Saturday, November 12, 2011


Thinking about what to write for an artist statement  has made me think about the origin of the piece and how and why I've been working with vintage fabrics. This naturally led to thinking about my own artistic process, the steps I take, and it was like striking a match to tinder. For me it always starts with color. In the wake of a long and productive dye season, I've been overwhelmed with beautiful cloth..even if I do say so myself. For a while I have had a design in mind - an iteration of a previous piece - and this morning light helped me choose a palette of cloth and take it out of the studio where there are too many color distractions.

I already knew what the base piece would be (which came right from here)  so I selected a double handful of colors to go along for the ride promising myself that I wont be using every crayon in the box...this time. The design will be relatively simple so the colors will have to be limited.

Squeezing the paints out onto the palette is what artists do...marshaling the materials. Ahead of time I know this piece will be permanently mounted to a large canvas 36" square, so my design has boundaries to consider. A piece of batting has been cut to fit and will act as my design wall as the piece develops. Hard decisions will be made about what cloth will be cut and which will be left whole.

The design itself is abstract but will have inferences and suggestions that always come right from the cloth.

(notes for the statement - Reasons why I work with vintage cloth)

I am old fashioned Yankee frugal or just plain cheap depending on your point of view. I could lie and say I'm all about recycling for the good of the planet but then there would be people taking exception to my use of contemporary dye processes and they would be right. I work with whatever my vision calls for- vintage fabric is everywhere and can be had for next to nothing and a little dye goes a long way. Long ago the fashion of setting a white table was the rule and a lot of that cloth has outlived the fashion and I am happy to be able to reap the harvest. I have my favorites, Irish double damask and cotton lawn, but I'm an indiscriminate collector and don't mind if a piece has holes, stains or burn marks- it's all going to be transformed anyway. I've surmised that because of changes in the manufacturing processes, cloth that was made sometime before the 60s takes up dye and other surface treatments better than "new" cloth. Fabric that has never been treated with fabric softener takes up the dye almost fiercely, yielding colors that could be described as translucent, even iridescent. You can begin to see my "whole box of crayons" dilemma.

I like the randomness and serendipity of the results of my dye process on vintage cloth. When I used to use acrylics on canvas I never, ever used a color straight from the tube, in fact, I rarely cleaned my brushes completely leaving them pickling in jars of dirty water waiting to be wiped off (on my jeans) and used to reveal hints of whatever color had come before  a reminder and echo of the previous days work.

There is a deep sense of personal history inseparable from these cloths. Many of the pieces I collect were created and used in ways that no longer exist. I hold a length of cotton flour sack in my hands, examine a hasty, unskilled mend and think about the life of the person who worked that rough needle and thread and what repairing this cloth meant to them - how important and completely utilitarian cloth was in their daily life.

I pick up a large damask dinner napkin that is as thick as felt with the depth of the fine weave and layers of jacquard design embossed in glossy white and monogrammed with the mark of the owner, the possessor of the cloth done with incredible complexity and skill by a person of low social station, her skills taken for granted and cheaply bought.
 I can drift away thinking about her sitting on a stool by a window with cold New England sunlight coming over her shoulder as she works the fine threads into the hooped napkin. Time traveling at it's best.

Ripping into these cloths and transforming them with color sometimes feels steeped in hubris. Not so much ballsy as lunatic.

I digress and have sidetracked myself but I'm rolling on two rails right now..writing about the how and why and starting something completely new. Really? 100 words?
Good times, noodle salad.

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