“Oscars: Who Puts Your Zipper In?” by Lesia Sochor
“Oscars: Who Puts Your Zipper In?” by Lesia Sochor
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I heard Lesia Sochor speak at a Pecha Kucha Talk in November, and it stayed with me. Speaking of the recent series she’d been working on, her parting statement that night was, “I see ‘Repair’ as a call to action, not to just fix material things, but to mend our ruptured world, one stitch at a time.”

Sochor was born in Philadelphia to Ukrainian immigrant parents. Her mother was an accomplished seamstress and so Lesia learned about sewing by observing her mother working; she began making her own clothes in her 20s, and sewing imagery became an inspiration for much of her art.

Sochor moved to Maine in the ’70s, after getting her BFA from Philadelphia College of Art, and then a sojourn in Woodstock, New York, where she continued to study art and found a thriving artistic community that was very open to new ideas and new people; it became a take-off point in her art life.

After following her cousin up to Maine during the “Back to the Land” movement happening then, Sochor took up rustic living with an exhilarating pioneer spirit, back when the Belfast area was “nothing but chicken factories.” In 1980, she and Richard Norton and Michael and David Hurley founded Artfellows, a co-op gallery that was the first gallery in Belfast. It became a hub for vibrant and influential artists and shows that ended up inspiring the trend in art and galleries in the midcoast.

In 45 years as a painter and working artist, Sochor has taught art classes, workshops, and artist residencies. During the time she was raising small children, she also did book cover illustrations and published several children’s books.

She has had a studio at her home that has evolved over the years; with the help of her woodworker husband, more natural light and functionality have been added. She has a deep appreciation for how vital a studio space can be to an artist. “We have to have our space, it’s our sanctuary.”

She has been keeping technology and other types of endeavors at bay to allow for precious painting time. Projects like learning and playing the ukulele for her grandkids on FaceTime are taken up during the evening hours, to reserve daylight hours for the studio.

Sochor’s paintings have featured women and sewing. It began with what has become an iconic symbol — a spool of thread — a personal connection and homage to her female ancestors in its humble simplicity, and then, to Sochor, symbolic of a connection to all of humanity — “we all share a common thread.” The painting of spools of pink thread shows how some meanings have changed. The color pink has meant a girly-girl sweet color, but now it has come to mean something different — like the “Code Pink” protestors using it as a statement of female strength and voice.

Figures, fashion and clothing construction imagery are aimed at asking how clothing makes a person feel, how provocative or political or personal clothing can be. “Who puts your zipper in?” is inspired by the Oscars — the one-night expense and craziness of haute couture.

“Being a feminist doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t look feminine,” Sochor says. Being fashionable or having a sense of style can be an expression or statement of the person.

The dress form — a traditional female form — along with store-window mannequins have become subjects. Women artists who’ve had strong styles in appearance — like Louise Nevelson, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe — have inspired her. For these paintings, she adhered pieces of tissue dress patterns to the canvas, then painted a dress design with oils thinned with turpentine; what were pattern directions became her own words.

Sochor says she’s completely involved in the concept of repairing, or fixing, wounds. She began the “Repair” series about 10 years ago, when the financial crisis was going on and the Occupy movement. The needle — a tiny but powerful tool — was at one time considered a woman’s most prized possession, kept in a pouch or case and carried with her. The thread — in one painting red and in another blue — symbolizes the USA dicotomy.

The idea of “repair” has led to Sochor’s discovery of the Japanese “boro” technique of stitching for repairing or mending fabric, stitching pieces together or pulling together tears, and prolonging the life of a garment — repurposing, recycling and “no waste.”

Some of the first images were slits softly colored with needle and thread “sewing” the openings. The idea of (denim) jeans has become a kind of metaphor and a call to action, with the feeling of desperation to do something in our current political situation. As Sochor began looking for the best way to show the jean texture, she came across a set of “Miniris” wax drawing sticks that were 60 years old and had come from her father-in-law, a hobby artist. Sochor’s use of the sticks creates a soft fabric feeling, and they work beautifully with the texture of the paper; they could smear or be wet in interesting ways. Sochor appreciates that these came from family and that those old materials could still be useful. She then added watercolor, and then the thread and the needle are done with gouache.

Exploring different techniques to find the right material for a particular work is a journey worth the travel for Sochor, and she shares the yearning to “make” things, hand work in this modern digital age. She is speaking with an artist’s voice to “mend” the tears in our world.

To hear her actually speaking and view a sampling of her paintings, visit www.lesiasochor.com.

The egg is another iconic symbol, and “Pysanka,” a Ukrainian tradition of decorating eggs, has been both a subject in Sochor’s paintings and also a technique she has taught. With this theme, Sochor will have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, called “Pysanka: Symbol of Renewal,” to be on view from March 21 through August 2.