Mixed-Media Artist Lily Mueller Answers Four Questions

Lily Mueller Photo by Amber Deery

Presented by Equity Bank

Just three years after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute, mixed-media artist Lily Mueller had her debut solo exhibit at Weinberger Fine Art this summer. 

The Kansas City native, whose father is an architect and whose Nicaraguan mother loves fashion, channels a ’60s vibe through vibrant works of silk satin, organza, and cotton, all of which are hand-dyed.

The quilting seems to give each abstract piece a rhythm that almost makes it seem three-dimensional.

Says Mueller, “I view the quilting part of my practice as an extra element of composition. It gives each pattern/composition more of a “lived in” look while referencing retro design yet still feeling contemporary. The way I decide to quilt a piece usually depends on the pattern already happening. I start by tracing the shapes that already exist and the quilting eventually takes on its own pattern. It is one of the most satisfying parts of my whole process because I never know exactly how the finished quilt is going to look. 

“There are other instances where I finish the top of the quilt and decide there is enough movement happening,” she continues. “In those cases, I prefer to finish the work with simpler quilting such as stitching straight across. In other words, I think it is important to let each work breathe and tell you what exactly it needs.”

As a 2020 BFA graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, what has it been like going from student to artist/business person?
The transition was very abrupt. We went into Covid lockdown when I was finishing my last semester. Classes continued over Zoom but everyone was on their own. At that time, I decided I was going to push myself to keep making and use that time to really grow as an artist. I didn’t have very specific goals, but I knew I wanted to try my best to share my work with the world. I feel very lucky that I am now exhibiting at Weinberger. This opportunity has encouraged me to make new work and keep trying new things. It has also been wonderful having my former professors go from teachers to mentors/friends. They have taught me so much, and I would not be in this position without them. 

Why do you hand-dye your fabrics?
Hand dyeing was the first thing I learned at KCAI, and I instantly fell in love with it. I’ve always been a very color-driven maker but never realized how particular I could be with it. I work with several different kinds of fabrics and dyeing gives me the freedom to make different fabrics, different colors. 

Since dyeing takes time, it also allows me to think through color stories. Sometimes I dye one color and realize that the color I have planned next might not work as well as I thought, and sometimes it’s the opposite. I also come across “happy accidents.” Dyeing leaves room for me to experiment with colors in my art practice. 

Where and how do you like to shop for your fabrics?
I always buy my fabric from Dharma Trading Co. I found them through the KCAI Fiber department and really love their products. I also buy all of my dying supplies through them. My orders typically consist of cotton print cloth, silk organza, silk velvet, and silk satin. All the fabric comes ready to dye. I use these types of fabrics because they consist of natural fibers which works with precision mix dyes—not to mention they are also just beautiful fabrics! Having the different sheens and textures brings a lot of variety to a composition and gives me another fun design element to play with. 

You live and work in Kansas City. How has this community nurtured you creatively?
 My parents could tell I loved art from a very young age, so they kept me busy trying all different kinds of art programs/classes in Kansas City. Being exposed to these kinds of programs helped me feel more comfortable expressing my creativity. The more classes I take, the more people I meet, the more inspired I become. 

Something I really enjoy about the art community in Kansas City is how supportive everyone is of one another. People really make it a priority to show up for local art, and I think that has nurtured me the most of all. Also just having wonderful parents who have encouraged me to follow my passion my whole life. It helps to have people in your life who believe in you.