I met Australian artist Michelle Hamer on social media, took one look at her work and knew I had to chat with her. Her work www.michellehamer.com includes what she calls, “Hand-Stitched Pixilation.” It’s very unique and Michelle is quite specific and certain about why she does it and what it all means …
MICHAEL: Hi Michelle, Great to be chatting with you. First off, you call the work you're doing now, "Hand-Stitched Pixilation." That sounds like a LOT of painstaking work. How do you describe your process?
MICHELLE: Hi Michael, thanks for the opportunity! Yep, it is incredibly painstaking, but also really relaxing when I’m really inside a piece. My works are mostly based on my own photographs, so the first step is photographing. This usually happens while I’m driving or generally going between places. I then print out the image at A4 size and then use a CD marker to roughly draw the outline of the major areas of the image onto the perforated plastic. I then match colors by eye from the original image with the wools I have. I buy locally available knitting wool which often means I have to juggle colors/mix pixels in order to create the color/texture that I want. I think of each stitch as a pixel although I work in a somewhat painterly way. I work across the entire work as I build up the image rather than in a linear fashion. The stitching itself varies from being repetitive to having to change wools regularly across areas.
MICHAEL: And so, why do you go through this process? What's the concept or point behind your approach?
MICHELLE: I see my work as a type of socio-historic documentation. The images depicted are in between moments that we often take for granted. The obviously slow process allows viewers to become more conscious of these moments which are captured within an instant and consider the difference between the manual and the digital. The in-between spaces (on/off ramps of freeways etc.) where signage can often be found is both necessary for our infrastructure, but also generally not noticed. Similarly, much of the text, advertising signage, streetscapes are so familiar we can fail to focus/really see it, but it's often reflective of our broader social ambitions, aspirations and edicts.
MICHAEL: I love your comment about the in-between spaces. That certainly applies to life. Isn't that where we find our creativity and solutions to issues in our lives? Those in-between spaces define us.
MICHELLE: Absolutely! I often find solutions or ideas while doing something else like waiting in traffic, for appointments/meetings or alternating running between things because it applies to most of us in some sense. That is the space we inhabit and it can be gray and uncertain, but it defines us individually and I believe as a society too.
MICHAEL: Aren't you in Australia? What's the art scene like in Melbourne? Most Americans aren't really "into" contemporary art. Is it different in Australia?
MICHELLE: Melbourne has a thriving arts scene. Street art/graffiti has become something used to promote the city and we have many Artists Run Initiatives (ARIs) which serve as galleries for emerging and even more established artists. Australia is not much different to America in terms of art appreciation. Aussies love their sport!
MICHAEL: When you're actually creating art, what's going through your mind? Are you meditating or thinking about what you're going to have for dinner? What's the actual process like?
MICHELLE: I watch a lot of dvds while creating and the more engrossed in a series, the more I feel a part of the artwork. I do think about dinner and other everyday things along with which wool I need to use next. It's more meditative when doing large blocks of color and more frenetic when it's pixel juggling. Then my head may be pixel-pixel-character-pixel-food-pixel-pixel-pixel-character.
MICHAEL: Do you come from an artistic family? Where do you think your talent comes from? What's your first memory of art and your relationship with it? When did you become an artist?
MICHELLE: My mother is very good with crafts and taught me to sew from a young age, but it was not artistic as such and working in the arts wasn't really ever something considered an option, so for me it's quite an accident. There are some creative streaks that run through my extended family, but no professional artists. And I remember being bought tapestry kits as a child and hating them!
One of my first memories of art is from primary school and being given sandpaper and dry pastels to draw a scene with. I remember loving making that and I was so absorbed I cut my finger from rubbing on the sand-paper, but didn't care. I also used to go to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) with a friend of mine in high school and we'd hang out in the contemporary art area around the Rothko's, Malevich's etc. I didn't ever associate it with making my own work though. I just liked the space and artworks. I'm about to have works shown there which given that I didn't set out to be an artist is still somewhat surreal.
MICHAEL: Wow. That’s fantastic. And when did you become an artist?
MICHELLE: I became an artist nearly eight years ago. My background is in architecture and then I was told the 'things' I was making were art and that I should be exhibiting them. I knew one artist vaguely and got in touch and asked what I was supposed to do to exhibit. It's been an amazing learning curve.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world/art market and how they function today? Dead famous artists are thriving while living artists continue to struggle.
MICHELLE: My guess is that more living artists thrive than in the past. Dead ones have always been more popular and I've had friends ask whether it’s time yet to bump me off! But I guess the difficulty is that there are some superstars while most struggle and financial success and recognition is often due to many factors beyond just the work. It raises broader questions of how we as a society value cultural content and thus how to we fund it and the artists who are making it.
MICHAEL: Finally Michelle, where do you want to go with your work and what's the point of art anyway? Aren't we wasting time talking about art? Shouldn't we be discussing world peace or an end to homelessness?
MICHELLE: I believe art can explore issues in ways that bring them to the fore. To me, my art very personally addresses some quite difficult issues about illness and social edicts and aspirations. I've got very strong personal ties to issues of trauma, health and war and I know that people read different things into my work which I think is good, but I know some people who have big struggles who feel acknowledgment in it. Art can help raise or highlight serious issues as much as it can be about commodification. I like that you don't shy away from the difficult questions of being part of the art world Michael. As an artist, I do grapple with these things. In the end, I guess all we can hope for is to inspire people to ask more questions.
As for my work, I have a couple of big things I'm looking forward to. I'll be spending some time making some London based work for an art fair there and I also have an ambitious interactive project planned. I'm ultimately interested in the idea of socio-historic mapping and boundaries. So I hope to get opportunities to continue engaging with the world and highlight the challenges we face. I feel lucky that I have a somewhat dark sense of humour and much of the 'stuff' I end up documenting (and the edge of life that faces challenges) keeps me pretty amused.
MICHAEL: Thanks Michelle. Cool chat.
Check out Michelle Hamer and her work at www.michellehamer.com.