Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chasing our tails?

60 x 90 w/c on paper
Joseph Raffael 2008

When I first became aware of the "contemporary" or art quilt movement in the 1980's, those quilters were doing their best to distance themselves from anything that might inadvertently connect them to bed quilts. Repeating blocks were boring and restricting, bindings so unartistic. These quilters openly stated they wanted their work to look like a fine painting, which to them meant the design running right to the edge, sometimes finished with a facing, other times left raw. Apparently the idea of creating the effect of a matted and framed painting with fabric borders, piping and bindings was unacceptable, too similar to the way a traditional quilt of blocks might be finished.

Initially, I was impatient with this attitude, but over time I've come to understand their concern, have myself had to endure the difficulty of gaining respect for my wall quilts. The last few years I've experimented with alternate ways of finishing my smaller quilts to enhance the notion that they are pieces of art, not pot holders or doll quilts. I developed a system for mounting the "art" part on an unstitched background stiffened with a heavy interfacing and "pillow-turned" with its lining as in "Off the Grid"(see this post), and I've played with other ways to achieve that knife edge no binding finish as in "Autumn Confetti" (see this post) and the fused "frames" cut oversized to allow wrapping around to the back on my first series of journal quilts (see this example). More recently I've tried pinning the finished piece to foamcore board and inserting it into a glassless frame as in "Balance Check" (see this post). I've even tried the currently in vogue wrapping of the textile art over stretched canvas or stretcher bars as in "Jockeying for Space" (see this post). All of these methods have worked well to give my textile art more presence on the wall, the mount acting a bit like a mat, the frame in the case of the narrow metal ones actually reminiscent of a binding.

"A Passage"
58x 82 w/c on paper

Joseph Raffael 2008

And yet, I still find a simple 1/2 inch binding, perhaps with piping as in "Flow" (see this post), the perfect ending for some pieces.
Mmm - the harder we try to run from the perception of tradition, the more we find we've circled back. I've actually made peace with the whole thing, knowing that ultimately the art itself dictates what to do, and that while some finishes might set off a work better than others, there may be multiple good solutions resulting in a decision of taste or expediency. But I can't help thinking that once in the "run-from-tradition" mindset, we may instinctively base some of these decisions on what would make our textiles look more like paintings in their presentation.

"Summer's Dream of Spring"
60 x 89 w/c on paper

Joseph Raffael 2008

So it was with a bit of a start that, as I enjoyed some large floral watercolor paintings in the May 2009 issue of The Artist's Magazine (and shown here), I realized they all sported a narrow border looking all in the world like quilt binding. These paintings are by Joseph Raffael, and were reminding me anyway of the work of quilter Ruth McDowell. I must be mistaken, I thought. Probably just a narrow frame that they are displayed in. But no, on closer inspection, it is obvious that these "borders" are part of the painting itself. In his autobiography on the Nancy Hoffman Gallery site (really worth the read), he mentions a stint as a freelance textile artist in 1960. I can't help but wonder if this has anything to do with this current style in his work. If nothing else, I find it ironic to discover the appearance in a fine art painting of the very thing so many art quilters choose not to use, and in some cases even denigrate, thinking it will make their work look less like art. I hope we aren't spending too much time chasing our tails.

1 comment:

Galaxy6139 said...

Happy new Year ^-^ Wish you would have a great year with happiness and success ^^