Sidney Russell: The Big Stitch
August 17 – December 30, 2021
The Big Stitch features a dramatic collection of larger-than-life creations by San Francisco-based artist Sidney Russell. Through her innovative use of materials, Russell combines hand painting with sewing to create works that are inspired by vintage designs. Russell fashions huge dresses, pants, and shirts—some over nine feet tall—which challenge the viewer’s perception of scale. As visitors encounter these garments hanging from oversized hangers and hooks, they are compelled to view themselves in relation to the gargantuan objects.
According to the artist, the massive reproductions are of real articles of apparel worn by people from her past and remind her of significant events or of the individuals themselves. The replication of familiar, and sometimes secondhand clothing, evokes humor, nostalgia, and bemusement. Russell’s sewn creations bring to mind the works of Claes Oldenburg, a central artist of the Pop art movement, who was known for his large replicas of everyday objects. Russell’s pieces share a similar lighthearted humor with Oldenburg’s soft sculptures which were made from materials such as vinyl and cloth. Both Russell and Oldenburg’s works are realized on a magnified scale that reverses the traditional relationship between viewer and object. Additionally, Russell’s sculptures emulate Oldenburg’s creative process in how they generate a bizarre and whimsical transformation, which can be both entertaining and imposing.
In Hawaiian Shirt, 2016, Russell has painted bold tropical floral patterns onto large swaths of fabric and then stitched the pieces to form a colossal garment. The lifelessness of the clothing, exaggerated by the immense weight it sags under, hangs awkwardly on the wall. The artist’s attention to minute detail, captured in epic proportions, is apparent in the portrayal of scuff marks on the sleeves and hem.
Russell’s recent works, The Hiking Boot and Backpack, were created especially for the Zillman Art Museum exhibition and pays homage to Maine’s culture of outdoorsy adventures. The Hiking Boot, with its massive treads and bright red dangling laces, is a delight for viewers as they witness the radical shift in scale of a familiar utilitarian object. The functional yet sporty appearance of Backpack plays on the consumer obsession with practical, yet stylish, outdoor gear.
Throughout her career, Russell has remained dedicated to the counterculture movement that has defined San Francisco’s artistic legacy. The meticulous detail and epic proportions of her works depict personally important moments in her history. Just as memories can be layered, so too can garments spark memories of the wearer, time, and distinct places.
Left: SIDNEY RUSSELL (American). Cheongsam, 2016. Oil paint on sewn canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
Right: SIDNEY RUSSELL (American). Backpack, 2021. Oil paint on sewn canvas, leather, nylon straps and plastic fasteners. Courtesy of the artist.