How Place Informs This Artist's Practice

Three words dominate Fort Collins-based artist Carol Shinn’s practice: location, location, location. Shinn revels in the minutiae of place — from the delicacy of fallen pink petal to the varied remnants of flood debris — in each and every one of her photorealistic embroidered landscapes that span the globe in reach: an abandoned attic in the French countryside, the monumental cliff sides of Colorado’s Poudre Canyon, the crumbling sidewalk of a Tucson neighborhood, the red tin roof of an Irish cottage home to a rogue patch of grass. Her extraordinary attention to the accumulated details of each locale highlights depth and variety in even the narrowest of vignettes.

 

Growing up in the American West with its expansive skies and diverse prairie, desert and mountain landscapes, Shinn says, “There are moments when I feel like a set of eyes outside my human self. However fleeting, these moments are extraordinary, when I see without judgement and just exist as part of that moment and place.” She goes on to say, “I think I had many of these moments as a child whether playing in the native grasses and sunflowers, walking along to school across a horse pasture, getting up alone early in the morning when camping, watching clouds from a car window, or hiking to quiet forest in winter.” She adds, “I don’t think I understood the importance of those moments, but they gradually became a part of my core.”

 

While Shinn’s process begins with photography — she often takes quick snapshots along her walks and travels to maintain the fleeting experience of a place — she admits she doesn’t truly understand a location until she begins the sewing process. As she embroiders a piece, she discovers elements of the place she hadn’t seen while there in person. It’s a way to stop time in a sense and hone in on the small details similar to looking under a microscope.

 

The act of embroidery adds time, of course, to the creation process but also an aspect of contemplation. The finely rendered finished works, exploring light, darkness, atmosphere, surface and texture, take on the hazy, ethereal quality of a memory or imagined place. The combination of her works’ photorealistic nature and the embroidery, especially the distortion of the underlying canvas shape ranging from a slight curve to a pronounced parallelogram, highlights the tension between what Shinn calls “the stability of the physical and the ever-changing transitory.” Shinn’s highly involved technique often leads her into a meditative, sublime state. She says, “I have noticed brief moments when seeing, being and making coalesce to some transcendent point, or I have become the thing I am stitching.”

 

Shinn’s work suggests the narrative of a place without telling a specific story. She invites the viewer to develop a unique relationship to the depicted location. She often focuses her work on places in flux, especially the confluence of the natural environment with the man-made to hint at larger, nuanced narratives at once specific and mysterious. Shinn says, “The physical world with all its details is of all importance.”