By Nii B. Andrews.

Bisa Butler’s quilts are arresting; they reformat a revered African-American skilled tradition for the modern age.

They are almost always vibrant and magnificent portraits of marginalised characters – characters that time forgot.

But working from vintage sepia photos, Butler imbues them with dignity and presence.Thus her colorful quilts are suffused with heritage and culture.

Her single figures or group compositions have colorful patterned backgrounds; their skin tones make them appear superhuman.

The sweeping motions and visual rhythms of her extensive color palette evoke an emotional effect that speak to her initial specialisation as a painter.

There are poignant conceptual sparks that deliver tremendous imaginative potential….think of the sheets of sound from John Coltrane or the bebop flourishes of Charlie Parker.

Butler achieves all these qualities through a painstaking attention to intricate detail while using aged satin, African printed cotton, mud cloth or multicoloured organza.

She admits, “an eye alone can take me three hours and can have 20 to 30 micro-cut, tiny pieces of fabric.”

Bisa Butler, Broom Jumpers, 2019. Cotton, silk, wool and velvet. 98 x 58 in. (Mount Holyoke College Art Museum South Hadley, Massachusetts )

Her portraits sometimes take up to 2000 hours to complete, a veritable exercise in creativity, patience and perseverance.

On close inspection, there are  different fabrics used for the highlighting of anatomical facial details.

The sartorial elements are also meticulously detailed such as the laces on a shoe, pattern on a hat, even the tug of a button on a coat.

Asantewa, Bisa Butler; Cotton, silk, wool, and velvet quilted and appliqué; 52 x 88 x 2 in | 132.1 x 223.5 x 5.1 cm, 2020.

Always present is an ingenious layering of variegated textiles; many different cottons, silks, velvets, and wools just as a painter repeatedly coats a canvas.

What is unusual about her portraits is that the subjects are depicted head-on thus forcing the viewer to look the person in the eye.

The subjects appear akin to Byzantine icons.

The end result are quilts that are sublime, gorgeous works of art….or if you prefer, badass!

The Storm, The Whirlwind, and the Earthquake, Bisa Butler Cotton, silk, wool, and velvet quilted and appliqué, 50 x 88 x 2 in | 127.0 x 223.5 x 5.1 cm, 2020
Bisa Butler, The Equestrian, 2019. Cotton, wool and silk, quilted and appliquéd. 68 x 43 in. (Courtesy of the Love, Luck & Faith Foundation).

Africa The Land Of Hope and Promise For Negro People’s of the World, Cotton, silk, wool and velvet quilted and appliqué, 52 x 88 x 2 in | 132.1 x 223.5 x 5.1 cm, 2020.

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