Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Abstraction? Representation? The truth? or not.......

A few weeks ago I was teaching a workshop in Oregon and asked the students in the class to give me some topics for my blog – sometimes the pump does need priming!  Well they came up with several ideas upon which I will gradually cogitate…and record herewith my various cogitations!

One question took my eye:  “is it okay to be somewhat representational?  How abstract does “abstract” have to be?

There is no clear cut single definition of abstract art – the term can mean anything from totally non-objective, derived from a mathematical formula, to simply abstracting a section of a scene (whether it be figurative, landscape or still life) and manipulating the shapes and lines and values to create a great design.  Many painters (including Picasso) have pointed out that in a sense all art is abstract since it’s not “the real thing” – except, I suppose, Duchamp’s “Fountain” which, of course, wasn’t ….
Here is the link to the image:
 in case you don’t know the piece.  I do wish it were okay to just show the image on the blog…but some of these places are fussy and litigious these days that even an image that is being used in a totally educative “fair use” way can now suddenly lead to an invoice.  And of course it’s NOT the original artist that would get the loot, but rather the photographer of the art work – or, even more likely, the agency that bought up the rights to the photographs!  But I don’t want to get into ranting!!

Many painters and psychologists have also pointed out that while probably have rearranged and modified (from the original) any visual images that we create, they have actually come from somewhere.  Everything is inspired by something – the images we put together may come from a movie we saw last night, or from a book we read as a child but there is always a starting point. 

So abstract doesn’t have to be all that abstract to be abstract – or abstracted from.  Like fashion nowadays or rather, the lack thereof anywhere away from a fashion center like NYC(!), anything goes!

But the question also implies that maybe representational art is no longer acceptable…..
And that is a valid possibility.  I would say that while the public at large has always preferred to buy (more or less) representational art for a domestic setting, the critics and the curators do seem to swing from Abstract being in and Representational out to the other way round – like those old weather indicators with little people that came in and out according to whether it would be fair or not – you couldn’t have them both at the same time.     Abstract art has had a huge revival in the last few years starting with a big retrospective at MOMA in NYC a couple of years ago and a more recent exhibition a year ago called Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925 about which they wrote:
In 1912, in several European cities, a handful of artists—Vasily Kandinsky, Frantisek Kupka, Francis Picabia, and Robert Delaunay—presented the first abstract pictures to the public. [This show] celebrates the centennial of this bold new type of artwork, tracing the development of abstraction as it moved through a network of modern artists, from Marsden Hartley and Marcel Duchamp to Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, sweeping across nations and across media.”

It’s always been okay to produce representational art, since abstraction was “invented” it too has continued to be popular and re-invented with several different “movements” over and over.    With exhibitions like those at MOMA and many other museums, we’re now at a place where we can begin to asses which abstract pieces will stand the test of time and which will be more stepping stones in the development of the art form.

Within the quilt world, of course, abstract was always “in” – especially with pieced work. Since the 1980s there has been a huge resurgence of quilting and many people begin their quilting careers with traditional pieced patterns and then move onto create their own patterns and images.  I think the advent of fusing techniques has really encouraged much more representational work.  Fusing makes  representational work much easier – it’s very difficult to be very representational with piecing unless one really fractures the image to a very complicated extent and, in a way, those images are then more abstracted anyway.

I do think there seems to be something of a dichotomy right now in the quilt world as to styles and not between traditional and art quilts but rather it’s a dichotomy over technique:  there is one school of people who feel that only piecing is truly acceptable (and it’s easier to piece abstract work than it is to piece representational work).  They feel that fusing techniques should probably be considered as fiber collage rather than quilting and they definitely look down their noses at representational work!  Other quilters feel that any techniques that involve putting together pieces of fabric in any way together with some stitching qualify that work as a quilt.      And if you get jurors or curators that do have a strong bias one way or the other, obviously the show they put together will reflect that.

I am much more of a mind with Ellington who said that there are only two kinds of music: good music, and the rest.  If the piece is strong and beautiful and worthy of being looked at and made of fiber then it’s good quilt art , if it’s a boring or ugly mess – then it’s not.

And another good quote which is very apposite to this blog - this time from Matisse::
“Never ruin a good [piece of art] with the truth.”

Please do weigh in with your comments!!!  All comments are delightfully beheld by this blogger!   And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

And now for a nice cuppa tea……

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Don’t get your Ps and Es mixed up with your Ps and Qs!

 You know how everyone these days talks about the “Ps&Es” of design?
…..though they do sometimes get them mixed up!!   The Ps and Es are not the same as the Ps and Qs of etiquette!!   The Es are actually just the elements of design – in the same way that hydrogen and oxygen are the basic building blocks of water.  Design elements are the “things” from which the design is made viz: value, color, texture, line and shape. In quilting terms these would come down to small pieces of fabric of different solid or patterned colors, some dark, some medium, some light and the quilting stitches.  That’s what we have to work with: fabric and stitches.  Pretty straight forward.

Ah, but what about the Ps…the “principles”….which are, by the way, guidelines not rules.    Well, classically these are said to be: unity, variety, rhythm, balance and economy..however I’ve been thinking -  nay -  cogitating!  I feel that these are merely the techniques one uses, not the final result one wishes to achieve, and definitely not what the Art Must Be.  The  Most Important characteristics that one would hope for in an art work (no matter the medium) are in fact the following:

• That it catches your eye, that you SEE it and want to LOOK at it….(or hear it, or taste it, or feel it…). Even the cave paintings at Lascaux done over 17 thousand years ago were done for someone to SEE.
“[Art] should call out to the viewer…and the surprised viewer should go to it, as if entering a conversation” .
(Roger de Piles, Cours de Peintre Par Principles, 1676).

  That it has great beauty (which could be a “terrible beauty” as in Geurnica, Picasso’s painting about the horror of war).
  When I think of art, I think of beauty.  Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection”.
Agnes Martin

  That it lasts – you can look at it every day and still get something from it.
This is probably the toughest to assess but I find that if I sew quite a few quilt tops, and don’t immediately baste and quilt them, but instead put them away in the cupboard for a few months, then when I get them out I can judge them better.   Or I’ll hang the piece up in the living room where I will see it every day – if I’m sick of it after a week – I’ve got my answer!

Is there anything else d’you think?  We want to see it, we must look at it, we can’t not look at it – it is totally wondrous and transformative…and we could see it very day and still love it.
Let me know if you think anything should be added to this…..
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Questions one is asked......

Ellen Lindner asked me to answer the following:

1. What am I working on?
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3. Why do I write/create what I do?
4. How does my writing/creating process work?

Yikes!! ... 3 volumes later....

but here is the short answer:

After a year of travelling - seeing amazing places - I'm  mentally consolidating all I've seen...absorbing the images and seeing which ones "hold" for me. 
 Most of my quilts (even the abstract ones)  have been based on very early photographs:

Here's a typical sequence: the photo, the drawing, the quilt.

 I'm not going to tell you just how long ago I took that photograph!!  But it's in York, UK...not too far from the Kirk Museum (if it's still called that!) - a street close to the bar walls behind the museum.  I remembered the photo not only for the moment (apparently he'd never permitted a photograph before but I caught him unawares) but also the juxtaposition of boy, bicycle and old streets.

 Here's part of the drawing I made - I think there was more - but these things disappear!!

 And above is the finished quilt.  A typical process for me.    The boy is ghostly because of course he's long gone, the streets remain the same.....and glow with the freshness of sweet old memory.

It takes time for images to sink in:  I don't really know why this should be but I think it's, in part, because the younger you are the more impressionable you gets harder and harder (but of course even more important for an artist) to achieve those same fresh responses, the strong reactions, and also to lay down significant memories that stay with you for years.   At age six I could lie on the warm paving stones underneath the rose bushes in the local park and just watch the petals against the sky and smell the marvelous scent of the flowers....alas,  that's not really possible now!!!  imagine!! 
Also, the old city streets I made quilts about I walked every day for around 14 that's a significant amount of time:  almost 5000 days...I've not been able to spend 5000 days looking at Paris, or Western Colorado or the loess hills of SE name just a few of the gorgeous sceneries I've been privileged to visit this year.    But I do have the photographs, and the mental images and I am cogitating.......

So, if you have been - thanks for reading!!  Elizabeth ........  now back to the cogitation!

PS you can read Ellen's responses to her own questions on her blog. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

...and yet another class...

with some very talented ladies in Grand Forks - and the best laughers of any group I've come across!!
As a teacher, it's lovely when people listen attentively to information, but even better when they laugh  uproariously at one's jokes - such as they are!!!

We spent a couple of days on designing, then one day on completeling value sketches and choosing color schemes...and finally into the sewing...
Here are some of their designs:

What's lovely is how varied they are....nobody's looks like anyone else's at all...and each person can use the construction method with which they are most familiar to create the quilt.  I do think that the type of construction method you use should be something you're good at...and that the design should come first, and the method of construction second.  Also the quilting pattern should be subservient to the design, rather than a totally irrelevant display of quilting virtuosity!!!
I also like art to Mean be something that is important and meaningful to the artist - doesn't matter if it's abstract, impressionistic, realistic, hyperrealistic...but it should have the Artist's heart and mind and hand within it.

Here's an image from Grand Forks that I think would make a great watercolor!!!  And I'll always remember standing on the spot from which I took this photo with the mild October breeze, the warmth of the sun...and the laughter of all those lovely ladies!!!

And now up to the little quilt museum at La Conner, WA.  I had a show there last year but, alas, could not attend...however it will be much more interesting to see someone else's show!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading.........Elizabeth