Karlie Norrish McChesney’s art is something you’ve likely never seen before.
If you take a traditional quilt pattern, ignore it, and then create something completely different by adding pieces of ceramic, copper pipe and plastic straps, you’d end up with a textile-based multimedia piece of artwork like what you’ll find in Norrish McChesney’s upcoming solo exhibition Crossroads.
“Crossroads is my response to a time of great change in my life, where many decisions were required,” she says.
It’s a project the Chilliwack artist has been working on for the past nine years. When she began the artwork for her show in 2010, she was on several paths in her life all at the same time — she was heading into retirement, designing and building a house, had just gone back to university, and was about to become an empty-nester.
“All pieces of work in this series contain a path or several paths representing the many choices available, and a container representing the restrictions that control or influenced the decision-making,” says Norrish McChesney.
There are 17 pieces in the show which opens Thursday, Oct. 10 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. Each piece is like a quilted wall hanging, but with an element of mixed-media applied to the surface such as paint, paper, plastic, metal, clay, buttons and/or wood. Every fabric wall hanging has a small 3D vessel sitting on a plinth below accompanying it.
“The container represents all those — society, family, economic — restraints that are on you,” she says, adding that the vessels are “the things that hold me back from making some of the decisions that I’d like to make.”
Each piece has taken about six months to make. She’s put a minimum of 200 hours — sometimes up to 500 hours — of time into each one.
One piece looks like an optical illusion with cubes moving towards you. In another one, the viewer can see what looks like a spider and eight leggy paths coming out from the centre. Another piece featuring 222 buttons is an homage to her grandmothers who taught Norrish McChesney all her hand-skills. She’s cut 3D numbers out of chunks of wood for another piece, and taken permanent ink and paint to the quilted fabric of other pieces.
Each one is incredibly detailed and many feature geometry and numbers. You’ll even see Fibonacci’s number sequence in her work, too.
“I’ve always been attracted to numbers,” she says. “I loved math in school. Numbers come with drafting. Our world doesn’t function without numbers.”
She’s a self-taught sewer, but learned how to embroider, crochet, weave and more from her grandmothers. Her father was an engineer and she took drafting in school.
Her art-making frequently explores her love of perspective and structural form as a result of this. Her art practice requires much measuring, calculating and arranging of colour, so much so that her work is a form of puzzle-solving.
Norrish McChesney taught art for 29 years at Rosedale Traditional Community School. She started in 1986 and retired in 2015.
But despite her nearly three decades as an art teacher, Crossroads will be her first solo show, although she has had her work in a handful of juried group shows in the past.
“It’s exciting and a little daunting,” she admits. “I spent about seven or eight years just building a repertoire of skills and when I felt like I had all the skills in my back pocket that I wanted, then I started on this series that’s now going to be exhibited.”
Crossroads runs Oct. 10 to Nov. 16 at the O’Connor Group Gallery in the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. Opening reception is set for Saturday, Oct. 12 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Admission is free.