To get up close and personal with local artist Jillian Boivin’s work, one might feel tempted to reach out and touch. Braille-like dots weave around patterns of sea life and flora to tell stories of life on the coast. In the vein of Lilly Pulitzer, Boivin’s works are flamboyant and cheerful, yet her technique is fine-tuned—the intricacies of which echo the work of a practiced quilter.
This month visitors will have a chance to see, if not touch, for themselves during Boivin’s solo exhibition at Artful Living Group in Carolina Beach. Opening June 4, featured works include those Boivin created using mola techniques, or reverse application.
Molas originated in Panama, where Kuna women famously don multidimensional appliqué panels, which are created by sewing together several layers of fabric and then cutting away layers to reveal different colors and textures. Boivin has adopted a similar technique using acrylic paints. She uses layers of fabric and small dots of acrylic to create highly textured images of underwater creatures and geometric designs.
“My method is very reminiscent of traditional appliqué,” Boivin says. “Instead of taking away fabric, I am layering fabrics on top of one another . . . I like to say the dots of paint outlining the fabrics are my stitch work.”
To create the desired effect, the key is a well-mixed acrylic paint with a high level of viscosity. Boivin’s style wasn’t premediated, rather something she happened upon while studying art UNCW.
“I was creating a tissue-paper collage and was trying to get the effect of stained glass,” Boivin tells. “For the black leading around the glass, I experimented with puffy paint. I loved the effect.”
These days the artist has graduated to using 100 percent artist-quality acrylic paints, but her application is similar. She uses a fine-tipped nozzle to create small dots on the canvas. She also enjoys incorporating found objects, such as buttons and sequins, into her work. The paint, she says, functions like a grout in a mosaic. During the last three years, Boivin has started incorporating fabric, as well. “That’s what you see today,” she shares. “My primary shapes are actually painted fabrics cut out free-hand and collaged organically.”
Boivin saves the dot work for last. “I usually don’t have an idea of [how] I want my pieces to look until the very end,” she says. What she does know: “It’s a ton of fabric, a ton of paint and a lot of material.”
Boivin’s work is frequently compared to aboriginal art, like mola, because of its colors, dimensions and craft. “I love working with my hands,” Boivin tells. “Similar to indigenous art forms, I am using the materials that are available to me. I would even argue that what I am trying to replicate is my own interpretation of folk art.”
Though a trained artist (in addition to being a studio art major, she also has a degree in art history), she maintains her biggest influence has been that of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. She was fascinated by the craftsmanship executed by collage artists, but also the entire process guided by it. “The pieces were always so much more about the material—the journey of the piece—than the end result,” she explains.
That isn’t to say traditional painters haven’t played a role in inspiring Boivin’s work. She cites Jacob Lawrence and Henri Matisse as two influential artists.“I’ve always loved Matisse’s paper cutouts and his sense of colors,” she states. Homages to the iconic painter are apparent in her work, particularly in her rounded, almost coral-like leaves, as seen in “Gwendolyn.”
“‘Gwendolyn is a very good representation of how I started six years ago,” Boivin explains, “simple motifs with just acrylic paint over collaged fabric in the background of the canvas. Now I am working with more painted layers of fabric, and I am mixing in much more abstract imagery and three-dimensional objects. My paintings have taken on a sculptural feeling.”
Visitors of Artful Living Group will have the opportunity to see both Boivin’s old and new techniques at play in a collection of works from 2015. Regardless of her methods, one thing holds true for all of Boivin’s art work: A lot of time goes into each piece.
“I love it when my work surprises people, especially when it’s people seeing my work for the first time,” Boivin says. “When you walk up to one of my pieces, you recognize it’s not a two-dimensional painting. Whether it’s one of my coastal-themed pieces or something purely abstract, I want to keep surprising people and intriguing them.”
Aboriginal Dot Paintings
Art work by Jillian Boivin
Opening: June 4, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Artful Living Group
112 Cape Fear Blvd., Carolina Beach