Paula Chung and Karen Rips: A View Within
Paula Chung lives in Zephyr Cove, Nevada on Lake Tahoe, where she studies nature and maintains her fiber art practice. Paula creates beautifully detailed tapestries taking flat black and white medical body images and bringing them to life.
Her technique of using a free-motion sewing machine which is capable of threading of to six different colors through a single needle, allows her to create rich color gradations as well as subtle color changes.
Paula has exhibited her work internationally and has received several awards of merit including the 2008 Silver and Bronze awards at the 9th Quilt Nihon Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan. She was exhibited in the 2009 Quilt National, and has been written about in numerous Magazines and Journals.
She is partnered with artist Karen Rips as part of the hugely successful exhibition series A View Within, now in its sixth year.
Karen Rips is a native California fiber artist whose experience as a neonatal nurse for twenty-five years has played a significant role in her approach to art and how she views the people and things around her. Over the years, Karen has created work that has explored both the physical and the emotional aspects of the human body.
Karen is a Juried Artist Member of SAQA and SDA. In 2013, her piece High Water Mark, was exhibited at Quilt National. She is proud of her participation as a member of Twelve by Twelve: The International Art Quilt Challenge, which has been traveling internationally since 2010.
Karen’s current body of work is focused on the interpretation of medical imaging through the use of X-rays, MRI’s and CT scans as part of her ongoing collaboration with fellow artist Paula Chung now in its sixth year.
In this interview, Paula and Karen discuss the benefits of working together. We learn how their individual practices interlink and complement to produce some provocative and fascinating artwork.
TextileArtist.org: What Initially attracted you to working together?
Karen Rips: Paula and I had known each other for a long time before we started working together. We had both been members of a large group of fiber artists that had been put together by a local fabric store owner. Paula’s work was large and colorful and very realistic. It was the opposite of what I was doing, at the time, and I was attracted to it.
Paula Chung: Eventually we became part of a more intimate group of 8 fabric artists. We got to know each other on a much more personal level, and while our art was radically different we found that our interests were not.
PC: About six years ago, I made a piece that was inspired by an MRI that a friend of mine had showed me.
KR: It was amazing and I asked Paula if I could use the MRI and put my own spin on it. When I showed my piece to Paula at one of our later meetings, we realized that this was a dialogue that we might want to pursue.
How does the partnership work?
KR: The word partnership is quite tricky. We don’t share a studio space, we live in different states and only see each other 5-6 times a year. We don’t put any constraints on the number of pieces we make for each subject matter, nor do we have a timetable for when something needs to be completed.
PC: ‘A View Within’ is what ties us together. It is the partnership or collaboration, the finished product. However, size, material, shape, technique, and interpretation are very personal and is left up to each of us.
KR: When we are together, we spend a lot of time discussing how to make our work more meaningful. We feel that we are having a seven-year conversation that keeps getting more intimate. When we match things up and decide this is what we want to say…
PC: When our pieces talk to each other, that is our partnership.
The science of medical imaging
Tell us a bit about your chosen technique and your work process?
PC: My choice of expression is embroidery on various substrates. Once Karen and I have chosen an image, I manipulate it in Photoshop and print it on a large format printer. Using water soluble film, I mark the areas I am interested in stitching onto raw silk that has been dyed many times to get more complex color.
Threads are chosen to create the desired effects. Up to five different threads can be used through a single needle to create blended value or hue.
KR: Medical images are usually very detailed. I tend to view the detail as clutter, so once Paula and I have decided on an image, I begin a process of reduction. I draw lines and shapes onto paper and then stick them onto my design wall. After living with them for a while, ideas for an individual piece or series of pieces begin to emerge.
I create my piece through a process using soy wax and bleach on white cotton sateen which I’ve usually dyed black. At this point, I can then over dye to add color back in. After heavy machine stitching using wool batting, I wash the fabric in hot water, shrinking it to add texture.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
PC: My work is all about the human form and what I see as the beauty, mortality, and unity we all share. The science of medical imaging continues to develop as the stresses of contemporary life takes its toll on our bodies. I feel that I am capturing a moment in time when the subject of the image is feeling great stress and fear of what is to come.
KR: I would describe my art as Abstract Realism. I find medical images compelling since they can be seen simply as shapes and lines, dark and light spaces. As an artist, I try to insert emotion and story into images that are clinical and unchanging.
Thriving in art
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
PC: No. My work is true to the image and through long hours and lots of practice, I’m better at visualizing my design decisions involving color and hue.
KR: My initial work involves a lot of sketching of rough shapes and lines which I put on my design wall and move around until I find something that fits. But nothing that I keep permanently in a book.
What environment do you like to work in?
PC: I have a dedicated space in my home, with a design wall, an inspiration wall and separate stations for designing, ironing, dyeing, and sewing. My main requirements are light, comfort, and a good sound system.
KR: I like to work alone in my home studio. I usually work on more than one piece at a time, leaving work on the design wall to incubate while stitching another.
What currently inspires you?
KR: Working together has pushed us both to create better art. Paula and I talk a lot about art, we visit museums together, and all of this informs our work.
PC: I would say we inspire each other.
Who have been your major influences and why?
PC: While we can name several artists who have influenced us over the years, we both agree that our major influences have been the people who are kind enough to share their images with us, trusting us to treat them with the respect they deserve.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
KR: My piece Losing His Mind, has special significance, as since it was made in response to my father’s struggle with the disease.
PC: A woman now in her thirty’s had a stroke when she was in her teens. Given last rites, she now relishes life and thrives in her art. Although she’s shared her experience with us through her medical images, very few know about her challenges, as she still finds it very difficult to discuss. This was the basis for Young Adult Stroke I, II, & III.
The pendulum swings
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
PC: My work is more blended now. Using several different threads in the needle at the same time helps me achieve this effect. My work is evolving with the experimentation of different substrates.
KR: When we started out my work was very colorful and without much texture. Today I try to tell the story through texture and am very monochromatic. The pendulum swings. My work up to now has been two dimensional, now I am experimenting with depth as well.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
PC: Get an art education, learn from the masters the basics of design. Study nature.
KR: I think the best advice I can give to aspiring artists is to consider this a job. You need to do the work, take it seriously, and spend as much time as you can on it.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
- PC: The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten.
- KR: Complex Cloth by Jane Dunnewold
Stitching to Dye in Quilt Art by C. June Barnes
Art Textiles of the World, by Matthew Koumis (a series)
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
PC: My free motion machine.
KR: My Bernina Virtuosa 150
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
KR: Our work has been shown at a variety of venues, including galleries such as Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and Visions in Chandler Arizona, medical offices such as Art Times Two at the Princeton Brain and Spine Care Center, and college art galleries, including Penn College and the Florida Institute of Technology.
I think it is important that the venue reflects the meaning of your work. Since our work is shown hanging together it works well in a large gallery setting.
Where can readers see your work this year?
We are both concentrating on making new work this year and consequently at this time only have one show lined up at the Sierra Arts Foundation in Reno, Nevada, March 1 – 30, 2017.
Got something to say about working alongside another artist? Let us know by leaving a comment below.