Now that I can sustain a creative thought for a few minutes, I am making headway on a kimono quilt that I began months ago. The inception of the design was influenced by kimono paintings by Miriam Schapiro. This also began, in a way, by echoing Magritte's The Treason of Images series of a pipe investigating the imagery of an object instead of the actual object: "This is not a pipe". This was a fiber construction of a painting of a garment; this is not a kimono.
That entry path was soon re-directed. The embroidery that is the focus of the main top panel began to build on more subtle associations in my mind. The landscape of the embroidery is Tuscany. Once I had the great fortune to have one of the brothers at the St Francis church at Assist Italy open the tiny back window that frames an incredible view of the Tuscan landscape. It truly was like looking into paradise. That line led me into thinking of icons and reliquaries
One of my favorite paintings from the National Gallery in Washington DC, Gerard David's 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' found it's way into the work, along with lots of velvet, silk and sequins. This is turning into a statement about everyday saints though, so I am hearing my button collection crying out to be included. There also really is a scarlet background cloth coming - possibly with some rebuses.
Wow! It feels great to have a moment for art again!
"Visual artist Janet Olivia Henry is a born storyteller. Her work includes words and phrases spelled out as exquisite or eye-popping garlands of unique beads; or photographic installations of dolls accompanied by life narratives which are eerily familiar." This is movement and energy in beading as I have never known it; beading unleashed, unfurling it's wild potential. The colors are richly evocative.
"Since 1978 Janet Henry has been perfecting her unique visual language by literally collecting bits and pieces of the society she observes. Henry builds major works by accumulation and the assemblage of smaller components. Her finished works are social commentaries and reactions to the city and the people that have drawn her attention." This statement was from her 2002 show at PPOW. Henry's work consisted of beads and artifacts strung and looped into words. Another exhibit had an installation of beaded words strung down the hallway. And then there is "Oh just shut up!" - an installation of beads, paint and writings.
"I've been influenced by Yoruba dance costumes, rural Japanese packaging, West Indian carnival costumes and European sculpture, painting and drawing," says Henry. "I like to think that my work chronicles the lives of the people and situations that get my attention. I'm curious about the ways in which culture manifests itself physically. I'm fascinated by the things that people use to symbolize themselves."
"Claire Heathcote is a graduate from Goldsmiths College where she studied Textile. Her work looks at the way thread can transform from a drawing tool to a medium able to say something about the person being drawn."
"Claire Heathcote's delicate embroidered portraits capture modern life in mid gesture. The impact of her faces - images gleaned from magazines and reduced to a collection of graphic planes and simple outlines - is strangely amplified by the relative intimacy of embroidery. Occasional loose threads connect us to the making process and trail across the surface like a line of thought left unresolved."
"My work is almost always portrait based. I find peoples' expressions and features very interesting, and I tend to embroider pictures of people that catch my eye, that look a little unusual or glamorous. My starting points are usually images from magazines, films or books, and I think my work benefits from this distance between me and the subject.
Another aspect of my work focuses on thread as a drawing tool. Sometimes I use it in a very controlled way and at other times play with the loose threads to speculate on the subjects' personality, or the situation they are in."
All of the above quotes are taken from the respective web pages. When embroidery begins to gather the meaning and line quality of drawing, it suddenly becomes intensely interesting to me. There is something overly balnd about the embroidered line that is continuous, smooth and in-control. Heathcote has managed to break both the line and the restraint simultaneously! Delightful and provoking.
Apologizing for the relative silence lately in Layers of Meaning: for about a month now, I have been frantically working on a manuscript for an online course. The course covers everything from UNIX to databases. I have found it almost impossible to switch my brain off one track and onto the other. But!! I am done - back to art and fiber and the stuff that makes life fun!
One of the bright spots of this busy period has been the arrival of my preview copy of Selvedge magazine. Selvedge is a gorgeous new journal from England that focuses on the art of textiles. There are no "how-to" articles - or even why to articles. The articles instead tend to be fairly cerebral and are reviews of art and or arts theory.
It's hard to find much online besides Selvedge's one page home page. The best part of this page is "To receive your FREE SAMPLE issue of selvedge, please click here" Fooling around in Google led me to a back door for Selvedge. The Selvedge philosophy seems a bit thin, but I did identify with their target audience: "Artists of International Stature and Innovative Newcomers" The sample articles online, unfortunately, are just brief summaries. I cannot guess what the "stockists" are (vendors?). That page looks like a lovely travel brochure.
A page for authors aspiring to be published in Selvedge possibly reveals the most about the future of Selvedge: "Selvedge is an independent, 100-page full colour magazine published six times a year. The magazine is image led and has an uncompromising design.
Directed towards an international audience, Selvedge covers fine textiles in every context with illustrated features on fine art, fashion, interiors, ethnographic textiles, important collections, travel and shopping. The latest book reviews, exhibitions and comprehensive listings feature in every issue. The magazine provides a wide-ranging, unbiased and critical overview of the textile world....
Decisions relating to commissioning are based primarily on the quality of the images submitted. Selvedge is an image-led magazine and no writing however good can justify inclusion unless accompanied by extremely high quality images. "
Hmm - an arts magazine based on images. Sounds good. I truly would send my $75.00 to subscribe, if only I were that artist of international stature or a woman of independent means. MEanwhile, I'll just relish the sample issue.
What a fascinating concept. In photos, the show works wonderfully. 14x14 "The art works are uniformly 14 inches square but varied: any media, any style, high & low art, known & unknown artist, and so on. This show is about breaking boundaries.
In truly democratic style, each art work has the same amount of wall space, but each expresses the particular criteria for art of the individual artist. This show asks, of the artist and viewer: What is the state of contemporary art? Are there shared criteria by which we assess an art work? Is there a global art style to be seen?
The 200 artists, mostly London-based but from many different nationalities and backgrounds, were carefully chosen by the ten curators. 14x14 is one of the largest young group exhibitions in London and shows the direction of the next London art scene."
Anyone in America feel like trying the same - or trying an equally open-ended fiber all show?? Any media; any style - just 14? X 14"?
Nicola Henley creates contemporary textiles through surface manipulation and stitching. An online exhibition describes Henley's surface manipulations: "Nicola Henley's textile pieces are made by a combination of dying, painting, and screen-printing cotton calico and texturing the surface with various materials stitched into the cloth."
A past issue of Fiberarts magazine offers an interview with Nicola Henley, entitled Free to Fly. Henley describes how she came to be fascinated by her subject matter of sea birds in flight, 'In college, Henley was intrigued by space and movement; she came to birds by chance. Stranded at a bird center by a storm while on holiday in Ireland, she started observing a peregrine falcon that came there each day, and she ended up being captivated by the "small jewel of being in all that space around it.' Henley has both studied and photographed birds and still watches them, but she is now more interested in the movement of sea and sky. She wants to capture the 'essence of the bird without making it about the bird.'"
Superior Threads has revealed the mysteries of thread measurement. Their online article begins (and I quote the first few paragraphs, though perhaps I should be memorizing them): "Thread size measurement - The weight or size of thread is an important consideration for any sewing project. The three most common methods of measurement of threads are weight, denier, and tex (sadly tex has no country and western songs).
1. Weight. A smaller weight number indicates a heavier thread. The weight of a thread is actually a length measurement. Dividing the length of thread by a set weight derives the exact measurement of a thread weight. A thread is labeled 40 wt. when 40 kilometers of that thread weighs 1 kilogram. A 30 wt. thread and is heavier because a it takes only 30 kilometers of thread to weigh one kilogram.
2. Denier. Weight in grams of 9000 meters of thread. If 9,000 meters weighs 120 grams, it is a 120-denier thread. Many polyester and rayon embroidery threads are 120/2, which equals 2 strands of 120-denier thread for a 240 denier total. Larger denier numbers are heavier threads.
3. Tex. Weight in grams of 1000 meters of thread. If 1,000 meters weighs 25 grams, it is a tex 25. Larger tex numbers are heavier threads"
And if you are still wondering why we should care: ". Needle size. A general rule is to use a needle whose eye is 40% larger than the diameter of the thread." The article goes on to explain how to match up a needle to the thread to lessen the fraying and breakage. They also discuss tension, number standard and composition standard.
A great reference piece for when I are tearing out my hair over thread that keeps breaking - maybe what I really need is a different sized needle!
In 1980, Mexican architect Luis Barragan won the Pritzker Prize for architecture. This is an considered architecture's Nobel Prize. His acceptance speech is as moving today as it was then - and relevant to fiber or any other art. Barragan's complete acceptance speech and photos of his work are published in on the Pritzker Prize web site. Here are some excerpts of his speech:
"It is alarming that publications devoted to architecture have banished from their pages the words Beauty, Inspiration, Magic, Spellbound, Enchantment, as well as the concepts of Serenity, Silence, Intimacy and Amazement. All these have nestled in my soul, and though I am fully aware that I have not done them complete justice in my work, they have never ceased to be my guiding lights.
Religion and Myth. It is impossible to understand Art and the glory of its history without avowing religious spirituality and the mythical roots that lead us to the very reason of being of the artistic phenomenon. Without the one or the other there would be no Egyptian pyramids nor those of ancient Mexico. Would the Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals have existed? Would the amazing marvels of the Renaissance and the Baroque have come about?
And in another field, would the ritual dances of the so called primitive cultures have developed? Would we now be the heirs of the inexhaustible artistic treasure of worldwide popular sensitivity? Without the desire for God, our planet would be a sorry wasteland of ugliness. "The irrational logic harbored in the myths and in all true religious experience has been the fountainhead of the artistic process at all times and in all places " These are words of my good friend, Edmundo O'Gorman, and, with or without his permission, I have made them mine.
Beauty. The invincible difficulty that the philosophers have in defining the meaning of this word is unequivocal proof of its ineffable mystery. Beauty speaks like an oracle, and ever since man has heeded its message in an infinite number of ways: it may be in the use of tatoos, in the choice of a seashell necklace by which the bride enhances the promise of her surrender, or, again, in the apparently superfluous ornamentation of everyday tools and domestic utensils, not to speak of temples and palaces and even, in our day, in the industrialized products of modern technology. Human life deprived of beauty is not worthy of being called so.
Silence. In the gardens and homes designed by me, I have always endeavored to allow for the interior placid murmur of silence, and in my fountains, silence sings.
Solitude. Only in intimate communion with solitude may man find himself. Solitude is good company and my architecture is not for those who fear or shun it.
Serenity. Serenity is the great and true antidote against anguish and fear, and today, more than ever, it is the architect's duty to make of it a permanent guest in the home, no matter how sumptuous or how humble. Throughout my work I have always strived to achieve serenity, but one must be on guard not to destroy it by the use of an indiscriminate palette.
Joy. How can one forget joy? I believe that a work of art reaches perfection when it conveys silent joy and serenity." Luis Barragan; Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate; 1980
image: From the book "CASA MEXICANA" ©1989 Tim Street-Porter, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York.
Jenny Balfour-Paul has written two books on indigo blue, dying and the dyer's history. Unlike, mauve, indigo is an ancient and natural dye. A book review by The British-Yemeni Society describes the traditional method of getting blue-jean blue:
"The natural indigo dye vat was, in fact, somewhat obnoxious, containing as it did a fermentation of indigo plants tempered by alkaline additions such as urine, camel dung, dogs’ turds and dates, coated with scum and set as often as not in a dark, airless room where the dyer sat and stirred for days on end." (ick!)
In spite of this, Balfour-Paul fell in love with indigo and it's possibilities. Bluenote website presents a photo documentary of her explorations in indigo. There are also some fascinating photos of the dying process: "When the fabric strips are lifted from the vat of greeny-brown liquid, they change colour to blue as they come in contact with the air." In the photo, you can see the chemical reaction creeping up the strips of fabric. "Indigo is insoluble, it's the oxygen that causes the chemical reaction that turns the items blue as you pull them out of the liquid."
She also discusses woad, the older English blue dye, which was supplanted by indigo. "Woad was grown widely in Europe in the Middle Ages until the arrival of tropical indigo in the 17th century - woad merchants were wealthy men as woad was needed not only for the familiar blue, but also for green, purple and black in combination with other natural dyes."
Uses for indigo? In an interview Balfour-Paul answers the most unusual use that she's come across for indigo: "Probably for dyeing the hair, eyebrows and beard in China and the Middle East - hence the legend of Bluebeard". As far as fiber art, Isabella Whitworth's web site features indigo dyeing and shibori inspired by a lecture on indigo given by Jenny Balfour-Paul at the Crafts Council in London.
The future for indigo blue looks good with new research supporting the natural indigo process: "SPINDIGO aims to enable growers to supply natural indigo with a purity greater than 90% to a significant proportion of the European market. Three species of indigo producing crops are currently being grown in Finland, UK, Germany, Italy and Spain to demonstrate their potential as commercial crops throughout Europe. Each crop is being assessed for its suitability to the different climatic conditions met across Europe."
I didn't read the book - just the cliff-notes version of it, a beautifully illustrated article by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company). The book discusses how the first synthetic dye was invented, using quotes from the inventor: "I was endeavouring to convert an artificial base into the natural alkaloid quinine but my experiment, instead of yielding the colourless quinine, gave a reddish powder. With a desire to understand this particular result, a different base of more simple construction was selected, viz. aniline, and in this case obtained a perfectly black product. This was purified and dried and when digested with spirits of wine gave the mauve dye."
But possibly more interesting is the discussion of the state of the textile dyers' art back then: "The most common animal dye was cochineal, a crimson colour which came from cactus eating insects. 17,000 were needed to produce one single ounce of dye."
Then there was the difficulty in changing the habits of dyers: "Initially dyers didn't want to know at all. They felt they'd been dyeing the clothes in a particular way for hundreds and hundreds of years and they didn't want to get involved in any form of new or technical process. But he had a great time and he, in fact, almost went bankrupt." The invention of synthetic dye was saved when Queen Victoria wore mauve to her daughter’s wedding.
Early dyes often caused the wearer to break out in horrible rashes because of the impurities. The environment suffered - the standard joke being rivers that changed colors daily depending on the dye being manufactured. The article argues that we are not so far gone from that time and place: "And the way things are going, with the sort of problems associated (with the industry), there is a danger that dye will stop being made eventually and that will mean that the population will be running round in unbleached fabrics because you won’t be able to colour anything. The dye manufacturers have transferred their businesses out of Germany and Switzerland to Asia to Third World countries."
American Scientist has a shorter Mauve article online (with few illustrations) that relates invention of alizarin crimson. ABC mentions the synthetic creation of magenta, fuchisa, olive, primrose, violet. It's difficult to imagine how fiber art will respond if the predictions come true and we were to lose out synthetic color.
I think that I am going to die of envy. Sharon Boggon has posted her collection of embroidery threads. I had always thought that I possessed an embarrassment of riches in threads (see photo), but now I realize that I have not even scratched the surface of thread ownership. Can one ever own too many art supplies?