With this Post I re-visit an event which took place decades ago. It was a time when I was inhabiting a very powerful dream life, one that influenced and inspired much of my art. It was a time of earnest searching for understanding not only of the amazing events of my dream landscape but for information that exists beyond our physical time and space parameters-the metaphysical.
From sleep came this poem. It seemed to be coming from someone else, a source unknown consciously. It seemed to be “dictated” to me, and so I did my best to write what was told. The original text came on the 24th of August, 1981. I considered it finished with some minor revisions on the 14th of September, 1981. Much later, in 1992, I made a small accordion book and transcribed the poem into it and added some original art as well.
As we now witness frightening events in our world I remembered the book and its contents and have been considering the powerful words in the poem. Could this poem have relevance to the state of the world today? Have we come to the place foretold in this poem?
I DREAMED OF THE RED MOON
The burnt moon that hung blood red
In fragments descended
On the broad horizon
And loomed on the brink of certain fortuitous events
Nestled unborn within.
All that came before was unknown
And all after foretold by me
Pointing to a page,
Circling the natal date,
The Second Coming.
The blind can only see in dreams
What lies before scaly eyes by day.
I am Christa.
You know who I am by the stench of birth,
By the sway of pillars falling,
Man, helpless before his own inventions,
Stands now, naked in the perfumed rain,
Face to face with the Being he has created,
Not against his will,
But in fulfillment of the Time he has chosen.
From the ashes and the cinders,
Deep from the blackened skies,
Comes a necessary miracle,
Old and new, springing alive
As it has always been,
Free of itself,
Unclothed in timeworn vestments
So long held dear.
The miracle looks inward upon itself
Who are you and all who breathe.
Though we have lied to ourselves for long,
And covered frightened eyes with denial,
The moment of truth is with us,
Now, as always.
Sleep no more by day,
But remember yourself in the night,
For we are our own salvation.
-8/24/81 and 9/14/81 Norfolk, Virginia
I find it strange that, unexpectedly, I again live in the same city as when the poem was written so long ago. Am I watching the events of the poem unfold?
I am pleased to announce a solo exhibition of work from “The Threads Project (2001-2007)”. “Threads of Time” will open on the evening of Friday, September 18, 2015 at The World Trade Center’s Offsite Gallery in downtown Norfolk, Virginia and continue until October 16.
After showing many of the pieces from this project since its inception in 2001 in juried and solo exhibitions across the United States, I am happy to be able to have a fairly comprehensive selection of pieces on view. Visitors will be able to see approximately sixty of the several hundred works completed over the years 2001-to about 2007. Included will be textile pieces, drawings, works on paper, unique prints and works on paper derived from prints made at Crown Point Press in San Francisco, paintings, and a sculpture.
The blog covers in detail the history of “The Threads Project” and is a good resource for those planning to visit.
The Offsite Gallery is run under the auspices of The City of Norfolk through their Office of Cultural Affairs. It’s temporary gallery space is in The World Trade Center as its usual space was severely damaged by an explosion earlier this year.
This exhibition is a bit of a homecoming as I showed my work long ago in 1980 for the First Anniversary Exhibit in the original damaged gallery, The Selden Gallery in the historic Selden Arcade.
Of course I never imagined then that I would one day return to Norfolk. Some of the pieces in the exhibition have roots going back to that time. The technique of frottage or rubbing began after one of my first trips to Europe, to London, where I made tombstone rubbings at Westminster Cathedral. I enjoyed experimenting with it over time and when “The Threads Project” began several decades later it proved to be one of the important methods in my work.
“Threads of Time”~an appropriate title for a long journey.
This new post comes after a long hiatus indeed. Leaving the West Coast for the East, a long renovation on a new home, all conspired to keep me away from my blog activities.
I’ve returned to Virginia after leaving in 1983 for San Francisco. Norfolk was my home from 1977 to 1983. I am happy to mark my return with an exhibition at The Art Works Gallery, sharing the exhibition with Lawrence (Skip) Hollingsworth, a painter, and Zach McKiernan, an historian who brought the work of a collective of printmakers from Chile.
I chose to hang a selection of works from “The Threads Project”, a large body of work which has been extensively documented in this blog. This project marked a great change from the primarily figurative work that I was making in the years I lived in Virginia and has informed the work which evolved and developed since.
The pieces in the exhibition were selected to illustrate important ideas from “The Threads Project” such as pairs and analogies, “lab pieces”, thread drawing, the “stitch-mark”, and using thread as both subject and medium, all of which may be read about in this blog’s Posts and Pages. Among the works were pieces which have been previously exhibited such as two triptychs, “Three In Red” and “Elements”. Works chosen included paintings, works on paper such as the announcement piece “Pages II (Red)”, and textile pieces.
Also included was “Mind’s Eye”, one of my most recent works. This is a work on paper which is descended from the ideas and relationships in “The Threads Project” that link my fine art to my textile work. I used fluid acrylic in a kind of staining method on paper much in the way that I once used dyes on fabric.
Sometimes ideas float around for quite a while before the opportunity or impetus for acting on it comes along.
While doing some websearching for exhibition opportunities I came across one for a gallery in London. The timeline was short but the topic was intriguing~”Gold”. A “match” came to mind, the thumbnail from some time back for the shaped drawing for which I already had the title in mind, “Mind’s Eye”. I would use a simple but dramatic palette of black and metallic gold.
Using the familiar and favored Okawara paper, I decided to use a roughly roundish shape with the staining process of recent work. But the addition of gold to the mix caused me to consider my options. I decided to use a metallic acrylic with a thicker, adhesive quality normally used on fabric but perfectly at home on paper. Although it came with a tip that allowed me to “draw” lines with the paint, I used a brush as well.
This is the result~A second work with the same palette on Okawara is in progress.
A BIT OF GOOD NEWS THIS WEEK~”Four Maps For Karibib-Interior” has been selected to be included in the spring exhibition “Mapping” at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois. The exhibition will take place March 19 to May 24, 2013.
This piece is one of four in a suite titled “Four Maps For Karibib”. They were created in 2005 on the occasion of an invitation to exhibit for the first international exhibition in the town of Karibib, located a few hours from the capital of Nambia, Windhoek. Nambibia is a sparsely-populated country just west of South Africa. With an land area twice the size of California but with less than two million people, this exhibition was a big event to its citizens. A German colony until the early Twentieth Century, then aligned with South Africa, Namibia is now an independant republic since 1990. It is still a rough and tumble place that attracts people from many countries. Our exhibition was held at a compound in Karibib owned by a Russian ex-pat Leonid Stupenkov. The event was not only an opportunity to show work of artists but a celebration that included bonfires, fireworks, roasted goat, music and dancing. It was truly an international event! In attendance were members of the media, including radio and newspaper, as well as the Russian consul and his wife. Some traveled, I was told, two hundred kilometers to join the festivities.
I wrote about the exhibition in an earlier Page on Webs And Threads. Here is a partial excerpt:
“ART ACTION-SEVEN FIRES” ~NAMIBIA 2005
I received an unexpected email one day in June, 2005, inviting me to exhibit my art in Namibia where a dear old friend, Armand has lived for many years. We met in Virginia in 1979 as he was ending a long journey across America and Canada. He was about to return home to Nuremberg, Germany to continue his studies in architectural restoration and art.
Although we knew each other just a short time, it seemed like the right thing to do when I accepted his family’s invitation to visit Germany for a Bavarian Christmas and what was to be my first trip to Europe. It was to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. We have all stayed in touch since then, in spite of far-flung locations and busy lives.
Armand’s adventurous spirit took him to Africa, where he finally settled in Namibia in the small town of Karibib. There he has worked as a sculptor as well as created amazing mosaics and stonework. Although the digital age means that we now stay in touch more often, the email invitation came out of the blue!. After all the years of thinking about a visit to Africa, the time was right!
There were only a few weeks to prepare my work for the exhibition. I came up with the idea of folded works on paper when I noticed a folded map of California. This turned out to be the ideal solution to transporting art more than eleven thousand miles.
I simply folded the suite of four “Maps For Karibib” and put them into the zippered side pocket of my luggage. On arrival and the installation of our work, Armand strung a stainless steel wire in the stone building where our work was located. I use stainless steel spring clips to hang them like laundry. The beautiful Okawara paper did resemble fabric and visitors enjoyed walking around to see both sides of the four works.
Staining and dripping fluid acrylic on the reverse side of a roughly cut piece of Okawara paper were the beginning of “My Country”. Misting the red paint with water allowed the pigment to achieve a matt surface as it stained and was absorbed into the receptive, cloth-like Okawara paper. The very thick drops of pigment retained the original gloss of the paint.
After some initial work it soon became clear that the image was failing to meet my expectations. Flipping the paper over I continued by working from the stained image that had bled through from the original side. As with earlier pieces, I decided to use a wrinkling method to add interesting texture. An attempt to accentuate the ridges and valleys of the relatively soft wrinkles with Nupastel was not a fruitful path. But the wonderful texture of the wrinkles created a kind of “landscape” on the paper and the large red stained central image evoked a map and thus the title “My Country”. And as with the previous works, dots continue to create fields of color.
I love the possibilities that wrinkling paper gives and have used it on crisper drawing papers with dry media like Nupastel where I could follow the “geography” of the crushed and wrinkled paper easily.
The qualities of paper and canvas have long been the subjects of investigation and relate to my work using dyes and pigments in textile design as well. (Working with dyes on fabric results in the same elements of staining that appear in these recent pieces.)
Okawara paper has a dual-sided ability to accept both wet and dry media and its durability allows physical manipulation like crushing and wrinkling as well as folding and creasing. (Four Maps For Karibib)
“My Country” continues the investigation of properties and process of materials and media that was more formally begun more than a decade ago.
In this triptych, “Three In Red”, from“The Threads Project” I used red and white to create analogous images using different materials. The section on the left is wrinkled drawing paper and Nupastel. The center work consists of loosely-sewn red thread on tulle, while the right work uses shades of red and pink thread on cotton sateen. Each is approximately 17 x 17 inches.
THE THREADS PROJECT contains a large proportion of work which relates to my first love in life, drawing. Although I didn’t realize it when this “series” began in 2001, (developing into an enormous body of work over more than six years), the questions I set for myself and the means I used to answer them helped me to expand my definitions of drawing on a very personal level.
I owned my first computer at the time that this experimentation began. Installed in it was the basic Paint program. I stumbled upon it and began to play a bit with the idea of drawing digitally. Immediately I began to see the linear relationship to my threads pieces and began to work with this in color and black and white.
BEATRICE’S THREADS 2002
THREAD LACE 2002
THREAD LACE II 2002
As “The Threads Project” progressed the idea of using actual thread and layers came into the work. This 2003 piece used thick thread sewn to tulle. Beneath the cream thread lies a single black thread. The earlier digital drawing, along with others, explored the idea of layers.
SINGULAR 2003 Thread, machine-sewn to tulle, hand-sewn to Okawara paper 14 x 11.75″
The digital drawings provided yet another method of using the idea of analagous images, but in a way entirely unanticipated. The linear quality of these digital drawings echoed that of thread of course, but also changed my ideas of what exactly constituted a drawing in my previous experience. The need for paper or any other physical support was unnecessary. The images remained “virtual” until printed in some way. Until then no boundaries existed except the frame of a monitor or computer screen. These images could be understood as thumbnails or “sketches” for other work such as an installation or sculpture. They could be fully-realized works on paper or fabric using a printing method of some kind. They certainly bore evidence of the maker’s hand yet not in any way I had ever before used.
One other element of the digital drawings was the use of inverting the images. This experiment provided a method that again, proved fertile much later when I began to work with digital photographs.
INVERTED THREADS I 2003
Black and white digital drawings as well as more digital drawings in color can be seen in the Page -DIGITAL DRAWINGS FROM THE THREADS PROJECT.
LINEAR STRATEGY BLACK VI 2002
I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book, The Dreamer\’s Eyes. It is a book of poetry and original drawings from 1976-2002. I decided to share some of the writing that has been another facet of my creative life along with original drawings which I feel reflect the tone of many of these.
Artists are often asked how they know when a work is finished. The same question can be applied to a long-term endeavor in which a body of work develops over time such as my six-year plus project “THE THREADS PROJECT“. In this project I attempted to bridge my interest in fine art and textiles. This also adressed what I felt was then the disparity in value given to works created using textiles, thread, and materials related to them.
Nearing the latter part of this project I began to do drawings that I could see evolved from the theme of “stones” in the project that I used in textile pieces, works on paper, drawings, and paintings.
BLACK DRAWING I
These relate in particular to “The Black Drawings ” which are pastel drawings that derived directly from the theme of “stones” in the Threads pieces. The imagery was removed from the context used in the Threads pieces and taken to another level of meaning, as I described in my statement for The Drawing Center\’s Viewing Program :
THE BLACK DRAWINGS
THE BLACK DRAWINGS continue the theme begun in 2001 in an extensive body of work, THE THREADS PROJECT. In this project I wanted to combine my interest and experience with textiles and surface design with my fine art practice. I combined textile elements with drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, mixed-media works on paper, books, and digital drawing.
RIVER, STONES 2003-2004 (see detail below) is a significant textile work from this project which used acrylic and thread as drawing elements. The stone motif was black cotton. This stone motif appeared also in drawings and paintings in the project and has continued. In the 2007 BLACK DRAWINGS the shape of the stone has been removed from the original context and found new permutations. These black images recall not only the solidity of the earth but also summon human imagery, both seen and unseen. These are images of change and transformation, whether within the physical realm or beyond.
Over time it has become important to me as an artist to trace the “history” of ideas and works. Even though my work involves many media and techniques, there is an underlying aesthetic that marks the work as my own. When the long-term “Threads Project” began to wind down after more than six years, I found it interesting to see what direction the work would take and in what media. At first glance these new paintings seem very different from those earlier works, but on second look, there are strong relationships between the textile-oriented works and the new acrylic on canvas paintings.
In 2008 I began a new series of paintings. These became intensely-colored works using fluid acrylics on canvas. The first pieces were small, rather like the experimental “Lab Pieces done early in The Threads Project. I suppose they could be called studies but they are completed works which begin the exploration on a smaller scale.
“Small Dreaming of India” 2008 10 x 10 inches
I began by pouring the fluid acrylic onto the canvas with thick drops that were “melted” with sprays of water. These and other thick drops of pigment were allowed to dry before proceeding with the complex process of layering of marks began.
The obsessive layers of small marks relate strongly to the textile pieces in which stitches are built in much the same complex process to create the image.
detail from “River, Stones” 2003-2004 Tulle, cotton, acrylic, thread on silk mounted to cotton 35 x 68″
“River, Stones” 2003-2004 Tulle, cotton, acrylic, thread on silk mounted to cotton 35 x 68″
“Dreaming of India” 2008 One of three in the triptych of the same name, acrylic on canvas, each 36 x 24 inches
The triptych, seen in a recent exhibition, “Colors of the Universe” at Mishin Fine Arts , San Francisco. (The exhibition also featured a selection of paintings from THE THREADS PROJECT.)
The title of the triptych, “Dreaming of India” reflect the gorgeous and intense colors seen on my first trip to India taken just as the series of new paintings were under way.
An important idea about relating the textile works to the paintings, drawings, and works on paper is that they respond to a basic question that was a foundation of my search in “The Threads Project”, “How do the material and process used affect the meaning of a work? One could also ask “How do the material and process affect the value, the perceived value of a work?”
So these questions are interesting to consider when looking at the evolution of ideas and the means used to achieve them. Would these paintings be perceived differently if they had been created using a similar kind of imagery but executed in fabric and thread? Would there be a different aesthetic response? Whatever the answers are it is clear that the unifying element of the hand and mind of the artist, the intention, form a unique and cohesive body of work over time.
NAMIBIA is the subject of a new Page on the Webs And Threads blog. It gives insight into an amazing journey, my first trip to Africa in 2005 to participate in the first international invitational art exhibition in the town of Karibib.
“Art Action-Seven Fires” was named for the seven venues at the compound in Karibib, Namibia where the exhibition was held.
Webs And Threads On Paper, a new page has been added that features a gallery of images of works developed from the stitch-mark devised during ” THE THREADS PROJECT“. This Page makes a more convenient place to see an overview of those works which were done on paper or with paper using this motif.
Just a short note to send those interested to a pair of new Pages. For an addition to my textile work, go to RECREATING MAO where you will find the story of an early textile piece about Mao Tse-Tung! And for an easier way to see experimental work done with thread, textiles, and etching processes at Crown Point Press, go to THREADS AT CROWN POINT PRESS. This is a gallery page which gives the opportunity to see images in one place with the ability to click on for a larger image.
Merriam-Webster has a wonderful definition:
From the Middle English descripcioun, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin description-, descriptio, from describere. Date: 14th century.
“An act of describing; specifically : discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced.”
This “act of describing” is a primary task of the artist. Whether the description is rendered in prose or poetry, in a play or film, in music, dance or in the form of painting or sculpture, we attempt to describe what we know, what we have experienced.
“Discourse intended to give a mental image of something experienced.” In the larger sense of “giving a mental image” we are free to express what we know in whatever way suits our intentions, our inclinations, and our skills.
As I continue my survey of work from the past decades I have shared drawings, paintings, prints, sculpture, book-forms, and textile pieces. I have been fortunate to be able to express my experiences in poems and prose as well. I am able to use a camera to capture experience in my own way. What comes to mind is the question “Why do we choose a particular means, material, or form to express this experience?”
Early in the work for “The Threads Project” I made a simple textile piece. It came to be known as “Tender Threads”. This was a rather narrow length of white gauze upon which I unspooled plain black thread, allowing the thread to fall softly onto the gauze. I covered the entire surface and carefully sewed it in random places just enough to secure it to the cloth. The edges of the cloth were free, with fine fringes of the gauze’s threads echoing the carpet of loose white threads on the surface.
Some time later a neighbor inquired about my work and asked if she might see what I was doing. So we had an “art afternoon” and I shared some of the current pieces. When we came to this newly-finished piece her reaction was most unexpected: tears. But somehow I was not surprised. Beyond the immediate visual characteristics of this simple cloth and thread were layers of association that evoked deep emotion. Reflecting on this now I wonder if a painting or drawing would draw such an effect. Or words? I somehow think that perhaps only music would be able to draw a similar sensation of evoking memory in such a profound way. Perhaps the cloth holds the most elemental, tactile memories of earliest life when a sense of love, security, and our introduction to the physical world is formed.
I have seldom felt the need to question which form an idea would take to best express myself. Somehow the proper form has been spontaneously given, that is until I began “The Threads Project”. Within this work lay the question which has directed many artists of our time, and I put this in the simple way that I have approached things: “Do the material and means affect the meaning?”
It seems clear to me that they do. That is not to say that one way is right and the other wrong. We live in glorious times when the material used to express our experience can be as varied as our ideas….from the earthy, tactile, and sensual to the purest mental concept, we are permitted to describe in the way which most suits the idea and the intention. One needs only to turn back the clock a hundred years to see how unlimited the range of expression has become…the book and page, the canvas, the stage, the stone and metal, all these are joined by moving images, by electronic image and sound, by no sound or image at all. And all are permitted “to describe” the huge range of experience that is available now to all. We still have the museum, the white box of a gallery, the black box of the theater. But now the experience is far more inclusive.
In my special love of drawing we are now permitted to think outside those boxes. A drawing can come from fire, smoke, and rain. From drips and stains and scratches. And from thread and wax as well as the familiar pencil and pen. And each way evokes a particular response.
“The Threads Project” was begun to address the question of disparity between “fine art” and “craft” with my particular emphasis on textiles. In the course of exploring this premise the work has led me to want to understand the significance of the means and the material that we choose to express our ideas- our experiences.
It seems fitting then to ponder this question as I continue to “mine the material” and share my work, whether in the form of drawing and painting, or textiles, or photographs, or in the written word.
All are meant to describe in whatever form is taken.
Below, from 2007, a “self-portrait”….a shadow, insubstantial, captured by the lens and shutter, created only by the absence of light~
How amazing that this detail from a drawing from another decade echoes this silhouette idea~
Detail from “VISITORS”- pastel on black paper
And the 1979 drawing in colored pencil takes this back even further~
SELF-PORTRAIT (RED ANGEL) 1979
The link, the unique sensibility of each artist, gives the point of view, the cohesive nature of a life’s experience. We can, at some point, take a moment to look back and see the path we have taken in our quest to describe.
Whether you are a scientist, an anthropologist, or an artist, the nature, meaning and power of the color black can be debated endlessly.
Since the beginning of human habitation, light and dark, day and night marked the parameters of daily life. The corresponding “colors”of white and black remain today as powerful in expressing the mysteries of the dark, of night, as white is seen as the symbolic opposite, the day, the light, that which can be seen.
For me, black still holds the power of great mysteries, the division of night and day. It is the canvas of our dreams upon which we play out our innermost dramas. It is the great “indeterminate space” of the Universe, of memory, of the unknown future projected in deepest sleep. It is an elemental thing, with presence, with substance. It evokes some deep and mysterious “other place” for which I have no words to adequately describe.
In a previous post I wrote about one of my most recent series of drawings in which the color black is used, The Black Drawings. These mysterious drawings use black Nupastel on paper and descend from the stone motif found in textile pieces, drawings, paintings, and works on paper in THE THREADS PROJECT which has been often discussed in this blog.
Here black is more than a color; it is an atmospheric presence. While it relates to the physical, it suggests the metaphysical to me and looks backward to a long history of this color in drawings, works on paper, books, and in association, with poetry.
In keeping with my interest in surveying the long history of themes, ideas, methods and materials, I took out earlier images to re-visit some of the past works in which black is a major element whether in actual use of it as pigment or in reference as in the writing.
Until the beginning of The Threads Project which began in about 2001, I worked not only in a non-representational manner, but in fact for decades loved to do figurative work. Those earlier works reflected my deep interest in the metaphysical, in the life of dreams and symbols, and in my search for understanding of the relationship of these to our “waking” lives.
In 1991 this untitled drawing done in Nupastel on black paper shows a deeply mysterious image. As dreams reflect the emotional landscape of our days so does this troubling figure projected onto a dark ground.
THE MOONLIGHT SUITE
Also from the 1990’s, this suite of drawings was part of many, many in which black paper provided the necessary lack of spatial reference, whether as a dream image or a figurative work as above.
“Object of Desire-The Parenthetical Device of Night and Day”, below, enters into the deep levels of our “other lives” that take place in sleep. Here we travel without the physical, meet, grieve, anticipate, and create what is to come. The search for love, the meaning of love, and for loved ones is for everyone a great endeavor in the landscape of our dreams.
OBJECT OF DESIRE-THE PARENTHETICAL DEVICE OF NIGHT AND DAY 1992/94 48 x 44 in colored pencil, acrylic on paper
As I was watching the underwater images of the tragic Gulf oil spill it occurred to me that some of the images from the “Black Drawings Suite” bore an amazing resemblance to the dark plumes billowing from the broken pipe.
BLACK DRAWING II 2007 Pastel on paper 30 x 22″
This made me think of how often artists unknowingly can portray events, past, present, and future, about which they seemingly have no actual knowledge. These levels of “knowing” are to me, similar to the information received in the dream state or as a result of them.
In making this series of drawings I began thinking of the “stones” used in the “Analogy” Series from THE THREADS PROJECT. These drawings derived from the shapes of stones but soon evolved into a broader interpretation. “Black Drawing I” and “Portent”, below, as well as others in the suite, evokes a sensual presence, a space inhabited, occupied.
PORTENT 2007 Pastel on paper 30 x 22″
These two drawings suggest smoke or perhaps, in a timely fashion, the billows of escaping oil beneath the sea.
The description of them written for my page on the online Viewing Program for The Drawing Center suggests more:
“These black images recall not only the solidity of the earth but also summon human imagery, both seen and unseen. These are images of change and transformation, whether within the physical realm or beyond.”
The color black has long played a role in my work, particularly the drawings. It has been a symbol and expression of not only the usual visions of night and darkness, but the interior landscapes of dreams, the screen of our mind from which we “see” the unseen and the imagined.
“The Black Drawings” evoke not only these realms of dreams but the presence of the body, in its substantial form as well as the invisible, cellular.
In the most elemental form, these drawings suggest, remind, bring associations of phenomena, a porous definition of what is perceived by our senses.
One of the major themes of ” THE THREADS PROJECT” is the concept of analogies, things which look alike or share similar characteristics. The idea for using analogous images was one of the original methods in The Threads Project for blurring the distinction between art and craft by pairing images which used elements from both. The viewer would then find it difficult to make an immediate judgment of value when viewing the work. This idea expanded over time to go beyond pairs.
With the analogy idea in mind, I decided to begin a tall, vertical series of pieces that would combine paper and cloth supports and combine fine art materials and techniques with textile elements. In my original notes of 4/4/2003, I list many options for materials and methods such as paper, canvas, organdy, Pellon, and screenprinting fabric. I contemplated using resist and discharge methods, sgraffito, layers, frottage, and collage. With these I considered using acrylic, airbrush ink, pastel, molding paste, crayon, and thread.
I envisioned the series as four, six or more vertical pieces, each roughly six feet high by three or four feet wide and relating to each other perhaps by motif and color as well as a mix of media and supports. The first completed piece was a pastel and acrylic paper on my favorite paper, Japanese Okawara, titled “Analogy I-Forest”.
ANALOGY I-FOREST 2003 Pastel and acrylic on Okawara paper 72 x 39.5″
The branch-like motif relates to earlier work using a twig-like motif in textile pieces and drawings (see “Old Traditions, New Art”). The layers of “stones” at the lower edge of the work would be a theme for many works in many media in the future.
The branch-like motif relates to earlier work using a twig-like motif in textile pieces and drawings (see “Old Traditions, New Art”). The layers of “stones” at the lower edge of the work would be a theme for many works in many media in the future.
“River, Stones” (below) was intended as the second in this series. Here I began by using a tightly-woven silk and black fluid acrylic paint, making gestural strokes on the surface. Over a period of six months, with many moments of uncertainty, I began to build up the surface. Black cotton for the “stones”, layers of various colored tulle and stitches binding all together. In the end, I realized that this could not be a vertical piece; it was in fact, a memory of a little river I had lived on shortly before. I had stood overlooking it watching the schools of fish, aquatic plants, and sunlight playing through the currents.
RIVER, STONES 2003-2004 Acrylic, cotton, tulle, thread, on silk mounted to cotton 35 x 68″
I realize, looking now at the professional photos taken of this that much of the dimensional quality of the surface is lost. So I have taken detail photos to eliminate the flat quality and give an idea of how the surface is affected by the stitches and the paint. There is, in fact, a more relief-like effect created by allowing these methods to react to the silk.
The next two works in the “Analogy” Series would not come until some time later, with “Analogy II-Shards” and “Analogy III-Terrain” created in 2006.
ANALOGY II-SHARDS 2006 Acrylic, pastel, marker on unprimed canvas 79.5 x 48″
Here the “twig-mark” motif has given way to the motif which evolved from the “stitch-mark”, the triangular stitch that began in textile pieces and soon morphed into drawings, paintings, and works on paper.
ANALOGY III-TERRAIN 2006 Acrylic on Okawara paper 72.75 x 39.5″
As I continued on from the beginning of ” The Threads Project”, not only did the definitions of “art” and “craft” become less distinct in my work, but the ideas of what were the borders of painting and drawing. The introduction of the term “works on paper” definitely provided a place within which many these new kinds of works could reside.
“New Alchemy” is a work in which I chose to use tracing paper. The paper’s translucent characteristic, the receptiveness of the surface to acrylic paint, and the crispness and slightly rigid quality allowed me to shape the edges and collage shapes onto its surface.
NEW ALCHEMY 2007 Acrylic on tracing paper 38 x 18″
As is my habit, this work is part of serial thinking and the use of ideas and motifs in various sizes, materials, and formats.
The “stitch-mark” evolved into a circular, wheel-like variation in “The Alchemy Suite”, three of which are seen below:
ALCHEMY SUITE-TWO 2007 Acrylic, pastel on paper
ALCHEMY SUITE-THREE 2007 Acrylic, pastel on paper
ALCHEMY SUITE-FORMATION 2007 Acrylic, pastel on paper
One could ask, “Are these drawings or paintings?” Is “New Alchemy” a drawing? A painting? A “work on paper”? Or all of these?
THE “STITCH-MARK” AND THREAD-DRAWING
The use of thread as a linear “thread-drawing” method in textile pieces during “The Threads Project” became a singularly important idea.
The discovery of a triangular mark, the “stitch-mark”, as it came to be called, was a simple yet versatile method of creating texture on cloth as well as serving as a method of making “drawings” with thread. By varying the length of each side of the stitch I could cover large areas while varying the direction and size of the mark. This quickly became a useful motif which I then adapted into works on paper, drawing, and painting.
In keeping with the basic concepts of THREADS PROJECT, I wanted to use paper as well as cloth and often combined the two. Here was the possibility to create “hybrid” images. In some cases I incorporated thread stitches into the surface which might be paper or on canvas. In others the motif was painted or combined with pastel but the main idea was to continue to use a variety of ways to blur the distinction between “fine art” and “craft” (textiles in this case).
As with many of the other methods of mark-making over the years (frottage, embossing, wrinkling, masks, xerox, etc.) the “stitch-mark” provided a fertile new territory for expanding my definition of drawing. It seems that the borders of drawing and those of “works on paper” are as porous as those of “fine art” and “craft” but the terms are quite useful in their ambiguity.
Below, “Turquoise Thread Map” is from the first years of “The Threads Project”. The triangular “stitch-mark” serves to add texture to the border but also as a drawing method within the image. This is an example of a “thread drawing”.
TURQUOISE THREAD MAP 2003 Thread on cotton 29 x 25″
Another textile piece, “River, Stones” (which is also the image for my blog header) is one of the major works of “The Threads Project”. This began as part of a series I had in mind to create a large series of analogous images. Analogous imagery is a primary idea for the Project. I wanted to prevent the viewer from immediately ascertaining whether the work could be thought of as “art” or “craft” and so the idea to blend materials and techniques with cloth and paper came into play. This particular work was meant to be one of perhaps six very large vertical pieces, each roughly six feet high by four feet wide using a variety of supports and media. They were to be linked by theme, size,and perhaps color. I had already completed two of the “Analogy” Series on Okawara paper and wanted to use a fabric for this work.
I started this with a tightly-woven silk as my main support, with brush-strokes of black acrylic, adding black cotton “stones” and layers of various colors of tulle to take advantage of the transparencies. With thousands and thousands of stitches, including the important “stitch-mark” this work took six months to complete. Near the end I realized that this could not work as a vertical piece. What I had made was a horizontal work, a memory of standing on a walkway next to a little river looking down into schools of tiny fish, waving water plants and the beautiful dapples of light on the water.
RIVER, STONES 2003-2004 Tulle, cotton, acrylic, thread on silk mounted to cotton 35 x 68″
Detail of RIVER, STONES:
The “stitch-mark” again, serves as a drawing element, as “thread-drawing”.
Many of the drawings and works on paper are on or of a favorite paper, Okawara, a natural-color Japanese paper that is glazed on one side and has a toothy, more fibrous surface on the other. The suppleness and strength of this beautiful paper appeals not only because of these characteristics, but because it clothlike surface provides the perfect material to link textile works to the drawing. Its surface accepts many media-pastel, colored pencil, acrylic. It can be cut, sewn, collaged. Okawara, as do other Japanese papers, serves as beautiful surface for Asian-style brush paintings such as Sumi, but when using fluid acrylics (I use the Golden line) wonderfully expressive strokes can also be made.
Using this technique again, this time on the Okawara paper,”Seeing Red” has layers of paper. The drawing with red colored pencil can be seen underneath. This “analogous” work can be compared to a collage or to applique’ in textiles. It is a “hybrid”, bridging, as the Project intended, art and craft.
SEEING RED 2003 thread, colored pencil, Okawara paper 12 x 17″
Some of the additional methods used as I continued this avenue, included collaging drawing fragments to a heavier watercolor paper. Here are several works, beginning in 2004:
WEB DRAWING #3 2004 Marker on paper, with reversal, collaged to watercolor paper 12 x 9″
WEB DRAWING #1 2004 Pencil, marker on paper collaged to watercolor paper 12 x 9″
FRAGMENT I 2006 Marker on paper, with reversal, collaged to watercolor paper 15 x 20″
WEB DRAWING V 2006 Color pencil, thread, hand-sewn to paper with embossing, frottage 8.5 x 14″
This pair, mounted together are created from one another. The image on the left was made by using the method of frottage-making a rubbing of the image on the right which has embossing and the use of “stitch-marks”, hand-sewn.
These experimentations with drawing clearly blur the categories of drawing and works on paper.
Over several years this work developed into a new body of work I call “Webs And Threads”. Although I had not called myself a painter before, I began painting using the “stitch-mark” and found that this motif was a wonderful way to begin painting in earnest. 2004 was a most productive year and I was pleased that three of my “Web” paintings were accepted into a juried show in Massachusetts.
In my next post I will show some of the paintings which were made using the theme of the “Stitch-mark”.
USING MASKS IN DRAWINGS
(May 30, 2010~ A short note on this post. In this post I refer to “masks”. By this I mean, not a mask in the sense of something for your face but as a method of using a shaped piece of paper or other material to block an area of a drawing, for example. Perhaps a better word would be “template”, as described in this definition: “a stencil, pattern or overlay used in graphic arts (drawing, painting, etc) and sewing to replicate letters, shapes or designs”. Using the “positive” or cutout shape rather than the open area left in cutting a stencil, pigment can be rubbed around the edges or the shape can be traced around its edges to repeat or create a shape. Some readers looking for information on the more usual topic of “masks” have found this post.)
Often the simplest ideas bear considerable potential. Using images cut from a magazine or other publication, for example, led to a long period of experimentation. Rather than use the cut-out image once to create a collage, I decided to use the shape as a mask with which I could create and manipulate positive and negative forms of the image in a series of works.
An early work which uses this method is a drawing of the American author Joseph Heller. His head of curly hair inspired me to use an image of him cut from a magazine as a mask. In this work, the mask was held in place as the pencil was used to butt up against the mask to indicate the background. Then color was added to the negative space when the mask was removed. I used this idea in a small series of drawings with a single figure, three, and six in a grid format.
TRIPLE PORTRAIT OF JOSEPH HELLER 1980 colored pencil on paper 4.25 x 7.25″ (Artist’s collection)
About this time I found an image of a reclining female figure which was quite interesting. From this I made a drawing rather than cutting out the image, mounting it to another sheet of paper for support and then cutting the mask from this. When, in 1984, I had completed the series of works from this idea, I mounted the cut-out drawing onto reflective mylar as seen below.
TORSO 1984 colored pencil on paper mounted to paper and reflective mylar 4.5 x 6″ (Artist’s collection)
Continuing the series, the drawing below was created on an old and wonderful wooden drafting table which had seen lots of use. Using colored pencils (usually Prismacolor), the vellum allowed the intricate scars and marks made over the years to appear on the surface. This is actually a version of the frottage , or rubbing technique but here this was accidental and unintentional but gave a beautiful, sensitive quality to the image.
ANGLE OF ASCENT 1983 colored pencil on vellum 17 x 24″ (Artist’s collection)
Another drawing using this mask is “Caryatid II”, a drawing on black board from the same series, inspired by Greek caryatids, the sculpted figures of women used as columns in Greek architecture.
CARYATID II 1983 colored pencil on board 12 x 14″ (Collection Carol Ervin)
Another in the series of Caryatids is this folded drawing on black paper (most likely from a roll of paper used in tombstone rubbing.) The mask of the figure was manipulated across the sheet in three separate sections, two of which are seen here. This drawing is called a rondo though it might more properly be referred to as a version of a “tondo”, from the Italian and Greek terms for paintings in a circular form.
CARYATID-TRIPLE RONDO 1984 colored pencil on black paper 15 x 37″ (Artist’s collection)
A closer look reveals the use of layering, overlapping, and the illusion of transparencies.
In this work the shape of the mask was used as a guide to delicately trace the the outline of the figure before completing the rest of the drawing.
Another use of the same mask in “Bathers” uses the shape to repeat the figure multiple times.
BATHERS c. 1983 colored pencil on paper 15 x 10″ (Artist’s collection)
Expanding the form of drawing was important and significant. As I mentioned in previous posts, drawing was rising in the heirarchy of importance as a finished work rather than a work supporting a painting, for example, as a study or sketch.
With a foundation of skills in drawing, the figure, in particular, as a springboard to more inventive ways of drawing, motifs were developed that would serve well into the future.
The use of masks in these works lent a quite “anonymous” appearance to the figures and portraits. They lose specific reference in favor of a symbolic one. Many of the drawings of the 1970’s and ’80’ reflected a great interest in dreams, in the “space between night and day”. Many of the drawings used white on black with this focus in mind.
The importance of events in the world of art in the 1970’s and ’80’s is now the subject of courses in Women’s Studies and have been put into the perspective of time and distance. Linda Nochlin’s famous article and question “Why have there been no great women artists?” rallied many artists to answer that question by making works which challenged the strictures of subject, material, and process as well as the existing attitudes of the art establishment’s galleries, museums, and media.
Some of my work reflected the issues of feminism prevailing at the time. Along with expanding definitions of our methods and processes of creating art, whether sculpture, painting, or drawing, came the parallel of new content. We dared to take on subject matter that certainly was considered “challenging” in that time. As did many other women artists, I used imagery that was female and sexual, with political overtones.
This work on paper used a page from a feminist article written in 1975 on the place of women in art history, with quotes and references from male critics and feminist writers. The image of the woman was taken from a Playboy magazine. The method I used, creating a stencil or template of the cut-out image, was one that proved to be very useful in years to follow.
I will not go into the content here, since the subject of feminism and art in the 1970’s and ’80’ has been much discussed and written about in the intervening years. As part of the review of my work since that period, this piece serves to illustrate yet another method of drawing that could also be considered in the category of works on paper discussed in the previous post. The parameters and defining elements of what we referred to as drawing until then became, at this time, an absolute mine of potential for new ideas and possibilities. We were not thinking in terms of categories as we were making of course; that is the privilege offered by hindsight, but it was clear that what we were doing was breaking up a lot of old rules and ways of thinking about what constituted not only drawing but the concepts and beliefs about what art was on every level.
THE MALE AUDIENCE 1980 Color pencil, collage on Xerox text 8.5 x 11 inches
It was also clear that our experiments with making imges on paper which we referred to as drawing for the time being, were resulting in works that could stand alone as finished, complete works of art. These might be studies or ideas for other works perhaps, but not necessarily adjunct works even then. The idea that drawing was only or mainly a skill to serve other forms of work such as painting was beginning to be rethought. The idea that the old hierarchical system of value placing a drawing as study, sketch, or thumbnail would soon be challenged.
While drawing the figure was a passion of mine at the time and one at which I spent countless hours, the collaged figure of the woman far better serves to express the ideas of the text than if I had chosen to draw the figure myself.
The advantage of having made art for many years is that an artist reaches a point where it is possible to review work to see the path of discovery, the origin of themes and ideas, and solutions found to express them.
Creating this blog/website has provided me with the opportunity to do this. As I go through decades of work I am discovering that the term “works on paper” has proved to be a wonderful umbrella for many works which seem not to be easily categorized, including drawing in various formats. It also provides a way to categorize my experimentation with paper, not only as a surface to receive the marks but as a material with intrinsic characteristics worth investigating as a medium in itself. This avenue of thinking, begun in the 1970’s, has continued since then, playing a particularly important factor in THE THREADS PROJECT of the last decade.
In the previous post, “WORKS ON PAPER”, I gave examples and links to Pages describing various methods of creating imagery on paper such as frottage, embossing, and incising. Looking further back to the 1970’s and ’80’s, a period in which figurative work was prominent, it’s important to keep time and place in context. The common use of the internet, computers, scanners and printers, digital photography and other technological means available to enable self-sufficiency in managing image-making was still some time in the future.
In the 1970’s copy machines such as the ubiquitous Xerox were of course used for reproducing images and documents. As artists began to understand that we need not be limited to “traditional” methods of drawing, for example, many began to experiment with this machine as a new method of making art. While the black and white version was commonly available, color Xerox machines were not easily found outside of major cities. In fact, in the mid-Seventies I sent a series of drawings along with the twenty dollars that was required for the use of a color machine for an hour with an artist who was returning to New York City. He was to make as many copies as possible for my future experimentation with the resulting copies.
Unfortunately, both the twenty dollars, the drawings, and the artist were never heard from again.
The first image is a self-portrait from 1980, made on my first trip to Germany. I always traveled then with a notebook of drawing paper and a zipper bag of colored pencils.
SELF-PORTRAIT 1980 Colored pencil on paper
Some time later, after having framed this drawing, I placed the framed image face-down on the bed of a black and white Xerox machine. The motion of the sensor over the glass resulted in a blurred image to which I then added color with Prismacolor pencils.
These portraits were meant to capture more than just a physical presence. With each effort I tried to evoke other dimensions than what was first seen in the mirror as I wrapped my freshly-shampooed hair.
Copy machines offered the artist the opportunity to duplicate images which could be manipulated in many ways. “Generations” of images could be made by progressively copying a single image in series, one after the other. Other approaches included collage and using the reproduced page as a ground for drawing and as a method of creating some of the first self-published artist’s books. What Xerox technicians developed next, the fax machine, would of course, provide another opportunity for artists to break boundaries of making art by connecting them to one another, often outside of the proscribed boundaries of the gallery system. These machines became tools of creative expression but also tools of empowerment for both male and female artists.
One of the most important methods of making images in THE THREADS PROJECT was drawing. To continue, if you will excuse me, this thread, here are works which further explore ways to make linear marks-drawing-by combining textile elements and materials with those considered in a more traditional light, such as paper.
Charcoal, thread, sumi ink, with embossing, erasing and acrylic medium on watercolor paper. 9 x 12 inches.
“Manhattan Threads” was created while living in Manhattan fairly early in THE THREADS PROJECT. The Lab Pieces were underway as I explored possibilities for using the linear quality of thread as a drawing medium and ultimately as the subject as well. In this piece the format of pairs was again used to make images that were at once analogous and also combined the most basic element of cloth, thread. I used a variety of techniques to create the linear quality-embossing, erasing, and the use of thread in a singular manner as well as a mass of it. As with many of the early THREADS pieces, the palette was limited to black, white, and red which I determined early on to establish a cohesiveness to the work. The goal here, as with all using the concept and format of pairs was to prevent the viewer from making an immediate judgment of value based on material or process.
Colored pencil on black paper 27.5 x 19.5 inches
Here the idea of thread became the subject. There could be an interplay back and forth of subject and “medium”. By this point in the “Project” it was clear there would be far more work than merely a “series” as originally imagined. I longed for color in both works on paper and cloth.
Although not meant to be paired, the idea of “analogous” images was clearly at work in these two pieces from 2003. I could expand into a more dimensional use of thread than just the flat surface of paper.
Thread, machine-sewn to tulle, hand-sewn to Okawara paper 14 x 11.75 inches.
In SINGULAR” thread is both medium and subject. Buried beneath the swirl of cream threads is a single black thread.
WORKS ON PAPER OR DRAWING?
Colored pencil, pastel, thread, paper on black paper. 26.75 x 19.5 inches
“CROSSES” uses the idea of analogous techniques between cloth and paper. The paper serves the same purpose as cloth would. The squares of paper are “collaged” by actually being sewn to the ground of the paper. The distinction of cloth and paper is further blurred by combining crosses of white thread with those of pastel.
Is this a drawing? Or that nebulous “work on paper”?
More about methods used to investigate and expand definitions of drawing can be found on my Page, EXPLORING DRAWING. These include frottage, embossing, erasing and other techniques.
For those artists who love textiles of all kinds, but especially those textiles from very old cultures such as Asia and Africa, ancient methods can be deeply influential in our own work.
Recently I have been looking at the work of the past six or seven years, a particularly focused and productive time for me. I have been trying to put a very large body of work, “The Threads Project“, into perspective by looking at the inspirations and influences.
In August of 2003 I returned to live in California after two years on the East Coast, in Manhattan and far Eastern Connecticut. As I packed my bag for the trip, for some reason I threw a few scraps of cloth along with a needle and thread into a ziploc bag. No scissors, of course. Airport security.
Some time later, I settled into my apartment very quickly but without any of my possessions. I decided to do something with the scraps, but having no scissors at the moment, I used a nail clipper to cut my threads and began working on this piece.
I had determined from the beginning of “The Threads Project” that I would limit the palette to black, white, and red. Somehow, I envisioned a cohesive body of work even early on, and for aesthetic reasons, these choices made sense to me. As time went on, of course, I longed for more (and sometimes less) color but as I started with these scraps of cloth, the plan was clear. What wasn’t clear was how deeply influential was my love of the tall, vertical shape of Japanese scrolls. And what was even more unknown to me at the time was that I was about to begin working in a way that has been done for millenia by many cultures.
MOON, STREAM, FOREST 2003 Cotton and thread 35 x 18.5 in.
Detail “MOON, STREAM, FOREST”
Artists the world over find the creative in the cast-off materials of their cultures. But in every culture of the world there is a tradition of wasting nothing, particularly in rural societies. We seem to have forgotten this in our own culture of the 21st Century, but not so long ago, for example, our Depression-era families also made use of things we would throw away today.
As a child I was blessed to have Grandparents who lived on a farm. Modern conveniences did not enter their lives until I was a teenager. This self-reliant life meant that food was grown in the garden, soap was made on the wood stove, and things were re-cycled for another use.
As in many rural homes, there was a button jar where all buttons from outgrown or worn-out garments were kept. There were plenty of ways to use old rags and scraps of cloth from discarded garments. But there was also a place for the beautiful as well as the useful and utilitarian things were also made beautiful. My first stitches were made on the farm, under a Grandmother’s instruction. I learned simple stitches, with inspiration from embroidered aprons and handkerchiefs.
These are things long-forgotten, but now, looking at textile pieces that were made decades later, I begin to see that the simpler life of my own childhood is probably deeply connected to textiles made in many households in the world. My work is considered art, or perhaps craft, but its reason for being is far removed in intention from the frugal lives of those who came before us.
As I began with my scraps and needle and thread, I was not consciously aware of all these elements of course. But I did know that there were some important things that I wanted in this piece. I wanted the process of the needle and thread going in and out of the cloth to shape it. I wanted to leave the edges unfinished and allow the in-and-out of the needle and thread to create a texture, responding to the “threadness” of the thread and the “clothness” of the cloth. So I was not “embroidering” in the more traditional sense; rather, I thought of this as “thread drawing”.
The stitches used in this piece have a direct connection to a series of drawings made about a decade before.
FORCE FIELD-THICKET 1991 Colored pencil, charcoal, on paper Approximately 54 x 53 inches From “The Force Field Series”.
This very large drawing was made using a little twig- or branch-like motif, repeated in thousands and thousands of little marks. Layers and layers of this motif in various colors built an image that was meant to “invite” the viewer into another dimension. This same motif was then to serve as a “thread-drawing” in the textile piece, “Moon, Stream, Forest” nearly a decade later. This type of “obsessive” mark, whether in thread or pencil, is a method that evolved into the “stitch-mark”, a triangular motif used in The Threads Project textiles as well as paintings and works on paper.
I made the shapes of the scraps serve my intention and the image evolved around them since I was unable to alter them by cutting. The stitches served not only as a “thread-drawing” to create the image but as a practical method of holding the pieces together.
In the cultures of Japan and India, for example, this same idea has prevailed for centuries. The traditional re-using of cloth to mend or patch garments and household textiles in Japan is called boro. Today these re-purposed scraps and mended textiles are admired and avidly collected. Now removed from their original purpose, whether in the first, or last incarnation, we see the beauty in the utilitarian that bears the mark of the hands that transformed the mundane and worn. The history of the cloth is tied to the maker, from the growing or gathering of the fiber, to the spinning, weaving and later mending and patching. Some of these textiles have been artistically and beautifully dyed and printed. Another cycle of life was thus given to things used in daily life, and now, in our time, these things are elevated to the status of art.
In the boro, we find that the stitches serve the same practical purpose of holding the pieces together, but as with the farmers of rural America in Depression times, the functional could become beautiful as well. So the boro surpassed the functional by use of stitches to create beautiful pattern. The instinct for design and color and texture in ancient rural life in Japan, in India, and cultures throughout the world found an expressive way in even the humblest of materials and simplest of methods.
The ralli quilts of India and Pakistan,also rely on the re-use of scraps of fabric and stitching to create functional yet aesthetically beautiful textiles that have great meaning in their culture.
In American and other Western cultures, the idea of re-using has given us a great quilt tradition as well, giving a new life to the old and raising the functional to an object with aesthetic and symbolic meaning.
Looking at “Moon, Stream, Forest” once more has led me to see that I did not come to make this empty-handed. Indeed, the traditions, history, meaning, and processes that came before are significant and deeply influential.