and foreign influences will impact my work for some time to come.
OPP: What's a "gradient stitch?" Tell us how you use it in your work.
ML: A “gradient stitch” is a term I use to describe a very dense zig-zag machine stitch that requires gradated sewing thread. Every sewn inch, changes thread color, fluctuating between three-five colors in one given spool of thread. The thread has a smooth transition between each color, allowing for solid, colored lines to be “drawn” on fabric. I frequently choose colors that are vivid or neon because they give a desired effect of vibrating on the fabric’s surface. Similar to my pen drawings on paper, I use sewn stitches to draw repetitive lines, dashes and shapes. By making crucial decisions on thread color, the sewn plane is alive and in constant transition. The end results are illustrations that resemble warped and deconstructed topographical maps.
OPP: In works from 2011 like Mi Mama, Mi Papa and La Familia, there were more literal references to your family and heritage. But in recent years, you have shifted more towards symbolic abstraction. In your statement, you say, "I create an inventory of symbols connected to [childhood] memories based on abstract structures, systems of map making, topography, and landmark images." Could you highlight a favorite recurring symbol for us?
ML: One repeating symbol in my work is a cluster of linear, mountainous forms, forming landscapes. Specifically, they are hill-like shapes that stack on top of one another, often consuming the paper, woven cloth or stitched fabric I’m working on. This symbol represents my affinity for rural environments. Growing up, I spent many summers in Costa Rica. I later realized the rural, mountainous and lush landscape subconsciously influenced what I was doodling in my sketchbook. As the imagery became more pronounced, my doodling turned into a body of drawings that depicted mountains, valleys, dirt mounds, roads and river paths. Now I spend much of my time in urban cities, so my drawing practice reconnect me with surroundings that are currently quite foreign to me. My drawings shift between landscape and aerial views. The symbols have also begun to mesh urban and rural elements together. I associate squares and straight lines with urban environments, while circular shapes represent rural/natural environments.
OPP: You've also been working with the doily as a material symbol. What does it mean to you?
Doilies have recently become an incredibly prominent symbol. The doily
has a rich connection with home decoration, dinning and social class.
I’m interested in thinking about how the doily has moved through
materials; first as silk ornaments made for furniture coverings, then
cotton doily placemats, to recent uses as plastic coasters and
tablecloths. There is a fascinating juxtaposition between a handmade
cotton doily heirloom and a mass-produced plastic, disposal doily
coaster, which hints at a huge shift in class status and value for the
handmade. The disposability of this symbolic object make me want to
invest in it as pattern.
I have begun to weave with plastic doily tablecloths. I cut the material into strips, weave them together using a tabby construction and then heat-fuse the whole piece; the heat melts the plastic strips to form a new substrate. The imagery of the doily is fragmented and obscured by other woven-in, synthetic materials like plastic rug liners, disposable tablecloths, fabric gimp, trim and sequins. These cheap, domestic materials were a huge part of my childhood home, which was decorated with plastic dishware, textiles and furniture. My work reincarnates these utilitarian and disposable textiles into something surreal, gaudy and precious.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.