I have completed the last tapestry in this cycle of Bee thought. All of this new work is going off to Patina Gallery in Santa Fe next week for my show there, opening October 7.
This piece, “Being Here”, just flew off the loom, as opposed to the earlier piece on the same warp, now named “Beatrice” (after Dante’s muse), who worried me to death all summer (so much for the power of a Muse!). I felt that a cloud of energy, diffusing upward, was a good and fitting point to rest this inner search. It feels good and peaceful and there is more than a promise of joy to come.
|Being Here, 2011. 41″ x 34″, wool with silk & metallic|
Having finished blocking and hemming this piece, I finally got her on the wall, the only way I can actually evaluate everything about the composition, proportions, and aura. I have to say, she is growing on me! She feels like Buddha, like a fairy, like a serene and happy lady. Floating. As yet, untitled.
I am working on another large figurative tapestry. I should point out here that before last fall, when I began this current series, the last figurative piece I wove was in approximately 1974 when I was ridiculed at Kansas City Art Institute for using textile to depict something which should be painted. This was the era of fiber for fiber’s sake, large expressive textural and NON-OBJECTIVE weavings were de rigeur.
I spent my time at Cranbrook Academy of Art, working on my MFA in Fiber, trying to justify weaving at all, making sure that my subject matter had a direct relationship with the means of execution. I spent years making tapestries of garden and architectural subjects, both of which used the woven grid as a common language. Pattern, grid and surface texture were the language of textiles I became most fluent in.
So last fall when I conceived this body of work I was so aware of this old argument in my head. I set out to make weavings where the thread was as important as the image; the overall simplicity and bluntness of the compositions and spatial relationships were consistent, I felt, with my woven directive of producing textiles which need to be textiles, not paintings. The most difficult piece to date was last spring’s “In My Mind’s Eye I am Fine” a nearly full size woven silhouette of a figure. It was nerve wracking to weave, row by row, bottom to top, as I worried continually about how I could control the form, how expressive my lines might be, whether my lack of skill in rendering this form would become a part of the expression. It took me months, as worry is the thing that slows me down the most.
I am now nearly done with the next step in that battle. A few months ago a close friend related her dream to me: that she saw me lying on a bier, as if dead, but I was weeping continuously and smiling. I was also wearing a fabulous suzani dress, as it happened (my friend is a textile person too). What an image! I set about immediately making the warp for this piece, made scale drawings, threaded the loom, embarked on the project.
First issue: was I going to weave the suzani flowers? Was this about making my own suzani? (very appealing! but I was concerned it would not do justice to the embroidered reference) Or was it about the narrative? Would making an awkwardly woven suzani distract from the real story, the smiling-and-weeping self? I saw this story as my next step: I am sad but I am fine! So the flowers were left behind.
Then there was the form itself. More difficult hands! that stopped me for weeks. Got them done and then unrolled and saw a comically distorted body. That threatened to stop the project, but I finally sat down, made a full scale drawing, and got back on the horse. And today’s work, at last, is to weave the very important smile. One might have noted, my earlier heads have had ears but no faces. Here we go. So it is woven, she is my Mona Lisa with, I hope, an ambiguous smile. I took a break to write this, and now I am off to weave the top of her head.
Yesterday I finished shipping out all of the tapestries for my upcoming show at Hibberd McGrath Gallery, opening April 2. What a feeling of accomplishment! This was a big body of work, full of feeling, and the last piece was compounded in difficulty by my breaking my arm 4 weeks ago. I went to the loom as soon as I could and managed to squeak out some of the weaving, but this was the largest piece, topping out at 65″ tall, and it wasn’t until my cast came off last week that I could really attack the bees and get it finished. So here are the last 2 pieces off the loom, both woven on the same dip-dyed red warp.
|In My Mind’sEye I am fine, 2011, 65″ x 29″|
|Swarm, 2011, 31″ x 29″|
Most of my color use in my weaving has been, admittedly, tied to a limited palette of landscape & architecture and fairly literal. I won’t say it is not inspired or even lyrical, as I often begin in my inspiration for work with the color that comes into my line of vision. But it is dictated by some grounding in an exterior place.
My most recent work has been tied to an inner, metaphoric landscape of emotion that is linked to reality by a figurative silhouette and animated by bees, which have always been the animators of all of my landscapes. In this time of pain I have found my bees to be the language of engagement that works for me. Surrounded by bees when I am safely zipped inside a bee suit, the air is alive with their language and they crawl with great energy all over me. This would be threatening without my protective clothing, but inside the suit I can enjoy their nearness and not worry about imminent pain. My woven bees are, similarly, simultaneously benign and threatening, my protectors and my adversaries.
But the color now can be informed by an interior dialogue of emotion and metaphor. So in winding warps last week for 4 new tapestries in the series, I thought, hmmm, what color? I looked at the yarn shelves in my studio and intuiutively chose carmine reds and sulphur yellows. Out of these will come these stories:
The Burning Barn ( I wove the study two weeks ago)
In My mind’s Eye I am Fine
The Bees Always Swarmed When We Argued (working title)
Here is the photo of the warps as threaded through the reeds. More as it happens.
Have faith, I am still working! but slowly. I am happy to say that I like what is creeping off my loom, and hopefully things will calm down shortly — I have been traveling a lot, and then of course there was Thanksgiving — and I will get to the Barn on Fire tapestry that is in my head. But for now, here is the second in the set of three portraits I have made this fall of my inner state. (you may see “Beset” here)
|Bemused, 2010, wool with metallic & rayon|
So, having run out of the linen floss in the tree piece, I went back to a tapestry I began earlier in January, of burr comb (which is the free-form comb honeybees make when not restricted to a bee frame). This piece required a real change of mental gears to get back to, as each honey cell, though made exactly like its neighbor, requires attention to shaping and counting threads to keep the circles round (I WILL NOT weave hexagons, you mathematical people out there who think weavers can do just any old geometry they like on their grids). The trees, on the other hand, allow me to apply the moss detail at whim, intuitively.
I would guess I am about 1/3 of the way up. When I can leave this seductive computer I will go over to the loom today and keep going. Yesterday afternoon I wove 4 rows of cells. The space heater is by me feet to keep me rooted to the spot in my chilly, high-ceilinged studio.
I made two Bee tapestries in 2009; the first is of our hives over by the flooded Wabash river (the river is one field away from us, but in the spring the field floods up to our property line, where the hives live). The second came later, begun after watching in admiration and dismay as we lost 3 swarms of bees in May last year (“come back! come back! what did we do wrong?”). Swarming is a breathtakingly beautiful sight, when the air is filled with a vibrant buzzing audible from a long way away as the bees leave the hive and hover over it for a while, in a cloud, waiting for the next command from their queen. They then move up into a nearby tree and hang in a quivering mass as the scouts go out — for hours or sometimes for days — to find a new home. In our case, it took about 2 hours, during which we wrung our hands and wondered how to get a ladder high enough to reach them and get them down (Ben has experience with capturing swarms, but not a long ladder!). The as we watched, they suddenly let loose and flew in a huge mass across the field toward the river, never to be seen again. (“come home! come home!”)