Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Through Our Hands magazine, new issue on-line

Congratulations to the amazing British team of Annabel Rainbow,and Linda and Laura Kemshall who have just published the fourth issue of Through Our Hands magazine. "This issue is packed with beautiful textiles and inspirational artwork. Just click on the image below to discover fascinating articles by a host of your favourite names, along with a few new ones: Sue Hotchkis, Viv Sliwka, Jennifer Moss, and our regular contributors are joined by Terry Grant and Linda Seward. We have articles by Affiliate Artists, Jette Clover, Linda Barlow, Dijanne Cevaal, and Clare Smith."

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Matisse's Cutouts: a walk through the gallery

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II
One of the highlights of my recent trip to New York was seeing the exhibition of Matisse's exuberant cutouts at the Museum of Modern Art.  Because of exceptionally high attendance, the show was opened for its final days around-the-clock. The show closed on February 10, 2015, but is available now to view on-line.

Before seeing the exhibition at MOMA, I had the advantage of seeing a documentary about the collection as it was first mounted at the Tate Modern. What struck me about both the film and the show was the revisionist view of this period in Matisse's career.

Previously, these cut-outs were seen as the second-rate production of an enfeebled artist in his declining years. The curators of this show have shed a new, more positive light on the cut-outs, as the inspired invention of an artist at the height of his powers. Matisse adapted to his physical limitations by inventing an entirely new medium, and felt the pleasure of "cutting directly into colour". In fact, Matisse used coloured papers long before his infirmity limited his ability to paint. Examples of this are included in the show.

Henri Matisse, The Sheaf

I can relate to this way of working, as my work with cloth allows me to "handle colour" in a very direct way. When I am asked why I don't prefer painting as a medium, I don't always have an answer at hand, but the tactile aspect of working in fibre is part of what makes it so special.

To learn more about the cutouts and the shows mounted at both the Tate and MOMA, you might want to read these articles from The Guardian.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Galerie Beaux-Arts des Amériques show on-line

I am so pleased to have had a piece juried into Still Life: Revisited, currently at the Galérie Beaux-Arts des Amériques. All forty pieces, representing a wide variety of media, are in a 16 x 16 format. Delighted to report that the piece sold!

You can see the show on-line by clicking here.

There is often a concern among artists who work in fibre about whether or not to enter general calls for entry, whether our work will be considered alongside the more traditional media of oil and acrylic, even collage. My experience is that jurors often welcome fibre, seeing it as something fresh and different.

In fact, another show in which I'm currently involved, at Cornwall's TAG Gallery, awarded a first-place prize to a batik by Elaine Arkwright. This is encouraging to all of us who work in cloth.

Below are some photos I took on a quiet day in the gallery, mid-week.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Colour Inspiration and Hand-dyeing

Andy Warhol & Keith Haring

I have visited a number of art shows recently that have provided inspiration for colour in my own work.

One of them, Warhol Mania, runs until March 15, 2015 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and focuses on Warhol's posters and illustration work. Look at his use of luscious colour in these pieces.

He seemed to favour a palette of warm colours (orange, red, violet) with accents of cooler blues and greens, though of course with Warhol there were no rules.

Now, look at this striking portrait of Helena Rubenstein, by René Bouché. It was one of many portraits in the (superb) current show devoted to the grande dame, at New York's Jewish Museum.

Portrait of Helena Rubenstein,
by René Bouché

When analyzing a painting's colour scheme, it's important to note not only the proportion of each colour, but also the blacks and whites that we don't really notice at first.

With a deep blanket of snow on the ground, I have been spending time in my studio, dyeing cotton in the hot colours inspired by these works.

I have been using a new guide to dyeing published by Diane Franklin, Dyeing Alchemy: A Primer about Procion MX Dyeing. It consists of a manual with almost 100 pages of general information, and a downloadable, interactive spreadsheet. Basic to her approach is the weighing of fabric and dye, and having on hand pre-mixed quantities of urea solution, dye solution, salt solution and soda ash solution. Before beginning, I had to go to a kitchen supply store to pick up an electronic scale.

The spreadsheet allows the user to enter the weight of the cotton to be dyed and the intensity of the desired colour, and then gives precise quantities of the various stocks to be used. Though Franklin purports to "take out the math" for the hand dyer, her method is less casual than the usual "one tablespoon of this, two cups of that" approach. Quantities are more likely to be down to the single gram and millilitre, 367 ml, for example. The result is less serendipitous, with less waste.

My results so far have been strong and vibrant, with more subtle mottling than with other methods. This may have something to do with the relatively large quantities of salt Franklin recommends, and the urea required for the dye stock. Or maybe it's that I have been using pure pigments rather than blends. I'm not using any more agitation or liquid than I have with past methods.

Shown here is a range of tangerine to fuchsia to "mixing red". Keep in mind that it is sometimes difficult to capture reds in a photo.

I am looking forward to using some of these gorgeous colours in my new work. I'm also enjoying the dyeing so much that I might just see what else I can add to my working palette before putting away the dye pots.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

MOMA: The Forever Now

Untitled,  Oscar Murillo
Last month I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and saw several shows, including The Forever Now, featuring the work of seventeen international painters. To see a slide show of the exhibit, click here. This is the MOMA's first large survey dedicated to new painting since 1958. 

In his review of the show in the January 5, 2015 issue of The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes:
"It's not that painting is "dead" again -- no other medium can as yet so directly combine vision and touch to express what it's like to have a particular mind, with its singular troubles and glories, in a particular body. But painting has lost symbolic force and function in a culture of promiscuous knowledge and glutting information....
"The ruling insight ... is that anything attempted in painting now can't help but be a do-over of something from the past...." 

The work of the youngest painter, 28-year-old Columbian Oscar Murillo, was presented in a novel way.  Several of his large canvases were in a heap on the floor and visitors were encouraged to handle them. Considering that his works sell for hundreds of thousand of dollars, this presentation causes the viewer to question the "preciousness" of the paintings.

7+, Oscar Murillo

Murillo's work consists of oil and oil stick on pieces of canvas and linen, roughly stitched together. Though it is difficult to see from the photo, the "piecing" of the segments is obvious, with shadows cast by loose edges.

Another artist, the German Kerstin Brätsch, had several huge paintings on paper, mounted between sheets of glass held together with giant metal clips, reminiscent of Ikea-type framing options. Off to the side, a stack of these framed works leaned against a wall. The experience was like a visit to the artist's studio, where one might see works in storage, off to the side and ready to be pulled out for viewing. This prompts the viewer to think about why some paintings are selected for display, and others not.

Quoted below is the introduction to the show by curator Laura Hoptman, posted at the entrance:
"The science-fiction writer William Gibson coined the term atemporality to describe a new and strange state of culture in which, courtesy of the Internet, styles from all eras exist at once, and no single style represents the moment. Taking advantage of this avalanche of information, artists who embrace the atemporal condition create works of art that are a rich mix of styles and motifs from all over the art-historical timeline, especially from the past century. They reanimate, reenact, or sample elements from the past without a trace of parody or nostalgia, challenging them to be relevant again in our "endless digital Now," as Gibson has described our time.
"Artists have always looked to art history for inspiration, but the digital availability of a vast catalog of visual information has radically altered their relationship to that history; they no longer see it as a linear sequence that proceeds from one innovation to another, but as a broad, horizontal plane that invites exploration from any point. This approach can be most clearly observed in painting, which in the twentieth century was the primary medium though which forms and genres emerged, battled, and withdrew with an almost tidal regularity. In this new millennium, artists continue to reinterpret painting's traditions and strategies, as well as its more metaphysical, high-stakes questions on subjects such as originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence.
"Art that defies chronological classification offers a dramatic challenge to the structure that disciplines like art history enforce - the ladder-like  narrative of cultural progress that is so dependent on new ideas replacing old ones. The seventeen painters in The Forever Now have created poly-chronological crazy quilts of assembled cultural data that have the potential to scramble set notions of historical hierarchies and frustrate rigid regimes of taste. Their work presents a hopeful, even invigorating, proposition about the infinite possibilities created by reevaluating, remixing, and retrofitting, and encourages the continued exploration of the vast, synchronic landscape of information peculiar to our century."
I found it interesting that the majority of painters in the show were women. It is heartening to see more and more museum and gallery exhibitions with a realistic representation from female artists and curators. The show continues until April 5.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Shelley Miller's Ceramic Quilts

Shelley Miller, with Structura Habitata

This week I met installation artist Shelley Miller at the CBC. We were participants in a workshop there, organized by ELAN (the English Language Arts Network), about "Getting Your Message Out to the Media". Happily, we were in the same group of four assigned to do a joint presentation.

The group chose Shelley's recent project as the topic of our "pitch". In the photo, you can see Shelley standing in front of her ceramic mosaic, which has been installed in the soon-to-be-opened McGill University Health Centre, or as we know it here in Montreal, the MUHC. When visitors enter the Royal Victoria pavilion, they will be met with this monumental work. It is one of 11 commissioned works to be unveiled with the opening of the hospital in April 2015.

Structura Habitata measures 8 meters high and 7 meters wide. Shelley worked with a ceramics manufacturer to screen images onto ceramic tile. She wanted to reference the traditional quilt, with its associations of comfort and warmth, and chose textile-type prints. The hexagon shapes are like patchwork, but also like cells or honeycomb, and included in the mosaic are images of bees, working together to sustain the community. Birds and flowers reinforce the theme of life, of nature, and we can also see snippets of Leonardo's anatomical sketches and notes. The hexagon is sometimes used as a symbol of the carbon molecule, the building block of life.

Heather Dubreuil, It's All That 

I am reminded of the large quilt that I made for the stairwell of the Hudson Medi-Centre. It measures about 90" in height and width. My concept was not unlike Shelley's, as I wanted the "log cabin" structure of the quilt to reference the cooperation that was involved in building the centre, and to use the associations of warmth and comfort inherent in the medium.

Tissu Urbain 

In Quebec, all publicly-funded construction projects are required to allot 1% of their budget for art or culture. Ceramics, mosaic and glass are often the chosen medium, because of their durability.

Detail, Tissu Urbain

Here are two more of Shelley's recent projects, both referencing traditional quilting.

Tissu Urbain measures 2.5 m x 8. It was made for the Gare Saint-Michel in Montreal North.

Below are images of 5 Quilts, made for Centre d'accueil Marcelle Ferron in Brossard, Quebec.
They measure 52" x 52" each, and are made of porcelain, ceramic mosaic, and glass mosaic.

To see detail shots of these mosaics and to learn more about Shelley, please visit her website.

5 Quilts - Chintz Tapestry, with detail

5 Quilts - Starburst, with detail