Penny Cortright would spend her summers as a child on a farm in Montana where her grandmother taught her how to quilt using leftover scraps from the clothes that she made for her family. The quilts in Patterns+Roots stem from a long passed down history of making, but incorporate a decidedly personal, almost idiosyncratic twist. This show marks a turning point for the artist, who has taken an extended hiatus from showing her work until now.
Cortright's quilted canvases cull from diverse sources, a curious amalgam that are as much research minded as they are free form. The artist visited Gee's Bend, Alabama in the deep south to study the quilting culture of this region and to understand its nuanced history of quilting. In this art historical tradition, there is no ruler and no pattern. It's an art form with a rich tradition, and recent major concurrent exhibitions like Faith Ringgold: American People at the New Museum and The New Bend at Hauser & Wirth in New York are testament to this particular turn.
While Cortright studied to be a painter, her quilted canvases are more reminiscent of collage. In some works, her pinks are achieved by dying fabric in avocado skins and pits (fitting for an artist who lives in Santa Barbara, a region that produces the fruit). Many blues are an indigo buro fabric, salvaged scraps and bolts from a rare manufacturer of linens and printed fabrics. Other pieces incorporate an early 20th century Japanese futon cover turned inside out to showcase patterns never meant to see the light of day. Other patterns are more recognisable like a nostalgic midcentury Marimekko floral.
Piecing together scraps and other reused pieces, her process resembles a treasure hunt. On each quilt hang little yarn knots, a tying off tradition that was passed down to her by her grandmother. The artist describes this technique as a quicker way to finish these classic and labor intensive pieces. It's wholly her own and yet steeped in rich personal history.
Pattern+Roots opens on April 9, 2022, with an opening reception from 10AM-6PM, and will run through April 30, 2022.
Press release courtesy Simchowitz.