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 weaving faces for several months. I began with small works, about 8” square each. Simple sketches, gestural and to the point. The idea is to give quick studies of the kinds of feelings which occur in a time like ours.
My artmaking, when I was young, was mostly about drawing faces, and i longed to get back to the direct expressivity and engagement of personality and opinion.
Working like this now, in weaving, is about the precision of line necessary to make subtle changes in expression. It gives me a new way to interact intimately with my process and examine each thread to see what it will do.
I have envisioned a roomful of large faces like this, suspended, not necessarily nailed to walls, 36”x 30”, or so. I am working on these now, along with a set about 12” x 18”, which, annoyingly, are proving more expressive. What’s size got to do with it? Most likely, it is easier to control the image at that scale.
I am amazed by the difference in working between these scales. What works as a small gesture seems, well, sometimes silly, translated to a larger scale. How do I draw at that scale to keep it real? What is astonishing is the technical dexterity that I need for this translation.
Everything becomes exaggerated. Lips, when small, nearly inconsequential, a mere mark , but then 6 times as large? Silly?
The small pieces seem gender neutral. The big ones seem more female. And perhaps cartoonish? It seems I always come back to the face I know best, my own.
This is all good information to ponder, as I make. I often find that I do not know what I am actually making until after I make it. This is new territory for me. Feedback is so helpful. Please comment, if you are so moved.
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).
Drawing! Line + shape, form, color = drawing? What separates drawing from, say, weaving?
I tend to think of drawing as line, and color as fill. Drawing as line, shape as form.
Drawing as line, form as the total.
Weaving is a process with its own system of mark making. But I like to draw. I like to think I can use weaving as a drawing medium.
I am scornful of those who speak of “woven paintings”. Then why do I reference drawing when I am really trying to weave?
I think I am defining drawing incorrectly.
Really, drawing seems to me to be the term for outlining a form, an idea; it is exploration.
Anyway, I am in a maelstrom of overthinking process and content lately. All I want to do is draw. All I want to do is weave. I want to weave things I have not woven before. I have been going back to the loom, making a fuss, stepping back, for many months now.
Today I decided to narrow in on, and so continue, a decision to focus on the human face, even if it is on, say, a Mango. I wove off five quick studies of facial expressions, and kept them as simple as possible, trying to use direct and simple means to achieve, literally, expressions.
(these are raw photos, taken while on the loom. More later!)
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.
Recently, I had a fit of pique when going through my tapestry inventory. I saw I had too much work around, and decided to have a flash online clearance sale. It was fast and furious, and I sold 14 out of 15 tapestries in 36 hours. It was so gratifying to send old work to appreciative new homes — particularly to those who had often expressed the desire for my work but felt they would have to win the lottery to be able to afford it.
Today, in response to a note from one of the happy purchasers, I was looking through my old source photos, and I thought it would be fun to pair the source up with the tapestries which resulted. I often work from photographs when the source is out there on the highway, and sometimes the relationship between the source and the resulting artwork is very obvious.
The tapestries shown here all date from between 2008-2010, and are based on the rural landscape near where I live in southern Indiana.
All tapestries are copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, and photos are either by myself or by Ben Nicholson.
|Small Tank Batteries, 2014. Handwoven, wool, cotton & metallic, 18″ x 19″|
|Spring Field, 2014, 26” x 27”, wool with cotton & metallic|
|Uneasy Sunset, 2014, wool, metallic, 27″ x 29″|
|Midsummer; 2014, wool with cotton and metallic, 26” x 35”|
|Pumping A. 2015, 26” x 35”, wool, metallic, cotton, nylon|
|Battery Tanks, Wadesville. 2014, 24” x 28” wool, cotton, nylon, metallic|
All work is handwoven by Laura Foster Nicholson, and copyright Laura Foster Nicholson 2014-15. Please do not re-use without permission.
|“Mid Summer”, 2014, Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright). 28″ x 35″, wool with cotton and metallic|
Tomorrow marks the opening here in New Harmony of my first show of all-new work since 2010. I have been in a major hiatus away from weaving after the last exhibition of new work opened in Santa Fe in 2010 failed to sell anything (yes, I am accustomed to making my living from the sale of my artwork). I had thought it was wonderful work, and it crushed me that Nothing Happened. I have continued to show that work, and I have sold some of it as well, so my ego has recovered somewhat, but in the process came a deep examination of what I expect from my artwork beyond making a living.
The time off was spent working very hard to find alternative, creative, means of support, which mostly involved textile design and hand-crafted objects. Both are processes I greatly enjoy, but neither nurtures my soul the way that art making does by invoking the voice of the individual speaking what is true.
I wrote about all of this at length in my last post so I will get to today’s point. As I drive back and forth across the midwest from here to Chicago mostly, I spend the hours contemplating how I can make weavings that talk about the amazing and significant architecture that is springing up wherever I look, in juxtaposition to the modernist, “conventional”, swaths of endless agriculture. These are the enormous, awe-inspiring and scarily anthropomorphic power towers for transmitting electricity. Along with cell phone towers and the occasional, beautiful and bright wind turbine, they punctuate the rural scene with an insistent hubris, and are reminders of our addiction to power. I recently asked a friend who knows more about these things than I, why does it seem that I see more of them every time I drive? He responded that even with renewable wind energy, we still need the power towers to transmit the electricity.
Am I the only one who ponders these things when I am driving through the fields? Ah, then I find this inspired design as I scroll through Google images:
|“The Land of Giants”, Choi+Shine Architects|
So I am inspired to try to make sense of these through my art, and the best way I know to make art is to weave. Even though these power towers seem like giant textile constructions, they would be murder to make as woven (all those non-90 degree lines!). For a while I fantasized about learning to make Batternburg lace and making them that way. (Here world, I throw this idea out there for someone else with more time to figure this out!)
But I digress. I like to use weaving the “easy” ideas to ponder how I will move along, as well as to ponder where I am going. The hands at work makes the ideas flow like clear water. I have found that color is thrilling me again. I wove several pieces on a not-to-waste 6-yard warp I had wound on a year ago (!), when I was thinking of doing something else entirely. (For those of you who don’t weave, this is a major investment of materials and time, as a 30″ wide warp at 30 threads per inch is 900 threads carefully handled throughout the whole process…). As I fought the predetermined color and fineness, I started experimenting on another loom with scaled up thread, same weave, still wool, but heftier (and thus carrying less ability to hold detail). I find that for where my head is right now, the heavier threads are giving me a new language of color, and I am thrilled.
But the Power Towers? ach. Not yet. As I drove through Posey county regularly this summer, however, in addition to enjoying watching the color waft through the spectrum week by week as time worked on the crops, I began to notice our own interventions. This area is part of the Illinois Basin, a deep midwestern oil resource that brought us an oil boom in the middle of the 20th century. The landscape is full of oil storage tanks, small oil pumps, flames shooting off gas exhaust at night. I realized that this is all part of the story, and part of my current weavable vocabulary as well.
|“Uneasy Sunset”, Laura Foster Nicholson, 2014. Wool with metallic and cotton, 27″ x 28″|
I rushed to complete this work in time to hang the show yesterday. I am thrilled with the color (though this is a hasty photo), less thrilled with the craftsmanship (haste makes waste…) On we go. Watch this space!
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!