Susan R. Kirshenbaum

art and life - both the cherries and the pits

Exploring Soft Sculpture

Susan KirshenbaumComment

In 2016 I began making soft sculpture as a natural outgrowth of learning to sew. I had not made a soft piece since art school days, when I made a large pink satin baby. This time, I started with a small prototype, in the form of a rag doll. She's made of leftover Lycra fabric with my artwork, Woman on the Bay Bridge.

Detail of Blue Woman with Pink Posey, at The Laundry, SF, CA, 2016

Detail of Blue Woman with Pink Posey, at The Laundry, SF, CA, 2016

Leaning against the gallery wall next to one of my silk scroll paintings, here's my first life-size soft sculpture.

Leaning against the gallery wall next to one of my silk scroll paintings, here's my first life-size soft sculpture.

Stage one was this rag doll made from fabric remaining from my "1-yard dress".

Stage one was this rag doll made from fabric remaining from my "1-yard dress".

Learning sewing and stuffing techniques

Learning sewing and stuffing techniques

Embroidery sampler

Embroidery sampler

Wrapped legs and pelvis, a work in progress

Wrapped legs and pelvis, a work in progress

At the Pure Barre studio on West Portal, instructor Kelly Leslie wears my art leggings.

Kelly says these leggings are not only extremely unique but durable and comfortable. Title of legging art: Women and Artichokes.

Moving into a full-size, standing sculpture, I took a similar approach. I used a work of art printed on a slightly different stretchy fabric. This time - rather than having a piece that is the same on both sides, I used the background of the painting for the backside. Both were sewn and stuffed and feel nice and squishy to the touch. I'll likely add armatures to future works so they can stand up better on their own.

My plan is generate quite a few of these pieces - enough to fill space. I envision a roomful of my printed, stuffed figures - made from my drawings. I see them stacked, hanging, and seated on stuffed chairs. I'm starting with a series titled 65 million refugees.  This is a very real and alarming number. I'm going to pitch this idea as an installation piece which will be customized to various spaces. I need grants and residencies to help me produce this large body of work (so to speak). 

I'm also taking a soft sculpture class now and learning a bunch of new techniques: creating different types of armatures, making pillows for body parts, wrapping, embroidery and applique, reed basketry, weaving, stuffing and batting, and more. Incorporating painting and drawing in 3-D. 

But also, like a sewing circle, being in a class (all women, no surprise), we are sharing knowledge. And I am realizing how long it takes and how labor intensive it is to make this work.

I'm happy about being a part of a movement with roots in the Bay Area. There's joy in making art out of every day life skills and transforming materials around me. I love the idea of combining sensory experiences too. I can't wait to use scent as well, since that is something very particular in my life. I inherited an extremely sensitive sense of smell which sometimes torments me, but I will put to use! In fact I look forward to using everything I know and have learned as a creative director over the years. Producing an experience and filling a space.

The idea of soft sculpture as it relates to the body and wearable art has always made sense to me. I started applying my art to fabric a couple of years ago. I use fabric as a substrate for single images on large silk scrolls, and I've made limited editions of wearables in patterns. This design, unlike others I've made, is not a single image nor a pattern, but it is made to wrap around a body creating a living, moving sculpture. Women and Artichokes is my photo of artichokes collaged with my life drawing.