Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rogue Embroidery by David R. Harper

Close-up of Embroidery on Her by David R. Harper

It is a rare thing to encounter an artist that takes a traditional medium and refashions it into something never seen before. David R. Harper is such an artist. By applying traditional embroidery techniques to animal hides, he creates portraits of women and men and gives the viewer pause to question the relationship between the hunter and the hunter as well as our innate desire to bring nature into our man-made environments.

Her by David R. Harper

David R. Harper was born in Toronto in 1984 and studied sculpture at the the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. It wasn't until after he graduated that he took up embroidery in 2006. Inspired by the devotional pieces of embroidery that he had seen in the Middle East, he wanted to take embroidery beyond ornamentation and create works that shock and awe the viewer. Mostly self-taught, he considers embroidery "one of the most versatile ways to make art" and describes the fibre arts as existing "between sculpture and painting".

Using sustainable sources of animal hides, Harper uses hides to differentiate his embroidery from others. And that is why rogue embroidery is such an apt descriptor of this extraordinary work. His first embroideries were of the skeletal structures of the animal from which the hide came from (which can be seen on his website). His mother owns one of his first of this series of works, while others are in public and private collections.

Gathering by David R. Harper

Some of David's works incorporate techniques of taxidermy which he taught himself as an undergrad student. He describes taxidermy as a "form of doll-making" which describes the "collision between the natural and artificial worlds" and as representational of the "loss of the natural world". In the words of curator Sarah Quinton, these hybrid sculptures are "precious reminders of the contrasting ideals of co-existence and dominance between human and non-human animals."

Last to Win by David R. Harper

When I first saw David's work, the embroidery stitches were so dense that I assumed he must have had some machine assistance. However, in talking with David, he assured me that each stitch was done by hand and most of his pieces take about three months to complete, stitching 8-10 hours a day. Most stitches are done with the back-stitch but he also uses a unique sequence of running stitches to create a beautiful and subtle form of shading.

Close-up of Embroidery on Last to Win

At present, David is living in Chicago, where he is completing his masters degree in fibre arts at the Art Institute. He also has two shows opening in Chicago in the fall.

David R. Harper's work "Skin and Bones", which is part of the exhibition Person, Place, Thing at the Textile Museum of Canada, will be on display until October 17, 2010. To see more of his work, please visit his website here.

Photo credits: All photos by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2010, taken with permission of the artist at the Textile Museum of Canada.