Featured Artist: Drew McKevitt

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Current town:  Petawawa, Ontario / Philadelphia, PA

Bio:  
I am a textile designer /artist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Petawawa, Ontario, with a focus on knit textiles and knitwear design.  I received a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Concordia University and spent many years working as the managing editor of a poetry magazine in Montreal, Quebec. I recently received a master’s degree in Textile Design from Philadelphia University (Jefferson). 

Select links (website, IG, FB):
www.drewmckevitt.com
IG:   @drewmckevitt

Describe your work.
I consider myself a textile designer / artist who focuses on knit fabric development and knitwear. I specialize in domestic and computerized machine knitting and tend to create pieces that focus on technical details and structures. 

I feel like my practice has two sides. On one hand, I make really intricate, often impossible to produce at a large-scale, fabrics, garments, and art. This side is more aesthetically and conceptually driven. On the other, I embrace the logical problem-solving nature of knitting as a medium in the sense that I also like making performance fabrics that solve some kind of concrete issue. While the outcomes are often visually different, I don’t find the two sides to be mutually exclusive. In fact, my design process is almost always driven by the technical and logical aspects of textile construction even when looking towards a purely aesthetic outcome. 

Although my primary textile focus has been in knitwear, I also work with hand manipulated methods like macramé and shuttle tatting.

What themes and concepts does your work generally revolve around?

I am drawn to unusual textures, intricate structures, and organic shapes. I am particularly interested in the intersection of philosophy and knitting; both are complex, logical, and also creative. My work explores materiality, contradiction, metaphor, and intuition. 

Intuition, or intuitive patterning, is a concept that I tend to come back to. For me it is about starting with a specific technique or pattern in mind and then disrupting that. Also the idea of contradiction. Design / textile art becomes intriguing when there is some kind of tension balancing within a piece. I tend to explore that idea with materials as well as concept.

For example, my thesis, “All is Flux”, explored Heraclitus’ concepts of change through textiles. The idea of change involves a lot of contradiction according to Heraclitus’ argument (which is itself logical incongruous and full of contradiction). This allowed me to explore contradictory fabric weights, materials, as well as techniques. Many of the fabrics / garments developed for that collection played with opposites sometimes in the form of transparency— knitting with clear monofilament and weaving over it, creating lace with bulky yarns, or using different yarn weights within a single knit structure. In addition, I developed a way of creating origami-like pleats with knit fabric— a contraction in terms of origami’s sharp edges and knits’ typically soft nature. These precisely programmed origami structures were shown alongside intuitively created pieces. Ultimately, getting these opposing ideas to work together meant getting them to balance with each other. 

Although I have several different projects that I work on at a time, visually they all evoke some sense of organic movement, be it a ripple in knit fabric, vine-like intersecting cables, disrupted linear patterns, or irregularly formed lace. I think this also relates back to intuition. While machine knitting can be very technical and precise, with domestic machines there is always an opportunity to manipulate by hand and make decisions as the piece is being worked. In this way, the knitter is more like a painter than a programmer, or maybe a combination of both.  

What materials do you work with?
Since a lot of what I am drawn to is about pairing opposites, I like to experiment with materials. I tend to use unconventional materials with traditional techniques. It can be hard to achieve this with machine knitting since the machines are unforgiving when it comes to yarn choice. I often introduce unconventional materials by hand or in the finishing process when knitting, but when working with purely handmade techniques, there is a lot more potential. 

For example, I love creating handmade, shuttle tatted lace with PVC coated filament. I don’t work with a formal pattern, which makes my take on tatting very different from traditional dollies. Not only is it challenging to work with a stiff material, but the result is kind of a contradiction of ideas. For example, I cast hand-tatted PVC coated filament in resin as a way of re-contextualizing  handmade lace— the delicate qualities of lace transform when executed in a ubiquitous material like plastic. For me innovation comes in the form of combining tradition with modern sensibility and material. 

What are you currently working on?
I have several projects on the go including a few collaborations that are still in progress. 

I recently launched a limited edition collection of textile jewelry, I N H A B I T. The pieces are inspired by animal architects (birds, insects, spiders, etc.) that craft their own dwellings. I had been thinking about this concept and gathering research for it over a few years. I find so much inspiration for textile structures in the natural world. It finally made sense to look at the idea in terms of smaller textile pieces that are worked without the aid of a machine. Using macramé and shuttle tatting allows me to be intuitive about design as well as play with materials. 

The word ‘inhabit’ has its literal meaning, but it also evokes the idea of being fully present as a maker. In that way, there is word play between inhabiting a space and the habitual, small repetitive gestures (making a knot, counting threads. forming a loop etc.) involved with creating textiles by hand. All of the pieces are lightweight and approach traditional macramé and tatting techniques with a modern design sense. The macramé pieces are made with a fine silk chainette cord, while the tatted earrings and pendants are created with PVC coated filament. Some are then carefully painted by hand with resin. 

More images and information can be found here: www.drewmckevitt.com/work#/inhabit/

I am also exploring my connection to nature with an ongoing series, “specimen”, which consists of natural objects that I have tatted around with an extremely fine cotton thread. Using this tedious and time consuming method of making handmade lace is very mediative. Because I don’t start working on a piece with a particular outcome in mind, it is also very intuitive. I work with sticks and seed pods that I collect once they have already fallen and dried, so the task of incorporating lace around their forms is delicate and gentle. It is also kind of an investigation into opposites— the natural world and human artifice (handmade lace). Pairing them together is interesting because of their dissimilarity and the balance needed in both approach and design for them to coexist. 

More images and information can be found here: https://www.drewmckevitt.com/work#/specimen/

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
I try to work on things at least once a day. Unfortunately with machine knitting, if you’re having a bad day, no amount of determination can fix it. Some days I interact well with machines (and those are days I spend hours working), and others I have to force myself to leave it until another time. 

What’s your art background?
I actually do not have a formal art background. I had always been interested in art in high school, but decided to pursue Creative Writing, English literature, and Philosophy in undergrad. After many years working as an editor and occasionally as a as a freelance sample knitter, I decided to return to a textile design grad program to see if it was something I would enjoy in a more formal environment. It was. Although it was challenging to enter a program like that with no real art background, ultimately I think my analytic approach to design and background in writing made sense when applied to knitting. 

What’s next for you?
I want to design and create a line of machine-loomed knitwear. The prospect is really daunting, but it’s something I’m passionate about pursuing. As maker, I want to exist somewhere in-between the practical and the conceptual. So I don’t want to ever give up projects that are purely aesthetic or art-driven, but I also want to acknowledge the practical nature of textiles in my practice. 

I am also always on the look-out for freelance and collaborative opportunities. I take a lot of joy in working with others to realize a vision that is not uniquely my own. 

What’s inspiring you?
Nature is always a huge inspiration— both visually and as a way to mentally reset. Textile design is so much about a “repeat”— repeating motifs, repeating actions, repeating patterns. When I look at natural patterns, I see repeating elements, but those elements repeat imperfectly like patterns in sand or rock erosion or a spider’s web. I find the idea of an “imperfect” repeat really inspiring and an interesting way to approach textiles. 

I’ve also recently been interested in the history of textiles, specifically prehistoric textiles. I am by no means even an amateur historian, but everything I read in mainstream history tends to focus on tools and weapons. I imagine that textiles would have been a major invention that brought mankind to a new echelon of society. Perhaps because textiles degrade over time, their ephemeral nature has escaped history’s scrutiny (unlike metals and stone). I’ve been reading a lot about the subject, and it is fascinating that plied yarns preserved in clay (and only found when archeologists were looking for prehistoric plant matter) suggest that humankind would have woven, dyed, and spun yarns nearly 35,000 years ago. Because dyed yarns were found, it suggests that the textiles that were being made were not just utilitarian. They served a multitude of functions just as textiles do today. It’s interesting because that historical blindspot bleeds into how people view textiles even today. Not many of us really take notice of how fabrics are so embedded in our everyday lives (re: clothing, upholstery, geo textiles etc). Even our figurative language uses textile terms as metaphors. 

It is humbling, but also inspiring, to think that thousands of years ago someone knotted or wove something, and I (we) do the same thing.

Do you have any exhibits coming up/ past exhibits you’d like to mention?\

My current textile jewelry collection is available at Levee Gallery in Monroe, Louisiana as well as on my website. 

What are you trying to communicate with your art?
When I make something, especially intuitively, I put myself into it. In many ways I create to discover something about myself. It’s always really wonderful when someone else finds meaning in something I’ve created, but once a piece is finished, I relinquish all control over its purpose. I think also, because my formal training is as a textile designer, I find it easy to detach from the final purpose or end-use. I love the process and discovery involved with creating. Once something is done, it doesn’t hold the same interest for me. 

What do you dislike about your work?

I dislike that machine knitting is not really portable. My practice really requires a studio space.

Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

I tried metal working when I was very young (in high school), and I’ve always wanted to return to that. I am also interested in ceramics. In terms of textiles, I’d love to learn bobbin lace making. 

Do you collaborate with other artists?
Yes, I am currently working with a few different artists and studios on collaborations. I am always open to new opportunities to work with others, especially across disciplines. 

What are a few of your favorite spots in your area?
I am currently living in a more rural area than I’m used to, but I enjoy sitting by the river.  

What are you reading?
The Dead Witness edited by Michael Sims
The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History by Kassia St Clair

Which comic books and graphic novels inspire you?

  • I will always love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. I also got really into Fables (Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham).
  • Moebius’ work, especially The World of Edena and The Incal
  • Will Eisner graphic novels likes Dropsie Avenue and Contract with God
  • Currently, I like Saga (Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples). 

What are you listening to these days?
Chromeo, The Misfits, and David Bowie (especially when knitting). Always jazz, soul, and my late uncle, Darryl Ray Jenkins. 

Your website(s):
www.drewmckevitt.com
www.angriestpear.com

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