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quilt artist Pat Autenrieth

interview by Douglas Eby 

 "Making art is a way toward being whole."

 Pat Autenrieth uses quilting as a fine arts medium. Her work has been shown in at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, the National Museum of American Art in Washington, and elsewhere. 

She notes that art is, at least "to some degree" a form of therapy. But, she adds, "I don't know of any working artist who doesn't need to make art in a larger sense. Making art is satisfying on so many levels, that it has got to have a healing effect."

Now 50, Autenrieth has been a painter for many years, and tried quilting as a playful break, a "vacation from art" as she put it. Also, she found she was "looking over her shoulder too much" toward art that would sell. 

"I was getting too self-conscious and too careerist about the art work and it was killing what joy I had in it," she says.

She was drawn to using fabric to "paint" ideas, but says the concept of "issue art" drives her crazy: "Done for its own sake, it too often strikes me as illustration, propaganda, that is to say, functional art," she explains.

Describing her work as "always autobiographical, when choosing symbols to express personal concerns," she also creates pieces "that also provide a larger context or multiple meanings. It's not that I want to confuse viewers, but I know people will read their own meanings into a symbol, and that's really more interesting to me."

She finds it is "less tedious" to use commercially printed fabrics than to generate her own patterns. "And I like getting outside of my own sensibility by using somebody else's print designs," she adds.

"It's also easier to create some low relief. Working with fabric does dictate, to some extent, how I manipulate my ideas. For example, I will play a harsh idea against the softness of the quilt or the sentimental aspects of quilting's history. But I still paint, print and draw as well."

She draws on her pieces with fabric crayons, acrylic or fabric paints, and uses a variety of techniques to print directly onto fabric: copy transfer, rubbings, silkscreen, photo heat transfer, rubber stamp, stenciling, inkjet and laser printing.

Although sometimes including poetry or writing by others, her primary interest is the imagery. "I would never presume to write poetry," she declares. "I consider it an extremely rarefied vocation and its practitioners nearly sacred. To combine the music of words and metre with visual imagery is far beyond my abilities. 

"But I love good writing, as I comprehend it. I am also struck by the verbiage that assaults me in an average day, from advertizese to scraps of graffiti. Writing in most forms gives me ideas, but to write, myself, is an agony."

Getting media attention by reviewers is a "necessary evil" for an artist, she admits. "People are reassured by them and thus encouraged to buy art. And I am, in turn, encouraged by the purchase of my work. 

I also think that an artist's work becomes insular without some interaction with a public. And I can't work in a void. On the other hand, I don't create for a market. I've given myself the luxury to satisfy only myself (and have been accused of being, alternately, selfish or stupid)."

Asked about the comment of one reviewer who said her work has "complex humor," Autenrieth says, "Well, I've never had to define humor before, much less 'complex' humor. I do know that the imp in me likes to thumb its nose at things I feel constrained by and to test the rigidity of those boundaries. And one idea leads to another. I guess that means that my humor emerges organically."

In terms of nourishing her work and life as an artist, Autenrieth says she finds meditation and exercise "useful for clearing my head of mental debris. I always have more ideas than I have time to execute. If I do get stuck on one, I set it aside and work on another. 

"At times when I have too much to do, I consciously close myself off from any new ideas so I can concentrate on the ones I'm working on."

As with many artists, she feels her work has meaning for others: "People see the things I make in shows and they benefit and are enriched by it."

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Pat Autenrieth website

Quiltart website

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related books:

Quiltmaking in America

A Communion of the Spirits : African-American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories

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