Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My job

My job is to observe and to pay attention to feelings that come over me and then translate them into something that can be understood by other people.    

My work's job is to be a pathway for emotion.  It does not need to be identical to my emotion, it can be entirely individual for the person encountering it.  

I remember the moment I became an artist and it was because I had such a strong feeling that I had to  communicate it.  The moment was when I saw my young children playing in the sunshine.  I was overwhelmed by the wonder of watching my children and I painted them.   

I painted my children for about ten years. 

Almost all those paintings sold to people who were not my family.  

I think that it didn't matter who the child was for those people who collected the paintings because the paintings were not specific, they were more about a universal feeling of childhood.

Quilts came into my life early and I continue to make them.  

I like that quilts take a long time to make and seem to hold the lives that whirl around while they are being stitched.  

I like that quilts are used to protect and care for people.

I like that the old patterns tell stories with a secret code.  The strips of cloth in this one look like streaks of lightening.  

The title of the quilt is Thunder and Lightening.  In order to have a good storm you have to have both thunder and lightening, and in order to have a good piece of art, you have to have both art and craft.  

An artist is someone who pays attention and tries to communicate an emotion.  

There are many kinds of artists.
Poets are artists.
Musicians are artists.
Actors are artists.
Painters are artists.
Quilt makers are artists.

I began making quilts when I was twenty years old and I am still making them.

I like that quilts can be abstract. 

I like that quilts can use repetition.  

I like that quilts can look like paintings

I like that quilts can fold up around a body.

I like that they are full of touch.

I studied fine art at university and now have two degrees from two different universities.

I have come to understand the power of moving through art as if you are moving through nature and occasionally I make installations.  The first installation I made is the House with the Golden Windows  shown above.

Sometimes the installations are more about time than space.  

The installation in these photos took three years to make.

I worked the same amount on it every day for three years.

It is called Not to Know But To Go On

My job is to make my work.

My work's job is to awaken other people to their own feelings.  Those feelings inside them, their hopes and dreams and memories as well as the wonder in our beautiful world.  

My job is to show the light.

My work's job is to be the light.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024


Wheat Fields After Rain 1890  Vincent Van Gogh

A blog post about reading the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh and the anxiety I felt through most of the beautifully written book.    

The letters are full of emotions and excellent descriptive passages of the natural world.  He wrote every few days to his brother Theo, who supported him financially.

Plain near Auvers 1890 Vincent Van Gogh

Two thirds or more of the book takes place before 1888.  There was a big sidetrack in 1885, where he gave away all his belongings and devoted himself to the poor in North Holland.  It was already page 183 and there are only 313 pages in the book.  

I was anxious because I knew he was going to die, and I read his compelling letters and kept reading them as he kept moving around in Holland and England,  becoming a minister, falling in love several times, continuing and continuing to write so beautifully, but not painting.  All through this time, the book was full of descriptions of the country side he saw and how it made him feel.  

I wanted him to start painting.  I wanted him to get on with it.  He did sketches however.  

To learn to look at the landscape at large, in its simple lines and contrasts of light and brown.  Here is a sketch of what I saw today.  That earth was superb in reality, I don't think my study ripe enough yet, but I was struck by the effect, and as to light and shade, it was, indeed, as I draw it for you here.  Drenthe, Holland, 1883.  Vincent.
He admired the artist Millet.  He loved Japanese paintings.  He read Shakespeare.  How would he get all those paintings done?  I skipped ahead.  I looked in the book of his paintings that I owned and began reading it at the same time.  A few of those paintings illustrate this post.  

Poppy Field 1890  Vincent Van Gogh

In 1886, he moved from Holland to Paris to live with Theo for a year.  He started to paint flowers in vases and went outside to paint close ups of grasses and undergrowth.  The paintings with the date of 1887 are from his Paris time and of course there are hardly any letters.  

He didn't move to Arles until February 1888, (page 191).  Immediately very inspired, he started to paint on canvases that he would roll up and send back to Theo to hopefully sell in his gallery.  Vincent described his paintings brilliantly in the letters, along with describing the southern clear light and the simple rural landscapes near Arles. 

Now started his golden three years:  1888, 1889, 1890.  Three years to make all those beautiful paintings when he was 35, 36, 37 years old. 

The Plain at Auvers, 1890 Vincent Van Gogh

He wrote to Theo about the French authors he loved, de Maupassant, Zola.  He wrote about the Impressionists and their work and how he knew that he was a bit different from them.  He wrote about the clarity and simplicity in how the Japanese painted, and how he wanted to make work like they did, as if the artist is part of the landscape.  He read and spoke Dutch, French, and English easily.  He was an intelligent and sensitive correspondent and wrote beautiful letters.

Most of his letters in 1888 to Theo are about how he had invited Paul Gauguin to come to Arles and live with him and how he was waiting for Gauguin's arrival.  All through 1888, he prepared for Gaugin's visit.  He asked Theo for money to get two beds, one for Gauguin, and he set up his little house in preparation for this more famous painter to come and live with him.  He painted a set of sunflower paintings to hang in one of the bedrooms and a set of portraits of local people to hang in the other. He painted the floor and the walls.  He longed for Gauguin to come.  He admired Gauguin.  He wanted to help him out financially by giving him a place to live and artistically by introducing Gauguin to the beautiful climate and light and landscapes of southern France.   

Park of the Asylum at Saint-Remy 1889  Vincent Van Gogh

Gauguin finally arrived in Arles in late October of 1888 and moved in with Vincent and they painted together and talked about their theories of painting.  Then, and this is not fully explained, in late December 1888, after only 8 weeks of having Gauguin in the house with him, Vincent cut off part of his ear. 

The cut was quite dangerous because he had cut through an artery, and had to spend time in hospital, returning several times to hospital because of fainting and anxiety.  Gauguin left Arles immediately and Vincent was on his own again by January of 1889.  He still painted a lot, but he had to keep going back to the hospital in Arles.  

Tree Trunks in the Grass, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent tried to maintain his little house but because of his need for medical care the people of Arles were afraid for him and of him.  He was encouraged to check himself into the asylum in St. Remy where there would be doctors easily available.  He did this in May 1889 and entered into a calm period of his life.  He lived in the asylum for a year, until May 1890.  It was an asylum for people with mental illnesses.

He painted his best work in 1889 and 1890 when he was being taken care of in that Asylum.  He continued to write beautiful letters to Theo.   

Iris 1889  Vincent Van Gogh

The asylum was confining and a bit depressing and after a year in that place, Vincent was encouraged by a doctor friend to move to an inn in Auvers, north of Paris where the doctor lived and practiced.   Dr. Gachet wanted to look after Vincent and visited him regularly.  Dr. Gachet was a good friend and gave Vincent care and support.    
But on July 27 1890, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself during one of his painting trips to a field near Auvers, and died two days later, age 37.   

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Beauty Emotion Spirit Soul

Beauty, Emotion, Spirit, Soul

When I was studying for the Embroidery degree from Middlesex University I had to develop a thesis.  I was encouraged to look around me, at art and at nature, and discover what it was that made an impact on me.  To identify it. And then to make my work using that thesis as a constant guide.

I looked at paintings and world textiles and American quilts and realized that it was the simplest ones that I loved the most.  The ones that relied on emptiness and repetition and a sense of space.   I looked at nature and identified how I felt when I looked at new growth in the spring fields and forests where I lived.  And how I felt when I looked across the body of water in front of our house into the empty not empty sky and the ducks swimming in the gentle ripples.

Beauty Emotion Spirit Soul reverse side

And developed my thesis:  Large Emptiness.  Small marks.  The feeling rather than the representation. 

I made a set of sketches using fabrics I was saving in my studio.  The sketches were all square, 13 inch  pieces of cloth that combined with other pieces of cloth and some thread and sometimes holes placed in them inspired by the sketches I'd made over time in my notebook.  The idea was that they were mock ups for what could be large-scale textiles.  100 inches square.  

When I graduated in 2012 from Middlesex University, my graduate exhibition was one large empty square that held many hand stitched small marks.  See it here as the cover image of my website; title is Monumental Simplicity.  Then seven years later in 2019, I used eighteen of those fabric sketches to make the fabric construction in this post.  Beauty Emotion Spirit Soul sold before I had a good photo of it but I contacted the collector last March and told her about my project to document my older work.  She happily agreed to loan it back to me for professional photography and now I am pleased to have these photos by Nick Dubecki and am sharing them here.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

a language of care

The quilts I make are not clever.

They are not intellectual.

The quilts I make are love stories.

Remember this. 

Remember that quilts are love stories. 

Often, quilts are gifts. 

We sleep with them.

They touch us.

Quilts are a language of care. 

Quilts are not about the things that happen out in the world, 

Quilts help us recover from that world,

Quilts protect us when we sleep and dream.

Quilts also comfort the ones who make them.  

That is the language of care.

Your Fragile Life 

 old damask linen, natural dye, silk batting, silk backing and borders, cotton thread, 

entirely hand stitched, 70 x 68 inches,  2024.      

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The ice went out

March 1 2024

When we left on our road trip at the beginning of March, the ice still covered Manitowaning Bay,  

and while we were gone, the ice went out.  

March 15 2024

Over the past few days, I've finished the couching on my new wool textile.  I love to hold the heavy cloth.   I love to run my hand over the dense threads.  I love how the six strands of cotton floss have a sheen and the red sewing thread that holds it has a strength.

Did you know that the back is red silk?  

Last Thursday, I placed an organza circle and regarded it.  What should I do?  I worried and obsessed for a complete day.  It was snowing outside.

Ann Clarke, RCA acrylic painter, at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston Ontario, 2024.

By the way, one of the reasons that we made the trip to Eastern Ontario was so that I could attend an artist talk by my former Lakehead University painting teacher.  She was having a 6 decade retrospective at the Agnes Etherington gallery in Kingston.  My sister, Nancy, and I went together.  When it was time for me to graduate from LU in 1993, it turned out that I needed a painting credit and Ann Clarke had just arrived in Thunder Bay.  I was privileged to have this dedicated abstract painter as one of my advisors and teachers.  I wrote about her retrospective on the Modernist Aesthetic blog, please go have a look.  
March 18

March 23
This view.

It is very important to my work.  I lose myself in it.  

Sacred Ground by Judy Martin, wool and hand stitch.  

Saturday, March 16, 2024

In touch

A post about the cloth I've been working on these past two weeks.     

I'm adding complete skeins of cotton floss in horizontal rows to a wool patchwork, couching the thick threads firmly through several layers with red sewing thread.  I want to make a texture that you will yearn to touch.

I took it with me to stitch while Ned drove us to visit family in Eastern Ontario and Quebec.  We took the rural roads whenever possible, and there was no snow.

Look.  This happens so often and is not planned.  Suddenly I notice the similarity in what my eyes see and the marks my hands make.   

We visited our twin grand daughters.

They've started to walk!  They eat solid foods with gusto!  They play together.  They love music.
We had a wonderful time with them.  

I want to get in touch with something more mindless, more intuitive.  I'm not clear about the meaning.  Maybe its the spectator who puts the meaning in.  

I don't work from experiences that are fresh.  I tend to repeat things.  I've carried thoughts around in my head for months.  I have a feeling about a form that I want and I want the feeling to develop as far as it can go, and I want my work to be able to stand a lot of inspection.  Vija Celmins

I'm back at home now and continue with this mindless stitching.   I read an old Border Crossings magazine the other day and Vija Celmins was interviewed in it by Robert Enright.  What she said resonated with me so much I had to note her responses into my journal.  In fact, her words inspired me to make this post.  

See Vija Celmins’ art work in the most recent Modernist Aesthetic post.  Click  here.  

My feeling is that when you are not using your brain, you are not necessarily being stupid.  It's just that you're in touch with some other things in yourself.  Then they become brainy. . Because look how we talk about the art afterwards.  We can talk about these pieces in an intelligent way even though the work itself is ..... what is the work like?  I don't know..  I don't know what the work is like.   Vija Celmins

Friday, February 16, 2024

Poet in Love

He seems to me equal to gods that man who opposite you

sits and listens close to your sweet speaking 

and lovely laughing -- oh it

puts the heart in my chest on wings

for when I look at you, a moment, then no speaking

is left in me

no: tongue breaks, and thin

fire is racing under skin

and in eyes no sight and drumming

fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking 

grips me all, greener than grass

I am and dead -- or almost

I seem to me.

Fragment 31, Sappho

I received this white whole cloth quilt that was beginning to rot away from passage of time.  The back was the worst with big holes and disappeared batting so first I covered the back all over with new batting, some of which was not batting at all but a felting material (pre-felt) and then I added a layer of silk and rayon squares that had been dyed with and marked in the centres, all odd sizes, with large circles.  And then after that, on the other side, I added easter egg shapes of silk velvet and then I quilted the piece, echoing and renewing the earlier maker’s thick blue thread only I used a pinkish avocado thread instead. 

We used it on our bed during that velvet egg patching time and the colours were so very bright because they were from the pandemic dye experiments my artist daughter mixed up and the colours – well the colours were like spring and gave a renewal feeling of softness to that side.  When I quilted it, echoing the interesting and beautiful whole cloth pattern from the original, I went through the velvet and the original quilt and then it was done.  I washed and dried the thing in the machines – subjecting it to life and a kind of drowning death and then rebirth and oh wow, the pre-felted parts reacted and shrank and turned it into something older, or perhaps I mean more human.  The amazing texture in the now quite misshapen quilt, is no longer usable as a bed quilt but too interesting to not look at and touch. 

I look at it and think I want to wrap myself in this weird courage – this cloak of resilience and mistakes and time past and isolation-colour experiments. An object originally made by a woman I do not know but I admire nevertheless, a cloak from the pandemic when we didn’t know what we were doing or what would come next, when I was so afraid, but poured my fear and desire to protect my family into this cloth of many colours.   A softer than soft quilt.  An emotional cover up.  A close listener to my sweet speaking and lovely laughter and my breath.

I think of my quilts as poems, and for me, this one is like Sappho’s fragment 31, her love poem that describes how she falls apart when she looks at the beloved.  How she is greener than grass and also feels dead.  Her tongue breaks and fire races under her skin and in her eyes no sight and in her ears drumming and cold sweat holds her and shaking grips her. "Greener than green I am and dead, or almost I seem to me."

And how this quilt fell apart, dead or almost – but now it is greener than grass on the inside.  Dull on the outside, bright in the inside.  Your sweet speaking.  Your lovely laughing.  

I am not the original maker of this quilt, but I followed her lead and quilted along her beautiful lovely laughing lines, I listened to and then enhanced her sweet speaking.  I made something that is greener than green but also wrecked.  Something to wrap around a poet.  Something to represent a poet.  A poet in love.  A poet’s bittersweet dream cloak.

Fragment 31 is perhaps Sappho's most famous poem.  In this post it is translated from the original Greek by Anne Carson.  Fragment 31 was a key reference in Carson's long essay about the creative space of yearning, of not knowing but wanting to know and being in love with that erotic wooing or seeking, that human lovers and artists and thinkers are familiar with.  Eros the Bittersweet, was selected by the modern library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time.