Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quilt National 13 Opening Weekend

I was able to attend the opening weekend of Quilt National 13 in Athens, Ohio this past weekend. The jurors selected 85 pieces from 851 entries and truly, I believe they did an excellent job of creating a balanced show. There was a variety of figurative and abstract pieces, both large scale and smaller works, all strongly composed and beautifully executed. The gallery was open to the artists all weekend and I found myself wandering through the space in awe of the stunning works created by fellow artists.
The festivities began with an opening reception exclusively for collectors and the artists. We each received a copy of the catalog and many of the artists signed one another's books during those quiet hours before the gallery opened to the public. I was too busy enjoying myself to ask for autographs and had to spend the rest of the weekend catching up on getting signatures. It was fantastic to meet the artists in attendance, many of whom I have admired and followed online. I heard 69 of the 85 artists were there for the opening weekend, including artists from Australia, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

I'm glad that we had the time to wander around and see our work before the show opened to the public. I was so distracted in talking to everyone that I only got a handful of shots of the space before the crowds arrived.

Once the show opened at 5pm, it was difficult to photograph the art. But the energy and excitement was palpable.

The awards were announced on Friday night and there was a banquet following the reception. Sitting together, we had a chance to decompress, talk about the night and bond over such an amazing experience.

On Saturday morning, there was an Artist Walk and Talk. We were each given 2 minutes to discuss our work for those in attendance. It is so interesting to hear the story behind the art. Artists statements can only cover so much in such limited space. The Walk and Talk allowed the viewers to learn more about the artist's inspiration, process or just get a sense of the artist themselves. Our comments were recorded by the Dairy Barn. It will be interesting to see what becomes of those recordings. 

Other events for the weekend included, SAQA sponsored events (jurors panel, artist panel and talk by Kris Sazaki, incoming SAQA board president) and a breakfast sponsored by Friends of Fiber Art International.

The hardbound catalog was published by DragonThreads this year and will not be available on Amazon. You can purchase it directly from the publisher or through the Dairy Barn. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy. 

While the catalog is beautifully done, the photos never really do the artwork justice. Being able to see the works up close, examine their every detail, was a thrilling experience. Here are a few detail shots:
detail from Round and Round by Paula Kovark
detail from Moonset by Brienne Brown
The crowds marveled over Paula Kovarik's Round and Round it Goes and Brienne Brown's Moonset. Their thread drawings were simply incredible. The patience, imagination and skill to create these pieces were evident and both pieces kept the viewers coming back time and time again to spend just one more minute exploring the details.
detail from Tracings III by Deidre Adams
Another piece rich in texture was Tracings III by Deidre Adams. I have long been a fan of her work and was especially thrilled to see it up close. There is so much to explore in her art and I enjoyed visiting and viewing it several times during the weekend.
detail from Plastic Trees #5, Olive Grove in Ampolla, Spain by Rita Merten
I was also drawn to the works utilizing recycled materials. Plastic Trees #5, Olive Grove in Ampolla, Spain by Rita Merten was constructed of new and recycled plastic bags. She fused the layers of plastic together with an iron and then quilted it like cloth. The result was a highly reflective surface that shimmered in the gallery.
detail from The City by Natalya Aikens
Natalya Aikens' piece, The City, was constructed of collaged recycled plastic, bubble wrap, dryer sheets and other materials. It created a wonderfully complex surface with a variety of textures to explore. 

If you are able to see the show in Athens this summer, I highly recommend it. The entire exhibit will travel to the St Louis University Museum of Art in late September 2013. After that, the show will tour in smaller groups throughout 2014. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

El Cortez, Las Vegas

I am back from the opening weekend of Quilt National 13. It was amazing. There is so much I want to say about attending the opening and the experiences shared with the other artists, but real life is keeping me busy and away from the computer. I promise to write up my thoughts soon. In the meantime, I am excited to finally share images of El Cortez, Las Vegas.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

All about the fabrics

As the countdown to Quilt National 2013 continues, let's talk about fabric. I really enjoy the challenge of using cloth to create convincing realism in my work. The images are constructed from thousands of pieces of fabric and finding fabrics of just the right color and value to create dimensionality isn't always easy. Because my work is primarily sewn from fabrics purchased at local quilt shops and big box stores, I often spend hours shopping to get the colors right. I sometimes wonder if it would be easier to dye my own fabrics, but I really enjoy the search and I believe the printed surface of commercial fabrics  and the variation in hand dyed and batiked pieces adds to the visual interest of my work.

When I start shopping for fabrics, I typically hit my own stash first, culling sample swatches from the mix and getting an idea of what I need to purchase. I create a board of swatches before I go out. This helps to target my purchases by reminding me of what I have on hand, but these initial swatches frequently change after the first round of shopping.  Much of the final decision has to do with what is available in the stores at any given time. If I can't piece together a colorway using fabrics in my stash, I will purchase a full spectrum of fabrics with alternate choices. Sometimes the colors will look different in the studio, so having some other options on hand can save time.

The colors in El Cortez, Las Vegas are primarily turquoise blue, brown, white, black and red. While shopping for fabric, the light to mid range blues came together very quickly. I used a variety of hand dyed and batiked fabrics, with a couple of prints. The darkest values were impossible to find. Because I use a hand painted black in my work, it is often difficult to match the intensity of the black in the darker colors.  My solution is to use several layers of tulle to build up a rich shadow. In this case I used layers of navy and black tulle on top of a hand painted fabric to create a more complex dark blue that blended nicely with the full range of colors.

Occasionally, when I am sewing I discover that a fabric isn't working out the way I planned. The color is in the right family, but the print is too bright or too dark. Frequently, I flip it over to see if it works in reverse. Many of my pieces have examples of this technique, and El Cortez, Las Vegas is one of them. I loved the color of this print and felt it really worked in the rusted sections of the letters once I turned it over. It pays to be a little flexible when working in fabric. 

Where I struggled the most on this piece was finding the right range of browns. I wanted a reddish brown that was rich enough to compete with the turquoise. What I found time after time were browns that were too yellow or too dark. Against the turquoise, the yellowish browns felt flat and lifeless and the dark browns created a visual hole in the composition. I exhausted my local quilt stores. And truly, I started to panic. My deadline for Quilt National was drawing near and I didn't have a solution. I had found a handful of reddish browns that I thought worked together, but there was a gap in value. I could not find a fabric to bridge the mid range browns, until I came across this fabric in JoAnns:

I rarely look at novelty prints, but I was desperate. I am so thankful I found this while wandering around the store aimlessly, because the background of this M&M Halloween fabric was just what I needed to pull the browns together. I found it with a week to spare.

Overall there are 39 different fabrics in El Cortez, Las Vegas and 3 colors of tulle. 

If you are in Athens, Ohio for the opening on Friday, see if you can find the M&M fabric in my piece. If you look hard enough, you may even catch a glimpse of the odd foot or hand peeking out here or there. Boo.

This week I am grateful for: 
1. backup drives
2. lemonade
3. Southern California beaches
4. new shelves
5. time with family

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Finding Inspiration at the Neon Boneyard

Quilt National will be opening on May 24, 2013 in Athens, Ohio. I really want to share images of my piece that was accepted into this outstanding exhibition, but there are very strict guidelines that prevent me from doing so before the show officially opens. I will definitely post images here when I can. In the meantime, I thought I would share some fun facts leading up to the big reveal. Sound good? 

This was my first year entering Quilt National. As soon as I made up my mind that I was entering, I knew that I needed to find just the right sign to inspire me. I searched through my photo archives of old neon signs, but nothing seemed quite right. So, I decided to take a trip to the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas to get some new inspiration.

The Neon Boneyard is amazing. It houses a collection of more than 150 signs from the Las Vegas strip dating back to the 1930s. It is one of the largest collections of neon signs in the world. Many of the pieces are iconic signs from hotels that defined an era--the Stardust, the Moulin Rouge, the Flamingo and the Golden Nugget. There are also tons of vintage signs from restaurants and businesses that are long gone. It is a pretty spectacular mix of neon and bulb signs.  

The majority of the collection is stored in what can only be described as a dirt lot that covers roughly two acres. The lot is surrounded by a high chain link fence. The signs are often just leaning against one another in small displays and collections of disparate letters. There is a lot of broken glass and rusted metal, which only adds to the appeal for me, but does require a bit of caution when maneuvering around the aisles. When I went in June 2012 things were still under construction for a new visitors center, so I arranged for a private fine art photo shoot. The benefit of a private shoot is that I had the place all to myself plus I have a release to use the images of the signs in my own artwork. As an artist, I think it is imperative to honor and respect the copyright laws for creating derivative works.

To say that I found inspiration there is an understatement. I only shot for an hour, but I came home with more than 1,200 pictures. I have posted some of them here on my blog from time to time, but I imagine that many future works will be created from the signs discovered on this adventure. If you are in the area, I highly recommend arranging a guided tour. The Neon Boneyard is part of the Neon Museum, which also encompasses the visitors center and various signs that have been restored and installed around the city. I applaud and support their efforts to preserve and exhibit these important visual and cultural icons of Las Vegas.

My Quilt National entry was created from a photo I took of an old El Cortez Hotel and Casino sign. I literally took dozens of photos of this sign and one of the other photos was the final inspiration. The hotel was built in the 1940s and is still standing. Some of the signage, however, has been replaced which is how this sign ended up in the Boneyard. The paint has faded away and there are areas of rusted metal, graffiti, scratches and gouges that create a wonderful patina. I love the looping script and the combination of bulbs and neon tubes in this vintage sign. I hope you enjoy seeing the finished product in a couple of weeks.