Monday, October 24, 2011

Jane Whiteley

quilt for a sleeping person detail, silk and cotton gauze, hand stitched, dyed with indigo and acid dye 1991

the hands know,
the materials too,
quite apart from your imaginings,
less or more than your intentions -
following the pattern that emerges,
the story as it tells.

Jane Whiteley
Sides to the Middle, Fingers to the Bone, silk and cotton gauze quilt, indigo dyed. 2009 stitched with red thread on the 'worn areas'

Born in England, Jane Whitely has lived in Freemantle, Australia since 1988.

She works with the stuff of bandages. Hand stitched gauze.
She works with the idea of reparation. Of extending life.
She darns. She mends.

Her quilt, Sides to the Middle, Fingers to the Bone references the English domestic practice of turning the sheets in order to prolong their life and was included in the important 2010 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London England, Quilts 1700-2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories. Large Red Cross, cotton bedsheet, flannelette and gauze. 1998

She works with the ideas behind the cloth. Under the covers, wrapped up with bandages. The intimacy of cloth. The memories of the body.

She is a poet.
In Art Textiles of the World Australia volume 2, her writing is given nearly the same amount of space as images of her work.

I use cloth because it has a powerful human presence and has the capacity to express humanity, human endeavor, emotion. It is as if cloth takes on the imprint of energy, the memory, of the body through years of use and wear.
down cotton gauze, cotton blanket, canvas, hand and machine stitched, eucalyptus dyed, 2006

Her work employs used domestic textiles in a very courageous way. With simplicity.
The human body's mark.
What would usually be thrown away, is made into art by Jane Whitely. Her work asks us to think about what is really important.

Her work is almost sculptural. It suggests the body's absence. It recalls the body's presence.
Her textiles breathe.
Like passing footsteps.

a story unfolding
Leave no shadow, no stone unturned hand pieced silk, acid dye, cotton threads 2006

Most of these images are from Art Textiles of the World Australia, Volume two. The Powerhouse museum in Sydney, Australia mounted a solo exhibition of her work in 1999, but there are no images available on their website. The catalog for that exhibit, From Within is unavailable to purchase.

I hope that this blog post brings more attention to this artist's work.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Polly Binns

Intimacy and space blend in the immensity of the landscape. The whole is imbued with the memories of my body within the landscape; my step, pace and sight-line. Serial Shimmers and Shades, 1996 Acrylic paint and thread on linen canvas 185 x 125 cm, collection of Nottingham Castle museum

Polly Binns, a member of England's prestigious 62 group, is considered a 'maverick' in the embroidery community. She grew up in a house of artists; her father used grids to size up his modernist design work and her mother painted the surrounding landscape. Untitled 1982 black cotton with coloured thread, smocking technique. 50 x 45 x 5 cm

She started her art career in clay, but soon studied weaving as a way to understand the material essence of cloth. When she eventually began exploring artist's canvas she was influenced by minimalists like Donald Judd and Carl Andre who worked with ordinary materials for their own sake. How did canvas behave when it wasn't stretched, when it wasn't covered with oil paint? She folded, pleated, stitched the cloth to raise the surface. She worked the cloth from both sides. Sand Surface and
Shadows, Winter 1996
1996 artist canvas, acrylic paint, threads, surface treatments. 7 panels 280 x 210 cm

The vertical elongated rectangles in the above piece relate directly to the body and seem to represent humans within the landscape. Polly Binns says about this piece that it is "a memory of the surface from where my feet stood to the far horizon. "
Her work from the mid 90's can be termed "post minimalist", as along with the grid geometry and attention to materials, there is also a kind of poetry.
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard is an influence. He wrote about "two kinds of space, intimacy and world space. When human solitude deepens, these two immensities touch and become identical. "
Although her work has become more poetic, it is never autobiographical. Her work is about observation and about memory of place. Before Polly Binns does any work in her studio, she walks. She repeats the same walk each time, at low tide, in the Blakeney Channel on the north Norfolk coast of England. No walk - no work.

This is a phenomenological approach. Walking immerses her in a direct experience. Mud, sand, water, bird marks, light are observed and felt with all her senses. There is a tension between order and intuition, between rational knowledge and the not quite known. Inshore Curve 1996 185 x 125 cm

Polly Binns had a daughter in 1986. During the first five years of Katy's life, the artist mounted a solo exhibition, joined the craft council and started full time teaching. However, about those years between 1986 and 1991, the artist says that she "closed down" and that her "balance had gone".

She took time off from making art and looked at more art by others, including that of Agnes Martin. Even more important, she took her little girl on long walks in the landscape, and together they observed things closely. All of a sudden, she realized that the land had seeped into her material knowledge and she knew what to do next in her career. Study 1 1996 27 x 28 cm collection Pamela Johnson

"My intention is to pare down the image: to reduce the pictorial elements of my memory landscape:
to focus on my interior vision
to recall and reference the glimpse, the half caught image,
the layered textures of memory." Polly Binns

In 1998, she received a PhD from England's University of Teesside for her new body of work entitled Vision and Process in Textile Art: a Personal Response to a Particular Landscape.
In 2001 she represented Britain at the 10th International Triennial in Lodz Poland.

The images in this post are from Surfacing, a monograph of Polly Binns that accompanied her 2003 exhibition at Bury St Edmunds art gallery. The information is gleaned from Pamela Johnson's excellent essay and the timeline of Polly Binn's career and life that is included in that book. The quotations are from Polly Binns's artist statement from the catalogue for Texture and Memory, an exhibition curated by Pamela Johnson and Peninna Barnett in 1999.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Louise Bourgeois

Once I was beset by anxiety.
I couldn't tell right from left.
I could have cried out with terror at being lost.
But I pushed the fear away by studying the sky, determining where the moon would come out, where the sun would appear in the morning.
2007 untitled

I saw myself in relation to the stars.

Louise Bourgeois 1911 - 2010
2005 untitled

At the age of 40, Louise Bourgeois, wife and mother, exhibited a group of painted abstract wooden figures in a gallery in New York and one of them was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art. 2008 untitled
That she did this was a challenge to the status quo of society in the late 40’s and 50’s. Her work was a challenge to modernism. Even then. 2002 The Woven Child
Louise Bourgeois’ work was looked at with renewed interest by the feminist movement in the early 1970’s. Renowned feminist art critic Lucy R. Lippard wrote: “Rarely has an abstract art been so directly and honestly informed by its maker’s psyche. It can’t be categorised. Can’t be art historicised”. 2006 untitled
Over her 70 year career Louise Bourgeois has not had a signature material and has managed to remain ‘contemporary’ for three separate generations. Famously neurotic she has been an undeniable influence on younger women artist. "Art is the guarantee of sanity" was her mantra. Her early work was made from wood and house paint and her late work was made from cloth and thread. Using these ‘low’ materials, she worked subversively from within the formal modernist
language of abstract form. She insisted that her work was always about her own personal memories. She believed that the needle is magical and has a restorative power. “It’s a claim to forgiveness” 2001 Rejection
Her most recent work was made from her own and found domestic textiles. The hand sewn fabric figurative pieces are stitched so crudely that they look mended rather than constructed. Placed in vulnerable and intimate positions they connect with the viewer on an emotional level. 2001 untitled
In 2001 she created a series of three eight foot high fabric towers. They relate to her early wooden pieces, slender and vertical, installed alone but are part of a group. One of the towers is stitched from the antique tapestry fabric that references her childhood. Louise Bourgeois has often said that all of her work is an attempt to reconcile with that traumatic childhood. Just before creating these towers she also made portraits of her parents, depicting her father as a small chair and her mother as the now famous Maman, a massive metal spider with eggs in a basket.

The evident stitching adds hands on emotional quality to this lonely narrow structure, and one reads it as an erect old lady standing stiffly alone, an
abstracted portrait of Louise Bourgeois herself, 90 years old in 2001. 2006 untitled
The pieces shown here are new, created in the last years of her long life. They seem purified. They seem resigned. 2002 untitled
Unlike many women of her generation, there are no shortages of web sites that showcase Louise Bourgeois. click here for example. She is collected by nearly every major art gallery world wide. These images are from two books. Louise Bourgeois 2008edited by Frances Morris and Louise Bourgeois The Fabric Works 2010 edited by Germano Celant.