Shaun Kardinal & Erin Frost Joint Artist Interview: Entangled In Embroidery

“Every artist has the occasional fit over a project, reaching moments of doubtful frustration, but having the other near, offering words of encouragement and logic, can be even more fruitful.” — Shaun Kardinal

Before Seattle artists Shaun Kardinal and Erin Frost met one another, art and creation were relatively solitary activities. Now, as romantic partners, they find in one another both artistic confidante and critic, and another with whom to share space and explore overlapping interests in geometry, collage, embroidery, and reuse. In this joint interview, both artists discuss their personal works as well as the collaborations which tie them together, both figuratively and literally.


Erin Frost

Alteration No 12
Alteration No 12 was my very first piece of this nature. It was intimidating and exhilarating to “destroy” something i had made. It’s a strong signifier of recent change, play, and exploration. Its balance and pattern are one of my favorites, visually. It wasn’t mapped, but sewn free hand, each point leading to the next, and because of that it, it maintains a loose and taught path. It flows yet is contained.” – Erin Frost

Alterotations was made for a mobile gallery project curated by Sierra Stinson in New York in 2011. For this piece, I started with a more defined pattern (the circle) and plotted growing triangles within. I wanted to play with the radiating visual, to complement the original idea of the piece. At the time, I shot the original photograph (Black Lace), I was really trying to capture the sensation of love/lust/elation where it seems you can feel your heart expand, like it exists outside of you.” – Erin Frost

Shaun Kardinal

Connotation no. 8
“This was one of the earlier pieces made for Connotations. It has a few cut-up postcards and features the shaped-collage-behind-thread I had envisioned when first starting the series. While very satisfying when it worked, the technique proved very tricky, since each piece of imagery was first cut and then spray-mounted into place for embroidering. The outwardly radiating points that touch the white paper were placed there in attempt to make the thing look like it was held together solely with thread. It worked here, but I found it distracting in other pieces and eventually left that element behind…” – Shaun Kardinal


Connotation no. 15
“This was my favorite of the series which incorporated a single, full-frame image. The design of the three orbs came to me while riding the bus one afternoon, and I was fortunate to have my Moleskine and some pens with me at the time. like most of the work in this series, the image came from a LIFE magazine published in the mid-’50s.” – Shaun Kardinal


“When we were invited to have a show at Vignettes (a series of one-night exhibits, hosted in a studio apartment), we decided that in addition to a wall of our individual works, we wanted to collaborate on something that would fill the other wall. Both of us have a history of performance self-portraiture, so it was only natural that photography would mix with our newfound love of string…

One thing we really like about this set (which we call a four-part triptych), is that the whole of it was planned out in one brief conversation, where three clearly defined visuals were discussed and sketched out in about five minutes. In the end, all three were executed exactly as originally conceived. Each was challenging in its own way, but Intercourse, the panoramic photo, was probably the most so. Wearing yarn-sewn rings around the backs of our heads and shooting without assistance from a third party, we had to remain face to face, attached at all times. One of us would hold position while the other carefully sidled over to trigger the shutter timer again. then we had just a few seconds to get back into position — a tricky thing, where we each had to make many quick, small adjustments to the angles between us, in order to keep the string taught, while maintaining eye contact.” – Shaun Kardinal

“Our Intercourse collaboration has been one of the most enjoyable projects. Process, production, and execution were all satisfying. The idea was simple, quick, and well-communicated. The process of making this piece was really what it was about: the tension that bound us, literally tied together in a delicate balance, to work together intuitively. It was interesting to see this joined effort come together, not only joining us, but our photography, performance, and embroidery [as well].” – Erin Frost

Shaun Kardinal

Your new Connotations series is remarkable. Is there an abstract philosophy behind the images or shapes you layer upon certain collages or are they merely aesthetic decisions?

“If it feels good, do it.” – Bart Simpson

With rare exception, it’s all an exercise in aesthetic. I’m very fond of design and can find myself lost in color. Over time, the works have begun to show a more consistent vision — the single graphical element dominating a landscape. Though that happened mostly organically, I was definitely impressed and inspired by the digital collage work of Mark Weaver, who often incorporates bright, bold circles in his work. the use of thread has a very specific limitation: one can only work in straight lines. to create a curve (like a bright, bold circle), one has to trick the mind with an organized series of lines, so these geometric patterns arise.

You mention that mandalas and radial compositions have provided long-time fascinations for you. What is it about them that draws your attention or interest?

It’s hard to say. I’ve got some obsessive-compulsive tendencies which tend to be a little myopic. For instance, the files on my computer are well organized — very well organized, indeed — but the inbox next to it on my desk is essentially an illogical junk drawer. Mandalas provide an organized, ever-centralizing focal point. Stray from the center and an equal/opposite force brings one right back. It’s comforting.


Erin Frost

You have long been involved with erotic photography. With your current embroidery and collage work, are you attracting new audiences? Do you find that having a nude component to your work polarizes opinions about your work?

It has been interesting shifting gears. It’s all so new and I’m sharing it as I go, so it feels raw, and just as intimate as my “erotic” photographs. So far, the response has been positive. And while it will be interesting to see where it goes from here, I honestly do not know what opinion is about my work. I’ve always made it entirely selfishly. It is all a part of the constant transformation.


Did your “Cut And Run” [piece] involve completely destroying original photographs? If so, is there a symbolic restart involved with that?

The “Cut And Run” piece did destroy the original photographs. It is a potent marker in time, and very much a symbolic restart.


Joint Q&A

Can you tell me a bit about artistic trajectories – where your artistic career has began and how it has evolved through the years to reach its current point?

Shaun Kardinal: The earliest exhibition you’ll find on my resume was a show devoted to photographs of buildings. After falling in love with photography in my teens and subsequently losing interest during my depression-riddled early twenties, those photos were definitely part of a re-emergence for me. I got my feet wet exhibiting work a few times and found a real connection to Seattle’s art community. At the time, I was also co-running an alternative space gallery, which was based in a frame shop that handled work from most of the art galleries downtown — so I was really in the thick of it!

After about a year with the buildings, I turned the camera on myself for a series examining mundane daily existence. I really enjoyed that work and people really seemed to like what I was doing. I landed some great exhibition opportunities and met some amazing people. But even as those opportunities grew, I began to feel less inspired and in need of a change. I found myself exhausted with artist statements, applications and the incessant race to get the next show. So, I stopped seeking them out. Even turned a few down.

In 2009, I participated in a few of Vital 5’s Arbitrary Art Grants, which had amazingly off-beat calls for art (such as: photograph a sculpture you make out of grocery store items while in the store or act as a wall, displaying art in an imaginary storefront), and the experience was definitely an impetus to try new things. For a short while, I was very much into making bumperstickers! I also started making small pieces that I sent to friends in the mail, undocumented. One day I received a piece from Dawn Stechschulte — a small, hand-sewn collage with painting, stickers and an old magazine clipping. In response, I cut up a few postcards and sewed them up to create a fictional landscape. I loved it, and made more. Soon I was making them for no one — just keeping my hands occupied. For three years now, I’ve been hooked on paper embroidery, and allowing it to evolve as the ideas come to me.

Erin Frost: I’m not really sure how to approach the subject of “career.” I have been very single-minded in the work I’ve made for many years — changing, transforming, manipulating myself, and the idea of self. I think I’ve been fairly fortunate in that people seem to like what I’ve made. It can be tricky, though, making intimate work and being grouped in the “erotic” category. I haven’t made work necessarily to be singularly erotic, nor do I enjoy most “erotic art.” It can be a heavy and dismissive descriptor. Maybe that’s one of the reasons these Alterations have been so enjoyable, tearing down/making new, another way to claim my work as my own.


Do you guys critique or offer suggestions for one another’s work, or is it generally a fairly isolated endeavor?

Shaun Kardinal: We both work in our apartment, often at the same time just a few feet from each other while we listen to music or re-watch a favorite show. We’re definitely suggestive and critica — but more importantly, perhaps, we’re also each very supportive. Every artist has the occasional fit over a project, reaching moments of doubtful frustration, but having the other near, offering words of encouragement and logic, can be even more fruitful.

Erin Frost: Before we met, I think the process of making art was a fairly isolated experience for both of us. It certainly was for me. I would create personas and construct sets, playing parts for the camera, and spend hours in the darkroom. now, however, our work shares space. it overlaps, and we are both involved with the other’s work and ideas. it’s quite liberating.


Your work definitely has overlapping similarities, particularly when one takes into account the medium and the geometries. Are there qualities which are shared in your work that you would say are also reflections of your shared interests or are indications of shared personal qualities?

Shaun Kardinal: With the Alterations series (the ~60 works we showed mixed together at Vignettes), there was a clear definition that we both wanted to use recycled materials. (For me, that translated to collecting vintage postcards. Since Erin has been printing her own photos for years, she already had ample supply for experimentation.) I’d say we are both pretty interested in renewal and revitalization, in general.

Erin Frost: There are certainly qualities that we share both in our creative work and personal interests. Apart from the mediums of photography and embroidery, I think that we’ve both pursued self-portraits is fairly telling. There are themes of balance, identity, and intimacy in play, both publicly in our art and in our personal experiences. It seems the embroidery can at times be seen quite literally a physical representation of that balance.


Do you ever find yourselves dissecting everyday objects into shapes and patterns, and if so, are there moments you can recall of that happening?

Shaun Kardinal: Not as much as when I played daily Tetris.

Erin Frost: I don’t see patterns in everything, but I’m very good at spotting cat whiskers on the floor. Shaun calls me Eagle Eye. +


Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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