Shari Urquhart’s artist statement

from her solo exhibition Narrative Threads

Russell Hill Rogers Gallery

The Southwest School of Art & Craft

JAN 14 - MAR 1999

San Antonio, TX

People ask me how it is that I turned from painting to hooking rugs. I learned to paint in the aftermath of abstract expressionism and the onset of art movements that embraced a more materialistic culture, so I naturally gravitated to a painterly, pop style, with layers of paint and narratives with titles like “Better Dead than Red.” While painting these pictures, I also made folky-type hooked pillows to pay for my painting materials.

When I started making the hooked pieces larger, I noticed the candy-like opulence of color available in fiber — partially because of the depth of the color in this medium. It was no longer paint sitting on top of the canvas, but one inch deep color. To my eye, given the variety of fibers available, the medium assimilated everything I had been striving for in my paintings, but with more intensity and purity.

All of my work in the 70s and 80s contained the element of humor, the kind of humor one finds outside the art world. A piece entitled “Egypticanna” was a turning point for me in terms of the level of sophistication. It was inspired by the popularization of the “Tut” blockbuster show at the Met and the many inane products which surfaced in furniture and clothing stores at the time and even sparked Steve Martin’s version of “King Tut.” My inspiration continues to come from a pastiche of popular culture, Hallmark, food displays, historical masterpieces, literature, and people I meet.

The narrative generally revolves around an interaction between two figures and themes such as the uneven distribution of wealth between the sexes or the powerlessness of a woman’s voice in matters of love and war. The piece “Woman I, Stage III,” for instance, is an interpretation of de Kooning’s masterpiece of the same title. In his painting the woman appears to be on a table, although it could be a stage. In my version she is on a table. In his, the arms of the woman appear to be moving in a painterly kinesthesis. In mine, the arms move, but because she is swatting flies that are little guys, insinuating that perhaps this angry woman has a reason to be angry. My interest in including images from art history goes back to graduate school days when I flunked so much art history (a C was an F then), that by the time I actually passed, I visually knew the pieces so well that I had fallen in love with them.

For me, all images become grist for the mill. In painting, these images would be ridiculous, chaotic, and confusing. In fibers, I know that all those tight little stitches will hold the ideas together.

Image above: Tut Piece, Egypticanna, 1979, Persian wool, satin, mohair and acrylic fibers 89 x 105 inches