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The individual white line (by Olga Norris)

Last summer I signed up for a two day workshop on Japanese woodblock printing.  Circumstances conspired (our car broke down) so that I only attended the first day, but in preparation I had done a bit of research.  The other day I received a lovely card which reminded me of some of that research, and prompted me to seek a little further for this post.

Japanese woodblock prints were popular in the heart of the modern art world in Paris at the time after the Great War when several American artists were visiting.  These artists returned to pass on their enthusiasms, and so it was that some American artists even went to Japan to learn techniques.  Edna Boies Hopkins was one of those.  It was her image of Cascades on the card I received this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japanese woodblock printing involves making a separate plate for each colour used in the design.  Printmaking in Japan was an industrial process in so far as the publisher commissioned the image from an artist, then the plate makers cut the wood into as many plates as necessary, after which the printers printed each colour onto the very large editions – the prints were extremely popular.  However, for the artists in the burgeoning summer art colony of Provincetown New England this process was too longwinded.  They ingeniously invented white line woodblock printmaking.

This involved cutting a line of separation between different coloured elements in a design, so that each colour could be printed from the same plate.  The result is rather like painted silk using a gutta (glue) outline round each area which is to be coloured.

Here is an excellent post describing the simple stages of the process.  It is mostly women who were known for using this technique.

BLANCHE%202  Blanche Lazzall,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel  Ethel Mars,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

artwork_images  Ada Gilmore Chaffee,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EBH_Rooftops-1  Edna Boies Hopkins,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31   Edith Lake Wilkinson,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mabel Hewit

Mabel Hewit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

are but a few.  There is an excellent section on this seemingly totally American art technique and its artists in the book American Women Modernists edited by Marian Wardle.  (Unfortunately this is now out of print and is being offered for sale online at ridiculous prices!)  And there is more information in an academic paper by Maura Coughlin on Southcoast New England Printmaking.

I am interested to see that these white line printmakers have been influenced by the French artists (Ethel Mars’ work reminds me of Vuillard, for instance), Post Impressionism, with touches of Cubism, but have their own delightful character.  I must say that my favourites are the ones who use the white space for more than simply delineation – as Edna Boies Hopkins does in Cascades.

White line printmaking is becoming popular once more, with new practitioners and workshops offered even in the UK.  I have not tried it yet myself  but I certainly very much like the idea of the technique.

 

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‘You’re freer if you know you can’t save anything.’ (by Olga Norris)

I was particularly taken by this method of teaching by Toshiko Takaezu, one of the potters in Clairan’s last post. In her comment Margaret provided a YouTube link to a fascinating film on the potter, and 3m30 in she is shown teaching a class and saying that at this stage they will be much freer in their interaction with the clay and shaping it if they know that whatever they do will be destroyed.

This somehow rang true with me. From the other end, so to speak, I often think about the piles of stuff I have made which still clutter up so much space (not to mention how much landfill I am still creating and will leave behind!). This thought of course runs in parallel with the compulsion to keep exploring ideas and to make them manifest – and the glorious learning spiral which takes something made in the past, deemed good at the time, but which had not reached its full potential until coupled with an idea in the present (see my blog post of 14 April). Perhaps if we deliberately destroyed more at the beginning of our journey into manifest self-expression, we would be able to articulate more eloquently and perhaps less indiscriminately prolifically later.

Too often perhaps we expect immediate success. This ties in with Margaret’s post on RCC: Everybody wants to get it done quickly, and my own blog post on the paper cutting day I attended last summer.  If we knew that at the end of a workshop we were to destroy anything we had made, would that not help us to concentrate more, concentrate better, and perhaps also discriminate better as to the quality of the workshop. I always have a notebook for workshops, and the best teachers I have encountered have led not only to the best notes, but also to the fullest memory of the experience – and generally to very little in the way of ‘product’. Now it is true that I never expect to come away with a completed or almost completed anything from a workshop, and neither do I expect actually to come away with an idea for a specific piece of work. I believe that to be serious about discovering one’s own voice, all the input has to go into the pot but that the soup should be one’s own mix. We all use an overlapping range of ingredients, but it is how we use them and what our results are that should be critical.

Perhaps our critical judgement might well be more finely honed if we knew that we had to destroy what we made for a certain period of our learning/experimentation. This probably seems contradictory, but I wonder if freeing ourselves to throw away whatever results from exploration and discovery for a certain while – rather than feeling obliged to make it into something ‘finished’– and instead noting avenues for further exploration might lead to greater discrimination especially in the quality of the thinking about making.

I look forward to reading your comments, and hope that discussion ensues.

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No specific illustrations seem appropriate for this post, so, I thought I would share with you one of the paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland with which I spent much time during my university days: A Lady in Grey (The artist’s daughter, later Mrs Wiseman) by Daniel Macnee 1859.

Deep sea crochet (by Olga Norris)

In the current issue of Sculpture magazine I encountered an extraordinary story of mass participation crochet coral.  The images would normally have put me off, because I am not a fan of the crowded and what I would call visually messy; but Sculpture is a serious publication, and I have rarely been disappointed with its articles.  You can perhaps read the article through this link.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAImage from Institute for Figuring

There have been several collaborations between science and the arts now, which can be read about here, and here, and here, and seen/listened to here.  It is an area which seems to be growing, to my delight, because I do very much believe in the benefits of cross pollination.  I thought that the Coral Crochet Reef would perhaps make an interesting post for Ragged Cloth Café.

Twins from Australia, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, the former the scientist (physics and maths) and the latter the artist (painting, literature, and logic), but both interested in mathematics were intrigued by a Latvian mathematician who worked out how to model hyperbolic geometry with crochet.  They worked on examples of hyperbolic geometry for a couple of years until bored with perfect shapes – and found that imperfections in the pattern looked organic, and that the results looked like corals.  They decided that they could crochet a whole reef – and from there the larger project grew.  There is an excellent You-tube film here which explains the project much better than I ever could.

crochetcoralreef_1Image from here

Should you wish to create your own versions of crocheted or knitted corals there are patterns here and here.  This whole project, or the wide totality of projects goes to show just how much folks enjoy being part of creative communities, indeed, of a greater creative community.  I’m not sure how many would think more about mathematics beyond hyperbolic geometry – but perhaps even if just one or two do that is success.  I do hope that an increasing number of projects like this, and others combining ideas of science and the arts will permeate everyday culture so that we will grow up thinking more widely and in less pigeon-holed a manner.

To my personal visual taste the crochet reefs might be unattractive compared with the real growing marvels, but if our humanity can be enhanced as well as the existence of those who share our planet, then crochet on!

coral for real  The real thing – image from here

In touch with our senses? (by Olga Norris)

Our visual sense is so dominant, and so important to a majority of us that when we think of art we automatically think of visual art.  Indeed most of our art presents itself to our eyes, and apart from music it is difficult to think of art which is designed to be appreciated by the other senses.  For instance, the art of cookery is rarely taken seriously as a ‘true’ or ‘fine’ artform, but rather an elevated skill – although when I was at university I knew someone who had received an Arts Council grant to make an edible exhibition – which we ate.

I was recently at a festival of music and found myself thinking about how much more I derive from the music when my eyes are closed.  There is then nothing visual to interfere with my hearing and thinking.  This led me to think about the other senses which we perhaps under use despite their being so powerfully evocative.  After all did not Marcel Proust write a multi volume classic spurred by the smell and taste of a small cake?  (I believe that smell goes straight to the limbic system which is the area which controls memories and emotions.)

I work with fabric, so I want to concentrate on touch.

Touch is important – indeed it is vital for our emotional development.  Those of us who work with fibre, textiles, wood, clay, plaster, etc. all know how important the feel of our materials at various stages of our work  is vital to the satisfaction we derive from making that work.  Those sensations of touch are what make us work that way,  but we sublimate that essential tactile quality in order to present the finished work to the eyes of the audience.  Exhibitions are to be seen, not touched – exhibits to be looked at, not felt, until purchase at least.  But we can therefore never wholly transmit the total work to those who observe – they can never participate in that haptic experience.

In working with fabric there is a kind of teasing going on in that we want the audience to want to feel the work, but not actually to do so.  Quiltmaker Elisabeth Brimelow has stated about her work in a recent book: ‘I hardly ever cover my work with glass, even the small pieces.  The secret with textiles is that the viewer should want to touch and feel, and glass creates a barrier.’

I believe this desire to touch and the inability to do so is particularly a deprivation where art quilts are concerned.  These objects began life as warmers, comforters, and yet so many of us strive to elevate them to the status of art by making them wholly visual.  Success visually seems to be the main criterion for art success.  Our competitive entry systems for exhibitions have further channelled that visual appeal to work within seconds – evoking a slow-burning reaction is likely to gather more rejections from juried shows.  Instant appeal wins out.

I am guilty of enjoying the touch of the making, but aiming for a visual end.  Although my initial artistic ambitions were in the medium of acrylics, I admit that I ultimately chose fabric rather than paint partly because I love to have something to pass through my hands – to feel the different materials, the prick of the needle, the pull of the thread, feeling the altered topography of a surface as I progress.  I am also sad that I and others cannot put out a hand to feel those quilts that hang enticing me so at exhibitions.  Of course I understand that damage can be done, but still, wouldn’t it be wondrous if some artists made work specifically to be touched as well as seen?  I don’t mean just little samples – although I do wish that more exhibitions made them available to handle – I mean whole pieces of work that are meant to be experienced through touch, not solely through our eyes – and that these pieces could also be called art, or even an art experience, and that they were not simply devised for those with visual impairment.  Or perhaps is it that the wanting to touch but not being able to – the sublimation of the desire, is part of the intellectual sophistication needed to appreciate art?

Perhaps art to wear comes closest to being an art for tactile experience – although perhaps that again is really a collaboration with the intention of the art being seen.  But then when I thought of artists who might have wanted to engage viewers’ other senses I immediately recalled Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece involves cutting her clothes off.  It had to do with other motives, but the participants had to grasp Ono’s clothing, and feel the hard steel of the scissors.  A Place Called Space blog  has an excellent overview of a Yoko Ono retrospective, and has also mentioned the new work Moving Mountains which involves visitors getting into cloth bags to move on the floor as living sculptures.

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Tereza Stehlikova : http://terezast.com/?page_id=1  initiated the setting up of Sensory Sites, a collective of artists committed to creating multisensory work. http://www.artintouch.co.uk/2012/08/08/manifesto/   Looking at one of the artists in the collective: Bonnie Kemske : http://www.bonniekemske.com  (pictures of work above) I thought how wonderful it would be if we could make textile work which was experienced by visitors – and not necessarily by dancers, like these sculptures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RwgTICUBIs  I suspect, however that most of the art resulting from the research still is largely visual and or intellectual.  In the Tactile Workshops video on Tereza Stehlikova’s site, it is the art students who experience the tactile experiments, and they progress then to reproduce their reactions in work to be seen. http://terezast.com/?projects=tactile-workshop

Perhaps the senses of seeing and hearing are simply so particularly important to us, so intellectually qualitatively different from those of touch, taste, and smell that the rewards for seeing and hearing works are valuable beyond the rewards from engagement with the other senses.  But wouldn’t it be good to have a little more variety?

On the other hand it seems that increasingly more folks want to make things: crafts of all kinds are on the up with the young as well as with the retired.  This is true in the broad range of embroidery and quilting, as well as there seeming to be a potter round every corner these days.  Is this perhaps because our current life of mass market affordable commodities removes all need to make anything we can so cheaply buy.  Thus in our largely non-salary-earning time we now devote ourselves to becoming makers who get that full haptic satisfaction: the full experience of the touching at every stage. Yet then in order to measure our success the finished work is set up for competition in the now inevitably overcrowded arena of visual judging.

Hand it to the Machine? Celebrating technology (by Olga Norris)

Tuesday 15 October 2013 is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of women in science, technology, and engineering.  The other day there was an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper linked to this celebration, and highlighting the attitudes to women using technology.  I was amused to read that the author, Helen Czerski likened learning to use an arc welder to icing a cake, and immediately thought of Sokari Douglas Camp, whose splendid sculptures are made by welding.

Sokari Douglas Camp: The Finger 2011 Steel, beads, tin can, silk thread

Sokari Douglas Camp: The Finger 2011 Steel, beads, tin can, silk thread

In the textile world we have been used to using advances in technology forever: the loom and the needle for a start.  And in our textile world it seems to be women who use the technology designed and devised by men.  On the other hand, I’m always delighted to find a user who is quietly competent at taking her sewing machine apart and putting it together again.  Way back at the end of last century I attended a workshop on machine embroidery by Pamela Watts who was also learning to fly a helicopter.  Women certainly seem to be eager to embrace technological advances in the textile world.

There is as much of a buzz around the latest machinery as there is at the thread and fabric stalls at exhibitions like the Festival of Quilts, and the Knitting and Stitching Show in the UK.  Books can hardly keep up with all the ways of exploiting the newest gadgets to prod and pull, join and cut stuff.  Folks are also always finding new ways of using kitchen technology to help with making art: microwave ovens for dyeing, liquidisers for mushing paper, etc.

The point of technology is to help us achieve, to push us further from the smallest incremental aid like the rotary cutter’s advance on the scissors to the great leap forward of using lasers.   The Schiffli Project has spurred many works of art, such as recent pieces by Alice Kettle (an interview with Alice here).

Alice Kettle: Ormopenthesis 2007 Schiffli Project 160 x 160cm

Alice Kettle: Ormopenthesis 2007 Schiffli Project 160 x 160cm

Sarah Hartland has experimented with an industrial laser to etch fabrics in her printmaking explorations.  Karina Thompson used digital stitch in her art, as does Charlotte Yde, better known for her art quilts.  Sculptor Janet Echelman is a great advocate for modern technology use in making art.

Janet Echelman: 1.26 Denver 2010 Sculpture Project at the Biennial of the Americas

Janet Echelman: 1.26 Denver 2010 Sculpture Project at the Biennial of the Americas

I also remember being blown away on seeing Marilene Oliver’s take on printmaking at her degree show at the Royal College of Art a few years back.  Now living in Angola, Africa, I am interested to see how her work is developing.  The article below was found in the yellerzine blog on her exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers earlier this year.

Marilene Oliver: work in the Confusao exhibition 2013

Marilene Oliver: work in the Confusao exhibition 2013

Confusao
Marilène Oliver
Edinburgh Printmakers
16th March-11th May 2013

Oliver has worked for many years with medical imaging data to create sculptures and installations. This solo exhibition, the first since the artist has moved to Sub Saharan Africa, sees the artist refining her practice to a series of dark and haunting etchings. Continuing her project of working with the anonymised dataset Melanix, Oliver uses radiology software to produce digital 2D renderings that are later combined with intricate collagraph drawings. Oliver’s inspiration for the images in this series comes from the many powerful experiences she has had since living in Africa that have caused her to rethink her relationship with the scanned body. Whereas before the CT dataset was a material that she could manipulate and transform to create complicated sculptures, it now has a strong symbolic resonance, signifying privilege both in terms of wealth and access to digital technology. In ‘Confusao’ Melanix is shrouded in the dark, weightless void of digital space, emerging to find herself appropriating traditions and rituals of African cultures she barely understands but is captivated.

Marilène Oliver works at a crossroads somewhere between new digital technologies, traditional print and sculpture, her finished objects bridging the virtual and the real worlds. She works with the body translated into data form in order to understand how it has become ‘unfleshed’, in the hope of understanding who or what it has become. To this end she uses various scanning technologies, such as MRI and PET, to reclaim the interior of the body and create works that allow is to materially contemplate our increasingly digitised selves.

This is just a tiny number of those who grasp the tools they need to make contemporary art – and who let the tools lead them to stretch their ideas.  But a niggling attitude seems to persist in appreciating art – even from those who are creators themselves.

Why is it then that having something made by hand seems to carry so much approval as being better, more authentic?  And why is using the computer in any form seen as an advance too far?  Why still the dismissive statement used about the computer as tool – as if the artist’s thinking, creativity, decision-making, and even hand skills had somehow been removed the moment that switch went on.  As someone who extensively uses a computer where others use a sketchbook and more, I have become perhaps overly sensitive to denigration of that use –  but why this recurrent disproportionate praise for the hand made?

In this morning’s newspaper I was interested to read this last sentence from Grayson Perry in an interview: “I think the artists who will go down in history are the ones who in some way respond to the moment they’re in.”

I would like to know what others think about the technology we all use to make work, and whether the less technology we use – the more primitive the tools the more worthy/authentic the work.  Is the means of creation really more important than the intention and/or the end?

Questions, questions (by Olga Norris)

In her juror’s statement in the Quilt National 2011 catalogue Eleanor McCain, started with the question ‘What about these works of art demands that they be formed from cloth and thread?  Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium?  What in the quilt form is important to the art?  As a fiber art professor once asked, “If it’s not about the fiber, why work in that medium?” 

 I was struck with these questions which set me thinking.  I can only talk about my own work, which was successful in being selected for this exhibition.  I have not seen the discussion which June spoke of in her comments in the previous post, so forgive me if I am duplicating.  (I have had irritating experiences with Yahoo which are too tedious to go into here.)  The thoughts I have originate with my own work(s), but I hope that those thoughts will elicit responses from others. 

Ponder

What about my piece demands that it be formed from cloth and thread?  Well, certainly not the subject, whatever people interpret it to be, because subjects can be explored and manifest in all sorts of media.  It is essentially how the artist wishes to express themselves that dictates what medium, and what techniques within the medium are chosen.  I suppose the question that I should perhaps ask myself each time I make a piece of work in quilt form is ‘Is this the most appropriate medium to choose?’  I do know that although those are the means I mostly use to express myself at present, some ideas and designs ‘do not work’ for me in cloth and stitch, and demand a different treatment.  This is a kind of discrimination on my part, but I must admit that I do not rigorously investigate how far my works demand to be formed from cloth and thread.

 This ties closely with the next question: Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium?  Again, the answer is probably no in the case of my piece.  Choosing a medium has more to do with the language, the voice in which I ‘speak’ rather than to do with the message or the meaning.  Of course the medium can colour the delivery of any message, just as it does the interpretation – but is it so important that the message should only be revealed in this medium?  Are there any – or many – messages which can only be revealed in this medium? What in the quilt form is important to the art?  At last a question I can answer without frustration.  As Eleanor McCain said: ‘The quilt is laden, even burdened, with symbolism.’.  It is that symbolism and the symbolic values of cloth and stitch generally which contribute to the way the message is both presented and interpreted.  Indeed this is part of what makes quilt-making a slow art: not only is it obvious that the making takes time, but also the full interpretation should take time.  In this way, being judged for exhibition becomes even more of a lottery if initial impact is not part of the message. 

One of the qualities of the art quilt is that it is derived from an everyday practical object to which one does not regularly pay much attention.  But in that familiarity as part of the background, at a receptive moment it can catch the viewer’s casual glance to reveal more, drawing the eye to consider and perhaps understand more.  Of course enigmatic work in any medium can do that.  And choosing to make work in quilt form is a double-edged sword in that by that very use of everyday materials which hang as they are the work can be dismissed as somehow inferior, easily made, domestic in a pejorative way compared with neat framed wall art which is believed to take skill, and uses special materials which are only to be found in artists’ studios.

I therefore think that it is so much more difficult to make good art using a medium which is so easily overlooked or dismissed.  But the question of good art was not raised. 

The professor’s quoted statement of ‘If it’s not about the fiber, why work in that medium?’ I find it useful to keep asking myself questions such as whether I am a fibre artist.  I could be described as a digital printmaker who uses cloth and stitch.  And sometimes I develop images/designs which are not always suitable for use with cloth and/or stitch.   

Part of my use of medium, I must frankly admit is practical.  I develop designs digitally, which means that it’s clean.  I can pick up and put down my physical work almost anywhere without having to clean up or manage materials in the way that a painter or ceramicist must.  I can stitch while spending every afternoon with my aged mother with whom I do not get on and have nothing to say – but she approves of the activity which thus keeps me sane. I love the feel of cloth, and appreciate the meditative qualities derived from repetitive stitching.

But it is not just that.  I’m interested in comfort and discomfort in human relationships, and for that reason domestic techniques and materials are an appropriate language for me to use at present.

 What I am much more interested in really is Is it good art?  And in a way the only person who can answer that is me.  Hey ho.

Connecting thread (by Olga Norris)

Crafts magazine, May/June 2010

The work of artist Maurizio Anzeri came to my attention in this magazine last year, with an article written by Jessica Hemmings.  And recently I found that an exhibition of his work is on at Baltic, Gateshead.   I am intrigued by uses of stitch, especially when not on cloth, because I wonder what it is that drew the artist to the needle and thread rather than to the pencil, pen, etc.

There is of course the added dimension of both the thread and its effect – in this case the latter being the holes caused by the needle.  So is this use of needle and thread rather than pen and line adding the active dimension of piercing and pulling.  Piercings on anonymous faces from the past, and is it a drawing out of their individuality in its unknown chaotic form, pulled out to form the imposed order of the stitched pattern?

Brigitte Family Album

And do they remind you as they do me of those so fashionable pictures made with nails and string on a dark background – when was that? 

To me these works by Anzeri are the dark side of stitching, somehow destructive of human sentiment because they take time, delicacy, precision, to overlay, to obliterate   Taking the tradition of pattern stitching, historically used to denote cultural difference, originally used in a positive way: treasured reminders of meaningful family moments, added to the similarly important marker of the photographic portrait – from years before the constant instant snapping of today – these spirographic doodlings may be attractive in an abstracted way, but I find them fundamentally cruel in outlook.

But we humans are a cruel species, and just as there is excessive sentimentality about photographs, so at the other end there is this twisting of view of what they might mean.   The artist Julie Cockburn also distorts found photographs, as well as sometimes embroidering on them.

Little one (left) Daydreamer

Mary (left) Warrior

 Is this kind of work yet another way in which an artist can say what others are feeling?  That far from venerating our ancestors and their aspirations for us, their progeny, we want to impose our own patterns on them retrospectively?  Is this form of art chosen because abstraction is not direct or personal enough?  The abstract can be taken in whatever way the observer wishes, such as in the work of  Alison Schwarz.

Untitled

This does not even have a title to point the viewer.  But the altered photographs link directly with every viewer in a very personal way. 

I managed to find a middle ground, using photograph and thread – although with nails this time, not specifically stitch – a use of collage/assemblage by Dayna Thacker.  Do we find this more attractive/acceptable?  And if we do, is it because we prefer to sugar our pills?

Birth of a Prophet

I think that use of traditional materials, domestic skills, and use of previously highly regarded cultural markers can be incredibly powerful semiotic tools in expressing ourselves today.


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