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…
I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career as an artist, to pursue whatever I want to. That is, unless I need money! But when it comes to the money part, I find it almost amusing to consider systems of evaluation.
When one is engaged in a craft based art, a frequent question becomes, “How long did it take you to make that?” With the idea more time spent, the more value obtained, rather like the electrician’s bill.
But here is the thing. The craft is essential, a mark of something finely considered, made via a deep experience with methods and materials. It has value, unless you compare it with goods made in China or other competitive places and sold en masse at low cost outlets.
Your average audience is not equipped to contemplate the difference between skillfully (albeit hastily) stitched pretty things, and your MFA differentiated specialty. Your loss.
When I speak to folks about why some of my work is so relatively expensive (heck, I am not world famous like Mr Picasso), I can only offer up what my vision of art is.
Art is the magic. It is whatever helps the maker to transcend everyday vision into something so meaningful that it takes your breath, or it reiterates your dreams, or it projects you to a different dimension of being.
Your questioner, then, can base her decision as to whether or not to purchase based on any of the following:
how long it took you to make it. This must inevitably be valued at less than her own hourly value at her profession.
or, the relative value of the materials you used (not silk? Why not?)
or, trend. (Sigh)
or, the near orgasmic experience of looking into a world which has real meaning to her (regardless of artist’s intent!)
I write this tonight as I am spending time stitching closed sachets, made of fabric digitally printed to my own design, derived from highly labor intensive tapestries, and stuffing them full of glorious dried lavender. Deep pleasure in the making. Hardly worthwhile to make, based on cost of materials and minimum wage. Selling at $20 each, a huge expense, and a relative loss. I am paying you to buy them: the scent is true glory and magic.
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.
Earlier this week I put my back out, badly; probably due to unwise handling of a snow shovel. Yoga, my usual remedy, didn’t help and maybe made it worse. Mindfulness didn’t help, nor did swimming in a blissfully warm pool. Four days of ache, but studio work must go on.
Yesterday, having gotten the go-ahead for a lovely commission which I am really looking forward to weaving, I decided that despite the back I wanted to start winding the warp. Many people dread this process: very repetitive, much counting. I view it as another meditative act, requiring deep mindfulness and focus. I do it the old fashioned way, on a warping board on the wall.
For those of you who haven’t done this, one winds the thread continuously around the pegs, spaced one yard apart, for the distance required for the length of the warp. Down, then back up = 2 threads. Counting is essential, and so there is a rhythm and focus required. I have evolved a slow swaying movement of my body to follow the motion of the arm as I go back and forth, peg to peg. It can be a beautiful process: it works best when I focus on the anticipation of weaving something wonderful. Silence is important so I can keep count. Please don’t write in with a better, faster, more efficient way: I need it to be like this.
Anne Wilson honored this process with a very elegant performative exhibition, first shown at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago in 2008. She called it Wind-Up: Walking the Warp. It featured pure maidens in white leotards reverently winding the miles of warp (later exhibitions featured community weaving of these warps).
From Wilson’s statement: “Nine participants accomplished the performed labor or “walking the warp,” converting the front gallery into a six-day performance of walking, counting, rolling, and winding. The rhythmic act of building a 40-yard weaving warp on a 17′ x 7′ frame was viewed from the Peoria Street sidewalk and resulted in a sculptural presence within the gallery. “
I have puzzled over this project for years. As an active weaver and devoted maker, I wondered at the pomp of her performance. How ironic that in writing this piece today, the penny drops and I get it. That’s right: how few people understand the depth of this slow labor. When a blue chip art gallery puts the microscope on it, is it made more understandable, or more arcane?
|Anne Wilson, Wind-up: Walking the Warp. Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 2008
(photo by surabhi ghosh, from Wilson’s website)
But back to my back story. The slow swaying, back and forth, back and forth, spine mindfully erect, worked out much of the misery of my pinched lower back. Ahhh. There is another benefit of mindful labor.