Interview with Artist Sasha Baskin

Hello, world! I want to introduce you to my amazing friend Sasha Baskin, who makes woven portraits.

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It’s not a direct link to water or climate change, but I think that Sasha makes absolutely stunning work. She collects stories about people through their faces, and storytelling is what I’m all about.

“There’s a really beautiful moment in the dying process when you take yarn out of water and it’s just a mess, it’s just total chaos. It reminds me of hair when you climb out of the ocean. I love the detangling and finding the order in it all again. I think there’s a pretty beautiful chaos to water and a certain equalizing quality. It does the same thing to any organized structure. Nothing is immune to the chaos of water.” – Sasha Baskin

I believe that one of the functions of art is to make us more alive in the world––to start a conversation. Sasha is doing just that. Her woven portraits were featured in the JM Gallery in Austin, Texas from 1 August through 12 September, 2015. I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Read on for Sasha’s words on her process:

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How do drawing and weaving intersect? How do they diverge? 

I think it all comes down to line. To me weaving is just a different kind of drawing, a different kind of working with lines and tonality. Weaving allows colors to overlap in a way almost impossible in any other medium. When two differently colored yarns overlap they maintain their own structural integrity, but blend together in the eye. It feels like pointillism to me sometimes. Or pixilization.

Tell me about your process in making woven portraits. 

The first portrait I wove I made in a process called double cloth, where two separate planes of cloth are woven simultaneously at the loom and intersect when the colors change. This only allowed for a dichromatic image, which I wasn’t satisfied with. I tried to manipulate the process of doublecloth to provide a midtone, which really went against everything double cloth intends to do. That was really the start of my efforts to take what a weaving is supposed to do and push it further. I like to make looms mad.

After working with the fabulous Mary Smull at MICA, she helped me incorporate hand-controlled damask into my process, another effort at forcing a loom to do a lot more than it ever wanted to. With her guidance in this process I was able to capture 4 different satin structures in one shot of weft, that is, each line of horizontal weaving contained 4 separate kinds of weaving within it. Each of those different kinds of weaving produces a different shade and allows me to draw pretty much free hand at the loom.

The process that I’m working with is an analog version of the Jaquard weaving process. I work with a pick-up stick at a rising-shed jack loom, hand selecting sections of warp to weave as different structures. Jaquard looms computerize the process and control each warp thread independently and mechanically.

How long does it take? 

At my fastest I can weave about an inch an hour of a complex large-scale portrait. The smaller the portrait, the quicker I can go. The more detailed the moment in the portrait the more time I need to process each move. I work with a reference image taped above the loom and when I’m on a deadline I’ll draw big bold lines across the image indicating where I need to be by when. It’s a pretty heavy-handed motivator.

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What draws you to this process? 

There’s something about weaving that I just can’t put down. It feels good in my hands. I recently learned a process called twining, which I can only really describe as weaving both sides of a structure, off the loom. You make your own warp threads out of hemp and hold the whole weaving in your hand like a basket. And while I had never worked this way before something about the process felt very familiar to my hands. Like I had been doing this all my life. Fiber work has always made sense to me. Muscle memory is a language I understand.

I think I also like the chaos of weaving. I like the wildness of the threads and making them go in order. I like the organization. I had a teacher who used to give tours of the weaving loft and introduce us as “the people who know how to take many tiny strings and line them all up right next to each other.” And that’s the best way I can explain weaving. We take the tiny strings and we make the chaos into an order. loom photo


What is your favorite / least favorite part of the process? 

My favorite part of the process is called beaming the warp. The loom actually holds this whole river of yarn and winds it all up like a scroll at either end. There’s this beautiful process when you first get all the yarn threaded through every eye of every heddle when you just wind all the threads in perfect order onto the back beam. Everything lines up perfectly and it’s this beautiful ribbon of unwoven cloth. That’s my favorite part.

My least favorite part of the process is probably the hanging and installation process. I’m very engaged in the act of weaving and less so in the installation. Woodworking and levels and measurements, while incredibly important, do not come as naturally to my hands as threading yarns does. I get frustrated with the measurements and the finality of cutting and drilling. I miss the fluidity and ease of weaving.

Why do you make art?

I’ve never known how to answer that question. Art school spends a lot of time asking you what art even is. So maybe I think that everyone makes art in their own way. I think someone doing something beautifully is art. Someone really loving what they’re doing is making art. I’m very lucky that I was able to study what I love and continue to work on that craft. And I love it. When I’m drawing or when I’m weaving, everything feels right in the world.

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What do you hope for people who interact with your work? 

I hope to make people slow down. I love faces. I love learning the intricacies of what makes someone who they are. I memorize very easily and very quickly and I can look at things over and over again in my memory. I want to make that available to everyone. I want people who look at my work to see people in a new way, to discover them, almost. I try to embed the act of looking in the time intensive process of weaving

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What kind of materials do you use? What draws you to those materials? 

For weavings I work predominantly with silk and tencel (a tree based fiber that is heavier but similar in shine and drape to silk). I love the way fabric falls and I love playing with anything that has a beautiful drape to it. And anything that I can get as small a diameter yarn as possible. Silk comes impossibly thin and I love the image resolution I can get with that medium and the challenge that it poses in the weaving process.

I’m about to start working more with cotton and making some utilitarian cloth, dishtowels, wraps, blankets. I want to see what the fabric does in use. How can I change the act of looking to the act of noticing? Do I want to do my dishes more with a beautiful dishtowel? Does that moment become more important? How can I embed importance in cloth?

For drawings I usually work in graphite or obsessively sharpened charcoal or carbon. Whatever I’m working with needs to be small and precise. I actually just had to talk myself out of ordering obsessively thin cotton to weave cloth out of. Dishtowels need to be made with something substantial. But I love the detail of fine threads. I picked a medium weight cotton instead of the more practical thick stuff because I couldn’t resist.

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Why people? You could weave the likeness of trees or doorways, for example. What draws you to the human form? 

I think it’s always been portraits. Maybe because I’m a competitive person and someone told me once that if you can draw the figure you can draw anything. So I just figured I’d skip over everything else and get there. If I can weave a portrait I can weave anything. But I think it’s more than that. There’s something about getting to know someone through a portrait. I try to draw and weave people I don’t directly know because I want to learn about them through the act of rendering their features. I ask other people to send me photos and recommend subjects. I’m very interested in what makes someone exactly who they are. What separates a portrait of someone from a drawing that makes someone want to go “is that a self portrait?” “is that you?” How do I avoid the question? What is in the details that makes an image go from a similarity of a person to the person themselves.

What are you reading / listening to right now? 

I just finished rereading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The last time I read it I think I was 11, so I found a lot of new things and new ways for her writing to resonate with me now. She talks a lot about the warp and weft of family which I adored. It was also beautiful to read about these communities of women in the ancient Hebrew tribes who shear, and spin, and weave and share stories together all while traveling to craft schools this summer and being immersed in this community of predominantly female artisans and craftsmen (craftswomen?)

I just started listening to the podcast 99% invisible and learned a lot about lawn maintenance.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Florence and the Machine this summer. I’m very into Ship to Wreck.

Do you have any stories related to water or climate change that you would like to share? 

There’s a really beautiful moment in the dying process when you take yarn out of water and it’s just a mess, it’s just total chaos. It reminds me of hair when you climb out of the ocean. I love the detangling and finding the order in it all again. I think there’s a pretty beautiful chaos to water and a certain equalizing quality. It does the same thing to any organized structure. Nothing is immune to the chaos of water.

What is your favorite place on earth? 

Rooftops. Find me a rooftop.

What is the most beautiful color you have seen of late? 

Natural linen yarn.

What’s your favorite word? 

fantastic


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Sasha Baskin was born in Ridgefield, Connecticut. In May of 2014 she received her Bachelors of Fine Art in Drawing from the Maryland Institute College of Art. In the fall of 2012 she attended Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy where she focused on drawing, painting, and High Renaissance Art History. Baskin participated in group exhibitions in Texas, Washington D.C, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Florence, Italy. She currently lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find her work at www.sashabaskin.com and on Instagram @sashbask.

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