For most of us, clothing is cover-up, a practical shield against the elements, a fabric tool used variously to hide or enhance the specifics of the body underneath. But in the hands of Santa Cruz multimedia artist Victoria May, clothing has a way of trading its traditional role to become a form-fitting canvas created to showcase the psychological.
“There is a strong relationship to our daily lives with textiles because we wear them, we use them at home, we sleep in them. And so, to see artwork that incorporates something that is so personal to you, I think there is something very evocative about that,” May tells Spark.
A self-trained seamstress who began threading needles as a preteen and honed her skills creating couture wedding gowns, May uses hand-sewing techniques culled from vintage instructional manuals and works with unexpected found and reclaimed materials — such as shards of auto glass, bone, sand and locks of human hair — to communicate elements of the imagined wearer’s psyche in her Blouse and Headgear series. Her installations feature objects and forms built from textiles distressed with dirt, rust and scrap paper and from such mundane objects as ironing boards and crutches, sourced through the artist’s frequent foraging adventures at yard sales and thrift stores.
Using and recycling objects that have their own history adds further depth to each finished work for May, who has been experimenting with new ways to alter the fabrics and materials she will later transform once again with needle, thread and traditional finishing techniques rooted in craft. A visit to her studio might reveal, for example, a swathe of mud-stained fabric fresh from a temporary burial in the earth or the skins of yams treated with gel mediums to increase their durability. The resulting work is steeped in a process that’s curiously reminiscent of the complex human mentalities that May’s work seeks to address.
May earned her M.F.A. from San Jose State University. Her work has appeared in solo and group shows at a lengthy list of venues, including the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the Center for Book Arts in New York, and the Don Soker Contemporary Art gallery in San Francisco.