Interview with Maisie Maeve Myfawnwy

Almost everyone in New York City has had to sublet their apartment, and almost everyone knows what a nightmare this can be. Last year I was on the hunt for someone to take over my little two bedroom nook in Brooklyn. Countless emails, Facebook messages and apartment visits later, I posted an ad to a feminist girl group on Facebook. Somehow the New  York division of the apartment gods sent me Maisie Maeve Myfawnwy.

She would be in the city doing a residency at the Textile Arts Center (exhibition September 22nd at the Gowanus Loft Gallery) as well as working at the The Modern Art Foundry in Astoria, Queens. Though I left the city I continued to follow Maisie's progress and have fallen in love with her dreamy aesthetic and material process. She transforms sculpture into textile, textile into image, and image into fashion to create a body of work that is both artful and functional.

Can you talk a little bit about your background as an artist? What was the process like to begin working in textile and fashion?

I come from a family of creative people so art was my whole world growing up. I was raised in Maine, first on an isolated island, and then in the woods of the foothills. I was homeschooled on and off and spent most of my time making art and being in nature. From when I was about 8 to 14 we lived completely off the grid in a one room cabin so I spent a lot of time outside and lived in my own tiny camper during the summers. I had a work table that I dragged into the forest and would do big oil pastel drawings on cardboard with a battery powered boom box playing Tom Petty. My parents both dressed beautifully even though we were poor, and I became very interested in fashion, dressing as wild as possible in embellished clothing. I think it was partly in rebellion to the simplicity of my rural surroundings but also something that helped me express myself as I was quite shy and introspective.

I went to college in Maine and Singapore, mostly focusing on large scale sculptural works and drawings. Throughout this time I was still exploring fashion and making my own clothes, so a few years after graduating from school I decided to start my own clothing company as a way to work towards self sufficiency. The business has changed and evolved over the years and it has now settled into MYFAWNWY (small clothing company focusing on unique textiles and fashion forward concepts), which has a more undefined and all-encompassing approach to experimental and conceptual fashion design and art. I've been working towards bringing together all aspects of my work and it has been an exciting process to combine these different approaches to making.

How would you describe your visual language?

In much of my work I draw inspiration from specific locations where I try to embody the spirit and animism of a place, translating the language of a space into a look and a visual story. My work can be symbolic and spiritual, patterns reflecting the abstract and psychedelic compositions of nature, or images that speak to the mythology and history of a landscape. In the most recent work I am creating pieces that illustrate the landscape of our minds, what the topography could look like within that infinite space of our subconscious. These pieces also resemble reflections and waves on water, or vast curving folds of outer space. Ultimately all of these things are connected, we are made out of star dust and water, our thoughts questioning and exploring our existence in this enormous cosmos.

What sort of preparation/research goes into designing a new line?

I am very experimental in my practice, so a new collection usually starts out with different material explorations, generally creating an enormous mess in the studio with tests, sewing shapes and forms and whittling it down to precisely what works the best. I have a high standard for craft so it's important to me that I practice and work to design something that is lasting and well-made. As a self-taught seamstress this boils down to lots of trial and error and researching tips and tricks in books and online. I’m an avid reader, which filters into my conceptual process. The nature writings of Carl Jung, entitled “ The Earth has a Soul”  and Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space”, are both endless sources of inspiration.

All of your pieces are so dreamy! Is there a story associated with them or the women who would wear them?

The women reflected in the collections and photoshoots are explorers, fearless and strong, standing on the top of a mountain or alone on an island, communing with nature and looking outward to the horizon. There is a sense of surrealism in the photographs. I try to tell a story through each photoshoot, with landscape, color, and body language. One collection, called “Runaway”, which I designed and photographed in Tucson, Arizona, features a woman high up in the desert, wrapped up like a bandit in bold silks, her face shielded from the sun and from prying eyes. I created this collection during a time when I was feeling trapped and uncertain. I started spending a lot of time hiking alone in the mountains and driving through the desert which was exploding with blooming spring cactuses. Those moments of solitude in nature were so important, and I wanted to capture that sense of escapism and empowerment for the viewer to share with me.

You recently moved to New York from a small town in Maine, how has this change influenced your creative process?

In Maine my practice had many restrictions. I was often working off the grid, moving seasonally and without a studio space. Although limiting, I think being able to overcome these challenges and continue producing work strengthened my resolve in myself. I moved to NYC to take part in an art residency at the Textile Arts Center. Here in New York you have access to literally every tool and material you could dream of. I now have the potential to see to fruition ideas spanning from 3d printing and laser-cutting to machine knitting and bronze casting. I need to prioritize projects because I can't do everything at once, but I think the quality and scope of my work has grown and improved. The residency, which is coming to a close after 9 months, has propelled me forward and helped to solidify my artistic identity. I've been able to delve into projects on a deeper level, from research to material studies. Working in a community of likeminded people has also been motivating. Our residencies’ final show is in September at Gowanus Loft in Brooklyn. We then have plans to show new work together on a yearly basis and to continue our critical and creative dialogue.

Can you talk a little bit about the different techniques you use with fabric manipulation and dying? What’s your favorite material and/or technique?

I became obsessed with marbling a number of years ago and it's become one of my signature fabric techniques. I marble on a large scale so I can have yardage of a continuous flowing pattern. I love to experiment with all sorts of fabric manipulations from appliquéing illustrations on linen and wool, removing dye from fabrics with bleach to create patterns or using heliographic paint to expose images on fabrics with the sun. Recently I've been etching on silk using the devorè technique which creates sheer patterns in the fabric, it's quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

What sort of difficulties have you encountered in your creative process, and/or the process associated with establishing yourself as a designer in the business world?

It was an enormous challenge to start a clothing company in rural Maine and keep up production. One collection, Island and I, was made in a barn on an isolated island. I sewed everything with a foot-powered sewing machine from the early 1900s. I hauled buckets of salt water to dye the fabrics and used found objects like fishing nets to print patterns. Although this collection was one of my favorites, because of the transient lifestyle I was leading at the time, I wasn't able to put it into production. I am committing myself to have more of a stable studio practice now so I can truly focus on growing my company. You need capital, business skills, and mentors to launch yourself forward and begin outsourcing. It is hard for me to ask for help, because of a stubborn and ridiculous idea that I need to do everything by myself. That is something I am working on now, reaching out for advice, opportunities, and collaborations.

What do you do to stay motivated? Do you have any studio rituals?                               

My studio rituals are pretty simple, endless cups of strong tea, and music to help me access and stay in the zone, lately lots of Frank Ocean and Connan Mockasin. My mind is the most productive at night, and I take breaks to dance around and keep my blood flowing. I have a driving commitment to my work, once I have what I think is a good idea I feel beholden to that idea until I can bring it to some kind of fruition. I've been learning that the unavoidable times when you are not motivated are just as important as moments of production. I used to feel immense guilt if I was unproductive for a spell. I'm learning to use those times to reflect and recharge, then I can come back with fresh eyes, new ideas and hopefully still a shred of confidence.

Who are some female creators that you admire?

I've had the opportunity to work directly on pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Lynda Benglis and Tracy Emin while working at the Modern Art Foundry in Queens as a sculptural retoucher. It is incredibly inspiring to see the power and presence of their work and the conceptual dedication of these powerhouses. I also deeply admire the artists Emily Carr, Georgia O’Keefe and Agnes Martin, painters who rejected society’s expectations and the power of the art world to live in solitude with nature and completely commit to their art practice. An unusual lifestyle for women at their time, they forged a path for us, pushing against the restrictions of our culture to live fearlessly and with self-reliance. Their work and practice proved undeniable and gained a respect that has opened doors for women artists today.  I must also mention my grandmothers, two of the greatest influences in my life. Josephine and Pamela were both humble and generous with their art. They never sought out exposure but consistently produced pure and beautiful work throughout their lifetimes. I grew up watching them draw and drawing alongside them. I see my work as an extension of their own.

What does feminism mean to you?

Feminism is the pursuit of equality for women, but the ultimate goal is the undeniable acceptance that all humans deserve equal opportunity to pursue their goals, be treated with respect and without discrimination, no matter their sex, race, religion, body type or social class. When our very justice system commits discrimination everyday, it is an uphill battle, but all the more motivation to keep fighting for a better world in every way we can.

Maisie be showing new works on paper at The Institute for American Art in Portland, Maine through the end of this month and teaching marbling workshops in London this summer at the London Center for Book Arts .