ArtsApril 5, 2012 at 5:38 am

Street Art, Granny Style

Jessie Hemmons makes knitting look as badass in a gallery as it does on the Philly streets

Ishknits brightens City Hall with her hand knitted patchwork designs

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Now – April 11
The Art Gallery at City Hall Room 116, East Portal Market St. Entrance

“It’s graffiti with grandma sweaters,” says Jessie Hemmons, better known as Ishknits, about her work as Philadelphia’s yarnbomber. “Yarnbombing 101,” her first solo exhibit, combines yarn installations with photography to tell the tale of Ishknits’ latest Philadelphia escapade: knitting cozies for seats on SEPTA’s Market–Frankford subway line.

There is something playfully rebellious in all of Ishknits’ work. Using a traditionally feminine craft to enter the male–dominated world of street art, Hemmons’s concepts feel more approachable than traditional graffiti. Ishknits brings this same rebelliousness into the gallery space of City Hall. What was once the seat of the patriarchal Pennsylvania government now finds itself invaded by the femininity of knitwork.

Upon entering the exhibition, it’s hard to know where to look first. Two towering columns dominate the space, wrapped in kaleidoscopic patchworks. Soft and irresistibly cozy chairs greet visitors; the backrest of one literally invites viewers to “Take a seat.” Every usable object in the room displays the intricacies of Hemmons’s signature yarn treatment.

On the walls of the gallery hang stunning photographs by Conrad Benner that document Ishknits’ yarnbombing of three seats on the Market–Frankford line. In placing the installation on a subway train, Ishknits not only makes a particularly bold statement, but presents her work to a broader and more diverse audience than typical gallery spaces allow for. While some street art — like a seat on the subway defaced with garbled words and spray–painted silhouettes — remains far from inviting, Ishknits’ colorfully cozy yarn–graffiti encourage viewer interaction.

As residents of Philadelphia, we are lucky to have Ishknits. She’s an artist ready to cover the city in a whimsical tapestry that not only protects our buttocks from the unfriendly hardness of a subway seat, but also encourages us to begin knitting the new social fabric that Philly has long been waiting for.

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