The Sky Looms Series
The Sky Looms translate the process of disassembly and reassembly into the acts of stitching and weaving.
An intricate network of stitches mirrors a cloud, appears on the sky like an x-ray of the atmosphere’s skeleton. Nancy said, “I was attracted to embroidery, I had the urge to stitch, but I could never summon the patience for traditional embroidery, could never sit and stitch – until I started these pieces. After I started stitching scaffolding in the sky, I couldn’t stop.”
The sky looms in Nancy’s imagination as in her photographs, always changing, never fixed but ever present. (As Yoko Ono said in one of Nancy’s favorite quotes, “All my life, I have been in love with the sky. Even when everything was falling apart around me, the sky was always there for me.”) In the Sky Looms series, images are cut apart and reassembled, woven again into one, but with edges unravelling. Turning old frames into looms, Nancy weaves in the strips of the sky so they appear to be suspended in air by the loom strings. Linen and linen-cotton fabrics naturally separate when cut, and come unwoven into threads again. The Sky Looms series works with this tendency of the fabric, “collaborating with chance,” to borrow Rebecca Solnit’s phrase, resulting in works that appear whole, but reveal their fragmentation, and the fragility of the structural underpinnings keeping the fabric intact.
It begins with a walk. Cracks on a sidewalk. Birds on a line, then suddenly in flight. A streak of clouds above the treeline. A rusty staple embedded in a telephone pole. Fragments of paper clinging to a utility box. The mysterious tracings of an insect’s trail across a length of wood.
Nancy Mims’ work begins with her daily practice of walking, looking, shaking out and rearranging the bits of everyday debris cluttering her mind. Tracing a meandering route through her neighborhood, she empties her mind, filling her camera with bits and pieces of what she encounters. These shards, connected, become the scaffolding of her thinking. Her images, on paper and on fabric, make us look again. Is that the Milky Way, or spilled milk on asphalt? Yes. In our daily to-and-fro, grackles chattering in the trees are a noisy parking lot annoyance. In Nancy’s photograph, their sudden flight, frozen, is a reason to look up and see the immensity of the sky.
This daily dirt, these cracks and spills and vines curling over rusting metal, is messy, unfixed. The dirt piles up, the cracks widen, the vines grow to hide the fence underneath. The bird that fell from the sky (from a tree?) withers into feather and bone. The maddening chaos of this mess and decay reveals both the inevitability of change, and the infinite, elegant order of the universe. Nancy’s photographs, snapped in the moment, by the dozens, seem effortless. Her meticulous process of editing, carefully reviewing, editing, discarding images (by the dozens), results in a collection that reflects this elegant order, and depicts those chaotic forces of change in action, frozen in the moment. Her images are tiny confrontations with the infinite.
These bits of the infinite are all the more wondrous because they are rooted in a specific present. On that sidewalk, in that alley, that tree. The mundane features of the daily urban landscape are a static background blur in most of our lives. For Nancy, as for many artists with
deep roots in the South, these cast-off bits and pieces are animate. They tell stories; they are interconnected clues to a riddle as big and unknowable as the sky and as familiar as the bit of paper clinging to a thumbtack on a pole. Her daily practice of assembling these clues is one of filling a jar with questions. The whole picture may be too immense to see, but the corner that is this iridescent reflection in this puddle in this pothole on this street is fixed now, and ours to ponder as we piece our own universe together.
Nancy was born in Jacksonville, Florida, a flat landscape which she escaped at an early age, wandering first through the worlds of her imagination. She spent hours swimming in the ocean, pondering what lay on the other side. With her family, she returned often to her family’s home places in the Deepest South of southern Alabama. Later, they traveled abroad, exploring Europe, China, and Japan.
At Duke University, she fulfilled her pre-med requirements while majoring in art history, and dipped her toe into studio art (terrified and gleefully) in a sculpture class. After going as far as taking her MCAT exams, she found the courage to admit that medical school was not for her.
In May of her senior year, right before graduation, a few nights before her 22nd birthday, Nancy was riding shotgun in a car with friends when a deer jumped out of the darkness into their path. She remembers being in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and telling the medics, “You have to fix me. I’m going to Scotland.”
The doctors who cared for her were surprised that she survived the wreck. But she did make it to Edinburgh, where she was relieved to spend three months living in a city where she never needed to be in a car. Instead, when not working at the hostel where she’d found employment, she walked, exploring the closes and wynds of Old Town, getting lost on purpose, to see what she would find. Her meanderings through those tiny ancient streets left Nancy with a lifelong urge to wander on foot, losing/finding herself again and again to see what unfolded on her path.
In graduate school at The University of Texas in Austin, Nancy earned an MA in Art History, studying diligently, all the while yearning to be making art rather than analyzing it, creating things instead of being a cog in an academic machine that seemed designed to suck the joy out of that which inspired her.
After graduate school, Nancy and her future husband moved to Los Angeles, where she took a job in a gallery, interacting with actual artists (instead of academics) and learning the nitty gritty inner workings of the art world. A textile designer friend saw Nancy’s drawings and casual doodling, and suggested that she pursue textile design professionally. As a freelance designer, Nancy created patterns for companies making everything from wallpaper to notebook covers to pajamas.
After the birth of her children, concerned about industrial impact on the environment, and tired of cranking out designs to other people’s specifications, Nancy formed Mod Green Pod, a textile company focused on producing fabrics sustainably. Mod Green Pod made cloth that was ‘green’ but gorgeous, organic, but modern and graphic instead of hippie greige. At last, Nancy was able to focus on her own artwork, designing patterns she wanted to make. She went on to create a line of organic cottons for Robert Kaufman Fabrics, showing the industry that it was possible to work cleanly and still be commercially viable.
Nancy’s current artwork began with a walk.
Walking through her central Austin neighborhood is her daily practice, a way to sweep clear the pieces cluttering her mind, and reassemble them in a different order. In 2009, using her iPhone, she began photographing things she saw: the sky, the rusted strata of staples on a telephone pole, a flower, fragments of a poster clinging to a utility box. At first, her photography was a casual part of this daily walking meditation. But as she began to really look at the images, she realized that these weren’t just snapshots on Instagram, but true glimpses into the world of her imagination. The iPhone in her hand was a tool to record the world as she actually saw it, in all its hypnotic broken beauty and profound everyday mystery.
Passers-by stop their cars to gawk at the woman contorted in unusual positions, photographing a particular crack or patch of grass. Once, as she was photographing a telephone pole, a man stood nearby, watching her (as she tried to ignore him) until finally asking, “Are you on some sort of treasure hunt?”
His question sparked a revelation. “Yes! I am,” she replied.
Working for design clients, Nancy had explored digital printing on cloth for upholstery. On a whim, she sent an iPhone file to her printer, and had one of her photos printed large-scale on a heavyweight, loosely woven hemp. The grid of the weave, the scale of the print, and the drape of the fabric transformed the image into something painterly, but animate, more akin to what she saw in her imagination. She continues to experiment with different printers, different fabric substrates, and later, with stitch, and weaving, disassembling and reassembling her images as her daily walks do her thoughts.
In addition to her artwork, Nancy creates custom art interiors for individual and corporate clients (most notably Whole Foods), incorporating graphic design, stage design and her digitally printed and hand-screenprinted art pieces. She also continues to work as a textile designer, most recently developing a collection of patterned wovens for Holly Hunt.
Nancy lives in Austin’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood with her husband, Rodney Gibbs, their children Clara and Atticus, a bunny named Butter, and an ever-evolving collection of books, bones, photographs and artwork.