Wednesday, August 31, 2016

HGA's Small Expressions exhibit: Yep, more innovation

I've been sharing with you some of the work I saw in Milwaukee in connection with Convergence. The Handweavers Guild of America sponsors a biennial show entitled Small Expressions for fiber work under 15" in any direction.  This year it was on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The Milwaukee Art Museum's Burke Brise Soleil winged sunscreen, designed by Santiago Calatrava.  
When we left the "wings" had closed and wedding parties were taking turns getting photos. 
This museum is a destination in itself, for its spectacular architecture and for its wonderful collection of modern art, the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection.

But our first stop was to see Small Expressions.  I was struck by how each artist pushed her materials beyond their usual scope and modes of expression.  As I saw in ATA's unjuried small tapestry show, the small format seems to encourage risk-taking and inventiveness.

Tapestry weaver Rebecca Smith used wire and beads as well as yarn to create a woven relief that pulls you in close to explore changes in surface detail.

Rebecca Smith, Tapestry Relief, tapestry and bead weaving, 8 x 11 x 1"

Kelsey Leib transformed wool and wood into this trompe l'oeil bouquet.  

Kelsey Leib, Ghost, wet felting, 10 x 6 x 3"
As a former paper maker and occasional shibori dyer, I marveled at Barbara Chappell's relief piece made from linen paper yarn.  The restrained color palette allows the fine pleated textures to take the starring role.  What sort of spectacular butterfly emerged from this gorgeous cocoon?

Barbara Chappell, Entwined, handwoven, shibori pleated, sculpted, 7 x 6 x 2"
I studied this next piece for quite awhile, trying to determine how weaver Genevieve Moisan had incorporated brocade and mohair so seamlessly.  What fantastical narrative is unfolding here, between the hatted figure and the bird-woman?

Genevieve Moisan, Dark, brocaded Jacquard weaving, mercerized cotton, black mohair, orlec, muslin,
wooden stretcher, 12 x 15 x 1"
Here you can zoom in a bit to see the brocade weave in the ground.  I'm sorry the photo resolution is not as fine as it could be.

Genevieve Moisan, Dark, detail
My personal favorite, though, was this piece that surprised me by combining broken crockery and crocheted wire.

Mirva Kuvaja, Archeology, freeform crochet, copper wire, found porcelain pieces, 8 x 8 x 1"
Old broken dishes can be a well-worn path to easy sentimentality.  But the artist has left the shards as shards, rather than trying to crochet them back into some kind of wholeness.  They seem to have sunk to the bottom of their background in a random way that suggests the way they may have been found on the ground.  The small-scale intricate crochet, carefully fitted to each broken piece, seems like a tender act of mending/embellishment to me.

I see that in almost every case here I have focused on the artist's inventive use of materials, her innovative technique.  Fiber is a medium obsessed with materials, their textures and colors and malleability, so it is natural for us to be drawn first to these.  And yet I am always preaching to my students not to focus on technique alone, but to be sure they have something to say, that their image and concept are worth the viewer's time and attention.  Surprising use of materials may grab our attention at the outset, but visual delight and engaging ideas and stories will keep us looking.  In this I think these artists have succeeded as well.  What do you think? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

More fiber innovations at Convergence

There was so much good fiber work on display at Convergence it was hard to fit it all into one post. Last week we looked at the exhibit of work by teachers at Convergence; this week we'll see work from ATA's unjuried small format show .  I'll look at  HGA's Small Expressions exhibit in the next post.  I was struck that in both shows, the small format, rather than limiting artists' creativity, seems to liberate them to experiment and innovate.

ATA's Tapestry Unlimited show was held at Milwaukee's gorgeous downtown public library.  What a grand setting!

Ruth Manning did a fabulous job of gathering the tapestries, mailed in from all over the world, mounting them with thought and care on black panels, and then installing them on the library's second floor.  You can read about her labor of love HERE.

This shot gives a sense of the variety of responses to the challenge to weave a tapestry under 10" in any direction.  Clockwise from upper left:  Maggie Clark, Golden Feather; Heather Myers, Turnip Crop; Karen Fowler Little, Cloud Big City; Suzette Taylor, Alexander 2014; Beverly Weaver, Kansas Series #2--Tallgrass; Alyssa Meredith, Metaweave #1:  Trellis; Linda Whiting, Poppy.

Many of us revel in the opportunity to explore color in weaving--but a number of weavers showed how powerful black, white and gray can be.  This weaver broke free of the standard rectangular format as well.

Nancy C. Crampton, Playing with Pattern
The group GobelArtki undertook a specific challenge to explore texture, shape, and line by avoiding color in their tapestries.  Again, four very different approaches show the versatility of the simple over-and-under of tapestry weaving, as well as the graphic power of black, white and gray.

Clockwise from left:  Ewa Elsner, Lady; Ewa Kaminska, Japanese Dance,
Ilona Wroblewski, Dance, and Dorota Wronska, Cat.
These pieces caught my eye for their sheer mastery of design and technique.   Graceful curves can be difficult to achieve in the standard grid of tapestry.

Top:  Patti Kirch, Tapestry Letter, Two Zines please;
Bottom:  Alex Friedman, Curlique
Landscape and nature motifs can be difficult to render with subtlety in tapestry  (at least for me so far) but these artists did so beautifully:

Joan Griffin, Keukenhof

Minna Rothman, Cape Cod Sandbars

D. Colette Wright, Autumn Beauty
Faces, especially selfies, were a popular subject.  This is part of a collection done by the Damascus Fiber Arts School to honor their mentor Audrey Moore on her 90th birthday.  

I love the way this face was abstracted and colored.  

Liz Pulos, Self
I love how Mariana Ortega left warp--and loom--visible in her piece.  It reinforces the sense of a person at wit's end, possibly unraveling.

Mariana Ortega, No Desesperes

Me with my tapestry Mother/Mary (red border).  That's Robbie LaFleur's Edwin, Home from the Great War at bottom.
Finally, I have to include the face that I brought home with me, Ruth Manning's Feather Hat.  I love this little piece!  I was disappointed that I couldn't take Ruth's Convergence workshop in weaving faces, but now I get to smile at this gal every morning.  I love how Ruth mounted her on a small painted canvas, and how she let the linen warps become an important part of the piece.  This lady reminds me not to take my hair too seriously.  

Ruth Manning, Feather Hat

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fiber innovations at Convergence exhibits

One of the best parts of attending a conference like Convergence is seeing what other fiber artists are doing.  There were several exhibits associated with the event, and I was honored to be in two of them!  As always I was struck by the variety of expressions possible in fiber, and by the sheer inventiveness of other artists.

The work of teachers at the conference was on display in a show called Gathering by Waters.  There were many pieces I really liked.  It is hard to choose which ones to share with you, but  here are a few:

Marcia Weiss, Water Lily, warp ikat, linen
I love the simple abstracted design and the gorgeous color of this ikat.  The blurred, watery edges of the shapes perfectly suit the subject and allude to the dyeing process involved.

Kathleen Zasuwa, Ancient Grafitti:  Lines to Letters, 8-shaft undulating twill, cotton, wool, silk,
metallic threads, patinated copper cut into strips
I love how Zasuwa used copper strips in combination with a traditional weave structure to make an enigmatic diptych.  I wonder how she kept the cut copper edges from cutting the other threads?

Another artist also used metallic threads to make an affecting image: 

Louise Lemieux Berube, Flower #1, Jacquard weaving with pigments,
Tencel, stainless steel, copper, linen, wool
detail, Berube, Flower #1
This piece made me smile.
Hollie Meltzer, Lossy Format #1, crocheted "pixels," cotton floss, thread, poly organza backing
detail, Hollie Meltzer, Lossy Format #1
I just think it's terribly witty and maybe a little crazy to crochet approximately a billion tiny (about 1/2" diameter) circles to render a classical image in a pixelated format.  It feels very contemporary.  "Lossy format" indeed!

Hollie Meltzer did another pixelated face in a very different technique: 

Hollie Meltzer, Blow-Up, reverse applique, machine and hand stitching,
poly organza, cotton fabric, poly and cotton thread 

detail, Hollie Meltzer, Blow-Up
Where's the reverse applique?  The top layer of white poly organza is selectively cut away within the stitched grid to reveal gray fabric underneath.  Many of these gray squares are then hand-stitched with varying densities of dark line to make further value changes which in turn create the very blurred, pixelated image.

Sarah Warren, Long Night over the Canyon, Navajo wedge weave, cotton warp and hand-dyed wool weft
detail, Sarah Warren, Long Night over the Canyon, Navajo wedge weave, cotton warp and hand-dyed wool weft
I'd never seen wedge weave used to portray a landscape,  It seems like the perfect union of subject matter and technique to me, capturing the colors and stark landscape of the southwest.

Molly Elkind, Red Letter Day, tapestry, cotton, wool.
I'm honored to be in good company, next to a tapestry by Ruth Manning! 
I saw two other shows as well; those will have to wait for my next post.  The American Tapestry Alliance (ATA) had its very popular unjuried small format (under 10" in any direction) show. Tapestry Unlimited, at the downtown Milwaukee public library.  And  HGA's biennial Small Expressions exhibit of fiber pieces was at the fabulous Milwaukee Museum of Art.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Convergence: Molly's excellent Milwaukee adventure, part 1

Faithful readers of this blog have heard me go on about Convergence, the Handweavers Guild of America's biennial conference, for several months now.  I was excited to be selected to teach two studio classes.  Now that the conference is over, I want to share some highlights.

First, it was just great fun to teach such a capable, curious, engaged (and engaging) group of students.  They truly are the "cream of the crop," and tackled everything I threw at them with good humor and excellent results.  In both Fabric Painting 3 Ways and in Art Journaling to Kickstart Creativity, our goal was to experiment, to try many techniques and activities, to explore rather than to make finished products.  Nonetheless, I was impressed at what students were able to do,  Take a look at what happened in Fabric Painting;

Some great work with Dye-na-Flow silk paints

One student's take on Van Gogh, using Neocolor II watercolor crayons on cotton
Students applying Dye-na-Flow silk paint after their resisted designs have dried

Applying Pebeo gutta resist to stretched silk.  Resist contains the free-flowing silk paint
"inside the lines."
This resist design turned out great!

So did this one!

Using a toothbrush to push Shiva Paintstik oil paint onto fabric inside masked-off areas.
 The red-orange area shows a pattern transferred from a rubbing plate underneath.

Using rubbing plates and a Shiva paintstik to transform an "ugly" commercial fabric.  
The other class, Art Journaling, did a series of sketchbook exercises designed to explore line, shape, value and color.

This student's marks and lines convey particular emotions.
a collection of linear patterns gleaned from magazines and other sources
collage combining varieties of shape and line
a grayscale constructed from found papers
I've been seeking feedback from my students, and one student wrote that she felt one mark-making exercise didn't have much to do with what she is really interested in--weaving!--but then she found she was able to translate her marks into a weaving draft.  Well done!

I first started preparing for Convergence over a year ago.  It's hard to believe it's finally come and gone.  I'm already looking forward to 2018.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Wisdom from Walker Evans

I loved this quotation, on the wall at the exhibit of Walker Evans photographs currently on view at Atlanta's High Museum.

The show is up through September 11 and well worth a look.