((L-R) Lori Lubbesmeyer and Lisa Lubbesmeyer at work | Photos courtesy of Lubbesmeyer Studio and Gallery)
The fiber arts, also known as textile arts, enjoy a long, rich history that continues to both assert and redefine itself in contemporary times. Originally utilitarian in scope, fiber arts first included various goods such as clothing and blankets made from naturally occurring materials like fur, animal skins and plant leaves that were stitched or woven together. Occasionally and increasingly over time, the wealthy and aristocratic class displayed fiber arts creations for decorative purposes, thus redefining the understood function of the practice. Pre-industrial revolution, these fibrous goods were solely crafted by hand, making them rather expensive. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, machines like the cotton gin, spinning jenny and power loom increased productivity and, due to the reduction of time-intensive, manual labor, made products more affordable and accessible to all. With this decrease in material cost, creatives took greater liberties in terms of experimentation and expanded the domain of fiber arts even further, using and combining various techniques from weaving and embroidery to knitting and crocheting to create stunning works infused with both art and craft.
Here in Bend, two creatives who happen to be identical twin sisters, Lisa and Lori Lubbesmeyer, are pushing the perceived limitations of the fiber arts even further through a very special approach: collaboration. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Lisa and Lori studied printmaking and painting, respectively, at the University of Oregon. With each sister contributing important elements of their former disciplines, the two now collectively create what they refer to as fiber paintings, which they describe as drawing upon “the color and textural qualities of painting, as well as the definition and precision of printmaking” (lubbesmeyer.com). Together, their fiber paintings explore a shared sense of place realized through a time-intensive process of exchange where layer upon layer is added without conversation or reference to sketches. The resultant imagery resonates with spontaneity yet seems so cohesive that one might expect it to derive from a single maker. Such is the gift born of lifelong collaboration.
For this article, I asked Lori and Lisa to respond to the below prompts separately and to not share their responses with one another. Based on this approach, the reader is offered a meaningful glimpse into the minds of two makers who create as one.
Describe your art / craft.
Lisa: My twin Lori and I refer to our works of art as Fiber Paintings. They are a collaboration between us, the trained painter and printmaker. Twenty-two years ago, in an attempt to regain the close relationship we once had but lost (due to competition), we decided to collaborate artistically. Our intuition was to work in a media neither of us had experience with, so one would not have a more dominant voice or style in the work. Since we both studied in a fine arts program, there were very few remaining media that at least one of us didn’t have some experience with. It turns out, textiles were one of just a few of them. We apply fabric and stitching like a painter would add paint to a canvas. Our collaboration consists of taking turns layering fabric and stitching over each other’s work, creating the subject and composition as we build.
Lori: I use fabric to create ‘paintings.’ Each color or value change is a different fabric. I approach my fiber art as I do a traditional painting, and my twin sister Lisa approaches our work from the standpoint of a printmaker. We apply fabric layers over each other’s work, multiple times (upwards of 20 layers), without planning out the imagery, nor discussing the composition beforehand. We respond to the other’s previous layer, displaying each of our unique interests in abstraction (Lori) and realism (Lisa).
Do you consider your work art or craft?
Lisa: I feel like our work has one foot firmly in each category. However, my answer is based on a supposition that there’s a distinction between the two. I believe art and craft are the same since they both are an expression of the imagination. I’m not concerned about what tools or media are used to convey one’s expression. Everywhere we look, whether in art, craft, or in nearly all ways humans choose to spend their time, there are elements of expression, creativity, craftsmanship, imagination and dedication. In this sense, at least for me, the parameters and words we use to define art and craft are unnecessary.
Lori: I’ve been addressing this question for the last 22 years that I’ve been creating my fiber ‘paintings’. Initially, as we started our fiber art careers, we were automatically categorized as crafters. Traditionally, fiber would be categorized as a craft medium. This was a challenge for me as I considered myself an artist first whose work is developed from the standpoint of a painter. Prior to working in fiber, I learned from certain messaging that an artist working in a “craft” medium (pottery, metal, glass, fiber) was a negative, and I internalized this notion.
I carried that belief into my own development as a fiber artist and have had a lot of time to think about the difference between craft and art. The way some critics define art from craft is that craft can be replicated, but if it comes from an emotional place, then it’s art. I dispute both notions, as I don’t think there’s a simple distinction between the two.
Acceptance of fiber art is late in coming to the art arena because of its “less than” measure of value. I am very proud of my work both for its craftsmanship as well as for its artistry. It’s well executed and emotive of how I see my internal or external environment.
How does your work address artistic concerns, like those that a painter or sculptor must consider (form, composition, color, value, texture)?
Lisa: My approach to our art is very similar to that of a painter’s. Stylistically I’m a realist, so I’m very intentional about how I represent these elements in our work. I can become obsessed with depicting the composition in an ‘accurate’ way — trying to match form, color, value and perspective in a way that closely represents the depth of the world as I see it. Creating art with fabric and thread, a very opaque medium that doesn’t blend, requires a lot of thought and time in working out how to make the subject appear as if it were made of a full spectrum of colors and hues, much like the way a painter utilizes paint.
Lori: As I studied painting at the University of Oregon, my innate aptitude/talent in art was honed and organized. I learned the fundamentals of creating art. And it is said that once one has learned form, composition, color, value, etc. as a student, it is good to unlearn them as an artist.
This factors into our work. Additionally, working collaboratively with Lisa creates opportunity for even more problem solving. For instance, Lisa is a stickler for depicting perspective and I am constantly challenging her with abstracting her sense of perspective. We are constantly pushing and pulling each other past our comfort zones in composition, color, value and texture. This is the beauty of collaboration, which is part of everything we all do as humans. Challenges are inevitable when one decides to work collaboratively, which makes collaboration so dynamic and interesting to me. While I truly enjoy this challenge MOST of the time, there are those rare, special moments where I want to kill her (but don’t tell Lisa that!). 🙂
What is your opinion on the arts / crafts dyad?
Lisa: I don’t understand why there is one, why we need to differentiate. I think if we’re compelled to create, we should do just that in whatever form, and not worry or spend energy trying to define or put parameters on the work.
Lori: I’m in support of referencing craftspeople as artists, and vice versa. The dyad of art and craft is fitting to me, as they genuinely do go hand in hand. I think fine craft has been entering the realm of fine art more and more. Perhaps as I see more Erin Rileys, Gabriel Dawes and Bisa Butlers shown in museums, craft will be appreciated as an important asset to the world of art. There are so many of us that have dedicated our lives to creating fine art or fine craft as a profession, that it’s hard for me to differentiate the one term from the other.
Me: Thank you both for this most enlightening discussion of your dynamic, collaborative works!
To view the stunning fiber paintings of Lisa and Lori Lubbesmeyer, please visit their studio, Lubbesmeyer Art Studio and Gallery, located at 450 SW Powerhouse Dr. #423 in the Old Mill District of Bend or peruse their website.