11 August 2014

Why fabric?

Why quilts - rather than paintings ... do you sometimes wonder? Whenever SAQA's Art Quilt News pops into my inbox (you can subscribe here, it's free) I ponder this question - the quilts shown in it are each part of an exhibition somewhere. Of course, seeing the work on screen is nothing like seeing it for real, whether its a quilt or painting or other medium ... so the quality of the photography for what we see on screen is going to make a difference, especially for quilts, with the texture of the quilting often so very important in the design concept.

This week, thumbs up for fabric in this quilt, Yellow Pod, by Colleen Ansbaugh -
The fabric is monoprinted, which at first made me think - "why not on paper" - but here the quilting adds that necessary something to complement and enhance the lines and colours of the print. 

K Velis Turan's "Please Stand By" is screenprinted, and the reverse applique will make some elements pop, which again seems to enhance the design ... and wouldn't work as well in paint or print on paper. The visible quilting is a graphic element in itself (closeup is here) -

Nancy Crow's "Double Mexican Wedding Rings IV" (1988-90) could be a zingy print on paper, but this piece is "so quilty" because it comes right out of the quilt tradition - the blocks need to be pieced, not painted ... fabrics, not hues, need to be used. 
Would you say much the same about this next quilt? Does it need fabric and stitch to bring the design to life, or would it work equally well in paint, print, or collage? 
Alicia Merrett, Blue Harbour
Quilted sea ... that makes sense to me - the sea itself has a visible texture ... but when it comes to quilted skies, what do you think - does the quilting evoke the feel of the wind or enhance the look of the clouds? Or are skies best left "just" painted? 

Photorealism on fabric is another stumbling block for me - it makes me ask "why?"  Perhaps "because I thought it would be interesting" is good enough an answer?

It seems to me that sometimes the use of fabric is either an indulgence, or else a power struggle: the materials need to be vanquished, they need to be bent to the will of the maker.

There's a further consideration, and I rather hesitate to mention it, but here goes....  What do you think - could it be that some people using fabric because they haven't developed skills in other media?

(This was published yesterday on Ragged Cloth Cafe, http://raggedclothcafe.com/ - do go there and read the comments, and add your own! )

While wandering round Festival of Quilts, and looking at the Quilt National 2013 and European Art Quilts books bought there, I've been thinking about this topic and keeping an eye out for quilts-that-need-to-be-quilts. In light of this reconsideration there may well be a sequel to this post ... but don't hold your breath! 


Yvonne said...

I often ask myself the same question.
I call myself a textile artist as I don't quilt but work with fabric rather than paper.
I think it's something to do with the "feel" of fabric and especially silk that draws me to the medium.Also I do add stitch and also cut ,burn into the fabric
The challenge then comes from presentation. Do you mount it on a canvass, behind glass or simply on some hanging mechanism?
A constant dilemma!!

Birdie said...

These days I seem to do a bit of everything! Textiles, painting and drawing. I use cloth because I like to stitch, I like the action of it, the result is actually secondary, though obviously I want it work as a piece, too.

Making an image is different to making a textile piece for me... It's still an organic process, but I choose pastels or whatever for the qualities of the medium, and because I am wanting to make an image. My textiles are all 2d but because of the actions involved in the making, because the back can be as interesting as the front, I think of them as objects more than images. Even a 2d quilt has dimension because of the stitching.

Re: the question you asked...yes I sometimes think the same thing, though even someone who does work with cloth because their other skills are not developed must still have a good eye for design and composition for the quilts to work...

Sandra Wyman said...

I feel it's another medium for making an image. I also like that it links to many women in the past. The texture is also important and I feel that the quilting has to be an integral part of the whole and not just an add-on.
I too find photorealistic quilts difficult (but I find photorealistic art on paper difficult too, especially when it tends to get valued by many people over pieces that look below rather than just at the surface (mind you I would love to have the skills to make photorealistic art should I choose to do so!)). I found the People and Places exhibit interesting from that point of view - I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. The work of Mary Pal I always like, but hadn't come across the work of Lori Lupe Pelish before - the way the use of fabric together with her drawing and compositional skills to produce resonances that you couldn't get in another medium.

The Idaho Beauty said...

You have posed probably every question I've struggled with for years - good to know I'm not the only one wondering these things.

I well remember when a few painters started coming over to quilting, some very open about the fact that their own field was too crowded for them to make any headway or impact. I found that very offensive. They were in it for the money and the were winning. Yes, they were talented artists, but they were not talented working with cloth once they painted it - at least not at first. I think the quality of workmanship has improved since those first years but I still struggle with wholecloth painted quilts. OK, I'll say it - it feels like cheating.

Why fabric can often be answered by what stitch adds as in your examples. I can remember standing in front of beautiful abstract paintings that reminded me of the early quilter's batiks I was collecting and having the tiny epiphany that where the painter finishes is where I as a textile artist then begin. I so wanted to add quilting to those paintings!

But there are some subjects that prove problematic. Your mention of sky, and I would add snow, is a perfect example. Skies and snow are not textured for the most part yet in a fiber piece they must have something stitched over them and it doesn't always work well. And yet we can't keep ourselves from rendering them in the medium we love.