Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Tex 1 Ass 2 project 5 stage 4 - a larger sample

Late July

I have been pondering how to finish off on a high with this assignment, having enjoyed the colour and design work, but struggled with the printed work. I have revisited Barbara Rae's work, as her landscapes are full of life, colour, energy, and I see her free improvised style as something that resonates with how I work as well. The book I used was Barbara Rae Sketchbooks, Royal Academy of Arts, 2011.

I went for a bit of a holiday to a place I feel strongly about and thought perhaps having Rae's work in mind whilst looking at the large skies over the sea where I was might inspire me.

I had also done just a few holiday sketches sitting on the beach, a couple at sunset, and one of the coastline.

So, having thought about this a while during my holiday abroad I decided to do a printed-painted landscape. I approached it a bit more systematically than I had the sampling sessions earlier in the project.

I thought perhaps it was better to think about layering various printed and painted mark making approaches, and started off by creating two bunches of small samples. The first one was using bleach to fade out painted areas.

This was useful, as it showed how different fabrics reacted differently to the discharge fluid (bleach) - some very well - the top two, which were respectively acetate and a poly-cotton, and less so the other two, below, a heavier grey cotton and a darkish green poly-cotton. The acetate bleaches almost instantly and the fluid runs quickly, so it is difficult to control the brush marks suing bleach on this fabric. A fifth piece was a wonderful piece of lining fabric I found in a charity shop (a small corner of it is showing to the right): a light-weight fabric in a good blue, made in Japan, which I thought perhaps might be silk, but it did not fade at all despite heavy application of bleach. So it is more likely to be a synthetic, but of a good quality. I had already decided I would probably use the acetate. It is has body somehow, whilst being a smooth and slightly precious looking fabric. It took print very well during early sampling, and despite being a pale green I think with prints in blue, white and blue-greens, and possibly a bit of brown, it will be a useful background for a seascape.
The second set of small samples were to test printing and painting on the same set of fabric types.

Here I liked the grey cotton, which was painted with blue and white mixed to varying degrees. Of course the sky would not be a summer sunny sky, but it looks good as a post-thunderstorm sort of sky. The pale green acetate still worked well, and the monoprint lay comfortably on all samples as they had smooth surfaces. I have not tried to print on top of the bleached samples and will just go for that for the final piece (I have a bit more of the acetate left if the print-on-faded-areas does not work as well as I am hoping. This is part of working experimentally, so it will just have to be tried, to see if it works.
In the end I printed three large samples, of which one was chosen as the final piece. First I bleached out areas on the fabric pieces for the two halves - one with waves the other cloudy:

The lower one shows how the bleach slipped off the brush and left the marks from the fluid - this would not matter too much as the print would be placed on top of this.
There were also two 'what was left on the pallet' prints, which I used to print the left-overs, ghosts, from the plates of the larger one. In printing first the sky, there was little to worry about with regard to registration with other printing, but when I came to print the 'sea' section it was much more difficult to hold the fabric to accurately place it on the plate. In one case there was a bit of overlap of the print, but this actually does not look too bad.
Once both the sea and sky sections had been printed covering the whole of the fabric, I fixed the fabric paint and left it a while as I needed to make the horizon distinct and needed to think about this a while. In the end I made a simple print on the horizon of two of the larger pieces, just using a strip of cardboard which I textured by scratching the surface.
Here's the final sample:

The final piece was then applied with waves in painted bonding material and embroidered waves of different sizes. The sky was left without stitching as the print was quite strong in itself, and I do not like to over-work the surface when it is not needed. Finally the piece was made stronger by ironing on Vilene and it was sewn onto a piece of blue cotton to bring out the blue in both the top and the bottom sections of the picture.
Hopefully this detail shows the bonded paint and the embroidery. Unfortunately photographic pictures distort colouring - I used greeny-blues and a bit of brown for the sea that was dark, but also gave it a warm feel, which is not so clear here, where the blue and brown dominate. The horizon line was a stamped section using distressed cardboard. This worked well, it created a clear line and with a little embroidery to indicate softer outlines of wooded land it evoked what I saw in the distance.
I also hope that the effect of the monoprint is visible - the plate is smooth, you roll out dye-paint, work in textures by scraping or some other way of mark making. When smoothing out the fabric over the print plate the dye may be pulled a bit, and that adds to the effect sometimes. This makes the printed marks very complex and in this case was useful as waves may at times be even but in the sea there is so many effects from currents, different depths of water that the surface is rippled and light fractures in different directions.
As a sample this final thing is reasonable, it does not claim to be a finished piece and was a useful exercise for showing how printing-painting can work with the substance of the fabric surface.
What was left on the print plate?
Three sections of sky 'ghost' prints were printed on top of each other. I then added a bit of painted sea and printed a coast line using distressed card.
The other was a sample with three levels of 'ghost' prints of the sea sections:

 Both these samples will be used for further work at some point, not yet sure what for though.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Exhibition visits during assignment 2 – Spring-Summer 2014


Matisse – Cut  outs at Tate Modern
This was one of those blockbuster shows that Tate Modern puts on that draws large numbers of people. The exhibition space was very busy and hot, but there was also a lot to be studied and looked at. Thankfully the works were mainly large so you could see them fairly well at a distance. Matisse worked with large scissors, cutting into gouache painted paper sheets. In a film shown in the exhibition he was seen chopping this paper, with an assistant holding the paper as he went on with his work.

Apart from the wonderful colours, the lively and life affirming shades of green, yellow, red and blue and fantastical oceanic or lush paper verdures and flowery collages, what struck me most of all was the energy Matisse seemed to have to get all this work done. He was elderly at the time of all this work, he had been very ill, and still looked unwell, sitting in his wheelchair, and nevertheless he managed to create one large scale work after the other, almost frenetic with work and energy.
This was what amazed me most. Of course the work was interesting: here were those images you see in poster sales at universities, but here there were pencil lines and piercings from pins apparent on the paper, not necessarily visible on cheap posters. These lines and pin holes showed how he had worked on composition, and again in a film footage you saw an assistant holding up strips of paper against a design for a cope; she was looking at him whilst moving the strip in tune to his demands for accuracy in where it should be placed. The work was very colourful and aesthetic, organically fluid shapes suggesting leaves, flowers and human (female) bodies covered large areas of wall. You came out feeling light and as full of summer as the weather was on the day I went. It was a fine exhibition with much to ponder….

Contemporary Ceramics gallery, London
Just briefly – I went to this gallery before going to the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum across the road. I love ceramics, the variations in glaze texture, colour of glazes and the clay or stoneware material, and the sense of a material handled and formed. There were many fine things there, simple, minimalist style vessels, pots that aspired to Japanese glazed aesthetics, and sculptural things. Whether large of small, many vessels were fine. I have a preference for the Far Eastern aesthetic and like to see how the ceramicist works with the glaze material, the events developing the finished object in the kiln, and was pleased to see pots by Margaret Curtis, who works in this way. In contrast Kyra Cane’s work was fine, almost transparent in its simplicity. Her vessels in the gallery were very pale, with a drawn line, but inside, in the bottom of the vessel you found a bright yellow glaze, as a little gift or surprise to anyone looking inside it.

Vikings – life and legend - the British Museum
Although not showing much relating to textiles in this exhibition, I was looking forward to it very much. At times I seek out some of my Scandinavian roots in Viking mythology and Icelandic sagas, which are fascinating tales of lives lived in harsh conditions and wildly fantastical imaginations. And the exhibition was very good - there were many artefacts from Scandinavian museums, German and various Russian and Ukrainian collections. One problem was the large amount of people blocking sight of some artefacts and labels in the early parts of the exhibition. The display was thematic, showing objects devoted to for example trade, the idea of the warrior and the culture of travel and conquest (a large boat had been lent by the Roskilde Viking ship museum) and religion. There was a small ‘meet the ancestors’ section, and plenty of pieces, including large gold jewellery items, that showed Viking designs and how they transformed in encounters with other cultures.

I was particularly interested in the small section on religion because this was one of the area that explicitly involved women's culture; a couple of metal staffs were explained as belonging to spiritual women, who may have been sorceresses. The Museum showed items found in such a woman’s grave, where plant stuff had been found that could have contained hallucinogenic properties.

Surprisingly I also found that a silver object I had seen photographically reproduced on the Internet possibly of Odin and his ravens, Hugin and Munin, was a tiny little charm sized object. The craftsmanship of the Vikings was amazing – the level of skill and insight into materials was quite outstanding in some of the objects on show. If there had been fewer visitors and more time to stop and ponder objects I would have gained more from the exhibition, as it is I was still pleased to have seen the objects and will continue to dip into the Viking culture and wold view for inspiration.

Dansk Gobelinkunst, Trapholt (design museum), Kolding, Denmark

Dansk Gobelinkunst is a group of Danish tapestry weavers who work on and promote contemporary tapestry art. The work they do is very varied and spans images from the abstract to the more illustrative. They concentrate on wall hung pieces and in the exhibition I saw there were no free hanging pieces, and neither were there any that used 3D forms.

There was much to admire in this exhibition though; I really enjoyed looking carefully at some of the work, and seeing them in the flesh rather than in pictures. I have a number of catalogues and monographs on tapestry artists, and in photographs this type of textile work loses a lot. In real terms the tactile nature of wool, silk or linen is more apparent, the subtle use of colour or certain techniques becomes much clearer.
I have a personal preference for abstraction, and the graphic in textile design, and there were really good pieces here that looked at thematic ideas and pulled out essences of things, such as Anet Brusgaard’s Tatouage II, which was a black tapestry with a design inspired by body scarring and tattooing from African tribes. The black was a matt and receding wool, but each ‘scar’ was a dot woven using gold and coloured metallic threads. This worked very well and cannot be appreciated from any photographs I took.

Other work I enjoyed very much was Anette Graae’s the heaven/sky above me (Himlen over mig) Anne Marie Egemose’s The Barrows at Høje Bjerge (Jordspor-højene i Høje Bjerge) and Hanne Skyum’s Black Crows (Sortkrager). All the tapestries in the exhibition seemed to follow a craft tradition of engaging with the material of fibre and colour, but they still engaged interesting themes and symbolism, and the three mentioned here looked at ideas that I have been exploring myself (crows and barrows) or used the warp as well as the weft in the design (as does Berit Hjelholt, whose work was not in the show, but which is worth mentioning because it follows a similar Scandinavian design language of something spiritual in a symbolic visual language). This use of the exposed warp and weft in design was taken to a further level by Anne Bjørn, whose work was an open weave using white and yellow linen that was mounted some distance from the wall. This allowed the thread to throw shadows onto the wall behind the work. I wonder how this type of work is kept stable in transport and moving the work, the lacy effect makes it look quite fragile and vulnerable.

Relating tapestry weaving to assignment 2
Tapestry is a slow and deliberate process that deals with construction and the structure of the fabric. This is a technique being covered in a later assignment and contrasts very much with printing, which is a surface process (part of ass 2). Printing and surface design is a particular process which requires planning and consideration of lay-out, but so does tapestry. What differs more radically between the two is the purpose of these disciplines: printing is potentially a surface technique emphasising pattern, for fabrics to be used in furnishing or fashion. These fabrics will be cut up and shaped into a final object, whilst the tapestry is the final thing, often painterly, it is a means to combine the artistic idea within a structure.

When sampling for tapestry or other constructed techniques a relatively long time is spent on just a single sample. whilst I found in sampling for print that you have to work fairly fast (as the paint dries up), and you can make 10-15 samples in a couple of hours once all materials and tools have been set up. This may have something to do with the modernity of print as we now experience it. Tapestry weaving is a very old technique, more than a 1000 years old, and although there are technical routes to faster weaving techniques (I am thinking of the jacquard looms that make up Grayson Perry's tapestries, less of cloth weaving machines), the traditional technique is slow. Printing on the other hand, although maybe also old - wood block printing has been used in Asia for centuries - in the West much printing is now done by machines, for fashion and furnishing use. There are of course other printing styles, more artistic endeavours, using layering and various techniques, however this is still fast compared to some tapestries that can take a year for a weaver to make.

I guess this is an unfinished discussion, as I feel there is more to say about surface decoration, including batic, shibori and other means of bringing pattern to the surface of cloth, however that is perhaps for another time.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Tex 1 Ass 2 Project 4 Design, textile print and painting

Having had a good and full day of printing I returned to a design exercise I had worked when I had exhausted some of the derivations from selections of drawings. I interpreted a small selection from a photograph and reflected on it in different ways:

Drawings of positive and negative shapes in pen and graphite. Here the focus was on shapes, as I interpreted some of this exercise as wanting us to do this - make a selection of something that might be repeatable. I also made a small collage-type assembly of paper shapes for this one:
I made up a stencil for this and tried it out on some cotton fabric in a couple of colour ways. These look unfinished and would need some embellishment in the white areas - I thought I might do some machine embroidery perhaps, or do a watery paint to soften the lightness of the ground - the contrast is a bit too stark here:
I also used the cut-out sections as a negative stencil, which worked very well, I like this very much, and here the left one is shown as a 'tree' although that was not the original intention, it was purely a test:
A couple of reflections on this little exercise
Print is beyond my comfort zone, although I enjoyed the spontaneity of the monoprinting and working on the rubbers to make blocks I found the discipline of the design exercises difficult. They didn't seem to harmonise with the pictures I might have in my head, and the design process leads the design result more than the outcome I had ideas for.
That is probably why I reverted to the free experimental day of just trying out techniques. I am much more versed in constructing forms, three dimensionality and large scale things. The print work seemed to call for smaller scale and two dimensionality. The focus on surface stands in contrast to my previous and continuing interest in structure. I will be on more steady ground with the next assignments.
A detour: To get inspired I looked at some print work by the Omega workshops, Wiener Werkstaette and Sonia Delaunay. The turn of the century design work in Vienna was great, I love the clarity of design they developed, it is quite defined and a precise. This stands in contrast to the looser work of the Omega workshop, which sometimes looks unfinished next to the Viennese work. Delaunay came later and is more definitely modernist in her expression, colourful, geometrical shapes. I also looked at some contemporary work by Marimekko and Klaus Haapaniemi. Haapaniemi's work is very different from the stylised geometry of modernist simplicity; it is narrative, illustrative and very detailed.
Nevertheless I still had to attend to my own print work and during this short exercise it became clear again, that I used a painting style with the stencil. The open areas of the stencil were large and needed to be covered, I used a dabbing and painting style, thought about whether a roller would have covered the surface more evenly, but then I like the uneven spread of marks and colour created here.
And in the end serendipity had a role in this work too; with the benefit of the negative shapes being used for smaller samples that have a organic aspect to them they were not planned or designed for but made pleasing pieces in themselves.