my textile career from 1975
The Venice Guggenheim Museum has just decided that this purported Leger painting, purchased by Peggy G, is incorrectly attributed. Not to want to pose as a told you so total smart arse, but, whenever I saw this work, [I believe it was exhibited in Australia], it seemed somehow more complex than Leger’s earlier imagery; a sort of hyper-Legerism.
To make a sound/visual analogy, when I was reading for my Bachelor of Arts degree in James Cook Uni, Townsville & Macquarie Uni Sydney, I fell totally under the influence of G M Hopkins, Dylan Thomas and T S Eliot. As a modernist phenomenon they contributed an obscurist, semi irrational, incantatory voice. My version in their wake was no less obscure, irrational and incantatory. So much so, that a lecturer at Macquarie gave copies of my poems, alongside works he had cut & pasted, to students in his tutorial. A ubiquitous characteristic of academic life seems to be one upping your rival, your actions basted over with a smear of impish malicious glee.
However, the process of appreciating any modernist artist, whether of word or visual image, is a precarious one; when it resorts to technically forensic methods, one wonders if aesthetic enjoyment has not been relegated to the sidelines. After all, even the greats have their off days. Consider Dylan’s poem about playing his magic flute in the privacy of his bedroom: “:my hero bares his nerves along my wrist”. Or to take a visual example, Henri Matisse developed a process of the ultra simplified line drawing; he covered whole walls of his studio in a grid of attempts, surely, most were the failures, the attempts that preceded the magical sleights of hand. An academic colleague, once describing his reaction to an exhibition of Matisse’s drawings, said he had to keep looking for the HM logo, because the work was SO childish, so trite.
Visual academia can no longer afford to dogmatically assert aesthetic standards; so intimately is the art world governed by the market, an eminent expert disparaging a work would logically result in its devaluation on the market, and its owner claiming a financial loss. Value and skill are relative concepts anyway; in his art & culinary doco tour of Sicily Andrew Graham-Dixon examines the Madonna & Child by Caravaggio in Messina & concludes: ” it’s not all that well painted, look at the shepherd’s shoulder, it’s wrong. But I don’t care”. At that point he was moved almost to tears & had to be rescued by his friend Giorgio Locatelli.
But we were talking about a historical process whereby great & important discoveries are made in a cultural areas, which act like the turbulent wake of a passing ship, prompting lesser craft to motions of acknowledgement. After all, Picasso said that lesser artists copy, the great ones steal. Is it not perhaps time to disclose the previously unnamed master of this work, in the style of Leger. To have fooled us all for so long, he has obviously successfully absorbed the visual idiom of Leger, taking it to the logical next step. Is that not what culture does?
Conversely, many younger artists merely copy works of previous eras, giving them a basic twist, such as a re-interpretation of medium; in a major art prize in Sydney, such an artist had to be reminded of the basic etiquette of titling one’s work as an homage. Frankly very little artistry is required in such an exercise.
Dirk Holger wrote: Remember Lurcat? His: "I will infect the world with the 'tapestry -virus'!" should also be our motto....and, please, not on a 'small format'-scale, but a BIG one! I recognize that Mr Holger has a true vested interest in Tapestry and obviously from his point of view the larger the better. On the other hand there are members of ATA who chose for their own good reasons to work in a small almost miniature format. I happen to be among that fraternity and perhaps it might be of interest to others as to why I do so. I live and create in 850 square feet of space, note the word 'live' which simply means all of the activities of life take place in that amount of space. To accommodate one huge loom I would have to give up my bed or vacate the Living room, obviously not a choice. Thus my loom sits on a computer desk, my thread stock decorates an entry wall creating an ever changing wall of color - which stops visitors in their tracks. Stored away in a locker you will find my spinning equipment, supplies and dyes. There is another aspect of urban life that we might possibly consider. Looking around this small city there is a building boom underway, true there are the imposing mansions obviously a place for Mr Holgers productions, but far more prominent are the multi-storey Apartments/Condominiums whose units are similar to the one I live in. Surprisingly they have walls, not the super-size of the public space but lower, smaller and far more intimate. They are in fact ideal for the display of smaller size art objects. Objects that demand the viewer approach and look carefully, to consider and appreciate the nuance and depth of the artist's vision. I would suggest that the total aggregate space in this type of accommodation far outweighs that available in the larger, more imposing venues beloved of the grandiose productions that are "real Tapestries" I work in a small format, I want the crisp edge, the clean vertical line, the carefully constructed curve. I want the viewer to be within inches of my work, not to have to stand back far enough for the eye and mind to do the blending that the coarse weft demands. My work needs those small spaces, the close approach, the appreciation of a miniature work that has taken months to create. Possibly, just possibly there is a market for tapestry that is not being served, but awaits the efforts of those who can see and appreciate an opportunity that is rising all around the urban landscape. Charles Gee My response: I liked Charles Gee's spirited defense of the small format tapestry with also his perfectly reasonable exposition of the domestic scaled art work for smaller personal environments.It seems to me that with Dirk's almost organic insistence on the rightness of large scale in tapestry, he can hardly complain about the academic's rejection of tapestry. We all have some prejudices when it comes to art; the scope of our tastes necessarily has its limitations. What strikes me about the debate, as undergone so far, is that people are inclined to defend their positions. I am aware that within the Dutch art tradition, weaving generally, as in Middle Eastern carpets, the byproduct of colonialism, but especially woven tapestry were especially prized. In fact, painting limped in the rear of this grand tradition. Nor is this the first time such a reversal has occurred: Roman art prized woven carpets and tapestry highly, and the villas of the elite featured tessellated floors of mosaics that imitated carpets. One wonders if this situation of relative art forms may have projected into contemporary times the fetish value of huge art works. Did the impressive size of huge atelier tapestry looms dominate the aesthetic imagination of successive generations. I know a friend, looking at my tapestries, praised a particular work, saying it was of museum size, this, irrespective of inherent aesthetic value. It is my belief that like the pomposity of Victorian history paintings, many works to be found hung on museum walls during annual art events are particular- ly devoid of any engagement with the materials of image making: subtleties of line, colour, shading, to the extent that academics are finding it necessary to reappraise the importance of the craft of image making. A corollary of this, it seems to me, is that smaller works need greater artistic proficiency to convince the viewer. Perhaps the ability of a person to engage with the work at closer quarters means that greater scrutiny is possible. The several writers I quoted at the beginning of this post have taken respective positions on the characteristics of effective tapestry weaving: large scale image or miniature; while I currently am engaged with miniature images, it seems to me that many powerful visual images are constructed at the cutting edge of several art disciplines. Such hybridity is no excuse for an absence of engagement with the materials, the constituents of craft. Yet, forging new craft genres, in my case, button/weaving/ object/ braid assembly, makes possible energetically NEW points of view. Hybridity seems to occur historically when the big explorations have just happened and the successors of such geniuses are able to consolidate, looking back to the one off aesthetic accidents, looking forward to what such modes have of relevance for the future. _______________________________________________
Baby Turtle Swim, 29 cms H X 41 cms W, button assembly, ecclesiastical braid, silk base.
Process is really the organism, the mechanism, the skeleton, the lifeblood, the connective tissue of all the components of a work of art. Any artist having been laid fallow by the absence of inspiration knows the cautious mode with which the empty field of work is approached. Last week was occupied with medical procedures; thus the anatomical imagery.
A while ago, at my local resale store, I discovered some wonderful wrist ornaments; they pleaded to be deconstructed. One was made entirely of paua shell, punctured top mid centre, & required several stitches to hold it fast, in a fan shape, then several surrounding buttons for the remaining three sides. Another wristlet was made of pearlescent oval shapes, alternating with black glass beads. The oval pieces were the intro into my nautical work by suggesting the motion of the turtle’s flippers. What remained was a convincing way to describe the turtle’s shell, irregular shapes edged with black.
Suddenly, the different buttons & shells were able to contribute the variety of their narratives as a way of suggesting all the events, the incidents and accidents of the wild, beachscape, the mad, frantic dash to the water to escape the birds’ hunting swoops.
Various tactics were compiled as parts of the overall picture: the turtle became outlined with yellow, which suggested the soft, growing shell; more evocative of the quartz glints of sandy beach were shell buttons and paua shell. Finally, in parallel with the undulations in the silk background, a horizon line was laid down, suggesting the turtle’s emergence on different waves, alternating water and spray and salty air.
Finally, the four pillars that contained the story, made of ribbon & braid; what challenged me by their choice was the dance that happens at the seaside, between blue, yellow and green, depths of water, glinting sunlight and reflections of organic growth.
1 – no fee for entry
2 – Moca On Line – submit jpegs between 250-500 kb to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
3 – For exhibit in Light Street Gallery – make arrangements to bring art to me – call 240.506.8943 to set up time, etc
4 – Sit back and wait for the Opening Reception Friday night, 6 pm to ???
5 – Log on to www.MocaOnLine.org - for the online show
6 – Make it over to Light Street Gallery to see more figurative art than you ever could imagine – some of it yours, all of it great – 3 stories of nothing but nudes – and some other figurative work that qualifies as eroticLabels required: Artists name, title of piece – or untitled – medium – size (only for online submissions) – price – or NFSThe April exhibit will be somewhere in DC – am scouting around for a suitable space, so if anyone has ideas, let me know.If you are interested in being on a casual committee to resurrect Moca, let me know and we’ll see where it leads.Questions? contact me on my cell 240.506.8943 or via this email address – David.R.Quammen@gmail.com
A group of fellow tapestry weavers have proposed a new project of the self portrait. People elaborated whimsically around the idea.
Then I responded: “What I’d like from the project is a legitimization of the process of an artist creating images of themselves without inferences of self-infatuation, indulgence etc; the term “selfie” verges on a new, online narcissism. ” As a Dutch/ Slovenian/Italian/Australian visual artist, my points of reference were self portraits by Rembrandt & Van Gogh.
But, as I rummaged in my backyard & garden, I realised the situation was more complex than I had first imagined. Please do not think that I write the following, in any way as a critique of women. As a 1950′s child I grew up in my mother’s shadow; she was my hero, she taught me to cook & sew, while my overworked dad was absent, working long, dirty hours in a sugar mill, to pay the mortgage. Even when I left home and no longer spoke the language of my rural, migrant family, instead, the university polysyllables of my Bachelor degree, my mother continued to be important, if often as an irritant. Germs Greer was my 1970′s cultural heroine, alongside Simone de Beauvoir, Francoise Sagan, Shulamith Firestone et al. Even today the blond haired, mauve eyed goddess Ellen de Generis looms large on my horizon.
However, as I am sure Greer’s Female Eunuch would attest, women have always looked in the mirror; there is a several times daily ritual of self-actualisation that goes on with a woman’s mirror. It seems to me then, the process of reflecting [pun intended] that process translated into woven image would differ from a male self-regard. I’m not sure how both processes could even be validly exhibited together.
What I mean is that women have a more professional & prosaic attitude to their image: it is important for them to adjust appearance. Men by contrast, as we still are not sanctioned to use cosmetics, are perfunctory. Comb the hair, no dripping boogers?? How do we express that in visual images? #3 self image shown below was greeted by a friend with the comment: “You’re not that handsome”. Perhaps that indicates in me an element of narcissism? Or, is there at play a basic human instinct to try to present well, or an artist’s primal instinct to polish the image??
Linda Wallace I have some conflicted, complex thoughts on this, Anton. A portrait, by definition, objectifies the subject. As a feminist, I am reluctant to engage in the process – but, if i create a self-portrait, do I employ a similar objectifying gaze? Would I/could I BE objective about the person I see in the mirror or in my memory? Am I to render an exterior image or the woman who lives inside me? You’ve given me some tremendous material for thinking along lines I’ve not explored for a long time.
Katie Russell scary yes, but then for me I’ve never studied portraits before. I’m know that I am tensing up when weaving sections and I just have to try and relax. Also I have to keep reminding myself that I have done the weaving techniques before, it is just the subject matter that is different. But it is good to push yourself out of a comfort zone sometimes.
Misha Nathani I like the notion – but I am hard put to it to get a likeness – perhaps I must think about illustrating my characteristics in another way…
Anton, what you observe, I think is true. /Self-eez/ sounds like /self-ish/, and poetry teaches us that sound-alike words embed their meanings in each other. Taking a guess on behalf of others, and speaking for myself, I feel the on-line narcissism implied by the term *is*off-putting, maybe more like repugnant--and because my reaction to it is strong I can't ignore it. I think it is a little silly-sounding word with abundant implications for the idea and value of the self, the individual, in a media-/ social media-constructed world. (I don't know if I want to believe that world exists--for me it exists only in *belief* in it--but it clearly exists for my seventeen-year-old, who is not vain and self-obsessed, but complex and ironic in creating her everyday social media persona.) Whether to be ironic, satirical, metaphorical or plain exhibitionistic in creating a self-portrait is a response that comes from deep in an artist's nature. There is also the possibility of honest visual observation, a respected approach with an amazing tradition. The broader our range of responses to this theme, the more meaningful and valid our exhibit will be. Margaret
Janet Austin I did self portraits (as a painter) because I was the most convenient model (always available) and I have always been fascinated by faces. I wove a few but swore off as they were very difficult. If a still life is a little off who notices, but when my self-portrait was a little off I was squinting….can’t have that, must unweave and re weave over and over. At 61 the whole looking in the mirror experience has changed, so I am interested in what the 61 year old equivalent of the adolescent selfie could be?
Anton Veenstra good call; I joined a drawing class once & had a card of one of my portraits, the teacher saw it n said: good shading; he should get his class to weave n learn shading that way; I looked at him n he realised the absurdity of what he’d just said. We should celebrate the real achievement of portraying someone in weaving or button assembly; it’s a lot harder than line n paint.
I’m still sleepless in the middle of the night, having waged war on cockroaches in the kitchen. I’m still awake, planning a studio in my backyard garden. Currently, there’s a nasty aluminium shed there, hot as an oven in mid-summer heat, so I never go there. It has to go.
I’ve been meditating on rejection lately, because I entered a textile competition & my proposal was turned down. I’d submitted a quirky image, with a bit of humour involved, a portrait of the aussie bower bird, the male has a lifelong attraction to BLUE; so he collects blue things for his bower, which is a display stage as well as passion pit.
I have a horribly sinking thought the judge took a tone with the works she selected, determined to display, not just her aesthetic prowess, but the prestige of the craft involved. The trouble is that there are many aspects to a good work of art; tone & manner, as we say down under, aren’t all. I’m reminded of a painter who was a member of a well known Glaswegian group, they were known for their rough style. He described his work as rough but still accomplished, or words to that effect, a contemporary version of art concealing art, I guess.
Well, it’s back to bed for me; no more plans about recycling stuff for the studio.
In 1914 Marcel Duchamp created his readymade the Bottle Rack. The work fits neatly in a tide of industrial anthromorphic work. The most remarkable is Picasso’s Bull, created from a bicycle seat and handlebars. For a Spaniard to evoke all the primitive energy of the bull, using bits of the vehicle with which he probably negotiated the streets of Paris [?], perhaps not, but it fits in a Jungian sense, given the chakra centre at the base of your spine being what rests on the bike seat. Of course in the sense of that Irish joke about hormonal cycles, a whole generation of artists was cycling. Brancusi created birds which looked like aircraft parts. Gaudier-Brzeska, Modigliani, Gauguin, even Van Gogh, all created images, whether painted or sculpted, that were primitivist; however, more & more, these works came to contain elements from an industrial age. That way, although undoubtedly it was not a conscious decision by the artists, the works could not be considered caricatures of the work of indigenous cultures.
Today, we have receded from the concentrated expression of the 1950′s, Rauchenberg’s use of debris from the streets of New York, the most obvious beingthe tyre around the goat. His word for his objects was combines. The contemporary re-working of the genre includes the concept of the cyborg, the part animate, part robot, recently made hilarious by Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory sitcom. The sculptures seem whimsical and playful; for me lyricism is always a welcome note in art, before it sinks to the rock bottom of sentimentality. It means the artist is sufficiently relaxed to play with the materials at hand; they, in turn, are recycled, contributing the political comment about finite planetary resources. The half portraiture, half industrially abstracted combination gives the artist a welcome sense of having come to terms with otherwise alienating elements of the environment.
I know the concept needs work, likewise the pithiness of the label. All in the fullness of time.
The inspiration for this concept came from an episode of Kevin McCloud’s Man Made Home, where he enlists the help of sculptor friend Jason Lane to design his hammock. Jason Lane’s website is generously illustrated with his anthropomorphic creations.
Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories are wonderful in so many ways. His curious story The Queer Feet, which is as much a music clip or material capable of being choreographed as it is prose, has the wonderful observation: “every work of art, divine or diabolic, has one indispensable mark — I mean, that the centre of it is simple, however much the fulfilment may be complicated”. I note that, in my work weaving tapestries, I have created a floral series and a series of birds. Re the former, I once remarked to a friend that the flower was the sexual organ of the plant. “You’ve got yr Mardi Gras”, she retorted, “”you don’t need to bring sex into everything”. And, I must admit, I’ve created quite controvertial works depicting the rampant male organ. Not to everyone’s taste, I’ve been told at exhibitions.
The birds got me thinking, lying in bed. Father Brown’s comment makes sense. At the heart of the avian series lies the fact that at the start of the millennium my friend & I brought two fine bred cats, Tonkinese, into our house. At first, I bridled at the elaborate & expensive veterinary treatments they required; I thought of refugees in Africa who would never see medical care so elaborate. Then, as overbred animals are liable, they succumbed to horrible deaths; their passing was excruciating, events one would not want to repeat. Having moved my mattress into an open living area so that my brain affected cat could crawl uneventfully to its toilet tray, & watched it slowly shrink with dehydration, even though I administered water by syringe, subcutaneously, I resolved not to repeat the experience. Instead, I enjoyed my gardens, front & back, filled wherever possible with indigenous plants & trees. They were soon populated with local birds. I realised that I now lived in the cage, and they were my visitors. We could all exercise our sacred rights appropriately. This was the simple core of a series of tapestries.