by Jason Kappus
Most of our everyday interactions with textiles are utilitarian and the processes behind clothing, quilts, and rugs seem governed by traditions and rules, the idea that there is a right way to do something, that if instructions are executed properly the desired product will be achieved. In contrast, Kim Lakin’s fiber work is surprisingly improvisational, the initial design so loosely imagined that she has no idea what the final size of the piece may be. She focuses on shape, pattern, proportion, constantly evaluates and makes changes, and always “remains open to ideas”. It’s a sort of game, one with no clear end, and with a lot of problem solving throughout: how to make the root impulse succeed, how to reform the current state of the piece into one that is both instantly appealing, but also complex enough to warrant multiple viewings.
In ‘Meanderings’ shapes similar to crooked piano key teeth in an open mouth of green and red streak across the piece, interrupted by grays against a background of white further marked with wandering stitchlines. The piece has a hectic energy, though further study reveals that the repeated motifs are actually rife with subtle variations. The piece is both playful and studied, a result born of experimentation: exactly how far apart do the elements need to be to balance each other, how can the right amount of movement be achieved. It is impossible to tell what element started the piece or how much else once resided on the piece that has been stripped away, but what remains bears the mark of solutions found, of a victory.
Lakin’s textiles could be called painterly, and it begs the question: Why fabric? Lakin admits, “I ask myself that all the time. Could this be done better in another medium?” It seems illogical to pair Lakin’s intuitive process with the rule-based and precision loving media of sewing, but that challenge is part of what makes the results refreshing. Further proof that this should by all rights be the wrong media for Lakin comes when she pronounces, “I don’t like to use straight lines.” This disposition made her “a lousy seamstress” in making clothes the way her mother instructed her in her youth, but now she has made it a touchstone of her artistic style. In every piece her lines wobble, rove, and shift in a cubist manner; she has bent the media to her will, made a tame horse wild. It comes down to this: she says, “I like the feel of the materials,” and that the finished work “has a subtle dimension, [occupies] a middle ground between 2-d and 3-d.” The fabric simply has qualities one can not achieve in paint, her work literally and figuratively has more depth because of the medium she has chosen.
Lakin started as a painter and had only a brief foray into fabric art, before she set both aside to pursue architecture, specifically historical preservation. Her years in this field led to a heightened awareness of and concern for harmony, organization, and division of space. Her spatial harmony is rarely achieved by a obvious method, as with Room with a View, where a snaking line of intense red dots severs a tan frame, the right half of the rectangle sliding away. At first it seems broken, but all the lines that no longer match are more dynamic for having been split, they justify their current positions. Over and over in her work Lakin demands you accept that certain dissonance is not only intentional, but correct. Parallel and straight lines are not always best, the disjointed shape that is not a rectangle should not be one, they are part of a new language of geometry.
Kim Lakin is artist #92 in the 2011 Portland Open Studios tour. For more information about Portland Open Studios, please see our website at: https://www.portlandopenstudios.com.
She is currently the Featured Artist at the Retail Craft Gallery at the Oregon College of Art & Craft: http://www.ocac.edu/#/about-ocac/campus/galleries/retail-gallery/
You can see more of Kim Lakin’s work on her website at: http://kimlakin.net.