Jasper Johns Gray: Looking and Seeing (by Clairan Ferrono)

Near the Lagoon 2003

Near the Lagoon 2003 118x79x4″

Can you always articulate why you like or dislike a piece of art?  I can’t.  Several years ago, when the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago had just opened, I was just looking for a bench, exhausted by the  many wondrous works I had seen.  Instead, my eye was caught by a very large, monochromatic — painting, collage, sculpture? — I couldn’t even tell what it was!

It was Jasper Johns’ Near the Lagoon.

I examined it minutely.  Time passed.  I sat with it.  I tried to sketch it.  What was it about it that so riveted me? Jasper Johns? He was the guy with the flags, right?  Nope, not interested . . . or was I?  I needed to know more.

White Flag  1955 79x120"

White Flag 1955 79×120″

White Flag.  It’s sort of white, sort of a flag.  But far more interesting.  Johns is interested in “how we see and why we see.”  He wants us not only to look past the known object, the flag, but into it.  “At first I had some idea that the absence of color made the work more physical,” he explained. “Early on I was very involved with the notion of the painting as an object and tended to attack that idea from different directions.”

Gray-numbers 1958

Gray-numbers 1958

The Dutch Wives 1975

The Dutch Wives 1975

Catenary-Call to the Grave 1998

Catenary-Call to the Grave 1998

Near the Lagoon 2003

Near the Lagoon 2003

detail

detail

Johns attached objects to the surfaces of his encaustic paintings.  In the Catenary series, of which Near the Lagoon is the final and largest one, the looping string is the catenary (the curve made by string hanging from two points).  And it’s a real string.  In Near the Lagoon, one of the things that first struck me was the string — I had to get close to see if it was painted or not.  And then I laughed because the actual string casts a shadow, but there’s a painted shadow as well. And a little ditch caused by the string’s having gotten stuck in the wax and being pulled out. The color, in the wax, makes each brush stroke individual, the texture a real physicality.  And the side of this fascinating work of art looks like part of an old door or shutter. A window? A real window, and a window into the painting.  The real and the painted. The object and the object objectified.  Johns asks us to look and to see.  To observe.  And his work is very richly textured and rewarding.

Laurie Wohl — Unweavings (by Kathleen Loomis)

Several weeks ago I got to see a show by Laurie Wohl, a New York fiber artist who has concentrated on liturgical and religious-themed work.  Her show at the Patio Gallery in Louisville was a series based on Christian, Jewish and Muslim poetry and spiritual texts.  (Sorry that I didn’t visit in time to tell you about it before the show closed.)

She wrote: “For this project, I emphasize particularly the common themes and striking parallels between Arabic and Hebrew texts, similarly rich in a poetry of spiritual love, an extensive poetry of exile, a poetry of nostalgia for Andalusia, and poetry speaking of enemies and reconciliation.”

It’s a daring subject in this era of widespread fear of radical Islam, to seek similarities between that religion and Christianity and Judaism.  In fact, viewers might have shared the tiniest start to read Wohl’s categorization as “the Abrahamic religions” — we Judeo-Christians don’t usually think of Islam as our sibling, although it reveres the Old Testament, regards Jesus as a holy man and sprang from the same tradition.

Wohl’s works in this series make extensive use of calligraphy, mostly Hebrew and Arabic scripts, and also repeat the imagery of a veil, through her signature “unweaving” technique.  Working with a heavy canvas, she slices either the warp or weft threads around the edge of a shape, then unpicks the weave to leave the other strands loose.  Because the weaving process puts a lot of crimp into the strands, when they’re set free over a long distance they’re significantly longer than the woven part of the canvas, so they droop and/or bulge.

Laurie Wohl, Window of Prayers (detail below)

I missed the gallery talk so I didn’t learn how Wohl achieves the sharp raised edges on her letters and shapes.

Laurie Wohl, Babylon (detail)

I could tell that she painted the “unwoven” strands of her canvases and often strung beads on them.  Sometimes she sliced the free strands at the top of the shape so they would hang down below the unwoven area.

Laurie Wohl, Elegy for Cordoba (detail below)

(Note how the rods at the bottom droop slightly at the center where more of the weave has been removed.)

Usually she removes the horizontal threads and leaves the vertical, but not always.

Laurie Wohl, Watchwords (detail)

I’m always intrigued by art that uses text or letterforms, and though I read neither Arabic nor Hebrew, I could tell that Wohl’s calligraphy is exquisite.  The works have a solemn presence as well as a bright and lively sparkle.  The show was well worth a visit.

 

I’m cross-posting this to my own blog, Art With A Needle.  Please stop by and visit me some time!

 

Have You Ever Wondered Where Your Sewing Machine Came From? (by Sandy Wagner)

As a child I sewed by hand (age 8), my father worked in a place that had satin and taffeta scraps and he brought them home. As I grew up, age 9, I got a tin toy sewing machine with a crank handle. I was in heaven I could sew tube tops for me and things for my dolls. 12 years old when I got a real sewing machine WOW.  Did I wonder where the sewing machine came from? No –  and had not really thought about it until thinking about a post for RCC.

modern sewing  The inside of the modern-day sewing machine. Head Front View

A sewing machine is: “a machine used to stitch fabric and other materials together with thread.” These machines were invented during the Industrial Revolution to decrease the amount of time it took to hand sew garments. In 1755, Charles Frederick Wiesenthal, a German born engineer living in the UK was issued the first British patent for a mechanical device to aid in the art of sewing. The machine consisted of a double-pointed needle with an eye on one end.  In 1790, the English inventor Thomas Saint invented the first sewing machine design, but he did not market the machine well.  The machine was designed to sew canvas and leather type materials.  It is thought that Saint had a working model but it has never been found.  The machine produced a chain stitch method (a vertical needle bar and a looper), the single thread  made a simple stitch in the material and with the aid of the stitching awl which pierced the material going to the underside forming a stitch – the process was repeated and formed a locked stitch.

lockstitchmachineHowe’s Lockstitch Machine and built-in 1845

This machine was also used to make saddles, bridles, canvas and boat sails.  His machine was very advance but needed steady improvements over the next decades.  In 1874 William N. Wilson found Saints British patent in the patent office.  Wilson made adjustments to the looper and built a working machine – the machine is in the London Science Museum. In 1804 a sewing machine was built by Englishman Thomas and James Henderson, an embroidering machine was built by John Duncan in Scotland, Austrian tailor, Josef Madersperger began developing his first machine in 1807, his first working model was in 1814. You could go on and on through the years but to be up to date we shall skip a few of the years.  1845 brought an important improvement “the needle running away from the point, starting from the eye”.  there have been patent infringements  and awards made this machine.

Isaac Singer enter the picture:  he saw a rotary sewing machine being repaired and thought it to be clumsy,

treadle

Singer then designed a better one using a falling shuttle instead of the rotary plus he included a presser foot to hold the fabric in place – the needle was placed vertically, had a fixed arm to hold the needle and provided a basic tension system   Singer was granted a patent in 1851 and suggested a patent for a foot petal (called a treadle) but this foot petal had been in use for too long to get a patent. With the invention of the Sewing Machine a mans shirt could be produced in 1 hour where by hand it took 14.5 hours.  Since 1877 many types of machines have been designed i.e. overlock, crochet, vibrating shuttle .

In 1880 this machine was built by the Wilson and Wheeler Company.  Notice the crank.

1880

As the years evolved so did the sewing machine industry – Making a selection as to what you need or want – are you going to quilt on it, sew garments, make sails, overlock., embroidery, felt or ??? What size throat, domestic or longarm, it goes on and on.  Then comes price.  A big new Bernina would be fun but do you need a new car?  The first BIG Bernina cost $12,000.00 , a Ford Focus cost $11,000.00.

Looking back over the years what have been your machines, what type of sewing have you done?  I have a 1-year-old Jamone 8900 Horizon, the first computerized machine I’ve owned.  My all time favorite is my 30-year-old 930 Bernina.  I do wall art quilts, wearable art and streetwear.

Material and Immaterial (by Eileen Doughty)

During a recent visit to New York City, I spent a delightful afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum. On the fourth floor, adjoining Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” is an exhibition of outsider fiber art called “Bound and Unbound.”

Judith Scott (1943‒2005) began creating art in 1987, beginning with painting and drawing – with lukewarm interest. Early on, she was guided by the center’s facilitators, but eventually was self-directed. Her drawing style presaged her fiber art wrappings, with “repetitive, swirling linear gestures with multiple color variations.” [Quotes in this post are from Museum signage; images are mine, without flash, per Museum policy. Click on the thumbnails below for a larger image.]

Scott drawing 2Scott drawing 1

Once introduced to fiber art materials, however, she seemed to find a match for her creative needs. Her first wrapped piece was sort of a bridge between media, as she painted the surface – and that was also the last time she bothered with paint, apparently.

Scott1

She made only one monochromatic work (shown on the right), from torn paper towels, when she ran out of her usual materials: primarily yarn and torn cloth. (Analogous to making patchwork quilts or rugs from used clothing? When you have the urge to create, you use the materials at hand)

Scott3

The wrapped bundles became more “elaborate and refined” over time. The object(s) being wrapped were not recorded at the time, and for most, it is now impossible to now know what is inside them.

Scott created her artworks on top of a table, with the objects in a manageable horizontal orientation. Physically she would need help in manipulating the large objects, but the artistic choices were all hers.

The Museum displayed a few pieces on the wall (below, and a detail). “Scott constructed a number of pieces with…relief-like surfaces that, when hung on a wall, feel fluid or imply movement, while when presented horizontally appear more fixed and grounded.” (An analogy with wall vs bed quilts?)

Scott-wallScott-wall1

The artworks could take weeks or months to complete. She knew when she was finished with a piece, never revisiting it but just going on to the next project.

“By 1989, Scott was experimenting with more elaborately composed works featuring bent and trussed forms, creating a structural tension that is seemingly held in place by her wrapping and weaving technique. Formally, they show an awareness of negative space and sometimes make reference to biological forms amid their elaborate openwork construction.”

Scott4

Scott produced her art in Oakland, California, at the Creative Growth Art Center, an organization which still serves mentally, developmentally, and physically disabled adult artists. Individuals are encouraged to create art as an end in itself, rather than as therapy. They worked side-by-side in many media: painting, ceramics, tapestry, etc. Scott was Deaf, essentially mute, and had Down Syndrome. “Given…her inability to communicate in a conventional manner, Judith Scott was not in a position to explain her work. What she was actually making, and why she made it, therefore remains elusive.”

Studying her work, I could see many examples of the Principles of Design. Did Scott re-discover these on her own? In which case, are they innate to human nature? The lines of wrapping provide rhythm, line, pattern, area.  Her choices of materials display harmony, and hierarchies of scale. An example is the yarns and tubing/plastic hose in this piece (28 x 15 x 27 in).

Scott hoses

Or consider all the circles in the wrapped chair – particularly, a bike wheel and a hat. Yet there are surprises that are delightful to find. For example, one foot of the chair is different from the other three.

Scott chairScott chair 2

Colors in some pieces are sharply contrasting, while in others they are similarly hued. The “book” has reddish colors, with the spark of blue in the center.

Scott book

Nothing in this exhibition looks like a random hodgepodge of “stuff”. The analysis of any one piece could almost be a Ragged Cloth post in itself.

Scott covered mundane objects, making them unknowable. The object wrapped is immaterial (interesting word!) to its surface – it has become non-objective art. None of the artworks have titles. Judith Scott left no comment, statement, explanation; leaving us open to interpret as we will. I find this is Art at its most powerful.

Judith Scott—Bound and Unbound

Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, 4th Floor

Brooklyn Museum (New York)

through March 29, 2015

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/judith_scott/

Winning hands (by Olga Norris)

Shaping autumn (digital design) My present stitching on silk

Shaping autumn (digital design)
My present stitching on silk


It strikes me again and again that the person who benefits most from fibre art is the maker. To my mind the overwhelming reason for using fibre, cloth, thread, etc. is because of the feel of it – and yet once it is made art it must no longer be touched. It is often admired and judged by photograph – a two dimensional reduction of a whole body experience which can powerfully include smell in the case of huge sisal weavings, rope crochet, oiled wool knitwear, dried grass baskets, even paper …. I love combining ideas, thinking, drawing and digital collage, and the two dimensionality of printmaking – those intellectual pursuits – with the haptic pleasures of working the needle through the cloth.
Of course it is not just fibre which gives this pleasure: the handling of clay, slip, wood, stone, – the holding of a pen, etching point, a knife, a chisel as well as the wielding of a needle and scissors all bring their particular joy. But perhaps because fibre deteriorates first, after the piece is completed, if it is deemed to be art rather than artefact it is handled less.
Penelope's garden ( quilt detail)

Penelope’s garden ( quilt detail)


How lucky we makers are to handle, to feel, to manipulate, to stroke and be stroked, to use the fine nerve endings to distinguish the subtleties of soft, to gauge just the right amount of strength, pressure to use to turn, to fold, to pierce (and be pierced!), to pull – not simply to use those fingers to point. Handling fibre helps us to see in fine focus as well as in broad perspective, and in making by hand we make time for ourselves as well, gradually building our self portraits. When I handle one of my basket collection I feel an urge to be making a basket. When I see a weaving or tapestry I admire, I feel the urge to be weaving in order to appreciate it more. It is the fantasy of handling the materials which is seductive.
A stitch in time (small quilt)

A stitch in time (small quilt)


How much my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts all enjoyed the social stitching of items for family and friends. My Scottish grandfather too, the tailor enjoyed the feel of a good tweed or twill in his hands. And now I have the added exciting challenge of trying creatively to combine intellect and emotion with the haptic pleasures in the repeated attempt to express myself artistically in such a way that the two dimensional representation of the finished article will somehow convey not only a meaning but also the story of the making.
The sewing chair (digital design for stitch)

The sewing chair (digital design for stitch)


Are we makers not fortunate indeed!

White gloves at the ready!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that quilt shows must have invigilators of some sort. You see them at shows all around the world.

melbourne

White glove ladies (and quiltmaker) at Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild, Australia (via)

QuiltAngel-houston

Quilt angel at Houston show, Texas (via)

 

white-glove-california

White glove helper at Road to California quilt show (via)

Taking up positions at Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK (via)

Taking up positions at Festival of Quilts, Birmingham, UK (via)

Call them white glove ladies, or quilt angels, stewards or quilt guardians – they are there to keep an eye on the quilts, to keep them safe. They can make sure no-one simply walks off with one (it has happened! remember this?) and that visitors obey the Do Not Touch The Quilts signs.

whiteglove

At Glendale, CA, quilt show (via)

 

These helpers also get to share their love of quilting in conversations with interested visitors. (They don’t even need to be an expert on the techniques as there are usually samples or statements that can be looked at and read for the details, to which visitors can be referred.) They might need (in smaller shows) to keep a tally of visitors, or take money for items being sold. When things are quiet, they have a chance to chat with other helpers and get to know them better.

That last consideration is important in a large regional or even national group, in which members don’t meet face to face very often. My own experience is of Contemporary Quilt in the UK – we communicate with each other through a yahoo group, and see other members mainly at Festival of Quilts each year. It makes a difference to be able to put a face to the name.

san diego

Men in tuxedos did the white-gloving at San Diego Quilt Show’s “It’s a Zoo Out There” Preview Night (via)

 

ireland12

Kilted white glove helper at the International Quilt Festival of Ireland (via)

 

With all these positive aspects, and no training needed (you just need to smile, be pleasant, use common sense) – why are people so reluctant to volunteer to help out in this way?

Some, of course, live too far from the show, or have health issues or conflicting responsibilities that make this impossible. For shows in big national venues, the hassle of travelling to get there and the costs involved, and then the time that needs to be set aside, can deter volunteers.

Some are shy or afraid of the public; others don’t feel they know enough to be able to answer questions.

Some – usually the same people time after time – will help out at the drop of a hat and travel for one or two hours to do so.

What about the rest … are they lost causes? Is this reluctance to volunteer for a simple task a part of a general lethargy and apathy?  When stewarding slots need filling, how can these people be “incentivized”?

One incentive for doing several hours of minding the quilts is to get a day pass to the (large) show, which allows several hours of looking around at other displays and traders.

Collectible “quilt angel” pins are a tangible reward. For example, the“Roadie” bar is earned by volunteering four hours or more at the Road To California quilt show. Each year “Roadies” receive a year bar to add to their special pin. At Houston, the “quilt angels” earn an Angel pin for a three-hour shift, and if they serve two shifts, they earn priority registration for the next show.

The "Roadie" pin (via)

The “Roadie” pin (via)

A rather compelling incentive is pressure from others in the group – the sense that every member makes a contribution, not just of their membership fee but of something else, which can be helping run the organization or doing one of the behind-the-scenes jobs – or contributing by looking after the quilts at shows near them.

 

 

Found in the International Honor Quilt boxes — Ana Lupas (by Kathleen Loomis)

I wrote last week about my new volunteer gig, helping to catalog the “International Honor Quilt” collection of panels  that were made to accompany Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party installation.  My favorite piece in the first 200 panels I’ve catalogued is this one, by Ana Lupas:

Yes, at first glance it looks pretty awful, a mess of raggedy interfacing and loose thread ends.  But as you look more closely, you notice the intricate machine-stitched gridwork in the center:

Why did this piece call out to me so loudly?  I love grids, and I love dense machine stitching, and I love old-fashioned typewriters like the one used to type Lupas’ name and address on the interfacing.  But what I really admire is the supreme confidence of an artist who can put such humble materials together — the edges are secured with staples! — and make them stand up straight and proud.

The panel stood out from the others — not pretty, not earnest, not awkward or amateurish, despite its seemingly haphazard construction.  It’s the only one I’ve seen so far that strikes me as art rather than as decoration.

I had never heard of Ana Lupas, but some research reveals her to be 75 years old, still living in Cluj, Romania, where she was born.  She started her art career as a tapestry weaver and was exhibited in all the major shows, including several times at the the Lodz Triennial, where she won Gold and Silver medals in 1979.

She expanded her work to installations and happenings, especially outdoors where she was among the earliest Land Art practitioners and strongly influenced many of her fellow artists in Eastern Europe.  She would enlist people from villages to construct wreaths, towers and other forms from straw, then leave them outside for years to weather and disintegrate.  Predating Christo’s Running Fence, she had 100 women help her cover an entire hill with clotheslines of wet linens.

Ana Lupas, Humid Installation, 1970

I was unable to find more information about Lupas and her recent work, even by painfully reading Google translations of art criticism from the Hungarian. I found an artist statement that somebody else had translated into English, but it left most of its meaning behind.  She talks about art having “to contribute, to shape, and to give new dimensions to the social existential universe,” whatever that means.  She has no website, and I could find no images of her early tapestry work, predating the internet.

I’m afraid she will remain a mystery to me; her work calls out to me across the years but leaves me hungry for more.

I’m also posting this to my personal blog, artwithaneedle.blogspot.com


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