Chris Roberts-Antieau, telling stories with fabric

Telling stories with fabrics comes naturally to Chris Roberts-Antieau. She uses bits of fabrics for her paintbox and creates wonderful narratives that illustrate her world and ours. An extremely successful artist, her works are shown in over a hundred galleries nationally and too many museums to mention. Oprah and Lyle Lovett and Gillian Welch and a many other Notables collect her. Shes in the Boxing Hall of Fame with a tribute piece she did of Sugar Ray Robinson and shes hanging in the White House with a portrait of George Washington.


From the Gathering Stars collection, Flashlight.

Chris Roberts-Antieau began her career in art by walking out of an art class.

On her very first day in art-school, the instructor had given the class an assignment to draw an ink bottle. The other students drew literal, realistic sketches. Chris drew a blocky, childlike bottle that took up the whole page. The professor singled it out for mockery in front of the whole class, asking her, Who told you you could draw? Chris walked out and never looked back.

Marriage and the birth of her son, Noah, put her art on hold for a few years. But when Noah was old enough to hold a crayon, the two of them began to draw together. Chris found herself fascinated by the raw childlike vision she saw in her sons drawings, and it wasnt long before she herself was back at the drawing board, creating fanciful cloth sculptures for regional art shows. Her first sale: a trapeze artist, which took her two days to make, and sold for $18.


From the Blues Collection, a portrait of Muddy Waters, above.

Barely a year later, a visiting artist ran across Chriss work and suggested that she take a crack at creating designs for the then-hopping wearable art market. Chris took her up on it, creating 2 jackets and 3 vests, which the two took to Baltimore, for the American Craft Enterprises eventChriss first show ever outside her home state of Michigan.

The response was overwhelming. Buyers crowded a dozen deep around the makeshift booth, elbowing each other for place. When the smoke cleared, Chris had hundreds of orders from stores across the countryincluding Neiman Marcus. She returned home, hired a staff of fifteen, and set out to meet her commitments doing the complicated and time-consuming detailing on each garment herself.


From the Phantom Limb collection, Phantom Limb, above.

Im An Artist
At the end of that year, Chris had a thriving business, but she was miserable. She wanted to be an artist, not a manufacturer. Wearable art took up an enormous amount of time in management and production. And it wasnt like other fine art: people didnt just care about the design–they wanted it to match their new shoes, or favorite sweater, too.

So despite her remarkable success, Chris left the wearable art world and spent the next year exploring other options from her Ann Arbor studio. Again, it was a chance comment from a friend that set her on a new track. Chris had been struggling to find a medium, torn between her roots in sculptural objects, and the freedom shed found in her flat designs for wearable art. It doesnt have to be on a jacket to be flat, her friend suggested. Why dont you make something to hang on a wall?

Fabric Paintings
The next year, Chris returned to Baltimores American Craft Enterprises show with the pieces that have now become her hallmark: fabric paintings composed from freehandcut cloth shapes, hung behind glass in hand-painted frames. Response to these unique pieces was strongly positive as well. Today, a dozen years later, the best art galleries across the country offer her work, which has also won major awards at the prestigious Ann Arbor and St. Louis Art Fairs, and the attention of HGTV, O the Oprah Magazine and Mary Engelbreits Home Companion Magazine.

True to her roots, Chriss gaze is still distinctly child-inspired. Her compositions have the delightfully off-kilter feeling of childrens drawings, and the subjects sometimes seem to be a childs choosing as well: Playing With Dolls, Bad Dog, or Bug Jar. But like her better-known inspirations, Picasso, Miro, and Van Gogh, Chris takes the honesty, freedom, and new perspective of childrens art to a new level. She doesnt just mimic a childs styleshe applies a childs eye to adult realities, reminding viewers not to take themselves too seriously, and giving them a chance to remember again the wonder and joy that children find in the everyday.

People always want to know what my work is about, Chris says. But Im an artist, not a writer. If I could put it into words, then I wouldnt have to make the pictures. Everyone who sees her art brings something different to it, she believes, and shes happy with that.

But while the meaning of a given piece may not be clear-cut, Chris does have some sense of what shes trying to get across. My vision of the world is joy-based, she says. Even when awful things happen to me, Ive found wonderful things along the way. Thats what my art is about: the joy and wonder and humor thats all around us, every day.


Chris Roberts-Antieau

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