30 January 2016

"Copying" and playing

"We learn by copying" wrote Melody Johnson of her own copy of a favourite painting (see it here), and I couldn't agree more. "Copying" is a slippery word - are we attempting to deceive with our imitation, or are we using the process to understand the original work, or perhaps to develop something we "saw" in it?

This work by El Anatsui
found on artsy.net
had me looking at it for a long time. It's made of bits of metal - tops of liquour bottles - joined with wire. It's a cloth with the three-dimensionality, the drape, of fabric; it's like an embroidered cloth, with the coloured lines and areas, a tattered, worn cloth. All the contrasts intrigued me. 

What a great source for this year's journal quilts ... but it needs a little translation out of rippling metal and into "at least two layers held together by stitch". 

I taped a large sheet of paper up onto the wall and got out coloured inks, pastels, crayons, candle, black ink. 

Not sure at what point it "went wrong" - probably at every point when I compared the developing ...thing... to the original. Or did the wrongness hit me when I got that "uh-oh, channelling Klimt" feeling. Or even earlier - using the inks on hand (bargain bottles of red, orange, yellow) rather than actually thinking about what colours to choose. Certainly, at any point when I stopped responding to what was actually there and instead let some "brilliant idea of what to do next" run away with me.

By this time, feeling "nothing to lose", I had a moment of black-ink madness on the bright column -
That tipped it over the edge.

But the three hours spent with the  ...thing...  were happy hours, enjoying using the materials and wondering about this and that (eg, what materials to use next time; what marks to make where; is this going anywhere; is it time to stop), and making decisions (for better or worse). Looking back at the El Anatsui piece, I appreciate the skill and nuance of the composition so much more.

This won't be the design basis for my journal quilts. Chopping the design up and making the quiltlets "to order", month after month, is simply too rigid - it goes against the spirit of JQs!

As for these, they're on the way to somewhere else -
What a lot of fun you can have with the leftovers ...


Liesbeth Williams said...

El Anatsui is one of my favourite artists, if one is allowed to have favourites. In the British Museum downstairs in the African Sainsbury bit are some wonderful pieces by him. You have probably seen them. I particularly like the wooden piece like a screen.

Liesbeth Williams said...

I meant to add that I like your responses to his work. Very exciting.

Gillian Cooper said...

I love your response to El Anatsui's work. There is a real liveliness to it. Copying/appropriating seems accepted in the general art world but for some reason many quilters seem to have a real hang up about it. I think.it is a really useful approach

The Idaho Beauty said...

Getting inside our heads to discern why we think to play with someone else's idea has puzzled and fascinated me for as long as I've been doing it myself. I had to laugh that your piece to "copy" from was metal. I purchased a piece of art last year that was manipulated copper - flat piece that was bent into undulations topped by woven strips of copper - and I swear, a lot of the reason I was drawn to it was the fascination that the artist was doing with metal what I do with cloth. And yes, it crossed my mind to use that idea of weaving with the ends curling off this way and that in my own textile work.

Fun play for you indeed - and quite the jazzy pieces when cut up.

Charlton Stitcher said...

Those left-overs are indeed intriguing. Maybe the 'copying', 'interpreting' or relating to something in our own current thinking to spark new thoughts is what we all do as we look at other people's work or just at the world in general. I think how far away we go from the original and what it sparks is the interesting thing.
What happy hours can be had with all this play!"