Sometimes, an artist’s work can stop you in your tracks. That has happened to me several times while working in the editorial offices of Quilting Arts. I’ll be researching a technique or maybe thumbing through a catalogue from a quilt exhibit, and BAM! It happens! A great quilt with balanced design, flawless composition, a strong message, and stunning quilting will jump out at me. More often than not, this art quilt will be made by Judy Coates Perez.
Judy is an award-winning artist whose work is prized for its beauty, intense use of color, variety of materials and techniques, and outstanding quality. She has the ability to elevate her subjects to a new level by rendering them in fabric, paint, ink, and thread. Her whole cloth quilts start out as a length of white cloth then are painted with fluidity and precision. The resulting quilts are truly masterpieces.
We’ve been so fortunate over the years to have Judy’s work grace the pages – and covers- of Quilting Arts Magazine. She’s one of our valued contributors who has earned her place as one of the top art quilters both in the US and abroad. She’s a familiar face to many in the art quilt community: Judy has appeared on multiple episodes of Quilting Arts TV, shared her talents in video workshops, and traveled the world as a sought-after teacher.
This full-time artist whose infectious passion for color, fabric, and thread has brightened so many lives with her artistry has had so much more to share with the art quilting community. Join me in congratulating Judy Coates Perez for being our Artist of the Month!
As a full-time artist and working quilt teacher, you have quite a bit of influence on other art quilters. How did you get into this field, and whose work influenced you in the beginning of your career?
When I first began making art quilts in 1986, I was working as a graphic designer for an architecture firm in Los Angeles and had recently graduated from art school. After six years of college I wanted to start sewing again, so I just started making quilts the way that made sense to me with appliqué and simple piecing.
I was completely unaware of the quilt world when I began, but as a young teen I spent close to a year traveling and living in Mexico and Guatemala with my parents, and developed a love for Latin American culture and folk art. My first quilt had scorpions, rattlesnakes and cactus appliquéd in bright solid colors with contrasting satin stitching on muslin and tied with colorful yarn. You can still see that influence pop up in my work now and then.
Ten years later we moved to Austin, Texas and I joined my first quilt guild. That’s where I learned the most about how to properly put a quilt together and pay attention to the details. It’s also where I learned about big quilt shows and what caliber of work it takes to get accepted and win an award.
Over the years, I have admired the work of many quilters, but I think I’d have to say one of my favorite designers in the art quilt world is Jane Sassaman. Her quilts were the first ones that I was truly in awe of; she has a fantastic design sensibility.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Laura Wasilowski and Frieda Anderson for taking me under their wings when I moved to Chicago in 2005. I was just dipping my toe in the water by teaching and giving lectures, and they gave me great advice about teaching venues, contracts, handling supplies and kits, and tips on how to make a viable living teaching, which is not easy.
Judy, your work is so varied. You incorporate many symbols and images in your quilts. Tell us about what inspires you to quilt.
I derive a lot of inspiration from life experiences; my kids, my fascination with different cultures and mythology, flora and fauna, as well as personal catharsis. I’ve processed a lot of grief, anger, frustration, and hope in quilts after my marriage broke up.
I also really look at things. I admit, I’m easily distracted by things in my visual periphery: the color of water, a beautiful bird, an interesting bug, unusual plants… you name it, I will suddenly lose focus on what I’m doing and zoom in on that shiny red ball. I’m the worst person to go on a walk with if you’re doing it for exercise or planning on get somewhere by a certain time.
By nature, I’m very curious and like to experiment, which has led me try different mixed-media techniques: I’ve tried drawing on tea bags then collaging them, along with using sewing patterns, dry cleaning tags, and any other interesting paper items on to quilts. I’ve painted cotton batting to see what would happen, sewed metal onto various things, made birdhouses and ornaments with fabric and heavy stabilizer, and I’ve also experimented significantly using traditional art media like acrylic inks on fabric.
The downside to teaching is that I don’t have as much time to create and play in the studio, so it’s harder for me to get in there and follow up on ideas that I have.
What would be a great day for you? Painting a whole cloth quilt in your studio? Teaching? Hiking? Visiting a museum?
A great day would start with a hefty cup of dark roast coffee, followed by a walk in nature, then time in the studio painting, followed by a glass of wine, a good meal and then some live music and dancing!
Lastly, you’ve been working with other quilters on an important exhibit that is close to your heart. How did the Threads of Resistance show come together, and what was your roll in making it happen?
I belong to a small Facebook group of professional quilters and teachers called the Artist Circle Alliance. Not long after the inauguration, we were discussing how stressed out we were all feeling. Member Susan Brubaker Knapp asked if anyone was interested in making artwork about it. I responded that I had an image stuck in my head since the morning after the election that I kept hoping I wouldn’t have to make, but since nothing was changing I felt like I needed to make it for peace of mind.
Many of the others in the group also wanted to make work about what was happening. The more we talked about it we starting thinking we should consider having an exhibit. I think it may have occurred to several of us about the same time that we weren’t alone in how we were feeling and that we should open it up to other textile artists. It became really important to us as a group that we help give people a voice.
We originally thought it would just be an online exhibit because we didn’t think there would be any venues willing to take on such a potentially volatile topic as protesting the Trump administration’s actions and policies, but we were stunned when the New England Quilt Museum reached out to us shortly after we put out the call for entries asking to premiere the exhibit.
We were overwhelmed when we received more than 550 entries! There were submissions from 45 U.S. states and 7 other countries. It took several days to jury it down to 60 final pieces for a traveling exhibit.
I have never been involved in organizing an exhibit before, so it was a real eye opening experience. It is astounding how much work is involved. Thank goodness we had a powerhouse team with an incredible skill set to pull it off. I designed large informational banners that would accompany the exhibit and my daughter Indigo and I designed the exhibit catalog. Sue Bleiweiss, the master of organization, handled a huge amount of the tasks from bookings to building the website and more. Jamie Fingal and Leslie Tucker Jenison contributed their wealth of knowledge from years of hosting exhibitions, and Lyric Montgomery Kinard and Susan Brubaker Knapp used their magical way with words to strike the right tone and message for the exhibit. It was truly a labor of love by this amazing group of women: Sue Bleiweiss, Susan Brubaker Knapp, Jane Dunnewold, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Jamie Fingal, Lyric Montgomery Kinard, Melanie Testa, Leslie Tucker Jenison, and Kathy York. I am so proud to call them my friends.
Discover more inspiration and information from Judy!