Wednesday, August 24, 2016

No-Colour at the FoQ

I took many photos of pieces exhibited at the recent Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, and I will try to share some of them here.

Sometimes, what won me over was work with little or no colour. I loved the juxtaposition of organic and geometric in the piece below. Heymann used both precise machine quilting and hand stitching in a gorgeous range of grays. Simplicity itself.

Susann Heymann, Germany, Transversal Potato
cotton, acrylic paint, clay paint;
coloured, stenciled, machine sewn, hand- and machine-quilted
Susann Heymann, Transversal Potato (detail)

Even greater simplicity is evident in the work by Niki Chandler below. Her statement said "the wall quilt is informed by the zen-inducing grid paintings of Agnes Martin (1912-2004), an artist whose own inner peace was periodically fractured by schizophrenic episodes." Chandler used no pigment at all in her work, relying on cast shadows from stitched triangular flaps to create interest. The fine cotton she employed is starkly white. Again, precision is critical to the success of this work.

Niki Chandler, Nothing in this Life is Perfect

Niki Chandler, Nothing in this Life is Perfect (detail)

The SAQA exhibit, "Celebrating Silver", was a rich source of achromatic work. This collection was put together on the occasion of SAQA's 25th anniversary. Cynthia St. Charles wrote that she "wanted to express the experience of mining for silver in Montana by printing the quilt surface with writings from early miners and vigilantes."

Cynthia St. Charles, Silver Hills
fused collage of hand-painted cotton broadcloth, acrylic paint
Cynthia St. Charles, Silver Hills (detail)
fused collage of hand-painted cotton broadcloth, acrylic paint

Maria Shell revelled in the opportunity to forego her usual bright colours and rely strictly on value contrast.

Maria Shell, Two-Five
vintage and contemporary commercial cotton textiles,
hand-dyed fabrics

Finally, Mary Pal's work received much attention from the visitors. She skilfully manipulated cheesecloth on a black background to achieve a haunting portrait of two silver miners, based on a 1907 photo.

Mary B. Pal, Precious Time,
cheesecloth, canvas, acrylic paint

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Colleen Heslin

Colleen Heslin, Havana Affair, 2015

I'm really excited about the work of Colleen Heslin, whose show Needles and Pins is part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the McMichael Collection. Heslin graduated from Concordia University's MFA program in 2014 and won the RBC Painting Competition in 2013.

Colleen Heslin, Bending Moment, dye on linen, 64 x 86", 2016

Heslin hand-dyes linen and cotton, sometimes using ink as dye. She assembles pieces of cloth together in a style reminiscent of colour field painting. Her use of cloth and stitch pushes the boundaries of painting and raises questions about the craft/art interface.

Colleen Heslin, White Lie, dye on linen, 64 x 86", 2016

I hope to see the show at the McMichael Collection, north of Toronto, in the fall. You can read about it in this article from the Globe and Mail.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Musée de la Mode

Every Saturday afternoon in July and August, the Montreal Museum of Costume and Textiles is presenting a hands-on demo of indigo shibori dyeing, directed at those who are new to the subject.

I visited the museum recently to catch the show Parcours d'une élégante, an exhibition which showcases the wardrobe of Montrealer Beatrice Pearson, born in the late 1930's to Italian immigrants. Her mother and grandmother were accomplished seamstresses, and so began a lifelong interest in fashion. Pearson has donated more than 550 items of clothing and accessories to the museum, some of them made by famous designers, others by topnotch dressmakers or by Pearson herself. Still other garments were found in thrift shops by Pearson, who enjoys the "thrill of the hunt".

Four outfits designed by Issey Miyake,
each featuring fabric made from pleated polyester

One of Pearson's favourite designers is the Japanese Issey Miyake. Born in Hiroshima in 1938, Miyake is known for his use of pleated textiles. Says Wikipedia,
"In the late 1980s, he began to experiment with new methods of pleating that would allow both flexibility of movement for the wearer as well as ease of care and production. ... The garments are cut and sewn first, then sandwiched between layers of paper and fed into a heat press, where they are pleated. The fabric's 'memory' holds the pleats and when the garments are liberated from their paper cocoon, they are ready-to wear."

detail of fabric used in dress, third from left, above

A variation on this technique produced an intriguingly crumpled Miyake skirt.

skirt by Issey Miyake

skirt by Issey Miyake, detail

Here's another interesting design, sort of a trompe-l'oeil: 

Dress by label Comme des Garçons

Notice the hand-like shapes, stitched and stuffed to give them a realistic dimension.

I have seen several museum-quality shows of particular designers, but this show is different in that it focuses on the collection of an individual fashion enthusiast, who bought clothes from many designers. Her passion for textiles and design was shaped by a thorough education on the subject and by an openness to other cultures. Pearson spent two years in Hong Kong and two years in China, and many of the pieces on display show the influence of these experiences on her collection.

Not a blockbuster show by any means but, with over 300 items on display, including jewelry, hats and dozens of pairs of shoes, it's worth a visit if you're in the Old Port area of Montreal. The show closes August 28, 2016.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Deidre Adams

When I first began to make "art quilts", I was inspired by the work of Deidre Adams. I continue to find her work a revelation, and I am especially impressed by her crossover between stitch and paint. Perhaps it was ten years ago that I observed how Adams would dry-brush paint over her stitched and quilted surfaces, and I began to use that technique in some of my own work.

Deidre Adams, A System of Phonological Parameters, 30" x 40"
acrylic and mixed media on panel

Adams is no minimalist. She achieves rich textures and transparencies by building layer upon layer, to create a kind of "primordial soup". In the last few years, she has begun to work very large, sometimes achieving dimensions of 100" or more by combining several canvases, often a triptych of equal-sized panels.

Deidre Adams, By Chance and Necessity, 48" x 72"
acrylic and mixed media on panel

Adams, based in the American Southwest and a member of SAQA, is currently showing her work in a solo show, "Metaphors & Mysteries" at the Point Gallery in Denver, August 5 - 31, 2016 and in a group show, "Colorado Women in Abstraction" at Denver's Centre for Visual Art, July 15 - October 1, 2016.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

More Colour Studies

I have a large wall space that I need to fill. Rather than doing a single large piece I decided to make more of the 10" x 10" colour studies that I so enjoyed doing this past spring, as part of a Jane Davies on-line course on colour. I've been encouraged to make more as seven of the originals have sold.

The idea is to paint layer upon layer, employing subtle textures to add a richness to the surface. Dry brushing, scraping, dripping, lifting, and glazing all come into play. My parameters were:
  • choose 3 colours from a palette of 6 (warm red, yellow-green, yellow-orange, warm grey, turquoise and light violet)
  • use only 3 rectilinear shapes, including the background 
These limitations mean that the pieces will hang together well as a group, whether at a show or in situ. I began by making tiny mock-ups of various designs and colour combinations, not all of which made the final cut:

This time, I took a few more liberties with materials. I used mostly acrylic paint, but also some watercolour crayons, oil paint sticks and oil pastel to add scribbly texture.

mottled turquoise offset by flat matte of red

scribbled oil pastel on acrylic base,
distressed red paint under the violet

Can you see the drips of red paint?

Original yellow-orange background
overpainted with violet,
leaving interesting orange edge around red shape

By mounting the painted heavy-weight paper onto birchwood boxes and painting the edges with matte black paint, I think I achieved a nice presentation. Everything was varnished to protect and preserve the work. Here's a photo of ten of the colour studies placed on the wall:

This exercise has given me some valuable experience with handling acrylic paint, and that will stand me in good stead for a five-day acrylic workshop coming up in September.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sculpture Garden, MMFA

Last week I took a lunch-time guided tour of the Sculpture Garden at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In the past, I've reported on visits to Fondation Maeght (in St.-Paul-de-Vence last September) and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (in Washington DC last March) so it's only fitting that I post about a visit to a local sculpture venue. No, the MMFA is not in the same rank as the others, but still the tour was enjoyable.

Jaume Plensa, Shadows II
stainless steel and granite, 2007

What is Plensa saying about text and the human form? That we become fully human through the use of language? That we shield ourselves with words?

Joe Fafard, Claudia
bronze, 2003

One of the best things about sculpture gardens is that you're free to interact with (and yes, touch) the art. Fafard is a well-known Canadian sculptor who specializes in animals. When commissioned to fill a space in downtown Toronto, he produced seven monumental cows like this, titled The Pasture, known impudently as "The Group of Seven."

Of course every sculpture garden must have its Jim Dine:

Jim Dine, Three Hearts on a Rock
bronze, 2002

and its Henry Moore:

Henry Moore, Large Totem Head
bronze, 1968

The Chihuly glass piece has pride of place on the steps of the Museum's original building. It was acquired through a large fundraising campaign. Fears of vandalism have proven unfounded, though the piece is disassembled every fall for winter storage. Plans are underway to construct a protective vitrine that will allow for year-round display.

Dale Chihuly, The Sun
blown glass and steel, 2002

Montrealer David Altmejd is a favourite son, whose solo show at the Musée d'Art Contemporain last summer broke all attendance records.

David Altmejd, The Eye
bronze, 2010-2011

David Altmejd, The Eye
bronze, 2010-2011

Can you see the large void in the torso?

When the tour ended, we walked west along Sherbrooke Street and came upon a lovely urban oasis, beside the Church of St Andrew and St. Paul. I have walked by this church hundreds of times, but I've never noticed its verdant hideaway.

With two tables for six at the far end of the gravel path, I hope my text'art group will be able to lunch there sometime soon.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Art & Fear - a review

“Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”,
written by David Bayles and Ted Orland, 1993, 122 pages
published by The Image Continuum Press

This is a slim, dense, insightful volume that I have read and re-read many times.  It was recommended to me by Dianne S. Hire, when I took her workshop many years ago. The authors are practicing artists and teachers who deal with the self-doubts that happen to each of us in the making (and especially in the not-making) of our art.  

Among their observations:
  • Artmaking involves skills that can be learned, that are not bestowed by the gods.
  • Art is made by ordinary (flawed) people.
  • Your humanity is the ultimate source of your work.  Perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done.
  • You learn how to make your work by making your work.
  • The difference between an artist and a failed artist is that the failed artist quits.
  • Making art is about exposing yourself to the world.  How could you not take criticism personally?
  • In the real artist, fears exist alongside the desires that complement them.
  • Not all your art will soar.
  • There will always be a dissonance between the art that you imagine making and the art that you actually make.  

Almost every page has a nugget that calls out to be highlighted, and on each re-reading, I have been struck by some different observation.  The authors embed their text with examples from different media, and enliven the book with pithy examples ranging from cave artists to Mozart to the Plains Indians.

Topics include a discussion of art vs. craft; the values and pitfalls of university art education for both teachers and students; and the artist’s need for community vs. the essential solitariness of making art. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Colour Studies made practical

A couple of months ago, I completed some small "colour field" paintings and blogged about them. In the last few days I have realized more colour studies, but this time in a miniature format, and in cloth.

I was looking for a gift for a fibre-friend, and it was suggested that I stitch together hand-dyed cotton into simple designs, making them into coasters.

I limited myself to six colours, and mixed them up into different combinations. Each 4-inch stitched "composition" was layered with a stiff, heavy-weight stabilizer and a final backing of hand-dyed cotton. The sandwich was bound with a dense satin stitch all around the edge.

The finishing touch was to make a gift box to store the eight coasters. I found the instructions to make an origami box and lid on-line. By starting with a 12" square of heavy paper, I was able to craft a box that was just the right size.

A small but satisfying project! I even made a second set:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Architectours 2016 : Art & Design in the Metro

L'Histoire de la Musique à Montreal, Frédéric Back, stained glass, Place des Arts station

This year, Heritage Montreal's summer walking tours will focus on select metro stations, celebrating the 50th anniversary of our underground subway system. When built, our subway stations were meant to be a showcase for Quebec design as well as the nexus for our world-famous underground city. The system opened just one year before Expo 67, our World's Fair, and there was a palpable excitement, energy and optimism about showing off our beautiful city.

Marcelle Ferron, stained glass, Champ-de-Mars station

In past summers I have enjoyed informative architectural walking tours organized by Heritage Montreal, with topics like The Main, Shaughnessy Village, The Golden Square Mile and our heritage hospitals: The Royal Victoria, The Allan Memorial, the Montreal Neurological and Hôtel Dieu. The walks are usually scheduled in the hottest part of the summer, so this year I look forward to exploring these underground sites, protected from heat and rain.

Mosaika Art & Design, ceramic mosaic, Place-des-Arts station

Tours are about two hours long, offered in both English and French, and cost $12 - $15.

Here's the schedule for 2016:

Université-de-Montréal and Édouard-Montpetit: New approaches to the campus, 

August 6 and September 4

Peel and Bonaventure: Right where the action is, 

August 7 and September 3

Champ-de-Mars and Place-d’Armes: A succession of mega-projects, 

August 13 and September 18

Acadie and Parc: From industrial crossroads to hubs of student life, 

August 14 and September 10

Atwater: Mini-downtown in the west, 

August 20 and September 11

Place-des-Arts and Saint-Laurent: At the heart of Montreal arts and culture

August 21 and September 17

Pie-IX and Viau: New stations for the Olympics, 

August 27 and September 25

LaSalle, De l’Église and Verdun: Three neighbourhoods, three stations, 

August 28 and September 24

For more information about the walking tours, visit the Heritage Montreal website. To get an idea of some of the artistic treasures of our underground city, visit the Untapped Cities website or the STM's website.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Felted Scarf Project

This summer's text'art retreat at Dianne's cottage was a great success. Lauma guided us through the many steps required to make felted scarves, and after several hours we were each rewarded with our own custom-made piece.

Here I am laying down wisps of wool roving onto a chiffon base, being careful to place a line of roving all along the edge. The extra-long length of chiffon was layered onto bubble wrap for this first step. A mild breeze added an unwelcome challenge.

Lauma checks the edges.

After using water and pressure to secure the wisps onto the first side of chiffon, the whole length was flipped over, ready for the layering of more roving on the second side. 

Wisps of roving added to second side

Applying pressure with a rolling motion to the bundled layers of
chiffon, roving and bubble wrap

Colleen demonstrates the use of an electric sander to
massage the wool fibres into the chiffon,
with the bubble wrap as a protective layer.

Each of us achieved a different result,
depending on colour choices, length and width of base,
and edge treatment.

It's always fun to work on a group project at our retreats. Thanks to Dianne for hosting us once again, and to Lauma for so patiently sharing her expertise. Good food, good conversation, and lots of laughter made for another memorable get-together.