Trying to discover why some art textiles really appeal to me on a very deep reactive animal brain level, and others just simper across my brain or flat out leave me cold, I came across an interesting idea from Mel Gooding. He feels that the primary purpose of art might be “to enhance our awareness of the true nature of things”. This was also suggested by Baudelaire many years ago…that fine art should be “nature reflected” by the artist.
Of course they’re talking about nature in its widest sense – not necessarily landscape, but the true essence of one’s subject. Not just a pretty picture of a house with lighted windows in snow, but how the snow feels, how the light sparkles across the snow, how the house appears so bulky against the effervescence of its soft white wrappings. Or if you make a piece about a cup of tea: how the tea smells, tastes, sounds, feels, refreshes, clarifies, energizes, as well as how it looks.
Are such matters of any concern to art quilters? When I read their statements, it seems to me that too many are gazing only at their own navels. (Or perhaps this is what happens when one is asked to write a statement? )What directions are the serious art quilters taking?
One strong direction is that which reflects the abstract expressionist colour field painters of the 1960s: painters such as Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman that I mentioned a couple of blogs back. People like Dorothy Caldwell, Clare Plug, Pamela Fitzsimons, Elizabeth Brimelow, Pauline Burbidge, Eszter Bornemisza and Sue Lawty to mention just a few. These artists are responding to the landscapes they are passionately involved in, trying to reveal the nature and the beauty of the landscapes they see. Interestingly, worryingly, these artists are all outside the United States.
Within the US, the focus seems much more political. We are currently being riven not by concern for nature, but by large political forces – manipulating us for their own ends. I see this effect upon the bold wonderfully graphic quilters such as Nancy Crow, Terry Jarrard-Dimond, Eleanor McCain and Dominie Nash. I see their work as being more abstract – an exploration of balance: lines and shapes, large blocks of colour – the balance of opposing forces, rather than the exploration of nature. Paintings like those of Judith Rothschild come to mind, or Elsworth Kelly, Otto Freundlich, and Howard Hodgkin.
Another group of art quilters seem to me to be portraying the complexity – to the point of frenzy - of our overpopulated society. There are two fine examples (adjacent!) in the Quilt National ’09 catalogue: Linda Levin and Sandra Woock. In their work you can see the struggle to make sense and some order from the multiplicity of stimuli bombarding us in any urban jungle.
These are just three ”schools” of today’s art quilts. I’m sure I’ve omitted some major folk but my experience is somewhat limited (hopefully not to my own navel!) but to the work I come across in books or on the internet. Like Baudelaire, my thoughts on other people’s work are “partial, passionate and political” but I hope my point of view opens up some comments (at least) if not the “widest horizons”.
(Charles Baudelaire, from ‘What is the good of criticism?’, The Salon of 1846).
What d’you see? Where is the excellent, thought-grabbing, heart-provoking work?
Put your comments, right here, on this blog!!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth