My work is derived from the historical precedent of a sampler, using stitches to record the forms, patterns and textures of my experiences of different places. This recording of memories is a tactile sense of space, not a photographic documentation. All the forms, patterns, textures and colors are my impressions and understandings from a specific time and place.
Each piece becomes a conversation between me and the materials. What often starts in one direction will change as the layers build and affect each other. The patterns I use derive heavily from botanical and natural forms. Nothing is solid, static or whole. Like memories the forms shift, fragment, intertwine and evolve.
My process takes precedent over any drive towards a preordained composition. Sewing has no short cuts, you need to make every stitch to fill a space. This process becomes meditative as I work to recall each memory and distill it into a physical representation. A by-product of my process and material choice is that each move can not be erased. It can be picked out or covered over but the holes and ghosts of the idea remain as pentimenti of my process, becoming a layered memory fading to the background.
As a process, embroidery displays a certain economy of the line and that a seemingly simple line used in repetition can define space while remaining transparent. This creates a sense of elements fading forward and backward, in and out of focus. This unique transparency captures the emotional state of my working to recall memories and give them a visual record. The work is all hand-sewn using a mix of threads depending on that is needed for the thickness of the layer or shine and vibrancy of the color. I use silk, cotton, linen, rayon, polyester and wool embroidery thread.
Each piece starts with an idea, a place or time and I make small stitch sketches of each layer which become the palette of styles and forms to make the final piece. The sketches serve as a guide to my process since they are the singular recording of each memory. I see myself as a painter who uses thread. The colors are pure and unmixed and the layering of stitches gives shade variation. Each layer is highly detailed and tactile so the repeating of patterns serve as the non-verbal storytelling of my memories. This layering and abstraction allows for a viewer to search for my story in each composition and formulate their own understanding of each space.
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Rhian Swierat grew up in the Hudson Valley and is now based in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2002 with a BFA in graphic design. Her mom taught her embroidery as a child, sharing with her a love of textiles and patterns. A visual magpie at heart, she is always collecting new materials and patterns to sew and experiment with in the most unlikely of places.