Saturday, November 11, 2017

What is Style?

I was just reading about the artist's style in International Artist, in which Paul Balmer describes that for the artist finding one's individual style as "probably the most difficult task"....and his discovery of the answer.

I must admit that discovering my own style or creating a style was something I never really thought about...I just made quilts the way I wanted to about what interested me at the time...but I did always work in a series.  and again that has always seemed to me to be the natural thing to do.

 You make something and really like you want to make another!!!  or something similar...and in  making that second one, you think of different ways you could have done then you make a third...and the third begats the 4th, the 4th begats the 5th and so on... and so on!!

So I was curious to see what this painter's great breakthrough discovery might be.     And it's very interesting and something that I have seen in some of our famous quilt artists.

He had tried several things, like all of us, gone on courses, had favorites artists that inspired him...but then he goes onto say that the real breakthrough came  when he disregarded convention and tried something completely new - a new technique.

 For him it was the application of power tools to the painting - drawing with a dremel and sanding layered painting to reveal layers beneath...neither of this would I think work well with a quilt!!! but nevertheless inspiring of cogitation!

The central truth is: disregard convention and think up with a new way of approaching the task.  As we saw Nancy Crow do back in the late '80s and early '90 when  she took the idea of cutting out her fabric shapes freehand from what she had seen of  the quilts made by Anna Williams, the Gees Bend quilters and the Oakland quilters.. all African Americans working in ways they (or their ancestors) had learned through a combination of hardship and traditional African banner making techniques. 

At that time leading quilters were Jinny Beyer and people like that who were all about precise and complicated geometrical piecing...perfect points, discreetly matched fabrics.

Jan Myers Newbury took the old traditional Japanese shibori techniques, gave them a modern loose and much more painterly approach and began her long series of beautiful quilts all based on arashi shibori. 

Linda Levin quit using dye and turned to paint...painting pieces of cloth that she then cut up and applied very roughly and to a base layer of batting  (usually flannel) and backing.  I remember her work being criticized early on by people who felt that all appliques should have neatly turned under edges, Linda didn't even pretend to cover the raw edges!!!

Paula Kovarik discovered that she loved machine quilting...literally drawing and writing with the machine needle to create complicated doodles or diaries......

Suzie "Lucky" Shie decided to write her diary and impressions of her world ..out large on fabric rather than in a small conventional diary notebook.  She used air powered pens and brushes...which hadn't been used on quilts before.

So all of these people made the leap into what became known as their particular style based on a technique, usually borrowed from outside the quilting world......

If you think about it, a lot of Painters did this too.  Jackson Pollock notieed paint drips  occurring on the floor as he painted...he liked the drips...they looked interesting, fresh and he took the canvas off the wall, put it on the floor and dripped on it!!!

 Helen Frankentaler decided to forgo the idea of pretreating her canvases with gesso, and instead worked on the floor staining them with thinned paint.

Emily Richardson thinned down acrylic painted and use it to paint  on recycled silks which she then hand sewed together.

So...if you want to develop your own style and feel that you have not yet found your way... consider  looking outside the quilt world - to other art media, to the real world.  And when you have found a technique that you'd like to try, stick with it...the first few pieces will probably be more experimental samples than anything else...but keeping on going as all the above folk did will lead you..if not to the Holy Grail(!) at least to a recognisable style.  so finding a technique that you could apply in a new and different unconventional way is the answer...or one of the answers!!

Another way to a style is to work from imagery that no one has used before...photographers are well known for this ...before Bernd and Hilla Becher  no one had shown interest in the Low Graphic  style they used or in the photographing of forgotten industrial buildings - factories, pit heads and the like.

 Well, if you have been...thanks for reading!! And do let me have your comments...your own particular path to style discovery.......



Elsie Montgomery said...

Thanks for these good thoughts and for challenging me — again!

Sue Siefkin said...

And Jane Dunnewald is using spackle
and gold leaf! Who knew?

Edith Bieri-Hanselmann said...

Dear Elizabeth, I enjoy reading your blog very much. It gives me a lot of Inputs.Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you Karen and Edith!! It's great to hear from you both...Elizabeth