Recently somebody wrote to the Quiltart list asking us to look at her blog and give her some comments about her work. She wrote: "I have no friends (yet) in this community and no process for feedback locally. I also cannot afford to travel to shows and events. So it’s just me and my sewing room. I am desperately trying to find my 'voice' in fiber art. I would really appreciate those w/experience to help me with ANYTHING."
This struck a chord with me; twelve or thirteen years ago that was pretty much me. So I looked at the work on her blog and noticed that like me, twelve years ago, she had made a bunch of pleasant quilts that were not related to one another in any way. I wrote her back and suggested that she think of working in a series, building on work she had already done and progressing deliberately to repeat things that went well and avoid things that didn't. I said that I had written a lot about this subject in my blog and maybe she would find those posts helpful.
So of course I had to go back and review exactly what I had said in the past, hoping that they might actually be helpful. In one post I discussed when you should abandon a series, and promised that some day I would show you some series that I abandoned and tell you why. Readers, that day has come. Return with me to some of my great failures.
Several years ago I had a solo show in which I made a quilt for every letter of the alphabet. The Z quilt was particularly pleasing to me, because it was a big step forward in my courage to try non-traditional, non-nice technique. Recalling my childhood sword-wielding hero Zorro, who was wont to slash his initial into miscreants' shirts, I slashed a Z into a piece of canvas before dyeing it. By the time the fabric emerged from the washing machine, the edges of the slash had frayed beautifully. I put blood-colored fabric beneath the slash and let it peek out a bit from under the quilting stitches.
I liked the effect so much that I wanted to try it again. The first time was a tiny reprise of the Z, using some canvas left over from my first experiments in fray/dyeing. The next was a small quilt with blue lamé-type fabrics peeking out from the slash, plus a few beads for extra glitz. The third time was a larger quilt with gold peeking out.
I liked all the quilts up close. The frayed edges were nice, the quilting stitches had a good rhythm. The contrast between the rough, drab canvas top layer and the shiny, glam inside worked. But step back a ways and the quilts died. The composition wasn't strong enough to carry the day. I didn't realize at the time, but the simpler the composition, the more important it is to get it right, and these quilts just didn't hack it.
I had already slashed and dyed another piece of fabric for a fourth quilt in the series, but I decided to quit while I was behind. There wasn't enough promise in the three pieces I had made to keep me going. In retrospect I wonder if I made the right decision; there was something of value there and perhaps I could have made it work had I kept with it.
In retrospect, I also realize that the series sputtered to a close because it didn't have enough meaning to me. Yes, the "can't tell a book by its cover" theme is obvious. But that theme doesn't particularly resonate with me; I haven't spent a lot of time contemplating hidden meanings, or trying to figure out people whose inner and outer personalities are vastly different. It was a message that I didn't want to devote a year of my life to sending.
Bottom line: it might have worked visually, but not intellectually or emotionally. Abandon ship.
More failures later.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Last week I complained about an entry form that wanted to know my age, as if that is important to the kind of art you make. I'm pleased to report that entering "0" did not get me thrown out for bad attitude. I was the featured artist on yesterday's "Artebella," the daily email from the Louisville Visual Art Association. (click here to see the entire post)
I sent in photos of my recent hand stitching project, words of advice. Not sure I have shown them to you before, so here are all three that I have completed. I used a set of small linen napkins that I acquired at our monthly grab bag, and mounted them on larger squares of linen.
I was disappointed that they didn't use the artist statement that I so thoughtfully wrote for this series, but seized upon "making her own clothes" and "quilting," references they found by apparently checking out my blog and website. I try to escape the Q word but can't run fast enough. But they did spell my name right!!
Here's what I have to say about the advice series:
After a career in journalism and corporate communication, I resolved to have a new life in visual art -- but I couldn't escape the text. And after decades of making fiber art with a sewing machine, I have happily resumed the simple hand stitching that I learned at my grandmothers' knees.
These samplers are a combination of old and new, as are so many of the good things in life.
Some of the advice is ancient, some is as new as the century. The found linens, lovingly used for decades on someone else's table, carry an aura of family tradition, now repurposed. Some of the advice is handed down through the generations; some is handed up from young to old. Choose the advice that you like best....
I still need to make the last piece in the series, "Two Words of Advice," but I have used all the napkins in that set and need to find two little napkins that will be the right size and character to work in the series. Just remember, "Carpe Diem."
Monday, March 23, 2015
I've seen a bunch of art and attended a bunch of art activities over the last several months that never managed to get written up for the blog. So in anticipation of a trip, during which I probably won't be able to post new things, I'm trying to catch up with some of the pending subjects. My apologies that some of the shows have already closed and the activities are long past.
I'll start off with a show by Laurie Wohl, a New York fiber artist who has concentrated on liturgical and religious-themed work. Her show at the Patio Gallery in Louisville was a series based on Christian, Jewish and Muslim poetry and spiritual texts. She wrote: "For this project, I emphasize particularly the common themes and striking parallels between Arabic and Hebrew texts, similarly rich in a poetry of spiritual love, an extensive poetry of exile, a poetry of nostalgia for Andalusia, and poetry speaking of enemies and reconciliation."
It's a daring subject in this era of widespread fear of radical Islam, to seek similarities between that religion and Christianity and Judaism. In fact, viewers might have shared the tiniest start to read Wohl's categorization as "the Abrahamic religions" -- we Judeo-Christians don't usually think of Islam as our sibling.
Wohl's works in this series make extensive use of calligraphy, mostly Hebrew and Arabic scripts, and also repeat the imagery of a veil, through her signature "unweaving" technique. Working with a heavy canvas, she slices either the warp or weft threads around the edge of a shape, then unpicks the weave to leave the other strands loose. Because the weaving process puts a lot of crimp into the strands, when they're set free over a long distance they're significantly longer than the woven part of the canvas, so they droop and/or bulge.
I missed the gallery talk so I didn't learn how Wohl achieves the sharp raised edges on her letters and shapes.
I could tell that she painted the "unwoven" strands of her canvases and often strung beads on them. Sometimes she sliced the free strands at the top of the shape so they would hang down below the unwoven area.
Usually she removes the horizontal threads and leaves the vertical, but not always.
I'm always intrigued by art that uses text or letterforms, and though I read neither Arabic nor Hebrew, I could tell that Wohl's calligraphy is exquisite. The works have a solemn presence as well as a bright and lively sparkle. The show was well worth a visit.
I've cross-posted this to Ragged Cloth Cafe, a blog about art and textile art. Drop by and visit us there some time!