Sunday, November 28, 2010

More thoughts on Kathy Loomis’ statements

After posting yesterday I spent a long time during which I couldn’t go to sleep because I kept thinking about the whole matter of pictorial quilts, quilts in the art world, art in the quilting world, women in art etc.

This morning I talked to an friend of mine who is a goldsmith by training, and an artist – graduate of Munich Art School – and she pointed out to me that goldsmiths/jewellers face the same problem. Jewellery has a hard time being recognized as art, because it is considered decorative, a craft.
We both agreed on that it all boils down to the question of „what is art?“ What is the line that separates some kind of self-expression from art.

For example, when you see the following picture and know that it was drawn by a five-year-old boy, you would probably not consider it to be 'art':

However, if it bore a different signature, say 'Picasso', you might assume it to be an unknown picture dating from his blue period. (Far-fetched, I know, but let's just assume.)

Or, the above question put differently: „what sells as art?“ It is one’s own decision whether one is determined to make good art or whether one wants to join into the large group of commercial artists.
If you want to sell your work, you may also have to sell your soul. If you believe strongly in what you’re doing you might not have the nerve or time or need to sell what your are making. Vincent Van Gogh certainly strongly believed in what he was doing and didn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to sell his pictures. (Of course, he was lucky in that he had a brother who paid the bills). His pictures do sell well today, though. I think they do because he only concentrated on painting good pictures, and not whether anybody wanted to have or see them, as long as he thought they were showing that he was getting better and better in what he was doing.

Another point my friend and I agreed on was that if quilters want to be recognized by the ‚real art people’ and participate in the art market (i.e. get their share of the money on that market) they need to get out into the real world and meddle with the real art people. Quilters, however, tend to hang out with their fellow quilters, and as much fun as quilt festivals may be, they simply are a big family convention – quilters meeting and talking to other quilters. The quilt world is a closed circle, and an art critic is not bound to go on the lookout for interesting new artist talents at a quilt show, even if it be a large one such as Houston, or the international quilts festivals in Birmingham, England, or Ste. Marie aux Mines, France.

Then, of course, there is the problem of making art with a needle, the wonderful title of Kathy Loomis’s blog. Any kind of needlework – as making jewellery, weaving, pottery – is still considered a ‚craft’. And, as Julia from NZ said, many quilters are perfectly content with considering themselves as crafters.
In big business art, the artist has the idea and employs crafters to execute these ideas. Ai WeiWei’s catalogue for his "So Sorry" exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany, last year, shows this very clearly:

Ai WeiWei's Map of China, as it is being executed,
photo of the page in catalogue

Ai WeiWei's carpet for the hall in the museum,
as it is being made, photo of the relevant page in the catalogue

Ai WeiWei's various tables -
photo of the page in the catalogue

Obviously he did do the vases himself.
Photo of the page in the catalogue

Ai WeiWei has the ideas, crafters execute them for him, and he earns the credit. Don’t know how well he pays the crafters … (Don't get me wrong - I loved the exhibit and I think he has great ideas, and I think it honorable that he would employ people to do the manual work.)

I won’t go into the fact that the very large majority of quilters are women. That’s too much to talk about tonight!

Let me – and/or Kathy – know what you think, I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pictorial Quilts and Abstraction in Modern Quiltmaking

In a couple of recent posts Kathy Loomis (Art with a needle) has been talking about pictorial quilts and their significance in the modern quilt world.

I fully agree to what she has to say about quality and beauty of design, and her desperation about the fact that leaves, trees and flowers seem to be en vogue at the moment. I have to say that looking at catalogues of, say, Quilt National in the past few years, had kept me from entering in an American show as I felt that my designs differed rather too strongly from the American taste, and that was mainly due to the many pictorial quilts in these catalogues.
In Europe, pictorial quilts have not been quite so abundant as in the States, but I have the feeling that lots of quilts are being painted on, splashed on, glued on - and from a European perspective the Houston Winners gave a bit of hope that perhaps the time of „the painted quilt was over“ as Barbara Lange has called it in a personal communication.

What I don’t quite understand is why quilting turned pictorial at all – after all, it began as something else. For what is a Log Cabin block, if not an abstract representation? Quilting design was abstract before painted art had even seriously thought about abstraction.
Personally I have never felt the urge to make a (serious) pictorial quilt – with one exemption, a crib quilt for my son which consists of several animals, mostly taken from the pieced animal patterns by Margaret Rolfe, except for one cat pattern that I developed myself. It was fun to make, in expectation of the child that would lie on it (though my friends then convinced me to put it on the wall in his bedroom instead of letting him drool onto it) - yet I would never show it in an exhibit, nor show a picture of it here on the blog.

As Kathy Loomis mentions, fabrics don’t lend themselves easily to quasi-photographic representation. So why do people feel the need to turn a picknick scene in front of a waterfall into a quilt? I’d rather have a painted picture of that, or an enlargement of the photograph that depicts the scene, if I need something to keep my memories of it alive. Tell me: why do you want to have a quilt of a waterfall on your wall – and what reasons should somebody else have to buy that quilt from you?

In the design classes that I teach I try to get the participants to understand the value of abstraction, as the process of abstraction is what turns their design into their very own. In a recent class I taught one participant came to the class with a copy of a picture from a famous German children’s book and wanted to turn that into a quilt, and I asked her „Do you really want to make a quilt with the little witch on a broom flying over the trees?“ In the end she had come up with an abstraction that to her symbolized the fire that the witches were dancing around, but could mean something completely different to another viewer.

In times when photography can give us pictures that are almost as real as reality itself the process of abstraction is what turns any kind or representation into your piece of art. And then the beauty, and perhaps the significance of it, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Or what do you think?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

White Walls

For those who do want to know: I did finish that UFO I wrote about in my latest post. However, it did not get included in the exhibit after all, because it just did not fit in well with all the other quilts, which are mostly from my series „Metamorphoses“ and „Play of Lines“. So some may think I might have taken it more easy beforehand, after all I should have known that it didn’t fit in with the others, being of a different style. But although I had been told in advance how many meters of hanging rails I would have available in total I had not really been sure how they were spread out throughout the house. So I wanted to have as many quilts available for hanging as possible. And now I am glad it is finished and I can move on to other things.

Which made me think about „white (design) walls“.

In German there is a saying that nothing is more frightening to a writer than a white sheet of paper on which the next story or text is supposed to be written. Supposedly a white sheet of paper can cause the worst of conditions in writers, a writer's block. Would that apply to a blank new document on a computer screen as well? The software for word processing is most likely going to give some color around that "white sheet of paper".
And in my case, as I work on a design wall in my studio, would that apply to the white or empty design wall, too?

Here is a picture of my design wall, empty as it was Monday morning:

my design wall - turned on the side
because I don't know why the computer keeps turning it
although the real picture is in the correct orientation... 

Though, to be honest, that wall is never totally empty as I pin stuff onto it on the sides – reminders, scraps, sketches, whatever. However, it was empty regarding ‚a piece of work in progress’. When you look at it, you can see that it isn’t really an empty white wall. First of all there is the line in the middle, caused by the fact that we put two pieces of material up and they had to meet somewhere. Secondly, the two pieces of fabric I used to cover the material differ slightly in make and shade. Thirdly, there are the screws that attach it to the wall. And the pins, waiting for new pieces of fabric. So it isn’t really an empty wall.
And as I have lots of ideas just waiting in my head for me to have enough time to set to work at them, it isn’t frightening either. In fact, I often wish it were a bigger white wall, with more space, perhaps even enough space to work on several pieces parallel.
I am eager to set to work again after all these busy weeks which did not give me much time at the sewing machin, working on art.

However, I started having a lookout for white walls outside. And found out that they, too, are hardly ever only white.

Here’s one that has a few little marks, although it is still pretty smooth.

The following two have slightly larger and larger marks on them.

Then there is one that looks almost pock-marked.

This one is dirty, obviously it has already met with quite a few things.

And this one has been mended.

And then, of course, there are white walls which are more than just a white wall, as this one, which is the wall of a stable in a nearby village.

So, come to think of it, there is really no need to even start getting scared of an empty or white wall, because there is almost always something there already. As there probably is in one’s store of ideas. There is bound to be one particular idea waiting to be pulled out and brought to life.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two days left before the opening

On Saturday my next exhibit will open at „the Petersberg“. You can download your personal invitation here.

The Petersberg“ is a Catholic Rural Community College just west of Dachau, near Munich, where I have been teaching patchwork classes for several years now. Here is a photo which I have downloaded from their website:

Petersberg -
the fountain in front of the window of the room
where my classes usually take place

What I like about this house  is the friendly and open atmosphere and the fact that one can rely on the staff with all one’s needs and wishes. And it is simply wonderful not to have to deal with little organizational matters such as, e.g., mailing the lists of materials needed to the participants. And we can sit down at a loaded table for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including a fantastic salad buffet. It is easy to focus on one’s work there. The number of participants who keep returning shows that this is a very successful concept.

This coming weekend I will also be teaching a class, which will only be interrupted by the opening of the exhibit on Saturday night. The class is called „Finish your UFOs!“ And I myself will probably be working on a UFO until the very last minute before the opening, which will then be sneaked up on the wall as the first guests arrive … I am running just a little late with this because, as always, there are a lot of things that still need to get done before an opening – having hanging strips cut for new quilts, finishing the signs, writing a price list, etc. Not to talk about sinking all these threads and finishing the binding of this last quilt… Who was it that said "if it weren't for the last minute, a lot of things would never get done"?

I actually finished sewing this particular top over a year ago, and had immediately put it onto my standing frame for handquilting as I wanted to use this quilt to return to handquilting for some of my quilts. However, after an impressive start with the quilting, that’s where it was. And that's where it stayd. Too many other quilts called to be made for my exhibit in Dortmund last May, the various calls for entry which I entered this year - 10 days ago I finally took it down from the frame, took out those hand-stitches I had already put in and started quilting it by machine. In fact, I think it will turn out much better now than if it had been hand-quilted. But there are still numerous threads to be sunk and the binding and the tunnel to be finished – we won’t know until the very last minute, whether I will make it or not!

The exhibit will show all my quilts from the series 'Metamorphoses' and 'Play of Lines' which are not traveling with another exhibition and which haven't been sold, and a few quilts which were made before the Metamorphoses.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eternal Calendar

Last Friday I received two large and heavy boxes, which were so heavy that the delivery man wouldn’t even carry them to the door before I had answered and thus shown that he would not have to carry them back to his van. In these were my 150 copies of my (eternal) calendar with pictures of quilts from my series „Play of Lines“.

The series was first initiated by a couple of charismatic line drawings by my then 2 ½- and 3-year-old son. A few of the quilts in the series, which has meanwhile grown to number XXIII, have also been inspired by other images of lines, but a number of those early line drawings are still begging me to be transformed into quilts. As had done the first in the series, which is featured on the title page of the calendar:

Play of Lines I (2008)

March features one of the two quilts on display in the international show Color Improvisations, curated by Nancy Crow.

Play of Lines VIII (2009)

Color Improvisations has been shown in Stuttgart (pictures of the opening can be seen here), Germany, and, a selection, at Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, France, and will again be on display in Karlsruhe, Germany, in May 2011. Further international venues are still being negotiated.

And June features another interpretation of the first drawing.

Play of Lines XI (2009)

All of these quilts are made of my hand-dyed fabrics.

Of course, not all twenty-two quilts of the series Play of Lines could be included in the calendar. If you would like to buy a calendar (€ 17 per copy, plus actual postage), please send me a mail here.

Those quilts which are not traveling with Color Improvisations, and No. XXI, which was sold to Canada during the most recent fund-raising for SAQA, will be on display in my next exhibition for two months, starting this coming Saturday.

I will give you more information about this exhibition tomorrow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fall colors have been mailed...

Two days ago I sent the first packages of hand-dyed fabrics. I have had a few reactions already and am glad to hear that the colors and fabric were well received. The fabric is a cotton sateen.

Here is a picture of the colors featured in this first package:

The extra piece, shown as the last in the rows in the picture above, looks like this in a close-up and is a damask.

The colors were mixed from various concentrations of red, yellow and black. This combination makes for these nice colors that resemble fall colors – befitting the time of year!

I haven’t decided yet which combination I am going to use for the January-shipment when the real subscription part of my fabric club will begin, but I am almost certain that there is going to be blue in it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November, full of plans

Out of the twelve different months of the year, November is the one I like the least. This is partly due to the fact that the days are getting shorter and shorter – and one knows after the end of the month there are still three more weeks of even shorter days before the winter solstice! Another factor is the weather in Germany in November – a lot of fog and drizzle etc.

However, this year seems to be slightly different. For one thing, the weather has been pretty good so far. Today was mostly sunny, and last remnants of foliage have a wonderful autumnal range of colors on display:

For another, the whole month is full with exciting things that keep me so busy I have hardly time to catch my breath.

It started with a scheduled weekend class at the Petersberg, a Catholic Community College where I have been teaching patchwork classes for several years. This one is going to be ‚Finish your UFOs!’, and I am really looking forward to it. I am curious to find out what kind of UFOs the participants are going to bring along, and what we are going to decide to do about them.

Sometime during the spring the administrator of Petersberg came up with the idea that they would like to host an exhibition of my works for two months, and we decided to match the beginning date with the class: November 20, the opening is at 7.30 p.m. If you should be around, feel free to drop in! So that meant I had to work on invitation cards, which really should have been sent by now, and of course I wanted to finish new quilts to show.

Then I had the idea that it would be nice to have something else in the realm of greeting cards and the like than just the greeting cards from my series ‚Metamorphoses’. So I set myself to designing a new calendar of my quilts from the series ‚Play of Lines’. That, of course, took several hours and days longer than originally intended. But I learned a lot more about the design program I use, and I am really proud of myself that I had the idea to make a perpetual calendar. It should have been printed by now and should arrive later this week.

Then my good friend Lisa Eiter asked me to teach my new class, „IQ – from inspiration to quilt“, at the Fraueninsel in Lake Chiemsee at the end of the month.

And, of course, there was this idea with the fabric club for hand-dyed fabrics, which also somehow demanded that the first shipment be sent during November... After several days of dyeing, cutting, wrapping them in tissue, registering the business, and investigating about adequate packing materials, the first sixteen packages are just waiting to be off the shelf. Aren't you curious to see what colours are in them? In just a few days the secret will be revealed. 

So the entire month is full of work and various things that need to be taken care of. I have been making lists and crossing things off, and it has kept me very busy, I did not even have time to notice the weather on those days when it wasn’t good enough for my taste.

And once I will have finished all of these, December will roll around, and there will be Christmas cookies to bake and …

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Quilting and dyeing

This month of November marks the ‚real’ beginning of my small business for hand-dyed fabrics, the central component of which right now is a bi-monthly fabric club .

Preparations had been going on since July, when my friend Regine and I spent a week together, assembling systematic dye charts from three colours. With these, we hoped to be able to arrive at (more) predictable dyeing results. In the end, it just seemed natural that those possibilities should be offered to others as well.

I had been thinking about a fabric club for hand-dyed fabrics off and on for several years after I had met the concept of fabric clubs when I had subscribed to one from a fabric store in California. I know about Bonnie Bucknam’s fabric club  for hand-dyed fabrics and have bought inspiring packages from her, Bonnie does a wonderful job with her colors. Then last October I got to know a representative for a fabric line, who told me about prices and accessibility of pfd-fabrics. And then, finally, that week of dyeing little bits and pieces, the hottest week of the year, we felt like we were ironing in the sauna!

I started a blog just two days ago, in which I plan to report for customers and interested observers on various developments as that fabric club evolves. The current plan for this business is geared toward the German-speaking community of aficionados for hand-dyed fabrics, which led to  the decision for a blog in German. However, dyeing is not the only form that my addiction to fabrics takes, which originally includes many wonderful hours of making quilts.

Modern quilts – art quilts – contemporary quilts, call them whatever you like. In order to make these quilts I started dyeing my own fabrics several years ago. Trials and errors, successful color combinations, experiments, and not a few attempts at overdyeing not-so-pleasing results were part of the was. I took a dyeing class with Heide Stoll-Weber, and a class in printing with Ann Johnston. But mostly I am self-taught.

My studio is full of boxes of hand-dyed fabrics. They are the back-bone to my art, which I would like to share with you in future postings.