Monday, June 20, 2016

Of Stitching and Sloughs

Finding myself in an endless Slough of Despond occasioned by just one too many (twenty too many?) stories about human beings wreaking or threatening to wreak havoc on whole groups of other human beings, I sat down to stitch. Making could be a useless act at this point in time but it might just be an act of defiance in the face of all the destruction and hatred. And making does nourish my spirit, which is sorely in need of nourishment.

So instead of railing against walls and guns and governments slipping into chaos, I will focus on a little 12 x 12"piece I finished, called Spring Thaw, the time when trickles keep expanding into rivers of new life:
This is another of my textured series, with hand stitching creating those wonderful ridges and wrinkles in my hand dyed cottons and silks--lots of silk in this piece. It was supposed to be sent off to the auction benefiting SAQA but didn't make the deadline. There's always next year and  it will be useful for several other shows.

And just to reinforce my decision to return to my studio for a while, this morning I happened upon an article by Carey Dunne about a new study demonstrating that making art (even if you're not very good at it--thanks for the encouragement!) reduces stress hormones in most people. This may not help a family trying to flee Syria but it might help those of us who are trying to find a way to help.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Examining a bit of life

"Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things." This quotation by Georgia O'Keeffe that accompanied one of her memorable minimalist paintings, Gray Wash Forms, was only one of many elements of my day at the Museum of Fine Arts that I wanted to think more about.

Abstraction is a different way of seeing, a clear contribution that art can provide to our figuring out why we are here and how we are connected. Her piece and accompanying quote were in a paired exhibit with the galleries focused on the work of Lawren Harris, each of whose paintings of the Arctic and northern Canada exemplifies O'Keeffe's statement. The one that held me the longest was Pic Island, an embodiment of eternal serenity and mystery.
But as I thought about the day I realized O'Keeffe missed an aspect of abstraction that can also contribute to getting at the real meaning of things. Repetition offers a way of focusing, of noticing that a single image cannot. Megacities, a new major exhibit at the MFA, includes the works of eleven artists responding to conditions in the major cities of Asia, and I kept saying Wow as I wondered through the main gallery of the exhibit. Here is Take Off Your Shoes and Wash Your Hands by Subodh Gupta of Delhi, a wall of stainless steel kitchenware so shiny that the light creates even more patterns. 

And pattern is the point here. The repetition of similarly set up squares reminded me of the history of my own medium--quilt blocks, and the fact that these dinnerware "blocks" are similar but not identical keeps your eye moving, changes the rhythm that it sets up just slightly enough to keep you looking and looking closely. But the overall feel is multitude, of closeness that can be comfortable or uncomfortable. 

My favorite piece was another wall:

For Build me a nest so I can rest, Hema Upadhyay painted commercially produced bird forms to capture an amazing variety of bird species. I found no duplicates while I was looking although perhaps there may have been some. Here again the similar but not identical repetition sets up a rhythm further emphasized by the strip of paper each bird holds in its beak with a small bit of a long quotation written on each strip. It begins: "They will never be the same again because you can never be the same again once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same. How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home. What you end up remembering isn't the same as what you have witnessed. . . ." The strips suggest a wave uniting the individual elements. The theme here appears to be migration in all its forms but particularly of the move to an intensely urban area like Mumbai, where the artist lived.

In among all the seriousness was the pure fun of Tech Styles: how the fusion of technology and fashion can produce such pieces as the 3D printed spiral dress.

The day ended with an all too brief visit to the museum's Zen garden, a discovery that I made on this visit and that is open only during the warmer months of the year. The peace is palpable as you enter. Can what we see, can what we surround ourselves with make such a difference? Lawren Harris certainly thought so.

And peace to those of you who have been on this ramble with me. Thanks for the company!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Indisputably Uncertain

I have launched into a new series, conceived when I felt I could no longer stand the stridency of today's rhetoric. Reasoned argumentation and thoughtful questioning have given way to name-calling and belittling. Our genetic desire for certainty and our tendency to follow someone who simply asserts he has found the Truth works against the reality of the uncertainty of our lives. And so I decided I could either hide under a pile of blankets until things got better or I could work out my frustrations by creating pieces that celebrated uncertainty, reminding myself of the need to question, of the fact that I can never be absolutely sure that the next step I am taking on the path is in the right direction. It's always a judgement call, but take that next step anyway.

So here is a piece I have named "I Dwell in Possibility":
I also got the opportunity to try out a new technique. (Does this make me an opportunist?--an equally annoying type these days.) I had experimented with dyeing some cheese cloth and I loved how it soaked up the color and this seemed an ideal piece to use it on. I wanted to attach it to the background so that it would maintain its freeform shape and texture and felt that fusing it would reduce this effect. So I handstitched the cheescloth to the top layer with a fine matching thread making sure the stitches were invisible but the shapes were securely attached.

I do admit that any abstract piece could potentially fit this series since abstraction by its very nature, a nature I have grown to love, opens itself to many interpretations. And while I was nearing the finishing of this piece I came across a review of an abstract art show at FiveMyles in Brooklyn by Alexis Clements, who says all this much more eloquently than I have done: "The paring down, the removal of a prescriptive dogma or interpretation, allows the viewer to explore on their own. It is a highly personal experience. . . . And at a time when haranguing proclamations and categorical insistence seem to be everywhere, stepping however briefly into a space of not knowing, into an acknowledgment of uncertainty or at least curious exploration, feels like a cool drink of water."

I may have explained away this piece--which is just 16 x 21 inches. Perhaps you should just ignore my strident rhetoric and make of it what you will--something a viewer of abstract art does as a matter of course. Anyway, thanks for the company!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Experimenting with Tradition

I don't remember how the tradition began but for years I have made my husband a small quilt for Valentine's Day. It's an opportunity to connect with something memorable from the year, as in 2014 with our new experience of frequent walks on the beach, or to try out a new technique. This year I found myself with a pile of Thermofaxes I had created and had not yet tried out. Several of the screens had text on them not because I wanted to make little samplers of wise words but I thought I could play with making text a design element.  So here is my 2016 Valentine (you can click on it to make it bigger):

It's a quote that resonates with many conversations we have been having, and layering echoes the text. I am not sure how successful it is--the text is still a bit more central than I would like-- but I got to play with three different screens as well as photoshopping and printing the three repetitions of "Emerson," the source of the quotation. I also attached the raw edge applique with large French knots, a kind of short cut way to use hand stitching that works better than I thought. It's 16 x 11", not as small as my more recent Valentine creations.

For some reason last year I did not post the tiny Valentine I made for Tom--perhaps we were too busy shoveling whatever part of our seven feet of snow had by mid-February. So here is Cardinal in the Snow in honor of the blizzards of 2015:

It is only 4 x 6" and was an experiment of sorts since the background was a lighter paint printed on a bit darker fabric.

And now I must return to the real snow that must be shoveled once again.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Okay. So I have to admit that I, like so many other people, am reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. I am not sure why I feel a bit guilty about admitting that, other than I was worried when I put it on hold at the library that it was yet another overpopularized and underresearched rah-rah self-help book, telling you that you are wonderful just the way you are if only you would believe in yourself. While there are a few echoes of that attitude in the book, it does say a number of things that I need to hear, particularly about perfectionism and how it is different from striving for excellence.

And I discovered another aha! moment. I had been getting frustrated that I was not spending enough time in my studio and had always been impressed with those artists/quilters who start working at the crack of dawn before breakfast, perhaps break for a piece of toast and then keep on going. These are the people who seem to have the great blogs, the full teaching schedules, the prize-winning work.

But I, slug that I am, often don't get to my studio until 10 am and my plan had been to sit down with my husband at dinner that night and talk about how I could get to my studio earlier. Then I read Brown's description of the two alternatives to handling anxiety and stress: those who tried to assuage the anxiety by, for example, wedging more work into the day (making phone calls while waiting at red lights or while checking out at a store) or those who addressed anxiety "at the root by aligning their lives with their values and setting boundaries."

So I began to look at what I valued. Aside from getting work done, whether that is stitching, planning, or dyeing, I do value sleep but I am usually up before 7 (sorry, 5 AM is not going to work for me), and I also value healthy food, time with my husband and my crazy Goldendoodle, and yoga stretches that keep my joints moving and my shoulders and hands able to do hand stitching. Getting to my studio earlier would mean giving up a long walk with Terra, some fruit-filled hot oatmeal shared with Tom, and those vital stretches. I was beginning to think this was not worth it but decided to give it a try, shifting the walk to the afternoon, the stretches to before lunch,and the breakfast eaten after I had worked for a while.

The afternoon walk was fine on this day but there would have been time for only a short walk, and I realized as I got ready for bed that I had gotten so involved in my work that I never took time for the stretches. This morning I went back to the old schedule, but I did not begin working  (at 10:30 am! because of an extra long walk) berating myself about getting to work so late. I felt energized by my morning tasks--and actually got more work done by lunchtime than I had with the extra hour or so on my experimental morning. Just as my work doesn't need to look like all those big name quilters, my schedule doesn't need to either.

And, while I am not sure why anyone would still be reading this long post, if you are, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Word Play

Last week was full of art. Well, every week is full of art, but this was other  people's art--at the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. And both have set my mind moving is a variety of directions that I want to record--so you will be hearing about those directions as well.

Black Mountain College in North Carolina was the scene of an incredible stew of artistic talent in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s that included Rauschenberg, Twombly, the de Koonings, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller. An exhibit at the ICA does an admirable job of recreating that feeling of so many people pushing the limits of their art and gaining inspiration from all the ideas and works in progress surrounding them.

I went to the exhibit expecting to see a lot of abstract paintings but didn't realize that one of the major artists there was Anni Albers, a weaver, who just happened to be married to Josef Albers. Unfortunately, her beautiful textiles were displayed under glass so that the textures were not as exposed and photos were exercises in frustration as reflections were always part of the picture. But I will share a few anyway.

Large weaving based on ancient Mexican ruins

Detail of weaving on left

Nigel's Weaving (small)
Cityscape (small)

An exquisite untitled watercolor by Ray Johnson shows how he used both Anni's weavings and the color theory taught by Josef. (The white dots are, alas, reflections of lights across the room.)

On one of the walls of the exhibit in large letters was the word "Haptic." Now this was a word I discovered a number of years ago and was planning a blog post about that must have never gotten itself completed. Here is the description the ICA provided:

      . . .If any description can encompass the whole of the Black Mountain aesthetic, it might the
      haptic, as opposed to the purely optical. Defined as "relating to the sense of touch," the
      haptic in art refers to works that appeal to touch through the selection of materials,
      the process of making, and the bodily engagement of the maker. Haptic objects
      intertwine visuality and tactility so thoroughly that they are inseparable.

And there you have a description of textile art. I like that idea of intertwining the visual and the tactile--and hope I can remember it when I am called upon to say something wise about the work I do.

And thanks for the company!

Monday, December 28, 2015

A few of my favorite things. . .

This morning--in the studio for the first time in several days--I felt a deep gleam of joy. At least that is the word that comes closest to what I was feeling. Nothing extraordinary was happening: I was just matching perle cotton thread to the strip of fabric I was about to sew down. And even the color was not awe-inspiring--just a medium value gray that would by itself excite no one. But there it was--as I laid several tones of gray thread on the fabric, looking closely at each, I felt a physical sense of . . . joy.

It has been a strange December with new issues of concern arising every day within my circle of friends and family and broadening out to national and world events and personalities. It was looking like a bleak midwinter. And so this morning I sought balance, sought more things that brought me joy even amid the worry.

I noticed the mallards swimming in the pond below our yard and again these were not the showy wood ducks that raised their babies there this summer but just this everyday kind of duck. And I remembered how surprised and delighted I was a few days ago when, as I was watching the males circle around and upend themselves in the water, I could see their bright orange legs maneuvering under the water. Again that little glow spread through me.

Above the pond the sky was graying into a snow sky, suggesting that the predictions for our first snow of the season might be right, and I remembered the hushed feeling of anticipation, of joy?, that is always there as I watch the first three or four snowflakes of a snowstorm quietly fall--a scene I will miss tonight since the storm is due to start after 1 AM. It's a feeling I tried to capture in a little quilt I made a couple of years ago, called "Verge."

And there is joy when I settle into a book and realize I am in the hands of a master craftsman who knows how to tell a lively, meaningful tale. Later in the afternoon I began reading a Christmas present from my daughter--Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and there it was again. She began with the story of the poet Jack Gilbert, who wrote, "We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world." 

Coincidences also can bring me joy.

Peace and joy to us all this holiday season!