Snapshot in Stitch: Maria E. Pineres

Maria E. Piñeres

Columbian artist Maria E. Piñeres explains that she has set herself the challenge of using “the least amount of stitches to create the most amount of detail” in her chosen medium of needlepoint. Her low effort approach produces work that feels unashamedly rough around the edges. The content of these diminutive works is drawn from the slick photographic surfaces of snapshots, celebrity portraits and 1970’s porn magazine images, translated by stitch into pixelated surface textures. Instead of a frame, Piñeres leaves her backing canvas clearly visible often revealing the frayed or crudely glued edges and holes where the canvas has stretched during stitching. When displayed, her works are often pinned to the wall.

Explaining her content, Piñeres claims to “prefer the body type and photographic aesthetics of pin-ups from the 70’s. I also include celebrity portraits because I like that they are universally familiar images and reference Pop art.” Her work flaunts expectations with imagery that is at times shocking in its sexual content, overtly celebratory of iconic media figures or, in her series of single shoe images, numbingly mundane. In her first solo exhibition at DCKT Contemporary in New York City last year, Piñeres preserved this sense of contrast and presented a disorientating clash of all three. Everywhere a strong element of disregard for the conventions of traditional needlepoint lurks not far beneath the surface.

Piñeres’ execution of the textile may be far from sophisticated, but the content of her images reveal an ongoing interest in fabric and pattern. She cites textile designers Emilio Pucci, Lily Pulitzer, William Morris and Vera Neumann, brands such as Missoni and Burberry, artists Victor Vasarely and M.C. Escher and the patterns found in Chinese origami paper as inspiration. Generic renditions of camouflage, plaid, herringbone and houndstooth often fill out her flat figures, not in the guise of a garment but as an all over pattern that extends over the face and extremities of the figure. The only disruptions to the pattern are the addition of anatomically correct stitches to confirm gender. Clearly, this is an artist infatuated with pattern, an interest she attributes to her earliest childhood memories of, “staring at the floor and being mesmerized by the grids and patterns formed by the different coloured tiles.”

The American Needlepoint Guild defines needlepoint as “any counted or free stitchery worked by hand with a threaded needle on a readily countable ground.” This countable ground is an important component to Piñeres translation of colour photography into needlepoint. Because she rarely plots her patterns in advance, colour transitions and even the outer shape of the needlepoint are often imprecise. These abrupt moments are the result of her free wheeling approach to design, which rejects prior planning but accepts that transitions between colours and pattern are dictated by the grid of backing canvas. The constraints imposed by the backing canvas are reminiscent of the children’s game of etch-a-sketch where the only option is to move in ninety-degree turns. The childhood agonies of etch-a-sketch are palpable as well: once you begin a drawing you have to commit to every line you have drawn unless you want to concede defeat by shaking the ground and erasing your work completely. Piñeres seems to approach her stitching with a similar inability to undo. Time rather than material feels to be of the essence with content and gesture rather than perfection the desired result.

This artist certainly cannot be accused of partaking in the trend a few years ago to scan and trade copyrighted needlepoint patterns online to avoid, albeit illegally, the modest cost of buying patterns because she typically stitches without a pre-planned pattern. And at times when she does stitch from photographs that have been translated onto punched paper she does not rely on the graph as an absolute guide. The gap left between the original image and the finished work rejects the values of “good” craftsmanship in favour of something less tangible. Just what that entails is difficult to pinpoint. Even her palette of commercially dyed cotton thread, which includes seventies colour favourites such as avocado and brunt orange, is flagrantly off-key. One suspects these works are an idiosyncratic outcome from a student of Illustration at the Parsons School of Design, New York City where she graduated with a BFA in 1998. Her current work undeniably challenges us to see with a new eye by aggressively questioning established aesthetic values.

Piñeres sexually explicit imagery is not as foreign to the world of needlepoint as one may first assume. The Internet needlepoint gallery notes a preponderance of nudity and oddity in the examples the site has collected. Their introduction explains, “As you will soon see, the variety of images worked into needlepoint ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous . . . A surprising number are nudes (and mushrooms...). Most are designed by professional artists, and range from sophisticated to terrible . . . though the artwork is sometimes crude, it’s got the virtue of originality.” Piñeres too has the virtue of originality going for her, although one could be tempted to ask at what cost? Is this work more profane when reworked in stitch than the original photograph? Or is it her disregard for craftsmanship that gives the work an edgy, albeit unsettling, atmosphere?

Despite the swift style Piñeres has adapted, each and every stitch still requires commitment and consideration. As a result none of the content can be deemed accidental. The works have a confrontational air about them, whether it is a dare not to be bored or a dare not to be shocked. If Victorian samplers were labored over for weeks and even months, this is the work of a short, and decidedly contemporary, attention span. No attempt is made to conceal the cheapness of materials or crudeness of execution. One gets the impression such accusations would fall on deaf ears. I suspect that if the world of embroidery does not like what Piñeres is up to, she would be just fine with that.

Embroidery magazine (July/Aug. 2005: 19)

image: Maria E. Piñeres "Bobby & Tim" (2005)