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In Her Purpose, 2020 Comrades in Contrast, 2022

In Her Purpose, 2020 (left), Comrades in Contrast, 2022(right)

Adana Tillman (1985 -)  

About the artist:

Adana Tillman majored in Business Administration at the University of Akron but had been sewing since she was in elementary school, guided by her mother, who quilted and made clothing, as well as by her teachers at the Miller South Visual and Performing Arts School.  With a move to Atlanta after her college years, she says, her work and her whole identity blossomed. 

She used her business education to identify opportunities, to build a network, and to determine where to look for inspiration and support, especially fruitful when she joined a group of Black women artists who shared information on basics and encouraged one another to take risks.  Out of this came, first, a year-long Garden Fellowship from TILA Studios in Atlanta in 2019, providing professional development as well as the opportunity to exhibit that year at Art Basel/Miami, along with four other Black women honored with the same prize.

Then Tillman won an artists residency at the rural Hambridge Center of Creative Arts in August 2020, an Akron Soul Train residency in 2021, a residency in Vancouver, B.C., for May 2022, and most recently -- Fall, 2022 -- another residency in Berlin (Germany). She has won multiple grants to create work, which she shows at Wish Gallery and at Mint Gallery, both in Atlanta.

Where you can see more of this artist’s work

More of Adana Tillman’s fiber creations can be found at the Akron Public Library and the Akron Civic Theatre, as well as on her extensive on-line portfolio 


Comrades in Contrast

Work title, date:  Comrades in Contrast, 2022

Materials: Appliquéd fabrics on hand dyed silk with hand quilted details, 6x 8

Location at Summa:  Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, Ground Floor, Main Lobby

This work was commissioned by Summa Health specifically for this location.

About the artwork:

Adana Tillman, an Akron native who now lives and creates in Atlanta, originally began to make works, for herself and for sporadic Instagram postings, showing them only as recently as 2016.  She searches for unusual fabrics, some of which inspire her directly, others of which she then alters by dyeing, stamping, bleaching, quilting, appliquéing, embroidering, and beading (among other processes) to create even more vivid effects.  These are almost always in service of the human figure as she observes it in life around her.  She always keeps a small sketchbook on hand for quick doodles” and instantaneous impressions, and we get a sense of the immediacy of her observations in her lively figural compositions.

This image of five friends, grouped almost as though posing for an informal photo, impresses us with the distinctive features of each as well as their subtle interactions.  Obviously racial and gender diversity is one of the themes here. Variety also applies to all aspects of poses and of what we might think of as individual style choices (hair, clothing, shoes). For example, Tillman represents hair, like skin, by a witty choice of fabric.  How she cuts and places the pieces adds distinction to each figure, and we are invited to project from our own experience or imagination facial and other details that she elects to omit.  The artist tells us that she works out ideas in a larger sketchbook before employing scissors, needle, and thread (and sewing machine). Often, she finds ways to induce family and friends to pose for her as she develops her compositions.

The sheer size of this fiber piece demands our attention, which perhaps impels us to take a step back to see it whole.  And then we note and enjoy how the artist has cut her fabric to suggest -- also with a hint of the fantastic -- the personality of each figure.  She seems lately to relish especially representing footwear, which here is the most elaborate item worn by each of the five friends.  We could be excused for then stepping up close again to see if we can find labels on those amazing shoes!

In Her Purpose

Work title, date:  In Her Purpose, 2020

Materials: Appliquéd found fabric on hand-dyed textile with hand embroidery, 43 1/2” (including foot) x 45”.

Location at Summa:  Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus, ground floor, left of T elevators.

Adana Tillman was awarded the Acquisition Prize by the Summa Healing Arts Curatorial Committee after her work was exhibited in the winter 2021-22 exhibition "Elevating Our Mood: Visual Artists of Akron Black Artist Guild.," in the Summa Gallery.

About the art:

Adana Tillman works in fiber, and she works large: Her figural compositions "take charge of the room", so to speak, for their scale and also their imaginative combinations of patterns, textures, and colors that serve to convey the features and especially the style of the protagonists of her work. 

Here, slightly smaller than life-sized, a woman clasps a large tote under her right arm as she vigorously strides forward.  Her energy comes from the pose in which Tillman presents her: Advanced foot raised high and parallel to the ground, all potential motion, while she balances confidently on her right leg, all angular momentum and energy, emphasized by the rising on the ball of the foot.  And to emphasize this, the artist has dropped that foot out beyond the "frame" of the quilted background, isolated in outline against the wall on which the piece is hung.

Not only is that foot singled out by its contours: Tillman has lavished attention on the footwear, loud and patterned like a lot of sport shoes we choose these days, and coloristically a lot brighter than the rest of the figure's clothes.  What does this suggest?

Especially against the grid of the hand silk-screen and quilted (back)ground, the energetic stride and the almost silhouetted figure, while dynamic and almost off balance, comes across as solid, self-contained, confident.  As she often does in her textile figures, Tillman leaves facial features to the beholder's imagination, while details of hair, garments, accessories are expressed by the fabrics that she chooses and sometimes further manipulates to suggest the distinctive personalities.  In this, Adana Tillman's figures become characters, actors on a stage: Carefully costumed -- look at the contrasting patterns and colors in the shirt, the vest, the pants -- and deliberately posed, this woman with her close-cropped hair goes about her business without paying us the least bit of attention.  Whatever her purpose -- and one might break up the word pur(po)se to account for that big satchel -- she proceeds intently.  We might want to approach this work more closely to note details of the artist's quilting, sewing and occasional hand-stitching, but this figure is not really interested in us. 


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