For this episode, I spoke with Dr. Rosemary Lee an artist far more serious and accomplished than myself to gain some insights into the work of Bisa Butler. Specifically we talked about The Safety Patrol from 2018.
Bisa Butler is a contemporary American artist. She was born and raised in New Jersey. She attended Howard University where her primary studio concentration was painting. Later on, she worked as an art teacher, but one of the most significant impacts on her personal and professional life came when she was pregnant. For health reasons, she gave up oils and solvents during her pregnancy but she could not give up on making art. When her grandmother got sick Butler wanted to make something for her. She found an old wedding photo of her grandparents, and used that image as inspiration for a quilt.
Butler continued working making portraits on quilts. Her subjects include both famous and forgotten figures. A lot of her imagery comes from found photographs. She says she prefers black and white images as they allow her to be more creative in her selection of color.
Bisa Butler uses an appliqué method layering colorful fabrics to make quilts that look like paintings. Her method actually starts off similar to how one might construct a large scale painting or drawing. She projects the image and draws out the shapes for the various color separations to capture the range of values needed. She then carefully selects fabrics in a variety of colors, textures and patterns to suit the subject and she cuts/stitches them together to form her image. Her portraits are life size bringing the viewer face to face with forgotten and overlooked people from history.