by Suzanne Labry
Quilting Tool Envy Sparks Quilt-Inspired Collages
So what happens when a collage artist and a quilter, who happen to be married to one another, face off over which one gets to use the rotary cutter, the templates, and the graph paper? Lots of creatively cut paper pieces and fabric scraps, that’s what.
Storm-at-Sea made from Tootsie Roll wrappers
by Phil Durst. Photo by Eli Durst.Phil Durst is an Austin, Texas-based civil rights lawyer and collage artist whose wife, Sarah Woelk (also a lawyer, specializing in pro bono immigration work), happens to be
a quilter. Phil draws inspiration for his paper collage works, which are carried in fine art galleries throughout the southern United States, from Sarah’s quilts and those that he sees when he attends quilt shows with her.
“I’m drawn to pattern and repetition, which of course are hallmarks of quilting. I’m totally scavenging for ideas when I look at quilts. The only quilt pattern I won’t ‘steal’ is Sunbonnet Sue,” he laughs.
Phil’s collage pieces, most of which are constructed on 32” x 40” photo mats, are usually composed of recycled materials such as candy wrappers, drink cartons, and even pages from his old law books. In the same way that quilts were traditionally made with leftover fabric scraps, Durst takes throwaway paper pieces and transforms them into something new.
“Such a tremendous amount of artistic talent, choice, and color goes into ephemeral packaging that I like to preserve their beauty and vibrance,” he says. “I enjoy the effect of taking such colorful materials and making small pieces that, hopefully, when added to many others, can create a landscape or effect greater than its components.”
And so Tootsie Roll candy wrappers are re-purposed into a collage immediately recognizable as the Storm-at-Sea pattern; colorful strips of canned-goods packaging are re-imagined as a Barn Raising variation of Log Cabin; Cheerios cereal boxes and others make up an Orange Peel; the iconic logos of Coca-Cola, Sprite, and other soft-drink cartons make up a colorful Double Wedding Ring; and so on. The tinier the paper piece, the more the writing on the packaging contributes to a print-solid effect in the collage. Nowhere is this more evident than in Phil’s take on the Cathedral Window.
Cathedral Window made from law book pages, product packaging, & condiment cups by Phil Durst. Photo by Eli Durst.To make his Cathedral Window pieces, Phil often lays down a base made of pages from old law books, and the minuscule text provides a dimensional element to the work that acts like quilting stitches when viewed from certain angles.
This effect offers a delightful double take for the quilt-savvy viewer, since the fabric version of Cathedral Window is not quilted. To replicate the 3D design produced by the quilt pattern’s folded fabric technique, Phil employs paper condiment cups glued side-by-side to the base mat. Colorful small pieces of product packaging—glued either to the inside-bottom or the top edge of each cup—complete the work.
Although Phil teases about competing with Sarah for wall space and the use of her quilting tools, he is serious about crediting her and her love of quilts as the guiding muse for his work.
“Sarah is an accomplished quilter and the quilt-like quality of my work is based on her influence and tutelage,” he says. “We’d both like to devote our time full time to making art, but first we have to get our damn children out of college!”