Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Art Quilt Reviews

Have you ever wondered how you ended up in the middle of a heated discussion without even knowing about it? Well, that seems to be the case for me this week following an art critique by Joanie San Chirico (a highly regarded fellow artist working in fiber, fabric, threads, surface design, etc.) of the Fiber Revolution exhibit at Georgian Court University during the month of October. As those of you who read my blog already know, I was in great part responsible for both securing and hanging of this exhibit - with help from Kevan Rupp Lunney. The critique is honest, clear, and provides examples to back up her critique. It is also less than flattering to the curator, the venue, and Fiber Revolution. You may go to the here to read the review and the 30+ comments that have flowed from it.

This kind of critique is a great learning opportunity for all - especially for me, one who is totally new at curating and still learning the process by immersion. The ongoing discussion growing out of the critique is enlightening, informative, yet not without some prejudice. I must admit I am prejudiced - I happen to have ties to the school, having taught for the Holistic Health graduate program for 3+ years... And having taking an amazing art class from an extremely gifted and well-known artist and author, Geraldine Velasquez, Ph.D. I found the art department at this very small Catholic girls college to be extraordinary in it's curriculum, class content, and professors. The gallery itself is something my own college did not have back in the 1960's - any more than it had lessons in curating exhibitions. O well.

So you may find it useful to follow these discussions and see where they lead. I can only hope they do not degenerate into Fiber Revolution bashing or worse. There is a growing tendency towards a polarization of views, which is not helpful.

Some of the latest comments are really criticisms of Fiber Revolution - about the very name of the group. And while I might agree with that assessment, this is not the forum for that topic - nor is it for outsiders to determine the name of our group - or so it seems to me.

Personally, I find the very term "art quilters" a complete misnomer as well. It puts everyone in mind of bed quilts and grandmothers attic, which does not help our cause to bring our art into the fine arts arena and gallery settings. We must, I think, graduate out of identification with quilting and quilt shows if we want to be considered serious in the art world.

Laura Cater-Woods has long been a proponent of separating our art from the word "quilt" for numerous reasons, but mainly to identify ourselves properly and advance our art and our careers. She recommended that I come up with one statement about my work that encapsulates the art in a single sentence. If the listener is interested in learning more, then I have a follow up sentence or two. And if they really get excited about what I am saying, they will continue to ask more and more questions to learn about this exciting medium.

The discipline of writing a single sentence about my work was both difficult and refining. Since I love to write, talk, and teach, I rarely consider limiting the number or words or sentences. Writing artists statements that confine me to 25 words is just as difficult for me - but the assignment forces me back to the base skeletal structure beneath my work, and that has proven to be invaluable to me in understanding my own work and in sharing my work with others, especially non-artists.

Writing an artist statement is just as difficult but perhaps more important since it will represent me to those who may never meet me, but will critique my work. My current statement is rather lengthy, at 84 words... I also have separate statements to accompany each piece of art work pertaining specifically to each piece. These exercises (in training my mind to think about my work in a linear fashion so that I can better explain it) have been a powerful part of my growth this year as an artist. If you haven't already done so, you may find it helpful to write your own.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rusting Update

Last Thursday or Friday I began my "rusting fabric" experiments - after reading lots of hints from fellow Quiltart list members. Above is the mess on the back deck, rusting away nicely prior to bringing it in for rinsing. I've learned several things that weren't necessarily included in various instructions:
1. vinegar and water stings in paper cuts
2. vinegar and water is VERY cold in 45-50 degree temps
3. this is a very messy process
4. rust "dyes" lots more than fabric (plastic containers, wood floors, kitchen sinks)
5. the process is extremely slow when the fabric-wrapped rusty items are submerged
6. thus air drying speeds the process considerably
7. so soaked rust-wrapped cloth set on an unwanted plastic object rusts faster
8. bleach works well removing rust from counter tops and aluminum sinks

Here they are after wringing them out, but prior to any rinsing:

The best, most complete help came from Kimberly Baxter Packwood, who has written a book about this process. She has generously shared quite a bit of her information on her website - the most important of which is how to STOP the rusting process from coninuing forever. Salt water soaking does that trick just fine - I know, because I rinsed the rusty fabrics in plain water, then salt water, then plain water again - the first two waters turned a lovely shade of burnt sienna (rust), the rinse water was clear!
Here the fabrics are soaking in saltwater:

Here is the saltwater AFTER the fabrics were removed - not the lovely color you see below. The next rinse was perfectly clear.

I wasn't that pleased with the over-all effects - that's why I think that the soaking actually prohibits the oxegen from oxidizing the rust onto the fabric... Anyway, I chose to put the fabrics back into the rusting process for a second round.
Below: the fabrics are back into a strong vinegar solution, wrapped around various rusting objects, more rusty things laid on top, and now they are left to the elements to do their thing once again. This time should be faster since few of the pieces of cloth are totally submerged in solution.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weekend Fabric Fun

Some of you will be wondering just what is pictured above. But for those of us reading the Quiltart mailings, you'll recall that I posted a question recently about rusting fabric. What you see above are fabrics wrapped around various rusting metal tools, etc. and resting in vinegar-water baths - on their way to becoming unique art!

And the results of the cloth above after two days:

And I've recently become fascinated with metallic fabrics and have been collecting small amounts of them for much of the year. Below is one mock-up I've placed using 4 1/2" blocks (4" finished size) with some borders. It's not yet what I want, but it's fun to play with!

Below is another piece I've designed and been playing with for awhile now. First the drawing, then the drawing reversed and colored in Adobe Photoshop, and finally, the fused piece on the design wall awaiting quilting.

Red Ribbons (c)Pat Dolan
At the moment, this piece measures 36"w x 45"h.

Friday, October 20, 2006

GCU Campus in Autumn

I substitute taught in the art department today where the students were working on their batik and silk paintings. I then stopped to capture some images before leaving campus. It's a beautiful campus, as you can easily see. And it was a wonderful day.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Autumn Photos - And Rusty Stuff...

I've been out and about this week, wandering, driving, walking and taking pictures.

Some things catch your eye and you simply must stop and notice them. I've been fascinated with the idea of dying fabric with rust and had already decided to do it when the following two scenes stopped me in my tracks to take the time to enjoy them in their own rustic beauty.

By the way, there are 5 or 6 pots of rusty stuff wrapped in various cottons soaking in vinegar and water sitting out on our deck. I hope the contents are happily rusting away and leaving permanent stains on the fabric. I've got several ideas as to how to use the prepared fabric, once it's dyed to the intensity I'd like. The anticipation is half the fun, but I think the actual playing with the 'new' fabric will be even more fun!

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Look who walked by the front door today...

And who stopped by the bird feeding tray the other night...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Emotions + Creativity

GOING IN CIRCLES 41”w x 29”h © 2004 Pat Dolan (click to enlarge)

For Deborah – who wrote: “Creativity is sporadic; very emotional, spiritually and physically driven, for me. It would be nice if creativity existed as a separate, independent energy. Does it, sometimes? For me, once and a while...creativity becomes the spiritual.”

Deborah makes some valuable points in her comments. Creativity IS very sporadic (unless one chooses to be highly disciplined – and even then, sometimes creativity is elusive), is also emotionally driven, spiritually driven, and physically driven. Creativity involves the whole person so all aspects of being human are necessarily involved. That is not to say that all aspects are fully or even partially conscious when one is creating. In fact, it is my experience that when I’m fully involved in creating, I’m not actually aware of time or space – rather, it feels as though I’m in a state of what I call the eternal now. It’s the space ‘place’ I go when I am captivated by the beauty of nature, the wonder of watching a newborn, where I slip sometimes by riding the sound waves of certain kinds of music…

I wonder what creativity would be like if it did somehow exist as a separate and independent energy…it’s hard for my mind to wrap around that concept. However, when I’m in the midst of creating it’s ‘as though’ both the creativity and the self are quite separate and independent of any outside influences or noticings – including physical hunger or pain, emotional mood, or spiritual awareness.

Creativity, for me, is nearly always akin to spirituality. They are somehow linked – perhaps by authenticity, whether or not I think/believe I am being fully authentic or even making something of simple beauty. Some have said that in our creativity we are most like God… and, since it has been written that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that seems appropriate.

Still, I am like a tiny cell on the planet earth – a tiny speck of sand on the shore of the universe. How that is being like God, I have no clue. And, quite probably, it’s not for me to know…

GOING IN CIRCLES –detail © 2004 Pat Dolan (click to enlarge)

GOING IN CIRCLES is a piece that began as a whole-cloth black quilt, machine free-motion quilted in tiny circles in colored threads that bled from one color naturally into the next. There were large black spaces that were left empty – no stitching, no color. And those large spaces bothered me. When I started the quilt, I was rather depressed but as I continued working on it, albeit sporadically, my mood lifted (with the help of pharmaceuticals) so by the time I thought I’d be done, the black seemed to be overwhelming the delicacy of the quilting. I chose to cut through most of those black holes and back them (by reverse appliqué) with beautiful colored fabrics that coordinated with the colors of the stitching nearest each hole. These colorful places were then outline quilted to create a juxtaposition of circles to the curvilinear just as the black was a foil for the color to dance across the piece. I added some foiling in a few places which shows up fairly well on the detail shot, above.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Work

TOPOGRAPHICAL STUDY #1 26"w x 17"h (c)2006 Pat Dolan

This is the latest piece in my monochromatic series - although this isn't precisely monochromatic...close enough. It's relatively small, but it was the perfect size to use while retraining my shoulder and arm back into continuous free-form machine quilting. I have always loved drawing, so free-form quilting is a special favorite of mine. Below is a detail showing the reverse applique and machine stitching.

And just because it's' autumn...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Creativity and Pain...

COLUMN OF FIRE 33"w x 63"l (c)2005 Pat Dolan

This thread on our QuiltArt mailing list has encouraged me to reflect on my own experiences with regard to both creativity and pain. For much of my life, I focused on creating beautiful watercolor paintings – often nostalgic in subject matter and very realistic - full of antiques, lace doilies, quilts, kittens, flowers, birds and other things I love. Throughout that period of time, I was attempting to disguise my true feelings behind the beautiful pictures I painted and I often used my time in the studio to escape my own feelings. It’s interesting now to look back on some of that work and recognize how the sorrow, pain, and frustration in my life at different times and see how it still shows through in my work despite all my efforts to hide those “negative” feelings.

Since changing my medium from watercolors (painted so realistically it was almost like painting by numbers – which is precisely why I quit doing them!) to fiberart, I’ve discovered an immense freedom in my own authenticity. I have no desire to disguise, camouflage or otherwise change whatever it is that I am experiencing – rather I want to express it concretely outside my body/mind/spirit, thus free myself of its weight and influence.

Many have written indicating how creating helps them escape pain while many others have shared the impossibility of creating during times of pain, stress, etc. I have experienced both phenomenon – and believe there is a difference in the type of pain I can create with and the type of pain that prevents me from creating. I am genetically predisposed to chronic depression. I have noticed that severe depression literally robs me of my ability to see, feel and create. Severe physical pain also is a strong deterrent from the actual act of making art, although I may be able to research, journal, design, and read about many things relating to that which I hope to create.

GRAY TEARS 16"w x 32"l (c)2004 Pat Dolan
Done in the midst of chronic depression...

FROM TEARS TO DANCING 14"w x 30"l (c)2004 Pat Dolan
Done as I was coming out of the darkest part of the depression...

Moderate depression generally keeps me from creating, as well. I remain disinterested in life, unplugged from experiencing, and out of touch with reality – although not so bad as to be unable to function. Anger, however, has often been a rich fuel for creativity, no matter the source. Thus when I am surfacing from depression (which some psychologists have termed ‘anger turned inwards’) and allowing myself to feel the anger that was submerged beneath it, I am highly creative, spontaneous, and prolific. My compositions are strong as are the colors I use. As it happens, when I’m unable to sleep, if I go into the studio and let myself go with the fabrics, amazing things happen.

"Column of Fire," pictured above and detail view below, was designed in a couple of hours in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. I was filled with anger, although I knew of no cause for the anger. But the emotions needed to be expressed. Black and red fabrics were blindly chosen, followed by the colorul 'snakeskin' pattern. Fire is a symbol of both life and anger, among many other things. Sometimes life almost requires anger - as defined by someone once as 'the norman human response to injustice.' Who among us has not experienced injustice, let alone witnessed injustice? It is a common theme of life, as we know it, is it not?


Whenever I do begin to create, it’s as though I step outside time/space and into a special place above/beyond circumstances. Many refer to it as the “zone.” It’s very much like what happens when I meditate – I’m beyond physical reality with all its encumbrances and living in what seems to me is a bit of an “eternal now.” And there are times in my life when I am as unable to meditate and/or pray just as there are times I am unable to create in any art medium, save writing in my personal journal. In fact, sometimes even journaling withers up to nothing. Those are the times when I must be gentle with myself and allow nature and life to take their course. To all things there is a season, and the dry seasons do eventually pass…

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fiber Revolution - GCU Open House

Fiber Revolution Opening Reception at Georgian Court University, Thursday, October 5th. Pictured below: Carolyn Vehslage, Carol Schepps, Pat, and Kevan Lunney.

Below are two more quilts in the exhibit which are missing from the photos in the previous posting.