Dear me. Where does the time go? It’s now been two weeks since I came home from Festival. Since then, my life has been a haze of laundry, small domestic disasters, an endless supply of little boys running amok, and weiner dogs up to no good. Here’s an example of the latter:
Weiner dogs aside, this post is going to focus on portraiture, images of people. The next post will focus on other works I saw at IQF Houston, then there’ll probably be a final post filled with visual navel lint, the odds and ends which don’t belong anywhere else.
At the end of this post are some links to others’ photos and videos. I found that, although I strolled through the Festival several days, I’m still seeing pictures which make me say “Huh? Was that at the show?” Perhaps the people who take photos of every single thing really do have the right idea!
To start things off nicely, here’s some of Maria Elkins’ work:
This is Windblown. It took one of the top eight prizes at the show, the “Fairfield Master Award for Contemporary Artistry.”
I’ve been following Maria’s work for several years, using some of her experiments as departure points for my own. It’s a pleasure to see her hard work rewarded.
A detail of the face. I’m getting a little Art Nouveau feel from this closeup. And, oh my, I do love to spy on how others do things. Look at how she’s rendered the teeth, with a very subtle separation between teeth and gum, and the eyelashes becoming one non-fussy, expressive mass. She’s also stitched some feathers into the woman’s hair, a nice nod to traditional needlework.
A detail of some of the stitching in the sky. Again, very expressive and a nice nod to tradition and the medium.
Here’s another of Elkins’ works, Embrace 1, based on woodblock prints she made a few years ago. I suggest a detour to her blog to see some of the prints. They’re alive with texture and pattern, making it not altogether surprising that she tried a fabric interpretation.
This is a looser, more abstract style than I remember seeing from her, but still very much “her”.
Memories of Gombe, Mary Pal
Mary creates these portraits by manipulating cheesecloth on a dark background. The resulting density and grain direction of the cheesecloth thus capture the nuances of facial expressions and other details, a challenging business indeed. It probably doesn’t hurt that Mary has a great eye for compelling imagery.
Here’s a poorly photographed closeup of one of the eyes from the portrait of Jane Goodall.
Mary is now roaming North America, teaching classes in this technique. Although I’m not interested in working in this mode myself, I’m tempted to look up one of her classes. It’s often the case that when I study under someone who does really wonderful work, I not only gain insights into their work but my own as well. I’ll bet she has some interesting things to say about composition and the nuances of shading and facial expression.
Disclaimer: I can no longer claim to be impartial regarding her or her work. I had the pleasure of meeting both Mary and Betty Busby at the show, and having a supper which was one of the highlights of my trip. I dare say it was a meal the waiter won’t soon forget, either.
God’s Greatest Gift to Me Was Dad, Cindy Garcia
This is a portrait of Garcia’s late father. Garcia has captured the almost-painful sense of fragility we sometimes observe in the elderly. The hunched shoulders and positioning of the head with respect to the shoulder area speak volumes.
She credits Marilyn Belford for the technique, but clearly has made it her own as well.
Mattie, Topher, and Jack, Elizabeth Habich
A nice slice of life. Give kids rocks, sticks and some water – or in this case, rocks holding down a piece of plywood covering a smelly hole – and they’re set. You could plunk this scene down anywhere in the world, and the story would be much the same.
Bukonyan Elder, Virginia Greaves
A portrait of an elderly woman from Bukonya, Rwanda. The planes of her face and positioning of her hands upon the cane are so expressive.
Organic is good for you!, Bodil Gardner
Journeys end in lovers meeting
Her work is always extremely likable.
Woman Waiting I, Pamela Allen
A response to the ghastly experience of her husband’s serious health problems, and endless hours waiting and attending to his recovery.
The next five works are Allen’s as well. I love her work. Can’t get enough of it.
Wonder of Birds
Making Her Exit
I hope Allen will forgive me for copying her entire artist’s statement for this quilt. I think her experiences will resonate with many of us:
“At age 30, I felt it was make or break time, if I was ever going to pursue my dream of becoming an artist. It seemed iffy, but I enrolled in art school and worked at my day job part time to finance it. On graduation, I made an excited move to my new life. Instead of the sameness of my former career, I have enjoyed a life of infinite choices, chances, and changes for 30 years. I can hardly believe I was ever that other person!”
I spent my twenties shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long tube and smacking them together to see what would fly out. (Imagine driving two cars toward at each other at high speed, and crashing them so you could have a look at their components. Hey! A piece we’ve never seen before! I think I’ll call it … Carburetorum. Now gimme my Nobel Prize!) It was interesting work. It was also work I wasn’t well suited to, and at some point I too felt it was make or break time. I’m glad I made some changes, and I’m sure my former coworkers are as well. Like Allen, I can hardly believe I was ever that other person.
A Very Stingy Tooth Fairy
The Dionnes at Quintland
From Allen’s artist’s statement, “I looked at Picasso to develop the strained and stressed faces of the children.”
Sakura Sakura, Hiroko Miyama
A joyous portrait not only of the artist’s grandchild, but of the dog.
She had at least one other grandchild/dog image in the show, Natsumi & Sumire. I’m annoyed with myself for not getting a shot of it. It would have been nice to be able to compare the compositions, the rendering of the child and the dog.
Self Portrait, Joan Sowada
This depicts Sowada at various life stages, with projections into the future based on an elderly aunt. I’m particularly fond of the section of the portrait with her hand resting on the back of the chair. It reflects her vibrance of personality.
Sowada is a neat person. She had work in Quilt National this year, during which I had the pleasure of meeting her. She’s one of the few people there I wasn’t too gutless to converse with.
Holy Cow, Jennifer Day
Based on a photo of best friends in a cow pasture at Day’s ranch. She has covered a printed surface with dense, dense free motion embroidery, somewhat reminiscent of Carol Shinn’s work. This piece won the Spirit of Texas Award.
Here’s Megan Farkas with her work, Sakura I: Hanaogi Views the Cherry Blossoms, for which she won the Future of Quilting Award.
Farkas may LOOK radiant, but make no mistake, that’s a look of sheer terror on her face. Justifiably so, if you ask me. The lot of one of those top prize winners isn’t an easy one. Like rare zoo animals, they’re put on display in a little habitat which looks attractive, but is cunningly designed to prevent escape.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Yes. The scene doesn’t seem so benign now, does it?
Do you see how she has her legs up in what looks like a ladylike fashion? That’s because she’s tied to the seat, which is at a potential of 5 kV. If she so much as brushes a foot against the floor, she’ll complete a circuit to ground and – ZAP! – that’ll be it for her.
Or, you know, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe she really is having the time of her life. It’s a hard call.
Checks & Balances, Caryl Bryer Fallert
It’s always neat to see what Fallert is up to. This quilt may reflect some of her enchantment with dancing, shades of the self-portrait she made a couple of years back.
A closeup so we can admire the figures which are rendered in stitch.
A closeup highlighting some of her precise, intricate stitching.
Dance (Panels 1 and 5), Randall Cook
He’s rendered these figures with Shibori, which lends an organic effect.
Here’s a detail shot of the figure on the right; it gives a little better sense of the organic quality of Cook’s painting and stitching.
Fractured Self. That’s an intriguing title, even more so when one considers that the subject’s genitalia have quite literally been splintered away.
Intrigued by Cook’s work, I looked at his website. He’s done a number of nudes, studies of the finely muscled male form. Aside from their artistic merit, they’re aesthetically preferable to the images which would result from my doing honest self-portraits revealing my lumpy, post-baby body. (Perhaps I could display such work with a special tool with which people could put out their eyes after viewing?)
However, there is – ahem – a notable absence in each of them. I am of course referring to the Big P, the penis. Now, this may very well be an artistic decision on Cook’s part. If one includes that anatomy, there’s the question of how to arrange it, so to speak, the implications of which could be fodder for an entire paper, not to mention tittering and pearl clutching by some.
That said, I suspect – but don’t know – that in order to display at many shows, he has to literally emasculate the males in his images. That, or the models are discreetly posed with their nether regions off the canvas, below water, coyly hidden behind a thigh. We can cope with any number of other body parts, it seems, but not the Big P. Alas, I’m left with the same feeling I had as a child, when I’d curiously peer beneath the waistband of a friend’s Ken doll: there was no there there! Surely this wasn’t the correct state of things?
I have heard any number of arguments against depicting nudity – particularly male nudity – in artwork. Many seem to center around decency, keeping privates private, prurience, not wanting to see dangly bits, or Thinking Of The Children (approximately 50% of whom possess the anatomy under discussion). Please indulge me while I go on a brief verbal rabbit trail.
In the merchandise area of Festival, I saw campy fabric featuring muscular, generously proportioned cowboys. “Lookit them bulges!” I heard a woman crow. There were also ironing board covers festooned with attractive towel-draped males; when ironed, the towel would disappear.
Why is this sort of leering, winking depiction of people okay, but honest nudity in artwork isn’t?
While at Festival, I was subjected to some unbelievably personal conversations, most of which I wasn’t able to politely escape. From the two women behind me in the coffee line, I learned about Cousin Fenster’s testicular tumors. Another pair discussed having to fold up drooping breasts in order to get them in a bra, and the thinning out of pubic hair as one ages. On the bus to the hotel, a woman indulged in a loud extended speech about having her dress blow up over her head, exposing her flesh-colored Spanx before a busload of people. That is a dose of humiliation most of us can sympathize with, I think. But then she continued in that vein, pondering ways she could embellish the Spanx so she wouldn’t look naked, lest the issue reoccur in front of, say, a busload of men heading to Minute Maid Park. (“I dreamed a busload of men saw me in my Maidenform Bra,” I thought to myself.)
Yes, it’s true; I’m a weirdo magnet. However, these weren’t just isolated incidents. I heard conversations of this nature every day. At the end of the Spanx soliloquy, I thought “Okay, all of these things are universal human issues, but they’re rather personal. Why is it okay for these people to discuss these matters in front of strangers, but it isn’t okay for Cook to have even a discrete, innocuous penis on his work?” Because I know in my heart, artistic decision or no, that it wouldn’t be okay.
We all do what we have to, I guess.
On a more cheerful note, I’d like to suggest that Cook’s works don’t have to be permanently emasculated. I know an artist who crochets body parts. (Link NSFW) For a suitable fee, I’ll bet she’d be delighted to fix him up with something that he can pin on his quilts when they’re lolling about his studio, then remove when they go off to shows. And, Spanx woman? You were wondering about a suitable embellishment for your flesh-colored undergarments? I think my friend can also help you out.
Links to others’ images and videos:
I’ll see if I can find more before my next post.
Maria Elkins has run a series on IQF people and portrait quilts. I suggest starting at the first one, then paging through to find the successive entries.
Another video, with some fun interspersed interviews with visitors.
Luana Rubin’s page of videos, including a tour of the warehouse, first prize winners, and top cash prizewinners.