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
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
|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
|detail, Sherry Kleinman, Raw Edged Beauty|
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
|detail, Denise Roberts, Mitote #11|
|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?