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.
The 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.
In 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.
Maeve 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.
Printmaker 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.
Jean 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.
Archive for the 'Art Technique' Category
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?
Artists who alter books by using their contents, rather than making books from scratch and filling them with their fresh ideas, have a material starting point: a physical book, or its text and/or images. This post deals with three artists (one Canadian, one American, one British) whose theme is to explore the ambiguities of communication, and who use textile techniques to alter texts.
Sylvia Ptak makes faux-texts.
An experienced weaver, she removes threads from fabric and adds simulated script. Plucked, ink-stained, and distorted “weave structures” become word shapes.
For this image, from a 2008 exhibition called The Unicorn and The Date Palm, based on renaissance herbals, she used heat-transfer to add the illustration after the thread “writing” is in place. At other times, she has used inks, or coloured threads.
In “Commentary”, a 2004 exhibition at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, she slipped between the pages of a number of the library’s rare books her own “pages” of abstracted, text-like shapes carefully woven into sheets of gauze. You can see from the image above (via) how they mimic the ancient pages of the real tomes.
Sylvia Ptak says she is interested in “the multiple meanings that texts generate” – the incomprehensible language of her texts reads like everything and like nothing. “We have such faith in the printed – or handwritten – word that we feel it must be saying something,” said the reviewer of her show in the Globe and Mail. The “handwritten words” are something other than text – they are drawing, literally, in that a thread is drawn out of the fabric.
Her new body of work (2013) is inspired by manuscript pages, handwritten and extensively edited, by authors including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf – pages that bear witness to their creative process, showing additions, deletions, and corrections. As well as gauze, Sylvia Ptak has been using a variety of paper, such as vellum and player piano rolls, to translate manuscripts into gestural marks, which although not legible, still retain the essence of each author.
Jen Bervin has removed words, rendering the remaining text in stitch.
Her “Dickinson Fascicles” are based on the punctuation (the “non-meaningful” marks) on the pages of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts. She says on her website:
“I wanted to see what patterns formed when all of the marks in a single fascicle, Dickinson’s grouping of poems, remained in position, isolated from the text, and were layered in one composite field of marks. The works I created were made proportionate to the scale of the original manuscripts but quite large—about 8 feet (240 cm) wide by 6 feet (180 cm) high—to convey the exact gesture of the individual marks.”
These marks were omitted from typeset poems and only became available to scholars when a facsimile edition of the poems was published. Since then there’s been a lot of literary theorising about them.
Jen Bervin also says: “I have come to feel that specificity of the + and – marks in relation to Dickinson’s work are aligned with a larger gesture that her poems make as they exit and exceed the known world. They go vast with her poems. They risk, double, displace, fragment, unfix, and gesture to the furthest beyond—to loss, to the infinite, to “exstasy,” to extremity.”
She spoke about her poetry and how her work is made in 2010 at writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Threads.php; you can listen online. “The Desert” was created as an editioned work, for which she hired sewers via Craigslist; they worked shifts in her apartment on as many sewing machines as she had available.
“The Desert” uses stitch to erase passages of text, making a new meaning with what remains.
Jen used a text erasure technique in “nets” to make new poems out of Shakespeare’s sonnets – see an excerpt here.
Sylvie Killgallon is “translating” Homer’s Iliad into coloured stitches.
Each greek letter will be a stitch (a cross-stitch), with colours changing throughout the books, starting with red and moving letter by letter so that the final book is blue.
Book 1 – of the 24 books – is finished; she’s now working on Book 2, and it’s the longest book. “I need to stitch faster” she says on the project blog, Stitched Iliad.
From the Guardian newspaper’s article:
“I started the project in response to a curator showing me a newly built, empty gallery space and asking me what I would put in it,” she said.
“My mind immediately sprang to the Iliad.I’d been researching translation, transmission and reception of text issues, so my immediate question to myself was ‘Can I produce a translation of the text that allows an audience of non-classicists to appreciate it without understanding the text itself?’ The colour translation was my solution.”
The initial red colour scheme was inspired by the war, anger and bloodshed featured in the Iliad, which is believed to have been written between 750 and 650 BC.
Research has shown that cultures generally follow a similar order in developing names for colours. Black, white and red appear first, while blue is one of the last colours to be named.
Kilgallon said this was the reason the project starts in the primal colour of red before transitioning to blue, a colour indicative of a more technologically developed society.”
Silvie works on her Iliad in public places, “prompting conversations and interactions with an audience receptive to both the story of the Iliad and the story of the stitched Iliad.”
Previously, for a project starting in 2011, she stitched Book I in various ways, aiming to do it “twenty-four times, each time highlighting a different method of analysing the text. My first translation is a simple letter-for-colour substitution, which each letter of the alphabet being substituted for a different colour. When the Iliad was first written down all those years ago, it would not have had the breathings, accents, spaces, or lower case letters which modern classicists would now be familiar with; thus, my translation contains no spaces, punctuation marks, accents, or breathings. Later translations will focus on syntax, metaphor, location, character, etc. Hopefully when it is finally complete, it will be a work of spectacle, aesthetic beauty and complexity worthy of the title of epic.”
For instance, here is that work in progress in March 2012 –
Later in the process, doubts set in … “The aim of the first translation and the aim of all the rest is also different: the first translation dealt with metaphor, and how it reveals but also obscures, it dealt with appreciation and understanding. At the moment, I feel like all the rest are just… infograms. They’re just colour-coded charts showing the frequency of names and places. They’re analysing the text in a way which is supposed to be understandable, which seems almost completely at odds with my intentions in the first piece. … Why do the same thing 24 times, unless you feel the idea is developing further each time (and I don’t think it will)?”
And so the project changed. It will look amazing when it’s finished – perhaps this sample of two of the Book I’s will help you imagine it –
The Singh Twins, Amrit and Rabindra, have pioneered a new development of the traditional Indian miniature in modern art. Their work addresses important areas of critical debate, challenging stereotypes of heritage and identity.
The twins, who grew in in the United Kingdom, use the language of Indian and Persian miniature painting to depict the contemporary world. Their 2010 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, had a room of family scenes and another of the complex world outside the home. It’s intriguing to see how social commentary and political satire fit into the modern into the classical framework, for instance this teenager’s bedroom, rendered in the Indian miniature tradition, with a strong narrative, symbolic content, and eye for detail –
I particularly liked this idol-worshipper, her traditional shape in modern garments –
Apart from wit and skill, the work requires tenacity – it takes four hours to finish a stamp-sized section of the paintings, and the works on show were up to a metre high. The twins’ work is identical to the untrained eye, and in real life they dress alike to the last detail. In this podcast they talk about the concept of being “women artists”.
“1984” shows the notorious storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar – read more about the painting, and see a larger version, here.
One aspect of the artists’ commentary is the blindfolded reporters … but they are very hard to find in the online version.
In another mix of traditions, they received MBEs in 2011, and posed with the Queen’s Beefeaters –
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: 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 (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.
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.
Why quilts – rather than paintings … do you sometimes wonder? Whenever SAQA’s Art Quilt News pops into my inbox (you can subscribe here, it’s free) I ponder this question – the quilts shown in it are each part of an exhibition somewhere. Of course, seeing the work on screen is nothing like seeing it for real, whether its a quilt or painting or other medium … so the quality of the photography for what we see on screen is going to make a difference, especially for quilts, with the texture of the quilting often so very important in the design concept.
This week, thumbs up for fabric in this quilt, Yellow Pod, by Colleen Ansbaugh –
The fabric is monoprinted, which at first made me think – “why not on paper” – but here the quilting adds that necessary something to complement and enhance the lines and colours of the print.
K Velis Turan’s “Please Stand By” is screenprinted, and the reverse applique will make some elements pop, which again seems to enhance the design … and wouldn’t work as well in paint or print on paper. The visible quilting is a graphic element in itself (closeup is here) –
Nancy Crow‘s “Double Mexican Wedding Rings IV” (1988-90) could be a zingy print on paper, but this piece is “so quilty” because it comes right out of the quilt tradition – the blocks need to be pieced, not painted … fabrics, not hues, need to be used.
Would you say much the same about this next quilt? Does it need fabric and stitch to bring the design to life, or would it work equally well in paint, print, or collage?
|Alicia Merrett, Blue Harbour|
Quilted sea … that makes sense to me – the sea itself has a visible texture … but when it comes to quilted skies, what do you think – does the quilting evoke the feel of the wind or enhance the look of the clouds? Or are skies best left “just” painted?
Photorealism on fabric is another stumbling block for me – it makes me ask “why?” Perhaps “because I thought it would be interesting” is good enough an answer?
It seems to me that sometimes the use of fabric is either an indulgence, or else a power struggle: the materials need to be vanquished, they need to be bent to the will of the maker.
There’s a further consideration, and I rather hesitate to mention it, but here goes…. What do you think – could it be that some people using fabric because they haven’t developed skills in other media?
I wrote in June about Dorothy Caldwell, the internationally renowned fiber artist, who conducted workshops for my local fiber and textile art group. This time I’d like to focus on her use of the kantha stitch, aka running stitch, the most basic possible of hand stitches, the one we all learned when we first took up a needle in our hand. Dorothy joked that the reason she uses kantha so much in her own work is that she has never learned any more complicated stitches, but I’m not sure I believe her. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful mark-making tool.
She brought several kantha embroideries that had been made by a cooperative of women in northern India with whom Dorothy has worked for several years. They make large pieces to sell in an effort to improve their village, and among other things have been able to build a meeting house in which to work and to clean up a lake that can now be used for fishing.
One of the recurring motifs in the embroideries is a woman’s headdress that seems almost to be blowing away, billowing behind the figure. In fact, it shows a sari that is no longer draped over the woman’s face — as the women in this village used to dress when they were dependent and downtrodden — but is pushed back in freedom.
One or two of the women are in charge of drawing the cartoon onto the blank fabric, after which many women might work on the same piece. Popular compositions might be repeated many times but in different color schemes. Here’s a large scene that was executed twice, once in white on black and the other in black on white.
We didn’t have time in the two-day workshop to make any such elaborate embroideries, but we did spend enough time with the kantha stitch to see how it can be deployed in many different patterns and rhythms.
Here are my two kantha samplers, still in progress. I’ll definitely keep working with this stitch and learn more about how it works.
I, like Nature, abhor a vacuum, so, even tho’ ’tis not my turn, I am adding a small post here while we catch up with the schedule.
(Image from here)
It all started with a need to listen to something interesting while I was stitching. I turned to a radio programme broadcast last year – about artists’ studios. Great, because I have an insatiable curiosity about where and how artists work. Even better that the presenter/interviewer was an artist herself: a printmaker of whom I had not heard – Susan Aldworth. And there started a marvellous journey of discovery.
An artist fascinated by the idea of self, Aldworth has examined and used scientific and medical imaging and interventions to do with the brain, including her own brain scans. I was particularly mesmerised by the next programme I listened to: an interview with a friend who has epilepsy, and whose portrait she was making. I was intrigued and moved by the sounds of the epileptic brain!
I followed this immediately with a programme about the printmaker Stanley Jones of Curwen Press. The three programmes together gave me a great deal to think about, and it was not until the following week that I returned to see the film about Susan Aldworth’s latest project called Transience. It involves making prints using slices of brain donated by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease – donated with use in making art included in the purposes agreed by the donors. I found the film compelling viewing, and am still thinking about it all.
I would love to know what anyone thinks of the work and the thinking behind it as discussed in this film.