Thursday, October 24, 2013

Looking for the abstract

As you know I’ve been studying abstract art, and there’s a lot more abstract photography than I realized.  Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946) was one of the first photographers to work on abstract ideas with his “Equivalent” series.  He wanted to use a camera in the same way that the painters in the 1920s were painting – aiming for a freedom of expression and a new world view.  He made about 200 Equivalent photographs in the late 20s and early 30s – some of the very first abstract photographs ever made.  Well, abstract photos made deliberately that is!!!  I’m sure that sometimes they photographed their fingers holding the lens as I know I’ve done – later puzzling over the giant pink things blotting out half a landscape – probably where Philip Guston got the idea for some of his iconic shapes!
Most of Steiglitz’ Equivalent photos were of clouds – just clouds, no landscape, nothing even to show which way up he was.  I’ve always loved lying on the ground looking up at the clouds moving…preferably of course with a nice warm breeze and the sound of the ocean in the distance!

Here’s an early quilt of mine: Scud which was about lying on the floor under the skylights watching the clouds – if you’d like to pop round for a cuppa tea, we can lie there together!  You have to pick just the right kind of clouds though..
 Steiglitz said about his cloud photographs:

 “I know exactly what I have photographed.  I know I have done something that has never been done…I also know that there is more of the really abstract in some “representation” than in most of the dead representations of the so-called abstract so fashionable now”.

A perspicacious, important and thoughtful observation, and one to mark well.  Sometimes the best abstracts are those that begin with looking at something that is already there but looking in a different way.  Look around you!  You’ll see abstract compositions everywhere! Enjoy them – some are fleeting like the clouds, others are well recognized like the patterns of bare branches in winter, others are subtle (shadows on a wall).  But look at what Warhol and  John Singer Sargent did with shadows!  Why do we, as quilters, tend to go for rather predictable grid patterns, or slapdash lumps of corblimey dyesplatter artfully arranged rather than looking around us for the abstract in real life?  Let us all seek to do something that has never been done!

Well that’s a nice high minded goal!  Think I deserve a great cuppa tea for that one! 
What do you think?  Are you looking for the abstract?  Or do you seek a closer representation of reality? Please comment.
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
PS It is with great sadness that I just read  that the painter Robert Genn who has inspired many of us twice weekly with his thoughtful newsletters has pancreatic cancer and has only a few months to live. His message to us all is: "For years I've been telling artists to do it now, not later". Thank you, Robert, for all you have given us over the years.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Importance of Being Titled

"What do you think about titles", asks Tricia from Canada, "how important are they?"
Looking back over the centuries I don't think titles were important to many artistst - it was the work itself that they expected to speak (or not!).  However, our modern age is much more verbal - not necessarily appropriately and often not very well informed and frequently singularly lacking in erudition - nevertheless words pour from us in torrents!!  I often laugh at the sports commenters: "he's in this to win!  He really wanted to get that goal! She's practiced for this for years..." etc etc!! Comments, yes, but pithy, no.

One legitimate purpose of a title is simply to identify the work; it is helpful to have names for things.  Many of us do have a "working title" as we create the piece.  It's hard to think about "the thingie on the wall"!  Working titles are usually quite literal as in "Green Houses on a Hill".
Green Houses
 Later on as I finished the piece I liked the triple meaning of Green Houses and made that the name of the quilt.

As I'm putting the quilt together I often have a list of possible titles up on the design wall; as the design gradually comes together my thoughts about it solidify until one title seems more apposite than the others.  Sometimes, however, a piece goes out with the wrong name and has to come back for a renaming ceremony!!  I remember one quilt I did where the principal color was red and it was of abandoned industrial buildings, so I called it Red Abandon.  It was much later that I realised that the phrase brought to mind a very different picture: "she threw herself at him with red abandon!"

Red Abandon (later renamed Elusive Beauty)
Like Tricia, I often feel that "untitled" is a bit of a cop out but I wonder if over time the number itself begins to have meaning for the artist.  Untitled #69 then develops connotations for him or her that it doesn't hold for the rest of us.  It's like the old Chinese restaurant joke where the regulars order their meals by number, and also tell teach other funny stories by number too: "a plate of #45 and, let me tell you Joke #73 - oho! that was a good one!"

While Untitled + a number is bland and meaningless to anyone other than the artist, an extremely cute title is also distasteful e.g."Mommy's Little Darlings" sickly sweet and cloying - Cleopatra did not cloy and neither should we! Of course if the quilt so titled was a picture of gin bottles such a title might be rather appropriate!

 Even more annoying are totally irrelevant misleading titles.  A few years ago I had a show with an artist whose pieces all had these really long titles: "She done her Man Wrong When She Left Him for Hairy Harry"  or "Tell Me Your Secrets and Ask me your questions" etc  I looked and looked at her quilts which were all based on the same pattern (a "Broken Dishes" variation) and finally asked her where in the quilt were the secrets, or Hairy Harry?  Oh, she replied, the title has nothing to do with the quilt, it's just a line I like from a popular song!!  Talk about feeling cheated!  She made me, the viewer, try to make a connection between title and work and it was all a trick!

I do think that it's absolutely fine to have a somewhat ambiguous title which leaves room for the viewer to interpret the images differently.  For example you could make a piece based on the effects of light as I did in this quilt:

 I entitled it "Last Glow" which mean something very specific for me, but is open (I hope!) to interpretation in different ways.
So - what do you think about choosing a title for a quilt?  Is Untitled #6 enough?  How explicit should a title be?
And, if you have been, thanks (as always!) for reading!   Elizabeth
PS I'm happy to say I've graduated from crutches to The Boot - though I'm so impressed with my new arm muscles I think I should do a little crutchercise each day!!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

La Conner, WA, Australia and impatient patients....

Still, alas, on crutches and trying to be Patient!! Which, of course, is what Patients should be!
However, I was lucky enough not to fall downstairs until after I'd shipped about 30 or so quilts to La Conner, Wa for a show in the Quilt and Textile Museum there.

Red Morning
It's up through the end of the year so I hope, if you're in the area, you have a chance to pop in and see it - if not for me, then to support the museum!! I've heard it's a very classy place and it's important that we show as much support as we can to elegant galleries that specialize in showing fiber. And let me know what you think!
 After the show, one lucky quilts will be headed to Australia - I'm fortunate to be included in a group called Through Our Hands based in Leamington Spa, UK and they're arranging shows all around the world.  I wonder if they would notice if I was curled up inside the quilt when I ship it!!

Because of the dratted Ankle Infirmity I had to postpone my workshop on abstract art for quiltmakers (see side bar) which has given me more time to work on the Power Point Presentation with which I'm going to start the class. I have images of the work of around thirty female abstract artists, mostly (but definitely not all!) American (do let me know if you have a favorite so I can be sure to include her).  And their work is truly amazing, it is so inspirational.  It's taken me weeks and weeks to put the PPP together - in part because I got totally carried away researching!! And I must admit to purchasing several new art books for the Barton Art Library!! I may only have ancient jeans, tatty tees and obviously handknit sweaters to wear...but boy! have I got a library!!  My most recent acquisition was a book about Sophie Taueber Arp whose work - much of it done in fiber - is so strong and fresh it would blow even Nancy Crow's socks off!! ( I remember she was always looking for that experience when she taught a workshop, though I never actually saw her without socks!).

As I compiled a short biography on each artist, one thing did strike me and that was that nearly all of these ladies had an extensive art education.  Most quiltmakers do not - and the few that do are obviously way way ahead of the others. I'm thinking of people like Joan Schulze, Pauline Burbidge, Elizabeth Busch - and of course Nancy Crow.  So now I'm researching just what goes into an art education and I'd love to hear from you as to those features of the education that you feel were the most important.  The courses I've looked at include a lot of art history, many technique classes (well we've all had those, right?!!), drawing and basic design.  I don't think you get a lot of critiques until you get to the MFA stage, but tell me if I'm wrong!  And then very often the critique is a group discussion rather than a well informed evaluation.

So - what do you think?  Do we, as quiltmakers striving to improve our art, need an art education?
And, if so, of what should it comprise?
And now to hobble off to put the kettle on -  not easy on crutches!!
If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Friday, October 4, 2013

Trips: pleasant and not so pleasant!

 A trip to beautiful Canada - I'm not fond of Southern Ontario with all the traffic and incredible development - but only a couple of hours North and you're into gorgeous wonder all Canadians seem to be able to suffer hours of traffic jams in order to visit their weekend "cottages".  On the left is one of my favorite kinds of scene...a dark value foreground, leading to the promise of a glowing patch of something in the middle ground.  I used this kind of value pattern a lot in the series of night city streets I did some years ago. (scroll down to see the street scenes)

There's also nothing like space, space, beautiful space, empty of people space in "home" landscape was the Yorkshire moors and I love the recession and colour that are evident here.
This is Lake Buckhorn by the way.

another landscape love of mine: reflections!
And here you can see me stretched out with what looks like three cups of tea (must have been there a while!!) making little sketches of those aspects of the beauty around me that really caught my eye.

It is important to work with those images that really resonate with you, in your own way.  Recently I was recommended a lovely blog by David Owen where he occasionally writes about various artists he feels are important.  In writing about Ben Shahn, he quotes the artist's search for his own voice.  He had become a very competent painter in the style of various greats - mainly in Europe - but questioned:

"This may be art, but is it my own art?"

Shahn wanted to be more than professional, competent and even original.  What he wanted to do above all was to produce art that was uniquely him: his whole life, everything that had happened to him from childhood through college and all that he had experienced, felt and thought. When he looked at the work he was producing, he criticized himself for not using his own personal techniques, in his own way, about things that he really cared about. The things that were on his mind.
   Do you see yourself in your work?  do you see the things that worry or delight you the most?
Art work should be as distinctive as handwriting, and the message should be that which is in your heart every day. I'm cogitating......

Okay - and now the "not so pleasant trip" - I managed to fall downstairs while trying to do and carry too many things - not following my own advice to be Very Careful on stairs!!  Consequently a very nasty sprain means that I'm laid up (alas no square dancing!) for a few weeks and have had to postpone my Abstract Art for Quiltmakers workshop in Falmouth, Cape Cod.  Thankfully only one student was unable to make the new dates (nov 18-22) - but that does open up a slot - so if you're interested, do email Linda - (or phone:508-477-0057, or 800-537-5191).  And Be Very Careful on stairs!!  

If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth