An education abroad trip has provided inspiration for new textile designs and a solo exhibition featuring the work of Nebraska’s Michael James.
“India Through Beginner’s Eyes: New Textiles by Michael James” shows May 4-25 at Modern Arts Midtown, 3615 Dodge St., in Omaha. An opening reception, which is free and open to the public, is 6 to 8 p.m. May 4.
James, chair of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design, was one of four faculty in the College of Education and Human Sciences who led a student study tour to India in late 2016 and early 2017. Ahead of the two-week tour, James spent an additional week gathering field research in central Rajasthan, supported in part by an Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources International Impact Award and a College of Education and Human Sciences International Seed Grant.
Overall, James said the three-week experience was revelatory and transformative.
“I’ve had a lifelong interest in India, in its arts and diverse cultures, and despite everything that I thought I knew going into the trip, it all really moved me in a profound way,” James said.
Being a first-time traveler in the country gave James the opportunity to see with what he calls “beginner’s eyes.”
“(First timers) may not always see beyond the surface or with real penetration,” James said. “But, they tend to notice the unusual in the ordinary, the remarkable in the overlooked, the beautiful in those things taken for granted by others who possess longtime or daily familiarity.”
James, who has built a visual arts career working with color and pattern in complex, non-traditional quilts, found he was mostly attracted to vernacular architecture and eccentric details that defined the boundaries between structures, alleys and courtyards.
Returning from the trip, James set to work manipulating some of the hundreds of photographs he took while in India, altering color, layering and combining and cropping to create new, vibrant images. He printed the designs — which he calls “pastiches” — onto cotton fabric using a Mimaki digital textile printer. The printed fabrics were then cut, combined and sewn to create textile constructions alluding to actual and metaphorical doors and passageways through which James traveled while in India.
James holds the Ardis James Professorship in Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design and has served as department chair since 2005. His textile art has been featured in both solo and group exhibitions around the world. James’ work is featured in museum collections nationwide, including Nebraska’s International Quilt Study Center and Museum. Learn more about James and his work.