Words by Julia Eskins
Photos by Aleyah Solomon
Leave it to an artist to find inspiration on a sidewalk. When Amanda McCavour is strolling through Toronto, even a glimpse of peeling mustard yellow paint on the concrete can spark her creativity. The fibre artist works with stitch to create large-scale embroidered installations; intricate thread drawings that hang mid-air like dreamy visions. Aesthetically delicate yet conceptually strong, McCavour sews onto dissolvable paper to create art that conveys the fragile and fleeting nature of life.
In a way, her detailed pieces take on a life of their own, turning rooms into surreal settings. Take Pattern Study, McCavour’s Nuit Blanche 2015 exhibit that transformed the interior of Union Station using textiles from the H&M Garment Collection Program. With a Masters of Fine Arts in Fibers Material Studies and countless Artist-in-Residencies under her belt, McCavour is quickly becoming one to watch in Toronto’s art scene. In the process, she has garnered acclaim for solo and group exhibitions in countries around the world including Canada, United States, the Netherlands and Italy. We caught up with the busy artist between projects to chat about her process, success and finding inspiration in unlikely places.
Julia Eskins: You focused on drawing while doing your Bachelor of Fine Art at York University. How did your interest in fibre arts unfold?
Amanda McCavour: It was totally by accident. I guess that’s how life is… you flow into different things and find your way. I stumbled upon it through a series of weird events. I was thinking about how cool it would be to have a drawing that existed only out of thread. I was never interested in weaving before I went to grad school to learn about textiles, but then a lightbulb went off. I became really interested in the structural potential of thread.
JE: Do you still draw as well?
AM: All of my work starts out with a drawing. I’ll also sketch a lot when I’m preparing for a project. For the piece at Nuit Blanche, I was doing a lot of drawing in watercolours to figure out which patterns I wanted to focus on. My work starts with a drawing on water-soluble fabric and then I fill it in with the thread. I always think of the sewing machine as a pencil.
JE: What made you decide to leave Toronto and go to grad school at Temple University in Philadelphia?
AM: I had finished a three-year residency at Harbourfront Center’s Textile Studio and then spent four or five years working on my own. I felt like it was a good time to experience a different city. I’m so comfortable in Toronto and I love all the people here but I felt an urge to try something new. I started applying to schools and Philadelphia seemed like an interesting place for textiles.
JE: What do you like most about doing artist-in-residency programs?
AM: I love residencies because when you’re travelling, you’re aware of different things. I think that helps a lot with art. You’re not necessarily uncomfortable, but you’re seeing the world in a different way. I did a residency in Dawson City, Yukon. It was insanely cool and eye opening to go up north. I had this idea I was going to be by myself, isolated in the wilderness. In actuality, I have never felt more a part of a community than I did when I was there. The community is so small and everyone is so involved with the cultural events going on, I was immediately scooped up.
JE: On a day-to-day basis, where do you find your inspiration?
AM: I’ve been looking a lot at books of diagrams and I’ve been particularly interested in floral diagrams lately. When I feel stuck, I go for a walk. I find that there is a way that you think and observe while you’re walking that’s different than when you’re sitting. The act of moving forward makes me feel like I am moving forward with my thought process. Someone once said that the pace of walking is the same pace as thinking, so I always think about that.
JE: It was interesting that people were able to walk through your installation at Nuit Blanche. Do you often incorporate interactivity into your work?
AM: It’s something I’m more open to now, which stems from my interest in walking and movement. I am thinking more about creating pieces that are cinematic, rather than still. For Nuit Blanche, I was really interested in having people move through the space rather than have it be something in a window. We chose that site between the Great Hall and Arrivals because it’s an access point where people are always moving.
JE: What do you have planned in the new year?
AM: In January, I’m heading to New England, which is a place I’ve always wanted to go back to. It’s right on the ocean and there is something melancholy about it. I went there when I was in high school and I always thought it was a magical place. For example, we were at a picnic in a park and they were making cotton candy. It was so windy that the cotton candy was blowing up in the air and you could literally pick it out of the sky. I proposed to combine all of my installations together for a show at Memorial University. I want it to feel like a dreamscape. I think I’m going to be doing a residency afterwards at Gros Morne National Park. I’m also going to be having the Nuit Blanche piece exhibit at DuWest, which is the design festival along Dundas.