Issue 1: Isolation
Issue 1: Isolation

Stitched Into Bloom

Alchemy and improvisation in the paintings of artist Cody Tumblin.

Photographs by Cody Tumblin. Artist portrait by Hyun Jung Jun.

Colorful stacks of hand-dyed cloth and scraps line the perimeter of artist Cody Tumblin’s live/work studio. They are the building blocks of collaged and sewn compositions, artworks which straddle the worlds of quilts and paintings. Saturated and brightly hued, they are imbued with memory. Tumblin formed his bond with cloth in Tennessee. As a child, his interests ranged beyond the terrain of conventional Midwestern masculinity, and his mother’s costume sewing promoted a joyful practice of improvisational self-expression. Cloth also indelibly connects Tumblin to feelings of protection, conjuring flashbacks of hiding from tornadoes in the basement, his family’s hands clasped tightly under quilts. 

Tumblin’s materials are a personal idiom. This language begins in the dye bath, an alchemical process which transforms the cloth, evoking the transfigured play of early childhood. As piecing begins, scraps are saved for later use. When gathered into new compositions, the fragments already possess an accounting of where the artist has been: evidence of time spent in the dye vats, recognizable negative spaces rendered by shapes previously cut out. The works continue evolving into bold, abstract forms, bright and joyful, often in the shape of flowers in full bloom.

PERSONAL IDIOM SPEAKS TO A SOLITARY PRACTICE. LIKE A SELF-POLLINATING FLOWER, IT SELF-REFERS AND SELF-RENEWS. BUT WHEN TUMBLIN’S SEEDLING SCRAPS BLOSSOM INTO FULLY REALIZED WORKS, HIS SPECIFIC MATERIAL LANGUAGE FLOWERS, INVITING US TO LUXURIATE IN ITS EXPRESSION.

Like traditional quilts, these works are constructed with great attention and care. Drawn to the medium for the better part of ten years, Tumblin has been fascinated by Amish quilt culture, the geometric patterns and brilliant colors. He remains curious about how personal artistic language meets communal practice. Tumblin’s sewn constructions move beyond Amish motif-based quilting, yet his work partakes of foundational quilt underpinnings: making from what you have and love, and improvising as cloth is joined.

There is electricity in the hybrid space between painting and quilting. Painting enjoys an established, conceptual place in fine arts, while quilting is historically marginalized, often relegated to the domain of craft. Tumblin’s works stay plugged in to both canons, vibrating with the conceptual impact of painting, reinforced by the associative powers of a quilt constructed with the building blocks of personal history. 

Personal idiom speaks to a solitary practice. Like a self-pollinating flower, it self-refers and self-renews.  But when Tumblin’s seedling scraps blossom into fully realized works, his specific material language flowers, inviting us to luxuriate in its expression.


Learn more about the art of Cody Tumblin.