The punch needle community is filled with creative, talented makers who constantly amaze us as they create beautiful works of art and push the medium in new directions. In this series, we go "behind the skeins" to learn about various artists and feature their work to our community. Read on to be inspired!
I first saw Liv Aanrud's work in 2022, on display during a gallery walk in the Frogtown neighborhood of Los Angeles. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen her pieces before and was thrilled to find such a prolific LA-based artist working with punch needle, rug hooking and tufting techniques! Liv's style is distinctive, and the scale at which she works is impressive and visually impactful. With a fine art background, her work is truly the epitome of "painting with yarn", causes the viewer to look twice and challenges preconceived notions of what a painting can be. Read on to learn about Liv's work, creative practice and inspiration!
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. What led you to the work you do today?
I started out studying painting, first at the University of Wisconsin--Eau Claire, then later at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers where I got my Masters. I actually didn't get into textiles until the last few weeks of Grad school. I'd found a rug my grandmother had made that, to me, looked like a perfect abstract painting-- exactly the kind of intuitive, direct, uninhibited "outsider" art that I was drawn to at the time: Forrest Bess, Thornton Dial, the quilters of Gee's Bend, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein...I had a kind of lull in my studio after my MFA show, so I spent this time focusing on sections of the rug, I spent most of my time looking at the back of it and making paintings based on these studies. Eventually, I wondered how this rag rug was made.
This quickly led to me watching a quick video and teaching myself how to rug hook. Hookers tend to pride themselves in even loops, changing direction deliberately, and are really technique driven. I wasn't as concerned with this, I thought of it as mark making, painting by other means. I started out big, like 8 x 3 feet, ha ha. I think I always wanted to get lost in the process, like that would generate the piece. One part fabric, one part anxious, distracted mind....voila!
I worked this way for about 10 years, large and small, abstract and figurative, until about 3 1/2 years ago when I started punch needle and tufting. This made it possible to fit more detail and texture into a smaller area. I have been able to get more specific with the kind of symbols and ornamentation I put on the figures in my artwork.
How did you get started with Punch Needle? What about this technique, or working with fiber, that appealed to you?
I did punch needle initially, before I got my tufting gun, and at a certain point, I thought I was proficient enough to ditch the needle and graduate to the faster gun. What I realize now is that there is a time and headspace for both: I use the needle when I need to slow down and do detail, or when I want to let my mind wander, and the gun when I have a plan and need to cover ground. Also, tufting guns are picky, they decalibrate easily and sometimes break, so a punch needle is way more reliable!
I also tend to like repetitive physical work. I don't like sitting still and I love to tell stories, yep, you read it, I love a good yarn.
Speaking of material, there's this great Shari Uraquart quote where she talks about switching from painting to textiles, specifically working larger:
"When I started making the hooked pieces larger, I noticed the candy-like opulence of color available in fiber — partially because of the depth of the color in this medium. It was no longer paint sitting on top of the canvas, but one inch deep color. To my eye, given the variety of fibers available, the medium assimilated everything I had been striving for in my paintings, but with more intensity and purity."
We'd love to hear about your creative process. What inspires you? Do you have any practices or processes around this?
I'm from the countryside so I love nature and kind of grew up studying it in a way, always outside, always looking, trying to draw what I saw. Now that I'm in a big wild city, I see signs, graffiti, plants, flowers... constant visual information. Nearly everyone in Los Angeles has tattoos so I'm always looking at people and what stories they want to tell with their bodies. What do we as onlookers see and interpret? It's like a personality puzzle. Add to that an unending rolodex of images on our phones via Instagram--for better or worse, we are exposed to thousands of images a day---So the bodies in my work become a framework for all of these objects: shells, birds, smiley faces, butterflies, peace symbols, fruit...and while they refer to specific things for me, the viewer gets to decode and recontextualize them.
What is your favorite part about your work?
I love when I start a piece, it's very open: I have the composition of the bodies, but nothing else. At this point, punch needling and tufting are most like drawing, I can jump around to whatever interests me the most. As it gets more filled in, it can get more tedious---i see that background fabric peeking through all over the place and I have to go back in and finish all my thoughts, ha ha.
What is the most difficult part about your work?
Physically, holding the tufting gun for a long time can be hard. I try to break it up by having multiple pieces to work on in stages so I can draw if I need a break, or punch needle with my hand tool to work on details. As I get older and see how small things kind of add up to an injury, I try to be conscious of how to schedule myself so I can work a lot without overworking....I'm very conscious of deadlines and how to achieve them realistically so I don't go nuts and go to the last minute..
How has your work evolved over time?
I started out as an abstract painter turned rug hooker that then ventured into tufted figuration...Lately I've been thinking of keeping a parallel drawing/painting practice to make smaller more immediate work, but overall, I think I'm just getting started with punch needle and tufting. In the last two years especially, I think I'm just hitting my stride.
What do you hope others see / gain / take away from your work?
I want to expand what people perceive to be a painting...my work is very painterly, I work with the mind of a painter and kind of see my tufting as an application of color and texture. I want to take a familiar material, yarn, and totally transmorph it into something unexpected and complex. I want people to ask "what the hell am I looking at?" at least a few times in each piece. The artist is a trickster, re-presenting the world to their audience. I aim to be tricky in the best kind of way, and I want people to smile and be curious.
Tell us about a favorite piece that you worked on, or one that had a lot of meaning to you.
I think the big diptych is pretty exciting, it's the largest piece I've done to date, (75" x 120" ) It was challenging, I couldn't really see the whole thing clearly until I was nearly done and it's kind of crazy. I just had to stick with it and trust that it would make sense! I was able to pack a lot into it, and that kind of maximalism really interests me..so if anyone wants to commission a 20 foot wall, hit me up!
Where do you see your work going in the future?
I would love to work bigger and bigger. Maybe a mural someday, mosaic or some kind of process that would be an easy translation from the tick of a stitch.
What is something that you are excited or curious about these days?
I would love to do another artist residency. I get really inspired by travel, and love to settle in and experience another place, meet friends, and exchange stories. I did one in Taiwan a few years ago and had the best time exploring that place and culture. My main problem is making time for applications and getting them in by the deadline. I'm working on it!
How can the punch needle community find you to follow and support your work?
My website is livaanrud.com
Instagram usually has the latest content via stories and posts @livaanrud
What are 3 other fun facts about yourself that you would like to share with the Punch Needle Community?
- I've had a ton of jobs--I was a telemarketer that sold house siding, a janitor, a nanny in Holland, a welder....but always working on art, and generally pretty happy...execpt when I worked retail, I cried a lot.
- I've done some stand up comedy and will eventually get organized to do some more.
- I'm going to write a series of stories someday in a book called "Liv, Me Alone."