A white piece of heavy paper, covered with over a thousand pinholes, is the start of a dialogue between artist and material. This process is more than just the action, it is also a negotiation with the material. The artist is captivated by the changeability that each gesture holds, and the longer the materials are dealt with, the easier it becomes to deal with certain discomforts. For instance, the pain caused by the needle when pushing through a new hole, or the way the thimble rubs against the skin of the finger, or even the tugging of the thread that quickly becomes ritualistic, slowly easing to a fluid motion. Why chose such a labor-intensive venture? For the glory of saying “I made this,” and also to see the visual representation of this dialogue that is taking place. Even though the process is part of any artwork, it is a theme emphasized more strongly by those artists working in craft-based forms. Just look at an issue of American Craft magazine, and you will see it mentioned in basically every article.
After observing the stitched Illustrations of Peter Crawley in magazines and on blogs, countless writers have focused on the time-consuming aspect of the pieces. In case you haven’t seen his work, Crawley creates images on different stocks of art paper, pierces the pattern by hand, and finally stitches the paper with cotton thread. The motifs vary from architectural to typographical to geometric patterns. The style of the images is crisp and controlled, possibly an inclination arising from his career as a product designer. The stitching itself is nostalgic, and for some a whole sensory experience, as one remembers a long summer afternoon sitting around with grandma, learning the different types of stitches, as a faint smell of basil came from her hands and the barely-there pink of her nail polish constantly moved with each gesture she made. Nevertheless, within the realm of stitching Crawley’s work is in a class of its own, especially when one looks at his architectural and audiovisual depictions.
So why would a critic focus on the particulars of how long a work takes as the main characteristic when evaluating a piece of art? Process doesn’t necessarily mean the time spent from beginning to end on a project; it can actually relate to the way the materials are handled, as well. Ann Hamilton is an example to this aspect of process. In her work, she emphasizes the process of transforming natural materials like cotton into sculptural installations. But process could, and should, also include the period when ideas are being worked out in the mind of the artists. For some, it is when the artist comes up with the first concept that eventually turns into a style that is instantly recognizable by the world. Just look at the oeuvre of Eva Hesse, in which she explored the problems associated with process and change through serial repetitions. Others might say it is all these descriptions combined that are essential to any art process.
Peter Crawley’s first stitched illustration was inspired by a trip across America. The depiction was a map of the United States, hand-stitched, with red showing his route from coast to coast. It is neither complex nor intricate at all; it is a basic illustration, but that stitched image has inspired many other ideas after the original process of its creation. It’s a puzzle: Why did stitching come to his mind? What about the United States made him think to create such a representation? Did something he saw on his trip make him think, this is something I want to attempt?
When so many other questions can be asked of his work, why is so much emphasis laid on how long it takes him to finish a given illustration? For instance, why has Crawley chosen to work in a craft—stitching—that is more commonly associated with female artists? Concentrating on Crawley’s audio-visual themed work, more questions arise. When he stitches patterns based on sonic waveforms, what kind of technology is he using to acquire these images? Given that these images only depict a single minute of a song, how does Crawley determine which section of a piece of music to concentrate on? As one can see, countless concessions and negotiations with oneself are made in the art-making process, because art is not random, and is part of gaining knowledge and understanding of a bigger system.