January 18 – March 26, 2007
Washington State Convention and Trade Center,
Galleria Level 2, 800 Convention Place,
Jurors: Rachel Brumer, Layne Goldsmith and Karen Soma
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Contemporary Quilt Art Association, “Coming of Age” is an impressive showcase of 43 pieces by 31 artists. Covering two long walkways of the huge Washington State Convention and Trade Center’s second level, these stunning examples of contemporary art quilts represent a wide range of quilting styles, from playful interpretations of traditional quilting patterns to works that are closer to paintings. As a beadwork artist who works on a palm-size scale, I envied these artists their medium’s ability to proclaim color, shape and concept and be gloriously visible from a long and wide distance. Despite the vast size of the Trade Center, these pieces command visual space and well-deserved attention.
One of my favorite pieces in the show is Barbara O’Steen’s Trees-1, more sculpture than quilt. Pleated fabric evokes the bark of trees partially opened to reveal hidden text that, while mostly unreadable, seems to come from an old and sacred scripture about the role of trees. Generally partial to 3-dimensional works, I was fascinated by this innovative use of fabric to convey both the texture and the solidness of trees as well as the history they contain. More than any other piece in the show, this one tempted me to touch the folds of fabric and even peel some of them away to read more of the text. (Of course I couldn’t; all the quilts are safely encased in Plexiglas and armed by a security system.)
One of the most successful examples of the use of fabric to convey depth as no other medium can is Margot Lovinger’s Untitled with Rose. Unfamiliar with the technique she uses, I am guessing that layers of transparent fabric (perhaps hose?) were used in varying depths to “paint” a near-photo-like image of a woman holding a rose in her mouth. From a distance, the piece does appear to be painted, but closer observation (and the artist’s note that “no paints, inks or dyes were used”) easily shows that the startlingly realistic effect is created using only layers of fabric. I was struck first by the stark image – why is the woman holding her hands over her eyes and wearing nothing but a rose? Is this an image of “see no evil”? Denial? – then stunned by the technique she used to convey this mystery.
Another piece with near-photographic realism is Moonglow Anemone by Carla Stehr. The artist used layered fabric to very successfully portray the translucency of this sea creature as well as its phosphorescence in an otherwise darkly colorful reef. The wavy borders of the quilt enhanced the motion and rhythm of the underwater scene.
Although many impressive pieces in the exhibit were figurative (Gayle Bryan’s breathtaking crow in Supplications/Expectations, Peter Gaunce’s African Beauty and Mary Lewis’ Fort Worden Reflection are among the most memorable), I found myself most often attracted to pieces that expressed exuberance, movement or even decay with simple abstract shapes, contrasting color and innovative use of free-motion stitching. One that caught my eye immediately (and the first piece I viewed in the show) is Sharon Rowley’s Shimmy, a playful demonstration of motion conveyed by the effective use of lines and contrasting colors. I kept wanting to ask the artist, “Just how did you cut that fabric into those wavy lines?”
Two more extremely effective uses of color are Plum Tango II by Janet Kurjan and Bonny Brewer’s Counterpoint. These are pieces I would gladly hang in my home because they make me happy. Although each is made primarily of basic shapes and contrasting colors, they simply vibrate with positive energy.
Movement is also successfully conveyed by color and stitching in Melisse Laing’s Whirlpool. I am pulled toward its center with a dizzying centripetal force driven by the carefully controlled concentric circles of stitch and varying values of blue.
Even decay can be conveyed with the effective use of free-motion stitching, as shown by Deborah Gregory’s Ancient Forms: Lost and Found. Here, the artist has used stitch to delineate abstract or glyphic-like shapes dyed in the fabric. She has created an organic effect that can only be described as aging in the way of ancient architecture or rock formations.
For its sheer human expressiveness, I have to comment on Patti Shaw’s Thirty-Five. Displayed in a simple grid format, 35 small portraits by the artist are reproduced in shades of black on light fabric with selected details highlighted with hand-stitching. I found myself moved by each face and its expression, each subtle mood captured by a tiny quirk of an eyebrow or pinch of a lip. While each of these faces could stand alone as a pencil or charcoal portrait, I was intrigued and further moved by the artist’s desire to accent certain features with hand-embroidery. It is as if time spent with the drawing implement wasn’t sufficient, and the artist was compelled to further and more deeply study each face with needle and thread. Viewed toward the end of my visit, this piece exemplified how the medium of quilting can evoke feelings and ideas both by what is apparent and what is only implied by the time the artist has spent with fabric and thread.
My only complaint with the exhibit was the uneven lighting in the Trade Center venue. Some quilts hanging in dark corners of the floor definitely got short shrift compared to those hanging in well-lighted areas. Still, given that the show is expected to be seen by 100,000 visitors, it’s hard to find fault with a location offering a level of exposure unmatched by most gallery spaces. On a quiet Friday morning, I was probably the only visitor there with the sole purpose of viewing the show, yet I observed several Trade Center visitors walking briskly past the exhibit to their destination suddenly stop to study a piece that had caught their eye. Lunch-time strollers would interrupt their conversation to comment on a piece. And even a few busy Trade Center employees distracted by the task at hand seemed to slow their pace long enough to glance at the vibrant displays of color. I imagine that “Coming of Age” will be seen by many more casual passers-by (perhaps viewing art quilts for the first time) than quilt makers or collectors, and this can only be a good thing in terms of giving exposure to fiber arts. Congratulations to CQA for organizing a well-placed and well-deserved exhibit.
The Contemporary Quilt Association’s Website is www.contemporaryquiltart.com