Jo Hamilton’s crocheted portraiture is a distinctive combination of traditional technique with contemporary subject matter. Her subjects range broadly, with an enduring interest in portraiture, featuring people from many walks of life, including those she’s worked with in an AIDS care facility. Another focus is the nude and, for this show, she has also trained her eye on Portland’s rapidly changing skyline, crocheting images of ‘construction crane dominated cityscapes, questioning the pace of progress and change affecting our city, its architecture and its residents.’ Each piece is compelling and poignant, informed by the vivid color and complex detail of her process and the rich tradition and innovative approach to the crochet technique that informs them.
I use crochet nontraditionally to create large scale figurative art and to empower the craft with contemporary significance. My work filters the culture of fine art through traditional craft, reworking and transforming its classical categories of portraiture, landscape and nudes, and in the process confronting past and present biases and shifts in gender roles and identity. I am interested in how western preconceptions of social status and progress determine the meaning and value of an image and its subject; what is represented, what is ignored, and why. My portraits depict less-seen people, like residents of the local AIDS care facility where I volunteer, my landscapes reveal the progress dismantling the city, and the giant ambiguous male nudes reverse the gender tradition of the male artist/female reclining nude. The Masks series portrays anonymous masked women and girls with a super-heroic subtext. Another ongoing series appropriates and softens mug shots, attempting to restore the humanity that has been removed by a single negative moment.
Crochet is a method of making fabric using a hook. It has a distinct language, older than and unchanged by recorded art history. It speaks to and of generations of women, and universally to everyone who has ever handled textiles. I was taught to crochet as a child by my Gran. It became part of my studio practice in 2006 when a local textile exhibition inspired me to unite my love of crochet with my years of experience as a painter. I developed my technique through long hours of tying knots, and even more unravelling. The process is unusual; I work from an image using no plans or sketches, and mix the yarns knot by knot, building tiers of color like brushstrokes to define my subjects. With each portrait I always begin with the eyes, using the rows of stitches like lines to define the facial structure, working outwards until the person is captured in my knots. The subjects are created from and contained within the handmade fabric. Its knots suggest units of time and reveal the physical process.