Monday, May 3, 2010

Cloth as medium or cloth as subject?


y/m collage 2
(collection of the Bascom Center
Highlands, NC)

I was posed an interesting question yesterday: as a person who dyes, paints, prints all the fabric she uses in her quilts, did I view the fabric I made as being art in its own right, or was it merely a medium with which I made other art?
Only a little introspection revealed to me that I usually make fabric just to have fabric..blueish stuff goes into the blue box, red into the red and so on.  Consequently, since I'm not limiting myself to any particular thought, I'm able to be completely free and loose when painting or printing or dripping or (at times throwing!) dye!! I can operate on a purely visceral level - let's have green, how about a dab of white, let's fill in this corner with dots oh how about a lines that snakes through - much like kids running round and discovering a secret garden.  This is too much fun to be work!
When I make a quilt, however, I invariably start with a specific idea: the piece starts in my head, not in my hands.   Usually.  I have done a few pieces that began with an "interesting" bit of fabric upon which I built an idea. (y/m collage 2 above, Please Handle with Care on the Right and Tenement below)

I don't think one approach is better than another.  Both have their advantages and pitfalls.  If one is too tightly trying to follow a carefully worked out large cartoon the work can become very stiff and lifeless; on the other hand, if you just throw gaudy bits of fabric at the design wall you often end up with a gaudy mess!!  And I have seen a lot of those messes out there - which is one reason I've avoided doing that myself and usually made fabric just to have fabric.  I think even the more thoughtful artists whose work is about the fabric tend to fall back into the same compositional solutions time after time.  Choose your favorite one (I'm not naming names here!), and just see if I'm not right!

                          Please handle with Care (in the Hasbrouck collection)

The role of the cloth is an interesting question to consider and the process could be quite efficient (yes efficiency is important for me because time is limited - would I were the young thing with two years to "discover and remake myself" in graduate art school (read recently about an up and coming  artist in AinA). But, I'm not. )

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA           And so, from hereon out (and let's hope "out" is quite a way ahead!), I think I will make every piece of fabric as if it itself might be the subject of the piece, and if it turns out to NOT be worthy of centre stage, then it will still be fabric! and into the appropriately coloured box it will go!  And, I will stick my recurring themes of landscape (whether it be urban, rural,  industrial or water) as I drip and dip and dabble,  for these are the ideas and thoughts that are important to me.
Having got my "star" however, all additional pieces must support the lead.  Not compete, not just stand there in a row with one glittering a little more than the others, not in some prosaic predictable pattern, but something interesting and intriguing that speaks to the meaning of that piece for me. Hey up! I've got some dyeing to do...
If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do, please comment!! Yes, you!


Tenement (collection of the City of Atlanta)


Cathy Kleeman said...

I feel the same way about the cloth I create - it's just the medium. Pieces that stand as art on their own do not play well with others because they demand to be noticed and will not become part of the team. I like being able to find small parts of the fabric that are just perfect for what I'm doing and consequently most of my fabrics have missing chunks.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

The works you present on the blog today are some real beauties. Great to see them.

Kathleen Loomis said...

Elizabeth -- it seems to me that you are remaking yourself -- these collage pieces are very different from your familiar half-timbered-houses works. You just haven't taken two years in grad school to accomplish it.

Carole said...

Please handle with care and Tenement are the 2 that I really like. It is great to see these variations.