Archive for the 'art intepretation' Category

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

Emily Carr, Redux (by Clairan Ferrono)


Skidegate 1912

I first became aware of Emily Carr when I saw her work at the National Gallery of Canada in Vancouver 15 years ago.  I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked!  I had never heard of her or seen work like hers.  For days I talked about her work (mostly to people who just nodded politely).  When we got home, I looked her up and examined  all the work I of hers I could find.  Then I read Susan Vreeland’s wonderful novel The Forest Lover, a fictionalized account of her life. And in 2007 Sandy Wagner did a post here at Ragged Cloth Cafe about her.  This summer I got the chance to go back to British Columbia, and of course I was anxious to see Carr’s work again.  And I fell in love with it all over again.

Emily Carr 8

Among the Firs  1930’s 36×30″

I love her trees and her light:

The Little Pine                                Scorned Timber

The Little Pine 1931                                                    Scorned Timber 1935

The Red Cedar                                                          Above the Trees

The Red Cedar 1933                                                  Above the Trees 1939

They beautifully convey the forests of British Columbia,  the movement of the trees, the pouring down of light, and, in fact, the spiritual energy that Carr obviously found there.  Her art was too individual, too avant garde for her time.  And while sometimes praised for the “vigor of her technique” her work was shunned as being not realistic enough.  Carr responded to this criticism by saying, “a picture should be more than meets the eye of the ordinary observer. . . .Art is art, nature is nature, you cannot improve upon it. . . .Pictures should be inspired by nature, but made in the soul of the artist, it is the soul of the individual that counts” ( Emily Carr, An Introduction to Her Life and Art by Anne Newlands).

Yes! The soul of the individual and the eye of the artist!

This past fall I took a drawing class for the first time.  I believed myself pretty lacking in talent, but found that my good observational skills kept me in good stead.  The class was working mainly on still lifes, and of course we all endeavored to be as accurate as possible.  Realism (terrifying!). But what was most striking to me, above and beyond my astonishment that my drawings actually looked like what they were intended to, was that all the drawings, while quite “accurate,” were very different and could easily be identified by artist.  Because we see differently and because we are interested in some things and not in others.  In other words, we make choices, and those choices make our work individual.

I am grateful for Emily Carr’s beautiful choices, for her wonderful eye and magnificent soul.

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.


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.

Time (by Olga Norris)

Specifically, time in the visual arts.  At a concert, watching a film or other performance, or reading a book, I enjoy the unfolding, the development, the altering of perspective and increase in understanding – all of which continue beyond the end in a work of worth.  What about art on the wall?  Paintings can be big enough to encompass the whole wall, and can take time to complete the looking, but generally the fixed image has to contain something else to hold and impart time. 

 While at a jazz concert listening to a piece with a distinct journey, holding back and revealing, teasing and revealing, I thought how difficult it is for a maker of fixed images to convey such a journey to the observer.  I started thinking about it seriously after that, and managed to answer a question which I’d casually asked myself many years ago. 


 Why is it when visiting a new place, particularly a foreign place, that so many of us are drawn to decay?  It is not just the old ways of building that attract us, because reconstructions are not seen to be quite as alluring as decay.  What is it about the poor parts of a city that make them so much more attractive than the prosperous well-tended parts?  What makes them so artistically inspiring

 Is it time?  The passage of time is writ clearly upon the face of the building in its decay.  Do we need to see the marks of time to feel a kind of comfort?  Which thought brought me to looking at the marks made by thread on cloth.  In a very direct way this can be seen in the work of Matthew Harris, and anyone who is inspired by the urban archaeology of peeling posters. 

stitched textile by Matthew Harris


 The question of time also brought me to thinking about ‘the frozen moment’: the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson being the ultimate example of this for me.  One of his genius abilities in my mind is that although he always seems to be there to capture the astonishing instant, he also does not detract  from or paralyse the action.  In that still we are given a glimpse into a continuum. 

 I realise that this is what I want from fixed images: that they should engage with both the concept of time and with my time.  I take as the ultimate example the magical image of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.  Having grasped the attention it immediately provokes the imagination to supply the continuum, it questions, it arouses curiosity, and is timeless.  I love it, and find that it leaps often from the void –or out of the blue – into my mind in conjunction with many different topics. 

 In my own work I suppose I try to capture an ambiguity or enigma which can change with viewings over time.  Although my own emotions are encompassed, I hope that they have been distilled and abstracted (aha! – see my last post here) enough to be more universal.  I aspire to the foothills of Edward Hopper in providing a work which is not-quite-completely-knowable, but which attracts and satisfies timeless curiosity.  It will take me some time to get there, but I hope to continue having fun on the way!

Fit for purpose (by Olga Norris)

I recently visited an exhibition of the work of art editor and graphic designer David Hillman.  He is a man whose work I have long admired – and indeed did not know that he was the one behind all the different manifestations.  From the days of the iconic Nova magazine, the glory days of the Sunday Times newspaper, the surreal Benson and Hedges cigarette advertisements, all the designs for Pentagram , … these are images which brought feelings of wonder, excitement, a need to see and know more.  This was the kind of design that I dreamed of aspiring to in my publishing work.

In each case the image was more than the sum of its parts, and was definitively fit for purpose: it drew the appropriate attention to the product, not to the designer of the image – except from fellow professionals.  Good product design similarly excites me, as does brilliant architectural design.  In each case the end result should be at the very least fit for purpose, and also hold some individual integrity beyond the sum of its parts.

 Design is done to a brief which provides boundaries and requirements, as well as the discipline of a necessary respect for the materials and techniques involved.  I have always believed that the more one knows, but the less one indulges oneself the better prepared becomes the vital tool of the brain’s back burner.

 Although art and design are different disciplines, they should overlap, just as they should both overlap with craft.  The more frequently exercised debate is the one between craft and art; but the one not often enough heard is that between design and art, most especially the question of fitness for purpose.

Of course this fitness for purpose in art this is not so clearly defined as in product design, architecture, even graphic design and craft.  And it goes without saying that I am not in the least talking about any practical purpose.  The artist themselves and time are the important judges of what that purpose is; but the informed observer – whether a practising artist or not – should keep seeking to make critical judgments of their own – even if those judgments are later refined or even revised in the light of further enlightenment.  And by critical I do not mean only negative judgements or observations.

 I do believe that there should be a fitness for purpose in one’s art, and that this should constantly be under consideration.  This design thinking, once second nature, along with mastery of appropriate craft and its twin, appreciation of materials, facilitates those special tools of the artist – imagination and the back burner – in making good art: something more than the sum of its parts.

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