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Studio Visit with Sonya Philip

In anticipation of Sonya Philip's upcoming show, our photographer, Derek Macario and I went to the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco to visit Sonya's lovely studio space where Sonya was still working on some pieces for Fall Open. We got a chance to poke around her studio, check out her in-progress series, and get to know her and her process a little better. I asked Sonya a few questions and Derek snapped some photos of her studio, which you can read about and see below.

Fall Open opens this Friday, April 3 with an artist reception from 6-9pm at our gallery at 600 Divisadero Street in San Francisco.



Lexi Martinez: How did you become a fiber artist?
Sonya Philip: I have always loved textiles and when I learned how to knit in my mid-twenties, it was as if a light switch was flipped. I knit compulsively, then started getting interested in pushing the medium, whether it was knitting with unusual materials or using traditional techniques in different ways. I like the sculptural quality of knitting, but I also incorporate other fiber practices in my work, like felting and sewing.

LM: Can you tell us about the pieces in your upcoming show, FALL OPEN? What's the story behind this series of work?
SP: The pieces started as gouache paintings on brown paper. From there it's become a crazy mash-up. I say crazy, but the pieces are all very demure and soft. Everything is really neutral, which is interesting, because usually I'm drawn to bright colors and pattern. The show is about connections, how they are formed visually through repetition or physically by proximity. 

LM: What types of tools and materials do you typically use? Anything unconventional?
SP: I enjoy working with natural materials, silk, wool, and beeswax all feature prominently. I especially love weird fibers and yarn. I use quite a bit of this yarn that is linen but looks like paper, as well as yarn that is actually made out of twisted paper. One of the pieces in the show ended up incorporating these beautiful cricula cocoons. I cut them into circles and using a process called nuno felting, sandwiched them between silk and wool fibers.

LM: What's your work process like?
SP: I often work in series, which is a great way to trick myself to concentrate on a theme. I confess that I struggle with having too many ideas and not enough time. It takes a lot for me to focus and see things through, instead of starting new things every five minutes.

LM: Have you discovered/used any new techniques while working on this current show?  
SP: I use beeswax a lot in my work, it's a great way to make textiles hold a three dimensional shape. When I dip pieces in wax, I usually use a heat gun to melt off any excess. For one of the pieces, I wanted to remove as much wax off of the knitting as I could, so I tried simmering it in water. It worked really well, but it was like cooking the most bizarre looking noodles ever!

LM: We talked about how you've been working from home for the past few years- What do you like most about working from home? Anything you wish you could change?
SP: I really like working from home, my life feels much less fragmented. Everything is right here, with no need to carry things back and forth or forget things. I also feel much more part of my neighborhood. I run errands and walk to pick up my youngest son from school. I could do with more storage though, isn't that always the case? Never enough places to put things.

LM: What are the perfect conditions for you to have a productive work day?
SP: Quiet. No distractions. Having both my kids in school means I get these lovely long periods of time. Because there's a definite beginning and end to that time, I make sure to make the most of it!

LM: How does creativity stem into other areas of your life?
SP: For the last three years, through my project 100 Acts of Sewing, I've focused on making a creative uniform. What I wear becomes a sort canvas and is reflective of my individuality.

LM: Do you ever have creative blocks? If so, how do you overcome them? 
SP: Often there's a space in between, when one body of work is winding down and I haven't started anything new. So just making things for no real purpose, whether sketches or knitting or clay, all are ways to fill that fallow time. The fact that it doesn't need to 'be' anything is very freeing. Sometimes it can serve as inspiration for later on.


LM: We loved looking at every square inch of your studio! How/where did you collect such great finds?
SP: I'm a scavenger at heart. I love places like SCRAP, Urban Ore, or Thrift Town. Also, I'm fortunate to know many talented people and have collected their work over the years. It's a muddled up combination of found objects and intentional collecting.

LM: While going through your portfolio site, we were both enamored with the work from "Ordinary Objects." Can you tell us more about this series and the idea behind these transformations?
SP: I started Ordinary Objects by wondering if I could knit into a coffee cup, that first object then turned into a series of almost sixty, all made up of disposable, throw away pieces that I embellished. A little of that same concept can be seen in this newer work. For some reason cardboard is very appealing to me. Taking a material that is so a part of our everyday lives that it merits no thought and then manipulating it to create value, has a definite appeal.

LM: Anything we should be on the look out from you in the near future? 
SP: I'll have a piece or two in the upcoming Strikeaway Show that Courtney Cerruti and Alicia Dornadic are putting on this May at Paxton Gate.


A big thanks to Sonya for letting us tour her space. Be sure to check out the opening reception of Fall Open - this Friday, April 3rd, from 6:00-9:00 at our Divisadero location!


Photos by Derek Macario 

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