This February, Mark Newport will return to form & concept for a solo exhibition that cuts to the heart of the Michigan textile artist’s practice. His new body of work, Mending, features torn muslin cloths with meticulously embroidered patches, a symbol of the scars that life etches on the body and psyche. Mark will be in Santa Fe for the Mending opening reception on Friday, February 24 from 5-7 pm, and will speak at our gallery talk the following day.
The artwork in Mending stands in stark contrast to the artist’s first exhibition at form & concept. In our ReFashion group show, Mark presented hand-knit superhero suits. We spoke with the artist by phone about the new series, and how it evolved from his earlier work.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Mending.
I’m exploring the idea of repair and scarring, to make a connection between textile and the body in that way. I’ve been researching and using traditional textile mending techniques that I examined on trips to New York, Boston, London and Amsterdam.
What’s the history of these techniques?
I first learned about mending samplers when I was in college. People, mostly women, were taught these things to learn a trade, so that they could take care of themselves. Frugality and economy were part of the culture then, which we don’t have as much now. I’m using the same process to repair tears in off-white cloth, and examining the relationship between stitches on a cloth and stitches on a body.
How did you make that connection?
I’m interested in this idea of reconstructing something better than it was. Maybe there’s a lie in the textile; it’s not what it originally was. If you have a stain on your favorite shirt, or you patch up your favorite jeans, they’re not the same anymore. But maybe they’re even better now because they lived through that.
It’s the same thing with the body. When it’s scarred, it might not be such a negative thing.
Do you have a lot of scars?
I was a very accident-prone child. I have some scars. I have always thought of scars as this record of where you’ve been. ‘That was the time I fell on my bike, or that’s when I had appendix surgery.’
The work in Mending is very different from the superhero suits you exhibited in our ReFashion show. How did that transition happen?
It took a while for me to get to this point. I had worked on the costumes and other pop culture-related work since around 1995. When I had been working on the costumes for 8 or 9 years, I got to the point where I had explored that line of thinking and that way of working to its fullest. I gave myself time to think about new ways of working, and wrestled with that for a couple of years.
Underneath the pop culture trappings of the earlier work, the body was always part of it. The costume suggests the body, masculinity, armor. With Mending, it’s more about vulnerability and exposing flaws. I’m flipping that coin on its head.
Has this project lead you to confront your own vulnerability?
I’m at a time when I’m a little bit older, so my body isn’t as certain as it used to be. As I age, I think about how things have changed and what that means.
I love being an artist, because you have this ability to explore things in a way that you don’t always have the opportunity to do. The work slows me down, and gives me a chance to think.