The Artist Intervenes: Liz Steketee
I first encountered the work of Liz Steketee over a decade ago, when she was sharing her artist books and reimagined and sewn photographs. She has a legacy of using photography in unconventional ways, whether it be in combining images, sewing on the back of photographs, working with thread and crochet. Her new project, Wrapped, uses photography on fabric, wrapped and sewn around rocks, sticks, and books sewn with thread, dyed, and sealed with varnish, is an effort to see the portrait in new, unique ways. Using elements from the natural world, she connects personal histories to objects that she states, “act as totems to both the lost and the untold.”
Liz Steketee lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children where she maintains her own art practice. For over a decade, Liz was a member of the photo faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute where she specialized in digital imaging, compositing, mixed media, and the handmade books. In 2004, Liz completed her MFA at SFAI where she received the prestigious John Collier Award of Excellence for her thesis project. The project was based on the turbulent circumstances surrounding the birth of Liz’s first child, Emma. After completing her graduate studies, Liz dedicated her work fully to art practice and teaching. In 2017, Liz moved into a full time studio practice. Liz’s personal work focuses the notions of photography and its role in family life, memory, and our sense of self. Her most recent work explores mixed media; particularly the combination of textiles, photography, sculpture, and installations.
photography on fabric, wrapped and sewn around rocks, sticks, and books sewn with thread, dyed, and sealed with varnish
WRAPPED is a re-examination of the photographic portrait and how it can be altered with new meaning. I consider every photograph I take a portrait in some way.; a tree, a flower, a painting, a face. I believe they all have purpose and a story inside. From a lifetime of shooting, images are printed on fabric and wrapped around objects meaningful to the subject. The use of rocks and sticks honors the earth we come from and my family’s longstanding history of protecting the environment. The use of books honors the history of storytelling and contemplation, a gift every human is given at birth. As I see it, each rock and stick is just a small piece of the larger pile that makes up our world. Each book represents all the stories in the world, told and untold. The process of wrapping these objects, then sewing the fabric permanently around them, acts as a meditation on memory, loss, and the cycle of life.
The notion of a photograph as a sculpture is a breaking away from tradition. The use of textiles and sewing nods to long standing domestic traditions and attempts to rework them in a modern voice. Additionally, raw and rudimentary sewing intends to conjure childhood, as that is when our most formative memories are made Every portrait has a story, both told and untold. Portraits, hide and reveal simultaneously. The objects I create act as totems to both the lost and the untold. The permanent sealing of the image around the object protects the subject by both telling its’ stories and holding those untold, forever.
Statement about practice: It is through art that I make sense of the world. I use my life and family as material for my work. By doing this, I am able to explore the complexity that exists in the everyday and the richness found in the mundane. Through the use of montage, collage, and purposeful juxtaposition of photographs, it is my intention to examine the “truth” in life. I do not feel tied to chronology, linear expression, or one media exclusively. My belief is that life experiences are a combination of independent, non-linear moments that we construct into memory. These memories can shift and change over time. They have specific colors and levels of visual clarity. I create works in a manner that reflects these notions. I take photographs daily to remember and to sketch ideas in my mind. I then use these photographs as a jumping off point for further artistic explorations.
I use photography, collage, sculpture, textiles, and installations in my work. I prioritize experimenting with new combinations and exploring uncovered ground. After the primary construction of any works, I often move on to deconstruct then reconstruct again. This back and forth is non-linear and allows for an ongoing discovery of layers of meaning in each piece. At the heart of my work is the notion that it is the ordinary in life that is truly extraordinary, that memories are fluid and ever-changing. My work is an investigation of memory, family, and the role art plays in these ideas.
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