Saturday, November 16, 2013

Be Still, My Heart....

"Art is this amazing thing where there is this huge effort to tell something, but it's mute.  It can never speak."  -- Stephen Sollins

Yesterday, I fell in love with the works of two artists unfamiliar to me: Sabrina Gschwandtner and Stephen Sollins.  These two, along with Luke Haynes, have art on display in the alt_quilts exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.  The exhibition is up until January 5, 2014 and I urge you to go see it.

"Gather up the fragments ... that nothing be lost" (John 6:12) is the biblical verse which sums up the nature of all three artists in the show. The first one you encounter as you enter the exhibition is Luke Haynes. Haynes buys clothing by the hundreds of pounds from Goodwill thrift shops, takes the clothing apart, and uses the parts to create his quilts.  I'd not seen a Luke Haynes quilt "in the flesh" and two things struck me in particular from this collection of quilts.  First,  I like his sense of humor, most notably in (Man Stuff #4) Elk Head, 2008.  As the placard next to the quilt read, "In the artist's words, the "mounted" animal head is "an homage to smoking rooms and hunting and the trophies displayed from acts of man-ism."  After making and titling the quilt, Haynes discovered that the elk head is in fact a white-tailed deer, but decided not to change it."   

Detail, (Man Stuff #4) Elk Head, Luke Haynes, 2008
 Second, I am intrigued by his use of anamorphic perspective.  In other words, an image looks distorted when seen straight on, but looks correct and three-dimensional when viewed from a specific angle.

(Self-Portrait #7) Over Here, Luke Haynes, 2013, seen straight on

(Self-Portrait #7) Over Here, Luke Haynes, 2013, seen from the right

Stephen Sollins thrilled me with his recycled paper pieces that are re-creations of traditional quilt patterns, but created with an intent beyond just derivative art.   Sollins uses any type of paper or Tyvek envelope that comes in his daily mail: junk mail, personal correspondence, bills, etc.  He then adapts the materials to a new purpose: artwork that references the past, but is created from patterned materials intended to shield personal data and/or confidential information.   In one quote on the wall it explained that "He recognized an analogue between the function of such decorative patterns to guard private information and similar patterns in fabrics that were used in quilts to guard the privacy of the bed."  

Many of his pieces were displayed close to antique quilts that served as inspiration.  I loved the comparison between the two.  One display case also showed all the intricate plans Sollins draws as he organizes his thoughts and develops his strategy for a piece.

Honeycomb Quilt Top, 1835-1845, England, Artist Unknown

Untitled (Grandfather's Garden), 2013, Stephen Sollins, inspired by hexagon paper-pieced quilts
Detail, Untitled (Grandfather's Garden), 2013, Stephen Sollins

Various plans, outlines, and pictures that Sollins used to create his piece,  Untitled (Return to Sender, after Mary Jane Smith, 1865),  2010

Sabrina Gschwandtner's work is absolutely amazing as well.  Her artworks were presented in LED light boxes because it's all constructed of 16mm film.  She couples her own film with footage from the 1950s -1980s that were deaccessioned by the Fashion Institute of Technology.  From a distance, you see thin strips of color that are joined together to form traditional quilt blocks.

 But as you get closer and closer, you see what the strips actually are.

Close-up of footage
Gschwandtner sews the film together on her Bernina sewing machine, overlapping footage and using a zigzag stitch to hold them together.  She considers the content of the films before splicing sections together, hoping to create a relationship not just of color, but of topic as well.   Gschwandtner is noted as understanding, too, the connection between early film and women's work.  Per the museum's literature, "women were among the first Hollywood film editors beause their conversance with sewing -- and their smaller fingers -- prepared them to cut, splice, and thread film."  There's a little warp to Gschwandtner's larger pieces and I think it adds to the impression of a flowing piece of fabric, disguising the actual nature of the material used.

Side view, Camouflage, 2012, Sabrina Gschwandtner
Alt_quilt will be on display through January 5th.  I hope you all can see these amazing works of art, by both old and new masters.

Soldiers' Quilt: Square within a Square, Artist Unidentified
1850-1880, England or United States; wool


Norma Schlager said...

This looks like another road trip! Thanks for the great review.

Kristin L said...

Fantastic! I wish I could come see the exhibit. I've been following Luke Haynes' work for a while and also love his sense of humor. I like the context he uses as well. He never apologizes for the work being quilts. I think I saw Geschwantner's work at an SDA group show and it was one of my favorites.

jeanne Marklin said...

Thanks for posting about this exhibit. Sounds like it's worth the drive for me. And there are so many other reasons to go to NYC!