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Monday 24 July 2017

What Lies Beneath: Rocco by Cayce Zavaglia

Rocco by Cayce Zavaglia
Rocco by Cayce Zavaglia

Niall MacMonagle

Samplers and fire screens belong to a more pious, different era. But Cayce Zavaglia has made embroidery her own.

Born Valparaiso, Indiana, Zavaglia says there wasn't much of "Paradise Valley" about it - "it is flat and full of corn fields". Aged one, her family moved to Australia, later to Dallas, aged 13. She said: "It was 1984 - the era of big money, big oil, big hair, a great culture shock for this little girl from Sydney."

Cayce/Casey? Is there an Irish connection? "Yes, my roots on my mother's side go all the way back to Ireland and my mum and grandma taught me a bit of cross stitch and embroidery as a kid but I am self-taught.

"I like to think that my work will resonate with Irish readers and the long-standing history of the handmade in Ireland and the wool industry."

Zavaglia trained as a painter but switched to embroidery when she began having children.

Embroidery "is non-toxic and I could work in bits and spurts. Fiber is definitely the F-word of the art world. I hate the title 'fiber artist'". Between 2001-2008 I had four kids and worked from home in St Louis, Missouri. Each piece used to take six months to complete; now 6-8 weeks. She will not portray celebrities, nor will she accept commissions.

This portrait is of her son Rocco, aged eight. She said: "It's really important for me to portray those I know best, only family and friends. My way of documenting becomes a visual diary.

''I had never sewn Rocco before and he was thrilled to see himself at the entrance to my 2014 exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis.

"For the longest time, the art world has kept a distance from this kind of work and it's natural for me to want the viewer to approach the work with the assumption that it is a painting and then a medium magic occurs when they discover it's embroidery."

Sometimes a two-sided frame shows front and back.

The back is "abstract, slightly disturbing but we each possess two sides - the side that ages and everyone sees and the side we let few or no one see".

She really has it all sewn up.

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