When I first stumbled upon designer Nathan Vincent's work, I immediately knew I'd found something unique. Using crochet as a method to make traditionally masculine objects, Vincent challenges feminine and masculine stereotypes. In this Q&A, the artist talks about his beginnings, an upcoming collaboration with Jonathan Adler, and his fabric urinal.
What was the first piece of art you ever made?
I took a pastels class when I was really young—eight years old or so—and I kept the first drawing; it's framed, hanging in my kitchen. It's a still life of a kettle with some fruit. I have to say that it's pretty darn good. I can't remember, though, if I did most of the drawing or if my hand was guided by the teacher. Let's just say it was all me. That's a better story. Thinking back on it now, I can't believe my parents put me in a pastels class. When I went off to college, my mother told me I shouldn't go into art because "you can't do anything with it." Strange that she was the one that sent me to art classes when I was a kid!
Who taught you to sew?
My home economics teacher taught the whole 5th grade class to sew. We made tote bags long before tote bags were popular. Mine was made of a purple plaid cotton. Very practical, yet sassy. The rest of it, embroidery and hand sewing, I taught myself from a book.
When did you learn to crochet?
My mother taught me when I was about ten. I forced her to sit me down and show me how to make granny squares. I remember my first stitches being so tight that the hook squeaked as I was crocheting. Tension was the hardest thing to learn. I imagine I was taking out my childhood anxieties on the yarn. Once I learned to loosen up a bit, I made granny squares like no one's business. I had great plans to make a multicolored afghan, a coat-of-many-colors-type of design. I got bored halfway through and decided it should be a baby blanket. I completed them, but never sewed them together. It would have been atrocious anyway—I didn't necessarily have an eye for color at age ten.
What has been the most challenging piece to create?
Whatever I'm working on at the moment always seems to be the most challenging. I forget that the last piece was just as difficult as the one I'm working on now. If I were to pick a piece, it would be the Lion (above). Piecing together the face required more intricacy than I had expected, getting the differing colors of yarn to work together in a cohesive way. The mane proved to be the most baffling part of any project to date. It took me quite a long time to figure out how to make it stand on its own. I tried crocheting with wire and yarn together, wrapping the base of each strand, braiding...everything I could think of. The final solution was to just pack in the strands of yarn and let them hold each other up. The mane is done with the same technique as a latch-hook rug, but with about six strands in each hole. A bit time consuming, to say the least.
You crochet masculine images and objects using the feminine technique of crochet. Do you work in other mediums?
I have embroidered and knit in the past. My upcoming exhibition will include some knitting as well, if it all works out correctly. I also draw for a side project and was trained as a painter in school. But, for the most part, my main medium at the moment is yarn and a hook, which makes projects pretty portable and easy to work on in public.
Do women and men have different reactions to your art?
Yes, no, and, it varies. Can that be my answer? Everyone seems to be pretty amazed at the objects that can be created using crochet. When it comes to the objects and symbols, men tend to respond to the pieces on a different level. Often, they have experienced these objects in a way that women haven't. Take the urinal for example. I sent out a postcard with the urinal as the main image. The photograph was taken from above, the way a man would view it while using it. Women had no idea what the image was supposed to be until they read the title on the opposite side of the postcard. Men recognized it immediately.
Men and women also approach the concept behind my work differently. Women continue to struggle with gender stereotypes in society, having to prove that they are capable of the same things as men. Some men come at it from another angle. Some resent the act of using traditionally masculine objects/activities—they feel these activities and objects are being taken from them, and made available to all. This can frighten them, or make them excited that things are leveling out. Other gents have told me that my work inspires them. During a recent artist talk at Lion Brand Yarn Studio, a man told me he would mention his knitting to friends, but bookend it with his love for football and fixing cars. Some men have wanted to be crafters for years, but have not had the guts to do it in public, or to show off their wares for fear of being seen as too feminine.
From either perspective, male or female, people are forced to think about what defines them, and how they relate to their gender.
You've started a project with Jonathan Adler. How did that come about, and what will you be making for them?
I was actually just chatting with some employees at the Jonathan Adler store on the Upper West Side in Manhattan (they are a fabulous bunch, just so you know) while I made a purchase. We began to talk about what I do, and they asked to see my work. I showed them my website, and through that I got a meeting with the merchandise buyer. The Jonathan Adler collection has a similar look and feel to it, so my work will fit in perfectly. Apparently they like to work with and support local artists, which is fantastic. I'll be doing some limited-edition framed doilies for them. They'll be available in stores as soon as I can finish them! (You can sign up for my email updates and I'll send out an email when they are for sale)
You're working on a locker room installation, all crocheted. That sounds daunting. Are you nervous about the undertaking?
Short answer: YES.
Unlike with other pieces, this installation is going to be very large and will consist of a lot of different parts. It will be representative of a locker room, and you will be able to move around between the pieces. I feel that traditionally the locker room has been a shrine to masculinity. A place that men should be able to go and be men. To let down their guard. For me, it has been a place of vulnerability, judgement, and measuring up. There is an element of competition and comparing strength, and for some reason this is seen as particularly masculine. I am putting people in a position to question this by creating this space in crochet.
Like my other pieces, I have no idea how I will actually make it happen until I just start doing it. I've had to begin that process and it's sometimes overwhelming. Constructing the armatures for toilets and shower posts, etc., is a struggle, but it's coming along. The work needs to be completed before October of this year, and I still have a lot of work ahead of me.
The work will be on display at Portlock Galleries in SoNo in Chesapeake, Virginia, and I am hoping there is interest enough in the work to take the show to other venues around the country!