For the second installment of her ongoing story series for Future Shipwreck, deftly skilled painter and fabric artist Megan Whitmarsh shares some thoughts on embroidery, Jim Henson and selling out. Don’t miss Megan’s solo show Radiant Artifacts at Rosenthal Gallery in San Francisco, which is on display through December 4th. Texans, you can check out Whitmarsh’s work at the Marty Walker Gallery in Dallas, where she’s participating in the sculptural group show Small Works: Art + Object.
In grad school in New Orleans. I was bored with my own abilities in painting. I guess I felt like everything cool had been done and way better then I was going to do it. In retrospect I think embroidery is a natural medium for me partly because I grew up around it (my mom sewed and embroidered) and because I am drawn to limited, simple technologies. I don’t even like to use a sewing machine. I think there is something optimistic about using very simple mediums—it gives the viewer a sense that they too can create.
I saw the pilot of The Muppet Show in NY at the Museum of Television and Radio and you could see the puppeteers in the background wearing black leotards and moving around. The sets and everything were so simple you felt like you could go home and make your own Muppet show with some felt and some stuffing. I love that. My favorite muppet when I was a kid was probably Animal although I did own a Miss Piggy doll that had purple silk gloves. I secretly thought Kermit was boring. As an adult re-watching the Muppets I had this “aha!” moment that Kermit represented Jim Henson and was the artist orchestrating the whole thing. He made meta-jokes which as a kid I could not access, but now recognize. Kermit added a layer of sophisticated awareness and pointed out the edges of the frame so to speak. A kind of wink to the audience but in a way that held no irony or distance. I think Henson is really a genius artist whose work was generous and incredibly layered.
It is also interesting to me that he started out making commercials- particularly in the 60’s which you would think of as a virulently anti-commercial time for artists and hippie type people. He seems evolved in that he could operate in the commercial world with ease and be subversive in a quiet yet determined way, but always with gentleness. I think it is cool that he managed to make real, radical and lasting art while finding funding from some pretty non-creative industries. It seems especially pertinent now as artists are constantly crossing the line between “fine art” and the commercial world—and there is always a little anxiety about this naturally. I heard that No Age played a corporate gig and they changed their name for the event so that No Age did not “sell out”. But this seems silly. It’s only selling out if you make something you don’t want to make for money. If you are making what you want to make how is that selling out? It’s just redistribution of money. Better to go in the hands of the artist then stay in the pockets of a corporation, right?