I have woven expressive faces for 9 months now, and have received baffled, amused, indifferent, and engaged responses to them.
It is always difficult to bring a new body of work into the world that has no apparent genetic connection to all the other work one has made in the past. It causes all sorts of uproar, breaks gallery relationships, and even upsets friends.
Every time I indulge in making figurative work in textiles, I reap trouble. When I was an undergrad in Fibers at Kansas City Art Institute, circa 1974, I wove a large tapestry of a reclining, yellow nude, part of a number of figurative pieces I had produced that semester. It hung in the school cafeteria for a week with some other fiber work. I got so much derision from painting students I was mortified (“why don’t you just paint, then?”), and abandoned the human form for many years.
I wove beautiful, engaging, thoughtful series of garden and architectural themes for many years to happy acclaim and good sales. (https://lfntextiles.com/gardens-and-architecture/)
When my marriage fell apart in 2010, I embarked on a series of figurative works to try to express the personal, spiritual transformation I had to undergo to find peace. It resulted in my being asked to leave the gallery which long represented me in Santa Fe, as it simply didn’t sell like my other work.
And now, I am weaving and drawing and printing images of faces expressing bewilderment, surprise, dread, anger, pain, and all the multitude of emotions that I am going through in this tumultuous cultural and political climate in my country now.
Many people have responded with comments that these are even “fun”. Some have suggest d they would make great pillows (well, why not?). Some gallerists have indicated that this is not their “favorite” work from me. And two members of my family have demanded why I am making such painful images.
I wonder, is it me? Am I just supposed to make pleasing things? More soon…
Have you ever found that, when removed from an investigative process by any kind of other demand, that you return refocused, and maybe differently focused? Often, this happens to me. I used to be able to control my creative life by daily rigor and insistence, but the older I get, the more life intrudes to change the focus.
this might be fun! I am not yet sure. But it is a fact of my artistic, as well as of my mundane, life.
I worked insistently though four months, making faces that I felt reflected my responses to daily events. Satisfying! But when I take a pause, my thoughts move along. Tomorrow, after a hiatus of effectively 4 weeks, i re-enter my studio to re-assess what i have talked about. And yet, I am technically unable, at this moment, to continue to write about it…
here is a mini rant: I hate WordPress! So I can’t continue to write what I am thinking about now. So all I can say is, watch this little page to see what the captive can squeeze out. If I can.
Last week I was in Nova Scotia, reveling in the sparkling cool weather and in the company of my dear friend, Sandra Brownlee. Sandra is well known for her finely detailed weaving, and for her inspirational workshops on Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word.
We have been creative friends since we were at Cranbrook Academy of Art together in the early 1980’s. Sandra was a strong and compassionate mentor then, and continues to teach me with her love of making. Here, with her permission, a few photos of her magical home, a huge inspiration to me.
I have been hunting for a way of manifesting a body of work which would be rigorous, exploratory, and pleasurable in the execution. I am into the third set of small weavings of faces and face-like items. (I wrote about Sad Mango a few weeks ago)
I supposed this was sparked by my adventures in the woods at Bloedel Reserve a year and a half ago. The trees were full of eyes, watching me with a benign interest. I have been struggling ever since to determine what to do about this perceived watchfulness.
I finally determined, after quite a bit of waffling, that I have a great interest in faces. I want to express that interest. The challenge in weaving is (as always), just how to manifest the subject. And why even make them? It took my head a long time to settle down over these issues and just allow me to weave simple faces, but full of expression. I am working on economy of marks but full expressiveness.
Here are a few recent ones, (each handwoven, wool with cotton, roughly 6″ square).
I usually find that my cats are fairly uninterested in my world, unless it directly overlaps with their own in terms of being fed, getting the head scratched, whatever.
The two cats at my studio have recently begun piling up directly in front of my computer, begging for attention. My attention is focused there, hence it is their main mission to distract me from my work so I will pet them.
This morning, after the usual frantic purring and thrusting activity from the grey cat, however, she settled back to rest and purr.
Later, I noticed that she wasn’t sleeping. She was intently watching the computer screen as I made changes to a design. Who knew? I have held cats up in front of mirrors as they demurely refused to acknowledge the image of the kitty opposite, so I had assumed that they simply were not interested in two dimensional representation. My story is now being corrected.
For me and for many people I know, 2017 has proven, so far, to be a year full of dread. The hope and creativity I reaped from an artistic retreat at Bloedel Reserve on Puget Sound last October remains a fragile flame to protect from howling winds of change around me. I am grateful, so lucky, to have had the opportunity for that beautiful and thoughtful time, just before the election, to focus on what was important to me as an artist, and to sharpen my ability to see, and to manifest what I see in my art.
My work for many years has been more about pleasure, contentment, finding the good in my world. It has felt solid, providing a vision of beauty as a way of making sense of what is important to me. That no longer seems to be enough.
I recently began a weaving which, in spirit at least, felt totally new to me. Some of the visual techniques are familiar, some are stretching, as I struggled to manifest something deeply felt and ineffable. I have decided that it is the world of the feeling and the spirit that have meaning for me now. How to show them?
As I was trying to focus on how to go about the new work, I was doing my morning crossword and hit upon a clue to both a word, and to what I was thinking about: “river of forgetfulness”. Aha. It resonates.
The resulting tapestry refers to the sad, longing eyes in the alder trees which watched after me on my daily walk through the woods. They were growing around a gloriously evocative bird marsh at Bloedel Reserve, and the knots where limbs had been were all eye shaped. This image spoke so strongly to me I knew it was a big metaphor.
I know it seems to be a dark work. It hurts me to look at it. The silver river winds among the watching trees, trying to distract from what they are seeing.
Like many designers, I have been having a load of fun with the recent kaleidoscope apps available everywhere. Like a funhouse mirror, they can be amusing; refining them into a usable design and actually applying them to product can get into more skilled and rewarding work. Here are a few things I have culled from my designs at PAOM.com.
I have not written on either of my blogs for several months. I have been a period of fairly deep transition — no, let’s say self-examination. It’s been a few years of most of my studio work being design and craft based, while avoiding the issues and depth of the fine art-making that I associate with my woven work, and in the spring I began to feel that I was spinning off center.
|Spring Field, detail. 2014, wool with cotton & metallic, 26″ x 27″
Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright 2014)
Ever since I began weaving I felt an almost mystical connection with the process. For many years I worked almost like a demon, taking few breaks, focusing on weaving as my most important means of communication in art. I strayed off the path in the early 90’s when I bought a computerized knitting machine, and substituted knitting jacquards with deep focus. Then in the mid-90s I learned to design for and weave on the jacquard loom, and eventually segued that knowledge into founding a ribbon business, which for a number of years took up a great deal of my time.
Generally when I work through whatever it was that sparked such intense curiosity I come back to the loom full of fresh insight. After machine knitting, I rediscovered the joy of slow hand manipulated weaving with a lot of detail. After jacquard, the investigation of color re surged with great urgency.
Each time I take a break of any significance from my woven thought, I come back to it with a changed point of view, which seems to amplify the expressive powers of my chosen medium.
Now, after spending 7 years expanding my practice of textile design through ribbons and home furnishing textiles, I am finding that I need to let the artist gain precedence once again. Here is my thinking.
For me, design, while a great discipline with which I have barely come to terms, remains something which is tied to someone else’s needs. I began by working with smaller companies which, like me, valued individuality and creativity for their own sake, and the interaction with the market was a happy one, where (as it appeared to my admittedly naive eyes) the customer came because she valued what we put out there under our own terms. But now (after having read hundreds of posts and comments and opinions about the value of promotion and marketing), I feel impatient with the fickle customer, for whose favor I must fight constantly. It would seem that it is not only essential to have a broad range of styles, but one must be able to work completely in disguise as some other creature.
Maybe I am just to old and stubborn, but I see that in art, one of our primary tasks is utter honesty about what is being made, the voice that is speaking; whereas in design for the general market (I should qualify that to say “surface design”), the job seems to be to do anything to stay the most popular girl on the block.
I am aware this could seem jaded or bitter. I still very much enjoy designing ribbons and rugs, and value the support of my clients who want my work in its fullness, not a pastiche of trend. But the reinvention on a seasonal basis of style, palette, and trend are making me crave the solitude and thoughtfulness of my studio and my loom.
All this thought takes introspection, and I don’t like to write when I have nothing to say. But I’m back, and will try to stay here!
|Sandra Brownlee, Weaving in progress, Pages Series #1|
One of my dearest and most creative friends of all time is the Canadian artist, Sandra Brownlee. We studied together at Cranbrook Academy of Art in the early 80’s, and I learned an enormous amount from her freshness, her curiosity, her generosity, and her openness to learning. A born teacher, she has taught itinerantly for many years, workshops mostly but also at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University), Philadelphia College of Arts (now University of the Arts), and Nova Scotia College of Art & Design among other places.
She has been on my mind lately. I owe her a phone call, and we are always plotting to figure out how we can get together, since Halifax, where she lives, is an expensive plane ride away.
I looked her up online today with an idea to finding out her teaching schedule, and I found that she has won another prestigious award, this month. There is a Youtube video of Sandra musing as she works. Watching it made me fall in love with her all over again. Her philosophy is a simple one, in fact it is the same one I have for working: “Make a mark. See where it goes.”
Here is the transcript from the video (taken from the Youtube site):