Tristan Robin Blakeman became a quilt artist almost by accident. In the midst of his 30 years spent in the theatre as a director, actor and costume and set designer, he needed a quilt for a show…and so he made it himself. It was love at first stitch. In the few years since that first creation, Tristan has worked full time as a quilt artist. His work has won prizes in exhibitions across the United States.
In the quilting world, there are ‘traditional’ patterned quilts, and free-form ‘art quilts’; Tristan has been described as a ‘traditional art quilter.’ He starts with classic block patterns; then the block becomes his medium for communicating a specific mood or story by the way he abstracts the original pattern. “I don’t like labeling myself,” Tristan says, “Taking myself too seriously can spoil all the fun. But if I had to label my work, I guess you could say I treat a quilt like a piece of abstract expressionism.”
Tristan’s quilts are sometimes “quilts within quilts.” He takes one type of pattern, and combines it with another, as if stitching together not only the blocks themselves, but the contrasting styles of the different shapes. Shapes that might seem incongruous together find harmony with Tristan’s needle and thread.
Another important dimension to his work is his bold use of color. “The one rule I follow is: Break the Rules,” he explains. “I think the worst thing to teach people who are beginning to make quilts is that ‘this color goes with this one but not this other one.'” Pushing the proverbial envelope with color combinations that are surprisingly pleasing to the eye helps give Tristan’s quilts their recognizable look.
His extensive training and experience in theatre seems to lend an element of drama to his craft. Having designed sets and their accompanying costumes within the context of a particular emotion or event, Tristan is sensitive to the ways that color and form can communicate specific intentions. He draws upon this experience and instinct in his fabric art. “Sometimes I watch a play,” he says, “and there will be a certain color sky against a certain type of bridge, or I look at how a costume gleams upon a sofa that sits against a certain wall, and I’m blown away. I try to inject that same dramatic quality into my quilts. I want people to walk away thinking, ‘I never quite thought of that before, but now that I have, it makes perfect sense!'”