By Tessa Raebeck
What do Courtney Ross, Bernie Madoff and Osama bin Laden have in common? They are all subjects of the political commentary — by way of embroidery — of artist Christa Maiwald, on view now at The Museum at Guild Hall.
In “Short Stories and Other Embroideries,” Maiwald, who was named “Best in Show” at the 73rd annual Guild Hall Members Exhibition in 2011, highlights local artists, world leaders and celebrities through five series of stitched portraits, covering highlights from the last five years of her work.
Maiwald derives her work from her natural reactions to political goings on and personal relationships.
“If you ask me the name of this person, that person,” said Maiwald, “and about policies and really specific stuff, I don’t think I could talk about it. Because it’s more of a gut reaction to a situation — that’s what I work from.”
Maiwald explains that she has used creativity to capture her gut reactions her whole life. Before moving permanently to Springs, she tackled a variety of mediums, ranging from street performance to cooking school in Los Angeles, New York City and even Italy. She has tried her hand at sculpture, photography and video, children’s book illustration and writing screenplays.
“Finally,” she said, “I just decided, that’s it — I’m going back to art.”
Maiwald returned to painting and, following a practical decision brought on by the expense of transporting large canvasses, switched to embroidery.
For the past 13 years, the traditional “women’s work” has been her medium of choice.
She began with “sexy stuff” like body parts to work against embroidery’s classification as “this women’s thing.” After her daughter reached adolescence, she moved away from the sexy and instead focused on capturing the “crazy energy” of the teenagers now filling her house.
“It was a perfect medium to catch that energy,” Maiwald said, adding that the threads lent itself to the vitality of her daughter and her daughter’s friends, capturing the constant movement and unrelenting fervor of adolescence.
Although completely devoted to her art throughout the creative process, Maiwald finds she is often surprised by the outcome. Everything is done by her hand, which dictates the piece as much as her head.
“I just start working,” the artist explained. “I don’t have any preconceived notion of what color to use or stuff like that.”
Cultural commentary is her only constant.
“In most of my artworks,” said Maiwald, “my idea is to always have this kind of subversive quality to them.”
That subversion is prominent throughout “Short Stories and Other Embroideries.”
“Servitude,” a series of French maid aprons with portraits of public figures notorious for mistreating “the help” sewn onto them, portrays the likenesses of people like Ross, Martha Stewart, Thomas Jefferson and Naomi Campbell.
Stewart and Ross have homes on the East End and could very well visit Guild Hall, but Maiwald is not afraid of ruffling any feathers.
In “White Guys,” a selection from her 2008 “Dictators” series, Maiwald stitched portraits of Joseph Stalin, Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Benito Mussolini — and George W. Bush, together.
“Musical Chairs: Economic Crisis in G Minor,” a 2009 series, has portraits on the seats of 13 children’s sized chairs arranged in the fashion of the popular game. The portraits represent prominent figures in the American economic meltdown of 2008.
“I picked musical chairs,” said Maiwald, “because it just felt like everything that was going on was a ‘pass the buck’ kind of thing. I pictured kids — or these economists — moving from one chair to the next and saying, ‘Well, no it wasn’t me — it was him!’”
“As one sort of left or committed suicide or whatever,” she continued, “because of what a mess it was, someone else would always be there to take his seat. And it didn’t seem like it was any better from the other, so it’s roughly that kind of structure that I found appealing.”
There is a portrait of former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, a chair with Alan Greenspan shouting and another with Ben Bernanke holding his head in his hands.
Wearing an incognito hat and trench coat, Bernie Madoff is featured twice.
“I have a few facts that I find out before I start something,” said Maiwald, “but it’s more like, the world’s a beautiful place, if only mankind didn’t mess it up….It gets me all riled up—– and then I end up doing a piece.”
“Short Stories and Other Embroideries” is on view at The Museum at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton, through January 5, 2014. For more information call (631) 324-0806 or visit GuildHall.org.