Fiber artist Lin Bentley Keeling presents her stunning portfolio. We spoke with her about her complex technique and design inspiration.
ABI: Tell us about your technique, and how it has evolved.
LBK: I create coiled vessels using traditional basketry techniques and contemporary materials. Jute is my preferred core material. I use several types of yarns, usually cotton weaving yarns, but also variegated knitting yarns, to wrap and stitch the jute into vessel shapes. Over the years, I have refined the construction of my pieces.
I use two strands for the core, which gives me a lot of control as I’m shaping the vessel wall. I use a figure-8 stitch to connect the new row to the row below it, which gives me great flexibility to create fluid, graceful surface designs. The cotton yarns I use provide a wide range of colors, while the variegated knitting yarns provide unusual textures and color combinations.
My work has become very improvisational in the past decade. For years, I used to create a full scale cartoon to work from, but that has evolved into a very minimal reference maquette. Working incrementally, stitch by stitch, each piece evolves as it grows. The shape of each piece is determined at the beginning, and that shape influences the evolution of the surface design. Most of my pieces have been either a traditional vase shape or an open vessel designed to hang on the wall. Recently, I have been experimenting with sculptural and cylindrical shapes. Each of these influences the surface design in unique ways.
Blending colors is another important aspect of my work. I use 4 to 6 strands of yarn at a time in the needle and the colors in these bundles change continuously while I am working. This began out of necessity, because I sometimes couldn’t find the exact shade I wanted for a piece, but I began fairly quickly to exploit color blending as an integral element in my designs.
ABI: Where do you derive your design inspiration?
LBK: Almost everywhere, but the two strongest influences for me are color and music. I am inspired by the colors of the sky and sandstone formations in the desert Southwest where I live. I’m also inspired by flowers and the movements of trees and the colors of the yarns themselves, but most of the time, it is the colors and shapes I see when listening to music. I am most inspired by Classical and ambient chamber music and jazz, even birdsong.
ABI: You call your work “visual music.” Could you explain that concept?
LBK: Music touches all of us at a deep, nonverbal level and music has always been an integral part of my life. I began studying piano when I was 6 or 7 and continued into college where I studied music composition. But I found that while music inspired me, I was hopelessly untalented to write music, so I turned things around and started using music as an inspiration for art.
As my designs became more improvisational, I began to experience a deeper emotional, spiritual dimension within my artwork. This evolved into thinking of the work itself, both in the initial design stage and within the “performance” of creating a vessel as visual music. I capture in a three-dimensional form the movement, harmonies and counterpoint of design elements as if they were phrases of music.