Jennifer Brown’s gorgeous textiles are odes to nature, specifically the natural beauty of the Island. Like a poet, the artist is not explicit, but rather uses irregular shapes, surfaces, and stitching to evoke the essence of what it is to experience the land and water.
Brown’s exhibit “Sitting Quietly, Moving Slowly” at the Chilmark library can soothe your nervous system. The 20-odd pieces are inspired by her meanderings over the last year and a half. What often catches her eye are the natural curves in the landscapes, whether it’s the paths through the woods or shore or tide lines. The pieces do not aim for realism, but instead are spare, abstract compositions that evoke a real sense of calm — hence the show’s title. The work, however, is deceptively nuanced.
Brown employs various techniques, including reverse appliqué, cutting away the top layer to reveal the fabric underneath, rather than straight appliqué in which textiles are added on top. She also does patchwork, sewing bits and pieces next to one another. “I pick a background and then put a neutral, grounding fabric on top,” Brown says. “My process is really intuitive. I try to get into a still place and sketch my curving designs with pencil directly on the fabric. Then I use basting stitches around those lines and cut them out. It’s fun to be surprised sometimes to see how the color changes of the fabric below from the designs I have created on top. Then I do my finishing and embroidery stitches afterward.” While flat, the combination of approaches — as well as the textures of the fabric themselves — creates surprising depth.
“I tend to gravitate to solid-color fabrics, maybe with some subtle variation in them, and colors found in nature,” she says. While Brown limits her palette of cool colors in “Currents,” their subtle differences create a compelling composition. You can hear the sounds of gentle waves or swish of the current flowing in her braided lines that cut through a patchwork landmass below the sky with a sun, moon, or cloud form with its accompanying radiating light just outside the outline.
“Sea and Stars” is more complex both in the intricacy of her patchwork that creates the landmass, as well as the rambling lines of the embroidery accented by the metallic thread that creates the light from the twinkling stars we see in the night sky. “Part of why I love the fabric is that it has dimension, and the layering of thread on top adds movement, texture, and interest to the piece,” Brown says.
The threads that wind within and over her abstract forms in the “Meandering Path” series of small, 5- by 5-inch squares create a sort of narrative. “These are more playful,” Brown explains. “I was having a lot of fun, and it is like we are going for a little walk through the woods.”
In the large 26- by 36-inch “Full Moon Sea,” Brown experiments with another color — a winter-ocean dark blue layered with abstract, slim horizontal and vertical waves undulating below a bright half-moon rising on the horizon and reflected in the metallic thread running through the water. While far from photographic, “Full Moon Sea” conjures the feeling of the weather and rolling of the ocean.
Brown sometimes uses a brighter palette, as you can see in her lovely “Pink Sea” series, and brown hues in the “Sunset Sea” pieces.
In addition to her textile art, Brown makes raw silk eye pillows that also carry her one-of-a-kind patchwork patterns. They are filled with organic buckwheat hulls, organic flowers, herbs, and essential oils, stimulating the same sense of serenity as her artwork. Brown doesn’t see a distinction between craft and art, except in the intention of the final product, whether it is something to be used or something to be solely admired: “I think they both require skill and technique, point of view, and one’s own aesthetic.”
“Sitting Quietly, Moving Slowly” is on view through the end of February at the Chilmark library. See more of Jennifer Brown’s work at abovetheflowershop.com, at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury, or on its website, fieldgallery.com.