Embroidery is not deceptively simple. You would think that the invention of the sewing machine would have made things easier, and while it does help speed up the process of creating shapes with a needle and thread, the intricacies of a sewing machine are so testy that working with one can make an intermediate sewer swear like a sailor. I might be referring to myself, but this web comic indicates that it's a shared experience.
Now imagine owning a vintage sewing machine in the modern age and mastering it to the point that you can crank out dynamic thread drawings of things like shark jaws, Campbell's soup cans, and brass knuckles. The fact that Steve MacDonald can do such things has blown my mind for years. I can't even remember the first time I saw one of his pieces, and the embellished sweatshirt I once commissioned him to embroider is practically threadbare, but nearly every time he's participated in a local group show, I've made sure to check it out.
MacDonald, who also goes by the pseudonym Ramblin' Worker, has taken fiber art into both sculptural and painterly dimensions. He's created three-dimensional cuckoo clocks, skateboard decks, and even the surface of a tank that was towed down the streets of Manhattan in the 2006 Deitch Parade. Using gold or white canvas and red thread as the groundwork for many of his pieces, he plays with symbology, and his style is informed by elements of collage and design.
At Gallery Three, the upstairs exhibition space of White Walls, Ramblin' Worker is currently showing a new body of work appropriately titled Upstairs is Where the Magic Happens. But the magic actually starts to happen along the stairwell where he painted a geometric mural to back an alphabet of 26 individually framed skate ramp-shaped graphic letters. Thread takes the place of pens, paints, and adhesive -- the embroidery is used as an outline, a fill-in, or a structural glue.
MacDonald is adept with color, shape, line work, and presentation. Gems in the show include a soaring bird and a multi-colored, overlapping ode to bikes. The show's title is shared by its signature piece -- a side view of a head with the recurring skate ramp image on its mind. It is clear that, like many contemporary young artists, MacDonald's art is partly driven by graffiti, bike, and skate cultures. It goes without saying that the aforementioned cultures and the world of needlepoint are traditionally gender specific, but the art MacDonald creates is about more than merging boys' and girls' hobbies and transcends such obvious observations.
Upstairs is Where the Magic Happens is on view at Gallery Three through November 3rd, 2009.