Art is a mirror to life. It takes all the visual humdrum of reality, and adds in the emotional tones (over and under), the sounds, the smells, the memories, the thoughts, and the imaginings that compose our complicated and at times remarkably simple existence. What comes out is a refracted prism, a carnival reflection that represents our state of being better than the “real” world itself.
It is in that service Andrea Geer dedicates herself, working through processes within processes to turn the ideas that dwell inside into physical objects. From knitwear to digitally-printed fabric and leather cut and sewn into garments, Geer manages a balance between her repertoire of skills and tools, and her capacity to bring forth her thoughts as coherent and functional wearables.
Her background in the arts comes from learning on her own and the structure provided by her fine arts education, showing how important the tension intertwining different realms of experience is to the creative process. Geer earned a BFA in graphics design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as an MFA in painting. The latter deeply informed her ability to see things from a big picture perspective. Rather than viewing clothing purely as an object, she learned to see it abstractly, conceptually as an empowering vehicle that could change how the wearer is perceived, and perceives themselves. This is the guiding principle behind Geer’s designs. How that transformation happens, from a drab covering to becoming an article of power, beauty and grace is a process involving numerous steps and a variety of techniques and disciplines.
“As I have moved forward in my life, I have collected many tools and materials that have aided me in creating,” she explains. “I have ultimately moved in a direction that did not require me to focus on one tool or set of tools.” This multimedia approach has led to Geer embracing everything from sewing machines and paintbrushes to scissors, digital styluses and Photoshop. While learning how to utilize a new material or piece of equipment takes time, listening to her speak reveals an open mind that is continually searching for the best avenue for expressing an idea.
In the past few years, Geer has taken her interest in painting and made use of the miracle of digital printing to produce textiles which feature her own fine art. A chance encounter at a New York City fabric show introduced her to a small company that was able to print on leather, and more important, willing to do small batch orders. It was a marvelous serendipity, and Geer leapt at the chance to incorporate her two-dimensional art into a wearable form. With careful meticulosity, she describes, “I started by having paintings I had previously created printed on to the leather. The paintings were large, around three-and-a-half by six feet. Then, I began to create the artwork to the size of the fabric. I created new large paintings that were close to the width of the fabric.”
Eventually, she began incorporating digital art into her repertoire. A Wacom tablet, essentially a canvas, brush and palette all rolled into one, is the first tool employed in this alchemy. By using the tablet’s stylus, she can paint, pen or sketch a digital file that can then be printed on various fabrics. As she reminisces about her childhood, a deeper thread is exposed. “The most direct route to expressing an idea visually was with a pencil. Typically, now when I use a pencil, it is to quickly record an idea for future use or to map out an idea that is important to my work. The pencil in time became a tool that records something that will be executed in a different medium.
“I remember the awe and love of a process that allowed me to create. It was with a sense of wonder and excitement that I first drew as a child. The stylus is an electronic pencil that allows you to draw on a Wacom tablet. The tablet allows you to draw directly onto a surface. The drawing takes place in Photoshop where you can manipulate the type of line, the texture, the color, and many other things. The stylus has become what the pencil once was. The most direct way to communicate my ideas.”
Once she receives the printed textiles, spontaneity and a willingness to be flexible helps guide the process from taking a piece of cloth and transforming it into clothing. A look is arrived at by visualizing how the fabric will best flatter the body, with a particular cut and drape determining how the garment will fall and tuck on the wearer. Then a pattern is devised. Every step of the way, Geer is willing to consider new possibilities, particularly being attentive to when it is necessary to let go of an old idea in order to move in a fresh direction.
This simple truth grows from the unmitigated, primal spirit which lies within, that initial spark which grows into a flame as it is fed and nourished. All it needs is an outlet, a tool that releases that energy into something that transcends the metaphysical into the physical. For Geer, that was the pencil.
This sense of wonder in creating is the essence of Geer’s work. It is the exploration of mystery, the charting of unknown territory, the grand adventure which uncovers surprising new ground. “I certainly don’t feel bound to one way of creating clothing,” she explains. “The spontaneity along each step is important to the process. Often, I order the fabric not knowing what I will make from it. In the case of the leather skirts, the leather arrived and I knew right away after seeing it that it had to be a skirt.”
The delight of Geer’s clothing is earthed in its spontaneity and playfulness. The basis of her knitwear is creating wearable sculpture, with the key word being wearable. Lightweight, unencumbered, yet as dynamic as she can push it, each piece seeks to redefine the shape of the body, either with circles, squares and other geometric shapes, or by creating voluminous pantaloons that stretch from breast to ankle. Striated with black and white ribbing, and running down the outside of each leg, this particular piece is a redefining of the outer garment, although a particularly daring individual could likely find a combination of clothes to make it part of one’s foundational ensemble.
In a very different manner, Geer’s skirts and t-shirts featuring her digital prints push boundaries by breaking up the standard assumption that casually worn clothing must be either in a single, flat color, or adorned with a recognizable pattern. Abstract paintings leave the wearer awash in gradients, broad, thick brushstrokes, and interposed panels of geometric shapes. Asymmetry is the name of the game here, with colors and black lines channeling the attention of the viewer so either your eye is constantly in motion, or specific highlights cause your gaze to become arrested by a spot of intrigue.
Geer ran a storefront in Rochester, New York, for two years before she decided it was not having a beneficial impact on her imagination. She has since transformed it into a showroom and workspace, where she can talk with customers and demonstrate the stages the fabric goes through before it becomes clothing. “I think people of all ages are interested in process and sharing the actual work is a key step in enticing new younger customers as well as previous buyers,” Geer remarks. “I think people are happy to know that it is not a magical process but a series of steps.”
What lies at the heart of Geer’s work is the act of letting go, of having that space to try new things and revel in the excitement of that outcome. “Sometimes the process of experimentation feels effortless because I am not always trying to get to an end result, I just want to see how things might go together. There are so many moments of uncertainty in working this way, but behind this uncertainty lies a feeling that is exactly the opposite. It’s a feeling of conviction and trust.”
Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. For his contribution to the latest issue, Benesh-Liu explores the art to wear of Andrea Geer, whom he met last November at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. After talking with Geer about her creative process through a series of emails, he found a multimedia artisan whose holistic approach puts together digital and traditional handwork. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft, where you can find out what is happening with art to wear in the global neighborhood.