Friday, April 28, 2017

Magdalena Abakanowicz -- an inspiration


Last week the great artist Magdalena Abakanowicz died.  Had she done so decades earlier, she probably would have been described as a fiber artist, because that's where she started off, making flat works out of burlap, bedsheets and clotheslines and weaving monumental pieces that were exhibited in Tapestry Biennials.  But, as the New York Times obituary put it, "Chafing at the limits of fabric art, she began to conceive of her work in sculptural terms," going 3-D with fiber and then with wood and metal.

Probably her most familiar works are the long series of huge forms she called "Abakans," a shortening of her own name.  Which, by the way, reflects her ancestry: she's a direct descendent of Genghis Khan, through his great-grandson Abaqa Khan (get it?).  I realized from the obit that all these years I have been mispronouncing her name; it's supposed to have the accent on the NO, not on the KAN.

New York Times photo
Abakan Red (1969)

Abakanowicz frequently made forms that closely or not-so-closely depicted people, and arrayed them in big crowds.  Looking at these works last week made me think hard about my own recent foray into making crowds of people from fabric.

I realized that Abakanowicz's people took strength and meaning from their crude forms and construction.  I had already been wrestling all along with not wanting my own people to become cute, not wanting them to become exercises in doll-clothes-making.  Now with Abakanowicz in mind, I made some new people that were deliberately more abstracted and more rough-edged.  I omitted the arms and kept the frayed edges prominent instead of turning them to the inside.  I replaced my usual cord wrappings with self-wrapping from torn strips.

I like the effect and will probably stick with it for a while.  My homage to a great artist.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Blast from the past -- printing on fabric 2


Yesterday I showed you some of my earliest forays into printing on fabric with my printer's type.  Some years later I got into a new phase of printing on fabric, using the letters as abstract designs rather than to spell out words.  Here's an example:  I prepared the background by stitching the large letters into tight bundles and applying fabric paint with a brush; the paint wicked out just enough to make a fat initial.  Then I printed the smaller letters on top.

Green Alphabet (detail below)


I worked for 20 years at a company that was the world's largest employer of actuaries, and much of my work involved translating complicated actuarial concepts into terms understandable by our non-actuary clients.  So I spent many hours hanging out with actuaries, and my son also trained to become an actuary.  I was envious of their ability to think in numbers, and imagined that when they lay down to sleep, they might see numbers floating about.

I made a quilt covered with numbers and called it "The Actuary's Dream."  It wasn't in the roll that I unpacked last week and I don't have a good photo, but the next time I come across it I will take a picture and show you.  Subsequently I made a half dozen or more "actuary quilts" -- here are four of them.

As in the alphabet quilt above, I bound or sewed the fabric into bundles, then applied fabric paint to make the underlying patterns, before printing on top.

The Actuary's Vacation (detail below)

Here I clamped the fabric and dunked it into bleach.  The discharged patterns looked to me like maps.

The Actuary's Map 1 (detail below)

The Actuary's Map 2 (detail below)

I moved on from this style of quiltmaking a long time ago, but these looked fresh, original and exciting when I look at them today.  Maybe it's time to go back to printing on fabric!



Monday, April 24, 2017

Blast from the past -- printing on fabric 1


Last week my art book club (the one where we never read books) had the theme of printmaking.  I was busy and instead of embarking on a new printmaking endeavor, I found the roll of quilts that included several that I had printed many years ago.  That seemed good enough for government work, so I took them for show and tell.

I was surprised to find one quilt that I had absolutely no recollection of ever making, and some that I had pretty much forgotten about.  But all of them looked fresh and interesting, which made me happy!  These quilts were made as long ago as 2000 and as recently as 2009, and most of them followed the same general recipe: make an interesting abstract fabric background, with fabric paint or discharge, then print letters or numbers from my big collection of old wood and metal printer's type.  I would do the letters one by one, applying fabric paint with a brush and then printing them onto the fabric like a rubber stamp.

I first tried this approach in 2000, making a little wall hangings with people's favorite mantras.  Here's mine -- a comment that I wrote on dozens of essays and stories submitted to me for editing:

True but irrelevant (detail below)

Here's my fathers -- a rule of typography that he must have proclaimed a thousand times in books, speeches and magazine columns:

Never letterspace lowercase

Later that same year I made a quilt for a challenge on the Quiltart list. We were to depict a proverb or saying from Ben Franklin.  I found one in "Poor Richard's Almanac" and came up with this illustration -- one half of my total lifetime production of representational imagery in quilts.  I found a cow on a cheater print fabric and gave her a 3-D ear and tail, but had to come up with Tim on my own.  I made my husband pose on a kitchen chair so I could draw a realistic looking guy, and was so proud because it wasn't too cutesy.

The saying read:  Tim was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages.  So ignorant that be bought a cow to ride on."

Ben on Tim (detail below)



I'll show you more of my printing on fabric tomorrow.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

My favorite things 17


Perhaps it's because I prefer teflon frying pans, but the half-life of much of my cookware seems to be measured in months.  I am continually having to buy some new "good" pans, smooth enough for fried eggs or delicate fish, while relegating the "not so good any more" pans to low-end duty, browning sausage and such.

Which means it's special that two of my treasured pans are generations old.  The one with the long handle came from my mother-in-law; she gave it to Ken before we were married, along with her recipe for chili, which I think he even made once or twice!  The big one with the black handles came from my grandmother, and I'm not sure how I got possession, but I've had it for decades.

The chili pot hasn't actually been used for chili since I came to direct its use.  But it's my go-to pot for mashed potatoes, for frozen vegetables, for green beans, maybe a small batch of soup, and for anything that needs to be steamed if no other cooker is in use to pop the stuff on top of.

It's a 4-quart aluminum pan, and still has its original lid, although the original handle on the lid is long gone.  Now we use a wine cork, screwing it in through the original screw hole.  The cork wobbles a bit, but usually does the job for a couple of years before it needs to be replaced.  The pan itself is beat up, with lumps in the bottom; the lid sometimes needs to be rotated a bit before it will slip into place.  But I think it's indestructible in all important respects.

The big pot, also aluminum, used to be a pressure cooker.  When I inherited it, there was a huge lid that locked into place, with a rubber flange to seal it, and a little pressure gauge.  I might have tried to cook under pressure once, or maybe not at all, before being scared by the old wives' tales of tomatoes splattered on the ceiling.  The pressure gauge was the first part to disappear, followed in a few years by the lid.  The rubber flange lurked about in the back of a drawer for decades before I pitched it.

So it came down in the world and became just a nice big heavy pot.  It's my go-to for big batches of soup, for spaghetti sauce, for applesauce, for mashed potatoes in quantities that my mother-in-law's pot won't handle.  Although its own lid went MIA long ago, I have another lid that sort of fits, but it does leak a pale essence of spaghetti sauce onto the stove top when that's the plat du jour.  It's permanently stained on the inside, probably from the acid in all those batches of tomato sauce.

Interestingly, both the pans were made by companies that used to be big names but are no longer in existence.  The pressure cooker was "Ward's Best" -- as in Montgomery Ward, the huge retailer who vied with Sears to put out the best mail order catalog in the world, and this pot no doubt came from the catalog.  (And yes, my grandmother's outhouse was supplied with old Ward's catalogs.)  The saucepan was Mirro, the big aluminum cookware producer whose factory was in Manitowoc, just up the road from my husband's home in Milwaukee, so this was a local product.

No doubt I could go to the store and buy replacement pots that would be prettier, with no bumps, with lids that fit, but where would the fun be?  I like the idea that every week I'm using things whose faithful service started before I was even born -- and with any luck may even outlive me, even as they have outlived their manufacturers and their original owners.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Quilts with a twist 2 -- Jane Lloyd


I wrote yesterday about an exhibit at the Portland Museum in Louisville that features two quilt artists.  Jane Lloyd has been in Quilt National several times with her signature spiral technique, as shown in this detail shot.

Jane Lloyd, Noughts and Crosses, 24 x 88", (detail)

She makes a pieced background, puts a large swatch of fabric over the top and free-motion stitches a spiral through all the layers.  Then she takes tiny scissors and painstakingly cuts away a channel of fabric between the stitched lines to leave a skinny spiral (less than 1/4 inch wide), held down with the machine stitching and revealing the pieced background underneath.  In this quilt she has also put hand stitching, and some nylon net on top.

Jane has made a bazillion quilts like this, and several of them are on display in the Portland Museum exhibit.  But she's also tweaking the "recipe" in more recent works.

Here's one with the skinny lines making arch shapes instead of spirals.  And she has not one but two layers of skinny lines: first the small arches, then a tracery of vertical lines on top that form large arches.

Jane Lloyd, Through the Arches, 32 x 55" (detail below)


For many years Jane has been doing a daily collage, with cut-up magazines pasted into notebooks.  I first learned of her practice when she sat in the back seat of my car heading for Athens OH, cutting and pasting.  In fact, her daily collage was an inspiration to me to do the same thing for three years of daily art.

Jane has made photocopies of some of her collages and incorporated them as one layer in complex quilts that also include spirals and skinny lines.

Jane Lloyd, Chin Chin (detail)

Although these quilts are very obviously in the same family as her other spirals, the background collages add an air of mystery and additional complication.  I particularly liked the very thin, illegible fragment of handwriting that appears in Day Journal.

Jane Lloyd, Chin Chin, 22 x 60" (top) and Day Journal, 20 x 74" (bottom) (detail below).

When you have known somebody well for many years, and become familiar with their work and their signature modus operandi, it's always nice to see then throw in a new twist.  I've always admired Jane's work, and it was great to see so much of it in person.

If you're in the Louisville area, check out the show.  Art of Color: A New Grasses Exhibit will be on view at the Portland Museum through May 19.












Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quilts with a twist 1 -- Denise Furnish


I got to see a lovely show last month at the Portland Museum in Louisville KY, featuring two artists from here and two from Ireland.  The artistic partnership between the two regions dates back several years; groups from here have traveled to Northern Ireland for a time of collaboration, and vice versa.  I was thrilled to have two of my good friends in this show: Denise Furnish, who lives about 500 feet from me as the crow flies, and Jane Lloyd, of County Antrim, Northern Ireland, whom I've gotten to know very well, partly because we've shared two road trips to Quilt National, a total of 20 hours together in the car.  Both of them work with quilts, but not exactly your basic quilt-police quilts.

If you had to describe her work in one word, you'd probably call Denise a painter, because she starts with old quilts, some of them in advanced stages of decrepitude, and paints on them with opaque or clear acrylics.  Often the original geometric pattern shows through, either because she enhances it in her painting, or because you can detect the seams through the paint.  After a lot of monochrome pieces in recent years, where the entire quilt ended up the same color, Denise has taken a new direction and painted bold images.

Denise Furnish, Turkey Red White and Blue, 37 x 66", (detail below)

I was drawn to her American flag, of course, since that's such a powerful image in my own work.  You can see the poor condition of the original quilt in the detail shots.

Denise Furnish, Z's Rainbow, 89 x 77", (detail below)



Denise Furnish, The Bed





















I'll show you Jane Lloyd's quilts in a subsequent post.

Art of Color: A New Grasses Exhibit will be on view at the Portland Museum through May 19.