I recently had the pleasure of both meeting and working with an artist that I admire quite a bit. Ishknits aka Jessie Hemmons is a yarn bomber from Philadelphia who joined the fun for the recent 50th Anniversary Gala we designed and produced for the U.S. State Department’s Art In Embassies program at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Among the many installations that we created, as well as those composed by various other visual and performing artists, Ishknits fashioned a spectacular knit globe that was 10 feet in diameter, simply gorgeous, and she completed it during the event, chatting with curious guests as she knit.
Photo by Heidi Ehalt
Ishknits (Jessie Hemmons) and Dustin Campbell at the Art in Embassies 50th Anniversary Gala
Photo by Heidi Ehalt
Recently I had the chance to sit down with Jessie and ask her a whole bunch of things that have been on my mind since meeting her. She was kind enough to indulge me . . .
David Stark: How did you get involved in Knit Bombing in the first place?
Jessie Hemmons: I had been knitting fashionable wears, like hats and scarves for about two years before I saw photos online of artists who had knit around outdoor objects, like trees and street signs. When I saw photos of their work I fell in love with them because I have always loved graffiti and street art; most importantly the non-institutionalized expression of art. With knit bombing (or yarnbombing), I was skeptical about the resilience of the yarn and how the projects would hold up in the rain and snow. But I began to see photos of more and more projects and started to realize that they must withstand weathering well enough to continue making work. Once this clicked, I put out my first yarnbomb the next day. Now three years later I don't think that I have gone a day without working on a project.
DS: Where did the name Ishnknit come from?
JH: Ishknits was adopted from the name of my accessories line. The name referenced the phrase "that new ish". I believed it was fitting for my artwork.
DS: What's been one of the most challenging projects you have ever done?
JH: The most challenging project that I have done to date is when I covered the facade of the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The curator had commissioned layered swags, these loosely gathered knitted pieces that resembled very large, brightly colored window valances. Initially, the pieces looked as though they would be easy to fabricate, but I quickly learned that to have them gather in a fitting and attractive way, I had to create oddly shaped pieces. Also I had to create 14 pieces that averaged 10'x6' in a few weeks’ time. But it was an amazing experience, and I am still in awe of having the opportunity to show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at such a young age, especially as a street artist.
DS: What is the dream project that you have not done yet?
JH: When I think about some of my favorite things to look at, I tend to gravitate toward structures that are deteriorating or in a state of disrepair. And I always tend find a relationship between the structural environment and the socio-cultural state of the neighborhood. And then I think about the empathic and nurturing nature of knitting and handcrafted objects. And this makes me want to cover these crumbling structures in knitting, to reflect my hope for the neighborhood and those within it. My dream would be to cover an entire abandoned home in brightly colored knitting with the help of youth or individuals with an invested interest in the area.
DS: Which artists/designers do you admire?
JH: Magda Sayeg is said to be the "mother of yarn bombing" and so of course she is on my list. Sarah Applebaum has also been an inspiration, especially her use of color. Street artists like Banksy, Sheppard Fairey, J.R., Swoon. I especially like Hanksy, as he has brought some much needed humor to the genre. Knitting designers Wenlan Chia and Lindsay Degen are fantastic. I could go on and on.
DS: Where do you find your inspiration?
JH: I find a lot of my design inspiration from fashion (it is knitting!) while my concepts are inspired mostly by those around me. I create my projects for the audience. I want individuals that would not classify themselves as "art seekers" to be able to see and find a personal connection to the work.
DS: In the recent piece you created for Art In Embassies 50th Anniversary Gala, how long did it take you to make the piece?
JH: The 10 ft tall globe took approximately 250 hours to complete by hand. Phew.
DS: What's next?
JH: I am continuing to develop a commercial art career, and am always looking for opportunities. In the immediate future I hope to relocate and bring my work to a different city, and see what inspiration I can find from my new city.
DS: What city?
JH: San Francisco!
DS: Oh, rats! I was hoping you were going to say New York!
JH: I would love New York, but I am looking to skip winter for a little while.
DS: As a fellow winter hater, I understand that 300 percent.(wink!)
Keep your eyes on Ishknits! I know I will.