Wonderfully exotic art quilts: an interview with Danny Amazonas

10 May 2022
Danny Amazonas with art quilt Danny Amazonas with art quilt
Get to know Taiwanese fibre artist, Danny Amazonas as he shares more about what piqued his interest in textiles as a medium, how he came to develop a technique called Freehand Patchwork and top tips for those wanting to give quilting a try...

Danny Amazonas' exhibition, Vibrance in Larger Textured Life, is at The Festival of Quilts at the NEC Birmingham from 18-21 August 2022. Danny will be displaying his works from 2000, showing visitors the interesting transformation of how his works evolved from early fabric mosaic to present-day Freehand Patchwork.   

With a background in oil painting, floral design and mosaic art, you didn’t try sewing until the 1990s. What was it about textiles as a medium that interested you?

As a Jack of all trades, I’m always searching and experimenting with new ideas. I was fascinated with the art of mosaic in the 80s. After my retirement from business in the mid-90s, my wife and I were vacationing in Taiwan. As we walked by a quilt shop in a department store, I was mesmerised by a huge display of fabric with a whole spectrum of colors and prints. Astounded, I begged my wife to take a two-week class to learn how to cut fabric with a rotary blade and how to use the sewing machine. I was too bashful to sit with a group of ladies in class, and the instructor was kind enough to allow me to just observe while babysitting a dozen rowdy toddlers as their mothers were busy participating in the class as well.

Four years later, I was invited by then Mayor Giuliani to exhibit my work at the City Hall in 1998.

Danny Amazonas Focus 2017 180x140cm

Danny Amazonas Focus 2017 180x140cm

Why my preference of textile over other media, you ask. I've used tiles, wood, stones and paint to create mosaic works. But creating art with textiles makes my studio cleaner, neater and takes less space to store finished works – that is, until I became addicted to fabric and ran out of storage space. And best of all, they’re not heavy and bulky to ship around the world to shows. 

Danny Amazonas Xavi 2006 99x109cm

Danny Amazonas Xavi 2006 99x109cm

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In 2012, you developed a technique called Freehand Patchwork. Can you tell us more about this technique?

My earlier works were mosaics of portraits which I did at leisure to please myself and hopefully stay away from dementia. Most images were portraits of friends and family members, and some were commissioned by Taiwanese politicians. Mosaic is a low-resolution image – therefore, all my artworks are close-up images which I sketched, or from photos I took or provided by others. But soon I ran out of subjects to work with – I'd be stuck unless I evolved and gave it new life. So a few years later, Freehand Patchwork was born. Basically, it’s a fabric collage.

Many quilters use glue or pins, even fusible webbing to secure pieces of fabric while creating artwork. Soon I realised fraying is a great concern when working with fabric. After much trial and error, I found that starching and fusing the back side of fabric is the solution to fraying. This also gave me the freedom to use the fused fabrics like brush strokes as in painting. 

Danny Amazonas Feast 2 2018 210 x150cm

Danny Amazonas Feast 2 2018 210x150cm

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Can you share more about your quilting creation process – from start through to completion?

All fabric must be starched with potato starch to prevent from fraying, and the back side of every piece of fabric is fused with fusible webbing and at least 2000 pieces of different pattern design and colors. Fabric from many great designers is pretreated and collected in my palette ready to work, then cut into desired pieces with a rotary cutter. As work proceeds, fabric is ironed piece by piece onto a base fabric with a simple sketch as if working on a painting, with fabric overlapped like brushstrokes.

Finally, artwork is machine stitched with invisible thread in free motion to seal those raw edges and cover the entire artwork to secure every inch of it. Often thousands of yards of thread is needed to complete the artwork. Seaming will take away the freedom of painting and slow down working procedure dramatically. I’d rather sacrifice the look of raw edges for the sake of the freedom of creativity.

Danny Amazonas Peonies 2 2016 168x145cm

Danny Amazonas Peonies 2 2016 168x145cm

Your work is wonderfully exotic. Where do you find inspiration and is there a subject you’d love to work with?

I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those textile designers, especially Kaffe Fassett, Brandon Mably and Philip Jacobs who designed all those 'wonderfully exotic' colors and prints, enabling quilters like myself to incorporate them into my work.

Painters use a small pallet to mix and create any color to paint while quilters must collect and stash up all those colors in the rainbow to create works like painting. My idol, Chuck Close, is a great photorealistic painter who inspired my art of mosaic in the 80s. With his influence, portraiture became my favorite subject to work with. I love to take photos in the outdoor marketplace to capture facial expressions of people or animals under different lighting and angles. I then modify and enhance them using Photoshop. 

Danny Amazonas Leopard 2017 102x102cm

Danny Amazonas 'Leopard' 2017 102x102cm

Do you have a favourite of your own projects to date?

I don’t really have a favorite piece of my own. After a piece has been completed, I rarely look back or try to correct those ‘could have done better’ pieces. Having learned how to do better, I just move on to a new piece. This gives me great expectations and the determination to continue creating to reach beyond my personal best. 

Any top tips for those wanting to have a go at quilting?

Believing that practice is perfect, I work 16 hours daily. To me, working on a new piece is like a new territory to explore, and a new adventure with lessons in both technique and concept to be learned. I often discover new ideas through trial and error.

"I release myself of the fear of making mistakes – as such, I allow myself to use bolder and freer ‘brush strokes’. Always think outside of the box and break the rules if you want to be creative."

Danny Amazonas Ready 2017 66x86cm

Danny Amazonas 'Ready' 2017 66x86cm

Which textile artists do you think are making exciting work right now?

There are so many great artists’ works that I would love to see, and some in particular, like Sheila Frampton Cooper, Katie Pasquini Masopust and Betty Hahn, whose works are on my must-see bucket list.

What projects are you working on?

I’ve been creating new pieces for The Festival of Quilts 2022 event ever since I received the invitation. I’m working 16 to 18 hours seven days a week creating new works, and often have unfinished work on my design wall. I’ve been spending most my time staring at them and digging through my stash of fifteen hundred treated fabrics to make the best use of each piece. My new works will be expressed with bolder ‘brush strokes’ and less detail, even working on intricate areas of a portrait. Art has no boundary. I'll always seek new breakthroughs and will continue to achieve my personal best.  

Danny Amazonas Intermission

Danny Amazonas 'Intermission'

What does a typical day look like for you as a working artist? Take us behind the scenes when you’re not at a festival or show exhibiting work... 

I’m passionately devoted to creating with fabric. Always searching for new ideas, I’m inspired by learning about other people’s work such as paintings, fashion designs, photography, or even a simple conversation with a stranger. Compared to a world obsessed with lightning speed and instant gratification, textile work is a time consuming process. Even if my mind can keep up with creative ideas, my hands are still tied.

Danny Amazonas Family portrait 2016 157x138cm

Danny Amazonas 'Family portrait' 2016 157x138cm

I spend a great deal of time looking over the thousands of pieces of fabric in my stockroom, trying to refresh memories of the collection I have cataloged in mind. This daily chore definitely helps to speed up the working process. I’m nuts about buying new fabric! You never know when you’re going to need it for that particular missing little piece of puzzle. I’m very grateful to the textile designers who have helped build my ‘palette’ with color, patterns, textures and values for me to create.

Ready for more inspiration? Meet Jo Avery who shares her love of colourful quilting and embroidery.

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