Tuesday, March 26, 2013

the alternate view:exploring contemporary possibilities

Heavy Metal, one of my quilts in the show

I love going to art shows, especially in "alternate", non-profit, non-institutional galleries.  We're lucky enough to have several here in Athens, Ga - a town steaming with artists, rock bands and retirees.  A strange mix!  but we're high on the "recommended" list for all three!
One of the better known galleries is ATHICA and I'm lucky enough to be included in their current show Worked described thus:

Work of art is an apt term, suggesting not only a process resulting in an object, but a labor and its attendant economies.  Worked (is) an exhibition highlighting the labor that goes into art making along with work that that addresses more conventional ideas about…well, work.

  Well, I don't know about that!  it all sounds a bit vague to me!  But it's an interesting little show, if somewhat sparse - just 12 pieces.  I'm used to seeing those quilt shows where quilts are hung on every inch of space including the attendants!    To my eyes, a couple of the pieces were a little derivative.  for example the guy that got inside a pegboard cubicle to do some kind of physical jerks (no I don't think That Kind!) of which a camera feed showed us totally untantilizing glimpses!  I think Marina Abramović did it much better!

Another derivation, perhaps a little more subtle was this work:
The shadows and light patches are just reflections....though I do think they add some interest!  Yes the work is very obsessive, but havn't we seen this before?  Didn't Agnes Martin make many obsessive graphite lines on paper?  And Sol Lewitt hire people to do this on giant walls?  - impressive, there, because of the size. So I'm afraid I didn't linger over these drawings - nor did I spend long looking at the fake concrete blocks though the children were having a lot of fun with them!  It is good to have art that kids can interact with which is not possible with most mediums - certainly not fiber.  I just cringe when people smear their greasy grimy sticky fingers all over my quilts!  but it happens - despite all the "please do not touch" signs!

full view

I did however spend a long time peering at Laura Tanner Graham's pieces. I really liked the combination of richness and freshness, plus the mystery.  You had to peer in closely to see if you could figure out what the story was.  Laura describes her work: "as a retelling of the consequences of excessive manipulation".  I guess many quilters can relate to that!  

 She also says: 
 "through the modification of domestic practices typically assigned to women my mixed media paper installations explore the contemporary possibilities of such crafts as quilt making from paper, ink, cotton, thread, latex paint, sewing needles, contact paper and Mylar".

                         and another close up

I do hope that the quilts I'll be seeing at Quilt National '13  will also explore those possibilities, instead of being either derivative or clunky imitations of the kinds of paintings produced by "sunday painters".  Of course I'll be reporting back on that show - which isn't till the end of May.

I also visited the MFA exit show at our local art museum this week and was happy to see several fiber pieces - I'll give a  brief review (with pictures!) next blog.  Suffice to say that fiber as a medium and quilts as a format are both alive and well in MFA programs!!

So, if you have been, thanks for reading!!  And, do please comment - you will be instantly more gifted and energized if you do!!!  Elizabeth

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: People and Portraits, Art Quilt Portfolio

Some time ago (can’t find it!) I reviewed the first book in this series of Art Quilt Portfolios by Martha Sielman and had a number of criticisms.  As I recall, these were focused on the fussy design – floating flotsam, odd lines that appeared, and unnecessary borders.  I also queried  overly lengthy fulsome introductions and stated that more information from the artist would be of greater interest and should not be in a  “filled out a form answering specific questions” format.  I’m happy to say that in the new book, People and Portraits, these changes have been made.  It’s a lovely, cleanly designed, hefty book with a good smell!  (D’you smell books?  I do hope I’m not the only one!) The book feels solid in your hand instead of the increasingly flimsy efforts produced by many quilt publishing companies.

People and Portraits has 192 pages and features 21 quilt artists in depth and has seven special gallery sections.  The 21 artists are: Sowada, Gardner, Elkins, Berends, Kumicich, Kleinman, Ferrin, Kurihara, Rocke, Lovinger, Ugerup, Leak, May, Pelish, Bardella, Wiener, Pal, Bowker, Nida, RuBert, and Goddu. Eight artists are from outside the USA. For me, there were many new names and fresh work as well as a few old favorites. The book, therefore, is a great survey of quilts which feature figurative work. There are some obvious omissions, e.g. Nancy Erickson, Wendy Huhn. These choices are always at the discretion of the curator/editor and there may be many reasons why a particular artist’s work isn’t shown. However, if the reason is that they are featured in another volume, there could at least be an example of their work in the gallery section, so as to make the survey more complete, with a notation as to the volume in which they have more pages. Many people might buy just one book in the series and not know of their work.

The gallery sections are: happiness, contemplation, community, icons, family and friends, work, play with approximately a dozen quilts by different people. The titles of the section are an odd collection, it’s hard to see the logic in such divisions and I wonder if dividing up the “other” pieces into these galleries has any real point or usefulness.  Why not just have the 21 featured artists and then one big gallery? 

Each artist has about 6 pages showing at least that many quilts.  This is a generous amount and gives you a real impression of the person and the scope of their work.  There is a short paragraph by the editor which is more of a glowing back cover review of the artist’s work than a real introduction to the artist.  I would have liked specific details about the artist, education, location, website etc.  These could also have been included at the end of each section. About half the artists I hadn’t heard of previously and it would have been most helpful to know which country they’re from and a little of their background. Yes, poking around in the index, I did eventually find their countries of origin, but that’s a bit awkward.   While some of the artists ramble on a bit philosophically most do address  process issues and, even though I do tend (like  many of us!) to skip the words and look at the pictures, I did find what they had to say revealing and well worth reading.  Each person wrote a little differently about themselves, more refreshing and readable than an organized interview format.  This encourages them to be so much more intimate and straight from the heart in their comments: “I am a very small fish.  I’ve always seen myself as an insecure person, but not when I’m creating.” 

A small quibble: I would much rather have had a stitched, appliquéd or pieced quilt on the cover, rather than a painted one…but I can see that the piece chosen is a strong clear image.  Overall, the photographs are clear, well focused and the color printing (in as much as I know the work) appears true.    If People and Portraits is that much stronger than The Natural World, start saving now for the next one in the series!!

Art Quilt Portfolio: People and Portraits by Martha Sielman is reasonably priced at $(US)24.95 – and, of course, is significantly discounted to $8.60 (how do they do that??!!) at “that” online store!
And, while you're there, don't forget to take a  look at my book Inspired to Design, Seven Steps to Successful Quilts which is due out next month!

As always...if you have been, thanks for reading!!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stream of Unconsciousness

Ambivalence (48"h, 72"w)

I’ve been thinking about  the structure in a quilt design.  Few quilt designers seem to consider this before working out their designs and I wonder why. Interestingly, the same phenomenon occurred in painting a number of years ago.   I came across a book called The Painter’s Mind written by Romare Bearden (of all people!) and Carl Holty, published in 1969 – when sentences were complex and thoughtful and paragraphs slowly developed the main thesis. I was fascinated to read  in the Preface that they had noticed the same thing in painting.  They felt that both artists and art lovers want (and need) more knowledge about structure:

“Many students who were nurtured on the notion of self expression as the sole criterion for integrated painting are now seeking a more precise knowledge of their craft; and many art lovers, seeking an extra dimension to their appreciation of fine art, would still like to understand two of the most fundamental aspect of any painting – structure and space.”

As in any art form (the plastic arts, writing, music etc), stream of consciousness only goes so far!!  Bearden and Holty feel that the important question for art lovers and both amateur and professional artists is how an artwork is actually put together.  They feel that a painting is actually always about something as Kirk Varnedoe posited in his book  Pictures of Nothing,  a discussion of late 20th century abstract art.    Of course that something can be literal, conceptual or an abstract formal appreciation of harmony and balance of pictorial elements.

Their writing is so elegant and pithy:

“Many of the abstract Expressionists attempted to break all ties with the past and , like the hero of E.M. Forster’s novel, Howards End,, they wished to come upon art as the revivalist seeks to discover Christ”.

There is, I fear, a similar trend in art quilting today.  When people first begin making art quilts, i.e. quilts to be displayed on a wall primarily as a decorative object, they tend to work rather literally.  I think this is a normal process, you’re inspired by a landscape (or whatever it is) and you want to take the best of what you see and translate it into cloth. The next step is to figure out how to add to that design what you feel and experience when you look at the landscape as well as the landscape itself.  This is a lot harder, almost equivalent to the search for the perfect PhD research topic!  It can lead to a lot of doubt and anxiety.

Unfortunately, a lot of people then see what they think might be an easier path: they say to themselves “I’ll just work from my unconscious”…what you might call the stream(or path) of unconsciousness.  Somehow, magically, all feelings and experiences will be expressed if you keep your conscious mind out of the way!   But, as Bearden and Holty point out, if there’s no structure, the piece, being formless, will not hold up, our eyes will drift over the shapeless mass – have you seen quilts like this?  I know I have!!

Alas, this book is very rare, I notice – but your public library (always support libraries!) probably has a copy on a back shelf that nobody has take out in 40 years!  There are gems back there in the dust!!  And if anyone has a copy they don’t want…I’d be happy to trade it for my new book – I’m getting an advance copy today – I do hope I’ve not missed any errors!  It is exciting though!  Books, books, books. "Yes, Wonderful Things!" indeed!
And now for another wonderful thing: a nice cup of tea.
If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Local Art Show, next Working in Series class

My next Working in Series class starts at Quilt University this Friday.  If you have ever wanted to take your art quilting to the next level, working in a series is the way to do it.  Developing the same theme in many different ways really stretches and exercises your design skills: creatively, technically, professionally and emotionally.  This class begins with the students surveying serial work in many different countries and mediums and is often a most exciting part of the course as you discover new artists, new ideas and new possibilities that you would not have access to in any other way.  Imagine being able to send out a researcher of local art in your own country plus North and South America, Canada, Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East! Not always in every class, but often!!  And I'm looking for the first student from Antarctica - though I believe penguins havn't yet got the hang of a sewing machine.....even though there is, in fact, a walking foot called the Penguin walking foot!!!

But meanwhile....back at the home base...I visited the first of our two local annual art shows on Sunday.
visitors to the Art Show in front of Terri Jarret's beautiful scrap quilt Carried Away
 These shows are tremendously popular in the community and each gets about 600 entries in every conceivable medium, and some you probably wouldn't conceive of!  Outside jurors are brought in to whittle down the numbers to something manageable...I was lucky enough to get into both shows and even got a small award in one of them.  Of course the preponderance of the work is painting and photography but there were quite a few fibrous pieces this time too.


Bonita Kelemen's amazing portrait of Aline was outstanding for its millions of beads obsessively applied and the eye catching command gaze of the subject.
Not only is the lady encrusted with beads but her face is embroidered solidly - you can't see it but there are hundreds of lazy daisies and french knots and many other classic embroidery stitches.    "Fabric collage on raw linen canvas with embroidery and beadwork" was the description.  I don't know the artist who does, however, live in Georgia.

Hole in the Sky that the Night burned through
 Justine Stevens' work was also very striking - again this artist is totally new to me.  She's a recent graduate of the BFA program at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in print making however what was most fascinating  again was the combination of techniques: embroidery over paint (acrylic, gouache, watercolor) and collage on linen.
Disbelief in String and paper

Substitute a Floating Palm Frond

  These are tiny pieces - about 6" square and full of amazing little details.

I'm so sorry I missed her exit show.  It's very good to see young people getting into fiber!

Another new fiber artist, for me, was Travis Craig
with his funky little figurative piece:
Got Stars on My shoulders, don't Need 'em in my Eyes
I'm not quite sure whether that's a walking stick in front and this is a disaffected soldier or whether there's a more light hearted meaning - though I doubt it...
it's a striking image that catches your eye, it's intriguing and well proportioned.
I don't know anything about Travis - it's a fairly common name but it would be fun if he were the longboarder seen in the youtube clip
What athleticism!!

There were also several fine woven pieces by local weavers I know well - and only 4 quilts, two by yours truly and two by member of the local guild: Terri Jarrett and Jodie Seila.  We're in good company!

The other art show doesn't open till next month - alas the opening is when I'm away but I shall visit afterwards and see how fiber art is faring whether we call it a quilt or a fabric painting or a collage or even just "art".

And now to write a welcome to my Working in Series class - there is time to sign up until Saturday...the class starts late Friday.
So, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Friday, March 1, 2013

Reading about Art

Hours 8pm

I love reading about art of all kinds.  I just finished Sarah  Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World – while a lot of what she writes is really about the business side of the art world (especially, I think, the studio practices of Takashi Murakami the extremely popular fantasy comic/ manga inspired Japanese artist of the superflat) much of the book is quite fascinating.  Art critics and art historians and art editors and art consultants and art handlers, and art collectors and art auctioneers etc etc  - the artists themselves seem to hover uncomfortably on the fringes shabbily dressed and gnawing at their nails!

definitely shabby, but not exactly gnawing!


So very different from the quilt world where large groups of fiber artists gather to enjoy and admire each others’ work.   The art world as a whole is a fascinating glimpse and insight into all kinds of people, different mediums and cultures and practices– but all engrossed in creativity and in the wonderful (and often strange!) things that creativity brings about. 

Being involved in art world makes daily experience so much richer – I think it’s so sad that children (including, alas, my own grandchildren – hold that charger!) these days are diverted to electronic games so early and away from paints and clay and collage and cloth.  Once they’re hooked onto the instant response of the electronic joystick, they become bored by something slower like stitching or drawing or paint on paper.  Their brains seem to demand faster rewards, if it doesn’t work in a second or two then frustration mounts.  Then, as adults, they become the people who give up extremely quickly.  They have such a mistaken idea that talent is instantaneous, if you can just press the right button you’ll be able to do whatever it is – sing like an opera diva, dance like a B boy, paint like Cezanne, play an instrument.  The Beatles were an instant phenomenon?  No way!  They worked harder and practiced more than any other group of their time – to an amazing degree.
Looking for talent!
I just read Renee Fleming’s autobiography The Inner Voice: the Making of a Singer; she wrote about the incredible amount of training and technical knowledge of the body that is necessary to produce and hold the right note whilst singing – years and years of training in order to develop the ability to put the breath where it’s needed. It’s so much more complicated than ever you would think.  And the same is true of any branch of art – which is why it is so compelling, you can never get to the end of discoveries about the medium and about yourself.  As human beings, we NEED art!  I don’t think you can develop fully as a person without it.  It doesn’t have to be paint or cloth, it could be in gardening, or boat building or baking! 
Or even, in making a good cup of tea….so I’m on my way!  If you have been, thanks for reading!!  Elizabeth