If you’ve visited our Studio in the last few weeks, you’ve met Alicia Brancato.
Her work is unmissable, hung right at our door, to greet you with color and creativity – the perfect welcome to any shop that supports local crafters. Her pieces spring right out from the wall and into view. They are 3-D sculpted paintings, crocheted from her imagination onto canvas, an expression of her – as she describes it – “instinctual nature.”
“I like to think I’m sculpting, but with yarn and a hook.”
Alicia grew up surrounded by her grandma’s work, a woman who crocheted a blanket for every person in her family. When Alicia would visit in the summers, her grandma always had a project underway, but it wasn’t until college that Alicia was interested in learning herself. She started with the familiar, scarves and blankets, and it wasn’t until a move to NYC that she found new territory in fiber as well.
She found community in a knit/crochet group at her work, who met weekly during lunch. A new friend, Jacqui, introduced her to the world of amigurumi – crocheted animals. Amigurumi: The Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures. From two Japanese words, ‘ami’ meaning ‘crocheted or knitted’, and ‘nuigurumi’ meaning ‘stuffed doll’. Alicia and Jacqui did a Lion Brand crochet-a-long to our ‘Best Bunny Pattern’, and in Alicia’s words:
“I was hooked, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t stop after that.”
Once she became more familiar with the patterns, she was able to let them go and work more organically. She could improvise based on an idea, and eventually, didn’t need a guide at all. While she might make a rough sketch at the start of a project, any plan gets abandoned almost immediately, as Alicia follows impulse after impulse until she knows it’s done. She credits the “more forgiving” nature of crochet for accommodating her style.
“Once people knew I could make any animal, I started getting requests to crochet people’s pets, but miniature of course. It was difficult, but exhilarating trying to copy a photo of an animal and crochet it’s likeness. It sort of evolved from there.”
Her Inspiration: street art, paintings, films.
Street art, yarn bombing in particular, introduced Alicia to the transformative possibilities of crochet in everyday life. “I love walking around a corner and seeing a tree covered in yarn patterns, or a familiar cartoon character that was crocheted and tied up on a gate. That was when I realized yarn could be art.” Visits to New York museums were influential in Alicia’s growth toward ‘crochet paintings’.
The Whitney Biennial featured a handful of fiber art pieces that were sculptural in nature, and the idea started to work on Alicia. A trip to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden offered a fresh opportunity to appreciate Frida’s love of the natural, and Alicia thought: “I make animals and flowers all the time, why not try to recreate Frida’s self portrait into crochet?” She’d been playing with the idea of 3D, having recently made a spring wreath for her grandma with flowers & birds. Remembering the Harry Potter films, which include the imaginative element of moving portraits, Alicia’s vision coalesced: “I wanted to showcase a painting that was 3D.” And so, ‘Brush to Hook Reimagining: Ode to Frida’ came to life.
“And just like my crochet animals, it evolved into something else.”
‘Wild Beauty’ came soon after, “in the simplest way.” Alicia was “thinking of Frida’s self portrait actually, and how the severeness of her face and body language juxtapose the wildlife around her. So the tiger is almost a representation of Frida behind the mask.”
The two pieces complement each other, honoring Frida’s legacy of inspiring artists who’ve come after her, and speaking to Alicia’s creativity as an artist in her own right. Alicia’s process has developed over time, but as any organic thing, it isn’t fixed or ‘perfect’. She still runs into ‘writer’s block’, needing to step away from projects for a time to clear her head, or wait to be re-inspired. She put aside her Frida portrait for a month, and has a couple waiting now on the fringes of her attention.
On the process of getting un-stuck: “I don’t necessarily overcome it, but I need space from it. I need the spark of interest to come back. Or I need to be brave and overcome the fear that’s making me hesitant to continue. I’m very driven by my emotions, so if I’m in a funky mood, no work gets done. I find I get the most work done when I’m inspired and excited, so change of pace, a change of scenery, and a change in myself is the key.”
Her Dream: A piece hanging in a museum, or a gallery of her own.
“I literally want one room, and I want to go crazy on it and do anything and everything I’ve always wanted to do.”
The best way to follow Alicia’s work and stay up to date on future showings of her work is to follow her on instagram: @aliciacait. She’ll be opening an Etsy shop in 2018, and will share progress via her account, & you can also message her with any questions or commission opportunities.