We're so excited to start a new adventure at Cameron Marks, our Maker Workshop series! Our first workshop will be with Jody Alexander of Wishi Washi Studio. As a fine artist based in Santa Cruz, Jody has established herself as a prominent artist in the community working on book and textile arts. A recipient of the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship Jody has been exploring and creating new work inspired by the Boro Aesthetic. She invited us into her studio space at the Tannery Arts workspace in Santa Cruz to learn more about our upcoming Boro Workshop.
Jody herself embodies the spirt of her work with layers of unique textiles draping her body as she opened the door to greet us. The passion of her work is evident when you look around her studio, piles of books she's collected to incorporate into her most recent work and delicate textiles from her most recent trip to Japan are proudly displayed on her work table. These are the textiles that show the unique history of Boro and how japanese families have used it to strengthen and repair family textiles to pass down from generation to generation. Each one has it's own life and story, just like Jody.
Can you tell us how you got the name of your studio, Wishi Washi?
Washi is the Japanese word for paper made in the traditional Japanese style, so the paper I used to make is Washi...and it's such a great word! And combined with Wishi is just something so fun that we all know from being a kid, I was always saying "wishi wash, wishi washi" as a kid! I kind of think of it as Washi represents my book making and paper work and Wishi represents everything else!
When did you first get your inspiration to work with textiles?
Textiles have been making their way into my work for awhile now. In my installation series Odd Volumes of Ruby B I started putting together paper and tea stain textiles and photographs and stitching them all together. After that I never really let go of the textile thing, I realized how working with textiles was so pleasing to me. I really loved it. When the big book withdrawal project began at the Cabrillo Library I started bringing them home with me and I started working with the book pages with the interest of textiles sticking with me. I was so interested in combining the two and I would stare at these books and the colors of the cloth covers were just killing me, they were these great red oranges and I just loved them. I kept thinking how could i incorporate these and then I thought, oh of course, I could rip the cloth off!
What an amazing surge of inspiration! So how did that lead you to Boro?
So at the same time all that inspiration was happening this interest of Boro came back up in my mind. I had thought a lot about it 10 years ago but I guess I hid it somewhere in my mind. I love the Boro textiles but I didn't want to make things that look exactly like that. I want to use my own materials in an original way that embody that aesthetic. This is a sampler book I made for myself, where I decided I was going to extract what I was seeing to make a sample of the vocabulary of Boro. (That's what you'll be learning in the workshop!)
Boro has been so interesting to me. I was an art history major in college and I think what i love about art history was that I was learning about the art but I was also learning about the history and the culture and what was going on at the time. The art was always a product of that! Through Boro, I've learned so much about the Japanese history and culture. Just in this little piece of fabric is so much history! The fabric, how it was put together, and what it was used for all has such a unique story! Boro is utilitarian first but the aesthetic really sneaks in there too, there's beauty in every piece.
Your pieces really have a sense of age and history themselves! Can you tell us more about how you do this?
When I taught at Shakerag this past year, an art retreat in Tennessee, I stayed on as a student an extra week to take a class from Yoshiko Wada - a Japanese textile expert and artist...and amazing person! She knew I wanted to start working with these materials and she said "you need to start distressing these with place, and you need to distress it with this place." So I started to take my fabrics outside and found this really rich clay to rub on it and I took it in the lake, so that started this series! I also did one when I was in Kyoto so then I thought I have to have a Santa Cruz piece! I took it to the beach and ran it in the water and sand, walnut from the tree in my front yard and dirt from outside the Tannery Arts Center here. And I've also been working with colors to represent place.
We're so excited to have you teach our first workshop, when did you start teaching?
When I lived in Boston and learned bookmaking I found myself working in my studio a lot and I thought teaching seemed like a great way to get myself and my art out into the world and to share what I was working on. So the first class I taught was at Paper Source in Cambridge about 20 years ago and I never stopped! It's a great way to bring life to your own art and it gives life to my studio here. I really learn so much from my students, I meet great people and everyone brings really great energy to each class.
I do encourage people to bring their own materials to my workshops. An old shirt or an old dress, just something that has meaning to them. Paper too! They can incorporate paper into each piece as well. I also teach transferring in these workshops. What's so cool about working so small is you can take something and transfer it over onto the fabric that really makes it look like it's from a larger piece.