What do you do with degrees in psychology and anthropology? For Renie Breskin Adams, you go back to school and earn an MFA in fiber arts. Breskin Adams, an admitted late bloomer in art, has had a distinguished career as both artist and professor of art. Although to the casual viewer the characters in her pieces may appear quirky and funny, but to Breskin Adams, the former psychology student, they are psychological narratives that are an extension of "personal events, revelations of thought and views of inner reality."
When she first ventured into art, Breskin Adam's primary interest was painting, yet impatient with the process, a tendency to paint in a panic, and not comfortable with the paint's liquidity, or its loss of color, Breskin Adams says, "just couldn't get past the mess of it." It wasn't until she was working as a research associate in psychology at Indiana University and enrolled in a weaving course that she felt as if she had come home to art.
There were, though, a few issues she needed to iron out. First, textile printing and dyeing was a challenge because of her adversity to liquid, but Breskin Adams says, "I loved the process and physicality of tapestry weaving and the way colors blended, but didn't disappear. I crocheted as a child and rediscovered it as an art medium. Weaving and crocheting kept me busy for about 10 years, constructing abstract images based on ideas about color and pattern and small whimsical pictures and 3-D figures."
Afterwards she turned to embroidery, wanting to have more control over the delineation of form—the lines, shapes, and textures in her images. Breskin Adams explains, "The delineation of form is determined to some degree by the rigorous structure of woven and crocheted fabric, e.g., the stair-stepped edges of shapes. Embroidery stitches, like paint strokes, give me the freedom of a painter to control of the character of form and structure in the service of my pictorial content. And since I can't stitch faster than I can think my embroidery process is deliberate and disciplined."
Much of Breskin Adams' influences in the art she admires are reflected in her work. She's inspired by the narrative traditions in textiles that vary from ancient Peruvian figurative borders to oriental rugs, African quilts, early American quilts and hooked rugs. Painters and graphic artists whom she admires and whose styles play into her own pieces include Saul Steinberg, Miro, Klee, and Jean Dubuffet.
But before pushing the needle through the cloth, Breskin Adams sketches her preliminary drawings with an electronic pen and tablet. She often finds the visual form of her ideas by trial and error. "My sketches are intuitive and messy and I rely on them to lend spontaneity to the visual forms and textures in my embroideries." This freedom of working with a digital medium allows her to work in layers, undo marks, and save the sketch through its multiple phases. She adds, "I usually start with an idea and then play in the computer in hopes of finding visual form for it, or my playing in the computer accidently creates form that suggests or connects with meaningful content. Meaning is always primary."
Once the idea is completely visualized, Breskin Adams prints it out and from there she focuses on creating the embroidered picture. She uses a wide palette of colors of simple cotton threads and strands them to create her color blends and physical textures. She explains, "In this sense, my embroidery isn't decorative. The stitched structure is a personal eccentric invention inspired by the spontaneous forms I see in my sketch and always serving the narrative content. The embroidery corrects, refines, and materializes the electronic sketch."
Her ideas for her work are "psychological phenomenon," and these arrive to her while she's sleeping, daydreaming, relaxing, or sketching at the computer. Stressful events and a range of emotions from anger to unhappiness also inspire and she explains, "Channeling sadness through a humorous insight, finding aesthetic form for it, and making it public through the medium of embroidery convinces me that I exist, I'm connected to the world, and life has dignity."
Breskin Adams' embroideries are part of collections at numerous prestigious institutions including, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Museum of Art and Design in New York City, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, The White House Holiday Ornaments Collection, The Wustum Museum of Fine Arts in Racine, Wisconsin, and in numerous private collections. Her work been written about in the following publications: Fiberarts Magazine, DESIGN! A Lively Guide to Design Basics, Artist Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Contemporary Embroidery, Creative Handweaving, and more.
Upcoming projects include a series essays and poems, and Breskin Adams is hard at work writing and illustrating a children's book about a new species of creatures that created that are part vegetable and part animal, known as "vegimals". Three of her recent embroideries are about vegimals, "Professor of Vegimals" and "Battle of Wills, and Vichysswans"
In her quest to create her art, Breskin Adams says it is, "with the hope of finding the truth (no matter how grim), but, always, perhaps to escape the sad part of myself, my search for the truth engenders in me a chasing of dreams, flights of fancy that are so plain silly, or childlike raw, or happysad that they make me laugh. Maybe the dreams are the truth. When I’m able, occasionally, to capture them in pictures or figurines, I'm relieved, and when these tangible forms reach kindred spirits, I'm satisfied."
Breskin Adams' work is exhibited and available at Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge, MA. Her artwork, essays, and poems can be seen at her online gallery, The Art of Renie Breskin Adams, and on her blog, Renie Bee Buzz. To see more sketches of vegimals, visit the blog. Vegimals Publishing, a new company started by Melinda Barta, will publish the book. All images are copyrighted by Renie Breskin Adams.