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?   

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Summer handwovens on deep discount

If you are a regular reader you know that for the past year and a half I've been pretty focused on weaving tapestry.
But I have a few handwoven items remaining that would be perfect to wear now and into the early fall.
I rarely put things on sale so this is your chance!  These sale prices are good through Friday, Aug. 11.    
If you are interested, please email me and we'll make it happen!

Handwoven infinity wrap.
Blue clasped weft lines highlight the moebius structure.
Lightweight and silky Tencel.  Handwash, hang to dry, touch up with warm iron.
Originally $125, now $65 plus shipping. 

Back view of Blue lines wrap.  

Handwoven infinity wrap.  
 Gray clasped weft lines highlight the moebius structure.  
Lightweight and silky Tencel.  Handwash, hang to dry, touch up with warm iron.  
Originally $125, now $65 plus shipping.

Back view of Gray lines wrap. 
Handwoven infinity scarf with Fuchsia clasped weft lines.
Was $95, now $45 plus shipping. 

Handwoven infinity scarf with Brown clasped weft lines.
Was $95, now $45 plus shipping. 

Handwoven infinity scarf with Dark Green clasped weft lines.
Was $95, now $45 plus shipping. 
Email me to purchase or with any questions you may have.  

P.S.  Next week I'll be putting on sale some of my mixed-media art for the wall.  Stay tuned!