To the left of this painting are gradations Bittman made in Photoshop while working on embroideries in a similar vein. “I’m interested in how something that appears like a smooth gradation becomes broken down into concrete parts. In those examples I’m just using Photoshop as a tool to make that jump. In the embroideries I did, I came up with my own system of doing that by hand.”

Samantha Bittman, Artist

PHOTOS BY DEBBIE CARLOS

It was a couple of years ago that Chicago-based artist Samantha Bittman first captivated us with her intricate, meticulous paintings on woven textiles. We’ve been transfixed by her work ever since, so when we had the chance recently to visit her studio and delve into her process, we jumped. Bittman creates dazzling surfaces of optically challenging patterns that draw you in to reveal greater depths, dimensionality, and unsteadying shifts in perspective. There’s an objective, mathematical precision to her pieces but there’s also a remarkably human warmth — the result, perhaps, of giving in to the parameters created by the loom while also resisting them. “Every time I set up the loom,” says Bittman, “I feel like it’s an algorithm or a program and the act of weaving it ends up generating a piece of cloth that is the output of the algorithm.” At the same time, because she typically works with a grid and geometric shapes, she’s constantly “trying to think of ways to push against the limitations of what shapes are available or the grid itself and trying to keep those things interesting for me. I like working within a narrower space but pushing against what that might be.”

Bittman has “always been attracted to pattern,” and she first got into the complexities of weaving as an undergrad at RISD. She’d planned to focus on painting until a teaching assistant in the textiles department introduced her to the medium. “I didn’t know the difference between weaving and knitting. Everybody’s familiar with textiles because they’re so ubiquitous but I hadn’t given them too much thought.” Once she did, though, the draw was “immediate.” She spent a few years after college working in commercial textiles before returning to Chicago in 2008 — she grew up outside the city — to pursue an MFA in painting at the School of the Art Institute. Post-studies, she’s divided her time between various residencies, teaching at both of her alma maters, and steadily focusing on her practice in the studio.

“Weaving is so infinite, there’s always going to be something new to try or new types of pictures to make,” she says. But she doesn’t want to “settle into any type of mode” or be pigeonholed as someone “who just makes these painted handwoven textiles. What I’m interested in is, I hope, larger than that.” We didn’t need much convincing when she showed us the tile sculptures, embroidery, and wallpaper she’s been coming up with. Even as she moves in different directions, her approach remains coherent throughout. As she puts it, “in my work the graphics and the images are made up of an accumulation of parts and you can always see the totality and the parts at the same time.” We loved getting a closer look and hearing her thoughtful take on all of it.