Saturday, June 25, 2011

Exhibition Only

Shirley Kay, India Hayford, and Carole Rinard after the award ceremony at the 2008 EGA National Seminar in Louisville, KY.  India is a fine artist and teacher who lives in Casper, WY.  Carole is currently Judge of judges within national EGA.
                Albuquerque Fiber Art Fiesta is over for the year.  It is held biannually on Thursday through Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend.  This year’s was as fun, educational, shopping worthy, and user-friendly as ever.
                In 2013 the next Fiesta will have some changes to it.  We in Turquoise Trail Chapter and in Sandia Mountains Chapter have to get together and write our ideas down, to codify them into guidelines for us to follow in succeeding years.
                One of the changes that we two chapters will have to make is to have a part of our exhibit that is non-judged.  This has been mandated by the AFAF committee (I am told--I have not seen the actual paper on this), along with several other points of action.
                My problem is this:  national EGA has a certain high reputation to maintain for excellence in needlework.  Within EGA, I am told by my friend Carole Rinard, pieces that are for exhibition only and not for judging also must go through the jurying process.  This means that all pieces must conform to that high standard.  Only-for-exhibition pieces are for the chapter members to show off their pieces that have won national honors and prizes, for instance a Bobby Pilling Award winner would be an exhibition piece, an EGA National Exhibit ribbon winner, or even an historical piece of quality work that has been passed down through a family would be for exhibition only.  Pieces that have already won more prestigious prizes than AFAF gives would be what might be shown.  It would specifically not be for people to exhibit poorly done pieces, old pieces, and damaged pieces.  
Shirley Kay, Carole Rinard, and Karen Schueler at Glorieta, NM, the Rocky Mountain Region Seminar in 2006.  Karen is the finest and best fiber artist I know.  Carole is a fine artist herself, but is also a great judge of needlework

                Why would someone not want a piece she had done not be judged?  A nationally certified judge, whether from the EGA, the American Needlepoint Guild, or from NAN would write down valuable comments for the stitchers on how to improve their work, what was good about the current piece, and what was maybe not so good. 
EGA, ANG, and NAN are guilds in the medieval sense of the meaning of guild.  People would bind themselves to a guild to uphold the highest standards in the land.  Work that was not up to guild standards would not be sold (or shown) under the guild name.  Above all, these national guilds are teaching bodies.  We teach only to the highest standards.
AFAF is the place to show our very best stuff.  As the Fiesta grows and gets a wider reputation for excellence, this only helps the standards of our chapters within the guilds.
So I am a little concerned that AFAF rules and regulations may run into and conflict with EGA guidelines for exhibiting.  We will see what is going to happen in the next two years before the next Fiesta.  Hopefully we can get things straightened out.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Conscious Artist

Draco--beaded embroidery on black velvet.
     The other day at the Sandia Mountains stitch-in, I heard someone call someone else “artistic.”  It has gotten me thinking about the differences between being artistic and being an artist.  I think I have been artistic all of my life, but I have only been an artist, a conscious artist, for the last ten years or so.  That is the key word, “conscious.”  After being an embroidery teacher for almost thirty years, after teaching color theory for twenty years and design theory for fifteen years, it was only ten years ago that I started calling myself an artist.
            It was ten years ago when I joined two other artists, Karen Schueler and Emily Holcomb, in a group that met every Wednesday that I began to strive to be more than artistic, and to be an artist. It was in Wednesday Group that I consciously began to do art as opposed to just designing embroidered pieces for me to teach.  Before that I had been in many art shows and had won prizes for my work, but I was principally a teacher and not an artist for art’s sake.
            A conscious artist has certain characteristics:
            Creativity--probably the essence of art and being an artist.  I cannot imagine an artist without imagination and the ability to create things from her own mind and soul.
            Independent thinking--along with the compulsion to work, an artist must have intelligence and must be able to work independently.  I don't mean a genius with a sky-high IQ, I mean someone who thinks, plans, and figures things out.  Artists are often very articulate about their work.  They explain things to their viewers and to other artists. 
            Problem Solver --Doing art can be like solving a puzzle or a problem. Artists who do many commissioned pieces are better problem solvers than anyone else I know.  I like to have a problem or two in each of my pieces.  If I don't have a problem to solve, then I am being redundant.  To me that is standing still and not improving.  I like to improve and learn something in each piece.
            Vision--an artist sees things in different ways from other people.  An artist can often see right into the heart of the matter.  An artist can see things from the back or underneath; she doesn't look at things, she sees into them.  And an artist can see the motives.  This is a talent that comes naturally for some people, but it can be taught to some degree.  The hardest part is that an artist must bring this vision to the ground fabric and convey it to the viewer.
            Emotion-sensitivity--an artist feels things very deeply and she can be very sensitive to the potential emotion of a subject.  Sometimes artists work without emotion and create wonderful pieces.  But a work of art that has some emotion behind it is especially wonderful.
            Builds Bodies of Work--this is also known as integrity or internal consistency.  In every art class and every drawing class I have had, it was emphasized that artists should create bodies of work.  That is, pieces that are related in some way.  Bodies of work can be related by theme, by medium, by color, shape, or even emotion.  An artist can work on several bodies of work interleaving them, as Picasso did.  Building integrity, internal consistency, and working in bodies of work tells the public and art critics that the artist is mature.
Artistic integrity is that an artist is true to herself.  For instance, I could not seriously do a piece a la Monet.  Monet had his own work, his own subjects, his own style and they were and are among the best that the world has seen.  But for me to copy a Monet in needlework, or even try to copy his exact style, would be a farce.  I must do my own work in my own style.
6 Pot Garden--transfer ink on cotton/poly mix with silk threads.

What Are the Duties of an Artist?
            A.  Originality is essential.
                        The EGA defines original, adaptation, and interpretation as follows.
                        Original:  An original work is one that, from the beginning, is solely the creative product of the embroiderer.
                        Adaptation:  An adaptation is one that is inspired by another source, modified through significant changes, and worked by the embroiderer.
                        Interpretation:  An interpretation is one that is from an existing design in which colors, threads, and stitches are selected by the embroiderer.
            You will find that these definitions are fairly stringent.  Outside EGA circles there are other definitions that also serve.
            Expertise in two or three unrelated media.
            A good artist, one who is well educated and trained, is able to work in two or three media.  I am not talking about needlepoint and smocking.  I am talking about embroidery and photography.  Or embroidery and printmaking.  Or embroidery and ceramics.  Each medium has its own rules, but the essences of the rules generally translate from one medium to another.  Design theory and color theory are always the same.  I am not saying that you should design and exhibit in another medium, just that you learn it very well and are able to navigate in it.
            One thing that ALL artists should be able to do is draw.  Drawing is one of those skills that can be taught.  I took my first drawing classes at Arapaho Community College in Littleton, CO.  Since then I have taken several more, but what I do most is practice.  Now I sometimes sell my drawings, but they are not the main thrust of my art--just my embroidery.  But my embroidery is much better now that I have the basic skills of drawing which include:   perspective, composition, scale, value, and proportion.  Yes, we can go to design theory classes and learn about these things, but a drawing class makes us learn them at a gut level.
            Drawing from life also helps us practice to be keen observers and analytical thinkers.  This helps in the process of self-evaluation and analysis.  It is from this observation that a lot of ideas for art come.
            To Thine Own Self Be True
            Have you ever heard the words, "Write what you know about?"  The same thing goes with art.  I know a young woman who had taken art classes in high school and college.  She started painting kachina pictures from the Hopi communities of New Mexico and Arizona.  This woman is from Kansas and has lived there and in Colorado all of her life.  Her neighbors saw her paintings and started ordering some to match the sofas in their rec rooms.  It is my opinion that this young woman, the niece of a good friend of mine who is a watercolorist, did herself, her community, the Hopi nation, and art a great disservice.  She could put none of her own soul into these paintings.  The kachina are religious paraphernalia of a another culture.  She knew nothing about the kachina she painted.  She did them in odd colors at odd angles on the canvas.  I hated them.  There is a good ending to this story.  Her aunt finally clued her in.  She has stopped doing kachina and is now in a couple of art galleries in Denver with her own work.   
            The story of this young woman has to do with the art term "authenticity."  An authentic piece of work from an artist is one that springs from "knowledge, skills, experiences, and attitudes of the artist."
            Continuing Education
                        An artist has to continue to improve.  One excellent way to do that is to take classes that will lead to new experience.  Take classes out of your area of expertise.  Take design theory from many different teachers.  The same for color theory.  By the way, design theory is more important than color theory.  Color theory is just one small part of the huge field of design theory.  Take a beginning watercolor class.  Take a jewelry making class.  I like to take photography, paper-making, and basketry classes.  Each of these can lead to new insights about embroidery, about the way real textures develop, about how colors darken and lighten on certain materials.  Take a pottery class.  But learn, learn, learn as much as you can.  An artist who slows down and does nothing new is a stagnating personality.
            Self-evaluation--This is also known as Reflection.  I think the hardest thing that an artist does is to self-evaluate.  I work and work on this myself.  Keep in mind that your most popular work, the one that earns the most praise and the most prizes, may not be your best work.  Only you can know this.
            One good method of self evaluation is to keep a newly finished piece unframed for a while.  Let it cool off.  Put it away for a month or two (if you have the time).  Then bring it out and pin it to your bulletin board.  Look at it at odd times from odd angles.  Think about its impact.  Think about the framing or other mounting.  What is good about the piece?  What could be improved next time?  Pieces that you dislike at first may turn out to be, a few months down the road, your favorite works.
            But self-evaluation has more to do with the artistic experience than just looking over the work.  Reflecting--looking into ourselves--makes works of art valid and full of depth.  Using life experiences and life emotion for artwork is part of what an artist does.
            What is an Artist?  An artist is a person who says she's an artist.  I am an artist because I declared myself an artist.  No one nominated me or voted me in.  I am an artist because I do art.  I do art because I am compelled to it.  I must do it.  Art is both the easiest and the hardest thing I do.  Being an artist is as easy as that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Transit

     Ariadne's Thread was Gold
metalwork and beads on velveteen
       blackwork in silk on linen

            Words of Allah
         detail of Arabesque

                    Keys of Allah
                      detail of Arabesque

 I have a sister.  Actually I have two sisters, one older and one younger.  The sister I am talking about is Albie, my younger sister.  You might think that her first name is Alberta or some such.  No indeed.  I cannot tell you her birth name in fear of being shunned from her good graces.  She got the name Albie because she and a couple of her friends as teenagers used to sit out in one of their parents’ carports to play innumerable games of Risk.  My sister liked starting from the Alberta, Canada area.  The name stuck.  When she married she had her name changed to Albie Peterson Merrill.  But from her mid-teens she would answer to no other first name.  She is a strong-willed person.

Over the years I have given Albie several of my works, including the one entitled Ariadne’s Gold.  But her favorite is a big blackwork sampler called Arabesque.  Arabesque is on 28 count white linen with blue and black silk threads (as I recall, they are Au Ver a Soie--seven stranded silk).  The sampler is approximately 13” X 9” fringed out with four-sided stitch holding the fringe at bay.  Several of the fillings are beaded, giving it a dimensional look when seen in the flesh, so to speak.

All of the sampler’s filling stitches are based on Arabic calligraphy.  There are seventeen fill areas, including two in the Hand of Fatima to the right.  It was a labor of love for me, taking three months in early 2001 to design, stitch, and frame.

Albie invited me and my daughter Barrett to Seattle to visit with her over Memorial Day this year.  She said she had something she needed done.  So I kicked off my traces, got on a plane to Denver, then to Seattle, and after many mishaps and tribulations, I arrived at Sea-Tac 11:30 PM on a Thursday night.  Barrett arrived the next day by train (she always was a show-off!)  We started our heavy partying in our all-girl fashion--by eating.

We went and did, saw movies, napped, ate some spectacular Seattle food, drove around, rode a ferry, and TALKED.  It was wonderful.  Then on the last day when we were in her gorgeous, bright apartment overlooking Puget Sound, Albie told me what she wanted me to do.  A corner of Arabesque had come loose from its moorings; some of the white silk threads I had used to stitch it to the silk fabric undercloth had wiggled their way free.  Would I please restitch it without disturbing the framing or the backing? 

I took a minute or two to exam the situation.  I called for a needle--she had one packet of needles and a wonderful old needlebook she had inherited from the family.  There was just one needle in her whole twenty that would work.  Thank goodness, I had stretched the under cloth silk on artist stretcher bars and not on foam core. I called for the silk thread; I had sent her matching white silk thread some years ago in case something went awry.  And I called for her embroidery scissors.  Out came a large pair of dressmaker’s shears that had belonged to our mother.  They were sharp down to the tips!  A half a dozen stitches and snips later and we were in business.

Have needle will travel may have to be my new motto.  If, of course, you supply the needle.