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Fran Skiles: Adapted to the Abstract 

Fran Skiles believes it redundant to seek the literal in the abstract. Fibre Arts Take Two learnt about Fran’s, life, art and love of what can’t be explained. 

Fran’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.

The Art of Fran Skiles is process-driven. It’s abstract and without a strict narrative that seeks to capture the essence of nature. During the 90s, Fran made art quilts, which were exhibited both nationally and internationally. Her most recent exhibition shows a number of layered abstract acrylic works. The colours are bold and the marks energetic. The viewer is left wanting to know more about the synergy of the parts and the synthesis of the layers that come together to form Fran’s signature style. Fran joined Fibre Arts Take Two to share her artistic journey and her love of the abstract.

The Beginning: Dolls

Fran came to fibre arts at a young age through a method likely familiar with many similar fibre artists, “I made doll clothes,” she says, “That was my first introduction. Basically wrapping a doll with cloth and tying knots in the back. It was pretty crude. When I was in junior high school, I started making clothes, I mean not anything complicated, mostly skirts. And that’s where I started.”

Moving onto Quilts

After her youthful foray into clothing her dolls, Fran’s first real strides towards serious fibre arts were with quilting. Part of the appeal, she admits, was the lack of rules, “That reason that I got into quilting was because there were hardly any rules.” As with her doll’s clothes, Fran enjoyed the luxury of ignoring the backing on her quilts, “You don’t have to put a backing on, it could be a false back to cover up all of the crazy stitching and the knotting and all that stuff. I’m not very rule-oriented so the precision quilting never really appealed to me.”

‘Skins’

Fran enjoyed quilting but eventually moved on to flexible wall hangings. “Not only am I messy, but I’m also lazy,” she says,  “And art quilting takes quite a lot of time. I did art quilting for about 10 years. And my maximum outlay was maybe five quilts a year. I wanted to speed things up and I also wanted to have a product that would sell through an art gallery.”

After being offered wall space at a gallery in Santa Fe, Fran came up with what she calls, Skins. “I call them skins,” Fran says, “because the main component was fabric, but I stiffened the fabric and stretched it and it became a flexible fabric piece that could be treated more like a painting. It was covered with an acrylic medium so even though it was still fabric, it was a super cross between an art quilt and a painting.”

Art and the Abstract

“I would never even attempt realism,” Fran explains. I don’t think I would enjoy it. I don’t think I could do a good job with it. My brain is adapted to abstract because I like surprises. And that’s what truly drives me in my artwork; the ‘what if’ factor and abstract give plenty of that. It’s endless, truly endless what you can layer and discover.”

Whether looking at her own work or enjoying the work of others, Fran doesn’t believe in searching for the literal. “I know people in my life who need to see something and I try to discourage them if they’re in my presence,” she says,  “I ask them to hold it down because it’s a little distracting. I see it in its entirety as an expression of art. For me, it doesn’t require any understanding, other than what it feels like to the person that’s looking at it. Occasionally I have seen an object in my piece, and I try to ignore it!”

Nature’s influence

As integral as abstraction is to her work, influences have a way of seeping in. Fran does not deny that nature has a significant impact on the form of her abstract work. “I have a theory,” says Fran,  “that if you feed yourself enough of this (nature), of these images, and I don’t mean photographs, I mean actually interacting in nature, that you make an imprint that can carry you through.” 

Fran believes that experiencing nature is vital to allow it to flow through her work, “If you are in a closet painting, the rock is going to come out no matter what.”

Experiencing Art

Along with nature, Fran loves to experience art as often as possible and encourages aspiring artists to do so as well. “I am always looking at other people’s artwork,” she says, “Always. Always. It’s one of the most relaxing activities that I can think of. Looking. I like looking online and then finding the name of an artist and seeing what else they’ve accomplished.”

About the artist

Fran Skiles was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.  She graduated from West Virginia University with a BA degree in textile design.

She is a full-time studio artist, working in Florida and West Virginia. In addition to her art practice, she teaches and lectures throughout the United States giving workshops in paper and fabric collage.

In the 1990s, before making collage paintings, Fran made art quilts and exhibited them Nationally and Internationally. The venues included Quilt National, best of show 97’,  Visions, Quilt San Diego, British Craft Council’s “American Art Quilt Exhibition, Fiber Arts International and Art Quilts; America of the Millennium in Strasburg, France.

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