Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Bee Still in Bonnet

I haven't quite been able to let go of my frustration over the juror's response to Colleen Heslin's award-winning painting. But I have been trying to articulate why their comments put me into a tizzy. It's not that I have a beef with Heslin's work, and I do think it's great to see young artists exploring cloth and its meaning.

There was an article in the Vancouver Sun this past weekend that quoted Ian Wallace, a Vancouver artist and one of the nine judges from across Canada, who said: "It's just a very excellent painting, and original technique." All the judges issued a collective statement that said the painting "suggests a stepping-off point for where painting can go, a formally elegant update on the medium's perennial questions."

I have been through art school, and was heading along the trail of career making - exhibiting, writing, getting grants - early on, only to opt for a less clearly defined path along the boundary (that may or may not exist) between art and craft. I remember taking a wonderful painting intensive one summer which I thoroughly enjoyed, even if all it did was bring me to the realization that I was not a painter. I did paint a lot of images of cloth though, while at the same time creating quilted and stitched works which explored the same themes as the paintings. To me, it was all one. But to many of the people who saw my work, the painting was more serious than the stitching.

Reams has been written about this, mostly by critics and curators leaning to the craft side. Fine arts types have generally avoided the discussion. Of course, at art school someone would usually pipe up and say, "Well, if the work is good enough, then it can be called art." The implication being that the reason the medium of textiles falls into the realm of craft is because it just isn't good enough. Even though the school I went to had large departments of ceramic, wood-working, glass and textiles, they were considered completely separate from the fine arts stream. It was a very hierarchical environment and that attitude lingers today.

Which brings me to the question of why a painting that uses techniques that have long been practised in the textile arts would be considered so fresh and original. Were the judges simply not aware of what is going on in other fields? Do painters have such a narrow focus that they don't look beyond the canvas for inspiration? I sincerely doubt it. Given the general dreariness of the other entries in the competition, my guess is that it's just one of those slow times for painting. Maybe we are about to see a wave of textile influence crash upon the shores of oils and acrylic.

Never forget, it was a textile piece by Sonia Delauney that is credited with inspiring cubism and abstract art. Maybe we just can't help being ahead of our time when we work with cloth.
Blanket by Sonia Delauney, 1911

"It's just a very excellent painting, and original technique," said Ian Wallace, a Vancouver artist and one of nine judges from across Canada, of Heslin's painting.
"It's one of those things that just grew on you as you looked at it."
A collective statement from the judges said the painting "suggests a stepping-off point for where painting can go, a formally elegant update on the medium's perennial questions."
- See more at: http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Vancouver+artist+wins+prize/9001838/story.html#sthash.9PmuZjWT.dpuf
"It's just a very excellent painting, and original technique," said Ian Wallace, a Vancouver artist and one of nine judges from across Canada, of Heslin's painting.
"It's one of those things that just grew on you as you looked at it."
A collective statement from the judges said the painting "suggests a stepping-off point for where painting can go, a formally elegant update on the medium's perennial questions."
- See more at: http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Vancouver+artist+wins+prize/9001838/story.html#sthash.9PmuZjWT.dpuf

3 comments:

  1. Same here.... textile art is more or less non existing on the market.

    I do like to visit exhibions and galleries both in Cologne/Germany and Paris/France but for textile art I wouldn't know where to go.

    And strangely everything that used a paintbrush for production is automatically considered art... which definitely isn't the case either. IMHO.

    (About two weeks ago I did the tour for the "portes ouvertes des ateliers" in Menilmontant/ Paris. Sculpture, painting, clay, china, glass,... all kind of material, but very few working with textiles. And they were doing craft. Baby clothes, small purses...

    But a lot of the painters were doing craft also... at least to my non professional eye.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wasn't aware of Sonia Dlauney's legacy to cubism. Thanks for making that clear. Of course I always thought a quilt must have been behind it all somehow. Good grief. So unnoticed. Oh well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ah!... the old art/craft debate, it is an ongoing discussion that I have been engaging with since the early 70's. The mark of the hand is being recognized and sought after world wide with so much work from the sculptors and painters crossing over into the more traditionally decorative arts of glass, ceramics, textiles and jewelry. The good thing with the craft oriented arts is we can make a living from our hands while we're still alive!

    ReplyDelete

Please forgive me for using word verification. The spam robots got to me.