I've been thinking about how much contemporary abstract quilts are derived from traditional grid based quilts. It’s quite remarkable just how often a grid is obvious or implied in contemporary art quilts. I just riffled through the ’08 visions and ’09 QN catalogues and roughly categorized them into clearly abstract, obviously pictorial or “abstracted from pictorial” (which is where I would place many of my quilts including this wonderful photo from the Quilt National show in 2009:
don’t you just love quilts with legs!!! I’m so sorry I don’t remember who gave me this photograph ( I wasn’t at the opening) but I have enjoyed it so much so many thanks to you again. And it wasn’t easy attaching those legs I’ll tell you!
Anway back to the topic: about 25% of the quilts included in those two shows were fairly straightforwardly pictorial. 38% were grid based. About 11% were strip based (another traditional way of composing a quilt). So if you add those two together almost half of contemporary quilts (as represented by those two shows) have their roots firmly in very traditional formats.
Looking at the remaining 25% about 10% were overall surface design techniques (not pictorial). the other 15% were were a variety of different things but mainly abstracted pictorial work (where I would classify myself usually), or free form organic organizations like those that Dominie Nash does. This one below is from her Red Landscape series.
There were,of course,many variations upon the grid - some were definitely just rows of blocks, or rows of blocks slightly off kilter, or sectioned up into slightly different shaped blocks. Some were based upon a much larger section of a grid being composed of a few large geometric shapes - like a long wide rectangle with 3 squares beneath.
But, by far the most common way of interpreting the grid(after the traditional rows and columns variety) was what I’d call the layered grid: Squares and rectangles cut out and layered upon each other. This often yielded a rather asymmetrical grid.
I noticed that even if the quiltmaker had begun without a grid - say for example an overall painted surface - then quite frequently a grid(in paint, or stitching or even applique) was overlaid to organize the shapes beneath.
Some people composed the other way round, beginning with a grid and then adding elements on top.
And others were clever in lining up squares to lose the edges and thus hide sections of the grid. A neat trick because it makes you peer in and see what happened!
I wonder if the p0pularity of the layered grid occurs as a result of the very common process of cutting out pieces of fabric freely and then positioning them on the wall “intuitively” i.e. without thinking about them too much but instead arranging them in a way that “feels right”. When we cut out pieces of fabric free form I think we would naturally cut fairly organized shapes. And then, in grouping them on the wall, we would aim for some kind of balance - two single pounds on this side of the scale, one larger bag containing two pounds on that side as it were.
I think we have a natural inclination to want to put things into rows and balance them up. I remember when I was a child one of my favorite activities was to crawl under the rose bushes in the park to some old flagstones collecting dropped (usually,but alas, not always!) petals on the way and then organizing them on the square flags in rows and columns. I saw a beautiful show of Sue Lawty’s work (Google her name for lots of images)at the V&A some years ago where she had chosen tiny pebbles from the shore and glued them in precise rows onto canvases; the result looked like epistles in a mysterious stone language.
I don’t know if there is quite the same preponderance of grid based abstract designs in art that does not have a textile connection, but I don’t think so. Not that grids don’t appear, they do: Klee, Scully, Close etc etc, but not, I think ,to the same extent as we see in contemporary art quilts.
So I wonder…
Are we hard wired to grid?
Is this an archetypal memory surfacing when we work intuitively?
Or is it the result of a basis in traditional quilting that so many of us have? (I would think this is at least a factor for I’ve noticed that those quilters whose work is least grid based tend to the those with less of a traditional background, and vice versa).
So, what do you think? Are you a grid person, or not? D’you find yourself unconsciously falling into a grid state? We are more creatures of habit than ever we would admit!
and, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth
PS and thank you for all the encouragement to continue to cogitate and witter about said cogitation! Much appreciated!