Portland artist Jo Hamilton crochets a new twist on an ancient craft with elaborate cityscapes and portraits that unravel crochet as granny craft.By painting in yarn, Scottish-born Hamilton, 41, blends fine art training from the Glasgow School of Art with the craft she learned from her “gran.” She moved to Portland in 1996, and painted in oil and watercolour for almost twenty years, but says, “I hadn’t found my medium.” In 2006, inspiration struck at a non-traditional show of tapestry, sewing and embroidery at the Contemporary Craft Museum (now the Museum of Contemporary Craft). She went home, picked up the crochet hook and began a cityscape of Portland that took years to complete. Next were the portraitsfriends, co-workers and even dogs.
Unlike other textile artists, Hamilton never graphs her work. Instead, she uses a photo for reference and crochets from the inside out, starting with eyes and building outward row-by row. "Nothing is planned ahead, I make it up as I go,” she explains. A fringe of all the yarns used hangs at the bottom of each piece a signature of her work.
Her pieces have been shown around the United States and world, mostly recently at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington, where she exhibited a large crocheted male nude. In April, she’ll be showing at Christiane Millinger Oriental Rugs in Portland.
The unusual medium for the familiar art-form provides the unexpected on several levels. Each portrait has a texture very different from common painterliness – they’re soft, knotty, and bordered by loose ambiguous edges. Hamilton’s material perhaps also goes further to suggest her relationship with her subjects. Each portrait takes a considerable amount of time and intimate work by hand. Further, the crochet process is reminiscent of household trinkets and decorations lending her work a feeling of life and home.