The main focus of work by Jenine Shereos is her exploration of fibre, textile and related processes. The Boston-based American artist, who received an MFA from California State University in Long Beach, uses human hair for her Leaf series: a replication of leaves that demands extreme patience and attention to detail. Her work has been exhibited in the USA, Canada and Europe.

When did you start the Leaf series?

JENINE SHEREOS: I began working on the leaf series about three years ago. While hiking in northern California, I came across a number of leaf skeletons that I collected and kept in my studio. I had been interested in branching and in organic forms for a long time, and I was drawn to the detailed and delicate nature of these leaves. The intricate line-work in the venation of the leaves reminded me so much of hair.

You worked with hair in your Archive project. What makes hair so fascinating?

I often think of my work as ‘dimensional drawing.’ As a material, hair has the potential to produce such fine, delicate lines... I love the idea of working with detritus that is part of our everyday lives but goes unnoticed. I’m also fascinated by the personal quality of hair. I love that it’s an extension of the self that goes out into the world and is encoded with our unique DNA. It functions as a sort of memory or trace. There is the reference to Victorian mourning jewellery as well – and, of course, the juxtaposition of attraction and repulsion. Hair on someone’s head is seen as attractive, but when you find a single strand, it can be off-putting or repulsive.

What do these pieces represent?

I like the idea of an object existing as two things simultaneously. The hair becomes the leaf, and the leaf becomes the hair. I’m drawing a parallel between the vascular tissue of plants and the vascular system of the human body. I’m also alluding to natural systems of growth and decay.

Where do you get the hair from?

I collect my own, as well as hair from friends and family members. I have a whole drawer full of hair. I guess that’s kind of creepy!

I love the idea of working with detritus that is part of our everyday lives

Tell us about the process. How do you handle such a fragile material?

I love the process of having an idea and being faced with the challenge of making it work. I usually end up with a process that is very slow and meditative. For the Leaf series, it took quite a bit of experimentation and a number of unsuccessful iterations before I found a technique that satisfied me. To create each leaf, I form the primary vein structures by grouping strands of hair and wrapping them together with another strand of hair against a water-soluble backing. I then sew in the details, threading a needle with an individual strand of hair that I tie with a knot, securing it to the needle. At each point where one strand of hair intersects with another, I stitch a tiny knot, so that when the backing is dissolved, the entire piece maintains its shape. Even though hair is a fragile material, it holds together quite well when I use this technique.

How do people react to Leaf?

Most people respond first to the intricate, detailed quality of the leaves and to the obsessiveness of the work.

Are you planning to use hair in future projects?

Recently I’ve been working on a related series, using the actual decomposing skeletons of leaves I’ve found on various walks. I replace the missing fragments by ‘mending’ the skeletons with hair, following a similar process. I really enjoy making these leaves. I’ll probably continue to develop the work on some level throughout my life.

This piece was originally featured in One Artist One Material. You can purchase a copy here.