Drawn Together; embroidered portraits 2003-2021: Meshell Melvin
This exhibit is an assembly of over 1,000 embroidered portraits of people who attended Yukon festivals and events from Dawson City to Atlin. Each image is a chain stitched contour drawing from life, made with a hand guided industrial embroidery machine. Creating a visual continuity that spans the years, the portraits all share the same colour of thread, the same dimension and are cut from the same cloth.
This story begins with the Universal Movement Machine and me. In our earliest days as I struggled to figure out its workings, there was an instant when all the parts came together and I was driving! Moments later and more profoundly I recognized that I was drawing, and a new land opened up. Once I became more comfortable with the machine and as a foil to the process I practiced drawing portraits, using myself and friends and family as models.
I started to use the word “drawing” in place of “embroidering” when talking about my work. To visitors in the studio this was sometimes confusing, so as a visual explanation I would make a quick image of them on the machine. These drawings stayed in the studio until 2003, when the Universal Movement Machine accompanied me to the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival in Dawson City. At the top of the first morning, I took my seat at the table in my accustomed response to the question and embroidered a portrait on a piece of canvas.
A few others watched and were happy to take a turn being the model, and on it went all weekend long. I was joyful; I had found something that was just right for me to do. The outrageous idea of “drawing everyone in the Yukon”, came later in the year. I may never draw all of us, but I have made a lifetime commitment to embroidering as many of us as I can.
Portraiture has a long history and tradition of being made (for the most part) in the privacy of the studio, as an indulgence of the privileged. Embroidery has an equally long tradition and adorns many of the textiles in our daily lives. That these two familiar things come together in an unfamiliar way right before their very eyes is enough to spark the imagination of the audience. This light grows when the audience member becomes a model and a creative occasion is shared between us.
The greatest work for me is to be fully present with the model in focused attention, despite the chatter within and the public space surrounding us. This work allows for the model to have the experience of being seen without judgment and with kindness and regard.
The portraits are a record of this intimate exchange. They each have something in them from the moment they were made that recalls the experience that was shared. Each with their own voice in their own time, Drawn Together to reflect the connections that we share and the community we form.
The exhibit runs June 7 to August 27. Gallery hours are Monday - Friday, 10am-5pm.
Monday, June 7 - Friday, August 27