Friday, June 26, 2020

Rosie Lee Tompkins, improvisational quilter

In a recent piece in the New York Times, June 25, 2020, art critic Roberta Smith celebrates the improvisational quilts of Rosie Lee Tompkins, whose work is very much a part of the African-American quilting tradition. The article, "The Radical Quilting of Rosie Lee Tompkins" is subtitled "A triumphal retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum confirms her standing as one of the great American artists – transcending craft, challenging painting and reshaping the canon."

The article tells the story of a devoutly Christian California quilt maker, and the devoted collector, Eli Leon, whose obsession with her work resulted in a significant donation to the University of Berkeley.

The exhibition that sparked the article is currently mounted at the Berkeley Art Museum, continuing until December 20, 2020. While the museum is closed due to the pandemic, the show itself is available as a 70-minute virtual tour on the museum's website, as well as a slideshow.

The New York Times article ends:
"There are many museum exhibitions on lockdown in the United States right now. They closed in one world and will reopen in a very different one, and the relevance of “Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective” has only expanded in the hiatus. The sheer joy of her best quilts cannot be overstated. They come at us with the force and sophistication of so-called high art, but are more democratic, without any intimidation factor.
"Her work is simply further evidence of the towering African-American achievements that permeate the culture of this country. A deeper understanding and knowledge of these, especially where art is concerned, must be part of the necessary rectification and healing that America faces.
"Tompkins seems to have been an artist of singular greatness, but who knows what further revelations — including the upcoming survey of the Eli Leon Bequest — are in store. The field of improvisational quilting by African-American women is not small, but beyond the great quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala., and a few others, their work is not widely known. Rosie Lee Tompkins’s version of what Eli Leon called “flexible patterning” may have been more extreme than anyone else’s. Or perhaps not. It would be gratifying to learn that she did not act alone."

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Sketchbook Explorations, Part 2

Creamer #1

Continuing on with Lesson 1 (see previous post), my next assignment was to do blind contour drawing. You are to look only at the subject of your drawing, and never at the paper before you. You allow your eyes to slowly follow the lines of your subject, at the same time guiding your pencil or pen without looking at the paper. 

Creamer #2

I was disappointed with my first efforts, as I used to be able to do this quite well.

Salt Shaker

But the point of the exercise is to put your observational skills and focused attention to work, to slow down your brain. It's really a form of meditation.

Flip Flops

I was pleased with my last effort, the Flip Flops. There is something charming about the imprecision.

The final assignment in Lesson 1 was "contour drawing". In this case, we are allowed to look at the paper while drawing. I've done very little drawing over the last few years, relying more on my camera, so this was challenging, but satisfying too.

Three examples are below:

Two Jugs

Flip Flops

Now looking forward to Lesson 2.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sketchbook Explorations, Part 1

I've recently signed up for a course designed by Jane Davies, with whom I've taken a number of workshops in the past. This is a downloadable course: it has no feedback from the instructor and no interaction with other students. It features a structured set of exercises, accompanied by a few video demonstrations.

Jane Davies offers a number of these classes, which can be found on her website, along with many video tutorials. I chose something very basic and fundamental: Sketchbook Practice. I hope that having the structure of a class like this will help me re-engage with my studio practice, as I have been so distracted these last months.

I am lucky to have two friends who have decided to join me in this venture, and I look forward to sharing the experience with them.

I begin the first lesson by gathering up all the mark-making materials I can find in my studio. I limit myself to the colour black. The idea is to make lines, just exploring the different qualities of each medium. Can you make a thick line, a thin line? What if you reduce the pressure? Can you smudge the line? Add water to the line? Use your non-dominant hand?

The next assignment in Lesson 1 is to use line to express an emotion. Here are my efforts:




(I like this design, though I'm not so sure
it expresses Envy.)

Continuing with Lesson 1, we are asked to do some "blind scribble" using various marking tools, and then, with eyes open, to apply some watercolour to the scribble.

If you look closely, you can see the white scribble,
created with a china marker, which resists the water colour paint.

I've never been one to use a sketchbook, but I can see the value in this kind of exercise, even if it's just to loosen up.  The final part of Lesson 1 will include blind contour and contour drawing. Looking forward to further explorations!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Finished Baby Quilt

So pleased to have finished this traditional patchwork quilt, made for a grandchild expected in the fall.

Measuring 40" x 40", this baby quilt is made of scraps,
mostly prints, with a few hand-dyes.

It has a narrow bias binding, and was quilted using a "continuous curves" design
that requires no marking.
Thank you, Lauma, for providing the perfect backing fabric! Very retro.

Here's a photo of a similar quilt, made for the Big Sister a couple of years ago:

And here's another baby quilt I made for a great-niece, using a similar approach and a brighter palette:

There are undoubtedly easier ways to make a baby quilt, but I am attracted to the traditional, timeless quality of this method.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Another Baby Quilt: Preview

A couple of years ago, I posted a photo of a baby quilt I made for my first grandchild. I documented the making of it here.

My daughter really loves the quilt I made for little Nora, and now there is another grandchild on the way. Once again it is time to review the techniques of making a traditional quilt.

I turned to a favourite approach, as detailed in the book "Spectacular Scraps", by Judy Hooworth and Margaret Rolfe. I like to use up scraps of cloth: they provide lots of interesting variety and visual texture. And it's satisfying to use up what I have on hand.

The designs in this book are all based on the half-square triangle. The idea is to make many small squares, each of them composed of two triangles: in this case, one triangle is blue, and the other is gold or tan. The colours were chosen by my daughter. Blue and gold can be seen as complementary colours: certainly blue is considered to be cool, with gold being warm.

The blues range from very light to very dark, and the golds extend to tans.

Here are some of the triangles, ready to be assembled into squares...

... like so.

Here's the quilt top, up on the design wall.
By using a full range of blues, very light to very dark, the pattern
becomes less obvious: it almost shimmers. I like that effect.

The construction of this baby quilt did not go smoothly. At one point my sewing machine actually fell apart, and it was impossible to find a repair technician. I had to borrow a machine from a kind friend. 

As I write this, the quilt top is "batted up", layered with batting and backing, and ready to machine-quilt. I will be sure to post a photo when it's finished. Soon!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

An artist for the COVID-19 era?

Cape Cod Morning, Edward Hopper, 1950
In the June 8 issue of The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes about a show currently running at the Beyeler Foundation, Switzerland's premier museum of modern art, outside Basel. The show is called "Edward Hopper: A Fresh Look at Landscape".

Schjeldahl's article is titled "Apart: Edward Hopper's Solitude". The writer suggests that Hopper, "the visual bard of American solitude ...  speaks to our isolated states these days with fortuitous poignance."

After making comparisons between Hopper's paintings and Hitchcock's cinematography, and after discussing the dynamic of Hopper's marriage to artist Josephine Nivison, Schjeldahl concludes that Hopper explores "a condition in which, by being separate, we belong together."

A similarly perceptive article on the subject by Jonathon Keats, "Life Under Lockdown Resembled an Edward Hopper Painting – and a New Hopper Retrospective Offers a Picture of Our Future" appears in this month's Forbes magazine.

Keats begins his piece by quoting a tweet from the writer Michael Tisserand, dating back to the middle of March: "We're all Edward Hopper paintings now." Writes Keats,
Tisserand's words struck a chord. Within a couple of weeks, his tweet had garnered more than two hundred thousand likes. People responded by posting coronavirus-inspired parodies of Nighthawks, showing the diner completely vacant. There were even articles in The Guardian and ArtNews debating whether Tisserand was right."
What do you think? Could it be that Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is in fact the artist for our time?

Parody of Hopper's Nighthawks, artist unknown