Archive for the 'quilt art' Category

Perfect copies — but are they art? (by Kathleen Loomis)

Much discussion in quilt/art circles recently regarding two prizewinning quilts at the big Houston show this year.

IQA dorothea lange   

Virginia Greaves, Worry, 2014

third-place winner, Art — People, Portraits and Figures at Houston IQA show

dorothea lange

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936

You probably recognize the image as the famous photo taken in California by Dorothea Lange, documenting the travails of migrant workers during the drought of the Dust Bowl. That photo was black and white, while Greaves has imagined it in color and executed it in machine applique.

On the Quiltart email list, typical for listserv discussions, the focus started on a nitpick: was it a copyright violation to appropriate the Lange image. (Apparently it’s in the public domain, since Lange was working for the U.S. government.) But it quickly moved to a discussion of whether it’s a Good Thing to copy somebody else’s photo(or even your own photo) to make your own artwork.

Somebody pointed out another big winner at Houston, ironically in the category of “innovative artistry,” which was a replica of a painting.

summer wind IQA houston

Maria Landi and Maria Lucia Azara, Summer Wind

winner of $5,000 Baby Lock Master Award for Innovative Artistry at Houston IQA show

summer wind painting

painting by Anna Bocek, La Playa series

When these quilts were first discussed on the list, one commenter put the subject to rest by suggesting that the show entry form should require that the artist has gotten permission to use any text or imagery. This strikes me as a solution to the wrong problem. Among other things, it would forever rule out quotations from the Bible or Shakespeare, not to mention remixes of Vermeer or Picasso. And I think the point is not whether you have somebody’s permission to work from their original, but whether you should.

So is it a Good Thing to copy somebody else’s photo or painting? And then is it a Good Thing to enter it as your own work in a big show?

One Quiltart reader said “to present it as a faithful reproduction but in fabric is a form of cheating. In my opinion there is little difference in this than using a commercial pattern. This is not the same as inspiration. I can download most any image from the net and with Photoshop turn it into a pattern of any size.” Similarly, a bunch of art quilters with whom I shared a meal the weekend the Houston winners were announced thought that Photoshop-enabled translation of photos into quilts was nothing more than “paint by numbers.”

But other readers defended the practice. One wrote: “I liken rendering a photograph in a different medium (such as fiber) no different than a singer covering a brilliant old song. Even if the rhythm and lyrics are the same, even if the very same instruments and arrangements are used, it’s a new artistic work. It’s an homage to the original.”

One wrote: “So what if these quilters use photographs taken by others? Have you honestly tried to render an image in fabric? It takes an artist’s eye to translate the spirit of the photo into another medium.”

Someone else wrote: “Ginny Greaves’ quilt based on the Lange photograph seems to me to be in the tradition of artists who are influenced and inspired by other artists’ works. Translating a photograph into an entirely different medium, such as fabric, seems sufficiently different to make it unique.”

But another reader wrote: “Simply interpreting it in the fabric medium doesn’t really bring anything new to it. They don’t sing with a distinctive style of the quilt artist. They are just copies. And I simply do not understand making art, copied from someone else’s photo, that you wish to look just like the original! That story has been told!”

Another: “Copying a photo slavishly is NOT a particularly creative endeavor, especially when the goal is to make it exactly like someone else’s original. In the case of fabric medium, it is a very clever and dedicated workmanship issue to get it perfect. But NOT a personal expression of a creative fiber artist.”

Which leads to a final question, is it a Good Thing for the judges to give a big prize to a quilt that reproduces somebody else’s image? Arguably the Houston judges didn’t know that Landi and Azara’s quilt was so closely based on a painting, although the signage says “original design inspired by a painting by Anna Bocek.” But the judges would have had to have lived all their lives in an aluminum-foil-lined box to not recognize the Migrant Mother as a copy of Dorothea Lange’s famous photo.

One of the Quiltart readers wrote: “at the risk of sounding testy, what about the word “Original” do the judges and jurors not understand?”

Someone else: “How can fiber art ever be taken seriously if blatant copy work is what is rewarded at our top shows?” Another responded: “We often gripe about quilts not being taken seriously as an art medium and being excluded from ‘art’ shows, and this is one of the reasons why. It’s not just about copyright and legalities, and it’s not just about quilt show rules — even though both of those things matter. It’s about raising the conceptual and emotional level of the work itself and pushing past the quilt world’s emphasis on a certain type of technique.”

Another: “I was shocked… that these quilts… were even accepted. In my opinion, composition is one of the most important parts that make a successful work of art. When an image is copied exactly, you are using the original artist’s composing ability.”

Somebody else: “Art quilts should be original work that comes from the mind of the creator. Variations of things where the artist has incorporated her own interpretation would be acceptable as long as… you can actually see the artist’s fancy has taken some flight. An exact replication, regardless of how it is technically achieved should not be part of the art quilt vocabulary. I am not a fan of most things from photos. I can understand using a photo as a jumping off point but where is the vision, creative spirit, and color sense in copying something in front of you?”

Another wrote: “I find it embarrassing for the artist to simply lift the image — verbatim so to speak — and present it in a major show…. What were the judges thinking? … I know some may think I’m an art snob… but we can’t have it both ways. Is artquilting an artform or a nice hobby?”

The opposing viewpoint: “All I’m saying is, if it transports out of your daily grind, it if challenges you creatively, who are we to judge the arty-ness of a piece?”

The response: “The jurors SHOULD be judging the “arty-ness” of the piece. This is important to those of us committed to making ART from fabric… Yet the big awards are still going to copies and Hallmark card compositions as long as they are brilliantly constructed.”

What do you think?

Check out the whole roster of Houston winners here.

This is cross-posted to my blog, Art With a Needle.

quilt (R)evolution exhibit at the Dairy Barn (by Kathleen Loomis)

Just home from Athens OH where I visited the Dairy Barn for its current show, an exciting collection of work from most of the people who have served as Quilt National jurors over the 35 years of that exhibit.  It was special because the participants were asked to send three pieces: one from their earliest work, one of their work at the time they were jurors, and one of their current work. And most of them actually sent exactly what was requested!

The too-clever title of the show, “quilt (R)evolution” is silly but accurate, because the quilts do clearly mark the evolution of the quilts-as-art genre, and it was quite a change from the status quo.  Several of the oldest pieces are only a step or two away from traditional — and Ann Johnston’s 1979 quilt could have easily been made in 1879.

I’ve been obsessively following Quilt Nationals via catalog since 1983 and in person for at least 20 years (can’t remember exactly which one I first attended) so it’s not a surprise to me that quilts-as-art started so close to its traditional roots and took a few years to escape the conventions.  But it’s fun to be reminded of how the famous names we’re all familiar with started out, and how they got going in their own directions.

For instance, Joan Schulze started by making a big quilt that was the California winner in the big Good Housekeeping Quilts of America competition in 1976 — I remember that, even though I wasn’t much of a quilter at the time.  After it was photographed for the book (I think I have the book, too) her quilt and others were destroyed in a warehouse fire but after a long period of grieving she decided to remake it.  The design was original, with a batiked landscape in the center, but its wide border is composed of the traditional Road to California blocks (she did shock the viewers by making them in different colors to extend the landscape — blue for the sky, brown for the earth).

Joan Schulze, California II, 1979

Subsequently Schulze developed her signature style of using images appropriated from the media in collage-like phototransferred and screenprinted compositions that remind me of Robert Rauschenberg.

Nancy Crow started with huge symmetrical quilts that were meticulously planned and intricately pieced from templates using commercial prints.  Subsequently she found that improvisationally free-cutting shapes from hand-dyed fabrics and building her compositions gradually on the wall was a more satisfying approach.

on the catalog cover:  Nancy Crow, March Study, 1979

Katie Pasquini Masopust’s early quilt was a daring pentagon but executed in impeccably traditional craft from teeny calico prints.  Subsequently she started incorporating easel-painted canvas into her quilt constructions.

Katie Pasquini Masopust, Heavens Reach, 1981

Other jurors went in different directions.  Michael James, after years of strip-pieced curves, embraced digital photography cranked out on a huge-format printer.  Yvonne Porcella started by making functional kimonos, then went flat (but kept her signature palette, brights with black-and-white).  Jan Myers-Newbury started by hand-dying solid gradations, then discovered arashi shibori and never looked back.

Practically all of the early pieces were hand-quilted, but as the years progress most of them switched to the machine.  Practically all the early ones were carefully pieced or appliqued with no raw edges, no messy craftsmanship of any kind, but as the years progress we see fusing, raw-edge applique, phototransfer, non-cloth materials and any number of experimental techniques emerge (for instance, Tim Harding’s latest work is “quilted” with staples).

For those of us who have been tuned in to the quilts-as-art movement for a long time, the show is a great walk down memory lane.  Fortunately all the pieces in the show still look fine (although Ann Johnston’s, used on the bed for decades, has faded dramatically into the muted colors of vintage quilts).  For those of us who aren’t that familiar with the olden days of our little niche of the art world, the show will be an eye-opener: how far we’ve come in such a short time.

Unfortunately the catalog doesn’t reproduce the artist notes that appear on the walls of the Dairy Barn.  So, for instance, readers will probably think that Wendy Huhn’s extravaganza of female fairies perched on irons is about the drudgery of housework, when it’s really about a lethal disease that causes too much iron to build up in one’s blood vessels and joints.  (I know how easy it is to leap to that conclusion, because I eavesdropped on two young guys explaining to one another quite solemnly how women’s work is never done, etc, before one of them thought to read the sign.)

The show remains up at the Dairy Barn through November 22 — see it if you can!

 

 

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I’m cross-posting this to my personal blog, artwithaneedle.blogspot.com

 

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.

02

01

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.

The biggest art prize in the world (by Kathleen Loomis)

Big news in the art quilt world recently is that an art quilt just won a HUGE prize in a competition in which it was pitted against art in all mediums.  The winner is Anne Loveless, of Frankfort MI; the competition is ArtPrize, held in Grand Rapids MI; and the prize is an astounding $200,000, said to be the world’s largest art award.

ImageAnn Loveless, Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, 5’ x 20’

The competition has been going on for five years and is in two parts: one where the winners are chosen by public vote, and one where a professional art jury selects the winners.  Apparently the public section is something like the Oklahoma land rush, where the Sooners lined up in their covered wagons and sped into the sunset to grab the best plots for homesteading.  Any artist in the world can enter the competition, as long as he or she finds a place within three miles of downtown Grand Rapids to display the work, and jockeying for good space begins many, many months before the competition opens.  This year there were more than 1500 entries.

Once the work is installed, anybody who wants to visit can check out the art and cast a vote during the 19 days of the event.  After a week they announce the Top 100, Top 50 and Top 25; towards the end the Top 10 are named and there’s another round of voting.

The winning quilt had to overcome a huge setback near the end of the competition when the federal government shutdown closed the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.  The quilt and three others in the top ten had been displayed at the museum, a prime location for the competition.  For the last several days of the event, Loveless moved her quilt to a tent outside the building, and slept there to guard it, and to lobby visitors for their votes.

The fact that a quilt won the big prize was received by the art quilt community as wonderful news, but what does it mean to the larger world of high art?  Perhaps not much.

The art critic for the Detroit Free Press, for instance, commented that “there’s quality art to be found at ArtPrize, but you have to wade through a lot of dull, second-rate and amateur work, too.”  He mentioned twelve works that he particularly liked, but they were all in the professional category, not in the public vote running.  Another art  professional, who runs a college gallery, told a local TV station that many of the top vote-getters had “entertainment value, but not art value.”

One of the artists on the professional jurors’ short list wrote in a blog, “ArtPrize is populist. The classic definition meaning that populism is a revolt against elitism.  In practical terms, this is exactly what ArtPrize is and this is good, but unfortunately it engenders limitations. By looking at this year’s popular winning entries and those from previous years three elements are consistent; the art work is large in scale, it is extremely well crafted, and it is easily accessible, no guesswork is needed to immediately understand what is being looked upon. In other words it is easy on the eye and easy to immediately understand.  What goes through the mind of most non-expert viewers, I would suspect, is a wow factor, an immediate acknowledgement how difficult and time consuming it was to produce the work, coupled with a keen appreciation of the talent that went into its creation. Thus a vote is given, not only because the viewer may “like” the piece, but also as a reward for the diligence and craft that went into creating it.”

That description fits the winning quilt perfectly.  In fact, Loveless said that in her two previous ArtPrize participations, “I realized you had to go big to be seen in ArtPrize.”

Loveless, of course, saw larger implications in her big win.  She told the local newspaper art critic, “Textiles aren’t considered fine arts. They think of the quilt on the bed. But definitely this is art.  I think next year, we’ll have a lot of textile entries. I think I’m paving the way for quilters in general.”

I’m sure she’s right that there will be lots more quilts entered in ArtPrize next year.  But I think she and all the quilters who exulted over the news are whistling past the graveyard when they think winning the big one will raise the profile of quilts in the high art world.  The professional jurors didn’t give it the time of day, nor did they choose anything that was among the people’s favorites.

In fact, one might cynically argue that when a quilt won the public vote, it ensured that the pros won’t look at another quilt for many years.  Just as the artist commented above that populism is a revolt against elitism, elitism is a revolt against populism.

The jurors went instead for more cerebral installation art.  The big winner with the jury ($100,000) was Carlos Bunga, a Spaniard, who made “a site-specific, architectural intervention…that uses cardboard, tape and paint to re-imagine a gallery in the former Grand Rapids Public Museum.”  No danger of that one winning the public vote, just as there’s no danger of a quilt winning the jury.

ImageCarlos Bunga, Ecosystem

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.

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!

The art of craft – the craft of art (by Olga Norris)

sashiko work pants

contemporary sashiko by Nuno

Interested to encounter Nancy’s post just as I was about to publish this one, I was struck by the fickle finger of coincidence, because what has inspired me recently is an aspect of craft. I have very little time and energy for serious aesthetic input these days, and so appreciate the opportunity to savour intense flavours.

A friend has recently been to York and has seen an exhibition on sashiko.  She sent me the leaflet, and intrigued I read the excellent article by Michele Walker on the website.  There is also a gallery there which made me keen to try to see the exhibition when in goes to Plymouth next year.

Michele Walker first came to my attention when I started thinking about quilts as more than another bed cover.  Her book  The Passionate Quilter was one of the first I acquired, and I was lucky enough to see her work with that of Jo Budd, Dinah Prentice, and Pauline Burbidge  in the glorious 1998 touring exhibition Take 4: New Perspectives on the British Art Quilt.  (Telos published the catalogue – I don’t know if it is still in print.)

I have not been as impressed by an exhibition of art quilts since – though that might partly be because I have become so much more informed and experienced.  However, I do find it most interesting that where Michele Walker has gone from there is to research history, purpose, social context, and technique – and I found this input really inspiring.  (That also might well be because I am emotionally on edge and exhausted most of the time, coupled with the fact that my own work derives its subject matter from the source of this emotional weariness: my relationship with my mother.)

Nonetheless, I feel heartened by the sashiko input – rather like the technique itself Walker has provided me with the base material, and I can work my own stitches with my own cultural pattern thereon.  And I believe that the art of craft is perhaps the fundamental preliminary to the craft of art.

(Another interesting view of Michele Walker’s more recent work is in Keepsakes of Identity 1.)


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