Sunday, May 30, 2010

Live an Artful Life, Attend a Lecture

Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka of Artisan Batiks, a division of Robert Kaufman Fabrics

Some of my friends think I need to have my head examined, and frankly sometimes I agree with them. One of the more impulsive, (and interesting) things I have done in the past few months is to volunteer to be the Ohio representative for SAQA. Those of you in the know recognize this as the moniker for Studio Art Quilt Associates. In my quest to pursue life as a real, honest to goodness artist I joined this organization because its goal is to promote quilts as art and to promote textile artists, too.

Michael Mrowka Explaining the Design and Production of His Line of Artist Batiks
A few months ago, the position of Ohio representative became vacant and a call went out by the powers that be to fill it. Well, I waited around for a couple of weeks, but darn it, no one volunteered. So, I sent off a little email and just like that, I was the new rep (wish other things were that easy). This is when my friends questioned my sanity, and frankly so did I at the time, but it has already been interesting and I have had the opportunity meet some fantastic SAQA members. It is in my capacity as SAQA Ohio rep that I had the privilege to attend a lecture and interview Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka, also SAQA Ohio members. The way I natter away on this blog, some of you may have the idea that I am an outgoing person. Well, I've learned to fake it when necessary, and interviewing Michael and Debra following their lecture was a real treat.

Michael Displaying the Use of his New Batik Stripes (I bet you thought you had to do a lot of strip piecing. Nope, just cut big triangles.)
This artistic couple started manufacturing their line of batiks in Java, an island in Indonesia, several years ago. It takes 200 weaving machines to provide them with enough cotton fabric to produce between one and two million yards of batiks a year. This represents about 600 new designs every 365 days. The fabric is handmade in the hot and humid weather of Java, which lies close to the equator. Oddly enough, this extreme environment helps to set the dyes. The company employs about 250 workers, and Michael and Debra have dedicated themselves to giving back to the people who provide the quilt world with such wonderful fabric. They have a free lunch for employees each day, and live, eat and attend ceremonial events with their staff, many of whom they consider family. They adopted a Javanese daughter a few years ago and figured prominently in her wedding last year. In addition, they built a water treatment facility in the plant, returning only purified water to the river.

Larger View of Quilt Featuring Striped Line of Batiks

Debra and Michael met in a bookstore, so it is no surprise that their love of reading has inspired them to open a lending library called Ganesa in the community, which has just achieved non-profit status. The pair explained that reading and libraries are not an inherent part of Javanese culture, so they have had to encourage patrons to read and actually make reading suggestions to individuals reluctant to borrow books. They indicated that many of the books are non-fiction titles that teach skills such as crafts, fish keeping or fashion. In order to raise money for Ganesa, the couple had many half yard samples of their cherished designs for sale at the event, and 100% of the proceeds went to benefit the library. I admit I came home with several pieces to add to my stash, it was for a good cause (justification number 127). After attending this lecture, I will no longer complain about the high price of batiks. Considering the intensive labor, extreme working conditions and handmade nature of the end product, they are a bargain at half the price!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Art Floozies (or How to Host an Art Reteat)

Peggy and Jessica Eating a Hearty Breakfast

Some people will do just about anything to pursue their art. As an artist, you know you're running with the right crowd when they support you in your choice of buying art supplies over mundane items such as say, food. They utter comments like "you really need those paints," or "you've worked hard all your life, I really think you should buy that batik fabric." or, "your husband will get over it, what's he gonna do, divorce you because you bought some gesso? What about that new motorcycle he just got?"

Jessica with her Favorite Piece - She prefers working with stencils and her designs are usually intricate

My friend Peggy has been known to remark on various occasions, "I could be sitting in a bar right now, instead, I spend my money on some art supplies. so sue me!" That's why I belong to Southern Ohio Women Art Group. We support each other when it counts. Our group has been together somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 0r 6 years. Being artists, and over fifty, we tend to forget some of the details, but we all agree that it has been a wonderful arrangement.

Peggy Holding her Favorite Piece - She favors the slop and drip method

We meet once a month and learn a new technique, show and critique our work and report on the latest and greatest in the art world. We also visit galleries and openings, attend workshops together and hold an annual Christmas party in November (all right, so we're a little eccentric.) For the last several years (two? three?) we have held semi-annual art retreats. Sometimes we invite guests, but last weekend it was just the three of us at my house. On previous occasions we have learned how to do cyanotype and heliographic printing and encaustics. This year it was artist's choice surface design. Each person brought several yards of white muslim to use in anyway they wished.

Jessica Helping Me with My First Thermofax Screen Print

Because it is so difficult to work around every one's schedule, we decide on a date for the retreats at least 6 months in advance. Death or catastrophic illness are the only acceptable excuses for cancellation ( really, we even did sun printing on a rainy day). Besides making art, we all love to eat, so each person is assigned a meal or part of the meal well in advance. I'm not exaggerating when I say we eat like queens for the weekend. Our retreats always start on Saturday morning with a hearty breakfast and gourmet coffee. We discuss art and life and then get around to setting up the supplies that fill every one's car to the gills.

Jessica's Thermofax Screen Print - Jessica is a whiz at cutting linoleum prints, right now she is into chairs and she selected a series of ink prints to be made into a thermofax screen.

We work all day and laugh, perhaps guffaw is a better term, for much of the day. This time Jessica fell over backwards and went head over tail in the grass, causing much hilarity to all involved, at least the two of us left standing. We worked hard until lunch, which did not take place until 2:00 because we were so enthralled with the silk screening that we forgot to eat. Then back to work until dinner time. After dinner we imbibed in a decadent dessert and a glass of wine. Peggy and I went for a walk and returned to find Jessica attired in her night gown and sprawled on the couch reading art magazines. For a guilty pleasure, we watched the first series of Project Runway, pompously commenting about the questionable taste and rude behavior of the contestants.

Peggy working on a Heart Design - One of my tree silk screen prints drying on the fence.

Sunday morning we indulged in gourmet french toast prepared by Jessica and perused our work. Each person was in the possession of some pretty nifty surface design for use in upcoming projects. Peggy creates fabric books, Jessica fabric collage and me, more art quilts in the line up. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend with each person doing just exactly what they pleased. How we sacrifice for art!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Imitation is the Greatest Form of Flattery

IM Pei's Addition to the Louvre

I often get asked when/why I started making art quilts after focusing on traditional quilts for so many years, and the answer is somewhat complicated. The median age in my very first quilt guild was approximately 60 years old. My two friends and I were in our twenties with new babies at home, but many of the women were in their 70's. Keep in mind this is Central Ohio in the late 1970's. If you have a good memory, you will recall this was when Nancy Crow started making her wonderful abstract works, and I was lucky to see one of her first exhibitions at the Armory in downtown Columbus. This made a great impression, but I was heavily influenced by the women in my guild and the popular opinion was that Nancy's work was definitely made of pieces of fabric, but they weren't really quilts, why, rumor had it that she didn't even quilt them herself, and the stitches were so big and they weren't straight. Oh, my! So I continued making reproduction quilts for another 15 years, but I never forgot those quilts.

Artist Working in the Louvre

Then I started travelling and whenever possible, I visited art museums. First, just to see all those magnificent works I studied in Art History 101, preference was given to the Impressionists (still my favorites), those rablerousers that would not follow convention. Then I started to visit other museums like the Picasso Museum in Paris, Miro and Gaudi in Barcelona, Dali in Paris and Tampa, and Georgia O'Keefe in Santa Fe. I have also visited the Tate Modern in London several times as well as the modern wing of The Chicago Art Institute. I noticed that each one of these artists began their career copying conventional styles of the time and then developed their own distinctly recognizable style When I visited the Louvre, the place was littered with art students sketching and painting in many of the galleries (I wonder what kind of red tape one must endure to attain this privilege? I can see myself knocking over my easel, splashing paint on the irreplaceable treasures and being escorted either to jail or out of the country, not to mention the stress of being stared at by the throngs of visitors and being told that they preferred the original.)

In The Pink - 22x20 - 2007
My initial response to modern art was, "it's interesting, but I wouldn't want it hanging in my house." Over the years, however, it seems to have seeped into my psyche and slowly but surely into my quilts. One of my favorite artists is Matisse and I have made two quilts that replicate some of his famous paintings.

You Sew Girl - 18x22 -2007
I feel that he is one of my main influences. I love the bright colors and simple shapes in his work. The blue nude was created towards the end of his life. Confined to bed, he was still cutting figures from paper and painting murals on the walls of his room with aid of a long stick. I hope I will still be making art in some form or other when I'm eighty. So, I guess art quilts just kind of bubbled to the surface in an unexpected way, after a long period of exposure to modern art. I love the juxtaposition of old and modern, IM Pei and the Louvre. I am working hard to develop my own style, but learning from the masters is a time honored tradition. Thank you Henri, you're the bomb!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

Wild Blue Yonder
I have written several posts on the influence of travel on my work. I seem to require the contrast between the exotic and mundane to add meaning to my life and art. However, another event has also informed my most recent work. Just a couple of years ago, I considered a move to Southwestern Virginia, a seriously special place. I thought it was just me, but that is what the local visitors bureau had actually chosen as a tag line for their promotion of the area. The Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian culture created a magical lure. After much contemplation and soul searching however, I decided I could not leave Ohio.

Homeplace III: Farm at Rockmill - Lancaster, Ohi0

Relatives on both sides of my family have called Ohio home for many years, and on my Dad's side of the family, as early as the 1800's. They were a family of German immigrants arriving in America in the 1790's and eventually migrating to Columbus, Ohio to set up their family business, shoe making. They lived in German Village and one of my female relatives was an elementary school prinicipal and another sang German opera in the Dammenchor. My maternal grandparents were both graduates of The Ohio State University in the 1920's, my own collegiate alma mater.

Homeplace II: Cattle Barn, Lancaster, Ohio
As I was attempting to make my decision, all of these things were running through my mind. I never realized the extent to which I was anchored to this particular place in the world, but I was having a very difficult time when it came to the reality of leaving and not just the romantic contemplation of moving to a "special place." Once the decision was made, a very odd thing happened. It was like the scales had fallen off of my eyes, and I truly saw the beauty and "specialness" of my chosen hometown, Lancaster and environs.

Homeplace: Winter - Carroll, Ohio
After completing my Toscana series, which explored the joy of a visit to Tuscany, I was searching for a subject for my next body of work. Then I thought, why not express the same joy I experience everyday in my "own backyard?" After all, this is the other half of me. As much as I love to travel, I always find my way back home. I decided this would be the focus of this year's work. So far, I have completed four quilts and am still working, with a self-imposed deadline of completion set for July. Yes, I'm dreaming of my next adventure, but most days I get out of bed, slip on my ruby slippers and repeat, "there's no place like home, there's no place like home".... "there's no place like home."