Nike Schroeder: From conception to creation
Large-scale stitched portraits and thread paintings blend perfectly with the paintings, bronze and porcelain sculptures, and ceiling installations displayed in Nike Schroeder’s exhibitions.
With a particular passion for colour and movement, Nike uses artwork to convey her emotions relating to nature, music or story-telling.
A multi-disciplinary contemporary fibre artist, Nike grew up in Germany and now lives in Los Angeles with her wife, two cats and three chickens. She gained her expertise in an Art Therapy degree, and now works with a wide range of media.
She has been exhibiting in solo and group exhibitions since 2011 in Los Angeles, Hamburg, Hawaii and San Francisco. She has been published in many books, including A Big Important Art Book (Now with Women) by Danielle Krysa, Running Press Adult, Canada (2018). Nike’s many clients include Emily Henderson Design in LA, the Rockwell Group, New York, and Urban Outfitters, Berlin and Hamburg. She has taken part in affiliated projects including Miami Project in Miami and Affordable Art Fair in Hamburg.
When the Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles, where she now lives, offered her a fourth solo exhibition, it gave her the opportunity to use her art to explore her interest in female identity. Her observations of her own small brood of chickens, and womanhood in general, reinforced her desire to study them more deeply. The ‘Take Away’ exhibition was the result.
We asked Nike to tell us more about her abstract thread piece ‘Sequence’ – one part of her ‘Take Away’ exhibition – in which she uses a technique that she’s developed over the last 15 years. This method, using loosely hanging rayon threads, demonstrates the intimacy of Nike’s relationship with her materials and her insights into the tactility, movement and colours of this fibre.
TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?
My abstract thread work is usually a translation of an emotional reaction to something. This could either be a feeling evoked by nature, music or the emotional visualization of a story.
In the case of this particular piece, it’s one part of the exhibition in which it was debuted. The show is called ‘Take Away’ and was exhibited at the Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles in early 2020. It focuses on womanhood: it’s meaning and responsibilities, its vulnerability and strength – it’s something that’s important to me and that I witness in life and in caring for my three chickens.
My interest in female identity stems from my own observations of working as a woman and the questions it provokes about womanhood in our world today. So I chose to portray the qualities of sensuality, nurturing, inclusivity, motherhood and power in the over-sized portraits of chickens in the exhibition. They inspire me with their egg-laying and the natural processes associated with that.
The sculptures that I also included show multiple breasts made of stuffed and dyed canvas joined together and suspended from the ceiling in an orb-like form, with nipples protruding in every direction. There is a wall of nipples which can be taken as a souvenir of the show – hence the title ‘Take Away’ – resulting in a constantly evolving wall painting and a reminder of the overall giving trait of women. I wanted to communicate the comfort and security associated with this and so I linked it to the chickens and the strength and power of the female gender with all its vulnerabilities and expectations.
My rayon thread work is titled ‘Sequence’ and is made in a similar style to the Convex/Concave and Fragments pieces I’ve made for other exhibitions. I love the way the hanging threads move in the air and I was able to correspond the colors with those in the paintings of my chickens to further deepen the connection with fertility and life cycles.
What research did you do before you started to make?
I have been working with this method for almost a decade. It’s taken a lot of practice to get it to this stage, so I consider that my research in the technique. I use rayon thread because, in my experience, it has smoother properties than cotton or silk and works better with gravity, allowing it to fall and move freely. It also has a beautiful shine.
I come from a painting background and during my studies in Germany for an Art Therapy BA I started to make collages with thread. Initially, I used regular cotton thread to outline my figurative work. The more I started introducing detail into the patterns in clothes and started stitching repetitive geometrics, the more I became absorbed with these aspects. The threads were more condensed in those areas and, over time, I eliminated the figurative aspects. By the time I came to do my Sequence piece, my work in this particular series had become purely abstract.
This piece happened really naturally as I researched the general topics of this show. The colors came together quite easily – but there is a difference between this and my previous abstract series called Fragments and Convex/Concave. Each of those pieces are stand-alone works with a beginning and an end. The Sequence piece picks up the idea of an eternal life cycle and repeats its color sequence endlessly across multiple panels; it is ever extendable. The idea for this came to me during the general research of this show.
Emphasis on colour
Was there any other preparatory work?
For the past 15 years, I have primarily worked with textiles as a medium. The preparation of each piece is initially focusing in on the color, the size, and the emotion I want to transport.
By stripping the idea of the purpose of stitches being to hold something together, but letting the excess hanging thread become the actual piece of art, this abstract body of work gained a contemporary aspect. It brings to mind Robert Irwin’s statement “Thus achieving an immediate integration of painting and environment”. He was a Californian painter and sculptor known for pioneering the light and space movement; minimalist art that was concerned with the visual impact of light on geometric forms and on the viewer’s sensory experience of the work.
I explored the material in a new ‘useless’ way and combined that with the investigation of color theory – how colors interact amongst themselves and with the viewer. Through the increasing refinement of perception and understanding of these relationships, I desired to create a direct physical and sensory experience of “painting” through the sheer size and emphasis on color. The colors move through warm, light and earthy tones to stronger and darker anchor points.
These pieces are as much inspired by light as they are by air. A light breeze, or a person moving by, causes the threads to sway, evoking an almost ethereal quality.
With this body of work, I wish to inspire an act of daydreaming or indulging in absentmindedness.
What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?
The materials I used are simply rayon and canvas, both of which I purchased directly from the manufacturer.
What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?
Sensuous and tranquil
Take us through the creation of the piece stage by stage
After putting together a color sequence of threads, I then started sewing a grid on a piece of canvas. After each line, I pulled the thread and let it hang. Just imagine repeating this process literally thousands of times until the surface is filled with stitches!
Once that was done, I stretched the canvas onto a custom-made wooden panel, hung it on the wall, and then untangled all the threads to create a smooth color transition.
The process and the result are both sensuous and tranquil and almost command the viewer to exhale.
What journey has the piece been on since its creation?
The show opened in March 2020 at Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles but ended up hanging in a closed gallery until August of that same year.
However, I am excited to say that the show will be traveling to the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California in 2024 and – who knows if something might come up in between.
Have Nike’s ideas about colour and movement inspired you? Let us know in the comments below.