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Selected Projects (2001—2016)

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About

Statement of Purpose

I signed up for figure drawing at RISD three years ago because I wanted a personal and artistic challenge. The final assignment was a self-portrait in any media. I chose embroidery thread and a plain napkin that belonged to my grandmother.

Ignoring the pattern stamped on the napkin, I stitched my self-portrait in the center. It was a way of completing my grandmother's project some 35 years after she died and of remaining connected.

I also took liberties with my grandmother's lessons. I didn't embroider within the lines. I used the needle like a paintbrush, and stitched my likeness, freehand. Departing from the rules, I discovered a visual language that revealed a new way to see and interpret my surroundings: Small trees looked lonely. Houses stood silent. Cars hit a dead end. Often the sky overpowered small things on Earth. I came to see an important part of myself in those common, often over-looked images. With a visual language enabled by thread and cotton, I recognize them and in the process, myself.

I hone the images as I stitch. I create patterns with stitches, adding layers of texture and description. Additional small and subtle bits of information inform my work; much the way American landscape painters often provide a glimpse of a brighter world in the distance.

Competing forces form the tension that holds each composition together: A car vanishing into a monumental sky, an abandoned building consumed by weeds, a small house lost in an icy blue field. The medium, itself, reflects the tension as well. Thousands of tiny stitches give permanency to a fleeting moment.

That first piece clearly bore a resemblance to me. Those that followed are self-portraits, as well. These portraits stretch beyond a figure in jeans to articulate a moment of interior revelation found in images that might otherwise be forgotten.

Roberta Shapiro