Larry Schulte: The Half-Seen World

TSGNY: What is your medium?

Larry Schulte: I have never worked in just one medium.  The two kinds of work that I’ve done most extensively and have exhibited the most are woven painted-paper pieces based on the Fibonacci sequence, which I have been making for nearly 40 years; and screenprints, which I have been making for about 10 years.

"Grid 8," 34" x 34," woven painted paper. Collection Museum of Nebraska Art.

LS: I also make small works that I can create at home rather than in the studio.  These include woven photographs, paper-punched photographs, and stitched prints and photographs. I like to play with a variety of media – each medium teaches me something that I can apply to the other work.

"Metallic Red, 2008, "4" x 6", paper-punched photographs.

TSGNY: How does working in a smaller format in other media inform your larger work?

LS: The small woven-photo pieces don’t take much time — I can complete one in two to three hours.  The photos are of patterns and textures that I might want to create in a larger work.  With the small woven-photo pieces, the image is already there, so I don’t have to spend additional time in image preparation. This lets me see in a single evening how a circle image will interact with a square pattern image, which I can then translate into a larger woven painted-paper piece, or a screenprint. Similarly, the paper-punch pieces let me see immediately the results of layering one pattern over another pattern.

"Bridge," 2011, 4" x 6", paper-punched photographs.

TSGNY: How did you begin the woven-paper work?

LS: I was getting my Master’s degree in watercolor and at the same time I was taking several weaving classes.  At some point, I started weaving a paper weft into the fiber warp on a loom.  Eventually I did away with the loom altogether and wove paper with paper by hand. I start with two pieces of heavy white all-cotton paper, paint each piece with acrylic paint (one for the warp, the other for the weft), cut them into strips and weave them together.

Cutting painted paper strips to weave.

LS: When I was weaving on a loom, I worked with all kinds of techniques: ikat, overshot patterns. The woven painted paper pieces have a more simplified structure. Originally, I used a plain weave, simply over-under.  As the works increased in size, I made a modification to a twill weave, over two under one. This modified twill was also an iteration of the Fibonacci Sequence.  The twill weave also allowed the strips of paper to be closer together in a tighter weave, which keeps the painted image more intact.

"Red Field," 2010, 54" x 54", woven painted paper.

LS: The work has never really been about the medium, though, it was about creating a visual image of mathematical structure.  It’s just that the woven painted-paper medium was one of the most satisfactory ways I found of creating a visual structure.

TSGNY: That visual structure has a strong mathematical basis. How did the Fibonacci sequence come to play such a central role in your work?

LS: I chose the Fibonacci sequence many years ago, for several reasons.  I was a mathematician before I ever started making art.  I have a degree in mathematics, and taught math for a few years.  Yet when I first started making art, I was painting landscape.  I grew up on a farm, and nature is an important part of my work.  In a way, I feel that all of my work is landscape.  The Fibonacci numbers are related to the structure of nature. They occur in everything that is a spiral:  pine cones, seashells. One of my favorite places the numbers show up is in the head of a sunflower.  There are two spirals of seeds in a sunflower head, one clockwise and the other counter-clockwise.  The numbers of seeds in the two spirals are always two consecutive Fibonacci numbers. The width of the strips I cut always varies proportionally to the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, . . . each number always the sum of the two previous numbers).

"Squares 1," 2005, 4" x 6", woven photograph.

TSGNY: Your other main body of work is screenprinting on both paper and cloth.  When did you add that to the woven-paper work, and how does its imagery differ?

LS: I took a screenprinting class at Manhattan Graphics Center and responded immediately to the technique. I knew that I wanted to pursue it in depth.  I began creating patterns in Photoshop to use for the screens. Mathematics came into the work in the form of Moiré patterns as well as Fibonacci patterns of circles, lines, squares.

"Web Net Veil 86," 2010, 30"x 22", screenprint.

LS: My screenprinting images also include blueprints, EKG patterns, weaving patterns, topological charts.  I began layering all of these unrelated images to create new patterns. I called one grouping the “Chaos Series” because of the random way I was layering totally unrelated images.

"Science 65," 2012, 20" x 20", screenprint.

TSGNY: Does your choice of techniques enable you to do things you wouldn’t be able to do in other media?

LS: In all of my work, there is a kind of hiding, a kind of half-seeing, that requires the eye and mind to complete the image.  This is particularly true in the woven painted-paper pieces.  A circle painted on the piece of paper that become the warp strips still reads as a circle, even when half of the image is hidden under the weft strips.

"Culvert," 2010, 4" x 6", woven photographs.

LS: The same is true in the layering of ink in the screen prints.  The images I use always leave some open areas, so that the layers underneath show through. This “seeing through” would be difficult if you were strictly painting, or weaving, or drawing.

"Web Net Veil 10," 2009, 30" x 22", screenprint. Collection Dubuque Art Museum.

LS: I continue to explore this “half-seeing” in many media. When creating work to enter in the 9 x 9 x 3 exhibit, I experimented with layering felt for one piece, wrapping gridded wire with rayon in another, printing and stitching on cotton fabric for yet another.  Each of these experiments somehow involved layering, which seems to be a recurring theme in all my work.  The layering of felt started me thinking about other ways to create linear patterns.  The wrapped gridded wire started me thinking about other ways to create grids for screen printing that you could see through.  Stitching on cloth that has already been screenprinted is something I have been playing with for a couple of years, and may turn into a larger of body of work all on its own.  It’s a medium I want to investigate further.

"Untitled," 2011, 12" x 13", screen-printed stitched blacksilk.

TSGNY: Would you say your intent changes as a result of working with each new process?

LS: I am always amazed that I don’t know what my intent really is until a few years into a process.  For example, only in the past year did I begin to understand that part of what the layered screenprints are about is related to the internet, and the unlimited information that we take in each day.  The layering is a visual way of understanding and dealing with unlimited information.  Conceptually, I am dealing with the idea of creating pattern from chaos, mixing layers of unrelated images that result in a new structure. It’s as if I know intuitively what it is I am doing before I can verbalize what it is I have done.

"Untitled," 2011, 5" x 7", stitched photograph.

LS: My best work always comes when I allow the medium to work, when I don’t try to conceive too much in advance, when I simply respond to what has started.

"Science 84," 2012, 20" x 20", screenprint.

TSGNY: Thank you, Larry. Finally, are there living artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about?

LS: Living artists whose work I admire would include painter Steven Alexander, fiber artist Maureen Bardusk, painter and blogger Joanne Mattera, and TSGNY’s own Nancy Koenigsberg. My other influences include Kandinsky (especially his writings, including “Point and Line to Plane” and “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”); Mondrian, Anni Albers, Lenore Tawney, John Cage, Agnes Martin, and Gertrude Goldschmidt (Gego).  I’ve also been inspired and influenced by many outside of the visual arts world, particularly poets Mark Doty and Dale Kushner, pianist Aki Takahashi, choreographer Mark Morris, fiction writer Louise Farmer Smith, composers Eric Richards and Michael Byron, percussionist Haruka Fujii, and mathematician Stephen Wolfram.

I’ve collaborated with performing artists in the past, creating stage sets and woven costumes for a ballet company and very large-scale woven paper stage sets for the Japanese saxophonist Ryo Noda, when he performed at the Asia Society.

Woven painted-paper stage design, 1988, 6 panels, each 8' x 4', Asia Society.

TSGNY: You can see more of Larry’s work on his website.

Katherine Knauer: Tampering with Tradition

TSGNY: How do you describe your art process?

Katherine Knauer: I’ve been a craftsperson my entire life and a quiltmaker since 1976.  In 1984 I discovered that I could print my own fabric designs with stencils and achieve a much more specific, personal result than with commercial fabrics.  I could design and print a group of fabrics depicting various aspects of one theme and piece those together for a quilt with a specific viewpoint.  I’ve been handprinting fabric since then. In 2009 I taught myself to use Photoshop in order to use an online fabric printing service called Spoonflower. Each quilt I make reflects a specific topic, usually taken from news headlines.  I’m currently working on a series of pieces about environmental concerns.

"Second Wind," from the Elements/Environment Series, 2010, 88” x 88”

KK: In “Second Wind,” all the surface fabrics that I digitally designed were printed using Spoonflower.  The theme of wind energy is illustrated in each print by images of wind turbines or dandelion seeds blowing in the wind or electrical devices such as lightbulbs, electric fans or power cords.  Wind is further represented by the color blue, and electricity by the color yellow.   And then extensive surface embroidery enlivens the rather flat surface.

Before the Elements/Environment series, I made quite a few quilts on the subject of war. I believe the unexpected juxtaposition of a traditional craft associated with comfort and warmth and disquieting imagery brings an extra layer of energy to my work.

"Conventional Forces," 1986, 84” x 84”

KK: In Conventional Forces, a “conventional”  (traditional) quilt pattern – a Log Cabin variation – has been adapted to accommodate textiles I designed and printed with images of “conventional” (non-nuclear) war.  I handprinted all the fabrics with stencils. I selected the piecing pattern to accommodate relatively large sections of printed fabrics.

"Conventional Forces" (detail), 1986, 84" x 84"

KK: The centerpiece of this quilt is a large image of a tank type used in Vietnam.  Other printed images used as repeat-pattern textile design include paratroopers, a concentration camp, soldiers in formation, falling bombs, rows of M-16 guns arranged in a herringbone pattern, jungle fighters, hand grenades, tanks, aircraft and wounded soldiers.  In two of the patterns, commercially printed fabrics are overprinted – a pattern of barbed wire over camouflage fabric, and burning buildings on another print.  The reverse side of this quilt is a stenciled hand-grenade design that took three days to print.

"Conventional Forces" (detail of reverse), 1986, 84” x 84”

TSGNY: With Photoshop in your design toolkit, and subjects like war and the environment, do traditional quilt patterns still have a role to play in your work?

KK: I love textiles and find traditional geometric quilt patterns irresistible.  The history of the patterns is fascinating – the titles reflect not only their appearance but what was on the maker’s mind or events of that era:  Whig’s Defeat, Drunkard’s Path,  LeMoyne Star,  Jacob’s Ladder, New York Beauty, etc.   When I use a traditional pattern in my work I am referring both to the historic pattern title and the possible meanings behind it. For example, “Streak O’ Lightning,” a zig-zag pattern, to me means something that happens in an instant and changes your life forever.  I’ve used it to represent sudden death, the destruction of war, and recently to represent electricity in a quilt about wind energy for the environmental series.

TSGNY: In spite of your serious subject matter, your patterns and images could be characterized as cartoony.  Is that intentional?

KK: It’s the way my style emerged from the get-go. I may have been influenced by the coloring books of my childhood.  I like areas of color to have distinct, crisp edges; I like heavy outlines.  I also love the look of woodblock prints and the silkscreened travel and propaganda posters from the 1920s and 1930s.  And stencil printing is particularly good for limited detail and large areas of a single color.

Stencil Printing

TSGNY: Do you get a different result from the hand-stencil process and from Spoonflower?

KK: Yes.  With hand stenciling I’m able to overprint commercial fabric and print over seams.  The color is deeper and more permanent.  I can have the resulting fabric the same day. And by using an airbrush or spray gun I can get an ombre effect or translucent effect and cover large areas. (My first air compressor sounded like a jet plane taking off and was very distracting.  I sold it and bought a “Super Silent” compressor when I was awarded a cash grant from the Empire State Crafts Alliance in 1988.)  In “Trouble in the Tropics,” for example, I achieved the translucent paint effects by lightly overspraying stencil prints in sections of a quilt that was made following our vacation to South America.  Each “postcard” monoprint depicts an unfortunate event that might befall a vacationer in the tropics.

"Trouble in the Tropics" (detail), 1990

KK: The benefits of using Spoonflower are unlimited yardage and the ease with which I can change size, proportion, color and other design elements.  I can preview my fabric in various repeat formats.  It’s easy to correct mistakes and to reorder.  I can have lots of little details and an unlimited color palette.  It’s also just fun to play around on the computer using Photoshop.

TSGNY: If you’ve tried other media, and are clearly not averse to modern technology, why do you stick with quilts?

KK: Quiltmaking allows me to create large, colorful pieces while working in a limited space. (I have a great studio now, but for years, the exigencies of family life in an apartment squeezed my quiltmaking into whatever compact space was available.)  I love being part of a craft tradition, and feel a great kinship with the lacemakers, seamstresses, weavers, knitters and quiltmakers of previous generations.  I also have a terrific support group among my quilting pals.

TSGNY: After the design excitement of the processes that go into the surface layer, how do you think about the part of the work that ties you most closely to that craft tradition: the quilting itself, the stitching that joins the three layers of the quilt together?

KK: Semper Tedium!  (An invented pseudo-Latin phrase meaning:  Long live the labor-intensive artistic process!)  The quilting is the payoff after making the top of the quilt.  The process is hypnotic, meditative and trance-inducing, especially when combined with a good audiobook.

TSGNY: A motto to live by! Finally, are there artists who influence you whose work you’d like us to know about?

KK: I love Mark Bradford‘s huge exuberant collages with permanent wave endpapers and paint. Philip Taaffe’s multi-layered, over-printed paintings are mysterious, hallucinatory and beautiful.  Nick Cave’s “soundsuits” are simultaneously playful and imbued with deep personal meaning.  Ditto for the stitched constructions of Charles LeDray, whose ethic of “work, work, work, work, work” strikes a chord with me. I visit museums several times a week and find living in NYC an endless banquet of visual inspiration.

TSGNY: Thank you, Katherine.

You can see more of Katherine’s work here; at the TSGNY exhibit “Crossing Lines”; and in  “Material Witnesses,” at The Art Quilt Gallery, 133 West 25th Street, NYC, November 15, 2011 – January 7, 2012.