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!

The art of fiber / the fiber of art (by Olga Norris)

Sheila Hicks
Shiela Hicks with her work Pillar of Enquiry/Supple Column (from this review)

With some regret I will not be able to visit the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present, on at the ICA, Boston now until January 4, then at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus from January – April 5 2015, followed by the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa May 8 – August 2nd. However, I have the next best thing: the excellent catalogue with its informative and thought-provoking essays.

I became generally interested in soft sculpture such as the work of Meret Oppenheim and Claes Oldenburg before developing a particular fascination with fibre art in the late 70s through the Royal College of Art Gaudy Ladies exhibitions which included weaver Marta Rogoyska, and Natalie Gibson (whose print designs can be seen here). Then I also became attracted to the work of Tadek Beutlich who worked with weaving off the loom.
Tadek BeutlichThis opened a window for me, and I started looking more and more for examples of sculptural textiles – which led me to a treasury of delights: Magdalena Abakanowicz, Olga de Amaral, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Anne Wilson among so many others. Interesting that I arrived at Eva Hesse and Rosemarie Trockel directly through my interest in sculpture rather than through fibre art.

The catalogue provides clear photographs of the work in situ as well as close-ups, and the essays are also illuminating. The gulf between the burgeoning fibre art movement and what might be called mainstream art critics’ view of art is pointed out in the first essay of the catalogue: The Materialists by Jenelle Porter.
Despite the gains of the feminist art movement, which included a groundbreaking loosening of confining categories and mediums that has continued to have an impact on artists to this day, fiber’s association with women’s work undermined the abstract, material experimentation of fiber artists – man of whom were women, though not necessarily self-identified feminists. … By using traditionally domestic crafts … On the positive side they acquired a ready made alternative art history, and gained a language of form that summoned up vast realms of women’s experience. On the negative side they found themselves confronted by the questionable notion that craft was inherently female, and by the negative aspects of that gendering.

picFiberICA140930Abakanowicz_0352w
Magdalena Abakanowicz: Yellow Abakan (from this review of the exhibition)

In Glenn Adamson’s essay Soft Power he draws the distinction in bold terms by comparing the gravity-enhanced fibre works with distinct periods in history of the unpopularity of the flaccid penis in sculpture. The distinct lack of critical acclaim for the droopy draped natural forms of soft sculpture compares with the critical successes of upright thrusting forms of hard sculpture. This superficial sounding view is in fact an informative well thought-out argument which has certainly presented a different perspective to the feminist debate.
T’ai Smith’s essay Tapestries in Space: An Alternative History of Site-Specificity discusses how many of the glorious fibre sculptures were commissioned for specific buildings and now many have been destroyed or about to be destroyed because they were not looked after or were no longer needed. Barbara Shawcroft’s Legs joyously decorating the spaces of the Embarcadero Station on the Bay Area Rapid Transport network has been neglected, and is now to be returned to the artist – which at least is better than destruction. (Article about Legs here)
Barbara-Shawcroft-and-fiber-sculpture-Cal-Design-76
Barbara Shawcroft: White Form

Robert Rohm’s Rope Piece has been dismantled and lost, but the exhibition curator Jenelle Porter and a team from the ICA reconstructed the work and it is now part of the show.

Art made of fibre does suffer over time. Maintenance and conservation are headaches for collectors and institutions. Some fibre art once bought is wrapped up and put straight into the cupboard. This has happened with Lenore Tawney and MOMA. the latter pleading lack of appropriate space. At least, that might have been so in past decades, but now with the ubiquity of installations, the maintenance nightmares of sharks in formaldehyde, the vast sizes of iconic museum architecture, perhaps this timely revival of these wondrous constructions will have some positive effect -?

photo-614x460Elise Giauque: Pure Spatial Element (from this review of the exhibition)

But in reading this excellent catalogue/book as well as having been given the opportunity to think again about those historic pieces, and to mull once more aspects of feminism in art, I also ask myself, is it really over-simplifying the case by so much to say that generally, work made in materials which need less maintenance and conservation are in the long run more highly regarded (i.e. worth more) by the art world (critics, curators, collectors)?

The fascination of ferrous oxide (by Olga Norris)

I have been thinking lately, what is it that gives rust its seductive visual power? Why are so many creative folk increasingly drawn to using rust and rusting in their palette?
I suppose my first thinking about rust in art was in response to the sculpture of Richard Serra and Anthony Caro.
Caro_DreamCity_1996The colour of their iron blends so much more easily into Nature when the surface has rusted, so the otherwise perhaps harsh appearance of slabs, fragments of towering metal is softened. There is also an indicator of change and decay embodied in the rusting process of these sculptures: perhaps a warning to the skyscrapers in front of which the sculptures often stand, that time will destroy us all.
Perhaps the rusted surfaces of monumental sculpture are similar in their effect on us to the sight of ruins, and that we seek reminders of time past and passing. (See my previous RCC post on Time here.) Hence the overwhelming number of photographs of rust – just put rust into Google Image!
I first saw the effect of rust on cloth at the 21:21 exhibition of fabric by Reiko Sudo and the NUNO studio. They had designed and made lengths of cloth marked with rusty nails. Reiko Sudo gave a master class after that exhibition in 2005 – designed to have a cascade effect, with all the participants themselves agreeing to give workshops to others.
Alice Fox SpurnIn 2012 Alice Fox used rust transferred onto cloth to help capture the past and the current aesthetic attractions of Spurn Point during her residency there, and she continues to use the marks of rust in her work. She now gives workshops helping others such as Mags Ramsay to achieve interesting results.
cqws green tea pliers
Rust printMaeve Coulter who works in textiles and in printmaking has made Rust Prints which echo the visual and emotional effects of sepia in fading early photographs.
sally-hirst-gasholder1-1024x618Printmaker Sally Hirst uses oxidised iron filings to colour the paper on which she then prints images of old iron structures such as bridges and piers.
Judd rustJean M. Judd has a section on rust dyeing process on her website, and a generous soul has offered Free Rust Texture Stock Photos for designers, so there must be quite a demand. Is it because we are almost engulfed by technology which we no longer comprehend – so few of us can make the clever things which glide us through daily life – that we reach back to signs of a time which we think we understand.
It is good also to feel that those tools from past technology, now discarded, can be used to make something beautiful before being thrown back onto the scrapheap – or recycled, as seen in the rustnstuff blog.

An exquisite extra: Endpapers (by Olga Norris)

There are many aspects of books which excite me. Those who follow my blog will know that I am a fan of bookmarks, and another optional extra which delights me is the use of endpapers. In my publishing days I would have great pleasure in choosing and designing endpapers – if the budget allowed.
endpaper collectionTraditionally endpapers were designs rather like commercial fabric patterns, and I have a collection of small books on fabric designs which have appropriate endpapers. There are even a couple of books on endpaper paper designs in the collection.
Children’s books, books on art and craft subjects, and books that benefit from a map larger than individual page size are all ideal for endpapers.
Katrina-and-Jan-endpapersLike this one from here.
danced-in-underpants-2008And this one from here. And here are some more endpapers of children’s books.
weird endpaperI have not been able to track down which book has these endpapers by Rex Whistler, but I can imagine the delight of picking up the book and turning it round and round.
28 endpaper
29 endpaper
I always liked to have a different endpaper in the front from the back, rather like these by the artist Norman Thelwell for an Eagle Annual (at Christmas every year the Eagle comic would publish a book with all the features of the comic therein.)
endpapers_lgGraphic novels and similar publications, even in paperback can be found with endpapers.
But in many ways the most delightful use of endpapers I find is with novels, or other writing which does not contain illustrations. The Persephone Press publishes books with elegant plain grey covers, which burst to life as soon as opened with glorious endpapers and matching bookmarks.
endpapersImage from here

More delicious than ice cream!

Meaningful? Morbid? … or simply a mixed bag to be sorted each on its own merit? (by Olga Norris)

Rabbits’ Village School, Circa 1888
Walter Potter: Rabbits’ Village School
It was popular during the 19th century, and gradually becoming a minority curiosity during the 20th, but then suddenly there has been a revival of the art of taxidermy – or a growth in the use of taxidermy in art. In the 19th century the amateur Walter Potter made sentimental tableaux which can excite responses through the vowels from ah to ugh. (Image above, more images and an article here)
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst: Away from the flock (from here)
Somehow not really seen as taxidermy (I don’t know the technical details of taxidermy as opposed to – or in addition to preservation in formaldehyde) the conceptual art of Damien Hirst burst onto the scene with a shark, halved cows, sheep, …. And now he is certainly not alone. A few years ago I saw and was intrigued by the work of Claire Morgan, which was when I started thinking about the use of taxidermy in sculpture.
claire-morgan-fantastic-mr-fox
claire-morgan-fantastic-mr-fox1
Claire Morgan: Fantastic Mr Fox (from here)
This was followed by watching a BBC programme about Polly Morgan in the series What do artists do all day? You can watch here and here. There seem to be so many artists now working with taxidermy as part of their sculpture – there are links here and here to some of them.
I find that my initial negative reaction to most of this art gets in the way of my thinking about it. It has nothing to do with guts and feathers and fur, but somehow it feels disrespectful to the beasts if the quality of the work draws attention to the taxidermy rather than to the idea being explored in the piece. I thought of Hirst’s work as art first and considered the technique of presentation seriously only when I read that the shark had to be replaced because it was rotting. It’s the worth of the artistic expression which engages me rather than the particularities of technique in this case. I found that Claire Morgan’s work also engaged me, but perhaps that is because I saw and walked round it, observing, thinking, feeling – whereas the other work is simply represented in photographs and therefore not sufficient to make a considered enough judgement.
Bulldog
Shauna Richardson: Bulldog (from here)
And then I found out about the ‘crochetdermy’ of Shauna Richardson. She, with one tool, overwhelmingly one material, and lots of time achieves remarkable results. Here and here are more links about the crochet work. It certainly is extraordinary craft, as was shown in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition The Power of Making, but is it art? I certainly do not think it’s any less worthy of consideration simply because she does not use the body of the original beast. Like all work, I reckon that each individual piece should be weighed on its own merits, and not lumped in with however the technique of its making is considered at any point in time.
I’m curious to know what you think.


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