Working in white

A Californian through and through, embroidery artist Alice Wiese is nevertheless a global spirit, traveling the world and bringing pieces of it back with her. Her intricate hand-embroidered, monochromatic artwork is geometric and repetitive but at the same time abstract and varied. With titles like "Tell Me Why You're Feeling Down," "Seabird" and "Never Forever," Alice's pieces are inspired by her experiences with love, loss and the process of rebuilding oneself. You can see more of her work here.

While she works with white thread on white canvases, she lives her life in full color and is never afraid to share that great big smile of hers.

Here she tells us more about the inspiration behind her artwork, why being a dairy-free, gluten-free vegetarian is easier in Australia and all about her van-turned-home, appropriately named Ghost.

Cropbox: Tell us about yourself and how you got involved in the art scene.

Alice Wiese: Well, I grew up in Mill Valley, California (a small town just north of San Francisco), and I went to an art boarding school in Napa, CA for a semester when I was in high school. It was there that I figured out that I really loved art as a way of living and as a passion and that it wasn't just a hobby. It was more something that I really wanted to pursue. I met a whole bunch of like-minded art people that confirmed that there are other people like me that like to make and all of that confirmed this passion of mine.

From there I went to California College of the Arts. I went in undecided about what I wanted to study but knew I wanted to do something hands-on and around sewing... I'd always really loved sewing. So I went into the textiles department and we walked into the loom room with about 50 looms crammed together and I sort of thought "Okay, this is what I like." 

CB: So you decided on the textiles department... how did you land on embroidery?

AW: We had to do all these core classes: 2D, 3D, 4D and a drawing class and as part of my 2D class we had to paint a picture without using paint. I decided I would do embroidery because it was a textiles medium and that was the department I had chosen. I just fell in love with it. It just made sense.

I graduated with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in textiles, specializing in embroidery and then I just tried to pursue it. I ended up working for Anthropologie for a bit, making the displays and in-store installations and I sort of had a melt-down one day because I was over the fact that for the rest of my life I would have to work five days a week in corporate life.

CB: Totally been there.

AW: While I was at school I did a semester in Kyoto, Japan and I met an Australian girl who became my best friend. So I called her when I was having this melt-down and she was like "Just come live in Australia." 

So I got a visa and went. Right before that I had met a boy so he quit his job and came with me.

We spent a year in Australia and at first we were house-sitting so we didn't have to pay any rent. So we saved up and bought a van and my boyfriend built it up into a little house and we spent four months driving up the coast and surfing. It was really good, we just did the van-life thing: cooking and surfing and drinking white wine spritzers on the beach.

Cue everyone internally groaning about how amazing this sounds and mentally drafting their resignation letters...

After that we drove down to Melbourne and lived there for six months, I had a studio and a job and I worked on my art.

The infamous van, Ghost. That's Alice in the back.

The infamous van, Ghost. That's Alice in the back.

CB: Was the art you were working on for a specific project or collector or anything?

AW: Before I left Australia a company called Tappan Collective reached out to me and wanted to represent me. They offered to sell my work and do some marketing for me so I signed with them and it's great because I have a manager who helps me with deadlines, I send her updates and photos of my work and stuff. 

When I was in Australia I made a bunch of work for Tappan and from what I sent them it was actually super successful. I think I sent them six pieces and five of them sold within a month or so. That was pretty unexpected.

CB: Do you work on themed collections?

AW: Right now, all my work is white. A few years ago my ex-boyfriend committed suicide which was pretty shocking. A lot of my work stemmed from that. It was about me rebuilding myself and my process of grief.

Now I think the concepts are starting to change. I know that it's all evolving right now I just haven't sat down and asked myself what it's all about yet. That needs to happen pretty soon because I've been thinking about it for a while.

But I think it all stems from the same place at this point. The concepts are changing, but it's all still in the same package.

CB: Do you think you'll ever use color?

AW: After my senior thesis I kind of got stuck. The first real piece I cared about was after Graham died and it was all white. And the white just kind of clicked for me so I think I'm going to keep doing this for a while. I am open to other things, I'm just not as comfortable with it.

CB: So how do you like making your own schedule now?

AW: It's really great. I like getting up early, exercising and then putting in long days in the studio. I'm really good at getting focused but I'm not very good at working at night so as soon as I wake up I just have to get into the groove of it.

CB: What do you think your biggest inspiration is?

AW: When I was in Australia I was working part-time jobs but they all paid really well. So I could work part-time and then really focus at my studio. And I loved my studio there, it had great light and a door that could close and it was all mine.

I think I get really discouraged sometimes, especially in San Francisco because everyone seems to have so much money and I often just think "What the f*ck am I doing? Why did I choose hand embroidery as my thing to love?" So I think more than inspiration, I'm really motivated to just keep going and create. Because I'm honestly just so happy when I'm doing it. I just went to LA a couple weeks ago and met with Tappan and saw the artists working at their studio space and that's just really motivating.

CB: What makes you get out of bed each day?

AW: (Laughing) My anxiety. I like getting up in the morning and having a long day. So the fear of losing the day gets me up.

CB: What's your perfect day look like?

AW: For a non-working day, if it was a long day... and it was perfect? I would get up and go surfing, then I'd go to the flea market in San Francisco. Maybe I'd have a park date with some friends and mimosas. And enjoy the sun. 

CB: What's the best meal you've ever had?

AW: My mom and dad came to visit in Australia and we ate at this fantastic Thai restaurant. I'm a huge fan of Thai food if you can't tell. But this place had just really clean food. It wasn't one of those places where I'd take myself to all the time because it was like a parents-come-to-town-and-take-you-to-dinner kind of place. But it was really clean, simple ingredients and it tasted tremendous.

CB: How was the food in Australia?

AW: I'm lactose and gluten-intolerant. And I don't eat meat. So it puts me in a bit of a tricky position. But in Australia, no matter where I went there was always, always a vegan, gluten-free option. It was really nice. We would drive through towns in the middle of nowhere and there would be a vegan option somewhere. The food was fantastic though. It was a different food culture there. It felt like there were more options. And maybe I'm just speaking on behalf of me because it's often hard for me to go out. But in Australia they just seemed to have it down more, they cared more. I think being a vegetarian is more common in Australia.

CB: What did you cook for yourself when you were living in the van?

AW: So. Many. Tacos. Mainly sauteed veggies in tacos. Sometimes we'd make Thai curry. But mostly a lot of tacos because they are just easy and don't require much. We only had a cooler and the ice would only last so long so we couldn't keep a lot.

CB: Can you teach me something I don't know in the next three minutes?

AW: There's a really fun embroidery technique called a French knot. So when you pierce the needle through the fabric, from the bottom through the top, you can wrap your needle around the thread so it does a full circle. Then you put the needle back down through the fabric, next to where you came up. Then then pull it through slowly and since you wrapped the thread around the needle it pulls itself into a little knot and it contains itself. So it looks like a little bead. Aaaand you just fell asleep (laughing).

CB: No that's really cool! Now I know how to do a french knot... what can I practice on? So what would you say is your philosophy in your work?

AW: I don't really have one, I really just have rules for myself. Not rules but things that have to happen. Like I really work well when I'm alone. It needs to be quiet, I can't have distracting things, I can't have my phone out. It has to be my own time.

CB: Makes sense. 

In the box today:

Thai green cashew curry with lime and star-anise infused black rice

Refreshing cucumber, mint, baby gem and peanut salad

Rainbow ribbons with golden raisins and coriander

Massaman spiced butternut medallions

Cooling coconut yoghurt dressing