Sunday, May 31, 2009

Paula Nadelstern at the American Folk Art Museum

On Friday evening, I had the privilege of joining a small group of SAQA-NY members touring the Paula Nadelstern exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum with Paula herself as our guide. Paula is the first contemporary quilt artist to have her work featured in a one-person exhibition. Paula is incredibly articulate about her work, coupling her explanations with a bit of self-depricating humor. She very ably explained her work in a way that even those without piecing experience could understand. I think it helps that Paula's not a mathematician. She's someone who "just" had an idea and wanted to figure out a way to express it artistically.

Although the exhibit is not arranged chronologically, that was primarily the way Paula led us through it. This was very helpful in understanding the progression from one piece to the next. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how each quilt brought up a question or a problem that she wanted to explore more. How can I make this off-center? How can I make more points meet in the center to create more complex designs? These are just some of the questions Paula asked herself. She answered them for us at the exhibit, using the quilts she created from her exploration.

It's amazing to realize that Paula doesn't do any curved piecing; it's all minute slivers of straight seams! In preparation for the exhibit, Paula had created several stand-alone kaleidoscope blocks. Luckily, the museum had the foresight to frame one of her blocks in the reverse so you can see what the back of one block looks like. All those seams! Paula admitted that she steams and presses relentlessly during construction, but I forgot to ask her how tiny she trims some of her seam allowances to accommodate them all. (The set of notecards for sale in the gift shop are replications of some of these blocks -- with the back of the block on the reverse. Yep, they're very cool.) All the seams are even more miraculous to me because Paula uses a variety of commercial fabrics in her artwork. She has judicious use of silk, which adds some beautiful sheen and shimmer to the quilts. But she also has some thicker fabrics as well. I'm amazed that she's able to use all those fabrics, yet keep the final piece so flat and put some teeny tiny hand quilting stitches in it as well.

Paula also educated us on the basics of kaleidoscopes. I now know the difference between two, three, and four mirror kaleidoscopes. Two mirror kaleidoscopes result in the mandala (or circular) images; three mirror kaleidoscopes create an "infinity" type of image. Paula replicates the images of two mirror kaleidoscopes in her work. This was great to understand since the exhibit also included five beautiful kaleidoscopes that were available for us to look through. Some of the artists are friends of Paula's and she had interesting stories to share, including how one kaleidoscope maker used a honey jar and found objects suspended in glycerin to make his piece!

Paula was modest in saying that, because she doesn't have a formal background and/or training in the arts, the museum may have felt she was a good fit for a "folk art" museum. I'm sure that this point wasn't lost on the museum curator. However,it's hard to deny that Paula has taken a traditional folk art form, mastered it, and taken it in new and exciting directions. Quite frankly, her work is brilliant and I'm sure that's what first drew the curator to Paula and her work.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Holy Smokes!

I just opened yesterday's mail this morning. There was a white envelope from Interweave Press included in the pile. "Hmm", I thought to myself. "What did I order? I can't remember."

Well, I opened the envelope and there was the June/July 2009 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine. Could it be? YES! MY "ROCK ON!" PIECE WAS PUBLISHED and this was an advance copy of the magazine! I screamed so loudly my youngest thought a burglar broke into the house.

This is quite an honor and I'm absolutely thrilled. Here's a picture of my entry, though QA photographed it much better. And check out all the entrants on the Quilting Arts blog. Everyone did amazing work.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rainy day inspiration

While drizzly / rainy days are often great studio days, I've had a day filled with appointments and running errands, like getting the car emissions inspection complete on my husband's car. I know -- very exciting. Fortunately, I took a quick walk with the dog this morning and found a rainy day opportunity: rain drops on leaves. Pretty cool in a close-up. Now, how to translate this into a quilt? Is it even a good idea? Is it better in black and white or color? (The latter is not as crisp because it's cropped from another picture with a different focal point; I didn't think to take one of the water droplets in color - ARGH!) Is there enough contrast? How would you translate the translucency of the water? Beads seem obvious, but actually are probably too regular; the raindrops are all different sizes and shapes. Is this just one of those things that's better as a photograph? Perhaps it would be best to abstract from the inspiration. Questions, questions, questions.....

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weed or take pictures?

Maybe I ought to start weeding instead of taking pictures -- but then I wouldn't have caught the seed just getting ready to fly or been able to marvel at how golfball-like a dandelion head is.

Taking black and white pictures is helping me to understand and appreciate contrast, value, detail and shadow in a way that color photography hasn't. How unexpected. Nope, I don't think I'm going to rush out to weed; I'm enjoying myself immensely.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An Artistic Struggle

The picture of the shredded billboard from my recent NYC walk had me inspired and excited for the Dirty, Smelly, Noisy exhibit. I had so many ideas zooming about in my head that, at first, I simply couldn't get started. When I finally did get to work... well, that first attempt met its death by my own hand. It was awful, so dreadful I couldn't send it out with my name on it.

The demise of that piece left me with just a few days to make something new. Now what? All my ideas still weren't making their way from my brain to my hands. I tried again, using the wonky strip piecing method I've used before. It was certainly better, but still wasn't conveying what I wanted for a Dirty Smelly Noisy exhibit. It needed some "schmutz" so out came gauze, oil paint sticks, newspaper pieces, embroidery, machine stitching, and stenciling.

Here's the final piece. I'm calling it "Billboard Shreds" in the hopes that the name will help viewers understand what the heck I was trying to do. While I'm not 100% happy with it, I don't think I'll be totally embarrassed, either. If nothing else, it's helped me hash out some ideas. What do you think?

Detail of some of the "dirt":

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Peonies and Poppies

Lovely flowers from my morning walk.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Quick Trip

I'm just back from a quick trip -- Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon -- to the Chicago suburb of my childhood. My family and I traveled to help my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary! (Wow, huh?) I knew that I was the designated party photographer, but I didn't know that I'd also come home with some interesting pictures from the jaunt to the Midwest. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sunlight and shadow on the observation deck of our local airport:

On the road with the Weiner Mobile -- Ha!

An experiment with black and white photography, mid-day sun and a succulent in my mom's garden:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ferns and the City

I love the unfurling of ferns in the spring, but I was unsuccessful at capturing them with my camera this year. But, I did take two pictures last week that I unexpectedly like: one that feels jungle-y with dew and another that highlights the curve of a new leaf with a mass of ferns beyond. There's not a lot of color contrast in the pictures, but I really like the saturated greens and the tangles and chaos.

I'm also working on my submission for "Dirty, Smelly, Noisy Two" to be held in June. Hurrah; I've been inspired by the city! Here's a snippet from the photo that started my mind racing. Looks a little Jackson Pollack-ish, don't you think? I'm so excited about this!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Creativity - Part II

Collage for Still Life With Reclining Nude, Lichtenstein, 1997; now at the Katonah Museum of Art, New York

I want ... [my paintings] to look as though I never corrected anything and it just came that way. But I go through all sorts of contortions to make it look that way. Roy Lichtenstein

I recently had the pleasure of attending two exhibits at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York. The first is called "Lichtenstein in Process". This exhibit focuses on the creative steps Lichenstein took to create his paintings. Most often he would start with a quick pencil sketch. Next, he would make a more refined drawing, sometimes changing composition and adding or deleting elements in successive drawings. Lichtenstein would then create a new version of the drawing, this time adding color. He would project this drawing onto the wall to enlarge it and develop the shapes he needed for a collage of the piece. When he was finally satisfied with the composition of the collage piece, Lichenstein would translate it all into a painting, using tape and collage pieces to attain crisp edges.

It was fascinating to see the progression from initial idea to final piece, how Lichtenstein reworked an idea until he was satisfied with it. (In fact, it was downright encouraging to see visible pencil lines and erased areas in his sketches!) Some of the process almost seemed akin to paper applique. It was great to see an incredible piece of his Asian inspired artwork that is so different from his pop-art style artwork, yet still created with his signature Benday dots and lines. Even if Lichtenstein isn't your favorite artist, this is a wonderful exhibit for anyone interested in learning about the creative process of an artist.

Outside the museum, in the Marilyn M. Simpson Sculpture Garden, is another treat: four Chakaia Booker sculptures. Chakaia Booker creates amazing sculpture by manipulating rubber tire pieces. To my eye the pieces look organic, even though they've been created with a material so typically aligned with the mechanical. It was so interesting to me that each sculpture here had what appeared to be a front and a back, with different surface treatments for the reverse sides. Some of it looked like armor, while others looked like intertwined loops; some were pointy pieces that could be thought of as fur. In the museum literature it states that "... two [sculptures] suggest representation - human, floral, or marine - although Booker is committed to abstraction." Well, so much for the fur theory. But what I can tell you is that it was amazing to get up close and walk all around these marvelous sculptures. They are intricate and at times, delicate, even though rubber tires are not. I loved being able to see the sculpture from all sides because the views changed so much depending on your viewing perspective. The Garden gives each piece ample room to be seen alone, but it's small enough to take them in together as a unified exhibit.

I think it's cool that early in her artistic journey, Booker worked with fabric. Booker has terrific mastery of her chosen medium and is now also working with steel -- she created a steel wave for a public art commission in New Jersey last year -- and I find that incredible. What a creative journey!

Chakaia Booker: Take Out, 2008 (Full and detail)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Creativity -- Part I

Woman in a hairnet, 1938, Pablo Picasso; Collection of Julian and Josie Robertson, NY

Robert Genn's May 5th newsletter spoke about sterility. No, not anything medical. Artistic sterility -- doing the same thing over and over again. What once might have been original and new, becomes stale and uninteresting after a while. The key to artistic fertility, he says, is continually to try new things. He used Picasso's prolific career as an example. Genn then succinctly wrote up a list of tasks that can facilitate creativity. They are

"Change your media.
Mix your media.
Change your working environment.
Change your tools.
Exercise your body.
Study your favourite artists.
Jump around a lot.

If you are a slow worker, speed up. If you are a speedy one, slow down. Above all, grab something and get started. The learned ability of renewal is as necessary to the creative mind as holding a brush. And as brushes are often replaced, there can always be another love."

I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately and I've been scouring articles, books, newsletters and the like to help me along. I've read a few things in the past week that have struck a chord with me. I'm hoping that today, I can use at least one of Genn's suggestions -- I think it may be jump around a lot.