Queen of Hearts: Heather Ujiie
“Resurrection” ©2011 Heather Ujiie
Heather Ujiie is an impassioned, collaborative designer with silvery hair in two tight buns, one securely fastened on each side of her head. Her mode of dress is arresting, often strong combinations of red, black and white, a bit of the “Queen of Hearts.” Not an ounce of royal imperiousness about her, though. Instead, you find a committed artist and caring teacher who readily admits to wearing her heart on her sleeve.
I once co-taught design with Heather at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia. That is to say we bumped into each other and said, “Why not combine an interior design studio and a textile design studio and see what happens?” We both knew it would be extra work, a spontaneous side bar to separate studios. Yet enough students gamely signed on and it all worked out quite well.
Heather is the other half of a husband and wife “Dynamic Duo” (see “Warp Speed”). Her husband, Hitoshi Ujiie, emphatically disavowed the label of textile designer. Ms. Ujiie also wants to make it clear that she’s a designer/artist who happens to often work with textiles. If there seems to be a theme of concern about typecasting here, my guess it is that these two simply want to remain unbridled in the choice of media used to pursue their larger, artistic quests.
Indeed, Heather’s artistic focus is about to transition into large-scale installation pieces that incorporate kinetic images, sound, and other technologies. Her textile work itself is heavily invested in the capabilities of her husband’s pioneering digital print technologies that transformed the scope of her work, dramatically. “It changed my life,” she says.
“Cry Wolf” Textile wall hanging by Heather Ujiie (Detail)
“Cry Wolf” 2009
Digital inkjet print on cotton canvas @ approx. 11′ high x 40′ wide
Heather Ujiie’s hand-drawn re-interpretation of a 19th century Toile De Jouy wallpaper pattern for “Cry Wolf” (detail)
Heather Ujiie fills us in, “I was raised in a rather atypical American household, to a family of artists in Greenwich Village, New York City, in the 1970’s. Both parents are artists, and my father was a brilliant, charismatic painter and professor. He came from a Russian Jewish immigrant family, and my mother’s family is all of all Syrian descent. This schism in background could be part of the reason for such lively arguments and intellectual debates in my childhood, and my thirst for knowledge.”
Her monumental piece, “Cry Wolf,” is based on a 19th century Toile De Jouy wallpaper, that she created by isolating a few scenes then manipulating the color and scale into a “magical neon narrative on fabric.” Her process is a fusion of several methods, including hand painting, drawing and digital. “Working large-scale has enabled me to actualize my visions, but it has been very labor intensive and costly,” she explains. “Cry Wolf” will be featured at the FiberPhiladelphia 2012 festival opening this Saturday.
You would think Heather Ujiie is maxed out as a designer and teacher running between studio and teaching obligations but…
“I’m one of those people who truly adores teaching. It’s what I know I was meant to do. I love the growth process of the students and the synergy with my own work. I want to promote students and help. Teaching makes me happy…feel alive.”
When it comes to her faculty work and academic politics, she doesn’t hold back her opinions, “I always put my foot in my mouth.” She’s constantly looking out for what’s best for her students. Generally, she’s operating at the outer reaches of her art and teaching, sometimes on the road home at 9 PM, driving that extra mile.
Students are very lucky to have Heather Ujiie as their teacher.
She’s all heart.
Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist and teacher based in Philadelphia, PA. He is writing a graphic novel on Al Capone to be published on Kindle.
Brin’s fine art rowing poster site: www.brushstrokesrowing.com/gallery
Art and strategic design for a bully-free Philadelphia (“B. Free.”) (http://bfreephiladelphia.wordpress.com).
Ms. Ujiie maintains ties with the textile industry including Flavor Paper: