I traveled to San Francisco in October for the first time, and I immediately knew after purchasing my plane tickets that I wanted to interview someone for this series residing as a creative in the San Francisco Bay Area. I found the amazing Lily Homer’s artwork via a quick Instagram search under a San Francisco-related hashtag (I cannot remember which hashtag it was at this point in time, but I was drawn to her work and decided I wanted to meet up with her.)
The Chicago-born artist made the move to Berkeley shortly after graduating from college in 2017 at Wesleyan University where she was a Studio Art (Architecture) major with a minor in Art History. Currently working at San Francisco School of Needlework and Design, Lily is in charge of marketing and communications while also gaining experience with hand embroidery.
“I have yet to use that degree in architecture, but I have started working on my own in fiber and textiles, and incorporating a bit of what I did in my thesis, which was metalwork… I’m finding flat methods a.k.a. hand embroidery, and blending it with what I know academically about structure and three-dimensional work, so I’ve yet to pin down what I do specifically, but I kind of like it that way. It changes and has more flow to it.”
For Lily, she’s recently found inspiration in natural systems that are beyond the individual’s control, but are affected by the human race. Listing greenhouse gases and climate change as an example, Lily shared, “It makes me feel small, but simultaneously responsible and connected to other people. I’d like to reflect more on the materials I use going forward. I’d like to be more responsible in the materials that I choose. For example, with metals, where are they coming from? Are they recycled? Similar with the threads… if I’m using fancy silk threads in embroidery, what did it mean to raise the silkworms? Where did that come from? What are the implications of it environmentally?”
Lily also added that craft is an important part of her heritage and another source of inspiration: “I don’t have a place that I feel is my geographical or lineal home. My ancestors, from what I’ve gleamed, found their home in production. Across the board, we’ve got furniture makers, textile makers, paper printers, and women’s clothing makers. It seems like the people that I’ve read about and started asking my family about have all subsisted on what they could make physically, which has inspired me a lot and makes me feel like I am doing the right thing and I am in the right place.”
A recurring theme in Lily’s artwork is repetition (of both the physical and visual sort). “I find that every time I start a new piece, I am basing it around fierce repetition. I realize this work has other influence and other implications. I am learning more recently about the home handworkers economy - there are probably around 300 million people who work from home on textiles, who aren’t counted in the global GDP. In some countries, the garment industry accounts for 30% of the actual annual national income, but so many workers are not taken into account and it's difficult to investigate just how many. I think anyone who hears that can be struck by the sheer number of people whose entire livelihood is not taken into account when the government does its economic census.”
For Lily, that kind of knowledge sparks a commitment to understanding the ethics behind creating new artwork. “I know that when I create this work I need to know about the greater context of my methods and be responsible. I find myself fighting with questions about art and labor, like, ‘Why should I get to make my art in the first place?’, and I hope I to arrive at a place where I can make things with intention and not fetishize the idea of labor. I think that fetishization happens a lot in the fine arts, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. It’s a hurdle to get past, because repetition in art is so beautiful. That’s one idea I’ve been grappling with.
“The idea of mass production is related as well - I find that when I’m doing embroidery, crochet, or even welding, that there’s a physical movement that’s quite meditative. I’m hoping ultimately to access something that I think is lost in mass-produced goods that we’re just able to find so quickly, but then again recognizing that mass-production can mean accessibility. Anyone can go to IKEA and decorate their kitchen beautifully for a reasonable amount, but then does it lead to us not appreciating the goods that we have? The textile industry is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world, right behind oil. We throw out so much of what we buy without giving it proper use. Ultimately, it would seem we don’t really value the things that we own. I am getting back to appreciating raw material and trying to figure out how I can more responsibly interact with the material world and be producing rather than just consuming.”
Lily also finds inspiration in viewing the work of other renowned-artists, but finds complexity in the potential dichotomy between admiring the artist versus admiring their work. “I love the work that Mark Rothko produced - I don’t love what I’ve read about him. I’m trying to figure out how, and if, I should be separating the work from the person - I think that’s really a fascinating conversation. In creative fields, if you look at who’s famous for their work, who we value as a society for their intellectual or artistic contributions, and you look up who they are personally, odds are you’re gonna find something you don’t like. I think that this tension is hugely important to talk about, and is an ongoing problem I don’t know the answer to.”
As to my question, “Why San Francisco?”, Lily commented that she was still figuring it out. “I moved here right after I graduated for an internship at the de Young Museum, and then I found this great job in communications. I’m slowly making friends, but really my whole family is in the Midwest. It really is an extension of the feeling, ‘What does home mean? Where is my home? Is my home just the people that I love? Can I make a home anywhere?’
“I live in Berkeley and work in San Francisco. I absolutely love Berkeley. I fucking love Berkeley. My favorite hike is ten minutes from my house. It’s early October now, and I’m used to the impending doom of winter, and now year-round I can be outside enjoying myself. The East Bay is unbelievable.”
The Bay Area presents its own unique challenges and struggles, but Lily ultimately finds it to be a great place. “The natural beauty compared to Chicago - I’ve never seen anything like this. I love the people, and I’ve met some really wonderful people who were born here and I admire and respect.”
If she had the opportunity to practice her art anywhere else in the world, Lily would choose Fiesole, Italy: “It overlooks Florence and is so ancient - I’ve only been there once, and I didn’t want to leave. I was Bat-Mitzvah-ed in Florence, and my most recent piece is based on the Orthodox temple there, which was used by the Nazis in World War II as a horse stable, and so it has a lot of history. There are still bullet holes up on the bimah where the Torah is kept - it’s a crazy, historically-packed building, so I’d love to be able to travel there regularly. I weirdly feel like I have a lot of memories of that area even though it really has nothing to do with my family.”
As for my favorite part of every interview in this series, I asked Lily what piece of advice she would give to other artists. “Do what you like to do, even if you can’t do it for your 9-5 job. I get home around 6pm every day, and I’m exhausted, but if I can make myself do a half hour of what I love, and I’ve heard of this for writers as well, if you can force yourself to do a little bit every day, eventually you’re gonna end up with something. Keep exercising that part of your brain, your creative urge. Years from now you won’t look back and say, ‘I wish I had kept that up.’”
You can follow Lily on Instagram here.
You can visit Lily’s website here.