Ann Roth: Planned and Unplanned

TSGNY: What is your fiber technique?

Ann Roth:  I work with the simplest of all weaving patterns — plain weave — but I use fabric strips for both warp and weft. The warp starts as whole cloth (100% cotton; bleached, de-sized and mercerized), which I dye using shibori techniques I’ve adapted.

Shibori warp in process.

AR: Before I do any dyeing, I map out areas that will eventually be bound or blocked off and go over the lines using a long basting stitch. This keeps the lines ‘readable’ after going through the dye, and helps me gather the fabric evenly. I do this for straight lines and to outline circles. In some cases, I cut two identical pattern forms from corrugated plastic board and clamp them together with fabric in between. Because of the width of my fabric strips, I have to widen circles into ovals to allow for the condensing that occurs when the warp is threaded on the loom. After all the warp fabric is dyed, I rip it into strips, maintaining the pattern order. I use ikat techniques to dye the weft strips.

Warp going on loom.

AR: As much as I dislike using a computer to make art, I have found it to be a valuable tool for the design process. Using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, I can make quick schematics of composition ideas. This greatly speeds up my ability to change and relocate colors and patterns. I can even approximate the effect of the optical mixing that occurs when weft overlaps warp by creating a weft color composition, reducing the opacity, and layering it over the warp composition.

Warp and Weft Schematic

AR: Sometimes precisely calculated, sometimes left to chance, the colors meet and/or overlap as the weaving progresses. These variations can create both subtle and dramatic forms and color contrasts. All of this play with color and pattern creates the illusion of layered, deep and contemplative spaces.

Weaving in process.

TSGNY: Ikat and related techniques exist in many cultures. Are there particular cultures whose textile traditions have a particularly strong influence on you?

AR: In 2010, I traveled to Uzbekistan to see Central Asian textiles and came home laden with lengths of ikat cloth, ranging from very simple patterns in cotton to meters of silk with complex patterns entirely dyed with natural dyes.

Ikats by Fazli tdin Dadajonov, Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan

AR: The exuberance of the colors I found not just in fabrics, but also in their food markets and bazaars dared me to open up to strong color and pattern in my work. The love and commitment of the artisans to their craft boosted my confidence to follow my own artistic instincts. My recent work is all inspired by that trip.

"Shadow of the Silk Road" (2011) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed, ikat weft; handwoven; 3 panels, each 65.5” x 27”; overall 65.5” x 85”

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working with this combination of ikat, shibori and plain weave?

AR: While I was in graduate school at the University of Kansas, I was inspired by landscape — in particular, the moods and appearances of the ocean off Deer Isle, Maine –  I worked at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts during the summers. The structure of Japanese armor, which I “read” as systems of marks, led me to make rows of diagonal and vertical marks on layers of semi-transparent parachute nylon I found at the state salvage store. I dyed and printed on the fabric and also glued on fabric strips. The pieces were large (around 6’ x 8’) fields of 2-4 layers of fabric sewn together in rows and gently gathered.  There was visual and physical depth, and they created the feeling of being in a physical environment.

Ocean Visages, MFA Thesis Exhibition, University of Kansas (installation view) Nylon: dyed, printed, collaged, hand sewn; sizes vary, approximately 72” x 84”

AR: When I finished my MFA I no longer had access to a large wall space, so I turned to the loom to explore my interest in Japanese ikat and shibori techniques. The idea of working with fabric strips for warp as well as weft just surfaced. Maybe it came from a residual memory of making cloth loop potholders when I was young? Initially I intended to make rugs, tapping my interest in Japanese and Scandinavian traditions of making the functional beautiful. I grew up sewing, loving fabrics and the beauty of quilts and rag rugs. I quickly abandoned that concept once I realized how much time I was already putting into the dyeing and weaving process.

"Leap Year" (2012) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven; 3 panels, each 64” x 38”, overall 64” x 126”

TSGNY: Does your technique pose any particular challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

AR: There’s a lot of math involved in figuring how much fabric is needed for each piece, but that seems to fit with my personality. I’ve worked out shrinkage and uptake percentages and made an Excel template that performs the calculations. Rolling on the warp is an exercise in patience because ½” strips of fabric at 6 e.p.i. stick together.

TSGNY: Would you say this technique enables you to do things you have not been able to do in any other medium?

AR: I ask myself sometimes why I don’t paint, and the answer is: I like to have direct contact with materials, to hold them in my hands. There is a lot of repetition in measuring, binding and then unbinding for shibori and ikat, stripping the fabric, threading the read and headless, treadling and passing the shuttle that is calming and reassuring.

"Margilon 1 and 2" (2011) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven, 2 panels, each 32” x 28”, 32” x 59 overall

AR: The processes I use to create my weavings connect with the part of me that likes to plan and calculate, but they also thwart those inclinations in very healthy ways. I can calculate distances and patterns all I want, but I am prone to math errors, and there is always the serendipity of dye leakage. As hard as I try to maintain an even tension as I roll on the warp, there is always some displacement of pattern elements. The challenge of opening up to the reality versus the plan has been freeing emotionally and extremely exciting.

"Here" (2011) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven; 32” x 28”

AR: I also make paper weavings to try out ideas. Because the ikat and shibori weavings are so labor intensive, I have learned to be more playful through making these small paper weavings. It’s an easy, quick and fun way to experiment with color and pattern. I rarely make a weaving that is strictly an enlarged study, but use the paper experiments to ignite and process ideas.

Paper weaving

AR: It’s been both liberating and fulfilling to relax my need to have the “correct” answer instead being willing to embrace the unknown as a revealing, rewarding adventure.

“Passages 4: Release” (2012) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed weft, handwoven; 48” x 35

TSGNY: Has your artistic intent changed as a result of working  in this ikat/shibori process?

AR: My MFA thesis committee suggested that I explore making the marks that I was applying to the surface of the fabric become part of the physical structure of the finished piece. I am still interested pursuing marks as structure to create large fields, but I don’t have a large enough space to do that. In my weavings, I continue to explore the illusion of layers and depth I was exploring in my MFA thesis. By making multi-panel pieces, I can also work on a large scale as with Leap Year and Shadow of the Silk Road. I find myself moving away from the color field concept for the present. I still think about “building” marks, though.

"Shadow of the Silk Road" (detail)

TSGNY: Finally, are there living artists who inspire you whose work you feel we should know?

AR: Artists who have influenced my work include El Anatsui, Cynthia Schira, Reiko Sudo and Nuno Textiles, and Ana Lisa Hedstrom. TSGNY member Valerie Foley’s Daily Japanese Textile blog has been an important inspiration for my interest in pattern and color.

"Passages 2" (2010) Cotton: hand-dyed shibori warp, hand-dyed ikat weft; handwoven, 56” x 42"

TSGNY: Thank you, Ann. You can see more of Ann’s work on her website, and in the show In Response: Weavings by Ann Roth and Vita Plume; May 31-September 6, 2012, Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Patricia Malarcher: Listening to Materials

TSGNY: How did you first start working with textiles and textile processes?

Patricia Malarcher: I was finishing an MFA in painting in the late 1950s when I saw an exhibition of contemporary banners at the National Gallery in Washington. They were full of color and texture, hanging freely in space with irregular edges, and seemed refreshingly playful compared to the introspective Abstract Expressionism I’d been exposed to. It was love at first sight — I felt I’d found a path to explore.  Since I already knew how to sew, I felt confident that I could apply what I’d learned about color and design to fabric.

“100 Prayer Flags,” 85” x 85”, each unit 8” x 8”; mixed materials, including fabric, Mylar, paint, canvas, laminated paper, stitching.

PM: At first I continued painting while experimenting with fabric and thread but gradually, with two small children and limited space, I focused on stitching and appliqué. In the late 1960s my husband and I made Christmas cards with silver Mylar, which was just coming onto the market after being developed for NASA. When I found that Mylar could be sewn by machine, I began an ongoing body of work.

“4 Prayer Flags,” each unit 8” x 8”; mixed materials, including fabric, Mylar, paint, canvas, laminated paper, stitching.

PM: Before that, I had been making “soft sculpture” with fabric but was creating geometric forms and didn’t like the way stuffing distorted them. Mylar with vinyl backing was stiff enough to retain a 3-D form without stuffing. I constructed a lot of wall hangings from 3- and 4-sided pyramids, sometimes inverting the centers so they became concave. I also did a series of rhomboids constructed of hexagons and squares. Sometimes these had exteriors of plain linen fabric with shiny Mylar inside.

TSGNY: Was this 3-D work your first prolonged venture into using textile processes in your art practice?

PM: In the ‘70s I learned how to weave, but was never at home with a process that I couldn’t take apart in the middle. I did work with basketry though, and loved the way a form could grow in my hands. I made baskets for more than 10 years, first with yarn and waxed linen, then with natural materials, some from my yard. In the early ’80s, I started writing about fiber and other craft media, and no longer had the stretches of meditative time that basketry needed. So I refocused on the incremental process of Mylar constructions. Eventually I felt the need for color and texture in combination with the metallized Mylar, so I began to add painted canvas and collage elements.

“Cloth of Honor,” 59” x 54”; Mylar, fabric (some hand-dyed), thread, machine and hand stitching.

TSGNY:  How would you describe your current process?

PM: I use many different cloth-like materials—commercial cotton fabrics, painted canvas, Mylar, laminated plastics—anything my sewing machine can handle. Generally I produce a lot of elements that become my raw materials—e.g., canvas shapes painted with acrylics; collages, Gocco prints, fabrics that have been discharged, blueprinted, screen- or transfer printed—initially not knowing how they’ll be used. Recently I’ve been experimenting with encaustic in combination with cloth. Often a piece begins with recognition of unexpected relationships between some elements.

“Alternating Currents,” 48” x 48”; Mylar; fabric; paint; screen-, digital-, and transfer-printing; found materials, leather, hand and machine stitching, collage.

TSGNY: Can you give an example of this kind of unexpected relationship?

PM: I once decided to start a quilt with no plan except to follow a prescription I’d heard in a talk by a Russian icon painter: “Always start with the gold.” The first thing I sewed to a canvas backing was a square of fabric covered with gold leaf and an appliquéd image of an eye from an old painting. As I intuitively added more elements, I picked up some black and gold “tiger-printed” fabric, because of its color.  I realized that vertical tiger stripes resembled flames, and then saw a connection between those and the eye and the William Blake poem: Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry? From then on, the piece seemed to take off on its own; the solution to every problem brought it more in line with the poem.

“Window,” 45” x 30”; Mylar, fabric, paint, thread.

TSGNY: Do you feel your choice of materials has posed any particular challenges?

PM: When I pick up a new material, I try to “listen” for what it’s capable of becoming.

“Window” (detail)

PM: The kind of Mylar I liked disappeared from the market, so I had to look for alternative materials. I’ve tried a lot of new things and now want to take some beyond the experimental stage. At present I’m working on a series of small squares (8” x 8”) inspired by the illuminated pages in the new Art of the Arab Lands section at the Met. I’m also exploring ways of working with encaustic and fabric. Sometimes, even if I’ve found a satisfying approach, I challenge myself to see what else is possible so as not to get too comfortable.

“Fugue” (accordion book), 7” x variable dimensions; plastic, paper, thread, laminated and sewn.

TSGNY: Can you give an example of challenging yourself once you’d become comfortable?

PM: A few years ago I purchased a desktop laminator at a yard sale. I started laminating shredded paper that was used as packing material and torn-up pages from art magazines. The stiffness of the laminated sheets suggested the possibility of 3-D constructions, so I began a series of free-standing geometric forms with an architectural feeling. I’d like to be more adventurous with these, making them larger and more complex.

“Cathedral,” 7” x 11” x 6”; plastic, paper, thread, laminated and sewn.

TSGNY: Has your experimentation with materials enabled you to do things you had not been able to do as a painter?

“Terre Verte,” 47" x 43”; fabric, paint, Mylar, transfer prints.

PM: Since I stopped making paintings, I’ve been interested in broadening the range of materials that can be incorporated into textile art. But compared with painting on stretched canvas, one big advantage of fiber is that you can create large wall pieces that can be rolled up and moved around easily.

TSGNY: Has working with these particular materials changed your artistic intent?

“Heroes” (artist book, open), 27” x 27”; fabric, Mylar, paint, leather, found materials, screenprinting, stitching.

PM: At the time I studied art, there was an emphasis on the nature of materials rather than on articulated concepts or representation of subjects. I still seem to start out with a question of what can happen with a particular approach.

“Heroes” (artist book, closed), 9” x 9” x .75”

PM: One thing that fascinates me is how artwork accrues meaning in the process of creating it. Inevitably, it reflects something of the circumstances surrounding its making.

TSGNY: Can you expand on this phenomenon in your own work?

PM: Some time ago, the Gayle Wilson Gallery in Southampton, NY, offered a challenge in collaboration with the American Silk Company. I was among 65 artists who received 2 yards of white silk to “do something with.” I had never worked with silk, but thought of making a piece inspired by silkworm cocoons. I visited a silk museum and looked at lots of photographs in books, but couldn’t find a satisfactory approach. Putting my original intention aside, I dyed small silk squares in dozens of colors, and just started playing. I arrived at a simple form with silk outside and Mylar inside, and arranged multiples of these in Plexi boxes. They looked like mounted butterflies, and then I remembered that a silkworm allowed to complete its cycle would become a moth.

More recently, I experienced a major creative block after 9/11. Everything I started with my usual materials ended in failure. Finally, during an artist residency, I decided to discharge a large batch of black fabric. As I moved the resulting black-and-white patterns around, I found a resonance with the feelings I hadn’t been able to express.

“Cité Noir,” 27” x 33” (mounted on board); fabric, Mylar, discharge, transfer prints, screenprints, appliqué.

TSGNY: Finally, are there any living artists who inspire you whose work you feel we should know about but may not have heard of?

PM: One of my favorite places to visit is the Rubin Museum—I am always inspired by the colors and complexity of Himalayan paintings and textiles. Recently I’ve gone out of my way to see exhibitions of Kiki Smith’s work—it’s completely unlike anything I would ever do, but I love the reach of her imagination. In our own field, I have a lot of admiration for artists who started their careers in weaving or other fiber disciplines and have moved into the larger art world while keeping a connection to their textile beginnings. I’m thinking of people like Anne Wilson, Warren Seelig, Tracy Krumm, Norma Minkowitz, who are doing major work that could not have been conceived without an understanding of textile construction.  I believe these artists are expanding the language of artmaking as a whole.

TSGNY: Thank you, Patricia. You can see more of Patricia’s work  in “Refuse/re-seen” at Some Things Looming (juried by Warren Seelig), Reading, Pennsylvania, April 14-June 2.   She was an exhibitor in TSGNY’s Crossing Lines and has a piece traveling with an exhibition of artists whose work is included in Masters: Art Quilts, Vol, 2 by Martha Sielman.  Her work is also included in Fiber Art Today by Carol K. Russell and appears on the website of the Surface Design Association.

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Saberah Malik: Rhythms of Filtered Light

“Betrothed, Better Halved, Buried," 2011, 9" x 9" x 3" each; gold leaf, painted wood boxes, styrene mask; ori-nui, tsukidashi kanoko shibori on silk dupioni; polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: What is your principal fiber process?

Saberah Malik: I work in shiborizome (絞り染め), the Japanese art of resist dyeing, often shortened to shibori. The first character is a Chinese logogram that means ‘to strangle, constrict or wring,’ but it also has connotations of shiborikome, ‘refine or narrow down.’ The third character is also Chinese and means ‘to dye, color, paint, strain or print.’

"Coral," 2005, 44”x 27”; tsukidashi kanoko shibori (spaced dots) on silk dupioni.

SM: When working with silk, I usually incorporate dyeing, painting, and splattering. I am also increasingly giving surface pattern to three-dimensional forms in polyester, as in the current work with stones.

"Broken Boundary," 2012, 6" x 36" x 18"; ink, polyester fabrics; marbling, enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Although shibori is often textured, it is primarily associated with two-dimensional work. Yet you also call your three-dimensional work shibori.

SM: Yes. Focusing on ‘strangle, constrict, wring, and refine’ and the manipulation of fabric as the key concepts, I consider my three-dimensional work shibori even though it may not always be dyed.

"Un-glassed II," 2010, 16" x 48" x 24"; silk organza, polyester fabrics, plexiglas; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Do you think you will eventually consider this new body of work an entirely new technique?

SM: It’s too early for me to comfortably claim it as a self-developed technique.  I’m still experimenting and innovating the most efficient ways of molding fabric to form, and rely heavily on the principles of shibori. Specifically, my process of crafting fabric sculpture has been an expansion and enhancement of the shibori technique of oboshi, that is, capping large motifs. In this work, the ‘motifs’ are actual objects that are stitched into the capping process on an individual basis, releasing a freestanding fabric object.

"Apothecary," 2009, 12" x 12" x 8"; silk organza, metallic polyester textile scraps, metal washers (bases); enhanced oboshi.

SM: When I first started practicing shibori, it was more traditional immersion-dyed work, mostly on silk. In transitioning to working in the round, I initially used silk organza remnants and re-purposed silk garments. Although it lacks the tactile sensuousness and level of visual warmth of silk, I am increasingly using polyester for cost effectiveness, and hopefully, structural integrity and longevity.

My process starts with basting, then machine stitching fabric over my chosen form (thus far, bottles and stones). I close the entry opening tightly with hand stitching, and in the case of bottles, bind the neck. Then I boil these fabric-covered objects, and after cooling, undo the entry seam to pull out the ‘mold.’ If I decide to add surface patterns, which range from immersion dyeing to marbling, splattering or gilding, I do so before extracting the ‘mold.’ I re-stitch the entry seam by hand to finish the piece. Sometimes I build on the shape by adding forms that ‘grow’ on the object. I have recently added a final finishing step, that is, to spray fixative on the completed shapes.

"What Will I Be," 2012, 14" x 40" x 18"; toy calves, plexiglas, polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Was there an “Aha!” moment when you knew this expansion into three dimensions was something you wanted to explore, or was it a gradual evolution?

SM: My early shibori pieces were two-dimensional and dealt with landscape elements, particularly rocks, rich in texture and three-dimensional surface detail. From there it was a natural progression to arrive at my current work.

"Red Crevasse," 2008, 66" x 26"; maki-age, arashi shibori, discharge, on silk dupioni.

SM: Landmark inventions and new pathways in art or science are often defined by happenstance, the coming together of hitherto unrelated or diverse phenomena, described by the Japanese term datsuzoka, that is, fresh creativity, surprise.

In an effort to depict the imagery of foaming water, I covered fairly large wooden spheres in silk organza to form bubbles. The success of that experiment prompted me to try forming other shapes. Successfully molding fabric over a small jam jar was indeed my Aha! moment. I continued to experiment with an ever greater assortment of shapes and sizes and with varying weights and textures of silk and polyester fabric. The propensity of fibers, both natural and synthetic, to retain the memory of constriction and expansion through physical and thermal manipulation, provided the requisite qualities for transforming flat fabric into sculptural forms.

"Lapis," 2010, installation (dimensions variable); polyester fabrics, plexiglas bases; enhanced oboshi.

SM: Developing craft is usually a gradual evolution. My earlier work utilized double fabric layers in the belief that it would better lend itself to structural stability. A vision of duplicating the perceived effects of light filtering through glass led to a bolder use of single layers and even more transparent fabrics.

The last two and a half years have been a magical journey of exploration, first with bottles collected from friends’ recycling bins, and more recently, with stones gathered from my own back yard and the Rhode Island shoreline.

"China Trade Surplus: Twelve Days to Christmas," 2011, 72" x 72" x 24"; aluminum, pre-embroidered silk dupioni, china silk lining; enhanced oboshi.

SM: The illusion of volume in this body of work has more to do with the surprise and dichotomy of an artifact like dense, heavy, hard stone or glass transcribed in light, transparent, soft fabric. As the Korean artist Myung Keun Koh has written, “Transparency embodies not only temporal transience, but also spatial emptiness; it enables us to see through the inside and feel the inner space overlapping with the outer space, providing a different sense of space.” I believe it offers an equally renewed perception of the original forms used in my current work.

"Teetotaller's Recollections," 2011, 14" x 48" x 16"; plexiglas bases, polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: What kind of artwork were you doing before you started working with shibori?

SM: My early work was infused with a profusion of arabesque patterns on surfaces grand and humble, on objects ceremonial and profane; my coming of age happened in a culture where decoration was a dirty word. I postponed a career in art and design in order to be a full-time parent. During this hiatus, I exercised my creativity by working in watercolors, the least toxic and space requiring medium. Towards the end of those critical parenting years, I chanced upon a course in Decorative Finishes on Wood, and started using those techniques to paint on cut-out wood forms, often over gilded surfaces.

I painted a body of calligraphic images that I refer to as ‘Written Painting.’ I also painted a series of rocks inspired by the multitude of stones that are such an integral part of the New England topography.

In 2002, I chanced upon a community college course on surface design that introduced me to shibori and the limitless possibilities of manipulating fabric. I acquired a fresh set of skills that launched my current work. Working with fabric was in so many ways a distillation of my South Asian heritage (with its respect for and indulgence of textiles as symbols of status or utility), and my education in graphic and industrial design.

"Black Rock," (diptych), 2005, 39" x 24" each; mokume, arashi shibori, discharge, on silk dupioni.

SM: Now I have the challenge of fusing two diverse vernaculars into a modern idiom. Part of the fun has been to utilize what was lying around, or to look at fabric bolts and let the colors and patterns suggest an appropriate usage.

TSGNY: Does this three-dimensional process pose any particular challenges? How have you overcome them?

SM: I tend to work on a large scale. There is a definite limitation in how large a freestanding fabric form can exist before the integrity of its shape or the equilibrium of its structure is compromised. I overcome this limitation by working with smaller forms that I assemble into larger compositions.

"White Bend," 2010, 13" x 96" x 24"; pre-embroidered polyester fabric, plexiglas bases; enhanced oboshi.

SM: There is also a logistical limit to how large a jar or stone I can use because of the weight and size that my hands or the boiling utensil or stovetop at home can handle.

TSGNY:  Does your new process enable you to do things you have not been able to do in any other medium?

SM: In another life, I would have liked to be a glass artist. Working with sheer fabrics in the round is the closest I can come in creating sensory rhythms of light filtering through colored surfaces embellished with pattern. Light filtering through colored or patterned fabrics, whose randomly intersecting fibers create moiré patterns, is perhaps even more magical than light filtering through glass.

"Net Worth," 2010, dimensions variable; casting net, polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

SM: Working with a transparent medium — be it glass or fabric — the flow of space between the inside and outside is blurred as the negative volume of inner space interacts with the positive volume defined by outer space. Transparency makes us question not only the spatial relationship of objects, but challenges the inherent qualities of sculpture itself as solid mass defining a particular form.

Working with stones I am aware of our instinctive and learned perception that equates stones with dense, heavy, static mass. That perception is contradicted by seeing stones described in an airy, light, and fluid material, redefining the property of volume.

"Gardener's Bane," 2011, 8" x 20" x 20"; immersion dyes, markers, polyester fabrics; handpainting, splattering, resists with rubber bands, cellophane; enhanced oboshi.

TSGNY: Has your intent changed as a result of working in this process?

SM: In embarking on textiles as an art medium, my instinctive intent was to create the most beautiful, unusual and otherworldly surface patterns on silk. As I discovered the ability to turn flat textiles into defining volumes, I now conceive, visualize and execute my work as three-dimensional installations. The focus is no longer exclusively on surface.

My work now deals with the concept of imperfection on two levels. First is the Islamic belief that perfection lies only within nature and hence, when mere mortals represent nature it is only an imitation and therefore less than perfect. Second is wabi sabi, the Japanese concept of appreciation for the imperfect, the impermanent.

"Stone Zone," 2011, 4" x 16" x 16"; polyester fabrics; enhanced oboshi.

SM: Even as I hand pick stones for their natural beauty, the results in duplicating are far from perfect. Yet this work can be appreciated precisely for those imperfections (visible seams within the forms) as inherent attributes of the material I use. It also addresses the impermanent; impermanent as the artwork may be, stones change form through evolutionary passage of time. Glass bottles break.

TSGNY: Finally, are there any living artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about but may not have heard of?

SM: I became acquainted with Afruz Amighi’s work when she won the Jameel Prize in Islamic Art at the V & A. Her work weaving metal into delicate, decorative filigree, as well as her paper cut-out series ‘1001 Pages,’ is inspirational for me. Raised in a culture of arabesque designs that profusely cover surfaces both lofty and mundane, I am inspired and guided by other artists’ use of a decorative idiom translated into a contemporary aesthetic. The other would be Maureen Kelman, who has been my mentor since I did an independent study with her. Fortunately, I had not seen her work till my own work had been channeled into its present form. I share with Maureen a three-dimensional approach to textiles as an art medium, and labor-intensive means of reaching our goals. But Maureen works in non-representational motifs in abstract, yet expressive images, and that aspect of her work continues to inspire me.

TSGNY: Thank you, Saberah. You can see more of Saberah Malik’s work on her website.

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Susan Martin Maffei: Making Her Marks

TSGNY: You are known as a tapestry weaver, with occasional crochet and other embellishments. Has tapestry always been your medium?

Susan Martin Maffei: Although I studied drawing and painting at the Art Students League in NYC, textile making has always been the most natural expression for me. As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was a great textile maker. I learned many textile processes even before I learned how to read or write: crochet, knitting, sewing (I had and still have a miniature Singer machine on which I made doll clothes while my grandmother made grown people clothes) as well as lace and tatting.

Susan Martin Maffei at the loom, working on the portrait of her grandmother.

TSGNY: It almost sounds like textiles were your first language.

SMM: My search for a textile language has actually been a lifelong process. My journey began with workshops, which are the standard now for students wishing to learn about tapestry. Of those workshops, Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie had perhaps had the most longstanding influence on my work.  My partnership later in life with Archie Brennan, a well-known Scottish weaver, has allowed me to focus on work and travel and teaching related to this medium and my passion for it.

“Reconstructing Wracraw.” 2011, 13”x76”; 4-selvedge tapestry, cotton warp, wool, cotton, linen and silk weft. Wool crochet (cloud, building, people).

SMM: Along the way, I began to study the history of tapestry in ancient cultures, in particular Andean, that were built upon textiles. I never cease to be amazed by the complexity of their underlying understanding and yet the simplicity and beauty of their work, and the fact that these ideas were expressed in textile form. The pattern of the underlying structure produces a repeat in the image: repeats are the inevitable meeting of the process of the weaver and the structure of the work. One cannot happen without the other. This visual pattern releases a chemical in the brain, much as a repeat in music does, and releases a sense of pleasure or satisfaction in the viewer. So the connection is integral and is complete.

TSGNY: When you refer to the pleasure of the repeats, are you talking about the Andean textiles, or your own work?

SMM: I was referring specifically to the visual satisfaction of the repeat of Andean textiles, but I also try to capture that in my own work.

"Feather Works IX- Duck," 2010, 9 3/4” x 12 3/4”, 4-selvedge tapestry, wool warp, alpaca weft with duck feathers.

SMM: When I first began this journey, I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and to have been able to apprentice at the Scheuer Tapestry Studio in NYC to have a nine-month fellowship at Les Gobelins in Paris to perfect my techniques.

“Another View- the Pompidou-Near Mme. Touitou,” 2008, 55” x 50”; cotton warp, wool, silk, linen, cotton weft, wool crochet trim.

TSGNY: The emphasis at the Gobelins is on the interpretation of paintings, but you have taken tapestry in a different direction.

SMM: For a long time tapestry was looked upon as a reproduction of painting, ignoring its particular language. In its long history tapestry moved from a strong medium working within the bounds of shapes, pattern, and color to one that had the great ability to duplicate painting in fabric, and hence a secondary reproductive medium. My efforts have been to bring it back to a position of originality in my work.  Many years ago, in my exploration of its inherent qualities, I began not to use an image in another medium that would influence the mark but instead to take an idea and simply begin to weave. I have tried very hard over the years to work within the mark-making peculiar to the medium by working directly on the loom.

“Morning Walk,” (detail), 2010, 4” x 240”; 4-selvedge tapestry, cotton warp, wool, silk, linen and cotton weft, plus wool quipu trim.

TSGNY: How is mark-making in tapestry different from other media that we might think of as freer, without the physical constraints of the loom and the grid?

SMM: Certainly the grid is the basic structural foundation that you must deal with in tapestry. Weaving tapestry is always a challenge. You are limited by the warp and weft relationship. You must also build from one side to another in a way that is dictated by how the shapes lie, so you must learn to think in a sequential manner.  You cannot build out into open space. You often are building the negative background to get the positive shape that lies on that support. That’s another way you must learn to see. You must learn to see that a line on a paper is not the same as a line in tapestry. But you can fool the eye, and by establishing a pattern and particular progression make what appears to be a beautiful smooth line. This also applies to shapes. There are other techniques particular to tapestry that were developed early on to allow subtle shading and overlays. My focus on representing an image within these limitations of structure became a form of problem solving.

“New York Times Series—Travel” (portrait of the artist's grandmother), 1999, 87”x 42”; cotton warp, wool, nylon, linen, cotton and silk weft.

TSGNY: Do you still work in other media?

SMM: I love watercolor, pen and ink and printmaking, as well as the book arts and pursue each of them as an adjunct to my work, exploring the different languages of different media. Each medium has a particular characteristic mark, usually related to how the material builds. A watercolor builds and layers with transparency, and would never look like it was done in oils. With oil, you could never get the transparency of a watercolor. Although you could do something in each medium that would simulate the other, you would more likely lean on the special aspect of each, the qualities that give each medium its own voice.

“Sport Series—Boxing,” 2009, 18” x 8”; cotton warp, silk, wool, cotton and linen weft with cotton crochet boxers.

TSGNY: How would you describe tapestry’s “voice”?

SMM: Tapestry’s special attributes are its tactile surface, depth of color, and the variety of available fibers that communicate the essence or affect the emotional response of the image. The visual strength of tapestry lies in the saturation of color, pattern and texture, and grace of progression of marks or shape building, as well as the fact that it is a cloth and hangs.  Tapestry’s presence, when successful, has a more sensuous relationship to the viewer’s response.

“Alvia Jane & Family Quipu,” 2010, 40” x 45”; cotton warp, wool weft. Quipu-respun wool. Rocks from family property with names of ancestors.

SMM: My particular journey has been very slow and has taken many years but I feel confident that I now have a basic understanding of its strengths. I say “basic” because I continue to search and study: I am sure there are other connections and more to learn from other textile societies. I am looking at all the cultures of the past and their uses of textiles, and am adding different trims and embellishments, recycling old tapestries this way, as well as weaving my work in forms of scrolls, books, bags, and wrappings. Our textile history is so rich, but few people realize that. But I continue to not choose an image to weave, but instead explore and build an idea or a narrative directly on the loom within the bounds of what I have learned so far of the language of tapestry.

“Sicilian Defense,” (scroll & bag), 2010, 12” x 65”; 4-selvedge tapestry and bag. Tapestry: cotton warp, silk, rayon weft with silk lace trim. Bag: Cotton warp, silk, cotton and linen weft.

TSGNY: Thank you, Susan. Finally, are there any artists whose work you particularly admire you think we should know about?

SMM: Historically, many artists I admire from the cultures I’ve explored are anonymous. I’ve already mentioned the team of Yael Lurie (tapestry designer and painter) and Jean Pierre Larochette (tapestry weaver and designer) who use the language of tapestry to the best advantage of anyone in the field. I enjoy the drawings and tapestry of Norwegian artist Jan Groth. He has an elegance and expressive emotion of what at first appears to be just simple line. I enjoy the work of Kiki Smith in particular for her love, observation and depiction of everyday events of nature. I enjoy David Hockney for his inventiveness in many media and love of the narrative as well as his exploration of history of art in different cultures. There are of course many others, but I think this is the top of my list.

TSGNY: You can see more of Susan’s work in Crossing Lines, and at her two websites: the first includes the work of Maffei and Archie Brennan, as well as information on technical aspects of the medium, equipment, links to their students’ work; the second is specific to the artist’s book Susan is producing in a limited edition about her scroll tapestries.

“Could These Be Purple Martins?” 2007, 4-selvedge tapestry, 4” x 65”; cotton warp, silk, wool, linen and cotton weft, plus wool crochet berry trim.

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Gammy Miller: The Littoral View

TSGNY: Creatures of the sea, both physical and imagined, inhabit your fiber and non-fiber work. How far back do you trace the origins of that connection?

Gammy Miller: My preoccupations as a child were reading, shell collecting, drawing and stitching.  My intent was to be an “artist” or a “marine biologist,” neither of which I had a clear idea about, nor did I receive any encouragement in either direction.  After earning a degree in fine arts and language — and some dithering about — I became a teacher in the New York City school system. In 1973, fate barged in when the Board of Education set me free to live for long periods of time in Skunk Hollow, New York, an almost uninhabited part of the Fire Island National Seashore. So there I was with the chance to begin anew near a shore lined with shell shards, sea birds and bits of fishing line.

Moon snail (Euspira eros) fragment with waxed linen.

GM: That’s how my life as fiber artist began: with simple half-hitch knots in endless repetition, drawing lines around time- and surf-worn shell shards with waxed linen, a fine marine twine fragrant with beeswax. It was littoral art.  I called the first works “neckhangings” because, although wearable, I wanted them to be considered as a form of art.  I researched and identified all the inclusions, due to my abiding interest in the natural sciences. The Operculum collar includes a patella longicosta, a kind of limpet shell; opercula, the calcareous lids or closures of the Euspira heros or Northern Moon Snail, collected over a period of two years from the drift line on Fire Island; beads and cinnamon sticks. I knotted the collar in number three waxed-linen cord, which I used to buy by the pound from Seaboard Twine, a marine supply house on Murray Street.  My final order with them was for 20 pounds, of which only two remain.

Operculum collar: half-hitch knotted in Irish waxed linen.

TSGNY: How did the “neckhangings” evolve into non-wearable work?

GM: In 1979 I decided to work with basket forms, still using the half-hitch knot.  Although this technique provided a pleasing surface, it became problematic.  In order to have a clean edge, I needed to weave the myriad ends back into the basket.  Very time consuming — even for me who enjoys a certain amount of tedium — so it was logical to move to coiling with needle and waxed linen, using what is known as the “lazy squaw” stitch. (Within the Navaho community, the “lazy squaw” refers to the wrapping of the weft several times around the core before stitching to the previous coil. According to tradition, the squaw who used this method was looked down upon by her peers.) For me, it was difficult not to be a “lazy squaw” because I had to use an awl for each stitch. That solved the “ends” problem but led to sore fingertips. I sometimes covered these baskets in ash or earth, then baked them at low heat so they have some resemblance to clay as well as fiber. I continued to use marine detritus; bones, twigs, shell shards as elements in the composition.

Arizona Basket coiled in waxed linen, baked in earth, with sandpaper and antique glass beads.

TSGNY: That repetitive work with the awl must have been tough on your hands.

GM:  It was! After 18 years (and a severe bout with carpal tunnel syndrome), I turned to the freedom of drawing with pen and ink on cold press Arches watercolor paper, collage and small constructions.

Ornithology: collage with bird’s feet, birch twigs, thread, wire and silhouettes.

TSGNY: Did you miss the feel of fiber, or was it liberating?

GM: Separation from the pleasures of using fiber was a hardship, so I began to stitch on the paper with deconstructed fabric or silk threads for accent and color as elements in the composition.  I use repetitive marks, which for me are akin to the act of knotting, coiling and stitching in that each action becomes part of and essential to the whole.

"Offshore": pen, ink, pulled threads, false eyelashes, stitching.

GM: Drawing freed me to explore again the natural sciences, ornithology among them, and the use of language.  For me, part of a finished work includes an apt title.  I have begun to use faux-Latin nomenclature for part of a current series on maladaptations in the evolutionary process.

Ischnochiton galfonsii, ventral view: pen, ink, false eyelashes, stitching, pulled threads, collage.

TSGNY: When you say “maladaptations,” are you commenting on our human impact on their evolution?

GM: I’m definitely using the term “maladaptations” as a snide comment about how we, the most powerful species on Earth at this particular time, are affecting evolution both purposefully and inadvertently.  Some of the drawings, however, are merely playful, as if one could stir a bunch of genetic traits in a soup pot to see what would emerge. I have titled these pseudo-scientific drawings of organisms using binomial nomenclature. They have a genus, sometimes actual; species, always made up; sometimes followed by the name of the author of the scientific name, which in this case is me.   Thus Chiton ciliata falsus, var. gam (chiton with false eyelashes) and  Ischnochiton galfonsii, ventral view — Galfonsii being the latinized name of a fictional scientist who discovered these species of chiton, probably here on the east coast. The drawing of the dorsal view has been lost.

Chiton ciliata falsus, var. gam (detail). Pen and ink, edged with silk and stitched with false eyelashes.

TSGNY: Now that you no longer have the physical stress caused by the demands of repeated knotting, would you say your current technical choices present any particular challenges?

GM: The greatest challenge is to keep the compositions “eloquent without unnecessary chitchat” (to paraphrase Miro), to resist going too far by adding one more mark, one more stitch. Repetition can be a drug. One has to know when to stop.

TSGNY: Which seems like the perfect place to stop. Before we go, are there any artists who inspire you whose work you think we should know about?

GM:  There are many artists who inspire me, and I guess most are fairly known.  Morris Graves, Anne Ryan, El-Anatsui, Hiroyuki Doi (an obsessive circle maker) and Chun Kwang-Young.

TSGNY: Thank you, Gammy. You can see more of Gammy Miller’s work here and in her solo show, “Unnatural Selections” at the Hudson Opera House from March 31 – June 3.

 

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Michael Rohde: On and Off the Grid

Photo: Rod Carroll

TSGNY: You have a longstanding commitment to weaving as the basis of your artistic practice. When did that begin?

Michael Rohde: In the early 1970s, curiosity about how cloth was made took hold of me. I bought a small loom and started on a path that has held me steady for nearly forty years. For quite some time, I wove rugs, but as image took over from function, I’ve moved to tapestry. These days I often work at a small scale, most recently with silk yarns, as in “Aeolus,” which was shortlisted for the Kate Derum Award.

“Aeolus,” 2011, 5¼” x 5¼” (mounted size 7¾" x 7¾").Tapestry: silk, natural dyes; four-selvedge wedge weave. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY: Did you have a background in other arts before you became a weaver?

MR: Weaving is really the only form of art that I have pursued with any rigor, but along the years, a number of events have shaped my approach to making. To fill out my lack of training in art, I enrolled in the Glassel School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, where I was heavily influenced by the teaching of C. Arthur Turner, based on Bauhaus approaches, notably Joseph Albers and Johannes Itten.

TSGNY: Both Itten and Albers were color theorists, and color is central to your work. Was it their approach to color that influenced you?

MR: Certainly Albers and Itten’s color theories are strong influences, and guiding principles for me when it comes to making color choices, both what color combinations I use in the weavings, and in dyeing the yarns. Some of my early education about how colors are related came from the dye process itself. I’ve always used the red, yellow and blue primaries to mix the hues I want, be it in chemical or natural dyes (even to developing formulas to make neutral grays from the primaries).

Notebooks: samples of wool on the left and silk on the right; record keeping as a guide for the next time.

MR: My materials are often wool or silk and other non-manmade fibers; I buy yarns in white, and add my own colors when I start a new piece. One of the second or third classes I took to learn about fiber processes was a class in dyeing, when I lived in North Carolina. Slowly, I have explored ways of putting color on yarn, initially with chemical dyes, but later, as I learned which plant dyes were most lightfast, this came to be my preferred way of working. After years of working with the brights of chemical dyes (even toned-down mixtures), I’m drawn to the more subdued palette of vegetal dyes.

Lately, these have been dyes derived from plants and a bug or two.  This gives me the range of colors I want, and I’m not limited to what is available in pre-dyed yarn. Although it seems like this adds extra time to the process of making my work, I feel the end result is worth it. Years of color mixing, matching and record-keeping make the dye process easy for me, and only adds about 5-10% to the total weaving time.

Skeins from a recent round of dyeing for scaling up the silk wedge weaves.

TSGNY: Doing your own dyeing gives you both enormous freedom and control. What about your commitment to working on the loom? Would you say that constrains you in any way?

MR: Around the end of the 1970s, gallery owner Warren Hadler asked the question, “Since the loom operates on a right-angle grid, why try to force the technique to simulate curves?” That became a major direction for how I approached design.

Looking at Albers’ many color studies also had an effect on how I approach design. The simplicity of the shapes he used in those studies became a guide and a challenge to me: to make my own designs, but try to embody something of his elegant design choices. Add to this Hadler’s suggestion to stick to what the loom does easily, and many of the design decisions are pared down to a manageable range of choices.

“Danse,” 2002, 82" x 54". Rug: hand-dyed wool on linen warp. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: My rugs were pattern or block based — like “Danse” — but as they became more and more image based – for example, “Winter/Lake Biwa” in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago — they were hardly ever used on the floor.

“Winter/Lake Biwa,” 2001, 59" x 48". Rug: hand-dyed wool on linen warp. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY: So even though you still called the work a rug, it was already being viewed in an art context. Was this the first time you started thinking about tapestry?

MR: Very early in my weaving career, I’d learned some tapestry techniques, and had a passing interest in learning Navajo style weaving, but didn’t pursue it due to time limitations, opting for loom-controlled block-weave rugs. Wanting ever more harnesses to make more complex block patterns, I began combining inlay areas, maybe a forerunner of the tapestry shift. Gallery owner Gail Martin was the one who first encouraged me to explore tapestry formally. Gail’s suggestion occurred about the same time as an invitation to exhibit in the 2004 Triennial of Tapestry in Lodz, Poland. It was also around the time the idea of invading Iraq was being proposed. “From My House to Your Homeland” came out of this confluence of events, and refers to a line in a poem by June Jordan, making reference to houses disappearing in the sands of war. That piece was a milestone for me: the idea came before the design.

“From My House to Your Homeland,” 2003, 54” x 98”. Tapestry installation, hand-dyed wool and silk. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY: Even when moving from loom-controlled work to tapestry, you’ve stayed loyal to grids and angles rather than curves. Does that grow out of your response to Hadler’s observation?

MR: Another reason Hadler’s suggestion resonated so well with me was that it was a time when I was trying to be a production weaver, while holding down a full time job. The simplicity of grids and angles is easier to weave, and parallels where I diverge from normal art-school training: the last course I took was drawing, and though I was encouraged to continue, free-form, organic shapes just don’t appeal to me as much.

When I transitioned to tapestry, I was weaving full time, and in theory would have more free time for representational work, but I’d been working in geometric shapes for so long, that I wanted to continue exploring how much could be expressed with these limits.

TSGNY: It sounds like you feel the move into tapestry has allowed your work’s content to deepen, while working within those limits.

MR: Even when I think I am only making patterns, I find ideas have crept into the work. “Transect” was designed and woven as a pattern piece, but at the time of major health care debates – where did all these Blue Crosses come from?

“Transect,” 2009, 75” x 48”. Tapestry: wool, silk; indigo, walnut dyes. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: “Sustainability” (exhibited in the American Tapestry Biennial) expresses a hope for people of all skin colors to live together, but also stands as an icon for global overcrowding.

“Sustainability,” 2007, 66” x 39¼”. Tapestry: wool, silk, alpaca, mohair, llama, camel; indigo, madder, walnut, cutch, weld. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: “Water” was made for the Textile Museum’s exhibition “Green: The Color and the Cause.” I began with an image from a satellite map of the land around a huge manmade lake in Brazil. It comments of the issues of water usage: man’s intervention has consequences; where agricultural areas become green, other areas die off.

“Water,” 2009, 35” x 48”. Tapestry: wool, natural dyes. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

MR: Travel can also be a source for my work: “Tibetan Prayers” (currently in Crossing Lines: the Many Faces of Fiber) came from a month-long trip to eastern Tibet, and makes reference to their small printed paper prayers. The choice of materials (Tibetan and Navajo wools) draws a connection between these people: the loss of their homeland and historical way of life to invaders.

“Tibetan Prayers,” 2006, 49½" x 38½". Tapestry: Navajo wool, Tibetan wool, madder. Photo: Andrew Neuhart.

TSGNY:  Does “Aeolus” represent a new direction for you — are you finally escaping the grid?

MR: The wedge-weave technique is one I’ve known about for some time, but never tried. Many weavers (and friends of mine) are well known for what they have done in the technique: Martha Stanley, James Bassler, Connie Lippert and Deborah Corsini to name a few. The technique is based on the principle that you begin by weaving at an angle to the warp,  building up a wedg that continues. Weaving in this direction is contrary to the normal weaving, where warp and weft are at ninety-degree angles. As a  consequence, when it’s released from the loom tension, the cloth relaxes. What had been straight edges become scalloped — heresy for someone who has spent years trying to achieve perfect, straight selvedges.

I’d always been reluctant to try something that others had done so well, and, for which they were known. I wanted to make something that would have my own stamp. So I’ve gravitated to silk, to color choices that are out of the ordinary, the small scale, and four-selvedge technique (though this is hardly unique, as Stanley and Navajo weavers have used this for their weaving). After making dozens of the small (five by five inches or less) pieces, I’m just now venturing toward larger explorations.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists who inspire you whose work you’d like us to know about?

MR: There are weavers who work in unusual methods, or research and use techniques that are seldom embraced these days: Jim Bassler and Martha Stanley, who I’ve already mentioned, and Polly Barton. Artists who use color in ways that excite me, be it complexity of color in limited range, or unusual combinations — Rothko, for example, and a contemporary painter, now on the West Coast, Ruth Pastine. I would have to add Agnes Martin, though also for her “Writings,” a hard-to-find, but worthwhile book.These artists do wonders with limited use of line and form.

TSGNY: Thank you, Michael. You can see more of Michael’s work on his website, and in the TSGNY exhibit, Crossing Lines: The Many Faces of Fiber.

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Virginia Davis: Exploring Surface and Substance

TSGNY: How would you describe the relation of your work to fiber?

Virginia Davis: My work is in a niche between weaving and painting. The weaving technique is called ikat. I place the image on the threads before weaving the “canvas.” The technique of ikat consists of marking a group of threads, reserving areas by tying or other means, and then applying color to create a pattern on the warp — the vertical threads. The weft — the horizontal threads — can also have a pattern created in the same manner. In my work, most of the time, I execute the patterning in such a way that the color placed on the warp and weft thread combine to produce my desired image.

“Blue,” 2009, 34”x32”, ikat weaving with acrylic paint on the surface of the twill weave.

VD: After weaving I stretch the work, again commenting on a traditional presentation of painting. Now, on the woven ikat, I have the opportunity to paint, collage, embroider, etc. After weaving, the ikat image lies below the picture plane and another image can be placed on the surface. Unlike the planning that goes into the ikat, my creation of the images in this part of the work is very unconscious. In “Blue,” I used masking tape in the painting portion of the piece, and the combination of painting and weaving techniques produced the contrast in the blues.

“This is not a slide,” 1994, 35”x35”, ikat weaving, gesso, oil pigment, printed label collaged, nail polish for dot.

VD:  Through weaving, the texture of the canvas can be controlled, introducing a substance to the surface image, or the embedded image. Linen is my fiber of choice, commenting on the support stratum used by many painters since the Renaissance. “This is not a slide” is a signature work illustrating the historic use of linen as a support for painting with oils in European art. However, since the origin of ikat is likely Asian, the conjoining of the two signifies the international unity of art.

TSGNY: Were you a painter before you started working in this layered form?

VD: My previous work in art had been woodworking in New York, followed by traditional sculpture at the Sir John Cass School of Art in London and then at the Art Students League in New York. I wanted to learn additive sculpture and went to the Riverside Church School of Arts and Crafts in New York City to take a course in yarn, rope making, and dyeing. With so much yarn, I took a course in weaving with Sandra Harner at the Riverside Church School and quickly realized that, with so much to learn, this was my direction.

The “Tartan Series,” 1989, 6 modules, each 36”x36”, dye and linen.

VD: This was in the early ‘70s. Sandra would present the various types of weaves students could opt to study. I was immediately attracted to ikat, fascinated by the control of color and the design one could achieve.

“Tartan 3,” 36”x36,” The third of the 6 modules.

VD: In the “Tartan Series,” for example, the tartan image is that of the Davidson clan, and is ikat-woven in the correct distribution of lines and stripes for a tartan. The weave structure, a 2/2 twill, is conventional for tartans. The image of the tartan is placed on a plain weave background.

“Tartan Complement 3,” 36”x36”. The fourth of the 6 modules.

VD: My passion for ikat has led me to study it with practitioners in Japan, India and Mexico and to seek out examples in museums all over the world. In addition I have learned and teach other reserve techniques. This range of techniques enables me to make unique statements about image, surface and substance.

“Blue Arches 1,” 2011, 40”x36” pigment in linen, ikat weaving.

TSGNY: Thank you, Virginia. You can see more of Virginia’s work on her website:  at TSGNY’s Crossing Lines show; and at the 8th Fiber International Biennial, Snyderman-Works, March 2–April 28, 2012, Philadelphia, PA.

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Wen Redmond: Following the Vision

TSGNY: Your use of fiber is unusual. How would you describe your process?

Wen Redmond: I hope to expand the understanding and perception of fiber as a medium. I enjoy the creative processes afforded by contemporary digital technology, and my work merges digital processes, photography, collage and surface design. I have developed several signature techniques: “Holographic Images”; “Digital Fiber”; and a new “Serendipity Collage” technique.

My work continues to grow as I explore my medium: over time one develops an eye. When I finish composing an image that I like, I decide on presentation, which might be whole cloth, a photo-art quilt, divided into multiple images, or collaged into mixed-media art. I will layer and finish work using different mediums – like glass-bead medium, for example — for a variety of purposes.  In my newest work, I use Photoshop to change the actual image, layering and digitally fusing it with photographs of my painted cloth.

“Whispers of the Positive,” 2010, 120” x 25”; Hand-pulled print, collaged, and sewn watercolor paper, cloth, painted with acrylics, layered with digital images, monoprinting. Inkjet prints, cyanotype, silk organza, cheesecloth, watercolor paper, ink drawings and mediums.

WR: Most of my attraction to the artistic process is being in that zone I call ‘flow.’ When I work, I encourage a collaborative process with spirit or my higher self, that mind-boggling principle of the universe. When you are in this state of mind, you tap the intuitive and the work can become more than the sum of its parts. Allowing time for inspirations to percolate up from my unconscious is a vital part of the process.

“Before I Knew You,” 2009, 28” x 22”; Holographic and Digital Fiber techniques. Silk organza; photograph, silkscreened and hand-painted silk and cotton.

TSGNY: Can you talk a bit about the specific techniques you’ve developed?

WR: My “Holographic Images” technique is a multi-layered design process of printing photographs on silk organza. I mount the work in such a way that a 3-D effect is created, resembling the movement of a holograph.  (This process was published in Quilting Arts Magazine, April/ May 2007. They also offer a DVD.) My silk organza collages add the dimension of light. Light flows through the picture and creates different patterns, depending on the angle of view. These are free-flowing and loose, with a kinetic quality.

“Ripples,” 2009, set of 3, 24” x 24” ea.; Holographic and Digital Fiber techniques. Manipulated digital image of water: original image printed on archival digital canvas, bordered in hand-painted and surface-designed fabrics. One section of the image printed on transparent silk organza, providing holographic effect. Additional stitching details. (Installation at the new Dana Farber Cancer Building, South Weymouth, MA.)

WR: “Mixed Media Serendipity Collage” is an assemblage of digital prints collaged with surface-designed textiles and paper. The use of transparent organza or papers allows me to layer physical elements, creating depth and design. This is a very ‘green’ method of working. Because all of my work travels parallel roads, I often have lots of leftover scraps, which are excellent for collage. Everything becomes suspect. I save teabag wrappers, candy wrappers, found metal, and the odd items that fall into my path.

“Brainwave,” 2007, 28” x 20”; transparent multi-layered silk collage. Dyed, painted, monoprint. Silk organza, burlap.

WR: “Brainwave” is a slightly more radical piece. All of the layers hang freely, unbound in any way. (The layers have a quote by Bob Dylan: “Who is not busy being born is busy dying.”)  It’s an interactive piece: one can lift the layers in exploration. I wanted to see how movement within the piece could create more patterns. Since it’s an almost completely transparent piece, the wall on which is hangs influences the final color.

TSGNY: How did you arrive at this fantastic range of processes?

WR:  I am a process person. I’m passionate about coming up with ideas and working out the kinks. This leads to more discoveries, an evolution. This work always keeps me thinking- what if?

Part of that evolution is photography, which became readily available with digital technology. My process is also fed by my love of being outdoors. Now I can see the most exquisite scenes or combinations of patterns and share that beauty. These moments become my source, my well. I bring them back to share, to remind, to remember. I hope to bring that energy into my art-making, to communicate the positive, the source, the inspiration, and my mad desire to capture thoughts, dreams and the beauty of nature.

“Perception of Trees,” 2009, 35” x 36”; three digital interpretations of a manipulated photograph, printed on ink jet prepared cotton duck, stitched.

TSGNY: Does your process pose any particular challenges? How have you overcome them?

WR: Digital printing is not for the faint of heart. Creating substrates and feeding fabric into printers gives one much patience. I always say a little printer prayer during the printing phrase of my artwork.

TSGNY: Does your process enable you to do things you have not been able to do in any other medium?

WR: Printing directly onto various substrates to create stitched textural constructions is a unique way of presenting photographs. I love the textural quality and mark-making stitching lends to a finished work.

“Trees Seen, Forest Remembered,” 2008, 24” x 33”; Digital Fiber Collage. Images printed with archival inks on various substrates, mounted onto canvas and collage-fused with painted, silk-screened cotton and stabilizer; stitched.

WR: I love what I do! I love the processes, the places I go when I see color or get inspirations, and the connections with artists. Artists tend to be a little left of center. They see more, feel deeply; they are kindred spirits on so many levels. As Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

TSGNY: Speaking of kindred spirits, are there any artists who inspire you who you feel we should know about but may not have heard of?

WR: There are a great many artists whose work I love. I love the abstract expressionists, Jane Frank, Paul Klee, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Jules Olitski — the classics. Georgia O’Keefe- I have always admired strong independent women. I like the serenity of Andrew Wyeth’s work. The trees of Wolf Kahn. The photography of Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, and the innovative work of Mike and Doug Starn. The fiber revolutionary work of Fran Skiles, Joan Schultz, Nancy Crow, and Jane Dunnawold. The digital gurus Karine Schminke, Dorothy Simpson KrauseBonny Pierce Lhotka, Mary Taylor, and Gloria Hansen.

TSGNY: Thank you, Wen. You can see more of Wen Redmond’s work on her website, her blog, her YouTube channel and in the TSGNY exhibit Crossing Lines: The Many Faces of Fiber.

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Jackie Abrams: Simplifying the Form

TSGNY: How has your work as a basketmaker evolved over time?

Jackie Abrams: In 1975 I apprenticed to an 81-year-old traditional white-ash basket maker. For 13 years I made traditional and functional baskets, primarily of natural materials. Since 1990, I have been working with painted cotton paper as a weaving material, using both traditional and sculptural basket techniques.

I’m currently working on two different series. One is called “Women Forms,” which I started around 2004. These pieces are woven using painted archival cotton paper and wire. (I paint the paper, but don’t make it.) I was exploring the technique of using paper and wire together, to see what was possible. As the semi-completed pieces sat together on my worktable, they seemed to represent a group of women, gathering strength from each other.

"Sisters of Color," 5", 6", and 7" high; woven with cotton paper and wire, covered with sand from Eastern Long Island.

JA: I weave these forms to be sculptural, rather than symmetrical, shaped by our life experiences. The forms are covered with encaustic wax, textured acrylic mediums and paints, or sands and earth. The visible woven inside is always a contrast to the outside surfaces. The series continues to interest me, both emotionally and technically. The inside and outside surfaces present interesting challenges and possibilities.

"Talking Sisters," 14" and 15" high; woven with cotton paper and wire, covered with layers of encaustic wax.

JA: A more recent series, started in 2006, are my “Spirit Women.” They are coiled and stitched, using fabrics, often recycled, or plastic bags. It is an adapted and simplified ancient technique that is found almost universally. My core materials are visible, an important part of the piece.

"Wisdom," 9" high, 7" wide, 7" deep; stitched and coiled using recycled dry-cleaner bags and VCR tapes, silver ribbon, thread.

TSGNY: What prompted this venture into coiling and recycled materials?

JA: Since 2005, I have been working in Africa, primarily in Ghana. To date, there have been eight journeys. I have helped to develop sustainable micro-craft industries using recycled materials. I’ve also been hired as a basket consultant and have worked with basket makers in both Ghana and Uganda. I observed that the technique of coiling was used over and over again, by many women, in many African countries.

My most recent project was in Pokuase, Ghana. I taught the women to crochet with discarded plastic bags that litter the environment. In the evenings, during my ‘down’ time, I picked up the bags and started to coil. I wanted to capture the spirit and energy of the women with whom I worked. My first pieces were made in Pokuase, using the materials on hand – much the way the African women make do with what they have.

"Small Spirit Women," 4" to 6" high; stitched and coiled using fabrics, plastic bags, threads, sand.

TSGNY: What first took you to Ghana?

JA: I have always had an interest in Africa. In elementary school I remember creating an African village. When I started making baskets in 1975, African baskets were the ones I loved and slowly collected. I always knew that was where I wanted to go.

TSGNY: Did you decide ahead of time to work with women, or did that happen once you got there?

JA: I have found that working with women, rather than men, has more of a direct influence on a community. On my first few trips, I started working with children and a few men artists. Although it was rewarding in many ways, I knew that if any changes were to be made, there were most likely to be made through the women. Most of them were not going to spend their income at the local bar. The women cared more about their children – using the money to pay their school fees, or buy them food. I knew that any changes I helped to make would be small, baby steps, and I also knew that working with women would have the most impact.

"Grounded," 12" high, 10" wide, 10" deep; coiled and stitched using fabrics, waxed linen thread.

TSGNY: What do you think you’ve learned from the basketmakers in Ghana and Uganda?

JA: Working with these women has changed my life forever. One very obvious thing is how much ‘stuff’ I have. It’s good stuff: art, books, crafts, textiles. There’s just too much of it. Since I returned from my first trip in 2005, I get rid of at least one thing a day. (I take Sundays off.)

The other things I have learned are not quite so obvious. I’ve learned that a simple life is just as rewarding as a more complicated life. I’ve learned that joy, good spirit, and appreciation can be found anywhere, even in a one-room home. I’ve learned that I am comfortable hanging out with these women, being dusty, letting them laugh at my social gaffes. When it is not totally frustrating, it is very, very good.

"A Woman of Consequence," 16" high, 11" wide, 11" deep; woven of cotton paper and wire, covered with acrylic paint and medium.

TSGNY: Has your intent changed as a result of working with the recycled materials and the coiling process?

JA: I have deliberately simplified my techniques. I want to work directly and intuitively with the materials and techniques in different ways, and let the piece talk about its own spirit and energy.

My process is simple. My materials are simple. I am trying to focus on the energy, and the interactions between the materials and stitches, how one supports the other. It does not need to be complex; it just needs to “be.”

TSGNY: In spite of their simplicity, do your process or your materials pose any particular challenges?

JA: I love technical challenges. When I get a little bored, I just try something new. Sometimes it is really ugly, and never gets repeated. Even these failures are worthwhile, an important part of the learning process.

This year (2011) I did seven collaborative pieces with a glassblower, Josh Bernbaum, for a museum show called “Dialogue.” Josh initiated the project. He owns one of my baskets, and was interested in creating it in blown glass. The museum curator was interested, and our collaboration was born. We had seven pieces/groupings, each one a challenge in a different way. Some were unexpected. I loved trying to solve the problems, adapting techniques and materials as we went along.

"Captured Reflections," 8" high, 8" wide, 9" deep; copper wire and blown glass.

JA: For “Captured Reflections,” I wove (twined) the basket using heavy copper wire; Josh blew into the vessel. For “Material Conversation,” Josh blew an asymmetrical glass form. I recreated it using recycled plastic bags, primarily newspaper bags, and waxed linen thread.

"Material Conversation," both vessels 10" high; blown glass and coiling.

JA: This piece was my greatest technical challenge.  I wanted to work with plastic bags because I like the idea of working with recycled materials, and felt that plastic might capture the same reflective qualities as glass. I have never seen the type of work that I visualized, and so had no clues about where to start. At first I thought I would coil each section individually and attach them but that created more problems than it solved.  I spent two days trying new ideas, and then discarding them. I was determined. Each failure took me one step closer to what I was trying to achieve. Finally, at the end of the second day, I found a process that allowed me to create what I wanted to create.

TSGNY: So in the end, working in this technique doesn’t impose limitations?

JA: I’m happy to say feel pretty unlimited in what I’m able to do.

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

JA: Lissa Hunter is my idol — both her words and her works are heartwarming.

TSGNY: Thank you, Jackie. You can see more of Jackie’s work on her website. She recently won Best of Show at the 2011 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.

 

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Kathy Weaver: Navigating the Uncanny Valley

TSGNY: Would you describe your work as fiber art?

Kathy Weaver:  I use both traditional fiber techniques and ones not normally associated with fabric. I delight in the quilt and appliqué techniques used by my grandmother and mother.  But essentially, technique is a means to convey ideas and I want the viewer to look beyond the technique to the content.

"Robo Sapien Agent 5,"2006, 44” x 44”, Airbrushed, machine quilted, embellished.

KW: Since my subject matter is often robots and ideas generated from the field of artificial intelligence, I deliberately chose airbrushing in order to render in a mechanistic way, without evidence of the artist’s hand.

Preparations for airbrushing.

TGSNY:  What kind of work did you do before you started airbrushing?

KW:  I was a painter, and still am. I use gouache and egg tempera. I sometimes paint vignettes on canvas and attach them to my textile work. Sometimes I draw and paint directly onto the fiber. Airbrushing seemed like a natural evolution. As an art teacher in the public schools I loved exploring materials and trying new media with my students, so taking up another instrument, the airbrush, as a means to paint, was not intimidating to me. It seemed perfect for the robots’ “skin.”  So I enrolled in an airbrush class at a local college where I learned how to airbrush on motorcycle helmets, gas tanks, fish and bird decoys, and taxidermy forms.

Airbrushing

KW: I’ve always loved the advertising designs and coloring of the era I grew up in.  Many of these ads were airbrushed rather than photographed. I also like the look of medical illustrations as well as cutaways and schemas for products and product parts. When I was young we had the run of an electronics factory with which my dad was associated and I loved seeing the engineer’s drawings and how-tos, as well as the renderings of the final products, usually transformers or TV components.

“Cyborg Female 5: Stripped of Instinct,” 2004, 90” x 54”, Satins, silks, velvets, airbrushed, hand embroidered, hand quilted.

TSGNY: When you’re in your airbrushing gear, you certainly look as much scientist as artist. Can you walk us through the steps of your process?

KW:  I compose the work in one of two ways.  I may create a small color drawing which I enlarge by means of a projector onto a large piece of paper. Or I work intuitively directly on the bridal satin, the substrate for the textile paints. I use white bridal satin for my work…and sometimes black. In the first method, I use the full-scale drawing as a cartoon, tracing each section or division of color onto freezer paper. Then I tape all these pieces together like a giant puzzle and iron it onto the fabric.  I methodically remove the hundreds of taped pieces and proceed to airbrush each section one at a time, lifting off to airbrush and re-ironing, lifting off, re-ironing, until the piece is finished. With this method the work is always covered by paper so that I must imagine the colors as I airbrush. After the last tiny piece is airbrushed, I peel the paper away to reveal the finished work.

Airbrushing with stencils

KW: With the second method I use masks and stencils and can see the work as it progresses; the image develops as I paint.  Although airbrushing looks very spontaneous, it is a laborious process requiring great patience. There is little leeway for mistakes; the process is akin to the layering, additive process of watercolor painting.

“Mimetic Concerns,” 2010, 44” x 57”, satin, airbrushed, hand quilted.

TSGNY: Are there other challenges to the airbrushing process?

KW: Yes, mainly involving proper ventilation. When I built my studio I installed a ventilating system and I stand under the hood of the vent to paint. My environment is this: I wear a respirator, protective clothing, gloves, and shoe coverings, while standing under a noisy ventilating hood. The airbrush’s hose is plugged into a compressor, which, although called “Silent-aire,” hardly is. With all my gear on, I look pretty robotic myself.  All this tends to separate me from my surroundings, which in turn places me in a different mental space. In order to communicate with anyone I must remove all my gear and step away from the area. In this bubble I feel very free to create. It’s just me, my decisions, and my “canvas”; time passes in a different way.

“Strategic Alliance,” 2008, 48” x 55.5”, Satin, airbrushed, hand quilted.

TSGNY: How does the range of materials you incorporate enhance the body of your work?

KW:  I love working with a variety of materials. Some of my favorite Chicago Imagist artists, H. C. Westermann and Karl Wirsum, showed their stuff and told their stories using a wide variety of materials. What my fabric pieces, drawings, paintings and sculptures have in common is the theme of robotics, nano robots or artificial intelligence.

“Habeas Corpus: The Great Writ,” 2008, 35” x 68”, Cottons, nylon line, airbrushed, hand-stitched.

KW: The various materials overlap and enhance one another. For example, the charcoal drawings I am doing at the Rehabilitation Institute are translatable to thread line via embroidery, yet the finished drawings stand alone and have been exhibited in that form. The toys that I deconstruct and transform into robots are kinetic sculptures, yet use fabric and texture to express themselves. The larger papier-mâché sculptures have sensory devices, recordings, embroidery, and airbrushing.

“LMR VII (Mother),” 2009, 59” h x 24” w x 16”d, Fiber, papier mâché, found objects, horsehair, metal, sound and light, airbrushed, embroidered.

KW: The sculpture LMR VII (Mother) is airbrushed on fabric, with embroidery. The appendages and head are papier-mâchéd and airbrushed. The head has sensors so that when a viewer approaches a recording is activated. Also, a door in the back of the head opens and a light is activated, revealing a scene in the inside of the head.

“LMR XII (Captain Le Rocher),” 2011, 12” h x 12” w x 3”d, Bronze, airbrushed, embroidered, painted.

KW: Recently I have been making some bronze sculptures in a stage-like setting. In the sculpture LMR XII (Captain Le Rocher) I cast the bronze figure using the lost-wax process. The background of the box is airbrushed satin, which is also embroidered and quilted. The outside of the box is airbrushed and also painted with egg tempera.  The sculptures reiterate the 2D robot quilts but have the added feature of the solidity of the bronze contrasted with the fragility of embroidery, the machine-made futuristic look of my bronze robots contrasting with the labor-intensive stitchery that reminds us of another era.

TSGNY: Would you say there’s an ongoing tension between the presence of the “hand” in the textile processes you employ and the deliberate absence of the hand you’re going for with the airbrush?

KW: In all the work there is an incongruity in the use of soft material for hard objects and sharp thoughts. The embroideries show a duality between the softness and familiarity of satins and threads and the complexity of forms from organic chemistry, cellular biology and engineered robots. The labor-intensive hand embroidery has a feeling of slow Penelopian rhythms, reminding us of a distant pre-technoid era.

“Fire Slinger,” 2010, 48” x 46”, Satin, airbrushed, hand embroidered, hand stitched.

KW: There is also an eerie incongruency in the fact that humans often relate very personally to technological devices, particularly those in which they have a relationship born out of necessity. I am currently drawing patients and devices at The Robotic Lab at The Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago, a hospital and research facility for traumatic injury victims.

Much of my work has been about the military-industrial complex and the amount of money, not to mention human waste, that goes into the management of war. I was appalled at the number and kinds of injuries being sustained by civilians and vets during the Iraqi and Afghan wars, so I decided to do some research, which led me to The Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago. This research facility and hospital is doing amazing work in advanced prosthetic devices. The majority of their patients are not war victims, as those patients would most likely be treated at VA hospitals. The people I am observing and drawing at this facility are victims of traumatic injury. (If they are victims of war I don’t have access to this information.) I am currently drawing in the hand lab, which is receiving funding for research from the government for the advanced development of prosthetics.

TSGNY: How do you view this particular form of human-robot interaction, compared to your earlier depiction of robotics?

KW:  I have the utmost respect for the roboticists and bio-engineers and doctors there who are working so hard trying to make life a bit more palatable for traumatic-injury victims. Mostly, in my drawing sessions of patients who are testing devices, I am humbled by the incredible energy and mindset it takes for them to adapt to their disabilities. The patients are awesome in their perserverance to get some mobility back.  As for the traumatic brain injuries, I do not have access to these patients. It would be too disorienting and interruptive of their concentration for me to be in the room drawing while they are working on devices. Words cannot express how sad it is to see young adults being totally cared for by their parents.

“Biomechatronics Development Lab 2,” 2010, 27.5” x 33.5”, charcoal pencil on paper.

KW: As for how I view this form of human-robot interaction — I would have to say with mixed feelings. I am inspired by the technological advances and the people making that happen, and appalled that we need this effort. Both come out in my work, by trying to do beautiful drawings (which will become embroideries/mixed media on fiber) of the patients and devices I am observing, and, concurrently, by doing a series of airbrushed quilts of “disaster” robots about the ravages of war on people and the environment inspired by Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.”

It’s the juxtaposition, the contrast of where we’ve been and where we are going, that I highlight by using both a needle and thread and the airbrush. As in science, in my art and in life, things are never what they first appear to be. Upon closer inspection, more is always revealed.

TSGNY: Finally, are there artists who inspire you whose work you’d like us to know about?

KW: Most of my inspirations come from the ideas of other artists rather than their medium or techniques. I love the work of William Kentridge and Sue Coe. After seeing a recent show of Lia Cook’s work at Duane Reed  in St. Louis and talking with her about the differentiation between her dolls and humans, I felt an affinity or parallel to the border crossings between my robots and the human condition I am expressing. This is the “uncanny valley” that I am continuously exploring — so oftentimes, what scientists write interests me much as what I see.

TSGNY: Thank you, Kathy. You can find more of Kathy’s work at her gallery and on her website, where you will also find her extensive current exhibition schedule.

“Simian Interface,”2003, 42” x 59”, Satins, cottons, egg tempera.

 

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