Paola Zanda Textile Artist

Discuss the importance of abstract and minimalism in our current work.

Although I had good results with the figurative, I was not fully satisfied. I distinguished myself for quality and execution, but it seemed to me that I was proceeding in a field that had already been followed and used by most. After attending a Master Class with Linda Colsh, I had the lighting to find my way. Abstract and minimalism gave me the possibility of creative freedom not tied to any form of expression or messages. My passion for colour, the search for balance between shapes, space and chromaticity, led me to the results of a chromatic dynamism with a strong visual impact. I managed to find my style.


You take increasingly more complicated shapes – How has this made you adapt your techniques?

I had a six-year seamstress school education. In which I learned and practised all the techniques of tailoring. I combined these techniques with Patchwork. Knowing the textures of the fabrics, I can model and combine my shapes with a piecing cured to the minimum terms. It’s a personal challenge, and I don’t accept flaws. Rather I do the work again. Deepening my knowledge of the weft and the warp of the fabric allows me to dare more and more complicated shapes. But this involves hours and hours of study and practice.


How has your former work as a florist influenced your use of colour?  Give one or two examples to explain this.

The florist was a child’s wish. I was born with a needle in my hand. Thanks to the family, I lived among the fabrics, and I immediately learned to sew and embroider. When I had to choose my profession, the love of sewing prevailed and I started training as a seamstress. I was fortunate to have a beautiful garden full of flowers. I learned to know them and appreciate all their species.

Their colours and elegant shapes fascinated me. I collected them and created harmonious compositions that decorated our home. Maybe that’s why my ease of colour matching comes out and allows me to find the right shades when I dye my fabrics.

I did some works working in series with the theory of colours, for example, warm, cold, primary, secondary etc. I matched them quickly without using the colour wheel. It is probably a gift received from my flowers.


How did you get involved with Fifteen by Fifteen?

In 2017 I had my first personal exhibition in the Luberon. I had a huge room available, so I presented my evolution from figurative to abstract works. In Luberon, the shows are in various villages, and it is difficult for artists to visit the other one.

We organize ourselves with the visits before the opening and one morning among the various artists I met and showed my work to Chantal Guillermet. Back home, I receive an email from her asking me if I was interested in being part of the international group of fifteen by fifteen. We met then in Birmingham at F.O.Q., where I also met other group members, and then my collaboration began with them.

Discuss one of the resent challenges Fifteen by Fifteen has stretched you and your art.

The challenges we discuss and choose, sometimes become very demanding: you find yourself faced with white canvas syndrome, without ideas. But then you realize that even if you don’t like the theme, your artistic disposition wakes up and leads you to create unpredictable subjects. It’s nice to discover with the revelations how the others interpreted the same topic. I like working in series, developing the same theme in various aspects and techniques. Freedom of choice allowed me to use processes that I would never have dared, and in some cases, I am surprised at myself.

How valuable are the Fifteen by Fifteen challenges to you personally?

My turn towards the abstract and minimalism lead me both with the time of study and realization to no more prolonged use other techniques, materials and subjects. I miss this a little, and I found my relief valve with the work with Fifteen by Fifteen group. Here I can use and deepen the techniques learned in the various courses I followed with international artists. There is always something to learn.


Discuss the importance of being a member of Fifteen by Fifteen to you.

Being part of an international group is essential for personal development both from the human and artistic side. You have other visions and opinions that can help you evolve and maybe find solutions. Besides, group work teaches discipline, respect for time and deliveries. The distance keeps you in touch with the media, but it’s nice to meet at the festivals and get to know each other in person. All fifteen will be difficult, but who knows one day it could happen maybe with a big exhibition. Time will tell.

Sainte Marthe

Do you exhibit together?

When there is an opportunity, we exhibit our works together. But we can’t all be there. One or two take care of organizing the exhibition in their country. We make shipments and then the organizer takes care of installation and presentation. We have exhibited in Mexico City, Suzdal in Russia and the next one in the Netherlands.

Falling Shapes

Do you exhibit, solo?  If so, take a recent exhibition you have be involved are to be involved in.

I am preparing an important personal exhibition of ten large format pieces. The theme always concerns the study of bark but under a particular aspect. Unfortunately, we are currently subjected to the Covid-19 problem, and I don’t know if it will go through. We have cancelled several exhibitions, and we don’t see how evolution will be. Since I work on large formats and my piecing technique takes a long time, I have, to carefully divide, the exhibitions and my work.

Deep Blue detail

Expand on how you have use bark to develop your work.

I love nature. I am lucky enough to live in a village surrounded by woods. I like to observe trees and their bark, how they change depending on the light and the weather. I take numerous pictures. I enlarge the details then I draw sketches until I find abstract shapes that inspire me to create a new design. Then I proceed on to the study of colours. Once, the right spatial and chromatic balance has been found. I move on to textile execution. First, I dye the fabrics with Procion MX creating all the necessary shades. Then I begin the work of assembling the top. All is in piecing technique, absolutely No appliqué. Then I end with the quilting and the finishes for hanging.


Discuss how you present you work?

Patchwork is a micro world. It is not yet recognized as an art. If we talk about patchwork, everyone imagines the traditional and does not know all the aspects that textile can create. Here in Switzerland, there are few possibilities, and if you want to emerge, you have to go abroad. There are valid artists here too, but the opportunities are few. So you start to travel, visit the various festivals and create a small space for yourself. Take part in competitions and start exhibiting. I like human contact. In this, my teaching profession helps me a lot, and I put myself at complete disposal to explain my work to visitors. I had a couple of interviews on specialized magazines, and my name started to turn. Before I had to search, now I am contacted, and this makes me very happy. My work is understood and appreciated. When I exhibit I always bring new quilts, I don’t find it right for the people that travel, to be in front of the same ones. It also requires respect for the public.

On the technical side, I am a nullity, as far as social media is concerned I am lucky that my husband takes care of it.

Floating Shapes

Do you have a size limit to you work?

My first works had the size of 50x70cm. Then I decided to work on larger surfaces to highlight and enhance my piecing work. The largest ones reach 150x 195cm. I can’t go further because I don’t have a machine log arm and quilting becomes very demanding and tiring.


Comment on the way you use quilting to further enhance your work.

My quilting is deliberately simple, generally with close vertical lines using variegated cotton threads according to the colours of the top. That is to highlight the shapes, give depth and movement to enhance the design.


Paola Zanda

Deborah Blakeley, Melbourne, Australia

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, March 2020