Friday, November 29, 2013

Art reader's digest

From "Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color," by Philip Ball (which I wrote about last week):

But will anyone still be painting in ten or twenty years' time?  It is not a fashionable art.  Painters have become a relative novelty among the candidates for the much hyped Turner Prize, awarded annually in Britain for young artists.  The names of no new young painters are on everyone's lips (at least, not for longer than a few weeks).  We are still blessed with our Fran Auerbachs, our Howard Hodgkins, our Lucian Freuds, but do we have our Klees, our Goyas, our Raphaels?

...The truth is that we had more than enough greatness in twentieth-century painting, and what does it matter that the final years lost their sparkle?  Who now complains, for example, about the fallow time at the end of the seventeenth century when Vermeer, Velazquez, Rubens, and Rembrandt had passed on and no one had stepped up to take their place?

And so where will the next great colorists take us, and what will be on their palette?  Perhaps conventional pigmentation will indeed take second place as the metallic flakes and fluorescent splashes of Stella and the Pop Artists become supplemented with new possibilities: pearlescent colors... or pigments that change hue as we change our viewing angle.  Both are manufactured as automobile pigments.  Perhaps artists will use liquid crystals that change color with temperature or that offer an iridescent rainbow all at once.

Frank Stella, Kagu, mixed media on aluminum, 1979-80

Well, maybe.  Certainly, all these media will be used -- because that is the way of art, to find ways to take advantage of what technology offers.  That, I hope, is the one central message of this book: technology opens new doors for artists.  And of course technologists cannot then prescribe which portals the artists will go through or what they will do on the other side.  "The painter of the future," said van Gogh, "is a colorist such as has never been seen before."  I do hope so.  The delicious irony is that paint manufacturers, color theorists, and colormakers, practically inclined craftspeople, have traditionally been conventionally minded folk, offering up gleaming new tools into the hands of visionaries who go and do something crazy with them, break the mold, create a revolution.  Long may it last.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Crossover art

I've been making fiber art for decades and have a pretty good chance of being juried into any show I choose.  Not guaranteed, of course, but my success rate is good enough that I feel I'm always in the running.

Non-fiber art is another story.  I've been working with paper in various forms, and with wood and found objects, for a few years.  But until this month none of my non-fiber work had ever been selected by a juror.  That changed when a collage piece was juried in to the annual Mazin Art Exhibition at the Patio Gallery in Louisville.  

And even better, it won an honorable mention at the opening this week!

Caravan, 2013, 13 x 17" (detail below)

I made this piece for the show I had early this year, incorporating junk that I have picked up on the street in my walks.  The major material, you will probably recognize, comes from Camel cigarette packs, mounted on a collaged and painted background.

The "desert" in which the camels are trekking is a map of the Sahara, and the sky/sea is made from almanac pages giving info on several desert countries.

I'm probably prouder of this recognition than of some of the awards I've won in quilt and fiber shows, simply because this is a new field that I am just beginning to work in.  I don't plan to give up the fiber, simply because it represents a hard-earned body of skills and reputation.  But I would like to do more with the paper, and this show gives me a nice adrenaline jolt to go make more work.  Wish me luck!

Monday, November 25, 2013

St. Catherine's Day

I didn't know that Saint Catherine was the patron saint of seamstresses, till we saw this old poster in a shop window in Paris.  Today is her festival day.  Here she is, keeping watch over all of us.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sign of the week

Guest photographer, George Plager:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lost and found -- good news

One of my daily art projects for 2011 wasn't really daily, more like weekly.  I was making bundles or packages of stuff that I found lying around, either indoors or out, at least one every week.  Some weeks I'd make several if opportunity presented itself.

One week in particular I made a bunch of bundles, since we were at the beach and not doing much except walking in the sand and picking up shells anyway.  There were six, and I carefully put them into plastic bags and cushioned them so they wouldn't get broken or unbundled on the way home.  In a masterpiece of bad vacation planning, we had only one day between getting home from the beach and setting out for a cruise, so between unpacking the suitcases, doing laundry and repacking, some things never did get properly put away.

You guessed it immediately, but I didn't figure it out until eight months later when I was trying to document all the bundles I'd made during the year.  I realized with a terrible sinking sensation that the ones from the beach had never been unpacked and put in the big bag with all the other ones.  I searched around in what I thought were obvious places but never could find them.

At least I had the photos, I told myself, trying to get used to the concept of having lost some of my work for the year.  Heck, what's the point of a daily or weekly art project if you can't assemble the whole thing when it's over?

Time passed.

The other night I was looking for some crocheting to do while we watched TV.  It has just recently gotten cool enough that I want to have an afghan over my lap in the evening.  So I found a bag with a project already begun and worked on it during the movie.  As I was packing up afterwards I noticed the bag was kind of heavy and rooted around to see what was in the bottom besides three more skeins of yarn.

Of course it was the bundles from the beach; apparently I had taken that afghan along on the trip and not looked at it since.  I am so happy, having almost but not quite resigned myself to them being lost forever (or should I say misplaced forever, if there's a difference).

You might wonder how a bag of half-finished crocheting could sit around for two and a half years without being investigated.  But believe me, that's easy.  I own lots of tote bags, and many, many of them contain half-finished crocheting.  Guess I need to watch more TV and work on those afghans!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A book I loved

I've read a lot of good art books in the last decade but have never was moved to write a "book report" and urge my friends to read one.  But the book I just finished is so strangely wonderful that I have to carry on about it for a bit.

It's "Bright Earth" by Philip Ball, written in 2001 and subtitled "Art and the Invention of Color."  Ball was a chemistry major as an undergrad and received a Ph.D. in physics, so when he tells you how pigments work you know it's technically accurate!  He has written a history of how artists discovered various pigments and binders over the centuries, and how the availability of these tools influenced the kind of art that was made.

Today we can use every known color in the rainbow, and lots more, in whatever form we want -- paints, pencils, pastels, dyes, photography.  It's hard to think of a time when you couldn't use blue or green, or only at vast expense, because the materials didn't exist or were prohibitively expensive.  For instance, did you think, as I did, that ultramarine blue was named because it was in some way really, really like the color of the ocean?  Not so.  "Ultramarine" means "across the sea," because the pigment, ground from a stone called lapis lazuli and precious beyond imagination, was imported from far away (mostly Afghanistan).

The discovery or invention of new pigments through the centuries not only influenced the colors in paintings but also the very nature of the art.  For instance, the development of pre-mixed oil paints in tubes, instead of artists' having to grind and mix their own paints, enabled them to take their easels into the fields and paint plein-air.  Ball quotes Renoir:  "without paints in tubes, there would have been no Cezanne, no Monet, no Sisley or Pissarro, nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionism."

Morris Louis, Beta Lambda, 1961

In our own century, the color stain paintings of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis would have been impossible without the invention of acrylic emulsions in 1953.  This type of paint was runny and transparent, perfectly suited to being poured onto tilted canvases.  Jackson Pollock's drips and spatters were made with thin gloss enamels, developed after World War 1 as automotive and house paints, and cheap enough to be used on the vast canvases of the Abstract Expressionists. The flat colors of Pop Art, devoid of brushstrokes and the "old-fashioned" marks of the painter's hand, were enabled by fast-drying acrylics.

For those of us more familiar with dyes than paints, the discussions of dye chemistry will be of particular interest.  Ball maintains that the entire field of organic chemistry developed primarily from the search for better dyes.  But it wasn't until 1954, with the invention of fiber-reactive dyes, that truly colorfast cottons became available.

I could go on and on, recounting how new pigments, new binders and new techniques enabled new kinds of art.  I learned plenty about art history from this book, and even though the chemistry went in one ear and out the other, every sentence was fascinating on its way through my brain.

If your library doesn't have a copy of this book, you can get one for five dollars on Amazon and I can think of no better present to yourself if you're interested in art and art history.  Even if your only connection with paint has to do with your fingernails, you'll learn plenty and love the journey.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Workshop report 3 -- best recycling

If you've ever attended a strip-piecing workshop with Nancy Crow you will find this panel familiar:

Linda made it with Nancy as a color study, and though she liked the result, could never figure out what to do with it.  So she brought it to our workshop and wondered if she could use it in the small-to-large exercise.

Well, why not?

She sliced some strips off the side and already had a few rows of small-to-large piecing finished, at about the time the other people were barely starting to choose fabrics and cut strips!

Here's what she ended up with: not a complete composition, because she wanted to make a larger piece and didn't want to use up her whole "fabric" right away.

Notice how she has rearranged the strips to break up the order of colors, so it isn't so obvious that everything was cut from the same strip set, and how the two short horizontal rows "frame" the center and give variety and interest.

Maybe you can also see the striped fabric she used for new skinny lines: perfectly coordinated with the original colors, it's going to give the finished piece a lovely sparkle.

Having come home with a lot of unfinished color studies from the Crow Barn myself, I am always thrilled when an opportunity arises to use them in another project.  I was proud of what Linda came up with; even though the pre-existing stripes weren't as skinny as in my instructions, the effect was striking and the spirit was certainly in keeping with the fine-line ethos.

I'm not one of those teachers who gets in a snit when people go off on tangents.  I think when the muse decides to strike, you have to go for it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Workshop report 2 -- small-to-large

I wrote yesterday about "large-to-small," one of the two ways that I classify my styles of fine-line piecing.  Now here's the opposite, in which you assemble lots of small pieces of fabric and sew them together, row by row, until you end up with a large expanse.  It's a much more flexible approach than large-to-small, because it's so simple to undo and restitch a two-inch seam if you want to move a bit to or from somewhere else.

Here are some examples of what the workshop participants came up with.  Already they were developing different approaches to working with their colors:

grouping of colors: dark at the bottom 

grouping of colors: dark in the center

grouping of colors: a column of purple

adding more lines for greater density at a focal area

using striped fabric for the skinny lines (some strips cut with the stripes, some cut across)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Workshop report 1 -- large-to-small

The workshop I taught last week in Ft. Myers was on fine-line piecing, the technique I have been using almost exclusively for the last six or seven years.  Although all my fine-line quilts follow the same basic approach -- separate two bits of fabric with a pieced-in very skinny line -- I have experimented with lots of variations on that theme.

I've sorted them out in my own mind into two buckets, which I call large-to-small and small-to-large.

In large-to-small, you start out with a large piece of fabric.  Cut a slice through the middle of it, piece in a very skinny line of fabric, and sew it back together -- now you have two smaller areas with a line in between.  Repeat -- now you have three or four smaller areas with lines in between.  Repeat, repeat, repeat, ending up with ever-smaller areas and ever-greater complexity.

That's what we did on Day 1 of the workshop.  After people got comfortable with the sewing technique, they concentrated on design.  And after they had worked for a few hours on a composition, they were challenged to add a second color.

Here are some examples of what they came up with:

Monday, November 11, 2013

First, put up design walls

I'm just back from Ft. Myers FL where I got to spend two great days teaching fine-line piecing in a workshop for Art Quilters Unlimited.  We met in a studio at the local art center and before I got there I was concerned that everybody in the workshop would have some space for a design wall.

I'm a huge believer in design walls -- which of course are so much more than just a wall, but a way of life.

Early in my own experience as a quiltmaker I took a workshop in which we each brought some batting and taped it to the vast cinderblock walls of a basement room in a convention center.  Until then I had never heard of a design wall, or known that batting over a firm surface is "sticky" enough to let you put fabric up without pins.  Nor had I realized the huge difference between spreading your work out on the floor or the bed and actually getting to step back and see it head-on from a distance.

I think the design wall for a quilter is akin to the word processor for a writer (and I speak with the authority of one who did lots of quilting and writing without benefit of these tools).  With the tool comes the ability to refine and fine-tune your work far more easily than you could ever do without the tool.  With just a typewriter, editing and rewriting quickly became a mess of cross-outs, insertions, type-overs and cut-and-paste.  Pretty soon you said to yourself "to heck with this, it's good enough,I'm done."  And often that was too soon.  But with a word processor, every time you revise or rewrite the work is right there in front of you, clean, neat, readable.

The same thing happens when you look at your work on a design wall.  You can arrange and rearrange quickly and keep working at it till you get it right.  No more climbing up and down on a chair to try to get a long view; no more walking on top of your spread-out fabrics to get to that spot in the middle.

No matter what kind of workshop I teach I ask that people have design walls.  Many times the students are having their first encounter with vertical display of their work in progress, and as a result are having their first encounter with the ability to audition fabrics and colors, to fine tune, to make decisions as they work (instead of committing to a design in advance and then simply executing it, good or bad).

On occasion I have been fortunate enough to have workshops in space with pre-existing design walls, big expanses that can be pinned into.  I used to teach occasionally at a quilt shop that had several big 4x8 foot panels that could be hauled out and propped against the walls, and once I persuaded a local quilt group in advance of the workshop to buy a dozen panels that could be used again and again.

More frequently, people will bring a big piece of batting and hope they can find a wall space to hang it on, or bring their own smaller panels of cardboard or foamcore and hope they can find a place to prop them up.  But often the design boards end up propped on the floor, not easily visible, not easily fussed with (especially for us aging ladies whose knees and hips don't like us to work at ankle-level).

On the way to a workshop I always fuss and fret over whether there will be adequate design wall capability, so it was with great delight that I stepped into the studio in Ft. Myers.  There were lots of easels in the room because it's most frequently used by painters.  The easels turned out to be perfect places to park medium-size design boards up at eye level, visible while you were sitting at your sewing machine, and even more visible if you needed to step across the room for a longer view.

A few people put up batting for their design walls, and that worked just fine, but the usable wall space was limited, so the easels saved the day.

Later this week I'll show you more of the work that we did in the workshop.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Photo suite 98 -- Kokopelli variations

When the Glen Canyon Dam was built in Arizona in 1966, the waters rising behind it as Lake Mead flooded many ancient petroglyphs and pictographs.  Artists replicated many of the best ones at Anasazi State Park in Boulder UT.  Everybody's favorite Anasazi motif is Kokopelli, the flute player and trickster.

Friday, November 8, 2013