Artist Spotlight on SF-based wire sculptor Kristine Mays
The Little Black Dress (LBD) is a staple in most women’s closets. Kristine Mays’ LBD hugs her hips, scoops her breasts, and is feminine. Yet despite its flirtatiousness, it is durable and hard, industriously woven with coal-black wires.
When constructing a garment, movement and flow are critical for any designer, and Mays’ end goal is the same. But her process is different. There are no live models, no preliminary or final draping, and no last minute alterations to make sure the zipper runs. There are no chiffon or cotton jersey fabrics. Instead, Mays molds the wires, contouring a body that only she can see and feel. “I envision a 3-D form, and put together the puzzle in my mind,” she describes.
Kristine Mays, portrait by Jeremy Joven
Ninety hours later the life size wire sculpture stands on its own. Freeze-framed by the metal, the wind presses tightly against the female body that is absent underneath. Mays’ dress hangs suspended in time. The copper is immobile, but the dress is alive. This drama and elegance contrasts Mays’ own simple wardrobe. Although jeans and t-shirts serve as her daily “uniform,” her sculptures vary and can fill many different closets. “They represent all women,” she says.
Mays has always been interested in the human form and how humans represent themselves through fashion. As a kid, she sketched the facial expressions of strangers on the 15 bus line, riding from Visitacion Valley and the Bayview District, before the T-Line connected San Francisco’s African-American communities with the postcard scenes of the city. Completely self-taught, Mays found the tools and materials at a downtown bead store that enabled her to “capture the air, the moment of movement.” Strong like her mother and the women whom Mays admires deeply, her pliers bend the sturdy wires. The wires contrast the delicate stereotype women wear in society, symbolized by the dress her maternal caregivers donned. May believes we define ourselves with clothing, claiming “what you wear gives others a glimpse of who you are.”
Our clothes, and Mays’ dresses, convey a message and a personality: the seductress, the innocent child, the working girl, the ordinary loner. But where humans can change our outer appearance to match our inner mood, Mays’ metal sculptures reveal the movement of emotions (along with the air). Inside the cage created by the wires breathes a personality, “the story of women with tremendous talents lost because that talent wears a skirt,” she explains. Mays invites viewers to touch the dresses when looking at her collection, to try and hold the draped lace skirts or the collars her meticulously threaded sundresses. Their durability surprises people. “People are surprised. “The pieces look fragile, but really, they’re solid,” Mays describes her artwork, and the women who allegorically correlate to each garment.
Constantly grateful for each opportunity, Mays confesses that she never expected to turn her passion into a career. Together, the pieces of her collections (like the most recent Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) are “my dream wardrobe,” Mays says. Each dress is different, but they are all the same woman on different days. They are all Mays.
Learn more about Bay Area artist Kristine Mays
on her website: www.kristinemays.com