Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Pages Piece Under Way

Busy and productive day at my studio today as I started laying out all the little rectangles for the next "Pages" piece. The basic composition is the same for this second one, but I've added a separating line of grey silk dextrined fabric pieces around each of the black rectangular frames within the piece. Since I'm working with the Solvy for this first time -- for the last piece I had a roll of Floriani tacky water soluble that made holding all these small pieces in place much easier, but this product is more economical so I'm doing some R&D and hope it works as well.

I've silkscreened and dyed a lot of new fabrics to build a collection for the various ideas I have for a series, rehearsed a number of them and decided these work together well. When I cut the printed yardage into the 1.5" x 2" rectangles, the words become fragments. Some are readable, others -- particularly the large ones that fill the centers of the black rectangular outlines -- look more like calligraphic forms. I am pleased with the look of them and am considering adding some machine or hand stitching to create some more obvious horizontal lines of "text."

All the pieces are laying on water soluble fabric at the moment. I plan to finish the layout, adjust any wandering pieces and then tack everything in place with basting glue when I return on Thursday. Once that's done, I'll layer more water soluble fabric on top and secure the layers for stitching by pin basting, then bring it home to stitch.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Responding to Other Artists

There are lots of reasons why I love to visit art exhibitions, but two stand out in my mind today. First, other artists' ideas and the ways they approach translating their subject into visual images inspire new ideas for my own work. Second, there is an energy that develops when a group of work is assembled from diverse artists that creates an interesting and original dialogue of its own (even if only in my own mind!).

On Friday I revisited the Made in NY Exhibition at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, where I was fortunate to have one of my mixed media fiber pieces accepted this year. "Destinations" has a lovely space at the center of one of the walls in a side gallery.

Aside from the obvious pleasure in having the piece I entered juried into the show, I gathered a lot of insights from spending time with many other artists' works juxtaposed next to each other. Since I'm exploring written language in my Pages series, I paid a lot of attention to the works in the exhibit that reference language in some way. A mixed media work, "Lascaux," by Sean Ward hung to the left of mine. Sean uses a very primitive, almost graffiti-like text in this piece. His artist statement, written like a prose poem, sheds some light on his use of text: "a single stroke, may invoke a new, language to tell the, tale of our days and, ask the right, questions..." The piece draws my attention because the tiny twigs on the right hand side seem to echo the marks of the written text. The word "wall" is printed out, but the characters in "Lascaux" require a bit of time to assemble visually and decipher. There is a sense of ageing and decay in the surface, heightened by the use of textured materials and paint processes and the skeletal twigs lashed to a stained piece of wood with marks incised in it.

Equally intriguing from my perspective of language imagery is a huge drawing of tiny, repetitive marks by Katherine Sehr from Buffalo , which was displayed unframed. In her artist statement Katherine writes: "I record small, rhythmic movements on paper. The time invested results in an animated landscape. In the private act of drawing one gesture leads to another...I wish to illustrate time through process." These small marks on a huge surface really do communicate the passage of time and the presence of the human hand. In my own work, I rely on dextrin resists and silkscreens to capture some of this feeling of organic, repetitive marks, but I will definitely explore more use of repetitive hand-drawn marks on my own surfaces.This next piece uses text as it might be seen in letters, diaries or journals. This sculptural tree form installation by Kim Waale, a Central New York artist who is a faculty member at Cazenovia College, casts a natural shadow to the left of the piece. However, the shadow on its right is an artificial one, hung upside down and completely filled with handwritten text that gives some sense of continuity of meaning, but not enough to provide an entire narrative.My own new pieces cast shadows when moved away from the wall. The idea of creating intentional shadow shapes filled with lines of written text will get filed with my rapidly expanding collection of ideas to consider in the future for my "Pages" and "Interior Landscapes" pieces. Finding inspiration in works that are similar to our own style and subject matter is a pleasure, but it is always a delight to happen upon a work that is so totally different from my own that it makes me stop and consider what draws me to it. In contrast to my own organic, more subtle style of working, this small painting by Hope Zaccagni, has a very graphic, hard-edged contemporary feel to it. The strong contrasts in color and value command attention and draw my eye to it even from far across the gallery. What intrigues me as much, if not more than the actual piece, is the artist's inspiration for her subject matter. In her artist statement she writes: "My most recent work has grown out of a fascination I have for abandoned chairs, old lawn chairs, chairs left in hallways, offices and classrooms, chairs used to hold doors open for people who have long exited, chairs basking in sunlight and chairs left out in the snow or on the curb... The images evokes a sense of a distant memory, a journey taken, a lost love or an old friendship. They often elicit a feeling of loneliness, distance, dislocation." Isn't this a wonderful artist statement as well as a rich subject to explore visually? Normally, after spending time observing and recording ideas and inspirations from other artists' works I would be able to rush home, get to my studio and experiment. But I was headed off to our cottage on Panther Lake, a tiny lake north of Syracuse, for a weekend with my husband. I did have my camera with me, though, and Hope's chair painting came to mind as I saw these old Adirondack chairs haphazardly arranged at the edge of the lake. They felt solitary and somehow expectant at the same time. I saw them in a new way because of experiencing Hope's work and ideas.

Here are a few other photographs that my visit to the Made In NY exhibition inspired. I can definitely translate the various lines into my work, from the softly curving, organic plant growth to the heavy, bold lines of the boat hoist on the neighbor's dock and always the hypnotizing, shifting patterns of light and shadow on the water.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Printing and Cutting Marathon: The "Pages" Pieces

I have been studying and working through some sample ideas and compositions based on written language for over a year. I started first by researching ancient scripts, some of which are so obscure that they are not even able to be deciphered by linguistic experts. In one of my first pieces, "Forgotten Language," (2006), I made language-like stitched marks with embroidery floss across a surface that I wanted to look and feel like a fragmented, ancient tablet.
Here's the complete view of the piece. It felt like a good beginning but not quite what I was striving to communicate
Then, early this spring, after trying several other ways to express language in my compositions, I had the idea to make a semi-transparent single layer piece using water soluble fabric and thread. This piece is called "Pages" and will be on exhibit at the International Quilt Festival in Houston this fall as part of an art cloth exhibition juried by Jane Dunnewold and Claire Benn.

I cut tiny 1" x 2" rectangles from silk screened text on white silk. I sometimes search for old letters or diaries at antique shops, borrow old family letters from friends to make copies and then turn them into silk screens. On this piece I selected pages from an old dictionary and a fragment of an old love letter and created screens from that. I also bleach discharged and potato dextrin resist dyed silks and cottons, laid them out on water soluble fabric, stitched them with a loose grid and then washed away the water soluble. A sheer, floating length of fabric with rows of these tiny pages remained. From that point on, a wave of ideas started and I seemed to be recording one right after another in my sketchbooks and journal. I envision hanging these pieces at least six inches away from the wall (and hopefully my talented husband will be able to help devise this hanging mechanism) because the pattern of shadows created behind them adds another dimension to the piece that I find most interesting.

Ideas continued to fill my sketchbook and journals while I was teaching at Pro Chem, through the SDA conference and class, trip to New Mexico and class in Ohio. When I got home from all my teaching and travels around mid-June, even though I had another three day class to prepare for and teach locally, I went right to my studio and started designing new screens, printing them on cloth and doing more discharge and resist patterned yardage. Here's a sample of black and grey silk-screened on white silk:

In the past few weeks, I've made numerous patterns and combinations, all working with greyscale. There is something fascinating and freeing in working without other colors for now. I can always add them in numerous ways down the road when I feel they become important to the idea for a piece. I see so many incredible ranges of hues in simple greys right now, for example, that I will enjoy exploring their subtlety and variety for a bit.

For the second "Pages" piece I've decided to cut the pages a half-inch larger in both directions -- 1.5" x 2 ", so it is possible to read whole words now, although their relationships remain ambiguous. Because I am more interested in the calligraphic look of the large text than creating a readable document or story, I enlarged this writing with the idea that the fragmented text would read as calligraphic marks rather than actual words.

I still have many more ideas for making fabric components, but have settled on the ones I'll use for the second piece, which will be twice the width and length of the first one. I'll be laying it and stitching it over the next week and will post the piece as it progresses. I thought it would be exactly the same as the first Pages piece, just larger, but am already "seeing" some ways I want to modify the patterns of rectangles for this new piece. The cutting down into little segments is tedious and time-consuming, but also very meditative because it is so repetitive. My mind plays with design and composition variations as I cut and stash each yard or so of fabric into small plastic storage baggies. I'm working on being patient, although my mind tends to leap ahead and wants to get right at the design and construction part. But making marks and patterns on cloth and then creating the little page components are what I'm doing for now.

What fascinates me most about this exploration is that I turned to visual arts over 10 years ago to get as far away as possible from words and written language. Visual art has been a way for me to go to what I call my No Words Place, an intuitive world of color, pattern, line and shape. I find it hard to speak or think coherently when I'm in this mode -- sometimes there's a kind of instinctual monosyllabic thought chain -- "Here.... blue...." --then that fades and there's just movement and gesture and strong instinct.

Not that working from instinct always work out initially! Even though at that moment it feels like I am connecting to some incredible creative wellspring, the intuitive flash abates and I'm left in my regular, thinking mind considering what I've just done and what needs to be done -- or undone -- next.