How This Painter Transforms Canvas + Cardboard Into Stunning Art

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a woman standing in front of two pieces of artwork and next to a sculpture Artist Monica Rezman’s three-dimensional paintings and fabric sculptures are the result of an evolution of her studies in painting and textiles.

Whether crafting a sculpture to perch on the floor or embellishing a canvas destined for the wall, artist Monica Rezman approaches her work as equal parts painter and builder. “I wanted to be an architect, but I couldn’t deal with the math,” jokes Rezman, who paints, cuts, arranges and stitches fabric to create her artwork. Her intricate process stems from experiences both close to home in Chicago and across the world. 

Monica Rezman hand sewing pieces of painted canvas together

"When I don’t like something, which happens more often than you’d think, I cut it up and repurpose it," Rezman says. "The composition has to feel right."

pieces of painted fabric sewn together to create a painting hanging on a wall

The artist's multistep process for her wall hangings, such as "A Child’s Game" begins with painting canvases, to which she applies pieces of fabric sewn together.

metal containers containing paint brushes sit on a window sill

Rezman considers herself, first and foremonst, a painter. "I've just added other elements, such as sewing," she explains.

woman's hands rest upon various pieces of fabric sewn together

"I cut things up and put them back together," Rezman explains.

After studying painting and textile design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rezman continued her education in classical painting in Florence, Italy. “At the start of my career, I painted highly realistic pieces,” she says. “But after 10 years, I was so restless—the work didn’t reflect my voice.” That’s when she ditched her oil palette, fell in love with acrylics and abstraction, and started over. “There are way more feelings in this body of work: When certain colors are placed next to each other, it creates a palpable sensation,” shares the artist, who has alway mixed her own custom hues. 

Many of Rezman’s wall pieces still begin simply with paint on canvas. Then, pulling from her experience designing clothes as well as a residency in Gujarat, India—a mecca for textile arts—she introduces fabric to the mix, folding and pleating to add dimension. The hand- or machine-sewn seams are integral to the composition, as is the embroidery Rezman might apply to the surface. Some of the final pieces suggest abstracted mosaics, others deconstructed Cubist still lifes.

For her sculptures, Rezman rescues cardboard boxes from the recycling, adhering them together with hot glue before cladding the resulting form with fabric (often the burlap rice sacks readily available around her secondary studio in Merida, Mexico) that she then paints. Ancient Mayan ruins and pyramids populating the Yucatan count among the artist’s visual inspirations: “There are all these abstract forms in the landscape—like boxes piled on top of boxes—and that really blew me away,” she says.

The soaring 18-foot ceilings of her Merida studio have also inspired Rezman to scale up her sculptures, and she’s excited to figure out how to fabricate work for outdoor display. “It’s funny—it’s taken me a long time to create my own aesthetic language,” the artist says. “But after 30 years of making so much different work, I can say I’ve finally—definitely—found my groove.” 

PHOTOS: JACOB HAND