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The Evolution of Laura Honse: Textiles, Painting, Jewelry
The Evolution of Laura Honse
Textiles, Painting, Jewelry

by Laura Honse

I fell in love with textiles as a child growing up in Brazil. They intoxicated me with their vibrant colors, bold patterns and wild designs. Some were elegant and rhythmic like the famous undulating mosaic sidewalks of Copacabana beach. Others were loud, colorful celebrations of carnaval. Often they incorporated Brazilian flora and fauna. I would chose my own fabric and my mother or a seamstress would create an outfit for me. Brazil is one of the leading producers of cotton. Its textile industry was heavily influenced by the mass migration of Italians in the 1920s, which bestowed much upon its design. Today, Brazil is also rising as a force in sustainable textiles.

When I left Brazil at seventeen to study at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US, Brazil was under a military dictatorship. I had trouble getting out of the country. As a result, I was two weeks late for the beginning of the freshman school year. I arrived with my father, who escorted me into a class in session. Everyone looked up as the teacher introduced me. I was given the only available free seat at a table next to a girl in the front of the class, Bunny. Her mother was an alcoholic. She became my best friend. We became Jack Kerouac’s mad ones, ready to burn, burn, burn.

My vision of what art school life might possibly be like arose from dusty, out-dated art books in libraries or friends' homes in Brazil. I envisioned an old Europe of Surrealists and Dadaists with stars shaved into their heads having eccentric parties. Basically, I had just arrived from another planet. I had spent my time in the jungle riding my horse Guarani bareback and barefoot, often hitting the countryside bars for shots of aguadiente with the local men.

Everyone at art school was already immersed in the creation of their Halloween costumes. I was unfamiliar with this tradition and when I learned of it, it left me cold. The big night arrived and I was in my dorm room. The only other girl in the dormitory was a very homely Jewish girl who always wore polyester pants and whose wealthy parents forbade her to attend the party in the refectory. I knocked on her door and convinced her to paint my upper torso, lying on the cold dormitory bathroom floor. I was used to carnaval, not Halloween. The Surrealists had painted their naked bodies. And besides, we drew from live models daily. I pulled on a pair of skin tight spandex neon blue pants and stiletto heels and walked into the Halloween party, in full swing, topless. Before the end of that year, an attempt was made to throw me out of school. And by the end of my sophomore year, I was asked by the painting faculty to leave the painting department: they had decided I was colorblind. I went into the photography department, where I was also disdained for manipulating my photography through the camera and in the darkroom. This was before the digital era and my teacher considered Ansel Adams to be God.

Shortly after I left Brazil, my mother also left and moved to New York to work at Dimitrius, A Design Archive. This extensive textile archive collects, lends and sells fabrics from all over the world, some dating back centuries, and includes many of their original hand-painted designs on paper; antique paisley, chintz, kashmir, Japanese indigo, ikat, toile, brocade... some only as big as a square inch and others entire antique kimonos, shawls and even tapestries. The boss's office was decorated with a large wall hanging originally belonging to Marie Antoinette, embroidered with her initials in gold thread. The design archive supplies to leading international designers for fashion and home industries, clients such as Ralph Lauren, Versace, Scalamandre and Dufour. This textile archive with its breathtaking fabrics and their original hand-painted designs left a deep impression on me. The stories my mother told me of some of the clients appearing in riding gear with horse whips, de rigueur at the time, were amusing, not to mention the tales of top designers who pilfered small swatches of fabrics into their handbags.

At the Rhode Island School of Design, I entered the painting department at the start of my sophomore year. But, alas, during student evaluations at the end of that year the teachers in the painting department decided that I was color blind and I was forced to choose a new department. I went into photography and it has remained my field of concentration. One day years later in the center of San Miguel de Allende, I came upon a sign in a designer clothing shop window which announced they were searching for people to hand-paint clothing. I had hardly drawn or painted since being thrown out of the painting department in my art school, but this job offered me a chance to get back in touch again with that media. I grabbed the chance and although holding a paintbrush again left me anxious, I soon discovered that some talent still remained. The job was poorly paid and short-lived, after which I began hand-painting rebozos at home with landscapes of huge insects, lizards, butterflies, beetles or ocean scenes of fish, squid, eels, jellyfish and sea urchin.

Alongside photography, collage and the hand-painted rebozos, I recently also started making some jewelry, mostly funky readymades out of old paintbrushes or other found objects, dried nopal or quail eggs, buttons, bones, and popsicle sticks. One thing led to another, and I began to stitch up some small pieces of vintage fabric that my mother had once given me from her collection, stuffing them with cushion filler to create fabric beads. Next, I began to hand-paint plain silk and cotton for making the fabric beads, painting some with contrasting patterns in strong colors and others in soft washes or like cut-outs from an abstract painting. I often think of Cy Twombly while working, I am a great fan of his painting. The fabric beads lend a light weight to the jewelry and a very soft, natural voluptuous form. People often mistake them for stone or ceramic. I still sometimes incorporate other materials into the fabric beaded necklaces such as shark vertebrae or a sting ray spine, a vintage mask carved out of horn or a wooden African mask, malachite or volcanic beads, giant seeds or a huge round slab of quartz. I enjoy the machine and hand-sewing, the painting, the beauty of the textiles and the envisioning of how each necklace will be. I am happy to have incorporated both textiles and painting into a new field of work, jewelry, but there is still so much more to discover and try out.

The other day I took a short online test for color blindness. For anyone wondering, I passed with flying colors.

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Laura Honse is an American visual artist. After twenty years in Germany, where she had her own gallery, she relocated to Mexico and now lives in San Miguel de Allende. Her photography has been exhibited at El Nigromante Bellas Artes, Art Print and Instituto Cultural de Leon. Her photography, collage, rebozos and jewelry are displayed in her home which is open to the public by appointment.

Calle Homobono 2, corner of Animas
Zona Centro
Cell: 415 1190405

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