The following article is an excerpt from Smithsonian Magazine. To read the entire article click here.
The Artist: Andrea Geer Handy grew up surrounded by farms with her two sisters in Hornby, New York. Everyone in her family knew early on that she would be an artist. She earned an MFA in painting from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a teaching certification from Nazareth College. Geer takes inspiration from the bold vision of artists like Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko.
The Craft: Geer combines digital media, paintings, prints and photographs to make the artwork that gets printed on the fabric. To her, experimentation is an important part of the process and the layering of techniques is playful and random at times. “I balance the beauty of the hands-on techniques with ideas that have become easier to execute digitally,” she says. Once the designs are created, she constructs the clothing in her studio in Rochester, New York, alongside her team. Geer says that design is a collaborative effort, and that she is very grateful to all the people who are part of this process.
The Quest: Geer believes that the continually changing technologies present new possibilities in fashion and wearables. She enjoys learning about different techniques, such as photography and jewelry making, and incorporating them with digital media. “The more I experiment outside my medium, the better I am able to articulate my ideas and the more creative I can be. Nothing is really off limits."
When I speak with Andrea Geer about her craft, her passion is palpable.
“Basically, there are three ways that I capture images…,” the fashion designer begins, before launching into detailed descriptions of her artistic process.
As she excitedly relays her method’s finer points, she projects an enthusiasm that’s inspiring and infectious. But her animated affect should come as no surprise—after all, the artful pieces she creates evoke a similar kind of dynamism.
With a BFA in graphic design and an MFA in painting from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Geer has held several posts in the art world, ranging from instruction to print making. But it’s in knitwear design that she first made her name, taking on the enterprise more than a decade ago after purchasing a knitting machine—a buy that “opened up a new world for me.”
“[Knitting] sort of blended everything I was interested in because I was able to work with texture and color, and actually just [create pieces] from the very beginning,” Geer says.
Sculptural works with vivid colors recalling Ad Reinhardt's abstract expressionist paintings, her hand-knit apparel has garnered her plaudits at art shows across the country. It’s appeared on runways and in the glossy pages of magazines. “It was wonderful,” Geer notes. And yet, five years ago, Geer was faced with a choice: continue apace in a medium she says left little room for technical growth, or lean in and purchase a computerized knitting machine.
The answer? Neither. Instead, Geer shifted her focus to a decidedly different form of technology: digital printing.
For a person who welcomes change and challenge, this new medium—which she encountered at a fabric show—presented her with an exciting opportunity to learn and grow her craft, Geer says. Inspired by her discovery, the designer excavated a college-era artwork from her attic, had it photographed, and printed the design on various leathers and fabrics—and the aesthetic stuck.
Now, a handful of years later, Geer has developed a creative process built on the aforementioned three-pronged approach: snapping images on a hulking megapixel camera (she says she’s particularly drawn to architectural elements); returning to her first love, creating traditional paintings with acrylic and canvas; and drafting drawings with an Apple Pencil and iPad on programs like Photoshop or the app Procreate.
“I don’t consider these, like, great works of art. It’s more like I’m playing,” says the ever-humble Geer of her found images and original works. “I’m having a good time with it.”
From there, Geer might digitally manipulate these elements further—for example, sometimes layering electronic drawings on photographs—until she arrives at a design that’s ready to be printed. It’s an experimental process, she notes, that sometimes yields imperfect results. “I have too many fabrics here,” Geer laughs when discussing the castoffs.
But the patterns that do make it to a dress form become true pieces of wearable art: vivacious prints trace in energetic zigzags across a sculptural top; a series of numbers creates a graphic counterpoint to a flowy poncho; bold blocks of color act as an edgy complement to a structured jacket.
Three versions of Andrea Geer’s Nikola Poncho, showcasing her different approaches to digital printing, including an original painting (left), an electric pen drawing (center), and her numerical design (right).
From fabric choice to color selection, Geer designs with flattery and comfort in mind. Shades are chosen to complement the wearer; Geer notes that many of her customers prefer more vibrant hues, but she balances her collections with pieces in neutral tones. For her fans in warmer climates, she opts for lighter-weight, gauzy cottons and shapes them into breezy silhouettes—each of which, by the way, is personally sewn by either Geer or her part-time assistant.
When we speak on the phone, Geer not only takes the daunting amount of work in stride, but she meditates on the mutually beneficial nature of her craft. “Every way I look at [designing], it’s a really positive experience in every possible way. It’s like, ‘What’s going to make people look good? What’s going to be a really great new design to be able to make?’ You know, ‘Do I want to paint? Do I want to go out and take some pictures?’”
Or does she want to try another medium? In the past, Geer has worked with polymer clay to create the buttons and brooches that have adorned her inventive knits; it’s a discipline she loves but she says she finds hard to manage alongside her bustling apparel business. She also expresses interest in working more with 3-D printing, having previously commissioned 3-D-printed elements to create more structure in her knit designs.
Geer continues to look to advances in the digital realm to push her art in fresh, exciting directions. “I’ve been doing new work because I understand a little bit of the technology,” Geer says. “And it’s like I’m able to do new things; it’s like these tools give you more ways to be an artist.”
Others may disagree with this interpretation, she notes. But the beauty of art lies in its subjectivity: what some may regard as a shift from more traditional craft, Geer sees as opportunity.
“There’s just so many things to learn, and the learning of new things is what makes this very exciting to me.”
Andrea Geer is one of the many talented artists whose exquisite pieces are part of our Art to Wear Collection. Shop her remarkable apparel, and so much more, right here.
By Sarah | November 9th, 2018 | Artful Home