Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sky cloth: hits and misses

Sky fabric for my next Cityscape?

Making my most recent cityscape, Montmartre #1, I began with a beautifully mottled, pale grey hand-dye for the sky, shown at left. Because it wasn't the right shape, I cut it apart and re-stitched it so that it fit. I told myself I could live with two vertical seams in the sky.

I couldn't.

Mid-way through the project, I stopped to dye six different pale greys, finally settling on something called "nickel". It was okay, but it didn't have the beautiful mottling that suggests clouds in the sky.

I had tried ice dyeing this past summer (see my post of September 9) and was struck by the unusual patterning produced with this method. "What if," I wondered, "I used different grey dyes to produce a sky with subtle colours and an interesting, mottled texture?"

It was not a success. I was reminded that grey dyes are often created by mixing together dyes in complementary colours. What looks like a grey dye when dissolved in water is actually made of granules of different dyes: yellow, blue, red, orange, green, etc. If the powdered dye is applied directly to wet cloth, it splits into its various components. So, while the result was vibrant and interesting, even psychedelic, it wasn't the sky I had in mind.

Today I tried some low immersion dyeing, again using pale greys. This time I limited myself to charcoal, nickel, and safari grey, alone and in combination. This technique uses a small amount of liquid, and little agitation of the fabric. The result is more or less mottled, depending on the amount of agitation. Only 1/16 tsp of dye to a half-yard of cotton.

Of course I could paint cloth to look like sky, but I do like the serendipitous textures achieved with low immersion dyeing.

I'm excited about refining my dyeing skills in an on-line class in January with Elizabeth Barton, through Quilt Liz is a very skilled teacher, and promises to show us how to best use our hand-dyed fabrics, patterned and solid, light and dark, bright and dull, warm and cool. The class is titled Dyeing to Design, and is now fully registered, but will be offered again in April. And I have subscribed to the dyer's list, a forum for dyers, beginners and experts alike. I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Montmartre #1

Beginning with my photo taken in Montmartre this fall,

I made a line drawing, 18" x 24",

and then translated it into hand-dyed cotton and a black line of stitching.

I already have a second drawing done of another Montmartre roofline, and hope to realize it in the same neutral palette soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Colour games

Can you believe these were all painted with the same colours? It's (kinda) true!

Spent a couple of hours this week trying out an exercise in colour mixing from David Hornung's "Colour: A Workshop for Artists and Designers". This is an excellent book, and I have tried a few of the suggested activities, some with my text'art friends.
painted with raw colours from the tube
I began by painting a colour study in flat colours, using gouache paint straight from the tube: deep yellow, light green, sky blue, ultramarine, violet and scarlet. The effect is rather Fauvist. I personally love the Fauves, especially Matisse.
Using the original palette, but adding a bit of burnt sienna
Then I mixed each of these pigments with a small amount of an "admixture", an earth tone of burnt sienna, and reproduced the study using these modified colours. This is called an "altered palette", and it is supposed to produce more unity of colour.
Using the original palette, but adding a bit of yellow ochre 

For my next experiment, I started with the original pigments and added a small amount of another earth tone, yellow ochre. You can see the effect above. Of course, much depends on just how much of the "admixture" is added. Also, although earth tones are the usual choice for the admixture, anything could be used, including black and white. For the exercise, you want to have enough of the original colour that it retains its identity.
Original palette, with neutral grey #4 added

Finally, I added Neutral Grey #4 to each of the original paints, to produce the result above.

For those of us working in cloth, these ideas can be implemented by overdyeing fabric, or simply by choosing colours that are both muted and related. You could even mess around with some paint before choosing your fabrics, matching fabric to the study in paint.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

El Anatsui and the High Line

Last week we took advantage of some remarkably mild weather to walk the High Line in New York. This is a linear, elevated park built on an old rail line, a couple of storeys above the neighbourhoods of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. It stretches from 14th to 30th Streets, and offers wonderful views of the bustling city below. It's an oasis of tranquility in the heart of all that urban energy.

The High Line is tended by volunteers, and its gardens are filled with about two hundred plant species. In the garden soil you can see the steel tracks of the former railroad. The paving stones make the High Line easy to walk, and there are frequent and varied clusters of seating for those who wish to take a break. Visitors are intrigued by a number of art installations along the path.

One of the most recent works of art is Broken Bridge II, by my favourite Nigerian sculptor, El Anatsui. It measures 157 feet wide and 37 feet high. Made of pressed tin and mirrors, it forms a wall that reflects the sky and the buildings of the neighbourhood. The rusted metal is a patchwork of overlapping squares and rectangles.

To find out more about the public art on the High Line, click here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

NYC exhibitions

Art Basel Miami Beach coincided with my trip to New York, so the galleries were very quiet. But there was still lots to see.

Pierre Cardin
Pierre Cardin dress, 1968
There were the secondary shows like the exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, exploring the relationship between technological advances and fashion. It spanned quite a range: from split skirts for women cyclists of the late 19th century all the way to LED fabrics for today's "connected" fashionistas.

125 Icons JPG

The Pratt Institute has staged an impressive showcase of 125 products of its faculty and alumni, produced over its 125-year history. Included are the Chrysler Building, the Cuisinart, and the logo of Life magazine.

Self-Portrait: Marion Greenwood, 1954
Self-portrait, Marion Greenwood, 1954

The National Academy Museum had a fascinating show titled "Her Own Style: An Artist's Eye with Judith Shea". Curator and sculptor Shea chose more than thirty portraits of women artists from the museum's collection, to illuminate the place of women in the world of art, and what it has meant over the years to be a female artist.

There was even a display of Lion King costumes in the Theatre District.

Picasso, Woman in White, 1923

But the heavy-hitters were also on display. 

At the Guggenheim, Picasso: Black and White runs until January 23. Though I wasn't able to take photos, the Guggenheim offers an on-line gallery with some 22 works from the show.

Earlier paintings include those from the Blue and Rose Periods, which have surprisingly little colour. Picasso is quoted in the show as saying that colour weakens a painting. Some of his most powerful works, including Guernica, are painted with no colour at all. 

This reminds me of the importance of value in art: even when one uses colour, the darks and lights are critical to how the work is seen. I found it interesting too that some of the paintings on display are in fact charcoal line drawings on a background of cream-coloured oil paint. I was reminded of how lyrical Picasso's drawn lines can be.

Matisse, Laurette Seated on a Pink Armchair, 1916-1917

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Matisse: In Search of True Painting runs until March 17. The exhibit focuses on how Matisse would often return to a completed painting and redo it, in the exact same size, changing the composition or the style. He was frustrated that critics thought of his painting as spontaneous, without deliberation. To illuminate his process, he held a show at the Galerie Maeght in Paris, in December 1945, that featured six of his paintings. Accompanying each painting were a dozen or so black and white photos of the work in progress, showing how radical changes were made in the composition from day to day. The photos were as large as the paintings themselves. This show is especially interesting for those who work in series. Images from the show can be found here.

George Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913

George Bellows was a member of the Ashcan School, an American Realist, and a contemporary of Edward Hopper. Seeing his exhibition at the Met was a revelation. "Featuring some one hundred works from Bellows's extensive oeuvre, this landmark loan exhibition is the first contemporary survey of the artist's career in nearly half a century." Bellows died at the age of 42 in 1925, and one can only wonder what he would have accomplished had he not died so young. I enjoyed his gritty cityscapes, depicting tenement life on the Lower East Side. 

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1967

Lastly, another exhibition at the Met, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years explores the influence of Andy Warhol's work on his contemporaries and on artists of today, making a case for him as the Most Influential Artist of the 20th century. Yes, perhaps even more influential than Picasso. 

His themes of consumerist culture, of celebrity, of sexuality and gender, and of appropriation and his exploration of converging media all foreshadow today's art scene. 

Many works from the show are available here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The artquilt gallery - NYC

Today I visited the City Quilter, a 4000-square-foot emporium of cotton fabrics and quilting supplies, located in Chelsea. They stock an amazing array of cottons, including a special section of New York-themed prints. About a quarter of their space is devoted to the artquilt gallery, which displays the work of Colorado-based artist Judi Blaydon until December 15.
Sub Rosa: Aquifer, 52" x 52", commercial and hand-dyed fabrics, beads, machine-pieced, machine- and hand-quilted
Judy's work shows a masterful understanding of colour. Her lines of hand-quilting add another layer of complexity to her abstract compositions.

Sub Rosa: Plateau, 70" x 53", hand-dyed fabrics, beads, machine-pieced, machine- and hand-quilted
Her compositions are subtle and sophisticated, using a good variety of scale and a rhythmic repetition of shape.
Sub Rosa: Venice II, 54" x 54", custom-dyed and painted fabrics, beads, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, machine satin-stitched 
It is gratifying to see art quilts displayed well, in a brightly-lit gallery, in a neighbourhood known for  its creative energy. One hopes that galleries and exhibits like this will help to promote appreciation of fibre as an art medium.

Sub Rosa: Curtain, 63" x 52", commercial and hand-printed cotton, beads, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jerry at the Cottage

This week, my Twelve by the Dozen group unveiled our 12" x 12" fibre pieces on the theme of "Threads". Above is my contribution, a portrait of my father-in-law, based on a sketch made almost forty years ago. The sketch was one of a series done for an undergrad class, and is not unlike the drawings I am making now for my Cityscapes series. So in a sense, I am "picking up the thread" all these years later. Jerry passed away in 1980, but because of the "ties that bind", we can still recognize him and remember him in this portrait, made as he sat in his favourite spot, watching football on TV. Looking a lot like his son Ron, my husband. Another thread.