Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Flag time

Long-time readers of my blog know that I am a flag junkie -- I love the flag, I love photographing the flag, I love making quilts using the flag both as visual motif and as metaphor.  If you love the flag in all of its roles, you can check out my past posts here.

Two years ago I was feeling frissons of dismay about what was happening in the country as the presidential election approached.  I made three flag quilts to express different nuances of that dismay.  And I will confess that I was pissed off that none of them was juried into Quilt National, because I thought they were far stronger works than the quilts I have had accepted into that show in the past, and because I thought that artists who spoke out against the sorry state of American democracy should be given as wide latitude as possible to have their work shown.

Fading -- 59 x 99"

Today I'm feeling dismay again -- or perhaps I should say yet.  It was brought very close to home last week when a guy with a gun attempted to enter a black church, and when nobody answered his knock on the door, went down the street to a grocery store and murdered two black shoppers.  This is a grocery store, a few miles down the road from my house, where I have shopped many times.  A couple of days later, another guy with a gun shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood where I have walked and shopped and eaten and driven through.

What dismays me today?  Let me count the ways --

The fact that we have almost as many guns in this country as people (except a huge proportion of those guns are owned by a relatively small proportion of people).  The fact that so few politicians have the guts to stand up to the NRA, although the great majority of people in the U.S. want stronger gun regulation.  The fact that our president throws gasoline on the flames of white male resentment every time he opens his mouth, ranting against immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women, anybody with the slightest deviation from standard sexual identity.  The fact that he trashes and insults our allies, the democracies of the world, while expressing his love for dictators and bullies such as Kim, Erdogan, Duterte, Putin.  The fact that the Republican party goes along with every outrageous word out of the president's mouth.  The fact that so many avowed Christians have decided that they love a thrice-married, perpetually lying, self-confessed sexual assaulter because they think the ends justify the means and this is the way to ban abortion.

Flagging -- 98 x 54"

My parents, along with their entire families from the day they immigrated, were Republicans.  They were decent people, as were most of the people in that party.  The Republican party used to pride itself on its commitment to principles.  When Nixon hit the fan, it was because his fellow Republicans, dismayed at the revelation that he had lied and obstructed justice, announced they could not support him.

I do not see that commitment to principles any more in the Republican party.  Instead I see previously decent people who have decided to sit down with the devil, perhaps uneasily but boy, are their butts firmly attached to their chairs!  They have sold their souls to the NRA, to the big money PACs, to the pharmaceutical and gambling and oil lobbyists.  They have pinned their election strategies on keeping as many potential Democratic voters as possible from registering and voting.

More Equal then Others -- 82 x 97"

My only hope is that we're having an election next week.  And although our constitutional system is deliberately rigged to favor the voters in small states and dilute the votes of those in large states -- in other words, most of the people in the country -- I still have hope that decency will prevail.  If we miss this chance, we may not have another.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Almost finished

The show has to be open for the public at noon today, and with any luck it will be!  I have been at the gallery every day this week with a rotating crew of friends and family, without whom I would have been in deep trouble.  Monday was carpentry time, as my older son installed a rail on which to display a bunch of matted photos from my 2010 and 2011 daily art.  This was my first time to see a laser level in use and boy, is that a nice little toy!

Here's what the rail looks like finished:

On Tuesday my friend Vickie, who had done so much in helping me last week, showed up again and we made all the decisions about what should go where.  My younger son came to wrangle pedestals and climb ladders; we got the 2001 calendar quilt up on the wall and all the weekly package/bundles put out.

Yesterday my fellow PYRO members Bette and Claudia helped me get the finishing touches on the installations, and do a professional job of lighting.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful track light system at the gallery but you still have to climb the ladder and adjust the lamps by hand.  (You lost me at "climb the ladder.")

Despite going shopping every day this week, I still had one more last-minute list to do on the way to dinner last night.  I think I have everything I need in the car as I head off to the gallery for what had better be the last trip.  Getting very tired of installation -- want to get on to the party phase of this opening!

The show, "Day By Day By Day: adventures in daily art" will be at PYRO Gallery, 1006 E. Washington St. in Louisville KY through December 1.  The opening reception will be Sunday October 28, 1-4:30 pm, and I'll do a gallery talk at noon on Saturday November 3.  It would be wonderful if some of my internet friends could be here in person.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Recently I spent a couple of nights at a hotel that was ostentatiously green.  They gave you a $10 credit to the gift shop if you would agree to not have the maid make up your room.  They encouraged you to save electricity by providing only one weak lightbulb for a spacious room (fortunately I was reading on my Kindle, not by hotel light). 

The soap was called "terra green."  It came in a nice cardboard package, eminently recyclable or biodegradable.  But imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found another layer of packaging, and it seemed to be plastic!

Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Friday, October 19, 2018

Duct tape takes a hit

Conventional wisdom has it that duct tape sticks to everything and is your go-to remedy for any kind of adhesive need.  Heck, even the astronauts keep it around for emergency repairs, such as the hail-Mary save of the Apollo 13 mission, fixing a moonbuggy and plugging holes in the International Space Station.  Certainly the roof-and-gutter guy who worked on our house many years ago loved the stuff, as we discovered when we started excavating to prepare the way for major basement waterproofing:

Yes, the guy took the downspout a foot under ground level and duct-taped the joint to the pipe that was supposed to take the water out to the front lawn.  Guess what -- the duct tape failed and the water made a nice big cave behind the pipe to wait in before escaping into our crawl space.

But I digress.  Duct tape is on my mind this week because it seemed like a good way to affix felt to foamcore boards in preparation for my show.  On Wednesday Vickie and I spent all morning on this task.  We thought about various alternative methods, but decided that duct tape would be the down-and-dirty way to get the job done -- and of course, duct tape sticks to everything, right?

Yesterday I got one of the boards and put it on the work table to pin the collages on.  But what's that spongy feeling under my fingers -- it feels like loose duct tape on the back!  Took all the collages off the board, flipped it over, and yes, the duct tape was coming loose.  Apparently it didn't like to stick to felt.  And it didn't even like to stick to foamcore board very much either.

So I did what I should have done in the first place: return to my roots.  Namely, if you want fabric to stay in place, sew it.  I stitched the corners shut and added more duct tape to the sides -- not holding tight enough for the space station, but I hope tight enough to get the boards to the gallery where I can nail them to the wall.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Getting ready for the show

I've told you that I'm getting ready for my solo show at PYRO Gallery, opening a week from today.  The topic is my daily art, which I've been doing since 2001.  So unlike many artists, who as their show approaches are chained to the studio, wildly sewing or painting or whatever to make new work, I don't have to make anything new.  But I do have to figure out how to display all the stuff I have made over almost two decades.

Yesterday my wonderful friend Vickie came over to help me get set.  Our first task was to cover foamcore boards with felt to make a background for collages that will be pinned up.  I've written before about my frustration in ordering foamcore boards that arrived with all the corners crushed in, but fortunately the felt concealed much of the crush, and we decided it was good enough for government work. 

We had to decide which collages would go on the board -- I had spent a lot of time narrowing the choices down, but when it came to the last decisions, I outsourced to Vickie and my husband.  They chose which five to lose, or sorted poems into yes and no piles.   Ordinarily I'm a control freak but as this show reaches its completion I guess I'm tired, and happy to relinquish ownership of the final cut.

Then we arranged and rearranged the cards on the boards, both by subject matter and by color.  Finally ended up with four boards occupying every horizontal surface in the living room.

After lunch we moved on to photos.  I had made prints of 80 of my favorite daily photos, but only ordered 50 mat sets.  I will have room to display only about 25 photos, but thought I would get about 40 matted and put the rest in a flat bin for immediate purchase.

I was disappointed to find that some of the photos, bright enough when seen on a computer, looked drab as prints.  But no harm done -- the prints cost only 39 cents each.  We put a bunch in a pile for Photoshopping and reprinting sometime in the future. 

We had to hinge the cut side of the mat to the back board, and then tape the prints inside.  Since I had foresightedly bought two rolls of archival framer's tape, we could each work separately and crank out a big pile of beautifully matted prints.

I realized that I hadn't bought enough of the tiny T-pins to get all the collages pinned to the boards, so I let Vickie go home.  I'll have to finish that part of the task on my own -- certainly before the next baby visit to our living room.

I know I could have done these things by myself if I had to, but it was such a joy and relief to have a helper, if only to be able to talk through the decisions that were already 90 percent made, and to give somebody else a chance to say "OMG don't put THAT collage up on the wall!"  I've always believed that everybody needs an editor, and Vickie was my safety net.  As well as my dear friend, especially after today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Piecing fine lines -- a nifty technique

I had the pleasure of leading a workshop over the weekend for Loose Threads, a small group of fiber artists from the Evansville IN area.  We worked in several varieties of fine line piecing, and it was great to have an enthusiastic bunch of sewists who were happy to keep cutting and piecing when others might have been ready to call it a night and go to bed.

Every time I teach a workshop I learn something -- maybe a new technique that a student shows me, maybe a new way to explain or organize my own presentation.  What I learned this time around was to make good use of what we came to call "test strips."

When people make slash-and-restitch compositions, it's essential to contemplate what's going to happen before you actually make the slash, because there's no going back if you change your mind.   I confess that when I was doing a lot of these quilts, I would usually just lay down a long ruler over the quilt, stretched flat on my worktable, and if I could find a straight course across the quilt without running into obstacles such as a preexisting seam intersection, I would go ahead and cut.

Do as I say, not as I do.  I recommend that my students put their work up on the design wall, as their designs get more complicated, and audition different pieced lines before they cut.  Here's an example of how most of them would proceed: use a strip that you've already cut for a fine line, and slap it up on the design wall.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the strips auditioning on the wall are three or four times as wide as the finished pieced-in line is going to be.  So they don't give an accurate idea of how the quilt will look.

A better idea, we realized, is to cut "test strips" that are the width of the finished line -- about one-eighth of an inch, rather than one-half inch as in the quilt above.

With accurate test strips, you can try different cuts, stand back and get a much better picture of what you have in mind.  Here are three possibilities we auditioned for one student.  In a very close view, you might see the pins or fingers holding up the test strips, but otherwise it would be hard to differentiate the real lines, already pieced, from the hypothetical ones.

We had such good results with the test strips that I'm going to incorporate that method into every fine-line-piecing workshop I ever teach again.  If you work with fine lines, I highly recommend this approach!

The best thing about it: you have to invest less than one inch of fabric into enough test lines to audition many, many cuts.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's fiber, but is it art?

Last month we took a cruise on the Zuiderdam, the same ship we had been on earlier in the year.  Apparently all the cabin stewards on this ship have to take the same professional development class, because on both cruises, when you returned from your dinner or entertainment at night, you found a critter on the turned-down bed:

This was my favorite:

I could have attended a demo/class on towel folding one day on the ship, but I decided to concentrate on the fiber arts I already know rather than learning a new practice area.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cyanotype on parade

I was in Memphis last week and visited Crosstown Concourse, an exciting new residential/commercial/community development built inside an old Sears distribution center.  And was pleasantly surprised to find fiber art on display in one of the gallery spaces.  John Pearson, an artist who has apparently taken pains to make sure we can find out nothing about him on the internet except that he went to school at Cal Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, showed a dozen cyanotype prints on fabric.

They're big -- the largest one is more than eleven feet tall and seven feet wide.  Most of them were seamed vertically down the center before being set out in the sunshine with stones or palm fronds laid on top to make a resist against the sunlight. 

The cyanotype process requires the fabric or paper to be soaked in a cyanide-derivative solution, dried, and then exposed to light.  Where the light strikes, it develops as deep blue pigment; everywhere that was masked out is left the original color.  The one piece that Pearson made onto red and white striped fabric was the most striking of the show.

The others were made onto plain white, yielding more subdued compositions.

 (detail below)

I found the pieces beautiful and intriguing, but I thought they suffered from the same existential dilemma that faces many of us who do surface design.  You make a beautiful piece of fabric, but then what?  On the one hand, you don't want to cut it up into little bits for piecing or collage, because you will lose the gorgeous sweep of color and design that makes the big piece beautiful.  But on the other hand, if you just pin it up on the wall, or turn it into a whole-cloth quilt or hanging, is it art yet?  Or does it need something else, and if so, what?

I thought these would benefit from something else, not that I have any brilliant ideas about what that something might be.

One last thing that I loved -- these works are described as "soft photographs."  I've never seen this locution before but it's certainly appropriate!

The show continues through November 25 at Crosstown Arts East Gallery, 1350 Concourse Avenue in Memphis.  If you go, make sure to take some extra time to poke around and appreciate the huge complex of buildings.

Monday, October 8, 2018

World-class artist photography

How many times have you heard impassioned and stern warnings about the quality of your photography being so important in getting into juried shows, and for the artist's life in general -- you'll never get anywhere if you have any visible background or tree limbs or clotheslines or god forbid grasping fingers in the photo.

So I got a laugh when the New York Times design section, that arbiter of all things stylish, ran this photo last week:

Jonas Wood, Los Angeles artist, with "Yellow and Orange Orchid Clipping" rug

Nifty rug, don't you think?  It's hand-knotted in Nepal of wool and silk.  A silk rug nine to ten feet long by this artist sells for about $30,000; this one looks a bit smaller, so certainly affordable for your front hall.  Read the story here, about how artist rugs are seen as art, not rugs.  Very heartening!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wishful thinking

Seen in Bar Harbor:

Yes, I'm hoping for a dead end. 

And I don't even have to think about sexual assault to reach that conclusion.  Enough that he's a self-confessed sloppy, obnoxious drunk, filled with rage and entitlement, rude and insulting to the senators questioning him, lying about the meaning of his own juvenile yearbook boasts.  This is the judicial temperament we want on the Supreme Court?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Found and lost -- Geta Brătescu

Last month I had the pleasure of a day at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and discovered an artist I had not previously known -- Geta Brătescu, born in 1926 in Romania, who worked in fiber.  The museum had three of her works, collaged and machine-stitched onto heavy canvas, in an exhibit called "The Long Run."

Medea's Hypostases II, 1980 (side view below)

The conceit of this exhibition was that artists with long careers keep on being innovative and creative (duh!), and included works from their later years.  Some of the artists in the exhibit are well known -- Louise Bourgeois, Ellsworth Kelly, Georgia O'Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Philip Guston -- while others were new to me, including Brătescu. 

Each of her pieces was about 30 inches tall, rippled from the heavy stitching, with the edges roughly zigzagged.  The wall tags identified the medium as "drawing with sewing machine on textile."

Medea's Hypostases III, 1980 (detail below)

Medea's Hypostases IV, 1980 (detail below)

When I got home I tried to understand the titles -- "hypostasis" (the preferred spelling) in philosopher-talk means "substance, essence or underlying reality".  In medical and science talk it refers to blood settling in the lower part of the body or sediment settling to the bottom of a fluid.  In genetics it refers to the action of one gene being suppressed by the action of another gene.

Apply all of these to Medea, Euripides' tragic heroine who kills her own children to spite the husband who cruelly abandoned her, and maybe we're seeing the revenge course through her system and sink, overpowering her motherly love.  Or maybe something else...

As you might imagine, I loved these works, took pictures and looked forward to sharing them with you.  Finally last night I got home, ready to write some blog posts after a long time on the road.  But in this morning's newspaper was an obituary of Geta Brătescu, who died at age 92 in Bucharest, the week after I saw her work.

She worked in many styles and mediums, in graphic design, collage, drawing, photography and film; turned to textiles only in the 1980s.  After the breakup of the Russian bloc, she was discovered in the West, had some high-profile shows and represented Romania at the Venice Biennale last year. 

In some ways Brătescu's work reminds me of that of Ana Lupas, another Romanian fiber artist whom I discovered a couple of years ago -- both of them working with modest materials and basic sewing stitches, but with a lyrical quality and powerful presence.  Indeed, when I googled Lupas just now to see whether she is still alive (I think yes) I found that she and Brătescu had at least one joint exhibit, about ten years ago.

I'm happy to have discovered this work, but unhappy to find out, so soon, that this artist is gone.