A few weeks ago I was invited to lecture at the Charlotte, NC Quilters Guild. There was some free time during which a member showed me some of the sights of Charlotte. One of these was the McColl Center for Visual Art, which has three floors of open studios for artists-in-residence, in an old converted church building. As luck would have it, one of the artists in residence was Anna Torma; her name was familiar somehow but I did not connect her with Quilt National, which is another story. I found her embroidered textiles interesting in a folk tale sort of way, particularly seeing some in progress.
A few artists down the hall was Barbara Schreiber, a Charlotte painter (sorry but I cannot find a website for her, some images are at www.barbaraarcher.com/artists/schreiber/index.html but not the ones she had at McColl). She often paints in a very small format (about 4″ square), about the absurdity of life. Innocent children, almost out of the old Dick-and-Jane-see-Spot-run books, are shown with bombs or dead rabbits. Some were about the absurdity of life; an A-to-Z series was about the absurdity of American politics and the “war on terror”.
Anna Torma’s work obviously took much, much longer to create than Barbara Schrieber’s simple 4″ paintings. Why did the little paintings hold my interest much, much longer?
Our quilting tradition encourages us to make pretty things, to cut up fabric and sew it together to make nice compositions, to embellish with beads for that ‘sparkle’, to make sure no threads are hanging loose and everything is tidy. I have made many quilts in that mode myself. But now I’m starting to look further afield than art quilt exhibits, and seeing what is going on in the world – both in the broad sense of current events and in the narrower sense of “art world”. (You may see my series of political quilts at www.doughtydesigns.com/galleries/politics/index.php.)
“Disconnect” © eileen doughty
Artists can wield tremendous power with their work. The art that sticks in our minds is the art that has something to say. Arguably the best example is Picasso’s “Guernica”. PBS has a page about Guernica and “the tension between art and politics”: http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/guernica/glevel_1/3a_tension.html
Martine House is one textile artist who is making art about abstract concepts like miscommunication or the moment of death; I also admire her work because it makes use of the nature of textiles and could not be done in painting.
“Imperfect Communication”, “Reliquary” © Martine House
“Jesus Get Your Gun” © Shawn Quinlan
Thelma Smith, bless her heart, is known for her “Left Turn Lane” series on the homeless (dye painted); she curated “Changing the World One Thread at a Time” last year.
“LTL9” © thelmasmith
Of course there are more examples of people making art quilts which make statements, but it seems to me they are vastly overwhelmed by art quilts (and not-so-arty quilts) that are not about much of anything.
We often complain about the art world not taking art quilts seriously. Usually we blame this on the general public’s misunderstanding of what a ‘quilt’ is (always referred to as ‘not your grandma’s bed quilt’ in the reviews) or that quilts are historically women’s work and so they aren’t accepted in fine art. I propose that the real reason we are not accepted into the art world is that so few of us are saying anything of notice with our artwork.
We all have something to say about our world, its problems and the solutions. I would like to know how many of you have two bodies of work — perhaps “pretty” art for exhibiting, and more serious art you make to express yourself. If you want to make a statement with your art but haven’t done so, what is it that is keeping you from it — finances, peer pressure, social pressure? Or do you disagree that not many art quilters are making meaningful statements in their work? Or that it matters?