Quilting Against the Grain


by Mindy Cook

Artist Fraser Smith’s entry ‘Finding Beauty in Bad Things: Porcelain Vine’ (which won eighth place) may, on first inspection look like a quilt. But take a closer look (above). Fraser’s art show entry is actually sculpted from wood in trompe l’oeil style – where he creates an optical illusion that the piece is quilted fabric. Into Craft caught up with Fraser who is based in Florida, USA, after the ArtPrize announcement for a little background on how such a stunning work of (quilt) art comes together.


Into Craft: When and how did you discover your love and talent in this form of art and its application with wood?

Fraser: I actually did a wood trompe l’oeil piece in college in 1979 that was fairly impressive, given the time I had to do it. It wouldn’t match the technique I use today, but it got me going in that direction..

Into Craft: How long did the ‘quilt’ in your video (see below) take to make?
Fraser: That quilt took about 1,100 hours to make, but I don’t keep track of the time while I’m working on something. It took about 6 months in total and I’m guessing, on the time I spent each week. I believe I used 83 photos stitched together to make the video.

Into Craft: How do you get the texture in the wood to look like the fabric you’re emulating? Even close-up the wood still looks like fabric!
Fraser: Lots of sanding. It’s probably 80% of the time I spend on a piece. It’s dusty and tedious but you have to do it if you want it to look … ‘right’.

Calypso Calypso – detail

Into Craft: Can you tell us about some of the mixed media techniques you use and are there any more mediums you are experimenting with?
Fraser: A good deal of my job is being a ‘patinist’ – a person that applies patinas to bronze sculptures, except in my case it’s patinas on wood. With the quilts, in most cases I’m trying to get the look of cotton cloth. I also carve other things like hats, jackets and jerseys etc that are made from any number of odd fabrics, and I have to match the ‘look’ of that fabric, or in some cases metal (ie zippers and snaps). It all involves any number things from bleaches and dyes to canned spray paint and nail polish. When I’m trying to copy a certain material, I mess around with different coatings until it looks like that material. In almost all cases I try to leave enough of the wood grain visible, so that on close inspection you’ll see what the object is actually made of.

Theory of Everything Theory of Everything – detail

Into Craft: Do you exhibit outside the USA?
Fraser: Some of my work is scattered around in private residences, but no galleries outside the US. I do have one of my jackets in Australia at Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Into Craft: What has been your biggest artistic challenge?
Fraser: Trying to keep things ‘new’. About 10 years ago I had a solo exhibition in Houston, Texas. They had something like 24 of my works all in one place. It occurred to me that my work is best suited for a group show where it’s in a setting that would cause a viewer to think of it as peculiar in some way to everything else around them. I like viewers to be asking questions like, “Why is this (coat) here, and why is it hanging like that?” In a solo show of any one artist’s work, the viewer’s complete experience is of just one artist’s style and there’s the possibility they will conclude with, “Seen it, done it, got the t-shirt.” I realized that I want to make things that will carry the viewer a bit deeper into the room before that thought comes up.

Into Craft: Do you teach your techniques?

Fraser: I haven’t taught anyone how to do what I do, but I’m not being stingy. Basically, I haven’t found a sufficient number of people who want to learn it. I always say, “I might be the only person in the world that does what I do, but there’s probably a really good reason for that.”

Into Craft: Finally could you finish this sentence: I can’t live without ….
Fraser:Whiskey! I know that’s sort of a politically incorrect thing to say, but I don’t have a wife, or kids, or many possessions to speak of, and I can honestly say that the germ of all my best ideas (if you’re inclined to believe I’ve had any) has come in the evening, after a couple of drinks. It’s not my muse, but rather allows my muse to speak to me.

Enjoy his three minute time lapse video entitled ‘How to make a wood quilt’.

Fraser’s online sculpture gallery can be viewed in full here, and to enquire about his available works, email Fraser directly: fraser@gofraser.com

Click here to see all the very worthy winning entries to this year’s Artprize competition, including the winning piece – a landscape art quilt ‘Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore’ by Anne Loveless which won the $200,000! Quilt Grandeur.

What do you think of Fraser’s amazing work?

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