When John Lennon and Paul McCartney (though mostly John) penned the famous Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” certainly what they were referring to had nothing to do with fabric or quilts. But a lyric from the song—the line about “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes”—is what I think of every time I look at one of Taiwanese fiber artist Danny Amazonas’ amazing art quilts.
Surely, he must view the world with kaleidoscopic vision in order to create what he calls Freehand Patchwork. True artists always seem able to see things in ways that the rest of us do not, and when they share what they see so that we can see it too, it is a wonderful thing.
Danny’s quilts are that way. At a recent exhibit of his work at the Texas Quilt Museum, perhaps the most overheard comment by viewers was some variation of, “How on earth does he do that?” To listen to this humble artist describe his process makes it seem as though anyone could do it.
He starts with an extraordinary fabric stash, of course, and he is quick to acknowledge the designers whose fabric he uses most often, including Kaffe Fassett, Brandon Mably, Philip Jacobs, and Jenny Beyer. He stiffens the fabrics using sweet potato starch, which “you can buy in powder form in Asian markets,” he says. He hangs the starched fabrics to dry, then adheres them to fusible webbing. The fused fabrics are cut into strips and sorted by color value.
Once the fabrics are prepared, Danny sketches the image (animals, people, flowers, scenes) he wants to create onto a base fabric on a design wall in his studio in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He works from photographs of his subject (placing his quilts squarely within the genre of art known as photorealism, in which the artist attempts to recreate a photograph as realistically as possible in another medium). He then uses a rotary cutter to cut small pieces of the prepared fused fabric and irons them into place on the base fabric.
Once the fabrics are prepared, Danny sketches the image he wants to create onto a base fabric on a design wall in his studio in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Danny Amazonas.
“If I don’t like how it looks, I just rip them off and put something else,” Danny explains. He overlaps layers of fabric, all of which have raw edges. Once he is satisfied with how the piece looks, he sews everything down using invisible thread and a free-motion, zigzag stitch. Many of his pieces are large—often measured in feet rather than inches—and each one might include thousands of small pieces of different, brightly colored fabrics. Up close, the work looks like a beautiful but unorganized jumble of color; from a distance, however, the subject comes surprisingly into focus. The overall effect is stunning.
Danny came to quilts late in his artistic life. He moved from Taiwan to Brazil as a teenager with his family and then to New York, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts, and tried painting, sculpture, and jewelry making, among other artforms. He worked for years as a professional floral designer in New York City and then began working with different materials to create mosaics. When his father became ill in Taiwan, Danny retired and returned there to take care of him. Back in the place of his birth, he began working with fabrics in 2012, creating pieces that draw on his skill as a mosaicist to introduce texture, perspective, and dimension to his pictorial quilts.
Danny’s unusual and innovative methods, fresh frame of reference, remarkable color sense, and undeniable talent have catapulted him to fame among quilters around the world and have made him a recognized name in Taiwan.
In April, 2019, his work was featured at the Texas Quilt Museum with the support of the Taiwan Academy of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Houston, part of several U.S. affiliates working on promoting Taiwanese culture and creative efforts. Director General Peter Chen and his wife Debby, Director Keng Ling Wang, Deputy Director Philip Jong-Geng Liu, and Director of Political Affairs Patrick Ho were all in attendance at the Quilt Museum to honor their accomplished countryman and his remarkable quilts.