Quilted Collages/Collaged Quilts
Acton Memorial Library
November 2 – December 27, 2006
Artist Talk, November 29, 7pm
Reviewed by Maxine Farkas
Self curated solo exhibitions are always an interesting challenge for the viewer. Often the artist/curator’s intent is clear, “this is my new work” or “this is everything that I have done in the past 10 years, or in my career, or in my lifetime”.
With this solo exhibition, Sandra Donabed has chosen to challenge the viewer just as she has throughout her career, with wit and passion. In this group of 17 autobiographical pieces, both quilts and collage, she has offered up a sampling of work that spans the last decade. The exhibit demonstrates a deep love of the work of women’s hands, of the ephemeral guides that women used to create that work and of the vintage textiles that defined women’s “territory”. Because the work is autobiographical, it is rich in content, yet not easily interpreted.
The quilt work, much of it referring in one way or another to the vocabulary of the traditional quilt, consistently creates a dialog between that vocabulary and the one used in the fine arts. In other words, the fundamental concepts which are indispensable to the fine artist, and which many quilt artists have difficulty incorporating, are integrated seamlessly into Donabed’s work.
“Sylvia’s Circles” is one example where Donabed takes what at first glance appears to be a traditional form, quarter circle in a square, and uses it as the starting point for a seemingly improvisational monologue on the circle. The sophisticated use and interplay of color transcends form. This piece is the first one sees as one approaches the door to the exhibit and it draws the viewer into the space. It is an exquisite nod to the artist’s mastery of the contemporary quilt form.
Orphaned vintage patchwork blocks are used in a number of the pieces. The black and white bearclaw variation blocks that create the horizontal borders of ‘Evolution’ are a case in point. In this piece, with the lighting provided by the venue, the stark solidity of the patchwork blocks tend to overpower the toile central portion with its commentary on pastoral imagery. As one approaches and focus falls on the central portion, the question of meaning surfaces as it does with much of Donabed’s work. Is this piece supposed to be mildly amusing or is there a deeper meaning that is being missed?
“Earth Mommies: The Day They Released The Angels” is puzzling, humorous and beautifully executed. The use of seemingly randomly placed black and white patchwork blocks creates a dynamic tension that is then forced into the background by irregularly placed small circles of color. These blocks serve as a backdrop to the ‘Mommies’, which are large black and white toile figures of bare-breasted goddesses. The Mommies seem to be tossing putti into the air, are these angels being nurtured or rejected?
In “Attack Rabbits”, a collage on stretched canvas, Donabed uses toile and redwork embroidery to create an improbable world where giant redwork rabbits leap fences with abandon. If this is autobiographical, what story is it telling? The more time one spends with the work, the more one finds to engage the imagination, and the more questions one asks.
The viewer first notices the turtles in “Fandango de Tortuga”. In this simple composition, a pair of turtles could be contemplating mating, given the title. The plants and foliage are beautifully expressed, the attention to line is exquisite. On closer inspection some of the foliage appears to be darts from a dress pattern. A pattern paper zipper bisects the image, making the viewer ask, “Why?”. Is this a compositional device? The use of small orange crosses (x’s?) scattered throughout also pulls the imagery together, yet disappear as one retreats from the work.
“Placemats”, a set of four table settings, appears to refer to the series of quilts Donabed created in response to downsizing, moving from a house to condo. Then again, she could be exploring her collection of vintage linens.
“August” appears to be one of the simpler stories presented in the exhibit, squirrels running rampant in the garden. The vegetation is riotous but controlled. It is broiderie perse gone over the top. Imagery garnered from vintage tablecloths is artfully contained by the striped border.
“Deconstruction”, an artist proof, could be an off register print. Is it an invitation to contemplate life when it goes slightly off center? The large central image is obviously a blow up of one of the flowers in the broiderie perse border. Seemingly, this is one of the simplest pieces in the collection, yet the desire is to somehow reach into the work and pull the central motif together because the imagery appears vaguely disturbing.
In “Flower Collage”, Donabed returns to the central imagery of “Deconstruction”, in this instance using flower petals scanned, then printed on pattern paper. Of the mounted collages in the exhibit, this is the most accessible to the viewer, and seemingly one of the least enigmatic.
Of the quilts offered, “Self Portrait with Sticks” and “Multiple Choices” are the least satisfying. While the imagery in “Multiple Choices” is evocative, the quilt itself is visually flat, the colors seemingly lacking in value contrast, almost washed out. The venue lighting was less than kind to this piece, as the image on Donabed’s website is much stronger. “Self Portrait with Sticks” was confusing and seemingly pointless, although the twig applique offered some depth, this piece also read as visually flat. It is possible, given the visual complexity of much of the other work in the exhibit, that this work was less satisfying because of the nature of photo imagery on fabric, which tends to rely solely on the strength of the image to create depth. It could also be that this direction is such a departure in technique from the other work shown that the viewer is thrown for a loop.
Despite this reviewer’s quibble with several of the pieces, this is one of the strongest presentations of a body of work that has been offered by a fiber artist in Eastern Massachusetts in the past few years.
A note on the venue:
The venue is less than ideal, a multipurpose space designed to display framed art with structural elements that interfere with several of the larger pieces. As in many communities across the country, local libraries in Massachusetts have been working with artists to create alternative exhibition opportunities. The Acton Memorial Library juries its exhibits from slide submissions, the exhibition space doubles as a multi-use meeting space. While far from a mainstream or ideal gallery setting, the space is used for numerous community events and activities and the exhibitions are extremely accessible to the public.
Photographs of Attack Rabbits, Placemats, Deconstruction and Flower Collage by the reviewer, all others supplied by the artist. All work copyright the artist.