Friday, May 30, 2008

Installations, Cohesive Work, and Other Thoughts

The POAC exhibit will be coming down in a little over a week (you have through June 8th to view it), and I finally got back to study it without the distraction of lots of milling people. I promised to share better pictures and some additional thoughts about the exhibit and reception when time allowed; after studying all the art quilts with the eye of a viewer and not an exhibitor, I find some of my initial impressions hold, while new discoveries surfaced.

One of the things I originally wanted to comment on was the way my two pieces were hung. I knew the two pieces would fight if hung together, and hoped that those hanging the show would see the importance of giving them some distance from each other. First lesson learned - do not count on someone else solving your problems. As you can see from the picture above, most of the small work was grouped together on one wall. As I observed it during the reception, my first thought was, now why couldn't they have traded the position of my work with the dark blue one on the right? In fact, that whole wall did not seem well thought out. Granted, they had some breaker boxes to work around, and a wide variety of colors and styles to make work in one space. Still, the rest of the installation showed more thought to juxtaposition of pieces, and did not necessarily hang both of an artist's pieces together.

So I stood there thinking, this is a good lesson learned. When selecting pieces for consideration into an exhibit, they should relate better to each other, show some cohesiveness, have something going on in them that would be a clue that they belong to a particular artist. There's nothing similar about these two pieces. And then I saw it. Although in one they are undulating and in the other straighter, both works have the parallel quilting lines spaced approximately 1/4" apart. Interesting!

A particular quilting style tied together another artist's work, even though the pieces themselves were quite different. Above is Marilyn Henrion's Etude #6 and Fugue #1. One hung on the balcony while the other hung on the stair landing, but the large circular quilting immediately let you know these two pieces might be by the same hand.

There were others who used the wider spaced parallel lines as I had, but in such a different way on such stylistically different work that I don't think anyone would think them mine. Pat Budge used it to great advantage on her Edges #4: Fissures. Here they go off in all directions to emphasize the varied shapes in her design. Any more narrowly space and it would have been overkill or lose its impact, any wider and it would not have done its work.

Rita Hutchins also used parallel stitching lines, alternating both wide and very narrow spacing, dependent on the space to be filled. I greatly admired Follow the Yellow Brick Road above also because it is totally pieced, and the smallest of those units is less than an 1 inch square. It had a certain freedom in that the squares and rectangles were various sizes and not perfectly formed, yet when looking at the piece as a whole, it isn't chaos and all randomness. The heavy quilting around the tiniest squares made them pop in more than one way.

My last example of the use of parallel quilting lines is Brian Dykuizen's Fractured Female. If you click on the pic for the larger view, you should be able to see the effect of the variegated thread he used. With the quilting lines angling across the piece in a fairly regimented way, some of the variegation left an impression like rain.

Kay Hall's Sundown was my overall favorite at the reception. I was surprised that I didn't like it quite as much seen in daylight. It seemed to loose some of its depth and saturation, and the quilting I thought so perfect now struck me as not quite right. I simply didn't remember the very light ribbon like motif across the sky, and it made no sense to me on this second viewing. It is still an impressive piece, though.

One of the most talked about piece at the reception was Kristine Calney's Tidal Tresses. It may have been where it was hung that led people to believe this was something just thrown together. Or it could have been the traditional quilters in attendance who were whispering that this couldn't have taken any time at all to make. As you can see from the detail shot, this is made up of blocks where strips of fabric 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide have been laid down and stitched through the center, leaving raw edges slightly raised and ragged. It was only in different light and thorough study that I could appreciate what went into the planning and execution of this piece. Not haphazard at all with a lot of intertwining of strips to play out her tidal theme.

The other most talked about piece was Joan Renkerts What's That In Your Pocket? As I commented in my reception review, this was the one piece that really pushed the definition of a quilt. In fact, I really do think it falls in a different category all together, but technically, I suppose it meets the definition.

Overall, I think the exhibit is successful in meeting its theme "Art Quilts: Beyond Tradition" yet there were several things going on at the reception that impressed me as muddying the waters again whether quilts can really be art. While the art quilt being raffled off was unquestionably a piece of art, the book they had in the silent auction was not about art quilts, but about a modern technique for making traditional quilt designs. And I literally cringed when I overheard one of the exhibitors going into great technical detail of how she rendered her piece. "Yikes!" I thought, "This is what quilters do at quilt shows, stand proudly by our work and answer all those questions from fellow quilters about how we managed to do what we did." I don't know it for a fact, but it's hard for me to believe that artists in other mediums do this at their openings. I doubt that those attending such openings would even think to ask such technical questions. I know my non-quilting friends who attended weren't asking such questions of me. I suppose that was when I realized that the reason so many people attended the exhibit opening was because the quilting community had come out in force. I erroneously believed the art community and its supporters as a whole would be attending, and realized that it was their opinion and impression that I was hoping to learn, not the quilting communities opinion. I already KNOW what the quilting community and even the art quilting community thinks. It's the rest of the art world I want to know about and learn from.

And with that thought, I conclude with a comment from a friend who is neither a quilter nor an artist, but someone who enjoys and collects art. She took one look at Marty Bownes quilt (shown next to Joan Renkert's quilt above), and said - "Don't like it, it looks like a baby quilt." Well, that took me off guard because I'd been admiring the artistic qualities of that very quilt. So I had to ask what about it gave her that impression. "It's the size of a crib quilt and laid out in blocks like a crib quilt." Ah...then I could see it, and thought this excellent information to remember in my own designing. A simple change in orientation or number of blocks would have dispelled the crib quilt look. But as a quilter, the similarities had not registered. Perhaps the very same design done in some other medium would not have evoked the same response, but since we operate on a fence between the quilt world and the art world, I think we need to be conscious of little things like this that might impede our being taken seriously as artists. It's the very thing driving art quilters who work small to mat and frame their work, the better to dispel any confusion about this being art.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really interesting observations, Sheila. The processes that you went through are really important -- it's what we all hope will happen when people look at our art.

cheers, June