If you’re lucky (and smart and cool), you caught textile and print artist Jamie Kubat’s piece, Inhabitant, in our annual juried group show Untitled 17 over the past month.
The list of materials on the piece’s label reads like a handful scooped up from a dream about a prairie: handwoven, plant-dyed wool; paper thread; handmade paper pigmented with topsoil; rusted stud mending plate; seedheads. The piece feels dreamy, too, with neutral, soft colors, a harmonious blend of textures, irregular edges reaching out to the wall around the piece through tufts (tufts!!) of delicate paper. Even the dark patch of metal feels like a sudden visitor with little jagged teeth, but one who makes perfect sense in this dreamscape.
Considering Inhabitant and now looking at Jamie’s woven pieces in their studio, both on the walls and on the loom in the middle of the room, it seems impossible that they started weaving in just the last few years. It’s simply not fair. But I feel a little better when I learn that Jamie has been drawing since they were four and sewing since they were seven. These skills have been informing their current work and that’s immediately apparent. Each of Jamie’s pieces shows a mastery of the materials and focused attention to detail and technique, even as each piece boasts a little defiant and intentional roughness.
When I ask about the seemingly disparate elements in their pieces, Jamie responds, “I like making beautiful things but I also like making things that make people think differently.”
“I like making beautiful things but I also like making things that make people think differently.”
Jamie’s childhood and history appear in their work in both literal and metaphorical ways. They grew up rurally, developing an affinity for wool, linen, and other natural materials, which are found in multiple finished pieces. Jamie began developing an interest in weaving as an artform around age 12, when they visited a commercial weaving studio. Their time as an undergraduate student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design introduced them to weaving workshops that brought that developing interest full circle.
Place and belonging is a major theme in Jamie’s work, expressed through actual soil and pieces of the landscapes that shaped them. As a teen they moved around often, and felt further isolated because of undiagnosed autism. Now in adulthood, they are once again adjusting to change of place, and processing another key theme of their work: body.
Jamie is navigating evolving chronic illnesses and at the same time, they are medically transitioning. “Inhabitant” was created as an expression of deep gender dysphoria as Jamie adjusted to a new physical, post-graduate home while trying to feel at home in a body that wasn't. They share that being around other transgender people has helped them approach the continual process of understanding their gender identity; likewise, the soil, paper, and handwoven cloth they use in their work act as a stand-in for the human body, to bring awareness of the material body into focus.
Jamie makes a point that their pieces aren’t “beautiful,” in the conventional sense. “They’re not clean, pristine pieces,” they point out, but they are still beautiful, especially to Jamie (and to me!). The thoughtful materials and “imperfections,” combined with Jamie’s sharp aesthetic sensibility and skill, combine to make pieces that evoke wonder while you examine all the textures and consider the artist’s labor. Each whole piece is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Jamie plans to continue exploring these themes and is thinking about their next pieces, and which materials they’d like to incorporate. As shown in the photo, they showed me a knitted swatch made with paper thread, roughly based on a Japanese weaving technique called Shifu, which uses finely spun paper thread to make garments. They used the same paper thread in Inhabitant (imagine a mind-blown emoji here, that’s my face). In a tupperware, they’re also storing some lovely, mauve-brown soil from Lake Superior. Another material they hope to include more of: their writing. Jamie is looking forward to doing residencies to devote time to practicing their many skills and realizing ideas that have been cooking for years.
In the near future, see Jamie’s work and their beautiful studio during Art-a-Whirl from May 19th - 21st.