Knotty by Nature

Crocheted characters as artistic expression.

The figures stand silent all around the room, evoking the sense of a telepathic, otherworldly cocktail party. Their wardrobes are all equally bizarre, yet the materials are completely familiar—the yarns typically woven into scarves, hats, and mittens now make up an entire being. These companions seem straight out of fantasy; their horns, snouts, and eyes are fuzzy and soft, almost cozy. You are encouraged to touch them—but are you too uncomfortable to reach out?

This is the art of Zac Monday, MFA ’10—his “monsters,” as he calls them. Many were made throughout his time as a visual arts graduate student, using any and every spare moment he had.  “Crochet is an incredibly versatile and portable medium,” he says. “I can be sitting on a bus, busy making any one of these figures. Older ladies might ask what I’m making—they certainly get intrigued when I say, ‘a tusk’ or ‘a horn.’”

Monday’s creative use of crochet stems from the folk art movement, where art is made with everyday materials readily accessible to everyone. His mother taught him how to crochet before he pursued an undergraduate degree in his home state of Virginia.

“I didn’t like crochet at first because of how much patience it requires—and I didn’t have any,” he says. “But I did appreciate how it was passed down from the women in my family, this selfless act they performed to ‘warm’ their communities.”

Patience prevailed, and crochet eventually became a large part of Monday’s artistic expression, along with drawing, video, music, and mysticism. Yet crochet is where he is at his most playful and experimental, actively avoiding the constrictions of detailed plans and exacting patterns. Instead, he tries out his own formulas in his work, wondering what might happen if he suddenly skipped a row, or started crocheting in a different direction.

The exploratory approach is similar to his life’s progression thus far. After UC San Diego professor Jennifer Pastor encouraged him to join the visual arts program, he took up artist’s residencies in places like Iceland, where he dove deep into the study of shamanism and the role of masks and costumes in various cultures, research that is all reflected in his art. Now based out of Los Angeles, he continues to push the limits of what kind of objects and statements can be made from simple pieces of yarn.

“UC San Diego let me play with unorthodox materials,” he says, “but also brought out my conceptual side as an artist.”

At his shows, for instance, Monday often dresses performers in his crochet works, bringing the art to life. The figures take on specific character traits with unique movements and mannerisms. They dance, walk around, and even mingle with attendees. In this way, those who take in his art shows aren’t just viewers, they are participants. Monday is fascinated by this kind of interaction with his work—not just giving audiences something to look at, but evoking a response from the viewer and maybe even affecting their outlook.

“I call them monsters because I see our interaction with them as testing ourselves,” he says. “At first, they might seem off-putting, but as you get over that and grow more curious about who they are, how they act, and why, that process may translate to how we acknowledge each other, our fellow humans, and maybe help encourage a better understanding of those who might look or act differently than us in everyday life.”