In the parallel universe of false starts, where every cabinet is filled with tools you’ll never use again and every heart with ideas that didn’t stick, artist Christy Matson is a welcome presence, a reminder that sometimes lost things have a way of finding you again. Matson bought her first loom before she’d ever woven, certain that she would take immediately to the repetition and logic of it: “I was, like, I’m going to love weaving, I just know it! I had never met a textile-related process I didn’t like,” Matson says. “And then I took a weaving class the next semester and hated it. I thought, this is it? This is boring.”
So call it kismet or just the long way around, but somehow more than a decade later Matson has led an entirely unboring life devoted to warps and wefts, becoming one of the youngest people ever tenured at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, in the department of Fiber and Material Studies, and landing her work in the collection of the Smithsonian. Not only did weaving strike the second time, but it struck hard. Matson works in jacquard, a technically demanding and labor-intensive style of handweaving, on a vacuum-powered loom with 880 individually controllable moving parts.
“This light bulb just went off,” Matson says of discovering jacquard, which is now more often automated and done on an industrial scale. “Suddenly everything seemed possible that wasn’t with traditional harnessed floor looms. It sort of blew things wide open.” For Matson, who was drawn to California in part for the surf, the attraction to handweaving jacquard was in its difficulty: not how quickly she could pick up a technique, but what might be possible once she did. “I tend to be drawn to the types of activities that seem like they could take a lifetime to master, not a quick flash in the pan and then I’m on to something else. I want to still be figuring it out; I don’t like to do things that are revealed to me all at once.”
Last summer, Matson left Chicago for Highland Park in Los Angeles, and a house with a vegetable garden and two breezy detached studios in the back. As much as she misses teaching, the move offered Matson a chance to focus more on her own practice, including a new series of pieces that are like the light in Southern California refracted through the history of modernism. “There’s knowledge that you know with your hands, the things that are much more unquantifiable. Those are the things you can’t teach, not like throwing a shuttle so the edge is even,” Matson says. “You just tell your students over and over: it takes time.”
It’s a wonder that Jim Drain isn’t a hoarder of epic, A&E-worthy proportions. Sure, nearly every corner of the 3,000-square-foot Miami studio he shares with fellow artist and girlfriend Naomi Fisher is crammed full of stuff — chains, knitted fabric scraps, yarns, paint cans, talismen, toilet tops, costumes, books, prints, past works, and parts of past works that have been dismembered, all jockeying for attention. But considering Drain has worked with 10 times that many mediums in his nearly 15 years of making art, fashion, and furniture — often incorporating junk found in thrift stores and back alleys — hey, it could be a lot worse. “My dad will find something and go, I got this weird thing I think you’ll like, and my friends do it too, and I’m like, I’m not a trash collector!” he insists.
If designers are especially complicit in adding things to the world — and for stoking our desire for more and more stuff — they also get first dibs on the act of destruction. “I smash my own pieces all the time,” says Los Angeles-based ceramic artist Heather Levine. “You have to make quite a bit to get what you like, and I don’t keep all the tests. I’ll destroy them or try to make them into something else. I don’t want to see things in the world that I’m not happy about.”
Los Angeles designer Tanya Aguiñiga already had two studios when she took up a third this summer: the first in the backyard of the Atwater Village bungalow she shares with her husband and two sisters, and the second six blocks away, in a converted industrial-park-turned-artists’-community near the train tracks. But in early July, Aguiñiga picked up and moved her shop 2,000 miles south to the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, for a five-week residency — the first in a project she calls Artists Helping Artisans. “I had gone to Oaxaca and Chiapas in 2007, and there was so much amazing stuff being produced by the women there,” she says. “People aren’t aware of it because the skills aren’t being passed down anymore and because people are scared to travel within Mexico. There’s isn’t enough tourism or income to sustain these crafts.”