Tod Hensley, the mastermind behind Flying Haystacks Embroidery, was kind enough to let me interview him about his work! Now, I love all the interviews I've done, they're all insightful and special, but the way he answered the last question made me snarf my coffee. Be warned.
Tell me about your background as an artist. (I see you studied fine art)
I always drew since I can remember. It was like second nature to me. Then it became the only thing I did, or tried to do, the only thing I did that made me feel like I wasn't wasting time, and the only thing that was 'mine'. I still feel that way now.
Anyhow, I ended up studying 'fine art' painting in college. Over the years I have worked in different mediums, including 8mm film, collage, and an art zine (artist publication). After the zine was over embroidery came along.
How long have you been exploring fiber arts? What prompted you to try embroidery?
About 2 years.
I was making small collages but I was having problems finishing them. I liked part of one and part of another. So, I stitched the parts I liked together. I had done this before on a couple of occasions on larger pieces using colored string. I'm not exactly sure where I got that idea. Anyhow, the stitches became marks of themselves and eventually became shapes, then the thread eventually dominated into the full form.
Tell me about your style.
I tend to favor rough, expressionistic marks. With stitches I can easily make shapes and forms that are 'crude' looking. But at the same time they can look beautiful, like a mosaic.
I approach each embroidery like a painting. The stitches are like brushstrokes.
But stitching is 'do or die'. I don't take a stitch out once I've made it, and you can only stitch on top of another stitch once, maybe twice. That has a big affect on my approach and technique.
Right now I use only one type of stitch that I know of, I think its called the 'back stitch' or 'scallop' stitch. I taught myself so I don't really know. Someone told me I use a lot of different types of stitches but I don't really think about naming them.
I like to mix different types of threads (plain, metallic, multi-colored, silk, etc.) because they all have different textures and all together they give a certain 'multi- layered' look to the surface. And it keeps things fresh while I am working.
Do you sketch out your pieces first or stitch and see where it takes you?
What themes are you drawn to and why?
I grew up on a diet of comic art, cartoons and fantasy illustration, the more obscure the better. That has stayed with me to some extent. I also gravitate towards surrealistic, religious and mythological imagery. I always liked creating and looking at 'life forms' that are not human, that exist only in the fantasy world of the imagination, or are representations of human feelings perhaps. But I also like human anatomy, science book illustration, some decorative arts and also abstraction and I mix everything up.
The interesting thing about religious art is that it represents something that supposedly does exist, if you buy into the particular belief system. Recently I've been looking at my embroideries as if they are incarnations of some kind of spirits. I don't believe that they really are but it makes the process of creating more interesting. I think I expect too much out of creating, or art. I expect it to be more than what it really is. What I expect it to be I don't really know. I'm not telling a story. I just know that I want the forms to 'live' somehow. But I often don't want to know exactly why I'm doing it. If I know exactly why I'm doing it, or exactly what I want it to look like or to mean when I am finished, than there is no reason to do it. That approach also stifles creative thinking as well.
How does embroidery help explore that?
Well, as I stated above, the stitch marks help me create forms the way I like them to look. And, I find that it just helps me work. I always liked things that take a long time to make, things that are labor intensive. The process can be peaceful. I get into a 'zone' sometimes and the hours just fly by (which I hate), but it's better than feeling anxious, depressed, angry and confused which is how I feel most of the rest of the time.
I've also played with other explanations, like the spirit thing. I could say that I'm on some kind of continuous pilgrimage, or meditation which will, slowly, step by step, stitch by stitch, embroidery by embroidery, eventually lead me to the Grail, or Nirvana, or becoming one with the Cosmos. But then I can also just say that I make things because I think they look 'cool'.
How do people respond to your embroidery? For example, do you find that people view it as a craft rather than art? Are they surprised to find a man embroidering?
People are usually impressed with the detail and uniqueness. Some people definitely see it as art, to be framed and hung. Some I suppose think of it as a craft. One person thought they looked like patches to be sewn to a jacket. But most don't define it or me.
What other mediums do you work in?
Right now, none. I sew all the time.
Which other artists do you admire? How have they influenced your work?
Basquiat was a big influence. A lot of expressionists throughout the 20th century. Rauschenberg (I may have first gotten the idea of sewing two pieces of a collage together from his work). There are so many. I am always getting influenced. I like illustrations from really old books. An old, lavishly illustrated dictionary can be rich in inspiration. Recently I saw a James Ensor exhibit. I made an embroidery after that which borrowed heavily from his work - his brush strokes, content, it was also a self-portrait (he did many). I'm trying not to look at so many other artists.
What do you hope people take away from your art?
I hope they take away the actual art itself, in exchange for cash. And my contact information too.
A few people have said that it's inspiring. There really isn't anything better than one can do for another in this world than to have inspired them.
Check out Tod's esty store here- Flying Haystacks Embroidery
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