Thursday, December 7, 2017

Artists looking at art, part 1

Last weekend my friend and fellow fiber artist, Linda DeMars, and I traveled to New York City on a mission:  to see as much art as possible in four days.  We visited the 9/11 memorial and museum, the Guggenheim, the Cloisters, MoMA, the Met, and we walked the High Line.  Even venues we didn't expect to feature art, like the 9/11 museum and the High Line, had wonderful work.  I think I can speak for Linda too when I say we returned to Atlanta feeling humbled, awed, and inspired.  And energized!

We saw the famous unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters, the Met's collection of medieval art.  I could have spent all afternoon marveling at the fine scale of the weaving and studying the details of the foliage, the faces and the animals in these tapestries.  They are justly famous, and the colors still so vivid, considering these were made 500 years ago.  (Who says textiles don't last?) The symbolism of the unicorn and the meaning of the series as a whole are still debated endlessly.  At least for me, that mystery is part of the spell they cast.  We see an enchanted world we don't quite understand.

The Unicorn in Captivity, wool, silk and silver and gilded-silver wrapped thread
South Netherlandish, c. 1495-1505
detail, The Unicorn in Captivity

detail, The Unicorn Purifies Water,
wool, silk and silver and gilded-silver wrapped thread
South Netherlandish, c. 1495-1505

When you look at that much art in a few days, synchronicities are bound to occur.  That evening we went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to see the show of Louise Bourgeois' work. . .  and the centerpiece of the show featured fragments of old tapestries.  In this piece Bourgeois combined her famous spider motif with another motif she explored, the cell.  Like the unicorn tapestries, it's a mysterious object with layers of symbolism and mythic power.

Louise Bourgeois Spider(Cell), 1997

detail, Louise Bourgeois Spider(Cell), 1997 

Bourgeois grew up in a French family that repaired and restored tapestries, and she learned the skills of weaving and stitching from an early age.  While she is best known for her monumental spider sculptures (which are homages to her mother, a weaver like the spider), Bourgeois also worked with fabric near the end of her career.  She transformed her own clothing and household textiles into fabric collages, sculptures, and books.  I found a children's book, Cloth Lullaby:  The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.  I loved this page:

The book's writer and illustrator were inspired by Louise Bourgeois, who was inspired by countless tapestry artists.  And I am inspired by them all.  Next time I'll share my take on the David Hockney show at the Met.  He was another artist inspired by artists. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Convergence. Reno. July 2018.

This post will be of particular interest to my weaving friends out there.  Weavers know that Convergence, the biennial international fiber conference hosted by the Handweavers Guild of America (HGA) is not to be missed.  There's a huge slate of workshops and classes, a vast vendors hall, fiber art exhibitions, a fashion show, talks and field trips and tours. You can view the schedule of all the events  HERE.  And of course, there are lots of weavers walking around in their jaw-dropping handmade creations, giving each other the "weaver's handshake" (you know what I mean!).

I'm thrilled to be going back this year for the second time as an instructor.  I'll be offering two classes:  a 3-hour seminar called "Plan Your Tapestry Diary," and a two-day workshop called "From Collage to Tapestry Cartoon."  Both are geared to tapestry weavers who have some familiarity with basic principles and techniques.  Beginners are welcome.

Priority Registration opens today, November 29, at noon EST and runs until Dec. 6 at noon EST, when regular registration opens.

Molly Elkind,
2017 tapestry diary in progress (March - July visible)

"Plan Your Tapestry Diary" is just what it sounds like.  If you're curious about why so many tapestry weavers have adopted a daily practice, this class will answer your questions and help you plan your own.  We'll look at lots of examples of diaries and discuss the many possibilities for format, size, theme and techniques.  For me the most important benefit of keeping a tapestry diary is that I can play, learn, and practice techniques in bite-size chunks (as little as 15 minutes) every day.  Every diary is as unique as every weaver--you make the rules, and you can break them.  (You can see in the photo above how I've changed up the rules each month in my own diary this year.) And you don't need to wait for January 1 to start yours!

There's no need to bring a loom or yarn for this class--just pencil and paper.  A basic familiarity with the tapestry process is helpful.  Go HERE and scroll down to 3-hour seminars on Friday afternoon for the details.

cropped portion of collage
Molly Elkind, "Huh?"
4" x 6" tapestry inspired by collage

"From Collage to Tapestry Cartoon" is geared to tapestry weavers who want to explore ways of designing for tapestry that don't start with drawing or painting.  You will gets lots of hands-on experience with collage, consider what makes a good design, and--this is the exciting part--explore how to translate your cut-and-pasted collage into a weaveable cartoon.  How will you convey the colors, textures, lines and shapes of your collage in tapestry weave?

Again, there's no need to bring a loom for this workshop.  We will focus on design and making a cartoon; you will leave with a design (maybe more than one?) ready to weave.  The supply fee is minimal and all you need to bring is blank paper or sketch book (8 1/2 x 11"); colored paper or old magazines in variety of colors, textures and patterns, and glue sticks, markers and/or colored pencils.  I'll share from my stash of interesting materials as well.

Molly Elkind, collage for Mary (greater is what she bore in her mind)

Molly Elkind,
Mary (greater is what she bore in her mind), handwoven tapestry, 2015
Questions?  Email me or ask in the comments below.  Hope to see you in Reno!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What's looming

For the past couple months I've had this note stuck to my studio door:

It reminds me that my chief task right now is to finish things for my upcoming show, ICONIC, in February.  You can read more about that show HERE.

So here's where we stand.  So close to finishing Mary (Yes) I can taste it!  That black horizontal line on the warps about 2" above the weaving is the finish line.  I think the hand came out OK.  Foreshortening and shadows made for an strange rendering.  And of course the whole image is being woven from the side.  My one complaint about weaving on this horizontal loom is that I can't see much of the tapestry at any one time; the completed weaving rolls under the breast beam.  I do unroll it occasionally to check how it's all looking, but I kind of hate to do that.  (What do the rest of you horizontal loom tapestry weavers do?)

Molly Elkind, Mary (Yes) in progress.  (c) 2017 
I've finally begun weaving the last of the illuminated manuscript-inspired pieces for the show.  The background of Red Letter Night will be wedge weave, as you can see from the work so far.  I'm weaving this from the side, so the image is turned 90 degrees to the left. It's about to start getting interesting as I weave those big shapes and patterns in the center.

Molly Elkind, Red Letter Night in progress.  (c) 2017

And, since it's the beginning of a new month, I've started November's tapestry diary.  This month the name of the game is texture, in various pale neutral yarns.  We'll see how many textures I can come up with. 

Here's a closer look at the weaving so far.  So far, from left to right, I've experimented with countered soumak, plain weave, plain weave on doubled warps, twining (the thin gray rectangle in lower right), and eccentric weaving (above the gray rectangle).  I may have to break down and finally try rya knots one of these days!

Finally, there is one more piece I'm going to make for the show.  I'm not going to say much about it yet, but here's a sneak peek at the fabric and trim I will use.  I've got some ideas simmering that I can't wait to try out.

I hope you are finding time this fall to be creative in your chosen field of play.  Thanks for keeping me company here. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"The Box Project" at the Textile Museum, Washington DC

In my last post I described one of two exhibits I recently had the chance to see at George Washington University's Textile Museum in Washington, DC.  The other show is "The Box Project," which has also been on view at the Fowler Museum at UCLA and at the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin.  The exhibit runs through January 29, 2018 in Washington, and a catalog is available by calling the museum shop at 202-833-1285.

The premise of the exhibit will be familiar to anyone who has belonged to a fiber guild:  the "challenge project" inviting members to work within a particular set of parameters.  In guilds this may take the form of using a specific fabric, yarn, palette, technique or theme to make a piece.  These challenges offer a way for guild members to stretch their skills and to see how different makers may interpret the same assignment. Sometimes there are prizes to provide a little extra motivation!

In the case of the Box Project, textiles collector Lloyd Cotsen invited 36 artists to make fiber work specifically to fit inside a box that measured 14" x 14" x 3" or 14" x 23" x 3".  In effect, he was challenging artists to think "outside the box" by working inside it.  The term fiber was loosely defined and ultimately included materials such as plastic tubing, copper wire, paper, buttons, beads, and spools of thread.

The exhibit offers a fascinating peek inside the artists' creative process.  Correspondence between artists and Cotsen or his textiles curator, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (d. 2011), is on display, along with small samples and sketches that show the artists' developing ideas for the project.  Many of the artists are represented not only by their box pieces but also by several larger works more typical of their usual practice.  It was interesting to see how artists adapted their usual style of working to the new smaller format.

Here are a few images from the show that captured my attention.

Helena Hernmarck, Color Triptyk, 2005
for The Box Project

Helena Hernmarck, Homage to Mary Kahlenberg, 2012.
wool and flax woven with strips from sequin manufacturing

Shibori artist Ana Lisa Hedstrom had this insight:

Making a piece to fit inside the box was harder than it should have been.  . . .When something is very large, there is a certain impact, which is why so many fibers artists work in a huge scale.  There is a certain "wow" factor.  . . .The miniature has to encourage the viewer to spend some time with it.  It can't be too complex; the statement you are making is like a haiku: it has brevity but it has to come together.  But it can't be so simple that it's like you shrugged your shoulders.

Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Fissures, 2005.
hand-pleated shibori-dyed silk

Embroidery artist Mary Bero, whose embroidered faces are typically quite small, chose to subdivide the box even further to make a collection or "compendium" representing the whole range of her artistic production over the years.

Mary Bero, Compendium, 2012-13
cotton cloth, linen cord, paper, silk and cotton thread, spools, metal wire,
pins and embroidery mounted in a wood box painted with acrylic paint

Like Hedstrom, John Garrett found the constraints of the small format difficult, saying "When I have a larger format to work with, there is more room to make something compelling."  It seems to me he succeeded in making visually exciting work on both scales.

John Garrett, Untitled, The Box Project
woven copper wire mesh with plastic, shells, buttons, beads, bells
and metal washers attached with waxed linen cord

John Garrett, no info available (apologies)

Virginia Davis did not feel constrained by the box format, saying:

I'm very much into reflections and images that bounce back and forth.  So the title of this piece is Bounded by a Nutshell, that is from Hamlet:  'I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.' The whole piece is reflecting back and forth yet you're bound in a box, though it's not restricting you.  When you're in a box, you're bounded by a nutshell.
Virginia Davis, Bounded by a Nutshell, 2004
linen painted with acrylic pigment and woven in double ikat;
holographic and handmade paper; handmade clamshell box

As for me, I enjoy giving myself certain limits or parameters to start with when I begin a project. What about you?  Would you find working within a small box format limiting, or freeing? 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fiber art at the Textile Museum in DC

I was in Washington, DC last weekend and had the chance to visit what I think of as one of the shrines of my people:  the Textile Museum, now housed at George Washington University. The museum relocated a few years back from a lovely but cramped location in Northwest Washington, and I was excited to finally see the new digs.  I was not disappointed.  And it is an easy walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop! Yay!

The new space has three floors of exhibit space and also connects to the historic Woodhull House, which contains a collection related to the history of Washington, DC.  Artwork owned by the university is also on exhibit, but I have to confess only had eyes for two fiber shows that I had read about in various publications.

"Scraps:  Fashion, Textile, and Creative Reuse" spotlights the work of three designers to reduce and re-purpose the staggering amount of textile waste that the clothing industry generates every year.  Wall text in the exhibit states that apparel and textiles is the second-most polluting industry in the world, after oil!  Wow. 

Luisa Cevese founded Riedizioni ("re-editions") in Milan, Italy to produce new products using the selvedges cut from the edges of industrially woven sari silk.  She embeds these fragments in polyurethane to make colorful and eye-catching new products.  I loved the idea and the look of the tote bag pictured below:  so fun!  But when I examined one of the bags up close in the museum gift shop, I wasn't crazy about the heavy plastic feel, nor the $450 price tag. I wonder how ecologically friendly the production of polyurethane is and what the byproducts of that process are.  And how can enough people afford a $450 tote bag to make the process feasible, long-term? 

Luisa Cevese, silk selvedge waste (foreground),
Spread Textile, 8 Hours Bag, and Large Basket Bag

Reiko Sudo, with the Japanese textile design firm NUNO, also works with silk waste. She uses the outer covering of the silk cocoon that previously was discarded,  making it into yarn that can be woven on industrial looms.  She has also re-purposed the residue from the spinning process to make a kind of patchwork cloth-paper.  Her fabrics have a subtle, textured beauty.

Reiko Sudo, silk cocoon waste (foreground) and various products
I really fell in love, though, with the work of Christina Kim, the designer behind the Los Angeles brand dosa.  Her practice is based in reverence for handwork and a goal of zero-waste in the re-use of very fine cotton sari fabric.  She works with Indian craftspeople to piece scraps from sari production (first generation) into new cloth, embellishing it with embroidery and applique, and creating new clothing (second generation).  Scraps from this process are also collected and become small applique  circles on pieced yardage (third generation).  Even the small scraps from this process are collected and made into tiny amulets (fourth generation).  Some scraps are overdyed to unify them visually  before being constructed into garments.

Christina Kim, First-generation garments:
 Choga, Rabari jacket; and Recycled Jamdari Panel 
Here's a detail of the panel above:

Christina Kim, detail, Recycled Jamdari Panel 
I love the layers of translucent fabric and intricate stitching. 

Christina Kim, Second-generation garments: 
Fraulein dress, Eungie Skirt;
Third-generation garment:  Eungie Skirt (over-dyed)
Here's a close-up on one of the skirts:

Christina Kim, detail, Eungie Skirt

Christina Kim, Amulets,
hand-embroidered and containing a folded Hindu prayer
This was my favorite piece of all though:

Christina Kim, Tikdis Shawl
Over 600 small scrap "dots" are hand-appliqued to each shawl.
It is encouraging and exciting to see up close the work of pioneering textile designers to change the way we produce and use fabric.  They may even change our notion of what is beautiful clothing, widening it to include pieces with a frankly scrappy look.  I hope that as these efforts become more common, the processes become scalable so that the products can reach wider and broader markets.

This show is on view at the Textile Museum through January 7, 2018. 

Next time, I'll share my impressions of the larger show on view at the museum, The Box Project:  Uncommon Threads.  It was really wonderful!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ICONIC: work in progress, and a show!

These days the term of highest praise is iconic.  Something (or someone) that is the latest, hippest, purest exemplar of its type is iconic.  The online Urban Dictionary offers this:
Similar to "classic," iconic is generally restricted to more recent, highly original, influential, or unique, works of art, artists, or performers. As such they are now well-established and widely celebrated in popular culture.
"Oedipus Rex" is a classic, but the original "Planet of the Apes" is truly iconic.
Unfortunately, like every over-used word, it will soon cease to mean anything.   Epic, anyone? Awesome

Overused or not, ICONIC is the working title of my 2018 show of tapestries.  Save the date:  the opening will be Sunday, February 25, 2018.  The show will run February 15-March 13 at Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance (SEFAA) in Atlanta. 

Lest it sound presumptuous to describe my own work as iconic, let me explain.  I've been obsessed for the past few years with a particular icon, the one pictured below, of Mary the mother of Jesus.  This is an icon in the original sense, a painting of a religious figure intended to enhance prayer and spiritual devotion.  For me, this image has sparked a whole series of tapestries exploring the meaning and influence of the mythic figure of Mary. 

Mary, detail of 6th c. encaustic icon at Sta. Maria della Francesca church, Rome
I am nearing the completion of this series now, having begun the seventh and final piece recently.  Here's my progress so far on Mary (yes).

Molly Elkind, Mary (Yes), handwoven tapestry in progress, (c) 2017
And recently I cut off the loom my largest, and most personal, piece in the series, called Mary (the anxiety of influence).   

Molly Elkind, Mary (the anxiety of influence), handwoven tapestry, (c) 2017
You can see photos and read about some of the other pieces in the series here and here.

Related to this series is another series I'm working on, loosely based on medieval illuminated manuscripts.  These texts were packed with meaning for their original readers, serving as prayer books.  Nowadays most of us cannot read the text, and we appreciate them purely for their decorative qualities, and perhaps for the insight they offer into a different world and time.

I find these manuscripts fascinating for the layout of the pages--those margins, either empty or packed with intricate decoration!  That profusion of pattern!  That beautifully lettered text, which contains some kind of sacred meaning, out of reach for most of us today.  The way the patterns, pictures and words are interwoven into one unified surface fascinates me.   

In my tapestry series I am experimenting with compositions that explore margins and centers, and with combinations of text, or text-like patterns, and abstract imagery.  Red Letter Day is part of this series.  I am starting a companion piece, tentatively titled Red Letter Night--it will have a dark background.

Molly Elkind, Red Letter Day, handwoven tapestry, (c) 2016

Here's a peek at the collage and some sampling I've done for Red Letter Night

And I have several small pieces in the series as well.  Here's one:

Molly Elkind, Huh?, handwoven tapestry (c) 2016

An icon provides an occasion and the means for contemplation, for meditation, a chance to forget oneself and one's daily life for a few moments and enter another deeper or higher reality. . . . Rather like what we have come to expect artwork to offer us.

What is iconic for you?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Fierce Fibers exhibit in Marietta, Georgia

I am pleased to be included in a juried show that opened last night at The Art Place in Marietta, Georgia.  The work of nine local fiber artists in on view, and the show offers a snapshot of the variety of work being done in fibers today, ranging from weaving to art quilts to fabric collage, silk painting, and freeform embroidery.

Here are just a few of the pieces that caught my eye.  I urge you to go see the show yourself and see all the work. The show is up through September 28.

Left to right:  artists and organizers:
Sharon Ahmed, Rebecca Reasons Edwards, Virginia Greaves, Leo Edwards,
Molly Elkind, Danielle Morgan, Devon Pfeif.
We are posed in front of Rebecca and Leo's piece Let Hope Rise.
Not pictured:  artists Deb Lacativa, Sandy Teepen, and Hellenne Vermillion
Top:  Molly Elkind, WTF and Huh? tapestries
Bottom:  Danielle Morgain, Into the Light Again, mixed media quilt

Deb Lacativa, Rever 1-4, mixed media fabric collage.
Deb's assemblage heavily embroidered and quilted fragments had me itching to resume my meditative stitching practice. 

Devon Pfeif, Lily Pond, quilt

detail, Devon Pfeif, Lily Pond.
I enjoyed the precision and dimensional elements in Devon's quilt.
The bird and the leaves are fussy-cut and stand out from the surface. 

Sharon Ahmed, Magic (top) and Frog on Lily Pad, embroidery

Virginia Greaves, Minerva, quilt

Virginia Greaves, Minerva, quilt.
I enjoyed Virginia''s choice of fabrics--at a distance they blend to create realistic depth
 and up close you see the witty prints and wild colors.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

New Legacies: Contemporary Art Quilts in Fort Collins, CO

Before I fell in love with tapestry weaving, I was obsessed, for years, with making quilts, especially non-traditional art quilts.  I still enjoy checking in with the art quilt world and seeing what's going on. As in tapestry, the main ingredients are thread or yarn, the elements of design (especially shape, line, and color), and of course, time.  I've written before about the similarities in designing quilts and designing tapestries.

Last weekend I had the chance to see one of the longest-lived art quilt shows in the country, the 35th annual New Legacies show of Contemporary Art Quilts at Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. All photographs below are scanned from the show catalog (available by contacting the box office HERE). There were many intriguing quilts in this show; below are just a few of my favorites.

I am moved to write about this show because I realized that the art quilts I liked best were those that, as in my favorite tapestries, explore the unique possibilities of their medium in an elegant and economical way.  The artist fully exploits the design potential for enticing textures, interesting shapes and lines, and the emotional impact of stitch.

I was excited to see that several artists are really questioning the definition of a quilt.   The show's sole requirement was that fiber pieces have three layers stitched together, which is pretty much the most fundamental definition of a quilt.  The piece below really stretches that definition.  It's hard to see in the photograph, but on each strip there is a base layer, to which thousands of scraps of white and cream colored fabrics of varied textures and shapes are stitched with a meandering quilting line.  The red flower shapes are added atop the white layer, and loose red threads dangle abundantly.  The texture is lush and begs to be touched.  The piece makes a powerful impact, though many might argue that it strays too far from tradition to be called a quilt.

Chiaki Dosho, The Crossing Times 9.  77.5" x 98.5" x 1"
Old Japanese kimono silk, synthetic fiber, wool
As you would expect in an art quilt show, there was plenty of original surface design:  dyeing, dye-painting, free-motion stitching, improvisational cutting and piecing, digital images printed on fabric and the incorporation of found objects.  Very few art quilters are satisfied by simply piecing together commercially printed fabrics.

For a few decades now quilters have been printing digital photographs on fabric and using those fabrics in quilts.  One artist in the show took the straightforward approach of simply quilting lines over her printed images and leaving it at that.  To me the simple addition of quilting lines does not transform the photograph enough to justify making it a quilt.  

I especially liked what Charlotte Ziebarth did with her digitally printed fabric.  She printed her own close-up images of water on fabric, creating an arashi shibori effect, and then cut and pieced the fabrics into new compositions.  The resulting quilts convey the fluidity and shifting colors of water without relying only the literal image.  There are layers of wateriness here.

Charlotte Ziebarth, Wave Equations.  36" x 51"
silk, cotton batting, cotton backing, archival printing inks, rayon and cotton threads, acrylic spray varnish;
digital art printed on treated silk, cut layered, fused, and stitched
One artist took surface design on fabric to its logical conclusion.  I have been waiting for years for a quilter to decide to make a painting on canvas and call it a quilt. . . and it finally happened!

Sherry Kleinman, Raw Edged Beauty 30" x 25"
artist canvas, paints, threads, wool/acrylic felt, water soluble media (paints, crayons pencils, raw edges, hanging threads;
hand piecing, machine and hand stitching
Sherry Kleinman pieced together canvas and then painted on the "wrong" side, where the seam allowances and dangling threads are.  For me this is a conceptual piece that asks the question:  Why is this bit of painted canvas a quilt (i.e., craft object) and not a painting (i.e., fine art)?  The floor is open for responses . . .

detail, Sherry Kleinman, Raw Edged Beauty 
I suppose the raw edges of the canvas and the abundant surface stitching push it over into the craft/quilt category. . . but in a time when many painters are using fiber art techniques, I am not convinced that there are any truly meaningful distinctions between "craft" and "art".  But that's a subject for another day.

In some cases artists pushed the limits of the technique that is for many folks practically synonymous with quilt-making:  piecing.
Denise Roberts, Mitote #11, 85" x 38.5"
cotton; hand-dyed, cut into directly, machine pieced and quilted
The piecing here is mind-bogglingly intricate.  But it's not just a technical tour de force--the artist's handling of value contrast, especially those white highlights, really conveys energy and movement.  I also enjoy the unusual color scheme.

detail, Denise Roberts, Mitote #11
Finally I want to share a piece which seemed to me to perfectly integrate image and fabric. . . much as weavers try to do in tapestry.  Elena Stokes's Infinity VI is made of strips from sari silks, collaged together by fusing and machine quilting.  The strips determine the image.  The stitching, raw edges, loose threads and all, convey emotion with elegance and economy.

Elena Stokes, Infinity VI, 46" x 84".
 reclaimed sari silks from India, cotton batting, fusible web, thread; textile collage, fused and machine quilted
detail, Elena Stokes, Infinity VI

And this brings me back to tapestry.  One thing I love about tapestry is that, in its traditional form, it is elegant and economical.  The interlacing of weft and warp creates the image and the cloth simultaneously.  The description of materials and process is likewise concise:  typically something like "cotton, wool; handwoven tapestry", although of course this can vary widely. 

As someone who has made many quilts and mixed media pieces, I get it.  It's exciting to explore the myriad surface design techniques and materials available today.   But I sigh when I see a long paragraph listing materials and techniques on the wall label, as if the artist wants full credit for every single thing she did to that cloth.  One doesn't need to use every tool in the toolbox all at once.  For me at least, the most impressive work exploits the expressive potential of one or two materials or techniques at a time, rather than layering on a multitude of processes.  Less is more. 

But that's just my opinion.  What do you think?