Debra Smith’s life as the Kansas City-based textile artist she is today did not happen by accident. Her mother was a textile artist and so was her grandmother. So naturally, cyanotype workshops and lessons in wool shearing were as commonplace as soccer practice is for other kids. From there, her art education lead to the Kansas City Art Institute and then to the Italian Academy of Fashion and Design where long lectures and foreign languages turned out to be as much of challenge as an inspiration. “Not sure if it’s safe to say that my foray into pattern drafting was lost in translation, but definitely my interest in textiles and fabric manipulation grew out of this time of experimentation,” Smith said.
And while her earliest exposure to textile art was no accident, it was literally an accident that got Smith thinking about her next chapter as an artist. Smith says that after being hit by a car on her bicycle in Brooklyn and spending six months in a wheelchair she made the decision to enroll in an accelerated program at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Here, she gained new knowledge about superior design and construction. These skill sets are reflected in her art as well her well-known Sakiori scarves. The construction of the widely-sold scarves takes about five hours, with careful handwork applied to the pieced silk fabric before and after looming. “In New York I continued making Sakiori scarves out of antique Japanese kimono fabric to pay most of the bills, and continued to build my art practice slowly but surely in the few and far moments in between weaving,” she said.
Smith applies the same level of craft and passion to her art; often large, abstract works constructed from the likes of vintage kimono silk and men’s suit linings. They are striking from a distance, but even more so upon closer inspection. It’s this mix of new and old, marrying vintage textiles to create new shapes, lines and textures with extreme craft that first struck a chord with Matt Baldwin upon viewing Smith’s work at Kansas City’s Haw Contemporary Gallery. “One of her works quickly became on display in our shop,” Baldwin said.
From Kansas City and New York galleries to Miami’s Art Basel, Smith’s work has been on display at a long list of exhibitions, far from the family home where she first learned to become the artist she is today.
View Debra Smith’s art at debramsmith.com.