Archive for 2012

Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

I received my advance copy of Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World about a month ago. I do believe that makes me the last person on the block to write about it!

Why has it taken me so long? An all-consuming project. I started work on the project October 3 of last year, confident that I’d whip it out in a couple of months. Yesterday, the better part of seven months later, I did the last bit of inking. In between there were muscle aches, pin pricks, mistakes and recoveries, despair at wondering if I’d ever finish the dadgummed thing, and now anxiety as I ponder future projects. I’m one of those anxious artists, you see, not happy unless I’m working and nothing is ever good enough.

Not that it matters, at least in the eyes of some. During the past year, I’ve had a number of experiences which have made it abundantly clear that many don’t regard fiber-based art – what I’m creating – as “real” art at all. There’s a paternalistic dismissal of fiber art as a “ladylike pursuit” in the vein of 18th century paper quilling, creating jewelry from the hair of the dead, and harpsichord playing. A fine thing to dabble away at when one isn’t in the kitchen or managing the servants, but not a medium for serious artists. Because, to paraphrase the thoughts of an acquaintance, we all know that a mark made with thread or fabric has inherently less artistic value than a mark made with pencil or paint.

Thank goodness for Martha Sielman. I don’t think she’s unaware of such concerns, unaware of the broad dismissal of fiber works as a kind of pink collar ghetto. However, she seems to simply sweep them aside and render them unimportant. In particular, she’s done yeoman service in chronicling the medium of art quilting. With Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World, she’s given us the first volume in an encyclopedic survey of art quilts, with future volumes to cover topics such as landscapes, people and portraits, and abstracts.

This first volume is divided into galleries whose topics include flowers, birds, water, animals, leaves, insects, trees and textures. Sielman has carefully selected works representing diverse compositional and rendering methods, making this both a pleasurable read and a useful reference work. Two or three artists are profiled in depth in each section, with the galleries filled out by the works of myriad artists (including me). I was delighted to see some of my old favorites, including Betty Busby and Annemieke Mein, and to be introduced to artists with whom I was unfamiliar. Here is an excerpt profiling Betty Busby.

Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World is available through SAQA, Amazon, and other retailers.

That’s cheering.

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

A local community TV station, KMTV, produced a video about the portion of the Quilt National ’11 exhibit currently on tour in San Jose. This features San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles Curator Deborah Corsini’s enlightening talk about the works, their construction techniques, and the art movements they exemplify.

Here’s the first half of the video:

At 16:13, Deborah Corsini is innocently going about her business when the gigantic head of my piece, Farmer Brown, looms up behind her. Very 1984. At 17:40, Corsini briefly discusses Farmer Brown. My piece is only one part of the show, of course. The work of Susan Shie, Betty Busby, Katie Pasquini Masopus, and many other is also highlighted.

Here’s the second video:

It was very nice of KMTV to make those videos available, particularly given that many aren’t able to travel to the exhibit.

In addition to creating new works and lurking at the museum, I’ve been reading Stephen Farthing’s extensive Art From Cave Painting to Street Art. That’s how I roll. I like to start by contemplating art in prehistory, when our tube worm ancestors were shaping themselves into intriguing-looking fossils, and read up to recent times, when artists are preserving tiger sharks in formaldehyde. Then I close the tome and consider those who make charming prints out of fresh human placenta (not in the book, and link not recommended for everyone) and mutter “what is art?” After this exercise, I return to my own work, reassured that it at least won’t cause cancer or spread disease.

As usual, a few passages from the book caught my eye:

p. 227, Rembrandt
“Rembrandt’s lavish spending, fall in production, and refusal to compromise his artistic principles landed him in debt. He was declared bankrupt and forced to sell his townhouse. The artist was buried in a pauper’s grave.”

Oh dear. A very unpleasant end for a great man.

p. 229, Vermeer
“The outbreak of the Franco-Dutch war in 1672 saw his earnings slump On his death, he left his widow massively in debt.”

Mmm. Not good.

p. 217, Caravaggio
“In the last few years of his life, Caravaggio became notorious for his violent activities. He murdered a man in 1606 and spent the rest of his life on the run in Naples, Sicily and Malta.”

I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

p. 340, Gauguin
“Gauguin moved to Tahiti and painted vivid, primitive works. He attempted suicide in 1897 and settled with a Tahitian girl on the Marquesas Islands in 1901. Sentenced to imprisonment for libel in 1903, he died before starting his sentence.”

I hope this isn’t mandatory for serious artists, the business about mental disturbances or dying a pauper? I’m not in the least interested in killing anyone or settling down with a teenage girl.

p. 336, Van Gogh

Oh dear. I think … let’s not go there today.

Betty Busby class

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Several people have written saying that, like me, they admire Betty Busby’s work. I wanted to give a “heads up” that she’ll be teaching a four day class in Santa Fe this April. Looks like she’ll be helping people explore some of her techniques which use non-woven materials. For details, please see the Art Quilt Santa Fe site.

If I could go, I would. I’ve only met Betty once, having dinner with her and a group, but that was one of the most interesting, entertaining meals I’ve ever had. She’s very smart, has a great design sense and a great sense of humor.

If, like me, you can’t attend her class, you might enjoy seeing some of the work on her website or enjoy a visit to her blog.

On her blog, she discusses the creation of some of her works. Very illuminating. I always enjoy seeing her work in person, but it adds an extra dimension to, say, visit the current Quilt National exhibit, read the words “hot knife,” and realize that she actually burned or melted away fabric to create part of the design. An industrial technique harnessed to create a wonderfully organic design, and somehow all very Betty.

QN and SoCal

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Last week, I attended the opening reception for Quilt National at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. It was fun. I renewed my acquaintance with Lura Schwarz Smith and met a number of museum visitors, who had insightful comments and questions. It was a pleasure to see the exhibit again, a different experience than perusing the works in the show catalog. I was glad to see that Farmer Brown is holding up well, still grinning at people and threatening to smack them with his gargantuan straw hat.

I can’t really post any photos of the exhibit, other than this sign:

Try not to hurt your eyes squinting. The Museum’s curator, Deborah Corsini, kindly gave me a “shout out” in the second to last paragraph. Remember the song from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other …”? Yeah. It was all I could do to not hum it at the reception. Although there are several representational works in the show, by and large the show is abstract. So abstract that the likes of Mondrian and Pollock would squeal with joy, provided they were the types to squeal. I appreciate the Quilt National jurors’ giving Farmer Brown a chance.

(Speaking of jurors, Nelda Warkentin will be speaking March 18. I’m looking forward to an insightful talk. I’ll be participating in the gallery walk again as well.)

Immediately after the reception, I hit the road, driving 450 miles south to San Diego. I still haven’t caught up with email or blog comments sent during the last couple of weeks. (*cough* months *cough*) I wish I could claim that was atypical.

Why Southern California? Why, Lego Oland, of course!

Yes, it’s always a pleasure to visit Lego Oland in sunny Fornia. One can throw a child on a ride, then kick back with a cup of coffee and admire the many giant Lego sculptures. Slothful parenting at its laziest. For those without a suitably-aged child to act as a beard, I have the following photos:

There’s something ironic about creating a giant dinosaur out of petrochemicals, although I suppose actual dinosaur remains would comprise a very tiny percentage – if any – of the stuff pumped out of the ground.

A tranquil family grouping, also rendered in plastic bricks.

Legoland has some joyous fountains which almost rival those at the Place Igor Stravinsky in Paris.

Yes, of course. That’s the first thing female firefighters do after donning full SCBA gear so they can battle a raging fire: they slather on the lipstick. Sexism lives.

“Is that a Lego banana in your pocket, or are you just …”

Oh, never mind. I shouldn’t go there, particularly after getting hinky over the firefighter with the lipstick.

Very nice sea monster-inspired ostrich. Wish I’d thought of this.

Legoland employee toiling in the model shop, with only a sheet of plate glass between him and visitors. Poor guy. There is no escaping The Eyes.

Heck yeah! My yard would be about a thousand times more interesting if I had little grace notes like this around.

You know what this means, don’t you? That’s right. Somewhere, there are voracious aphids the size of a German Shepherd. Lock your doors and keep an eye on the Aspidistra.

I love these cars. I’d totally drive one around town if it was street legal.

A trip to Southern California also means a visit to Balboa Park. It’s practically a requirement. The Mingei had a neat exhibit of Post-War Modern San Diego design.

There I discovered a new favorite artist, Barney Reid. This wall hanging is very scrumptious indeed.

Jane Chapman, 1950
This shot is just to establish that we’re looking at a very tall, narrow wall hanging.

Here’s a little closer look at a section of it. What do we see? Abstract shapes rendered in fiber and heavy, very textural threads. The sort of thing the art quilting world often regards as Innovative Contemporary Art. However, this piece was made over sixty years ago.

At the end of a post on her blog, Kathy Nida has written a couple of thoughtful paragraphs about work being perceived as more or less artistic depending upon the medium in which its rendered. She asks what “makes a line made with a paintbrush or pen or pencil more artistic to those who consider what is art than the line made by a piece of thread or fabric?” In my opinion, it is because fiber is a pink collar ghetto. It isn’t intrinsically more or less artistic. It simply isn’t used as much by males, and therefore it isn’t as highly valued. If Kandinsky had chosen to create his abstracts in fabric, rather than in paint, there wouldn’t have been a question about whether the work was art or not. As far as the mainstream art world goes, a work’s artistic value is determined by the artist, not by the art.

Sixty years ago, Jane Apple Chapman and her cohort were making abstract shapes and marks with fabric and thread. Art regarded as craft. Today, we are still making shapes and marks with fabric and thread. Some of us create abstracts rather than figurative works because that is what we love or what we’re driven to do. Others of us create abstracts because we hope that in so doing, our fiber pieces will be regarded as serious Art. The same ground Jane Chapman trod sixty years ago.

Good luck.

Phyllis Wallen, Funform

Barney Reid, Cocktail Napkins, early 1950s
I like this man’s work.

I saw several of these signs around. This one was on a chair covered with faux fur. On the one hand, it’s amusing. On the other hand, I’d like to liberally plaster them all over my work. Many venues are scrupulous about keeping the bare hands of visitors away from fiber-based pieces. Some (*cough* Mancuso *cough*) are not. Last fall I watched dozens of people stroke and pat the piece I had at PIQF. They meant no harm, but the damage does accumulate. A little hand lotion there, some natural skin oils and soils there, perhaps a ring snagging on the work. Suddenly the piece I took to the show in pristine condition has acquired a shopworn aspect. And you know, I can’t exactly throw it in the washer to clean it, nor will anyone want to buy it if it’s soiled. Thanks loads, folks. So, bottom line, I wish people wouldn’t run their hands over things until they’ve purchased them.

From a Maneki Neko exhibit at the museum. They had an astonishing variety of these friendly cats.

At the San Diego Museum of Art, tucked away in a room beside the cafe, is this Huichol art car. It’s encrusted with literally millions of tiny beads. My photo is ghastly, but I hope will give some sense of the car and encourage others to go see it.

Another bad photo. My apologies to the artists.

Anyhow, it was a good trip and it’s good to be home. It left me with renewed energy to work, and work I shall – I’ve been pounding away at the current piece since October, and it isn’t anywhere close to done.

Exhibit Updates

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Quilt National

The Quilt National exhibit has opened at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. It will run through April 29.

The Museum has put out a nice flier for the occasion. (I’m biased, of course.) That’s Bette Uscott-Woolsey’s 52 Pickup at the top of the flier, followed by my Farmer Brown, then Marti Plager’s January, and finally Dianne Firth’s Earth Bones.

If you’re in the San Jose area, or in one of the other areas which the Quilt National collections will tour, I recommend stopping by to enjoy the exhibit.

While Quilt National offers a wonderful print catalog, the experience of attending an exhibit and seeing works in person is much different than that of perusing a book. While we can admire Susan Shie’s Stars on the Water in its 6 x 7″ book reproduction, we appreciate it much differently when we encounter its 86 x 79″ mass. We see that the textural dark marks across the surface are actually writing – lots and lots of stream-of-consciousness writing, laboriously executed with an air pen. We can enjoy the saturated colors, which are incredibly difficult to reproduce in print, and get some sense of the hand of the maker.

Similarly, we can better appreciate the texture, scale, and other subtleties of others’ works. In person, Paula Kovarik’s Global Warming is a subtly hued exploration of environmental concerns, accented by a fringe of plastic garbage bags. Betty Busby’s Opposites Attract treats us to an elegant abstraction of microscopic images, with designerly variations in pattern, color gradients, and surface. And yes, there’s my own Farmer Brown, a mischievous young man writ large, waiting to bash people over the head with his battered straw hat.

I’ll be attending the walkthrough and reception this Sunday. I hope that Lura Schwarz Smith will be as well; she’s a very warm sort of person who exudes a gentle humor, and she does marvelous work.

On March 18, the Museum will be offering a lecture by Nelda Warkentin. This is a great opportunity to gain insight into her work, as well as her experiences as a juror for Quilt National ’11. I hope to attend her talk and participate in the accompanying gallery walk.

Artist as Quiltmaker

In other exhibit news, my piece Siesta has been juried into the Artist as Quiltmaker show. That exhibit will be held May 13 – July 29 in Oberlin, Ohio. Siesta and other works will be available for purchase.

No Place to Call Home

SAQA’s No Place to Call Home exhibit, curated by Kathleen McCabe and highlighting various aspects of homelessness, will be appearing in Loveland, Colorado July 1 – September 16. My own work, Leaving, will be appearing there. It and various other works will be for sale, with 1/3 of the proceeds going to a homeless assistance group.

Machine Quilting Unlimited appearance

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Hmmm. I never did get the rest of my Houston images posted, did I? I must have really worn myself out with that last rant. Karma. Anyhow, here’s a nice thing:

Machine Quilting Unlimited has very kindly featured Flooded in their January/February edition as the Jaw Dropper.

I’ve gotten to work with some good people and publications over the years, but this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. MQU’s Managing Editor, Kit Robinson, was very specific and helpful about the content they wanted. I didn’t have to tie my work up for months on end, and the whole business took place with a minimum of fuss. Their layout/design staff did a wonderful job of laying out the feature and highlighting the qualities of my quilt. Finally, the complimentary copy of the magazine arrived as promised, in a timely manner, without my having to inquire about it. I really appreciate all of the above.

Back to work – a piece of cotton is calling me, and it won’t brush ink on itself! I hope everyone is having a good, productive new year.