More Off the Grid

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Kerr Grabowski, May 2009. Photo by Deidre Adams.

Today’s SDA conference agenda included a variety of lectures and demos related to textile arts. The most inspiring for me today was a demo by Kerr Grabowski, in which she shared her techniques for working with things normally associated with art on paper — like charcoal, graphite, pastels, and water-soluble media — and making them permanent on fabric. Kerr is known for her beautiful garments and her innovative explorations in screenprinting techniques.

Samples Kerr made using her new process:

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I had taken Kerr’s workshop on deconstructed screen printing years ago, and I remember how much fun it was and what great marks could be made on fabric using this process. I still have some really beautiful fabrics that I made in that workshop. Kerr is a generous, sharing person (she even provides a video of the DSP process right on her home page), and her enthusiasm for the process is infectious. She started her demo by saying that she wished her audience to try some of these processes and to let her know what we discover; she wants to start a dialog of artists working together. I left the demo wishing I could go home right then and start playing with some of these techniques.

Later I attended a lecture by Dr. Maria Elena Buszek titled “Minding the Margins: Craft, Criticism and Contemporary Art.” It had to do with the divide between craft and art, but I have to be honest — she talked so fast and furiously I couldn’t keep up with her and I’m not sure even now what her point was, except maybe that so-called “craft” artists should try harder to place themselves in the wider art milieu and expose ourselves to criticism in that realm. She has a Ph.D. in art history, so her view must necessarily be somewhat academic. As textile artists, we can all decide for ourselves whether any of this matters to our pursuit of happiness or fame and fortune or whatever it is we seek in the long run. Evidently she is ruffling some feathers, but I confess to not knowing a lot about this topic. She did give several references for reading which I have put on my to-do list.

The day was capped off by “Textile Fusion: An Interactive Fashion Performance.”

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The logistics of the thing weren’t well planned, and nobody seemed to know where they should stand or where the action was going to be headed. It was all very conceptual, with live music that at first seemed pleasantly appropriate but which soon turned relentless and repetitive. Plus, the whole fashion thing in general is very much beyond me, and wearable art is no exception. However, the planners had the good sense to hold the show in the Bloch Building at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. This was my second visit to the museum, and as I had not had time to get to this part of it earlier, I found a ready opportunity to escape this scene and immerse myself in the quiet solitude of cavernous halls full of good old-fashioned modern art for a refreshing change of pace.

The collection holds a good variety of Abstract Expressionists:

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Jackson Pollock (left) and Willem DeKooning (right)

They also have a wide variety of all your modern, postmodern, minimalist, and pop favorites, including Rothko, Kline, Diebenkorn, Warhol, Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Judd, LeWitt, Martin, Murry, Riley, and several Thiebauds. One of the more interesting is a huge painting by Kerry James Marshall done on banner canvas, called Memento #5, celebrating the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

One of the most interesting exhibits in the museum is an exhibition of photographs by Homer Page, a mostly unknkown photographer who created this body of work in 1949-50 in fulfillment of a Guggenheim fellowship. They are street scenes of New York City, often including images of advertisements in ironic juxtaposition with ordinary people. According to the museum’s promo page, this work “represents a ‘missing link’ between the warm, humanistic, and socially motivated documentary photographs of the 1930s and early 1940s in the works of Dorothea Lange, and the tougher, grittier and more existential work of the later 1950s as seen in the images of Robert Frank.” I would love to have more time to go back and look at these again. May just have to order the book instead.

2017-10-15T16:16:45+00:00 May 30th, 2009|Miscellaneous|3 Comments

Off the Grid: 2009 SDA Conference

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This week I’m in Kansas City attending my first Surface Design Association (SDA) conference. This time I wanted to make a concerted effort to get a photo from an actual conference event, so here you see a shot of the Thursday night dinner. Not exactly a stunning example summing up the heart and soul of what this conference is about. Oh well, no Pulitzer for me this time!

The SDA’s mission is “to increase awareness, understanding, and appreciation of textiles in the art and design communities as well as in the general public” and to “inspire creativity and encourage innovation, and further the rich tradition of the textile arts through publications, exhibitions, conferences, and educational opportunities.” The schedule this year includes a wonderful variety of speakers and demonstrations of textile-art related topics. Yesterday’s highlights included a lecture called “Organic Cotton — Beyond Oatmeal and Granola Colors,” given by Harmony Susalla of Harmony Art Organic Design, an inspiring story of a young woman who left a successful textile-design career to start her own business of producing organic printed textiles because she truly wanted to make a difference in the world. She’s not just spouting the “sustainability” and “green” buzzwords like so many other companies these days, she’s actually doing something about it. Plus, while she’s a savvy businesswoman, she’s also delightful and unassuming in person.

I must say I’m quite enthralled by this city. There’s an ample supply of interesting old buildings mixed in amongst the new, the people are amazingly friendly, and the art-viewing opportunities seem to go on without end. I’m staying on the campus of the Kansas City Art Institute, and just across the street are both the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Today’s SDA events included “Exhibition Extravaganza,” a tour of local art gallery events around town. The tour included a stop at the Belger Arts Center, a former warehouse space now converted into exhibition space on two floors with corporate offices in between. There were five individual exhibitions to see in this cavernous space. First was “Surface Matters,” the SDA member show, a series of 18 x 18-inch squares which included a wide range of techniques and themes.

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In the upper level were several more shows, including work by Ray Materson, who makes miniature narrative embroideries which become all the more amazing when you hear his personal story. I also got to see the embroideries of Alice Kettle, another artist with an obsessive process involving lots and lots of stitching, whom I’ve admired for a long time since seeing her work in several magazine articles. It was a treat to see in person. Another room featured the work of Jennifer Angus, an installation of elaborate wall designs consisting of very large and strangely beautiful insects arranged in circular patterns, along with freestanding dollhouses populated by insect citizens going about their daily tasks. Finally, the gallery had on display several large pieces by El Anatsui, an artist making amazing large-scale “cloths” from recycled materials, including caps from liquor bottles and other items gathered in and around Nsukka, Nigeria.

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I’ve seen these in magazines, too, but it doesn’t compare to actually seeing the work in person, where you can get a full appreciation for the sheer size and detail, as well as the amount of time that must go into the making of these amazing tapestries. Anatsui does not currently have a functioning web site, but I did find this YouTube video that features him explaining his own work:

2017-10-15T16:16:46+00:00 May 29th, 2009|Miscellaneous|2 Comments

What’s this country coming to?

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Well, I knew there had been a big push during the last several years to privatize all the public resources, but this is going just a bit too far, don’t you think?

What’s that you say? Oh, you mean this isn’t the real Gateway Arch?

OK, you caught me. Alert readers will notice that the shape isn’t quite right, but it’s still fun. This particular arch can be observed just off the highway in Vandalia, Illinois, gracing the fine establishment so named.

The real thing is still standing here in St. Louis, as yet unscathed by promotional adornment.

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2017-10-15T16:16:46+00:00 May 26th, 2009|Miscellaneous|4 Comments