Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It's a matter of size....

Does size matter when it comes to quilts?

Generally speaking large has a lot more impact than small.  There's something so monumental about a simple design write large - look at Motherwell's paintings or Frank Stella:
 




As an aside, I so wish we could use actual images from the 'net of other people's art work in a blog without Getty or someone descending on us like a ton of bricks!  And, yes, one could write for permission, which may or not be granted, which may or may not take several days, and the muse has long gone! Fortunately, I took the above photo myself!

Look at the scale of it....if that were a little quilted piece about 18" wide and 5" high, would anyone look at it twice?

Many of our most well known art quilters have focused on large work made from  large shapes and lines very often in high contrast colors (as in the Stella above) and they do look good in a gallery.  The quilts, that is, not the quilters!!!  Though I'm sure they don't look bad!!

 Once I offered to help to hang an art show - all media - it had been judged by a professional from out of state who hadn't the time to say where the work should go.  At the last minute, the expert I was supposed to be helping also disappeared!  I was left with all these packages and crates and a couple of guys with ladders, hammer and nails!!  I had no idea where to begin, hadn't even seen most of the work.  A pro came by and I grabbed him "what do I do???" - he said "find one big piece to be the important piece, the focal point of each long wall...work the others in around it."
I did that...and it worked...but those Big Pieces literally did become the focal points, the meaning of that particular wall, the lead singer, everything else subservient.

And of course in our cities, we look upto the biggest building, or, at least, the tallest...so there's a lot to be said for Going Large......

So, should  art quilts be large?  Should we all be Thinking Big?   When I suggested that this was "almost always" the case in one of my online classes, I immediately got several folk weighing in with Big support for Little quilts - quilts less than 12" on any dimension....apparently in both Europe and North America these miniatures are a real hit, often getting Big Prizes...but, I wonder, is this just because of the sheer incredible difficulty of making very complex designs exactly and obsessionally perfectly out of tiny little pieces.  Are these little quilts the bird's nest soup of the quilt world?  Precious because  of the difficulty with which they are created?   Well, what d'you think??   Comments, please!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth




17 comments:

yarngoddess said...

In my opinion, a stretch Hummer gets a long a look from me as a tiny little Smartcar. Each is a wonder, each has a place. The Hummer can carry a party, the Smartcar can be parked in an impossibly small area. I would love to see synchronized driving with Smartcars.

That said, I also feel the scale of the image, its message, and its details must fit the overall dimensions.
Diane

Melanie McNeil said...

I like Diane's comment: "the scale of the image, its message, and its details must fit the overall dimensions." Some quilts I make big, because they need to be big. Some quilts I make smaller, because they need to be smaller.

And just my personal taste: I don't love tiny quilts. I'd rather stand with my nose just in front of something biggish and marvel at the details, and then step back and look at the whole, and then close in on it again. I can't do that with small quilts.

Melanie McNeil

Jackie said...

I have a favorite small painting at the National Gallery, a Whistler landscape; I get as close to it as I can. Peering into it, I can enter that magical world--it's lovely! OTOH, many of the Matisse cut-outs are quite large; I am enveloped by them, quite a different experience! Size alone does not determine my preferences in a gallery, but I enjoy creating large quilts because I want the viewer to have a strong emotional reaction. Large quilts do take more time and effort to manage. Sometimes I create smaller pieces because I have more ideas than I can manage, and I want to see what it looks like in fabric!

Vicki D. said...

During my career as a curator, I always hung the largest pieces first for practical reasons. There were limited spaces where they could be hung. Then I placed the anchor pieces - works that were placed on the focal walls that greeted visitors when first entering the galleries. Small scale pieces were placed within the scale of the gallery, etc. Does size matter to visitors? I do believe that the largest and smallest works can command attention: monumental sizes because they are hard to ignore, and miniatures because many times they are exquisitely crafted. That being said, I've been in museums and galleries where oversized pieces made me yawn and undersized works were quite ordinary. I believe as viewers/consumers/art lovers, we find works that speak to us, regardless of size. It is content, process, execution of the piece coupled with our own experiences, memories, and point of view that fold together to compel our fascination and attention. And on rare occasions, leave a lasting impression.

Kathy said...

Interesting ideas here but sometimes the choice of size is more practical. I suspect that painters, like quilt artists, who work in smaller spaces, with domestic sewing machines, produce smaller quilts. Likewise those with the luxury of big space, long arm quilting machines etc can produce work on a larger scale. You have to have a design wall large enough and room to step back and evaluate In order to work larger. I use digital images in my work and felt liberated when I graduated from an A4 to an A3 printer. Of course I had to move house to accommodate this upsizing in my work! I am planning a bigger work and currently exploring a "quilt as you go" strategy for art quilting. Any reccomendations gratefully received by those who have been down this road.

Charlotte Scott said...

Timely! I was recently pondering whether I am making quilts for art gallery walls, quilt show walls or people's walls at home. I entered a quilt in a preliminary round of jurying and it was a very subtle, monochromatic piece. It was a little lost next to the three other brightly coloured quilts with large focal images (all quilts were the same size), but it did make it to the next round.

I have been working in a studio and gallery space for the last six months and I think the white walls are influencing my aesthetic. I am also much more aware of what will appeal to buyers. My monochromatic, restful quilt would look wonderful on the wall of a lounge room, but if I was after a ribbon in a quilt show I'd need to up the initial visual impact considerably.

So I think the same can be applied to size. If you are after the judges eye at a quilt show - go big, go bold. But if you want someone to purchase your work to hang on their walls, then an eight foot by eight foot quilt just isn't going to work for everyone.

Or you could just make what you love.....

Elizabeth Barton said...

Some great comments and many astute remarks; I do enjoy a conversation like this.
Definitely the final placement of the quilt and its surroundings have to be part of the equation...though I tend to buy art work entirely because of its appeal to me, and then worry about where it will go in the house. I agree with Vicki - one is looking for the piece that speaks to us and our memories and experiences...I find the same thing with books...if the writer expresses (beautifully as opposed to my own inarticulate mumbling!) some thought that I had had, then there is a tremendous opening up of feeling that is just wonderful.
In a gallery or quilt show, however, it is that initial impact that is more important. Also I think that these days we are urged to hurry hurry hurry use up more fabric more resources etc so you can get out and buy more and consequently all work just doesn't have the depth that makes it last...

Sarah Entsminger said...

One of the big award winners at this past weekend's opening of Art Quilt Elements in PA was a small intricate lovely piece, Spring Thaw by Tracey Lawko. It was 17" x 13". There were several small pieces in the show although there were more quite large pieces than I had expected.

Elizabeth Barton said...

I wish there was a way to see AQE, or any other of these top notch shows, on line....though of course it is difficult to assess size in any way except reality.

Margaret said...

Late to this conversation as I've been away...but I have to admit that while I admire large pieces, I don't make 'em! For me, anything over 20" square is "large". This is due in part to circumstances Kathy identified above: I live and work in a small space. Bed quilts are a challenge for this same reason. And...I live in an area where, if it's large and not a bed quilt, the viewing public really get confused! Mid-month I'll be at a booth at the annual Art Show & Sale -- with pieces large (up to 24" x 30" or so) and small. It will be my tiny (5 x 7) matted pieces that will sell. Inexpensive, matted for framing -- so easily understood as to what to do with it -- and interesting because they're tiny. Works for me! :-)

Janet W said...

You can see a slide show of AQE online at the AQE website.

Elizabeth Barton said...

great! thanks so much, Janet, I had no idea...I will head right back to there..I met Tracey Lawko some time ago - at Alegre...I think she lives in Canada, if I'm not mistaken...so it will be very interesting to see her work.

Sandy said...

I was trying to work my way up to making larger work. And then I found my body wouldn't keep up with my intentions! So I tend to stick with somewhere between 1m and 1 1/2m which is about my absolute limit. I also developed a translucent series...first because I wanted to explore it. Second it was lighter to ship. and then a third benefit is that I can make it much larger.

When I read your thoughts about little quilts, I thought immediately of Mona L. of course. ;-)
Sandy in the UK

LoieJ said...

Timely discussion for me. I've been mostly doing work with my photos printed on fabric, then enhanced with free motion stitching. Therefore most of the pieces have been the size that comes out of the printer, 8.5x11, plus border(s). And they have been realistic because they are prints of my photos. But I've been wanting to get more abstract, though I not sure yet where that will lead. A friend is a retired art teacher. He likes to make large paintings, abstract things that I mostly don't appreciate. He says he likes my work, but thinks I should work larger. He said that larger pieces would almost automatically be somewhat abstract. Well, the wheels are turning now...
BTW, Elizabeth, I'm a member of the quilt guild in MN that you visited by Skype. That was such a treat. And I bought your books after that. Thanks!

Elizabeth Barton said...

yes, Sandy!!! everyone who sees dear old Mona L in the flesh says "but it's so small"!!

It is maddening the way the body gives out so much before the mind and the will - but better in that order at least! Just hauling a large quilt through an ordinary machine is quite hard work, especially on the hands. but those long arm machines are too big, too expensive, and also a lot of work in their own way. Fine if you've had one for years...but.....
And the bigger work is harder to sell too...
However, it does look great hanging in a gallery!

And hi Loie J!! That was a fun little "visit" - I was so glad it worked out so well, I couldn't see how it would but I really did feel as if I was with you...you were a very good audience!! Thank you for buying the books too, I hope you enjoyed them!
I didn't buy the champagne, instead I bought a piano lesson!! I love learning and a prof at the local university said he'd give me a lesson or two - great use of the $$
thank you!

Helen Howes said...

One of the great joys for me of working in textiles, as opposed to paintings, is the ability to work Large without having to worry about transporting, framing, or storing bigger works.. This is not always easy, particularly for female artists - we are supposed to be "modest"
I have a big space (1000 square feet) - when I downsize in a few years time (to my 10 by 8 foot spare room), I will probably make smaller work as a general practice.. I'm already starting, by working in silk..

HH

Shasta Matova said...

I think it has to do with the display. If you put a whole bunch of little quilts together side by side, or just one by itself on a big wall, it would make a striking impact. If you put the little quilts next to a huge one, then it will become a companion piece. I've seen displays of Gwen Marston's quilt studies, and have made my own small improv quilt. It looks fine by itself, and iwth other small quilts, but I think it should shine brighter if it were paired with many other improv quilts.'