Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
We bring you another amazing artist associated with the Baltimore art/comedy group Wham City, April Camlin. She’s somewhere between a fashion or textile designer and fine artist, and onced played Lex Murphy in a small stage production of “Jurassic Park”. Her current black and white textile series is so eye-catching we needed to ask her all about it.
SW: How long does it take you to come up with the designs and then create a piece?
AC: Well, I think that’d be the planning. I like to start out with an idea, at times it’s like an arsenal of techniques that are influencing the composition and I like to kind of intuitively work, so I think that the execution takes a really long time. Because I have that space, I can kind of change things as they go along. If I don’t like the way that something is working, I can undo it and then start over again. I definitely think that I spend a lot more time in the execution. I did an installation in August and I spent about 200 hours stitching. The design of it, maybe, I spent like a couple days just laying it out. I’ve been doing more with digital fabric printing. That definitely involves a bit more planning ahead and doing more design work on the computer. It’s been like a new thing for me, but I’ve been really excited about it. That stuff is a little bit more time consuming I suppose.
SW: You use like Illustrator, or something?
AC: I use Photoshop. I’m so technologically illiterate, but I’m probably using it in an incredibly inefficient way. [Laughs] So it probably makes it take longer. Every time I’m making work, I’m kind of like ‘I know there must be a better way to do this,’ but I’m very connected to the labor.
SW: So you’ve got needlepoint, weaving and digital printing? Is there anything else in the series?
AC: No, not at the moment. I’m drawn to working on anything that involves a grid. Mostly those three right now.
SW: I see actually one piece that’s an infinity sweater, it says machine knit.
AC: Yeah, I kind of started out with this series of ideas that I’m working on now, with the idea of super exaggerated or forced perspective, sort of tricking the eye. Then it moved into something a little bit different. I was doing some stuff on the knitting machines, but not quite so much anymore.
SW: Where do you get your fabric printed?
AC: I’m very fortunate, I have it printed at school. We have a really nice fiber reactive printer, which means that it’s printing the ink. The dye, it’s penetrating the fabric instead of sort of just sitting on top and not being extremely durable. It’s a really high quality image that’s getting printed. It’s a great resource.
SW: Wow yeah, so the nylon is like this sheer black color? Is that what it is? Then it’s printing the white?
AC: Oh no, the opposite, it’s white then I’m printing the black.
SW: Wait, whaaaat?
SW: How? What??
AC: Crepe Georgette is the material and it’s backed, it has a paper backing when it’s going though the printer. When you remove the fabric adhered to the paper backing before you steam it.
SW: That’s amazing.
AC: Yeah, digital printing on fabric is so cool. I feel like because I’ve been very connected to these very labor intensive processes, like the needle point and the weaving, it’s kind of forced my scale to be a certain size. Digital printing really allows me to think about things on a larger scale than I have before.
SW: With all of these designs, are you thinking more like a designer or thinking more like a fine artist that’s putting practical use to these? I can’t tell, some of the closeups are so nice on their own, but obviously they make great patterns to use. What was the original intention?
AC: That’s a good question. [Laughs] I feel like I’m informed and interested, both in the fine arts and also in more of an industrial fabrication. I think ideally, when I see myself in the future, I think about working in some kind of industry where I’m working with fabrication and having that be something that informs my fine art. I think that for me, the two are inextricably linked.
SW: Why black and white?
AC: I think that black and white kind of triggers this vibration almost, with my eyes and my mind, that’s very appealing to me. For me, they are the two colors that have the highest contrast. I was at Haystack this summer in Maine, it’s like a residential Art School. You do, like, two week sessions. I was looking at the ecosystem that was around me and the relationship of all these natural elements to each other. Somehow, one thing led to another, I started doing research on all of the plants in the area. It seems kind of weird, but it kind of led me towards this binary relationship between the eyes and the mind that exists in Op Art, and how that’s its own little ecosystem. So I started doing more research into Op Art. There’s always been something about black and white to me that I’ve really responded to it. I feel like I kind of understood why as I was doing more research over the summer.
SW: Are there any other artistic or cultural inspirations? You said binary and I can see that perfectly, but are there any other cultures that are involved or influencing this?
AC: Totally, I’m looking a lot at Kuba Cloth, which is this embroidered pile which is made of Raffia which comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve just been really inspired by the way that the people, the women who are embroidering these designs, they’re kind of working with this really complex structure, but there’s also this kind of play on the structure. It’s really appealing to me, really interesting to me.
SW: Yeah, it’s really cool.
AC: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s kind of mind-blowing/boggling.
SW: What’s your process like? I can’t tell if this is something where you have to be really focused or can kind of have Netflix on and zone out? It seems like you do once wrong stitch and you’ve made a new pattern.
AC: Well, that’s kind of something that I’m interested in exploring too. The way that a pattern can be manipulated and be caused to interrupt itself. Those moments where it collides with itself, that’s kind of something that’s really interesting to me. I think it’s for different things. I listen to a lot of audio books, it is kind of this weird involuntary focus. It feels very natural to me to be working this way. It is highly focused work, but I don’t feel like I have to devote every iota of my mental processing to execute the design. Know what I mean?
AC: I do enjoy some Netflix from time to time as I’m embroidering. I’ll admit it. [Laughs]
SW: Did you design this jumpsuit or did someone else design the jumpsuit?
AC: That’s a pre-made pattern I got from a website that sells patterns. I didn’t design the pattern just the print on the fabric that goes with it.
SW: Also, where the seams would meet, you picked all that and everything too.
AC: Yeah, it’s known as engineered print so you’re kind of working with a pattern shape and designing the fabric to fit specifically into that shape and then you can do things like orchestrate where the pattern matches up on the seams and things like that.
SW: Oh wait, did this design come first or second? How did that overlap? Did you pick the jumpsuit first and then you were like, ‘I need to make a pattern for this jumpsuit’?
SW: Ah okay, very cool.
AC: I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do, I knew that it had to be a jumpsuit and so I kind of just looked for jumpsuit patterns.
SW: This back little piece, the dart or whatever that is, the fold, that came out excellent.
AC: Thank you! [Laughs] That fabric was… not fun to work with.
SW: It doesn’t look fun to work with, but it’s fun to look at.
AC: The funny thing about it, I kind of, like, smudged. You can see there’s some weird warping happening with the design, and that was something that I did intentionally, but as it was coming out of the fabric printer, the printer tech was like ‘Oh no! There’s a problem with the printer!’ I was like, ‘Haha! No I fooled you!’ That’s just my print! [Laughs] When things like that happen it’s really exciting to me. You’re tricking your mind. I’m really interested in the way that feels.
SW: Do you have any more big plans for this series or are you just kind of letting it go? Not go, but stop…
AC: I feel like I’m going to keep working in this series until it doesn’t feel right anymore. I don’t think too far ahead, I like to just focus on what’s happening and kind of let the work go where it wants to go. I try not to place too many restrictions on the direction. Sometimes these happy accidents happen and sometimes they can be just as inspiring as months of dedicated research, so I try not to impose too many time restrictions on it. It feels like a progression to me. I’m going to keep working within these parameters for awhile.
SW: I hope you do! It’s so fun to look at. Something about the way you worded something right now reminds me of this quote I wrote down the other day from ‘The Simpsons’.
SW: Officer Wiggum said, ‘Don’t censor me, it’s what stifles creativity.’ Something like that.
AC: Officer Wiggum said that? [Laughs]
SW: Yeah, he drew his gun and said something really bizarre. The other officer was like ‘…Chief?’ And then he said that. I thought it was kind of profound. [Laughs]
SW: One last question, just random. What kind of vending machine do you think needs to be invented?
AC: This is something that already exists, but I don’t think there are enough coffee vending machines in this country. [Laughs] Probably not a cool enough answer.
SW: No! Bring them back! They had those in the 70s and 80s, they were kind of dying in the 90s. We need those back. [Laughs] That’s a great answer.
AC: It’d be pretty cool if there was a vending machine that just sold thread. That’s the thing that I’m always running out of and I’m always running out of it late at night. There’s nowhere to get it, when I’m working at night I’m like ‘what do I need to unravel to get these colors…’ [Laughs]
SW: Oh man, I would love that.