Somewhere over the sea, on a return flight back from Lisbon to her home in Wisconsin, a blue airplane throw casually warming her lap, it occurs to artist Sarah FitzSimons that the ocean covers our earth, like a blanket.
It’s one of those particularly loud thoughts, and as it eventuates and strengthens, it becomes a current which gyres the artist through the next five years. FitzSimons has been in creative dialogue with the ocean since 2004, when a temporary sculpture entitled Tide Bed connected the artist’s bedroom and daily pattern of sleep to the rhythmic movements of the sea, through an actual, steel-anchored bed strategically placed onto the shore to receive the tide. Ten years later, gifted with an aerial view 35,000 feet above the blue, FitzSimons is privy to a waterbody’s vast embrace of our planet, and is compelled to articulate the ocean she feels most connected to, in 625 square feet of carefully quilted yardage.
The ocean covers our earth, like a blanket.
“Both water and fabric flow. Both cover. Both can conceal, reveal, and shift.”
Pacific Quilt is the result of five years of this labor. Mammoth in size, Pacific Quilt floods its way across a gallery floor, unabashedly offering us a blue gesture as abundant as the sea itself. Rigorous mapping and imaging direct the exact design of the work. Nine shades of blue fabric and layers of appliqué correlate to the exact depths of this ocean, and painstakingly pursue a topographical re-creation of this part of our earth. As the quilt stretches, its perimeter endeavors to reach west towards Asia, along the way engulfing New Zealand, crowning along the Russian shore, doubling back to North and South America and resting the soles of its feet on the Antarctic ice shelf. The running stitches that quilt the fabric layers together echo the current patterns of our planet’s largest ocean, breaching the top layer of cloth and submerging back down like schools of porpoises and fish.
Originally raised on Lake Erie, and more recently a contented coastal dweller of both California and Portugal, FitzSimons relocated to Madison, Wisconsin in 2011. Pacific Quilt reflects the artist’s desire to pack her beloved ocean into a suitcase and bring it with her. A desire to retain the spiritual possibilities of the blue horizon vista from both her childhood lake and her years by the sea. In conversation with the artist she reminds us that this ocean will inevitably reach the Midwest through the weather. She quotes oceanographer Silvia Earle: “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea.”
With this in mind, FitzSimons finds the functional connotations inherent to the medium of quilting to be an apt metaphor. The ocean is, after all, also a functional object, filling our lungs with its life-sustaining vapor, showering us with its tides of rain, hosting an endless source of protein and nutrients. FitzSimons also adds: “Both water and fabric flow. Both cover. Both can conceal, reveal, and shift.” Both require mending when their soft middles are worn and their coastlines frayed. A quilt’s edges, stitched topographies, and bathymetric depths form an insulating shelter. They protect. They hold. They warm. The ocean is a shelter, too – a rhythmic blue that blankets our planet as we spin together through space.
“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.”
Sarah FitzSimons creates sculptural objects which interact with and derive meaning from their surroundings. Though diverse in form and material, much of her creative work explores a merging of interior and exterior spaces – both in physical and psychological terms. She exhibits in cities across the U.S. and internationally, and has developed site-specific projects for the Chicago Architecture Biennial; Vadehavsfestival (Denmark); Casa da Inquisição Monsaraz (Portugal); and Djerassi Resident Artists Program (Woodside, CA). Recent group exhibitions included her work at the Alps Art Academy (Switzerland); Casa das Artes, Tavira (Portugal); and the Grand Rapids Art Museum (MI). She’s had recent solo shows at Hawthorn Contemporary (Milwaukee, WI), the Woodson Art Museum, (Wausau, WI), and the Nona Jean Hulsey Gallery (Oklahoma City, OK. FitzSimons is the recipient of an Efroymson Contemporary Art Fellowship and grants from the Ohio Arts Council and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been awarded residencies at MacDowell and the Vermont Studio Center, and earned an MFA in sculpture from the University of California, Los Angeles. She currently lives and works in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.