Artist Christy Matson. Photo courtesy of Molly Haas. 

Integral to textile artist Christy Matson’s work is her process: beginning with quick sketches or watercolor paintings, she uploads her designs to a photo-imaging application that is then programmed into her Jacquard loom. The loom is computer-programmed yet manually-operated, giving her control over the warp and weft as if she were painting with fibers. Her work often draws on the history of Modernism as well as on textiles from all over the world. Because of both her rigorous process and her inventive manipulation of materials, her work has received critical acclaim and belongs to the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art as well as the Art Institute of Chicago. Among the exhibitions in progress opening this fall, Matson will have a solo exhibition of her work at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Fresh from her recent exhibition Christy Matson: Crossings at the Cranbrook Art Museum, which closed March 15, 2020, Matson walked us through her Los Angeles studio and answered a few questions about her practice.

Christy Matson at her loom. Photo courtesy of Molly Haas. 

PHILLIPS: Is there a specific space or object within your home or studio that you draw inspiration from, or return to, when thinking about new ideas for your work?

CHRISTY MATSON: I always return to my loom when I’m thinking through new ideas. All of my work is made in a proximal and reciprocal relationship with my tools and materials. Because I’m so dependent on those tools, the physical space of the studio is kind of my sanctuary or “mental oasis”.

A detail of Christy's work from an upcoming show at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo courtesy of JWPictures. 

P: When deciding which materials you use in your work, what are the most important factors you consider? Are there any materials you’d like to explore next that you haven’t tried yet?

CM: I work primarily with materials which are surplus or “deadstock” meaning they are either leftover from industrial production or a finite quantity. There is so much excess and waste in the textile and fashion industry that it's important to me to divert and reuse small quantities that are considered waste to larger companies. Because I often work with what I can find, that offers an element of improvisation to an approach that involves a lot of planning and predetermination. Right now, I’m working through a cache of paper yarn that my friend (and grad school mentor) Lia Cook brought back from Japan sometime a few decades ago.

Christy Matson at her loom. Photo courtesy of Molly Haas. 

P: What challenges do you often face in your design or creative process?

CM: The word “challenge” implies limitations, of which there are plenty when one works with hand‐weaving. But I don’t really approach my work with that mindset. Instead, I think about what are the parameters I have to work with and how can I subvert them when they get in my way. It's like playing a constant game of chess with my loom.

A detail of Christy's work from an upcoming show at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo courtesy of JWPictures.

P: Having to step away from your usual day to day schedule, is there a book/film/project you’ll take this opportunity to begin (or return to)?

CM: I wish my answer to this was a resounding YES! but I also think it's fine to lower one’s expectations during a pandemic and to just sit with the distraction. The Los Angeles Public Schools are closed until at least May 1 and so the reality is that my current “project” is homeschooling my 7-year-old and trying to provide a comforting/loving routine for her. As anxiety‐producing as this moment is, I’m trying to focus on the gift of time that we have together as a family.

An example of Christy's work from an upcoming show at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo courtesy of JWPictures.

P: Where is the future of your practice headed?

CM: I have a 2‐person show that was supposed to open March 26th at Timothy Taylor Gallery in NYC. It's been postponed until July. And then a solo exhibition opening in October at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Just as the Los Angeles public schools closed and we were asked to stay home by Governor Newsom, I had turned my attention to making work for an upcoming show with Rebecca Camacho Presents in San Francisco. In many ways this is a good moment for me to take a pause, and it will be interesting to see how the work shifts once we’re on the other side of this. My city councilman said it's fine to work in my studio as long as I’m not in contact with other people (which I am not) but I’m finding it hard to get there for more than a few hours at a time. That said, it's such a relief whenever I’m there.

 

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