Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Abstraction is Back!

Abstraction is back! And big! It seems that every art magazine and museum site (MOMA: Abstract Generation, Tate St Ives: TheIndiscipline of Painting) has recently been revisiting abstraction: reinventing  rediscovering.  A few years ago figurative work was all the rage and now we’re back to abstraction.  But it’s not just one kind, there’s a whole rich variety of ideas to admire and steal!!  Everything from the very, very spare reincarnations of Agnes Martin about whom a major (i.e. really expensive!) book has just been published  Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances), to amorphous shapes reminiscent of  Franz Kline.
  I’ve also seen paintings that look very like Joan Mitchell, and early optical Bridget Rileys. (Just flip through the latest Art In America.There’s no doubt about it – painters steal from painters all the time!  Whether realistic or abstract.  Sometimes the new pieces look fresh and it’s a new take on an old theme, other times they’re stale and very much chewed over.  Taking an old clean simple idea and reworking it too much.

I do have to laugh at some of the comments though - many people still don't get abstraction!
"If you like what passes for "modern art" then you will probably enjoy what is on offer but I did not understand what was artistic about 2 lumps of rock suspended from the ceiling by a piece of rope.  Sorry but I like pictures or sculpture to look like something. I'm probably just a philistine at heart".  (unknown quote from the comment column).

Many people say the reason they don't like abstract art is because they don't understand it and yet if you presented those same people with quilts, or wallpaper books, or furniture they could tell you which ones they liked and which they didn't.  Of course then they can say, well "this is a chair", or "this is a plate" and "I know what those are".  So why can't a painting be just that?  The critic Greenberg ws initially very against abstract art thinking it would be a very limited type of art; he felt that the "self-reflexive language of abstract painting" would mean that all ideas could soon be explored. However, in many shows of abstract art it's evident that there is still a multitude of creative possibilities since abstraction exists everywhere in our world both natural and man made.I've always found so much inspiration from architecture and many of my quilts show that, but at the same time, I don't want to just copy an image of buildings.  I want to extract the essence of what intrigues me.
The Strength of Quiet Windows

Abstract art  began as a result of several things: the invention of  photography, the desire by artists to elevate what had always been thought of as mere design or decoration and also because they felt representational art had been totally exhausted – there was nothing further to explore.  Quiltmakers have, of ccourse, worked with abstract design from the outset, though this was not recognized until well into the 20th century when abstract designs as a whole – in decorating, in furniture, in cloth and glass etc began to be accepted as legitimate art.

Force Field 2

So what can we as quiltmakers do with this current revival of abstraction?  I think we should be loud and bold! Let's grab these ideas and run with them! Let’s show how cloth can Do it Better!! Let’s reinvent abstraction design ourselves – don’t tie yourselves to old tired predictable patterns, let’s show the painters of small abstract works (many are really tiny!)  and all the other timid little abstract painters (!) how absolutely fabulous those same ideas would look Large and in Fiber with all the beautiful textures we have at our fingertips!

Do comment and tell me about your favorite abstract artists!  Do you think we have to "understand" it to like it?   And, if you have been, thanks for reading........Elizabeth

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Abstract Art and Upcoming workshops

From the top
One of the things I love about doing workshops is the planning and research ahead of time.
My next new workshop (abstraction!) will be debuted at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee in August, and I'm deep into research on abstract design.  I'm fascinated by the abstract art movement that began at the beginning of the 20th century and seems to have become the focus of much contemporary art.  Of course most traditional quilts were abstract in nature - but more in the decorative sense of an abstract pattern rather than in any attempt by the maker to convey something that was not a direct representation. 

Nowadays you find few artists who want to make a direct representation of a scene.  It's always said that this change in art was a result of the development of photography but it was probably a lot more than that.
Some critics suggest that abstract art came about as a way to  legitimize design – to raise it to the level of art beyond the mere decorative.  Kandinsky was a forerunner struggling with the question: what should replace the object?    He wanted his works to be pictures of emotional or spiritual states, not just a design or a doodle but a deeply felt and significant work of art.  The artists at the beg of the C20 wanted to paint spiritual truths, not just representations.
Malevich wrote: “the artist can be a creator only when the forms of his pictures have nothing in common with nature”.
A Summer Day Long Age

The term abstract in relationship to art really has two different meanings: one is where the intention of the artist is not to portray any aspect of reality at all, and the other is where the artist has taken some aspect of reality and intentionally changed it in some way.
Of course some people say that all art is abstract for it is not actually boats and rivers and mountains etc but rather pieces of cloth stitched together, or flakes of paint adhering to a background.  Whistler commented that the forms he used in his paintings were not dictated by the appearance of things in the world, but rather were the forms best suited to the arrangement of his composition.
 And these ideas are just the beginning!  I actually decided to focus on female abstract artists - there are many wonderful ones and nearly every book you see on Abstract Art doesn't even mention them..so I'm really enjoying researching and building a huge Power Point presentation about this.  It will be the basis for the August class in Arrowmont - which is full, by the way.  But also for a spring class at Alegre Retreat (I'm replacing poor Libby Lehman who last month had a major stroke.  She's recovering but it will be a long, slow journey).

Meanwhile my next available class is in the Falmouth area of Cape Cod.  There are places available and we'll be dyeing as well as designing! It's a great venue, lots of space with an excellent lunch provided right there.  For more information: contact Linda Gallagher (508-477-0057, 800-537-5191 ).
So - if you have been- thanks for reading!!  Happy to answer any questions if you comment...or respond to any comments!!   Elizabeth

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

New QU class starts Friday

My next Working in Series class starts at Quiltuniversity.com on Friday - there's time to sign up for it until Saturday!
 This is an interesting class because when I was devising it, it struck me that few online classes really utilize the strengths of doing a class with many international students and on line.  (I'm taking an on line class myself and it's just not exploiting the really distinctive aspects of this kind of teaching situation).  So I began cogitating (as is my wont!) in order to figure out how could I do this differently? 
In a real class, I take considerable advantage of the fact that we're in a room together.  I can sit right down next to someone, just one on one, and really discuss their issues with art.  While permitting as much kibbitzing as people want, I do try to make the situation a very intimate one.
 So it has been a very interesting challenge to work in a totally different situation through the ether!  I can't talk to folk very personally and intimately - watching their body language to see how they're responding to me...but I can, and do, take huge advantage of the fact that the quilt university classes are 6 or 7 weeks in length and that we have the resources between us of just about all the art and science and knowledge in the world!

Here are some images of a series I worked on some years ago:  it was called Idea of a City:

Now I don't expect the people in the class will be able to make such a series in 7 weeks!  After all it took me about 3 months for each one of these - they're all 60" square and all have home dyed, screen printed and arashi and godknowswot surface design ideas on them.  The "river" strip at the bottom of the one above has 3 entirely different surface design technique and took some doing!!  However I do feel that they should be able to have a well researched and thought out Plan for such a series and have made a good start on the first one.
If you have any questions about the class - you're welcome to email me (there's a link at the top right of the page) or ask in the Comments.  Also if you're interested in purchasing my book Inspired to Design  directly from me, autographed and dedicated to you! please email me for details.  One of these days I'll get around to one of those yellow "Pay Now" thingies!  but I havn't got that yet! I'm also doing a book on Working in Series, a much expanded version of the class with lots and lots of luscious photos of not only my series, but other folks and it will be out in time for a nice Christmas present!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.....Elizabeth

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Adding meaning to your work.

Rothko: "There is no such thing as good painting about nothing".

Walter de Maria: "Every work of art should have at least ten different meanings".

Lori McNee: "Utilize historical works. or nostalgia for things lost. to help you create artwork that is meaningful" to others.
Recently (at Quilt National) I noticed that several quilts were awarded prizes because their content was very meaningful to the prize giver; a quilt with photographs of miners was given a prize because it reminded the prize giver of a relative who used to work in the mines.  Collectors buy work that is meaningful to them, work whose content in some way reminds them of a person or place or experience they loved.
Meaning is important, and where there is none people will look for it.  After all, don't they say that we're all looking for the "meaning"?!!  I'm reminded of the lines from Alan Bennet: "Life is like a sardine can, we're all of us looking for the key"!     (the whole video is fun, but the sardine tin (can) starts at 5.34).
Here's another link if the first one doesn't work for you.

The key to making meaningful work is to make it about something that really inspires you, something you know intimately - whose sights, sounds and smells come back to you constantly, whose colors and textures fascinate you.  Many painters have made work like this:  think about Marc Chagall's paintings which always reference the village he left long ago. John Marin's sea paintings, and Wyeth's series about Helga.

Many of my early quilts were about my home town, York, UK.  Not York as it is today, but the York I remembered from my school days.  I always loved to walk and would go across town a couple of miles, to and from school, every day taking a different route. 
Lendal Bridge

Along the bar walls, erected by the Romans around AD 43, over the bridge over the River Ouse with the Minster towering in the distance..


sometimes I went through the medieval streets, twisting and winding with cantilevered, exposed beam 


and always the Minster, silvery grey beyond the little clustering houses...
My grandfather, too, was a miner and I remember the old winding wheels - and all the coal dust everywhere - from my very early childhood - 

of course to me the wheel was a matter of wonderment - I even liked the old gasworks!  though I've never made a quilt of them (it's an idea though!)....I didn't realise that the winding wheel was truly a wheel of fortune, both good and bad.

I've seen the same phenomenon of the importance of meaning with the watercolors too - people want to buy them when they're of places or people they know personally and if you can convey your passion about the image with every shape and line and stitch, your work will glow.

And...if you have been...thanks for reading!   Do hope you enjoyed Alan Bennett, one of the great playwrights and actors of our time.  And there's loads more You Tube vids of him!