Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Aino Kajiniemi

Aino Kajaniemi (born 1953) lives with her family in the beautiful central lake district of Finland. It is the house that she grew up in, and her studio is in the cellar. The rhythms of nature and everyday life influence her work. Her images of female protagonists, shown in the midst of thought or caught in interior monologues, are as assured as the line drawings of women made by modernist painter, Henri Matisse.

“The subjects of my work usually originate from the innermost heart of a human being; sorrow, joy, uncertainty, guilt, tenderness, memories, and so forth.” The eyes of her subjects look down, off to the side, or into themselves. This invites the viewer to consider beyond the picture and build a narrative that passes through and between the woman in the tapestry and the interiority of the viewer. Kajaniemi’s subjects are not passive women offering themselves up to be gazed upon, they are intently involved with their inner lives and this self involvement inspires a similar participation within the viewer. Kajaniemi usually produces eight to ten small tapestries that are displayed together in order to give multiple perspectives. She uses the difficult and labour intensive technique of tapestry weaving. She selects which aspects of her narrative will be hidden and which will be revealed. Yarns are interwoven and carefully considered and the process is painstaking. Craftsmanship is important to Aino Kajaniemi. Her line is controlled, yet dramatic, nervous, and spontaneous.

“My textiles are my way of thinking. I appreciate simplicity, but I work things out in a complicated way. " Yet her work has a swift and easy look, as if it was just a sketch. To achieve this casual look, she does many pre-sketches beforehand. She may draw the same idea over and over, ensuring that the composition is interesting and that the subtle glance of the subject is emotional. Eventually she translates the sketch to the loom and uses a single line of black wool to weave her idea into white or natural backgrounds always allowing for changes that may arise.
Her work never loses the feeling that it is just an easy sketch, made quickly when the subject was caught unaware in a reflective moment. The idea of lace or lace-like pattern appears often in her work. These spaces, lines, curves and floral shapes translate a feminine, fragile sensibility and contrast with the pared down, almost tough, tapestry weave. Out of place colours and different weights of yarns are added and disrupt the even warp and weft. We remember that cloth eventually wears out after time because this work seems to hold its own destruction within itself. It appears to be something old that has been mended, and eventually, some time in the future, it will wear away.

“I get all my threads from flea markets now” she said in 2008 which explains the surprising tones and materials that enliven her new work. This up-cycling of used or surplus materials is an ethical decision. Our current material culture is ‘awash in plenty’. Kajaniemi’s pared down imagery and slow intent sings of order within the disorder of our wasteful world. A sense of isolation is palpable in her work, relating perhaps to the loneliness of the beautiful Finnish language, unique in Europe.

“Weaving is finding”

After 30 years she still allows the weaving itself to make unexpected decisions and avoids complete mastery. If, as Rilke proposes, poetry’s purpose is to address the natural growth of a human’s inner life then these weavings are poems.

All images are from the artist's website.
Text is from my 2010 BFA dissertation, "The Immensity Within Ourselves" for Julia Caprara School of Textile Arts.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Noriko Narahira

Noriko Narahira was born in 1948 near the tragic war zone of Hiroshima. Everyone there had experienced loss, and this underlying horror must surely inform her work although she never refers to it. Instead she speaks about the influence of nature.

When she was a student Noriko Narahira lived and worked very close to an unspoiled natural area. Aware of the rhythms and cycles of nature, the sounds of rustling grasses, leaves and birdsong, those feelings of soft air has never left her.

“My perception of nature has been the main inspiration for my work.”

Eastern meditation practice informs her work, demonstrated in the attention Narahira pays to intervals, small differences, and breath. The physical repetitive activities of wrapping and stitching do not attempt to conquer time but instead allow her to be at one with its flow. The repetition is meditative.
Some pieces marry elements of Japanese daily life such as the colourful printed kimono, obi and koinobori, (hanging streamers that catch the breeze) to the elegance and fragility of European lace. As in lace, it is the voids and spaces in her work that are the most important design elements. sound of nature, printed cotton, organza, polyester thread, 1994

“There is no tradition of lace making in Japan, but my perspective is Japanese. I wanted to bring this to my work in lace.”

In her installation, sound of nature, twig-like rolled and stitched pieces of printed cloth are collected loosely together as if from the forest floor into airy panels held together with delicate threads. There is as much open space as connecting thread. The small linear elements outline large circular voids or mass together to form large leaf or ark shapes. Everything emerges organically from a chaos of seemingly unorganized threads in an all over composition of emptiness and slender broken lines. Human sized, the work hangs from the ceiling and casts mysterious and ephemeral shadows. scene of white, felt, organza, polyester mesh, polyester thread, each dress life sized, 1999


hanging in the air

white wind of the atomic bomb

Noriko Narahira also stitches into wool felt, distorting the fabric by covering it completely with stitch and pierced or slashed holes. The intensive stitching activates and distorts the surface and connects her work to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi which teaches the acceptance of transience and that beauty is in imperfection, impermanence, and decay. In Scene of White a series of five white dress-like shapes hang in a semi circle from the ceiling. They hover. They seem like angels, each different. One has zigzag points coming out of one side, others are longer, curvier, another has a large ellipse made of unstitched sheer organza where the chest would be. All have been slit, slashed or punctured with holes.
It is the central dress shape in this series that drew me to Noriko Narahira’s work. A mummy shape, wrapped and with a useless arm, rent and slashed through the torso, it is full of holes. Punctured, some flesh coloured areas of stitch are revealed in the middle area.

Wrapped, swaddled
With its own death
Held tight

Personally, this piece is one of the most emotional pieces of stitched art I have ever experienced. It recalls for me a vision of my mother when she lay dying. So still, propped by pillows, wrapped in sheets, her bones so brittle that they broke for no reason, her closed face and the emotions of that time in my life resurface Yet, at the same time, this piece makes me think about what it must have been like in Hiroshima at the end of the war. What was it like for the maker of this piece? I go back and forth, distracted and spell bound, lost in the surface and shape, perfect just as it is.

While the maker may have had a conscious intent, art quite often has a completely different message for the viewer. Each of us is unique, sustained by our own experiences. When art touches something buried deep in the memory of the individual viewer, it connects on an emotional level. Ephemeral, fragile, unsettled, hanging free, Narahira’s work connects with the viewer’s psyche enabling contemplation and accessing of the inner self.
However, it is prudent to remember Lesley Millar’s advice to Western audiences about the Japanese aesthetic before finding metaphor.

“Japanese artists are very concerned with structure and materials. Their concerns lie with respecting the harmony of nature and creating something which is very beautiful but which contains no other meaning. The context is purely the harmony achieved, whereas for many western textile artists the context is much more concerned with contemporary debate” Lesley Mllar

The images in this post are all taken from Telos Art Publishing's excellent
Textiles of the World Japan Volume 2.

The text is from my December 2010 B.A. dissertation for Julia Caprara School of Textile Arts.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kyoko Kumai

air cube, stainless steel filament

Some moments in nature happen so quickly and then they are gone. The rush, harmony and togetherness of a moving flock of birds is one example, so emotional and uplifting to watch. Another such sight is when wind pushes grasses over and over as it ripples a field, making the air otherwise invisible, visible. These kinds of things, common in nature, are nearly impossible to capture in a painting or a photo, but we remember them forever.
Kyoko Kumai (born 1943) says that she remembers these kinds of things with “memories in my cells that have four billion years.”

There are things that we are consciously influenced by and others that we are unconsciously aware of. The interconnectedness between the land, the air, and humanity is one of the latter. Blowing in the wind 1985 - 1987

It is her attempt to bring forth that unconscious memory without regard to academic theory or traditional materials that is so astounding. Her quest for whatever technique or material that might work led Kyoko Kumai to eventually find a way through trial and error. Although she had studied weaving she needed to develop her own technique of interlacing and knotting the steel filament. The natural effects of gravity had to be overcome.

She was able to eventually succeed in the late 80’s and has continued honing her own technique of making visible what is invisible. Such works then achieve a powerful connection with the viewer’s invisible inner self. blowing in the wind 1988

"I have been making things that I myself hope to see, and have never seen before”

The use of stainless steel filament, a comparatively new man made material to create her representations of wind blowing over grass is innovative and practical. Her work can cover a floor in a gallery, be spread outside in the courtyard or be contained, bunched up and draped over walls in a relatively small space. Embedded in all her work are the repetitive physical body movements that she must make over and over during a long period of time.
Although the employment of an industrial material to represent nature is ironic, she does not use it for that reason. Her purpose is more representational. For example, in blowing in the wind (1988) the viewer is able to experience a gust of wind blowing over a huge field and the fact that the grass is actually stainless steel filament does not matter. This small chunk of represented grass and earth seems to go on forever in the viewer’s imagination, because we recall it. We recognize it and can imagine a kind of infinity in the repeated, narrow organic and tactile shapes. We recognize and we imagine because of her hours of repeated activity. the wind blowing over the grass 1999, stainless steel filament

Egg shaped and circular forms from wrappings of stainless steel filament are another direction for Kyoko Kumai. Displayed piled up into tower forms, or stuffed into small rooms, they bring to mind the crush of humanity that must be part of the artist’s experience in over populated Japan. sen man na yu ta-ga 1996

Her work enables the wonder and awe that one experiences occasionally in nature. We recall moments glimpsed from train or car windows. Things become visible that are usually invisible. Kyoko Kumai’s use of stainless steel filament to depict the grasses found in nature is an example of how her intuitive approach led her practice. Although the employment of an industrial material to represent nature is ironic, in blowing in the wind (1988) the viewer is able to experience a gust of wind blowing over a huge field and the fact that the grass is actually stainless steel filament does not matter. It is the small differences in each detail that, we can see that these grasses go beyond the chunk of detail Kyoko has given us – it’s infinite the grass. We recognize and we imagine because of her unendable activity. The quintessential way that Japanese artists work is intuitively rather than intellectually. Academics in the UK were startled out of their preferred theoretical approach when Kyoko Kumai exhibited in Textural Space, a show that toured Britain in 2001.

“Pattern, colour, form as well as monumentality and lightness are all derived from the patient and repetitive manipulation of stainless steel filament. While the economy and approach suggests a minimalist approach it belies a lingering emotional charge.” Martina Murgetts

She enables the wonder and awe that one experiences occasionally in nature. We recall moments glimpsed from train or car windows. Things become visible that are usually invisible.

Her work connects with her viewer’s deep memory and gives it back to that individual. Her work sets the mind free.

All images are from Telos Art Publishing's book Art Textiles of the World Japan 2.
The text is from my 2010 dissertation for JC Textile Arts - The Immensity Within Ourselves.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Piila Saksela

Working in the Garden 2000 synthetic silk, newspaper, sewing thread, smocking

Piila Saksela lives in Finland. She is 72 years old now, and has been a maker of textile art all her life. She began her career as a weaver, devoting many years to that craft. She thought that she would weave her entire life but around the age of 50 she became unsatisfied with the restrictions of warp and weft and searched for a new way. She felt fearful of the 'catastrophes that might lie ahead" but after years of searching, through trial and error, she developed a unique new style. Orlando steel, rust, knitting 2001

"Bringing one's own studio to life is an arduous task" she says. "It feels as if all originality will flee at any moment."

Her technique involves preparing synthetic silk-like fabrics with oils and lacquers in order to make them translucent. She then layers this prepared fabric on top of tissue paper or newspaper, which then transfer their colours and markings to the fabric. The result is pleated and hand-smocked.

Ninive II 2002 synthetic silk, newspaper, sewing thread, stitching, smocking Ninive II (detail) 2002
I love the colour and the little bits of text and image that I glimpse in Piila's work, but more than that, I am comforted and intrigued by the repetition and texture of Piila's hand stitch and manipulation. Smocking is an age-old technique that crosses many cultures and perhaps this is what gives it such power. ( Piila says that the technique is from Hungarian national dress, but my Canadian mother (half English, half Irish) smocked dresses for me.) Land Ahead 2000 synthetic silk, newspaper, sewing thread, smocking

Piila Saksela has done something rare. She has succeeded in making a domestic technique leap into the fine art world. I found all these images as well as a very small amount of Pilla's statement in Art Textiles of the World Scandinavia published by Telos Art Publishing. Land Ahead (detail)
Matthew Koumis says about Piila Saksela "Her hangings recall a Japanese aesthetic, and convey both her desire to harness light and to express 'fortuity' allowing of happy accidents in the creative process." Circling 2001 wrapped steel, rust, wood
I find it so unfortunate that artists of Piila's generation slip away from our web-based research. If her work was not brought to my attention by the Telos series, I would not have known about it. I could not access any images of this artist's work in the "new museum of cyber space". (which is where students today go first when they look for role models) Part of the reason I am writing this blog is to try to give women textile artists who came of age and did most of their work before the internet revolution some deserved attention.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Patti Roberts Pizzuto

Last Days Before Dying, 2007, acrylic, ink,embroidery, hand made paper

Patti Roberts Pizzuto uses an earthy combination of acrylic, embroidery stitches and hand made paper to create poetic works that ponder the big questions about life's meaning. All images in this post are from an article about the artist by Lynn Cornelius Jablonski I found in Fiberarts, April May 2008. Waiting Vessel, 2007, acrylic, collage, beads, embroidery, handmade paper

Her imagery is empty space in combination with one or two common objects such as a bowl, bed or boat and the texture of hand stitching. The recent work shown in this article had either the form of a primitive house shape or a simple rectangle. For me, the house shape is evocative of our personal longing for the simple quietness of childhood, and I would bet that Patti Roberts Pizzuto has read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. The artist says that the house image symbolizes comfort family, sense of self and belonging. Finding Home, 2006, acrylic, beeswax, embroidery, handmade paper

The artist worked in the library of an art and design college in Flordia for 25 years, and it was the art books she handled every day that were her inspiration (and I would guess, her education). A recent move to South Dakota in 2005 changed her palette, and fostered an interest in her own family history and the history of mid Western United States. Dance of Chance, 2007, acrylic, ink, collage, beads, handmade paper

Objects that are from our daily lives act like witnesses in her work. They are like things that occur in our dreams, meaningful and with narrative. She rarely depicts figures, but when she does they wear medieval dress.
Each Leaf a Universe, Each Night a Dream, 2007, acrylic, embroidery, collage, handmade paper

Natural items like seeds, flowers and leaves occur. The seeds are symbols of possibility, of birth, renwal and even death. She contemplates the sacred and the mundane at the same time. Existential work. Quiet Compositions.

Patti Robertsw Pizzuto has her own web site - you need Adobe flash to view it, and so I was not able to visit it. Still on dial up here on Manitoulin Island, Canada.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Francoise Sullivan

Paterson 2003, diptych, acrylic on canvas 348 x 287 cm.

Francoise Sullivan is a role model for women artists. She is a mother of four and she is 85, and through sixty years she has maintained an artistic career. "For me, art is like breathing" she says.

The images and information posted here have been taken from Robert Enright's interview with Francoise Sullivan in issue no. 106 of Border Crossings Magazine. (June 2008) Enright's interviews are generally intelligent discussions although in this particular interview he seemed more interested in Sullivan's early friendships with groundbreaking painters like Jean Paul Riopelle, Paul Emile Borduas and the writing of the Refus Global in 1948 than he does in her recent oil paintings.

The above painting entitled Paterson is an homage to her late husband (and fabulous painter) Paterson Ewen. "Paterson got the biggest painting. He was the most important man in my life. I have four sons who look and walk like him. I am always reminded of him." Vert no 1 2007 oil on canvas 193 x 122 cm

Enright: "You were young but obviously learning at a galloping pace. To be involved with that kind of intellectual movement at such a young age - you were only 18 - seems rather extraordinary."
Sullivan: "Well, you know revolutions are always done by young people. This is when you have the enthusiasm, the energy and the folly."
Enright: "Did you know at the time that what you were involved in was going to transform Quebec society?"
Sullivan: "We felt like apostles. We knew we were doing something exciting and we felt like we were in the avant-garde but we were never recognized." Quand je ferme les yeux je vois no. 2 2007 oil on canvas

She has been a dancer and a sculptor but says with 'conviction and without apology that painting inhabits her, it always has'.
Enright: Has painting supplanted dance as your most passionate form of self-expression?
Sullivan: Yes, but it was always there. Everything referred to painting. My dance thoughts were painting thoughts. You might think I'm old-fashioned but for me painting has remained the major art.
In the 70's "the theoreticians upset me when they said that art was over, that painting was dead and that even museums were dead". La Tache Bleue 2007 101 x 76 cm oil on canvas

"As I go along my involvement with painting is growing. Some paintings happen in the first casting and others take a long time to work out. You have to go over and over them and that's why sometimes things happen, or colours show through. I don't think of my paintings a s monochromes because for me a monochrome is something that is completely blank. Even though they might look like a monochrome, I feel that they're alive. I feel that there's life boiling in them."

Animals don't do art like we do. The do something else. A spider web or a nest is not a work of art in the human sense. It is a physical necessity. This is more of a spiritual necessity." Danse dans la neige, photograph by Maurice Perron 1948

Images of Francoise Sullivan dancing in the snow near ont St Hilaire Quebec are famous examples of early performance art. She was filmed by Jean Paul Riopelle while Maurice Perron took still photographs. Unfortunately the film has been lost, but the photographs remain.

In 2009 Francoise Sullivan was awarded the Gershon Iskowitz prize. In 2001 she was made a member of the order of Canada and I believe that she still teaches in the fine art department at Concordia University in Montreal.