Jim Gentry

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Canvas. Typewriter, Sewing Machine © © Gentry
Quick Facts
stitching, sewing, textiles, mixed-media, pop, modern

My work merges the threads and textures of a sewing machine, with the inks of a manual typewriter. Combining them, I sew the portraits of people, birds, insects and flowers, then I type a repeating phrase around the sewn image. All this work is done on canvas. My art aims to start a conversation with the viewer’s inner dialogue by using emotionally charged imagery and words. I get my inspiration by observing myself, and others, interact and react to the world. 

Each piece has a freehand quality to it, which is introduced in the early stages. By holding the canvas under the fluttering needle and as the teeth pull the canvas forward, I maneuver the sheet by pulling or twisting, reversing and slowing down, in a half controlled race to follow the contours of a face or wing. I also vary the color of thread used and control the tension giving it different effects at desired points in the image. An example of this would be the hair of a model that may be curly and blonde; in which case, I loosen the thread tension, and using a golden string. This process also gives the work texture and dimensionality. 

Once this image is stitched, it is time to run it through the typewriter. I look at the phrases I type as small segments of thought, or a fragmented sentence that I invite the viewer to complete. There is a therapeutic yet maddening space that is created from typing the same phase over and over again. I have that tension live in each piece. Color also plays a role in the typing where patterns can be formed or certain words emphasized depending on whether I type them in red ink of the ribbon or black. With a repetition of words, and switching back and forth between the red half of the ribbon and black half, I find the hand and eyes often trick each other, producing a misspelling or extra letter. To me these flavor and contribute to the work, making them “human”, and vulnerable. 

What is ahead for me can be seen in my Insect Series. I am going bigger with this work, and having the dialogue within the work come from the subject itself. One example of this is the “Fly” image where the text was gathered by researching the fly and where in history it has appeared. Surprisingly it was riddled throughout, from helping detectives in determining a time of death to a Greek God who’s sole purpose was to swat flies away during sacrifices. Those facts are then transferred into clever phrases and typed around the stitch.