Best known artistically for her highly praised books of needlepoint design, Phyllis Kluger of Berkeley, CA has been at work for a number of years creating – mostly for the private enjoyment of her family and friends – a new departure for the venerable craft of quilting: compositions in fiber that make large, colorful statements, often in a satiric vein, on social and historical themes. Recently Phyllis’s work has been shown at juried exhibitions around the U.S., online, and in selected art and craft galleries.
This body of work deals with, among other subjects, egomaniacal yuppies, lovestruck marine life, George Washington’s previously undisclosed imperfections, urban mayhem (see “Cereal Killer Strikes Again”), the history of the British Empire from King Arthur to Margaret Thatcher (rendered as a playing card along with Elizabeth I and Henry VIII), feminism (see “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”), an antiwar antique called “Aggression Urn,” the collapse of the sterile Soviet order (see “Red Squares, 1990”), and homage to American architecture in various aspects (historical, decorative, and, well, crumbling). The only one of her eye-filling quilts previously shown to the public, a six-foot-square geometrical rendering of a traditional football rivalry and titled “The Princeton-Yale Game Increases in Intensity,” is on permanent display at Princeton University’s Frist Campus Center.
Kluger has been addicted to fiber art since her New Jersey childhood; she learned to knit at six and has never stopped. An art history major at Douglass College and Columbia University, Phyllis sensed that many of the motifs she encountered in her studies would adapt beautifully as patterns for needlepoint. Eventually she brought together more than 100 patterns derived from great artworks of different cultures and ages to produce her first book, A Needlepoint Gallery of Patterns from the Past (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.), which Time magazine praised as “one of the best needlepoint books of this or any other year.” Maurice Sendak, the peerless artist/illustrator/storyteller, remarked that “[Kluger] takes contemporary needlepoint out of the hideously hokey-pokey, quaint patterns, little-old-lady doldrums…. Richly detailed, beautifully illustrated, and best of all, full of original and exciting ideas that allow for needlepoint a serious place among the creative crafts.” The New York Times said each pattern “is accompanied by a literate discussion of the culture that produced the art in the first place. It’s beautifully done.”
Kluger’s second book, Victorian Designs for Needlepoint (Holt, Rinehart & Winston), was equally acclaimed and selected by three book clubs, including the Cooking and Crafts division of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
After taking time away from the visual and tactile arts to co-author a pair of novels with her husband, Richard, dealing thematically with aesthetic subjects and social mores (Good Goods, Macmillan, and Royal Poinciana, Donald I. Fine), Phyllis set to work in what has become her principal field of concentration. Her first quilted piece, combining needlepoint, quilting, and soft sculpture, was titled Nude Descending a Staircase II, a whimsical tribute to Duchamp’s classic cubist painting, and was sold within days of its being offered at Spring Street Gallery in New York’s Soho.
Encouraged, Kluger grew more ambitious in the range of her subjects and the scale of her work. A self-taught quilter, she blended history, humor, social commentary, wordplay, and close attention to decorative detail in strikingly original pieces. Among the most visually pleasing examples of her work are “A Hug and a Kiss,” inspired by more traditional quilting patterns, and “Let’s Thai One On,” a six-foot-long necktie with Siamese themes alternating with the paisleys. Her more recent, cutting-edge quilts include “Aggression Urn,” an ancient-to-modern rendering of warfare on a could-have-been Greek vase; “Homage to Purple Cauliflower,” a seductively beautiful veggie under assault by voracious diners; “An Octopus’s Garden in the Shade,” inspired by an aquamarine fantasy by Beatle Ringo Starr, and “Mitosis: Hot Sex Among Amoebas,” a voyeuristic peek at the reproductive process (single-cell variety).
My fabric compositions are intended to make large, colorful statements, mostly in a satiric vein, on social and historical themes. For years I worked privately, practicing what I think of as “the finger arts” – knitting, crocheting, needlepoint. quilting, macramé – never intending to seek public attention or consciously trying to transform craft into art.
Then I began to inject humor into my efforts, which I felt made them accessible to others; laughter is in short supply on our much troubled globe. My first quilted piece, combining needlepoint, quilting, and soft sculpture, was titled "Nude Descending a Staircase II," a whimsical tribute to Duchamp's classic cubist painting, and was sold within days of its being offered at the Spring Street Gallery in New York's Soho.
Encouraged, I grew more ambitious in the range of my subjects and the scale of my work. A self-taught quilter, I strive to blend history, humor, social commentary, wordplay, and close attention to decorative detail. My work, I feel, resists the artificial barrier between Art and Craft that some connoisseurs insist on. Although I pride myself on my workmanship, my quilts are intended to be not simply decorative wall hangings but socially interpretive and, frankly, entertaining works of art. For the past several years, pieces from my collection have been shown and won prizes at juried exhibitions around the U.S. I hope you like them. I plan to move on to other iterations of fiber art but retain my playful tone.
▪ “Puns and Needles,” solo exhibition, Dominican University Art Gallery, San Rafael CA, June 20-Seprember 4, 2015
▪ “Quilts in Jest,” solo exhibition, Walnut Creek CA Public Library Community Art Gallery, courtesy of the Bedford Gallery, November 19, 2014-January 15, 2015
▪ American Quilters Society exhibition, Charlotte, NC, July 30-August 2, 2014, “Let’s Thai One On” and “A Hug and a Kiss.” “Let’s Thai One On” Second Place in the Wall Quilts-Modern category.
▪ Blue Line Gallery, Roseville, CA, Summer 2014 Public Art Exhibition Program.
▪ Springfield Illinois Art Association, juried exhibition, “Liturgical & Sacred Art,” May 3-24, 2014, “Creation” and “Life of Moses.”
▪ American Quilters Society exhibition, Phoenix AZ, Feb. 5-6, 2014, “A Hug and a Kiss” and “Homage to Purple Cauliflower.”
▪ Gallery Route One, Pt. Reyes CA, “Catalyst,” annual juried exhibition, Jan. 17-Feb. 9, 2014. “Aggression Urn.” Juror: Scott Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento.
▪ "Threads," Tubac Center for the Arts, Tubac, AZ, annual juried exhibition, Oct. 15-Nov. 18, 2013. "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire," winner of Best Art Quilt, Juror: Kay Kahn.
▪ Wisconsin Quilt Expo, Madison, WI, annual juried exhibition, "Cereal Killers" and "A Hug and a Kiss," Sept. 5-7, 2013.
▪ Falkirk Art Center, San Rafael CA, annual juried exhibition, Sept-Oct 2013,"Cereal Killer."
▪ Frist Campus Center, Princeton University, selected for permanent exhibition Aug. 2006, "The Princeton-Yale Game Increases in Intensity," purchased by the university.
▪ International Quilt Festival, Houston TX, juried exhibition, May 1996, "Red Squares, 1990."
▪ The Studio Gallery, Hopewell NJ, "The Real George Washington, Warts and All," Oct 1992.
▪ Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven CT, "Rise and Fall of the British Empire," Sept, 1991.
▪ The Studio Gallery, Hopewell NJ, "The Real George Washington, Warts and All," Oct 1992.
▪ Decatur House, Washington, D.C., juried quilt exhibition, sponsored by the Na-tional Trust for Historic Preservation, "Repair – or Despair," Nov, 1991.
▪ Hunterdon Art Center, Clinton NJ, "Nouveaux Egos," Honorable Mention,” Sept. 1989.
• Princeton Packet, "Quilter Needles History," May 6, 1997 with picture of PK and "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire."
• Trenton, NJ Times, article "Artistic Influencing in Trenton," May 8, 1992.
• Town Topics, Princeton NJ, article with picture of "Nouveaux Egos," April 29, 1992
• Art New England, preview of "Gilding the Lily," Creative Arts Workshop, New Haven CT, March 1991, says "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire" by PK is "royally entertaining…a marvel of picaresque detail in the best folk art tradition."
• The New York Times, "Excess Romps Through Crafts Exhibit," April 7, 1991.
• New Haven (CT) Register, "Art for Everyday," March 31, 1991.
• Antiques & the Arts Weekly, Newtown CT, "New Haven Show Puts High Touch on Design," March 22, 1991.
• Royal Poinciana, novel co-authored with Richard Kluger under pseudonym “Thea Coy Douglass (Donald I. Fine, 1987)
• Good Goods, novel, co-authored with Richard Kluger (Macmillan, 1982)
▪ Victorian Designs for Needlepoint (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1978)
• A Needlepoint Gallery of Patterns from the Past (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1975)