My first thought when I saw the work of local artist and Fantastic Fibers veteran Lily Liu was, “I want to wear that.”
Call it superficial or girlish, but that’s my reaction to the many wearable pieces, whether they’re dresses, scarves or traditional jewelry. When it comes to that kind of art, I sometimes struggle to move past its immediate appeal and examine the meaning and process behind its creation.
That’s why I felt lucky to catch Liu and ask her a few questions about her work over the phone last Saturday. She told me about how changes in her lifestyle had led her to fiber arts and gave me a perspective I’d never considered when I looked at her work.
Liu’s background is in ceramics, she said, but working in the medium became less feasible when she started a family.
“It’s portable,” she said of knitting. “Your life circumstance changes, and your medium kind of changes. If you’re an artist, it doesn’t matter what medium you pick up; you’ve found a way to express yourself.”
The artist said she sees the thread as just another kind of line.
“Either you pick up a thread as a way of drawing, or you pick up a brush or pencil as a way of drawing. For me they are the same,” she said.
She described how having kids, being a student and teaching can give anyone an excuse to not practice his or her art form.
“I could be spending this time in front of the TV or doing computer things, but I’d rather spend time doing knitting or rolling fabrics to capture that minute I can steal from reality,” she said. “Constantly doing that kind of sharpened my life as an artist.”
Although she doesn’t strictly measure the amount of time she spends on each piece — she’ll work whenever she has a spare moment, such as when she’s riding in the car — any viewer can imagine how time-consuming Liu’s intricate pieces are. And the idea of time figures strongly in her work.
“I’m just trying to translate this intangible time into something tangible, making wearable things or objects that people can touch,” she said.
One thing I’ve noticed in myself and others is that the more time we spend creating, rather than consuming, the happier we seem to be.
Most of us will never be artists of Liu’s caliber, but everyone can know the joy of holding something they’ve made — however lopsided, lumpy, or just plain ugly — in their hands. Creation is more than a way to pass the time; it’s a way to make something of it.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641 or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.