Denver Post - Sunday 03/21/2010

What needles one Colorado artist
J. Bruce Wilcox says his work goes beyond "quilting"
By Claire Martin
The Denver Post

J. Bruce Wilcox began creating/exhibiting his textile art in 1977 with a piece that employed cotton string as a quilting material and won a Best-In-Show award. Over three decades later, he's turned that avocation into a vocation.

His studio at 280 Galapago Street, Denver, Colorado, is open for First Friday art walks, and his work has been featured in art books, traveling exhibits and, currently, in the "Wranglers Among Us: Quilts by Men" exhibit at Golden's Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

He has a solo show coming up at Regis University in May.

Denver Post Q:You make quilts, but you don't consider yourself a quilter?

JBW A: As a working artist I learned over the years that I simply don't think like most quilters. The word "quilt" conjures up certain images. A quilt is a noun that describes something warm, comfy and functional. I don't make anything that fits that description. To quilt is a verb referring to a specific skill used in manufacturing the noun. I'm a fiber artist. I make non-functional textile art, not quilts.

Denver Post Q: Yet right now you're in a show featuring male quilters at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

JBW A: The RMQM exhibits both functional and non-functional work. I have the distinction of being THE male who's hung in more of their men's shows than anybody else. I have greater alignment with the non-group of men. But I also got into the Colorado Art Open 2009 at the Foothills Art Center, juried by Michael Chavez and Christoph Heinrich.

Denver Post Q: How do you feel about being a male artist in a medium traditionally dominated by female artists?

JBW A: I've been dealing with the gender issue from the beginning, and it's time for it to change. There are no longer any good reasons for anybody to continue to assume that anything can be defined as women's work, a shameful derogatory label that, when used recently by the Post, even offended some of my women friends. I live with another male, yet I'm an independent entity, part of no couple. There are no women around. We both cook, clean, do laundry and take the garbage out. There is no "women's work" being done. The domestic work of any household can no longer be defined as women's. Both women and straight men need to get this.

Denver Post Q: How would you describe yourself?

JBW A: As self-taught, though at 56, looking back on my growth experience, a better description would be that I went through a process of remembering who I already was. At this stage I describe myself as absolutely relentless in pursuit of financial success as an artist before I'm dead, not after.

Denver Post Q: Does anyone ever tell you that looking at one of your pieces makes their eyes hurt?

JBW A: When that happens I know I've succeeded! My friends use the term "retinal fatigue." One of the primary things I'm working with is the vibration caused by both related and unrelated patterns/colors juxtapositioned next to each other.

Denver Post Q: How does one of your pieces start?

JBW A: I'm a designer of intricate interlocking tessellations. As I am developing a pattern I compile a palette. My palette can consist of a single fabric cut off grain and recombined- or one to two hundred different textiles in a single piece of art.

Denver Post Q: Then what do you do?

JBW A: I cut out an enormous number of individual parts and then lay out the entire piece to determine an approximate finished size/shape. I then build it, usually from the bottom up, constantly rearranging the individual parts during construction until the finished work emerges. Yet this is only the surface, and the work isn't completed until it has gone through a hand stitching phase and is finally bound, prepared to hang and signed.

Denver Post Q: Would you see yourself in the company of La Veta quilter Ricky Tims?

JBW A: Since this conversation isn't about Ricky I'm not sure why you'd even bring him up... Ricky's a performer/entertainer who's comfortable both getting on stage in front of large groups of mostly women, and teaching. This has led to his "recognizability" in a relatively short period of time. I am an artist/mystic who spends a great deal of time turned inward in meditation/contemplation mode having a direct creation experience. The only thing I teach is how one can remove all dysfunctional behavior patterns from one's belief structure so one can be more easily present with the divine while creating.

As an artist I've been at this two to three times longer than Ricky has. And I have virtually no interest in hanging out with large groups of mostly women. I grew up the local outcast and have remained an outsider. I evolved into a totally unique individual that doesn't need the group. When involved with the group I've mostly sat in the back of the room and kept my mouth shut. Why? Because I knew if I said anything, I'd offend someone. And when I finally did open my mouth, I offended everyone.