Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Missing Link

It's been staring at me from my bulletin board all this time.

What is it that will allow me to make a connection between the deliberate style of work I have used to create my Cityscapes series, and the more intuitive play with colour and shape that I also enjoy?

I think I can see the answer in this uncredited photo, torn from a travel magazine some months ago. It's a photo of Tenerife, which I was lucky enough to visit this spring. Like so many cliffside towns in the Mediterranean area, it's architectural and organic at the same time. Grids, interlocking shapes, square-in-a-square: all my favourite elements.

At left is a small piece I made a year ago, titled "Square / Unsquare". It is mounted on a small canvas, so it stands away from the wall when hung, and casts a shadow. I would love to make more pieces like this, perhaps larger and in various colour palettes. It's a very different way of working.

I'd like to think that the two approaches would complement each other, and that I could shift from one style to the other and back again.

I knew there was a connection beween Square / Unsquare and my Cityscapes, and I think I'm on my way to figuring it out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I've just been honoured with Professional Artist Member status, and so my work will now be seen on the SAQA website, and included in the annual portfolio publication. I am delighted!

I've been a member of SAQA for about 6 years. They're an international organization with over 3000 members, not only artists but collectors and curators as well. SAQA offers a wide range of benefits, including regional meetings, annual conferences, mentoring, exhibition opportunities, a quarterly journal, and a wiki-style resource of technical and professional information.

The SAQA conference in Santa Fe this April will be my first. I am thrilled to have been accepted as one of five participants in a "voice coaching" session with Leni Weiner, whose work I admire very much. Santa Fe is one of America's top centres for visual arts, with nearly 300 galleries, ten museums, and art fairs almost every weekend.

Right now, we are staging the third and final week of our on-line benefit auction. If you'd like to see the kind of work produced by SAQA members, please have a look at some of the 12" x 12" squares donated to the auction. It is expected that bids will total close to $60,000.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

53rd Street West

53rd Street West, 24" x 18"

A few months ago I made a piece titled "53rd Street", based on a photo taken from a window at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It has been accepted into Fibre Content, a juried show in Burlington Ontario, October 27 - 28.

Because I need to have work available for the upcoming Hudson Studio Tour and the Hudson Artists Fall show, I decided to make a second piece from this photo. The image is flipped, conforming to the actual scene, and I experimented with bolder hues.

I think a brighter palette is the inevitable result of having done so much hand-dyeing over the summer. There is something happy and fun about these popsicle colours.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Worked or over-worked?

Emperor's Coat, by El-Anatsui
So much of the appeal of fibre art seems to depend on process. Artists speak of an almost spiritual experience of "working the cloth", "the meditation of knitting", and "the mantra of hand-stitching". We talk about "the hand" of the cloth. Think of embroidery, tapestry, weaving, traditional quilting, all highly labour-intensive.

How often are fibre artists asked, "How long did it take you to make that?" How often do we hear the exclamation, "You must have so much patience"? These comments make me wonder if my work says anything to the viewer other than, "This must have taken a long time to make."

Shown here is a wall-hanging by Ghanian sculptor El-Anatsui, made of discarded metal bottle caps, stitched together with wire by the 16 - 20 hired workers in his atelier. Viewers are amazed by the beauty he has achieved by intensively working everyday materials, and his work is often compared to tapestry. (His work speaks on another level: the role of alcohol in the colonization of Africa, and the detritus left in the wake of imperialism.)

On the other hand is the pursuit of "freshness" in the medium of painting. Painters are cautioned against over-working, of "giving too much". To counter the impulse to fuss, to clutter, they are urged to remember that "Details do not a painting make". I subscribe to a weekly newsletter from painter Robert Genn, who recently warned his readers that "Small additives often lessen the big picture." He reminds us of the words of Robert Browning, "Less is more."

Glow of Expectancy, by Elizabeth Barton
Is there a place in fibre art for work that relies on strong composition and sophisticated use of colour for its impact, rather than on intensive stitching? I'm thinking of the work of Elizabeth Barton. Do you know of others? I haven't seen Barton's work in person, and I don't  know how densely stitched it is. But it does have a forceful, fresh quality. She juxtaposes those flat, coloured shapes much as painters do.

To what extent is intensive manipulation of the material essential to the appeal of fibre art? Is it impossible to "overwork" art made of cloth? Would some of those heavily-worked, intricately-designed Japanese quilts benefit from a whiff of freshness?

And getting back to the colonization theme, is it possible that one of the functions of needlework in the past was to pacify women who were denied other outlets for creativity and autonomy?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inn on the Green

Inn on the Green, Middlebury VT

My fascination with Edward Hopper has extended to my choice of where to stay on a recent weekend getaway. This is the Inn on the Green, in Middlebury, Vermont, built in the early 1800's as a Federal-style house, with architectural detail added in the Victorian era.
Talbot's House, by Edward Hopper

The beautiful, blue house looks very much like the kind chosen by Edward Hopper as subjects for his paintings. This was even more apparent at night, when the windows glowed in the darkness with a warm light from within.

Rooms for Tourists, by Edward Hopper

The Inn on the Green didn't have the "unsettling" feeling of Rooms for Tourists but it did hide behind an imposing hedge.

Cycling around the charming town, we saw many other interesting Victorian homes, as well as the impressive campus of Middlebury College, with its granite buildings and sloping green lawns.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Art Hop, Burlington VT

Spent an amazing day at the 20th annual South End Burlington Art Hop. Over 400 artists in almost 100 locations opened their studios and their hearts to the public.

Pine Street forms the spine of the event, which is almost too long to cover on foot, extending for two miles from end to end.

This is a real community happening, complete with street food, music, activities for the kids and free shuttle buses, equipped with comedians for on-board entertainment.

The flaking bricks, rusted machinery and scuffed stairs are mute poems that speak of time's passage. My friend Lauma would have used her camera to make these textures sing.

What I love about this event is seeing how the South End has been transformed from a run-down, and even abandoned, industrial zone into a pulsing nexus of art, business and culture.

The visitor experiences that matchless thrill of discovery. "Look around this corner!" "What's at the top of the stairs?" "See the clever use for that old elevator shaft!"

Many of the buildings date back to the early 1800's, and have been converted time after time, adapting to changing economic realities.

In Montreal, I like to explore re-purposed industrial buildings that have come alive with the energy of art, creativity and enterprise. The Complexe du Canal Lachine, the Belgo Building and the Chateau St-Ambroise are examples of these initiatives. If you know of other sites like this, I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ice Dyeing

Inspired by Carol Ludington's article in the June/July issue of Quilting Arts, I tried my hand at ice dyeing. My friend Helena has had lots of success with this technique. She says it is positively addictive. The results have a lot more visual texture than the results of the flat dyeing that I tried last month. I would describe the effect as "blooming crystals", something like frost on a window pane.

After soaking PFD cotton in soda ash and wringing out, you arrange the wet fabric by scrunching, pleating or folding. and place it at the bottom of a tall, narrow container.

You could use a 2-litre soda bottle with the top cut off.

Then a few ice cubes are layered on top.

Powdered dye in tiny quantities is sprinkled over the ice.

Use no more than two or three colours.


Repeat until the container is almost full, and leave for 24 hours. The serendipitous effect of the melting ice gradually exposing the cloth to contact with the dye makes for some surprising results.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Michele Meredith

My friend Michele Meredith will be participating with me in the upcoming Hudson StudioTour. Michele is a member of the local groupText’art, of the Hudson Artists, of the international group SAQA (Studio Art Quilts Associates), of  Ottawa's Out-of-the-Box Fibre Artists and of the international blogging group 12bythedozen.

Michele is shown here, working in her garden. Behind her are some hand-dyed silk squares she plans to incorporate into future projects. Michele’s art background includes ceramics and landscape design. She currently works with both fibre and collage, often incorporating both in a single piece.

Michele often works with images taken from her own photos, whether of open fields or of a bustling street scene. She has developed a technique of transfering ink from photocopied images to tissue paper, which she then collages onto canvas.
In the photo above, she has layered a piece of white tissue paper over a black-and-white photocopy.
She then applies acetone to the tissue and quickly lifts the paper off the photocopy.
The ink transfers to the tissue, which can then be collaged into a composition.
Colour photocopies sometimes yield unpredictable results.

 Michele plays with the composition until she is pleased, and then collages the tissue to canvas. Paint, text and cloth can be layered in at any time to balance the elements, or to add colour or textural interest. The photocopy that provided the original image may also be incorporated into the collage.
Red Scarf
 Michele will be showing some of her recent pieces on the Hudson Studio Tour, September 29 and 30, and at the Hudson Artists fall show, October 19 - 21.
Spring Dreamers II

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Birthday Jubilation

Jubilation! The latest challenge from my international blogging group, 12bythedozen. I couldn't figure out how to express jubilation as part of my current series of Cityscapes, so I went for an abstract treatment of celebratory colour and shape. For those of you clever enough to find a candle flaming away in there, yes, I did celebrate a Big Birthday this summer. There may even be the requisite number of "candles" scattered about.

To see how each of the twelve members handled the challenge, please visit our group blog and come celebrate with us! Next challenge: Threads.