Monday, May 22, 2023

my eleven minute talk

This talk is from May 12, 2023.  Penny Berens and I have an exhibition up now in Kenora, North Western Ontario, entitled In the Middle of the World.  We travelled to Kenora to see our work and have public receptions for it on the recent Mother's Day weekend.  I lived in Kenora for ten years during my 30's and our children went to school there.  Because of this deep connection to the community, I felt that it would be interesting for the audience, many of whom would remember me from that time, to speak about how the family and I have evolved in the 30 years since we moved away from Kenora.  I am presenting all the text and most of the images here.  Maybe get yourself a coffee or something before starting to read as this is longer than my usual posts. xo

Sophie LaVoie, curator of the Muse, introduced the three of us and then Penny and I were introduced by our loyal and hard working curator, Miranda Bouchard.  I began my talk with thanks - to Miranda first, and then to Lori Nelson, the director of the Muse as well as Sophie and her team for the beautiful installation of our work and for the hospitality of the opening reception.  I also thanked the audience for coming out to hear us speak.

I'm from Northern Ontario.
I was born in Fort Frances hospital and grew up on an acreage in LaVallee.  I went to Thunder Bay for Teacher's College and met my husband there.  We moved to Kenora in 1982 with two little kids and two more were born in Kenora.  I was a full-time mom when we lived in Kenora, in our house with the yellow verandah on First Street South.  My kids all went to school here, and I went to school here too.  I took distance university from Lakehead on the weekends at Beaverbrae High School.  When I lived in Kenora, my daily attention and my art practice was all about mothering.
I painted my kids.

I also made quilts about my life experiences.  This self portrait is from after the 3rd baby.  1985. 

Penny Cummine and I founded the Lake of the Woods Quilt Guild in the 80's.  Our first meeting was in the Recreation Centre.  The quilt behind me in this photo is entitled Something More Magical Than It Ever Was.  It is about memory, and how it changes over time and about how people remember things differently than each other.

With textile art, I found that I was able to speak about things that were going on internally.  I was a thinker then and I still am.  My artwork is a place where I can work through metaphysical things and make them simple.  Like telling people out loud that I love them.  

Looking back I can see that even then, my subject was the inner world.  The quilt above from 1993 is entitled:  Hold Me   The text around the border reads, “when you consider something like death, then it probably doesn’t matter if we try too hard, are awkward sometimes, in order to know life”.  (Diane Ackerman A Natural History of the Senses)

In 1993, I graduated with a degree in fine art from Lakehead University.  My graduation piece was about daily life in my Kenora house.   I didn’t know when I started building this house from photographs of our back yard and women's magazine papers of idealized life that it was my final year to live in it.  I wanted to show you this piece because it is the first example of my art where I wanted my viewer to move through the work.  In this way, it is similar to my work for In the Middle of the World.  I made The House With the Golden Windows 30 years ago during the last year that I lived here in Kenora.  I was 41. 

We moved to Manitoulin Island.  We had to continue on with our lives.  My oldest was in high school.  My youngest was going into grade one.

I started teaching classical piano again and held two concerts a year in the church next to the school.  Our children grew up and left for university.

This is our youngest child April.  She went to art school in Chicago. That’s Ned beside her in this photo.   Ned and I have remained on Manitoulin.  It is still considered Northern Ontario.  I’ve lived in Northern Ontario all my life.

I have a view of Manitowaning Bay from my living room window that I look out every day.  

In 2006, I enrolled in a distance program in England that would give me a degree in embroidery.  It wasn't possible then to study stitched textiles in North America, but in England, embroidery has the same status as painting and drawing.  I graduated in 2012 at the age of 61.  The work I did for this second university degree helped me move towards making artwork about the inner world and the body and how they are connected.  And how it is all a mystery.

By now we were having grandchildren. The fourth one was born in 2017.

Last Tuesday, May 9,  I began the drive from Manitoulin Island to be here.   I picked up Penny and Miranda in Sault Ste. Marie.  We were excited to do this beautiful drive together.

During the next two days of driving, we saw the renewal of spring in the expanses of pale green poplar groves.  We saw armies of black spruce and lakes that looked like mirrors and burnt-out hill sides and acres of muskeg.

We talked about our art making and about what we would say for this talk.  We connected with each other. 

My work in the gallery upstairs contains the northern ness and the vastness that I grew up with.
It contains my life as a daughter and a mother.  Some of the pieces enclose inner mystery and softness.
The Nor Wester mountains around Thunder Bay, the granite cliffs alongside Highway 17 as well as my daily view on Manitoulin all inform my work.

The sense that time is moving swiftly informs my work.  Here I am.  30 years older, whirling along the road.   Thinking about things.

My mothering.  My northern-ness.  Time.
We are each specks.
Time is a material.
The sense of touch communicates on an emotional level.

Things that are bigger than us but are contained in us.

My Awakened Heart is one of the first pieces I made for this body of work.  It sets the tone of trust in intuition.  I am inspired by the materials and how they change under my hands.

I began working because of a piece of fabric. I was inspired by the dots on a piece of Naomi Ito double-weave cloth.  If I cut into the top layer, I was able to reveal the inside cloth.  I started working on it with a plunge, drawing a circle with scissors, without knowing what would come next.

Through the months of making it., not with intention but with response - it became a statement about self love and repair.

I began to love the beautiful second side.  Distorted with stitch.

And I responded to that second side by covering it over, but then revealing the circle of stitch by cutting a hole.  

The title comes from Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun who lives in Nova Scotia.  My Awakened Heart for the first side and Noble Tenderness for the second side.  Pema Chodron tells us to allow our hearts to be opened by pain or by love or by sadness or fear or by all these things and to keep forgiving.  She wrote that the heart is noble, and never gets destroyed.  She said that when we feel ready to give up, that is the time when healing is found in the tenderness of pain itself.  The noble heart is always inside us, opened and yet completely whole. 

Materials and the work of my hands.
The sensuality of cloth.
Cycles of life.
Cycles of nature.

Flowers Bloomed is the last piece that I made for this show and is another example of intuitive process.  I responded to the materials and the changes that happened under my hands.  What happened in the end was not prescribed at the beginning, it evolved.

I started it after a medical appointment that made me realize I was aging.  I came home from that appointment and cut holes into an old blanket.  The initial emotion that started this piece was FEAR. 

But as I worked on it, it became more about love.  
I named it Flowers Started Blooming Inside Me.

I continued with it and under my hands it returned to the original subject of aging.  But instead of fear, there is an acceptance of being older, and I renamed the piece Flowers Bloomed.  

Working this way demonstrates how art comes from a deep place inside us.  We can’t see or name what it is.  It is brave to allow it and to accept it.  Even though the eventual work process is slow,  there is spontaneity involved.  ‘Plunge in and go slow’ is what I say to myself. 

I find that working through strong emotions like fear or anger with my slow art, heals me.  

Flowers Bloomed is an example of body/mind connection.  Of allowing the body and the emotions to take the lead, and then stepping away for a bit, to reflect.  Then, responding and changing the piece entirely.  It is an intuitive process.  None of the pieces in my body of work for this exhibition were figured out ahead of time.

However, I was making work for a two person show.  
There was a curator involved. 
We each owed it to the others to let them know what we were up to in our studios.  Every now and then Miranda would ask for lists of proposed works and we would send in what we were making.

My titles (and shapes) kept changing every time with nearly every piece.  
There were some pieces on my list that never were finished.  
It must have been difficult for Miranda, but she never said so.  Never.  
She was always very supportive to anything I did.  
Judy age 7

Art making is a radical acts of hope in this broken world.

Governor general award winning author Sheila Heti says: We have been chosen to live in this terrible time.

Judy age 14

She says: We have been chosen to live in this heart breaking time.”

It is the responsibility of the artist at this time in history to keep making authentic work.  Just by continuing, just by expressing the human passion within, just by creating something about being alive, shows hope for the future.

Her Arms Wrapped Round  and My Heart

 “When my arms wrap you round,  I press
 my heart upon the loveliness
 that has long faded form the world”  W.B. Yeats

three of our children in our Kenora kitchen

I'm interested in time.

the four of them grown up.  three girls and a boy

I’m on a journey towards self.

I am softer now than when I lived in Kenora and organized quilt shows and volunteered to play the piano in Kindergarten.  I wear pink more.  I try to be kinder.  It’s a journey to softness.

Grace had twins in December.  Our 6th and 7th grandchildren

Thank you for your attention. I now invite Penny  to take over. xo

Thursday, May 04, 2023

my five minute talk

Thank you to curator, Cathy Masterson and the Homer Watson gallery for taking good care of our work and for this reception today.  Thanks to Tracey Lawko who invited Michaela Fitzsimmons and me to join her this spring at the gallery and have these three separate exhibitions.  Tracey  also organized the bus and we all need to thank her for that.   So many of you have come out on this very rainy day, and that 401 from Toronto is no fun, I really appreciate that many people made the trip.  Thank you.  It's important that art be seen and experienced.  We artists want to communicate what we are thinking about and our unique perspective of the world. 

The Homer Watson House and Gallery is a heritage building, and the room that my work is in is called the Cayley room.  This room has a lovely bay window that gives a natural light to the small intimate space, I imagine it was the front room of the house.  It's not a big room and it has a fireplace and a radiator and a couple of doors that interrupt all the walls.   
Thank you to my husband Ned Martin who build a wooden stand for one of my pieces so that I could show a larger piece than the walls could accommodate and that also allow us to walk around it and see not only the front side but also the back side. 

The two-sided nature of quilts and textiles is what I am concerned with in this exhibition. Quilts are not paintings.  Paintings can be powerful but they communicate with one side and all textiles are double sided.  Think about how we experience a quilt, when you pull it over you; the decorative side on top is what shows, but the side that touches your body is the back side.  Quilts are very much concerned with touch, not only the touch of the maker, but how they touch the body. 

The outside of the textile that shows on the outside or the top of a quilt is only half of it.  The other half of this diptych is the on the inside.

Over the last few years, I've been thinking about the two-sidedness of humans.  What's going on in our other side?  What's going on inside me?  We don't really have a name for this interior space. Is it the spirit? the soul?  It's where memories are, and where dreams are, and ideas are.   

As I turn more and more to hand stitching, it is the inside of  the quilt, the back of it, that has come to represent the inner world to me and has become my primary subject. 

The poet / philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, called the inner world 'the immensity within' in his book the Poetics of Space.  Inside each of us, as we walk around and engage with the so called real world, there is at the same time a part that thinks and dreams and time-travels. 

The imagery in my work in this exhibition is geometric abstraction.  Circles.  Dots, repetitive marks.  The artworks are not meant to represent anything that we see in nature.  I have come to value the place that these shapes give me as I sit quietly with my work in my lap and make marks around or inside the shapes.  They demand that I put just the right amount of concentration into this work.  They allow, in fact they encourage me to go into the space where I access my inner immensity. 

So it is the process of making this pieces that this show is really about, even more than the product that hangs on the walls, and I hope that the feeling of inner-ness is what will come over you as you move slowly through the Cayley room.

Most of the pieces shown in this room for these few months have their insides - out.

All images and text are from the April 30, 2023 reception at the Homer Watson House exhibition.
Inside Out by Judith e Martin.  The exhibit remains open to the public until June 25.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

help me to balance

I made another sleeve this week.

Making sleeves so that my quilts can hang on the wall is not my favourite part of making quilts.

The problem is that most of my quilts have two good sides.

I never know myself which one is really the front and which is the back and both sides are the right side in my mind.

The brown nine patch side of this flannel quilt is named Dear Earth.

The Dear Earth side will be the back-side for a SAQA global exhibition coming up in France.

The show is called Minimalism and it was juried by Dorothy Caldwell.

Dorothy chose the other side of this quilt, 'help me to balance', to be in the exhibition.

I made a sleeve from a narrow domestic wool textile already hand stitched with red thread.  It has a few moth holes, but I think it is OK.

I lined it with a silk tube and attached everything by hand to Dear Earth.

It's not invisible, that's for sure, but I think that it is functional.
SAQA exhibitions require that a cloth label be attached to the back

I had enough cloth to embroider a label and attach it to the lower right of Dear Earth, see above photo.

'help me to balance' old domestic sheets and towels, machine pieced, hand quilted with red thread,      90 x 66 inches, 2018.
Dear Earth.  Help me to balance. xo

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Magdalena Abakanowicz: Soft Strength at the Tate Modern, London, England

Every Tangle of Thread and Rope, Abakans by Magdalena as installed at Tate Modern until May 21 

magdalena's brown abakan 1969,
 ball point pen sketch on opened note book, 6.5 x 8 inches

magdalena's embryology bundles circa 1980,
ball point pen sketch on opened note book, 6.5 x 8 inches

We visited the Tate Modern last week because I wanted to experience the Magdalena Abakanowicz exhibition.  While there, I borrowed one of those folding portable stools so that I could sit among the Abakans and draw them.  I wore my grey knit dress for these visits, because it had great pockets for my phone and little notebook.  My shoes were comfortable and I wore black tights, just like all the other pilgrims.  

embryology  1978 - 1981, burlap, cotton gauze, hemp rope, nylon, sisal, dimensions variable,
by Magdalena Abakanowicz

embryology, there are approximately 800 pieces in this body of work, 1978-81,
burlap, sisal, cotton gauze, hemp, stockings,  etc

When I sat close to the burlap wrapped bundles of the Embryology grouping, I could differentiate the wrapping materials:  brownish cheesecloth, grey and brown cotton stockings, twine, sisal, but I couldn't always tell what was inside them.  

Magdalena did not self-identify as a feminist yet her work is seen by many as emblematic of a powerful female imagery.  One can't help but think about birth and vulnerability while sitting with her work.  And sex.  And decay.  And nests, and wombs, and eggs.   Her work is about LIFE and its connection to fibres. 

mature woman sketching Magdalena Abakanowicz's Embryology
 at the Tate Modern, London, England

sketch of Magdalena's embryology,
 ball point pen on opened out notebook, 6.5 x 8 inches

By drawing them, I touched them slowly with my eyes.  I was touched by them.  They are hand made monuments to human labour and creativity.  The connection to the body and all its functions is so strong that I am finding it hard to express in words.  It's incredible.  The inspiration I felt when I was near them was deep.  I was pulled by heart strings into her spaces and even now, at home, I remember the experience as something holy. 

It was a privilege be so close to them.  I was in awe the whole time.  

Drawing the soft sculptures helped my mind and body absorb them. 
Sitting rather than standing helped my wobbly legs. 

mature woman in front of
Magdalena Abakanowicz's Abakan Orange 1968
at the Tate Modern exhibition, Every Tangle of Thread and Rope.

There's a new post on modernist aesthetic dedicated to Magdalena Abakanowicz's Abakans.   Click here