Sunday, November 30, 2014

World of Threads: Sculpture

Lauma, Michele, me and Helena intersect with Karen Goetzinger's sheer hanging panels

The biennial World of Threads Festival was held this month in Oakville and Mississauga, Ontario. It featured 255 works by 97 artists from all over the world. Once again I made the trip to see it and once again I was blown away by the quality and variety of the work on display.

Organizers Dawne Rudman and Gareth Bate are to be congratulated for putting together another amazing exhibition.

Neon Field, Amanda McCavour
The smaller of the two principal shows, "strung out and undone", was held at The Gallery Space of the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga. Curated by Megan Press, it included many pieces with a sculptural quality.

As we entered the gallery,  we were met with this installation piece by Amanda McCavour of Toronto. Neon Field is made of polyester thread and starch, using a machine embroidery technique.

Neon Field, detail, Amanda McCavour
The delicate cup shapes suspended from the ceiling twisted and turned slowly, casting intriguing shadows on the wall behind.

He's Come Undone, Susan Avishai
It wasn't immediately obvious to me what I was looking at when I first spotted this sculptural piece by Toronto artist Susan Avishai, but the title was a clue. This piece is a deconstructed man's shirt, with wire, thread and glass beads.  You can see the shirt label in the photo above, in the ten o'clock position.

He's Come Undone, detail, Susan Avishai
Techniques used are cutting, sewing, stiffening and gluing.

Not to Know But to Go On, Judy Martin
Another three-dimensional piece is Judy Martin's Not to Know But to Go On.  This impressive work was part of the main show at the Corridor Galleries of the Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre in Oakville, curated by Bate and Rudman.

Judy Martin, from Manitoulin Island in Ontario, used found fabrics, cotton embroidery floss, artist canvas and cotton tape to produce this large strip, suspended from the high ceiling and taking up perhaps 30 linear feet of floor space. Entirely hand-stitched, it was made using a couching technique.

For me, this piece speaks of the rhythms of hours, days, and weeks. I imagine the artist putting aside the time each day to work meditatively, one stitch at a time.

Our little group had a fine time exploring the labyrinthine corridors of this venue, coming across wonder upon wonder of exceptional work in fibre. I will post again with more photos soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My recent show at Galerie Valmi

There is something special about seeing your work hung in a gallery, with white walls and good lighting. Here are some photos of my recent collaborative show with painter John Vazalinskas. Titled "Urbanité X 2", the exhibition ran from November 13 - 19 in Outremont.

The focal point of the show was a single scene in Old Montreal, of which we each made a 24" x 24" piece in our own medium. The images of these two works were used for the promotional material.

We had an opening on the Saturday evening that was very well-attended, and we each sold a large piece.

Here is John, explaining his work to my friend Peter Woodruff at the vernissage. It is so kind of my friends to come by the show and give their support.

Here are two of John's works in acrylic. John often paints pastoral scenes but limited himself to urban landscapes for this show. We each had about 30 pieces on display.

One of the challenges was figuring out how to install our work in the windows. John brought his engineering acumen to the problem, thankfully. We attached canvases of equal size back-to-back with door hinges. This allowed just enough separation for the hanging wire to be pulled up and attached to the chain-and-hook system. There will remain a couple of tiny holes from the screws on the back of the wooden stretcher bars, but they are barely detectable.

Small tabs of black cardboard were stapled to the lower edge of the pieces so that the labels could be attached.

Taking on something like this has its unexpected rewards. The show gave us exposure in a neighbourhood that was new to us. I met many interesting people and made some contacts that may prove helpful in the future.

Were there discouraging moments? Well, there was the Tuesday with the miserable weather when not a single person came into the gallery. At times like that, I remind myself of the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”

Yes, we always want more visitors. Yes, we always want more sales. But my experience is that most often, good things come from this kind of initiative, even weeks and months later.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The city-inspired quilts of Erin Wilson

It was suggested to me at the opening of my recent show that I consider making larger work.

I actually agree that my imagery and bold colour would suit a bigger size. It might even sell better. The largest of my cityscapes measured 30" x 40" and it sold; my usual size is considerably smaller. There are several technical considerations that are holding me back, related to the way I construct my art quilts.

Big Quilt 2, Erin Wilson  56 x 56
Brooklyn-based art quilter Erin Wilson has found a way to make architectural-themed work in a larger size. I discovered Erin's work through her current show at The Art Quilt Gallery NYC. Titled "Color Stories: Quilts by Erin Wilson", her show runs until December 13.

Color Story: October Red, Erin Wilson,  42 x 54
One of Erin's series, Color Stories, is designed with 3-inch blocks, each bordered with a solid colour. The way the blocks are assembled creates a beautiful transition of colour from one area to the next. The squares themselves are pieced, creating small architectural motifs.

Big Quilt 1, Erin Wilson, 56" x 56"
More recently, her series Big Quilts uses 14" blocks. Because they are not bordered, when they are assembled they do not have the same flow from block to block. It's a crisper look, with the focus more on the individual compositions and how their coloured shapes relate to each other.

Erin writes,
"Most of my work is unmounted. Very small pieces are stretched. I do not use paper piecing or foundations of any sort. The quilting on the small scale pieces (Color Stories, etc.) is hidden in the seamlines. The big quilts are quilted with an overall grid. For me, quilting is purely functional and I do not wish to add another layer of design to the already complex piecing."
What I admire about Erin's work are the simplified architectural shapes and the sure handling of colour and composition. She has found a way to make larger work but still use relatively small pieces of cloth. She can also build the large piece from easier-to-handle smaller units. By using blocks, she references traditional quilts but with a real modernity in her imagery.

So pleased to discover the work of this talented young artist!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More thoughts from Kit White

Kit White's book, "101 Things to Learn in Art School", presents some interesting insights on some issues that have been on my mind recently.

That's me, looking smug, at my recent
gallery show. Photo taken by Lauma Cenne.
Doesn't she make the best images?
"#32 Context determines meaning.

The social or cultural space in which an event occurs or an object resides imbues it with particular meaning. Medium, also, carries its own historical baggage that shapes the discussion of its content. Context is slippery. A performance in a gallery can become political activism on the street. Context is a boundary changer."
A quilt hanging on the wall of an art gallery provokes a very different response than a quilt lying on a bed.

A quilt hanging in a local or even an international quilt show is seen in a different light, and by a different audience, when it is hung in an art gallery.

And a quilt that is mounted on a canvas or in a shadow box or stretched and put into a floating frame is seen differently than a quilt hung loosely on a wall.

Artists who choose to work in cloth are opting for a medium with the historical baggage of domestic utility, of "women's work". To what extent is this an obstacle to the appreciation of the work? To what degree does this add a welcome layer of meaning, of irony or complexity, to the work?

Blocks & Strips Quilt by Mary Lee Bendolph, 2002

Remember the Gee's Bend quilts? Made by disadvantaged African-American women from a tiny hamlet in Alabama, these quilts caused a sensation when they were displayed in prestigious museums worldwide. The Whitney venue, in particular, brought a great deal of art-world attention to the work, starting with Michael Kimmelman's review in The New York Times which called the quilts 'some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced' and went on to describe them as a version of Matisse and Klee arising in the rural South.

Remember the AIDS Memorial QuiltOn October 11, 1987, the Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It covered a space larger than a football field and included 1,920 panels. Half a million people visited the Quilt that weekend.  The overwhelming response to the Quilt’s inaugural display led to a four-month, 20-city, national tour for the Quilt in the spring of 1988. Parts of it still tour today.

Kit White writes,
"#24 All art is political.

The choices you make in what you describe, and the medium you choose, will always be subject to an interpretation that has political implications. The choice to make work devoid of any explicit social content speaks as much of the maker’s world and aspirations as a work that carries an overt political agenda. All art is a reflection of choices made -- omissions as well as submissions. The world your work describes is the world that you, as a maker, promote."
The AIDS Memorial Quilt used the emotional associations we have with cloth to add a layer of meaning to this tribute. For generations, quilts have been made and received as a source of comfort as well as of commemoration. People all over the world, from infancy to old age, have a special, emotional relationship to cloth.

I think it is a mistake to overlook or to deny the impact that our choice of medium has on how our art is received, and I am still trying to untangle the complexities of this issue as it relates to my own work.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

1000 Quilt Inspirations

So pleased to have two of my small art quilts included in Sandra Sider's new book, 1000 Quilt Inspirations. This compendium is designed to spark the creativity of textile artists everywhere, whatever their style: traditional or contemporary, abstract or representational.

View from the Academy, 11" x 8.5"

Dr. Sandra Sider, a talented art quilter, is also an independent curator. She has published articles and reviews concerning fibre art and other aspects of visual culture for three decades. Her graduate degrees include an M.A. in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She was President of Studio Art Quilt Associates (2010-2013), and is Consulting Curator for the Texas Quilt Museum.  

Berkhamsted 3, 6" x 8"

The book is scheduled for release in February 2015. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon, using this link.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"101 Things to Learn in Art School," by Kit White

I recently came upon the book "101 Things to Learn in Art School", by Kit White. In this slight volume I found many thoughts worth noting, and I would like to share a few with you.

"#93 Cultivate your idiosyncrasies.
Every hand, every eye, every brain comes with its own built-in distortions. These distortions represent your signature, your personal slant on the world. When they manifest themselves in your work, do not be afraid to embrace them as long as they do not represent an impediment to some larger objective or overshadow everything else the image contains."
This is a variation on the maxim, "Push your strengths," and it's another way of saying "Find your voice."

"#46 Embrace the “happy accident”.

All forms of painting, film photography, sculpture, printmaking and nonmechanical modes of production produce unintended results. When a passage of underpainting looks ravishing, or some studio calamity produces an arresting effect, embrace the accident and incorporate it into the piece. Exploit the unexpected consequences of experimentation and process. If you see it, own it."
My recent dabblings in watercolour have made this passage more resonant than ever. Happy accidents are also one of the great joys of hand-dyeing cloth. (Unfortunately, not all accidents are happy.)

"#10 Art is not Self-Expression.

It is the self expressing all the elements of the culture that has shaped it. We filter the ambient information that surrounds us -- from our families, from our communities, from the information that bombards us every day from myriad sources. We do not create this information: it helps to create us. We in turn start to interpret it and describe it to ourselves and to others as a means to understand it. This is the art impulse. Even works of pure imagination have sources outside of ourselves. Know your sources."
We do not live in a vacuum. We do not create in a vacuum. We do not generate pure, original thought. Our work is a reflection, a processing, a re-working, of all that surrounds us, all that has preceded us.  And so we have come full circle, to the first excerpt above. It is our individual perceptions, our unique quirks, our skewed vision, that give our work value and humanity.

To learn more about Kit White, please visit his website.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Art vs. Craft Debate

Once again, textile artist Mirka Knaster has written a brilliant essay on an important topic in aesthetics, this time tackling the Art vs. Craft debate in her post of November 8.

Mirka has worked for decades as a professional writer, and she brings this talent to her blog, "Exploring the heART of it". Every week or two she shines a light on a particular aspect of art, and explores it, often making references to art history, to the aesthetics of various cultures world-wide, and to textile art.

This week, Mirka draws on the wisdom of Chuck Close, the evolution of Japanese basket-making, the Bauhaus movement, and the emergence of Big Name artists in the European Renaissance to shed light on the relationship between Art and Craft.

As always, an insightful exploration of a challenging subject.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Masterpieces of Canadian Impressionism

James Wilson Morrice
A retrospective loan exhibition at Galerie Eric Klinkhoff, 1200 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal.

November 8 - 22, Tuesday - Friday, 9:30 - 5:30; Saturday 9:30 - 5

The exhibition will be available for viewing on-line, beginning November 22.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Through our Hands, Issue 3

So happy to share with you the third edition of this on-line magazine. This valuable resource has been produced by the British-based group Through our Hands, which includes such exciting fibre artists as Deidre Adams, Elizabeth Barton, Mirjam Pet-Jacobs and Sandra Meech.

Especially pleased to see that Karen Goetzinger is this issue's Featured Artist. I first met Karen eight or nine years ago, through "Out of the Box", an Ottawa-based group for fibre artists. I took her inspirational five-day workshop at Algonquin College's Summer School of the Arts. Since then, I have followed her career with interest. Karen is an instructor at the Ottawa School of Art and is on the board of Arts Ottawa East.

With over 71 pages of intriguing features, ideas and images, this free magazine is well worth a look.  Find the sliding button at the top to magnify the print for easier reading.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Urbanité X 2

I am pleased to be showing my work with painter John Vazalinskas in an upcoming, collaborative exhibition, Urbanité X 2. The artists' statement reads:

"Two artists, two mediums, two unique takes on the urban landscape. Fibre artist Heather Dubreuil and painter John Vazalinskas offer their distinct interpretations of our man-made environment and the beauty within its spaces."

John first approached me almost a year ago with his idea for a joint show. He suggested that we choose an image of a Montreal scene and each do our own interpretation of it. These two works will form the focal point of the show.

As well, we will each be hanging twenty to thirty other urban landscapes. Most of John's pieces will showcase Montreal neighbourhoods, while mine will range more widely.

Please consider dropping by! The gallery is near the lively streets of Bernard and Laurier in the Plateau, filled with cafés, galleries and shops.

Dates: November 13 - 20, from 10 am to 6 pm.
Vernissage: Saturday, November 15, 5 - 8 pm.
Galerie Valmi, 1595 Van Horne, Outremont, QC (514) 274-1796

Monday, November 3, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop

Today's is a different kind of blog post. I have been tagged by Swedish art quilter Vera Holmgren to join in an "around-the-world blog hop."

Vera is a member of Studio Art Quilt Associates and the Surface Design Association, and she enjoys working with a variety of innovative techniques. Her current series uses antique textiles in a tribute to her great-grandmother. You can read Vera's response to this challenge by going to her blog posting of October 27th.

Mothers II, Vera Holmgren 
Here are my own answers to the questions posed to each participant:

1. What am I working on?

At the moment, I am not spending any time in the studio, but I am busy promoting my shows and planning my next exhibition, coming up later this month. I suspect it would come as a surprise to most that I am spending more time on promotion than on "making". I think I need an agent.... 

When this next show is over, I will make an entry for one other (Montreal) show, and then I hope to catch my breath and reassess. It's been a very busy year (more than 25 shows of one kind or another) and I need some serious bathrobe time. Or maybe some art-focused travel.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Within the genre of "urban landscape", my work is different because it is expressed in cloth and stitch.

Within the genre of "fibre art", I've been told that my work is quite distinctive. I see it as a synthesis of my love for line (drawing was a big component in my BFA, painting not so much) and for colour. I like to study an everyday urban image, distill it into line and shape, and then use the energy of colour to make it into something special.

Boathouses #1
When I brought my friend and fellow artist Helena Scheffer to see some boathouses that I had earlier chosen as a subject, she said to me, "They are so ordinary and you have made them so beautiful!"

I don't feel the need to quilt densely or conform to other expectations of contemporary quilting. My focus is on the image, taking a commonplace scene and making it worthy of a second look.

3. Why do I write/create what I do? 

I have always been drawn to the image of the house, as I suspect many little girls are. And fibre seems to be the natural choice for me, also going back to childhood.
original photo of Rue de Buade 

4. How does my writing/creating process work?

I begin with a photograph, most often my own, of an urban landscape. The selection of an interesting and well-composed photo is key for me.  I use the image as the basis for a line drawing. Seeing the line drawing emerge is one of the favourite parts of my practice.

drawing for Rue de Buade #1
(note that it is done in a mirror image of the original)
I make a pattern of the shapes in the drawing and cut out these shapes in cloth, usually hand-dyed cotton. Immersing myself in the possibilities of sumptuous colours is another highlight of the process. I collage the cloth shapes onto a background and then impose the line drawing over this collage in the form of a machine-stitched, black line.
Rue de Buade #1
And now for the final part of this challenge, I would like to introduce you to two creative people who have agreed to post their responses next week, on November 10. I follow both their blogs and I am a better artist for it.

World traveler Mirka Knaster has been a professional writer for decades. Now a textile artist living in Northern California, Mirka shines a spotlight on a particular issue in art or creativity and asks provocative questions about it.  You can read her thoughts at

Published author, teacher and fibre artist Leni Wiener lives in New York. She finds her imagery on city streets, carefully observing people in everyday moments. Leni has coached many artists on "finding their own voice", and is the organizing force behind SAQA's exhibitions. She publishes her reflections at


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Watercolour class with Gisèle Lapalme

This fall I am taking a watercolour class locally with Gisèle Lapalme, a member of the Hudson Artists. Gisèle works in acrylic, oil and pastel, as well as watercolour. Gisèle is a great teacher. She begins each class with a little demo, and makes it all seem so effortless. She encourages our efforts and gives good advice.

For the first class, Gisèle had us concentrate on skies, using complementary colours. Gisèle always has lots of photos on hand to inspire our compositions.

The following week, the focus was on foliage. I was too tentative here with my positioning of the trees, so you can see the background showing through the tree trunks.

I was away for Class #3, when the topic was night scenes and split complementary colour schemes. Gisèle introduced texture in the fourth class. Here I tried using paraffin as a resist on the sides of the house. I applied paint through a screen to give the roof texture and dabbed on paint with a sea sponge to detail the foliage.

Week #5 was the human figure. I had a big problem with this because I worked from a photo that featured figures in an interesting dynamic, but they were wearing black clothes, so it was difficult for me to use light and shadow to give the subjects form. The girl on the left had her head cocked at an unusual angle too. I gave up on this piece.

Here is the result of class #6, Still Life.

Upcoming subjects are animals (cringe) and portraits (yikes!).

I'm having lots of fun with this, and learning from the other students too. I think exploring another medium is a good way to expand my understanding of art fundamentals.