Member Spotlight: Judy Bales
Lauren Sinner June 24, 2020
This month’s featured member is Iowa-based Judy Bales. Judy uses a variety of techniques and materials to make both fashion and sculptural works inspired by industrial and natural forms.
I create art that is a marriage of cold industrial materials and the sensuous forms of nature. I utilize these materials, many of which are found, recycled, or salvaged, in an ongoing effort to reveal beauty in unlikely places. I construct surfaces or forms that reflect and emulate the beauty and mystery of nature and natural phenomena, akin to the idea of biomimicry. I love nature’s precise order which combines with its captivating dishevelment (think tangled vines or water rushing over jagged rocks). Observations of this energy and freedom help direct my creative process.
I reinvent myself continually as an artist, expressing the underlying vision described above through varied art expressions. Presently my work is a cross-pollination of fiber sculpture and installation with fashion art. Abstraction, improvisation and a welcoming of serendipity are important aspects of my process. These are overlaid with labor intensive processes of wrapping, binding, or constructing surfaces from myriads of small elements such metal parts or bits of plastic.
In Freedom/Restraint, I have randomly wrapped fabric throughout a wire grid of lightweight fencing. This piece, inspired by both the kimono form and hair braiding, contains many opposites, combining stability and movement, structure and randomness.
Support System and my fashion art piece, Wave are examples of two distinct art forms related in technique, both being constructed with a method I call wire felting. I uncoil wire from neatly rolled spools, then mangle the strands with my hands in a sort of kneading motion. This creates large tangles of the wire which I then rework into distinct forms, creating objects with exterior structure and a tumultuous interior.
Star Flock 11 and Clouds are both constructed by folding and twisting aluminum window screen to create bunches of small and delicate forms that are invisibly connected with wire and arranged with each installation in a new configuration. These installations suggest a variety of natural phenomena, including celestial bodies, clouds or flight of birds or insects. I am happy that the configurations cannot be repeated exactly, and that each installation is a new iteration. This keeps the works fluid and alive, emulating the process of nature which repeats itself continually, but never precisely the same twice. Sunsets, flowing water and seasonal changes are examples of nature changing within constancy.
Working intuitively, my process involves decision making at every point. This is exhilarating but incredibly stressful when creating a line of artwear for a specific event. I adjust and refine the pieces up until the last minute, usually tweaking even as models line up to walk the runway. Every time I commit to a fashion event I promise myself I will be finished ahead of time. However, it is apparently in my nature to continually change and adjust my work. In a lifetime of making art, I have made peace with this part of myself, along with the stress it brings, and now embrace it as essential to my artistic process.
—Judy Bales holds an MFA in fiber art from the University of Georgia (1982), having studied painting and drawing as an undergraduate. While closer to a fiber artist in her choice of materials, she approaches her art more like an abstract painter, relying on improvisation and painterly techniques rather than the more precise, controlled approach traditionally favored by fiber artists.