Interview with an Artist - Feature - December 4th, 2020.
An interview with Brandon Wulff - Transcript
Melinda: Tell us a little about yourself.
Brandon: I am an Autistic artist that uses the medium of quilting to communicate and express complex ideas and concepts using a pop art style.
Melinda: Is there something going on for you right now that you are excited about?
Brandon: I love art and time to make art and I wish I could do it all day. I even wish I could get so lost in it I would forget to eat. My husband keeps me grounded. Making art and having purpose to make my art is important. My work is being shown and that is exciting. Currently, I am a part of the Art gallery of Peterborough’s(a) show “Presently”. I have two quilts in the show. My “R” word and my “S” word quilts.
I am displaying work, a collaboration with Tom Interiors(b), Home Hardware(c) and the Cabbagetown BIA(d). Two quilts that say, “The start to a better world is... ...the belief it is possible.” I love working with the interior community.
I have quite a few projects on the go, but I can’t talk about those. But I like to have lots of fingers in lots of pies.
Melinda: What can you share about that identity? What does it mean to you and potentially others you influence?
Brandon: Autism is a non-verbal social communication difference with a narrow focus and or repetitive stereotype behaviours.
That means I don’t use non-verbal language the same as most folks. But I’m still very good at reading body language, I just read different aspects that others tend to miss.
I also like to only think about sewing. This is narrow focus. It’s hard to get me to leave other activities like going to the washroom, having something to eat and sleeping because I have this narrow focus.
I also have repetitive stereotype behaviours which are things like toe tapping, shaking your leg, rocking back-and-forth, hair twirling and things like that, that are repetitive behaviours. Neurotypicals also exhibit stereotype behaviours. Just not as often. It’s an anxious reaction.
What that means for people, is that when they encounter an Autistic person, they need to double check that intentions and perceptions are aligned.
Many Autistic people see being Autistic as an identity. Not a disorder. I don’t believe I have a disability. I believe I’m just different. The universe doesn’t make garbage.
Melinda: What sparked your interest, why did you become interested in quilting?
Brandon: I grew up in a fibre family. My sister owns a quilt shop, my mom had a loom and spinning wheel in the living room. Gramma could knit a bulky knit sweater in a day.
I went to an Art high school. I loved Sculpture and textiles.
I did hair for many years, but the socializing was hard as Autism is a social disability. More specifically, it’s a non-verbal communication difference. I use body language differently than others.
Melinda: There can be a lot of stigma around men in the sewing and quilting communities at large. Do you find yourself welcomed by those communities?
Brandon: Welcome, is a strange feeling for me. That’s part of Autisim as a difference for me. Yes, there is stigma and I have been told men don’t belong in quilting.
I don’t care. We have men’s groups and men’s zoom meetings and it’s great. The men’s quilting community is huge.
There is a stigma towards Art quilters in the crafting community. I’m use to stigma. To me stigma looks poorly on the person doing the stigmatizing, for me the trauma just turns into art.
Melinda: Who may have influenced your choice in medium the most?
Brandon: My sister. She opened a quilt shop, so I just started buying fabric and sewing. My first quilt was all hand done; a king, it took two years. I worked on it everyday.
Melinda: Have there been any barriers to success for you?
Brandon: Yes, me! But that just becomes my art also.
Melinda: Tell us how you overcame those barriers.
Brandon: I had to get to know who I am. I did years of therapy, then I became a life coach. All in the pursuit of self knowledge. Knowing myself has made my art grow and blossom and part of that knowing myself, was to get assessed for Autisim at 43 years old.
Melinda: Can you describe the most troublesome barrier?
Brandon: Not being told I was Autistic was the biggest barrier in my life. Autistic people face a lot of trauma, especially since we are not often told we are Autistic. The quilting community has a lot of folk who come to heal trauma. Lots of people are ADHD, or Bi-polar, many mental health issues are supported by the simple act of sewing. In the book the body keeps score(1), synchronized group activity heals trauma, so quilting bees and sew days on zoom heal trauma.
Melinda: Tell us about what motivates you the most to create.
Brandon: My Trauma, your trauma and our collective trauma. As an example, I created “I’m Rich” because I was traumatized to learn I couldn’t buy toilet paper. Many folks felt that way (except the greedy), my quilt was a humorous commentary on how toilet paper became a commodity.
Melinda: 2020, the year of the Pandemic. Tell us more about its impact for you.
Brandon: I have never been this focused or busy. Being Autistic I feel a little at peace as it’s logical for me to be experiencing anxiety, not being right is ok for me at this time. I think for many on the spectrum the pandemic has greeted us or maybe it’s given others the direct knowledge of what experiencing isolation or loneliness is like and there is more compassion for these things now. I am just focused on quilting. Keeping busy.
Melinda: What can you tell us about your process for your most recent projects?
Brandon: I’m playing with layering.
I’m really into Peter Byrnes’(2) hover quilting and stitch and turn appliqué along with pieced bases. To me the quilting needs to be abundant, lots and lots of quilting and the pattern must go with the whole piece.
Melinda: What was the inspiration for your work currently being exhibited?
Brandon: The R and S word quilts
These quilts are a complex set of concepts and ideas.
My work is about trauma and in this case, it’s a personal trauma of being called the R or S words, which I need to point out are the same words one in French and English. Yet there is a hierarchy of taboo, the S word being the smaller or more accepted of the two quilts. Autism is a disability of taboo because taboos are taught and enforced non-verbally.
I view quilts as barriers against abuse and trauma. “I’m hiding”, in this case I see them as capes with the fun stuff on the inside for when things get really tough, the user can still hide. But the metaphors of these words constantly following the user around is kind of a commentary on allowing it to ride on my coattails and acceptance that these things will always follow us. I’m shrugging that off.
There is a contrast in these quilts and a commentary about whether it is art or is it craft? I’m calling out the stigma of being an artist that quilts and the trauma that can cause. I’m also noting the 44 billion dollar a year crafting industry in the USA, that most people in some form seeking to create, are actually fulfilling some need to be happy or heal a trauma.
Melinda: What can you tell us about each of your art pieces?
Brandon: That’s a big question I have a lot of work.
Melinda: When you meet others that may have similar barriers to success, what wisdom from your experience is most important for you to share?
Brandon: I believe in a Canadian style of inclusion unlike the American style of inclusion as assimilation. I believe that marginalized people should have places of belonging within the context of quilting. That means I’d love to see all neurodiverse folks set up a zoom call (zoom is very disability inclusive hint, hint) and start a guild or sew days and start having a bigger voice in quilting. I see so many neurodiverse quilters, I bet it would be a good size group. Gathering, together, is important for folks with similar barriers.
But that being said, I’d like to see business specific groups set up as it seems to me the business of quilting is needed, especially around confidence to sell quilts for their real value and pay folks with out devaluing themselves.
Melinda: Is there an aspect or piece to advocacy that is difficult?
Brandon: Yes, I have a communication difference.
Melinda: What impact does this communication difference mean for you?
Brandon: Expressing ideas and concepts is hard for me. I have to trust the person; language is not natural for me. I suspect that language is not natural for all Autistic folk. This is why I’m drawn to art as a form of communication.
Melinda: Was there something specific you wanted others to see or feel when they examine your work?
Brandon: I want people to feel when they see my work. I really want them to think also. Some people just feel with out thinking.
Melinda: Were you able to gain strengths from your experiences?
Brandon: Yes, everything can be art.
Melinda: Can you elaborate on the strength you consider to be the most important to your work?
Brandon: My work does stir emotion, good emotions and painful emotions. That will cause people to remember me.
Melinda: It sounds like you want to leave a legacy for others. What does that look like to you?
Brandon: I’d like to have a legacy. I’d like to have documented my experience of the world in a medium that is my own, for others to relate to or not relate to. I hope my work helps people grow personally.
Melinda: Thank you for interviewing with me and allowing others to listen to what can be very vulnerable subjects. I appreciate your candor.
Melinda: What would you like others to take away from this interview experience?
Brandon: Communication and art are about influencing others. I hope I helped people understand myself, my art and Autism differently.
Thank you, Brandon, for speaking and sharing your truth. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you.
(a) The Art Gallery of Peterborough is a free admission, non-profit public art gallery in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
(b) Tom Interiors – thisistom.ca
(c) Home Hardware – Royal Home Hardware on Parliament St. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
(d) Cabbagetown BIA- 237 Carlton St. Toronto, Ontario, M5A 2L2
(1) The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind And Body in The Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk
(2) Peter Byrne Quilts – Artist Peter Byrne
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