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WIP Artist Highlight: Kayla Thompson

Kayla Thompson was the Work In Progress (WIP) resident working out of the Manhattan studio for the duration of February. She studied at Kendall College of Art and Design and then the University of Oregon to receive her BFA and then MFA. Her work splits between playfully functional and indulgently designed, fiber forms and clay objects, electric tools and hand crafted techniques. I got the chance to sit down with her and talk about her time and programming with the WIP residency as well as her tools and trade.

J: What attracted you to the Textile Art Center’s Work In Progress residency?

K: Well I was moving to New York from Oregon so that I could be co-located again with my partner who was already living in Brooklyn. I was looking for residencies and things to apply to. I have a seperate track within my art practice of ceramics and fibers, so I was looking for something for either. A friend of mine actually encouraged me to apply to the WIP residency and it seemed pretty perfect. It's a way for me to be pushed into a more public realm after three years of solitary studio confinement. 

J: What have you been working on during your month at WIP?

K: I’ve been working on 3d tufted forms, specifically taken from the dimensions of a normal everyday brick, which is a clay object. That’s how I'm bringing the clay side of my work into the fiber side, although it’s a little bit of a stretch. I multiplied the (brick’s) dimensions by three to scale it up into a cushion, floor cushion or pillow, and it's still stackable. With each brick I'm able to explore different abstract designs and patterns. I started off the brick motiff with holes in the center like a real brick, tufted in. I think now that I’ve made a couple of them I prefer the random geometric patterns all over the piece and how that looks on all the sides. The more you make, the more you get inspired to change each iteration.

J: Do you normally work serially?

K: I would say so. I have a habit of not making models or if I do make a test piece the test piece is also a part of the piece, since in my mind it's faster to just make the piece instead of rigorous testing. That's probably from my ceramics side of things since I used to do a lot of glaze testing and you can get stuck in the cycle of just testing out glazes and pieces but not get into the final piece itself. So I usually work in a series where each iteration evolves from the last one. Once I pick a form I can stay within those assigned parameters and keep changing it to allow it to evolve naturally.

"The more you make, the more you get inspired to change each iteration."

J: For your event you chose to organize a tufters meet up; what made you want to propose this type of event?

K: So tufting is very trendy right now. Tim Eades, who is the designer responsible for the website, and other similar designers have been trying to make the tufting guns more readily available. For example industrial versions of the tool are over a thousand dollars and his is just under three hundred. So it's a little bit more accessible to the everyday artists and with that there are more artists working with tufting, there's a lot of new people working on tufting. Some information you can find online but there’s still confusion: where do you find the best yarns, what do you use to glue up the back of the piece, how do you finish the edges. There's a lot of options within each but I think it’s important having meetups and different social resources to share ideas, materials, resources, and knowledge.

J: Are you hoping to meet some designers or studios in New York through this project?

K: There's a few people in town that I know of who tuft. I’m a big fan of ugly rugly. I really like their use of combining rope into 3d forms then adding tufting to it. Their designs are really loud and playful and I love that. I’m not sure if they are going to come but I'd love to meet them someday and talk shop. I’m really just hoping to meet other tufters and build up a network. 

J: How did you first get involved in tufting and what are some advantages of this practice for you?

K: I first got involved with tufting while developing the piece called “Furniture Stairs” which is a placeholder name. I change the name of my works constantly depending on what I’m using it for at that time. This piece was originally covered in industrial carpeting which lost some of the artist's hand. The focus on the carpeting became how it was installed instead of the actual surface of it. So i wanted to make my own carpet to cover the surface of the staircase, and to make other 3d forms. Originally it was the staircase and then I started making some toilet rugs, because that’s a carpet that’s both icky and really funny, also very very specifically installed. So that series led me to make some plastic bag rugs, because the plastic bags were shaped like toilet rugs. They have the “no thank you” and sad faces on them playing off the single use plastic shopping bags. That series evolved on its own to become a little less about toilet rugs and a little more about plastic bags. I was also inspired by Studio Herron and Dee Clemons. She had this clip chair, an amazing tufted cube. I was already making some 3d forms but I wanted to make my own ottoman or tufted cube. So, I made each of the panels with its own design and found an industrial sewing machine and stuck all the edges up to make my own tufted cube with abstract patterns on it. 

J: Did you ever use hand tufting tools before you got into using the industrial one?

K: No I didn’t, which is kinda funny since needle punching seems like an obvious choice. I did find an old fashioned speed tufter, which is a hand-held tufter that has a slide on it. It’s not very speedy and it takes a lot of upper arm strength, but it does a higher tuft loop than the electric, and I will sometimes add that into my tufted pieces to get a varying pile height for outlines in a different texture. Though it takes a lot out of you. I wanna get more into needle punching but it is so slow. I really like the instant gratification of the electric tufter. Especially after making ceramics where everything needs to go in the kiln twice before you can see the final product and you have to wait for drying. 

J: Of course we can’t overlook your work in ceramics! Do you have a preference between clay and thread, do you ever use them together?

K: Right now the two practices are separate, I need two different studios to work in. Since I don't have a kiln at home I work out of Gasworks ceramics in park slope. Currently, I am working on functional tableware in ceramics. Something a little smaller and more sellable. The tufting I can do at home where the frame just takes over one wall of my apartment, and tons of yarn is stacked everywhere, which is so nice, a house full of yarn! My partenr weaves so we have a lot of fiber stuff between us. If I come up with an idea then I can attempt it right in front of me at home, and finish it with a very quick turn around.

J: What sort of objects have embedded value to you? Do these objects innately have value or is it somehow accrued?

K: Value is a complicated subject within my work because I hate capitalism but I am so implanted in it, a lot of times when I think of value I’m really thinking of the invested time, with the hand touch I have in the work. With ceramics that might mean all the dots I meticulously added to the surface, even if the piece is thrown. With tufting it's a little harder to see how time is spent, part of it is me hand stitching the edges. There are a lot of parts of the process that you may not really see in the final piece. For example, the hand stitching may take as long as actually tufting the whole piece.

J: Do you take notes on how long certain things take and how long certain projects where to produce?

K: I try to, I always forget to start my timer or I’ll lose track of time once I get into it. I try to think about how much a mug, cushion, or chair should cost and how much I want to be paid for my time. But I don’t want to forget that these pieces are art and individual objects, which makes the embedded value really hard to find when you want these things to be accessible but also need compensation for all the work that goes into them. 

J: Once you finish a piece, how do you envision its life post production?

K: I try to envision how somebody might interpret its design affordance, meaning what is the expected function based off the visual input the object provides. So with the tuft cube it’s like a giant ottoman but functions more like a bean bag so you can jump into it. It's funny ‘cause when you sit on top of it you naturally roll off too, you have to fight with the tuft cube and roll it around. It's really fun to watch people try to sit on it. It’s larger than an ottoman so it has the impulse of sitting on it. Then other things like the toilet rug, I’m not sure that people really will put them in the bathroom but it definitely has that idea attached to it. Or the furniture stairs which were used as a show display so I encouraged people not to interact with it, mostly because it was on wheels and I wanted to use it to display ceramic works. 

J: Do you have any art at home?

K: My partner and I have a collection of ceramics: bowls, mugs, plates. Every ceramicist has their mugs that they collect from potter friends and other inspirational people. But this summer when I moved in we were installing an Ikea shelf and... 30 of them broke. That was about half of our collection, and a very sad day. I collected all the pieces and repaired almost all of them with kintsugi or rather my own kintsugi practice. You need to love puzzles and meditation to enjoy the project and you also have to have a respect for the piece and how it's made. After that I had a new respect for the pieces that fell and didn’t break.

To learn more about Kayla’s work, visit her website and follow her on Instagram.


Interviews & Studio Visits Work In Progress