Maki Teshima, "Musubi 結び // Connections" (detail)

Chimeras by Courtney Dudley

The name Chimeras pays homage to the legendary fire-breathing monster from Greek mythology, known for its composite features of a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. My works explore themes of hybridization, transformation, and interconnectedness. To make these sculptural quilts, I source inspiration from the botanical chimeras—plants or plant parts that are a mixture of genetically different types of cells. These walk the line between function and art and demand that craft be considered with the same reverence as painting and sculpture. They are paintings, they are sculptures that hang on the wall, and they are symbolic blankets to keep warm by.

Courtney Dudley, Snake Skin, 2024. Sewn goldenrod-dyed silk with thread and batting, 34 x 20 inches. Photo by the artist.

Inspired by ancient conventions like fertility and harvest festivals at their scientific roots, I utilize natural dye plants to create the colors seen in my work. I am meticulous in my use of self-grown or gathered natural materials to generate the dyes that color each of the Chimeras. This is a symbiotic relationship of protection and nourishment in the process of making by planting seeds and tending to and guarding the seedlings as they grow into mature plants in my backyard. Each dye bath is unique and is a record of that season’s temperatures, rainfall, time of harvest and method of color extraction. For example, I can only make a certain brilliant orange from the plant Coreopsis at the peak of summer because the blooms don’t hold the vibrancy when dried for later use. Marking of time in this manner is similar to ubiquitous middle-class rituals as we change our household decor each season, from sunflower prints to fall cornucopias to Christmas wreaths, mirroring continuous cycles within our natural world. 

Courtney Dudley, Hibiscus Venus, 2024. Sewn hibiscus-dyed silk with thread, batting and wire, 26 x 24 x 10 inches. Photo by the artist.

To determine the forms, I study extant female and non-binary representations throughout history. Goddess figurines, matriarchal societies, archaic deities, myths and monsters (like St. Brigid, sheela na gigs and the Gorgons) fuel my desire to fabricate contemporary relics in the same tradition. I also source anatomical drawings and photos of human and plant sex organs, creating familiar shapes to what we see on ultrasounds, naked in mirrors, and microscopic cross sections of plant matter. 

Courtney Dudley, Coreopsis Venus, 2024. Sewn coreopsis-dyed silk with thread, batting and wire, 28 x 16 x 7 inches. Photo by the artist.

Utilizing commonplace kitchen tools, heat, water, and time, I methodically cultivate plant matter into rich dyes on silk. I then relinquish control as I pour and paint, guiding modifiers like iron, baking soda, and citric acid in water onto the dyed silk to create the varying hues. The fluid modifiers have a mind of their own. The resulting shapes are as loosely symmetrical as a human body, with curves and valleys and rarely a straight line. I then employ quilting techniques of countless grandmothers, discarding tenants of second wave feminism and instead embracing a renewed domesticity. The materials fuse and mutate under my guidance as I follow their organic paths with innumerable stitches that leave marks like traces of existence over time, creating soft shapes to embody care and foster connection. It’s a collaboration between artist and material, yet each piece divinely generates its own autonomous identity.

Courtney Dudley, Scabiosa Venus, 2024. Sewn scabiosa-dyed silk with thread, batting, plywood backing, fabric glue, 32 x 20 inches. Photo by the artist.

Thematically, Chimeras delves into concepts of self-determination, birth, and loss, while simultaneously offering a place of refuge amidst the chaos of the world. My process serves as a microcosm of sustainability, in stark contrast to the destruction wrought upon the earth by human hands. I reject the idea  that the pan-cultural second-class status of women is due to a heightened affinity to nature and instead assert an ecological perspective that recognizes the interconnectedness of all living beings. In every aspect of their creation, my works aim to be inclusive objects that support and encourage a culture of mindful collectivism. | @courtneydudleyart

Courtney Dudley, Patron Saints of Implantation, 2023. Sewn Queen Anne’s Lace-dyed silk with thread and batting, 24 x 24 inches. Photo by the artist.

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