Category: artist

Portraits in Thread

The Textile Museum at George Washington University in DC has a portrait exhibition in the works. Learning about the Museum’s plans got us thinking about works created by browngrotta artists that feature human likenesses. We have a preference for abstract works and find them easier to exhibit as a group in the gallery. As a result, we don’t exhibit many works that are figurative, but we do find faces rendered in textiles consistently appealing. They record a person’s existence, but traditionally reflect much more — power, status, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Portraiture can be popular with artists because of the freedom of composition it involves — lighting, angle of the head, hair, clothes, background, facial expression — almost endless options. Below is a gallery of some engaging portraits by artists who have worked with browngrotta arts.

Process piece by ed Rossbach
Process Piece, Ed Rossbach, 15” x 15” x 2.5”, 1981. Photo by Tom Grotta

This deconstructed portrait by Ed Rossbach works on two levels — it appears to be a model of the way a likeness can be formed, and of course, it revels the likeness in black transferred onto fabric.

Ethel Stein portrait
Portrait, Ethel Stein mercerized cotton lampas (pre-dyed warp and weft) drawloom , controlled, 47” x 34.75” x 1” 1999. Photo by Tom Grotta

Portrait by Ethel Stein is an imagined depiction of a woman in contemplation while Helena Hernmarck’s On the Dock seems to capture an actual moment in time.

Helena Hernmarck tapestry
On the Dock, Helena Hernmarck, wool, 43″ x 57″, 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marijike Arp portraits
DNA Unique, Marijike Arp, transparent foil, threads and paper, 66″ x 118″ x 1.5″, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marjike Arp made a statement about gender in DNA=Unique. The pair of subjects resemble one another and raise questions for the viewer: Are they related? Are they more similar than different? 

Iria Kolesnikova portraits
Photoatelier #11, Irina Kolesnikova, flax, silk, hand woven, 15.5” x 11.75”, 20” x 16” frame, 2004

Other artists also work from photographic images. Irina Kolesnikova, for example, likes old black-and-white old photos. “I play with images of these pictures, using silhouettes, details of dress, signs of profession. I make collage and imitate collage in woven technique. You can not recognize an exact person in these pieces, because it is not important for me …. I like a paradoxical combination of contemporary art language and ancient handweaving technque.”

From the First Person  by Aleksandra Stoyanov
Aleksandra Stoyanov, From the First Person I, wool, sisal, silk, cotton threads 55.6” x 49.25”, 1999

Ukrainian-born artist Aleksandra Stoyanov began making tapestries in 1987, building on her background in graphic and set design. Some of these are based on photographs from her family album. The images evoke memories; the position of the subjects’ heads on their sides suggests the importance of one’s vantage point in interpreting events.

Lia Cook Su Series
Su Series, Lia Cook cotton, rayon, woven 72” x 132”, 2010-2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

Lia Cook is a master of creating woven portraits from photographic images. Her Su Series Installation features 32 individual portraits. The exact same face, an image of Cook as a child, is used in each of the pieces but it is physically and materially translated differently each time through the weaving process. “The specific way each is translated creates a subtle and sometimes dramatic variation in emotional expression.” Cook says. “As one moves through the installation each iteration evokes a new response. The experience of the person viewing the piece is what is important to me. I am interested in the threshold at which the face dissolves first into pattern and then into a sensual tactile woven structure.  What does this discovery and the resulting intense desire to touch the work add to our already innate, almost automatic emotional response to seeing a face?… The viewer can experience sadness, happiness anger fear etc.  They don’t believe it is the same image”. It is fascinating to Cook — and to viewers of her work — that how an image is translated through the technical weaving process can change the emotional expression of the work.


Lives Well Lived: Ritzi Jacobi (1941 – 2022)

Ritzi Jacobi working on Exotica Series, Ritzi and Peter Jacobi, cotton, goat hair and sisal, 114″ x 60″ x 6″, 1975. Photo provided by the artist.

We write with sadness about the loss of prominent fiber sculptor, Ritzi Jacobi this past June. Along with artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz and Jagoda Buic, Ritzi Jacobi was one of the European pioneers of textile art, who has established work with textile fibers in expansive, gestural, impulsive installations internationally since the 1960s. Jacobi was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1941, and studied at the arts academy there. The reliefs and objects she created together with her husband Peter Jacobi caused a sensation as early as the 1969  International Tapestry Biennal in Lausanne, Switzerland (the first of 11 in which she participated) and the 1970 Venice Biennial. The works were densely woven from vibrant fibers, and their “shaggy” mass and monumental size convey a rough physicality and are reminiscent of the mountains of their Transylvanian homeland. They represented nature and the archaic and at the same time dealt with conscious and unconscious elemental experiences.  Much of the freshness of the “new tapestry” movement resulted from this juxtaposition of layers, and focus on materials, Giselle Eberhard Cotton observed (“The Lausanne International Tapestry Biennials (1962-1995) The Pivotal Role of a Swiss City in the ‘New Tapestry’ Movement in Eastern Europe After World War II,” Giselle Eberhard Cotton, Textile Society of America, Symposium, September 2012).

Detail of Breeze, Ritzi Jacobi coconut fiber, sisal, cotton 49” x 49” x 8”, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta

After moving to Germany in 1970, Ritzi and Peter Jacobi initially continued their work together with the various textile fibers and layers of fragile paper and then turned to other fields of work separately. In her own work, Ritzi Jacobi continued to create large reliefs that underscored the sculptural possibilities of fiber, drawing in three dimensions, creating light and shadow with fiber cables and bundles of wrapped fibers. Ritzi Jacobi also worked with large, untreated cardboard elements, that conquered the surrounding space in a succinct and determined manner. Since the 1990s, she had been expanding her material repertoire to include metal and here, too, she showed abstract hatching and layers between surface and space, concentration and dissolution. Solo exhibitions and some together with Peter Jacobi, have taken place at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and the Cleveland Institute of Arts in Ohio. Works by the artist can be found in major museums around the world. In recent years, Ritzi Jacobi has mainly worked on large-format tapestries, partly as commissioned works, and has been in demand internationally as an expert in juries and committees.  Her last solo exhibition took place at Galerie Diehl in Berlin in 2019. She died in Düsseldorf, where she has lived since 2000, after a long, serious illness. 

Ritzi Jacobi Blue Zone, coconut-fibre, acrylic paint, 57″ x 57″ x 3″, 2007; and Floating Matter, coconut fiber, cotton, acrylic paint, 53.5″ x 53.5″ x 6″, 2007. Photo by Tom Grotta

Adapted from an obituary by Thomas Hirsch.


Process Notes: James Bassler

Portrait of James Bassler, Photo by Mark Davidson

James Bassler describes himself as a problem solver. He loves nothing better than to pursue an idea and discover how the final execution differs from his initial “fuzzy” conception. An American Craft Council Gold Medalist, Bassler writes engagingly about his investigations into pre-Columbian and other weaving techniques, his experiments with different dyes and materials, and the influence of current events and modern life on his work. We share some excerpts of his writings below:

Origins
It didn’t hurt me to grow up in a family steeped in hard work and hand processes. My father was brought up in a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania. He was a major league baseball player, but interestingly enough, he had other talents including the hooking of rugs. I was introduced to the textile traditions at a very early age. I entered UCLA in the early 1950s. In 1953, I was drafted into the US Army with a tour of duty in Europe, followed by a civilian job in England. In 1960, I returned home via a cargo ship to China and Japan. It was on this journey that I witnessed the importance of world crafts, and their essential role in cultures. A spinning and weaving demonstration in Bombay, was of particular interest, as well as the dyeing processes of Indonesia and Japan. Returning to California, I re-entered UCLA as an art student and began to explore fabric patterning and later, weaving.

To Plait, James Bassler, Wedge weave construction; silk, linen, ramie, sisal, pineapple, nettles weft; indigo-dyed silk and linen warp, 47.25” x 44.25”, 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta.

On plaiting
To Plait is part of a series of weavings that propose to illustrate and demonstrate a variety of structures used throughout history and the world to create objects of fiber. Currently, with so much attention and interest directed toward electronics, I have found little curiosity directed toward how material objects are made. How did early people survive? To Plait can help answer that question. To Plait could help someone, some day, actually make something with their hands.

Shop, James Bassler made of brown paper Trader Joe’s shopping bags, cut and twisted and with yellow and red waxed linen thread, 16” X 10″, 2009.

On spinning
My intent to spin and weave Shop [made from “yarn” spun from Trader Joe’s bags] was not to create a handwoven shopping bag. I wove it to draw attention to the important role that vessels have played in ancient history, as they do today. I wove it to draw attention to the honesty and beauty of a simple, and readily available material. I wove it to draw attention to the adaptability of handweaving to create three-dimensional forms, but most of all, I wove it to celebrate the beauty of a handmade object.

On Inca Time, James Bassler, four-selvage weaving, handspun alpaca, commercial wool, silk, linen, ramie, agave, cotton; natural dyes: lac, cochineal, gardenia jasminoides, sophora Japonica, huezache, walnut shells. 42” x 37” Photo by Tom Grotta.

On pre-Columbian textiles
For over 30 years I taught at UCLA. For 12 of those years I offered a course entitled “Textiles of the World: The Americas,” in the Fowler Museum there. With access to the Museum’s vast collection I became much more familiar with the challenges that the early indigenous people faced in order to create an identity to their particular cultures.  In terms of historical woven textiles created in the Americas, in particular areas, a weaving process was developed.  It is identified as scaffold weave, or four-selvaged and it is quite different from the weaving traditions of Europe.

In 1999, I challenged myself to learn scaffold weave, aided, I will confess, by some 20th century modifications, including foam core, straight pins, and large needles.  From that time on a good portion of what I have created uses this ancient technology.  I choose it because of the freedom it gives me.  However, the process does take longer.

Regarding the woven textiles of the pre-Columbian Andean Cultures, one of the most recognizable patterns is the use of the checkerboard. One sees the checkerboard tunic often because it was the uniform of the Inca military, but it was used frequently in other ways.  I was inspired by images I had seen in a catalog of an exhibition at Yale University which Jack Lenor Larsen had sent me. A second inspiration came from beautiful images of pre-Columbian Andean shibori. Simultaneously, I began to explore these ideas, one a black and white checkerboard, scaffold weave, using a multitude of yarns I had been anxious to use.  On the other project, also scaffold weave and checkerboard, I chose to use a great variety of wool yarn since I planned to use natural dyes in the shibori process.

Mi Wari Boro, James Bassler, four-selvage weaving (scaffold weave) and shibori (tie-dye), handspun and commercial wool, natural dyes: lac, cochineal, gardenia jasminoides, sophora Japonica, huezache, walnut hulls, 32” x 35”, 2019. Photo by Mark Davidson.

In the piece Mi Wari Boro, the word “boro” comes from the Japanese tradition of repair and mending. I was faced with the need for numerous patches and mending in this piece due to the variety of wool yarns I introduced and their reaction to the numerous dye baths they were subjected to. Thus, the inspiration came from the pre-Columbian culture and the Japanese tradition of mending. 

I can say that a good amount of time was spent on each piece, including challenges that left fond memories regarding how certain problems were resolved, and what I learned. I really, truly am more comfortable in pre-Columbian time, thus “on Inca time.”

My Letterman Yantra, James Bassler, natural brown cotton, handspun silk, waxed linen – plain weave, brocade – dye immersion with off-set printing method (wicking); large figures, letters and numbers in raised embroidery, with smaller figures also embroidered in part or completely. 28.5” X 32.5”, 2012, Photo by Tom Grotta

On running: My Yantra Jacket
I was one of 11 artists invited to participate in the exhibit Sourcing the Museum at The Textile Museum in Washington D. C., curated by Jack Lenor Larsen. Regarding the process of selecting an object from the museum collection, I was dubious that I could be moved by an image on a computer screen, that I had never seen or touched. Nevertheless, after several searches I kept coming back to a Burmese shirt, with all the writings and mystical symbols covering the surface. After some research, I discovered that the drawings are called yantras, and that they are magical and sacred symbols to evoke protection, good luck, prosperity, support, love and compassion from the cosmic universe. At my age, I thought I could use all that positive energy.

Underlying this selection was the deeper desire to finally celebrate, with bravado, my achievements of competing in numerous marathon races. In order to complete these and other shorter runs, I had clothed my body in a variety of yantras, from puritan simplicity to blatantly annoying symbols of products I never used, love of God, city, state, or political alignment. This was the opportunity to create something regal, that captures the focused endurance of the individual marathon runner, along with the chants and ultimate tacky trophies and medals that await the victors. Yesterday’s yantras, today’s tattoos.

In remote mountain communities of the Sierra region of Oaxaca, women continue to collect and spin silk cocoons found on native oak trees. Bound by tradition, threads are dyed in a strong magenta dye and allowed to dry, unrinsed. These specific yarns are woven to create brocade images into a cotton ground. After being woven, the cloth is folded and bound, and submerged into a hot water bath, allowing the dye to bleed (wick), creating a pattern. Using this same silk, I created many brocade images of runners, leaving spaces for the images to print, or wick, during the dyeing process. Separately, the three panels of cloth that make up the piece were each carefully folded, clamped and submerged into the hot water, permitting the dozens of runner figures to emerge.


Hot Off the Presses! Gyöngy Laky: Screwing With Order Now Available

Rib Structure, 1988 and her book Gyöngy Laky: Screwing With Order, Assembled Art, actions and creative practice. Photo by Tom Grotta.

We are thrilled to report that copies browngrotta arts’ latest book, Gyöngy Laky: Screwing With Order, Assembled Art, actions and creative practicehave arrived in the US from our publishing partner arnoldsche art publishers in Stuttgart, Germany. Order a copy on our website: http://browngrotta.com. Designed by Tom Grotta, with text edit assistance from Laky and Rhonda Brown, and featuring Tom’s photography and that of several other photographers, the book examines the career of renowned textile artist and sculptor Gyöngy Laky from three perspectives. First, is Laky’s personal story of immigration and education narrated by arts and culture writer, Mija Reidel. Second, is an assessment of the evolution and impetus for Laky’s artwork by David M. Roth, editor and publisher of Squarecylinder, a San Francisco Bay Area online visual art magazine. Third, are images of forms, vessels and wall works, 249 pages, divided into seven sections: Drawings in Air, Grids, Vessels, Words & Letters, Signs & Symbols, Site Installations, and Abstractions.

Sun Stream, 1995 and Flat Figure, 1992

Laky has been described as a “wood whisperer.” Her highly individual, puzzle-like assemblages of timber and textiles helped propel the growth of the contemporary fiber-arts movement. Laky’s art reflects an extraordinary personal story: Born amid the bombings of World War II, escaping from post-war, Soviet-dominated Hungary to a sponsor family in Ohio, attending grade school in Oklahoma, studying at the University of California, Berkeley and in India, then founding Fiberworks Center for Textile Arts in the 1970s and fostering innovations as a professor at the University of California, Davis. And, since the late 60s, she has been creating individual works and installations in the US and abroad. 

Line, 1992 and Oll Korrect, 1998

Laky’s oeuvre, which reflects those experiences, “defies easy classification,” writes David M. Roth. “It draws on the history of indigenous people using found or harvested objects to create art and basic necessities; the 20th-century tradition of using found objects in collage,assemblage and sculpture; and the design and engineering principles that undergird contemporary architecture.“ Symbols and three-dimensional words feature in much of Laky’s work — using wood in this way, Roth posits, is akin to learning a foreign language, and Laky is conversant in more than a dozen,”becoming conversant in the dialects ‘spoken’ by each species.” Pieces like Line have been described as “cheeky.” Letters in works like Lag can be read in more than one way — in this case, as “Gal,” a statement on the hiring of women faculty at the University of California. “[It’s] an intellectual kind of play,” says Bruce Pepich, executive director and curator of collections at the Racine Art Museum, in Wisconsin.”It’s not a conventional sense of humor, but it’s the kind one gets from walking into various layers that exist in objects …You can take them at face value, but the more questions you ask, the deeper your engagement goes.” You can engage with more of Laky’s story and her art in Screwing with Order. The book provides insight into Laky’s studio practice, activism, and teaching philosophy, which champions sustainable art and design, original thinking, and the value of the unexpected.

Detail: Natura Facit Saltum, 2011 . Photo by Tom Grotta.

Material Matters: Horsehair

The works of art in our last exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art utilized a abundance of unusual materials — hog gut, kibiso silk, seaweed and agave among them. Over the next several months, we’ll take a closer look at less-than-common materials and the artists who use them. This week: horsehair.

Marian Bijlenga, 33mb Korean Bojagi, horsehair and fabric , 22″ x 20″, 2017. photo by Tom Grotta

In the early 1990s, Dutch artist Marian Bijlenga’s drawing tool narrowed to a single material: horsehair. (Jessica Hemmings, Embroidery magazine, March/April 2008, pp. 22-27). The fiber provides Bijlenga the necessary strength and flexibility to construct embroidered compositions of lines and dots. Bijlenga uses textiles in her work, but textile application is not her real interest. She secures the horsehair in her works with embroidery, but she has said “for me it is not real embroidery. Sometimes my work is in an embroidery exhibition, but it could also be in a sculpture exhibition. For me it is not so important.” 

Marian Bijlenga working with horsehair

Bijlenga studied textile design but for her, weaving was too slow. “It takes a lot of time before you could start,” she says, “and I did not like the technique. I was looking for a more direct way of working.” Bijlenga took the threads held by the loom and began instead to make drawings, stiffening the fiber by dipping it in glue. ” I work with thread, fabric and horsehair, fishscales and parchment, materials which are soft, light, flexible and open to endless development.”

Marianne Kemp weaving horsehair. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marianne Kemp has developed a unique specialty in weaving with horsehair. She uses techniques that she has developed which enable her to mold, knot, curl, and loop the material — which she interweaves with linen, cotton, silk, or wool — in unconventional ways. “Through the different properties and qualities like texture, color, and the shining of horsehair, the end result can be shiny and smooth – organic and wild – flexible and stiff,” wrote Sam at TextileArtist.Org (https://www.textileartist.org/ marianne-kemp-horsehair-weaving/).

2mk Red Fody, Marianne Kemp, cotton, horsehair, acrylic, 56” x 19” x 8”, 2013. Photos by Tom Grotta

Some of her works are meditative in their repeat of patterns, others boisterous in their choice of bright colors. In 2001, Kemp created a small collection of designs based on her hand weavings with John Boyd Textiles, professional weavers of horsehair in the UK. She was excited to discover that it was possible to weave her design mechanically. Kemp spent three-and-a-half years in London, then traveled to Cape Town South Africa. With just one tail of horsehair and a loom borrowed from the local Weavers Guild of Cape Town, Kemp designed many interesting new weavings, including a large wall hanging, called Africa. “It was a great time, learning from local weavers and giving them workshops too, helping them discover new techniques,” Kemp told Sam at textileArtist.Org.

60aa Night Curtain, linen, horsehair, paint & metal. 38” x 36”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

A third artist who works in horsehair is Adela Akers. Before Akers devoted her life to the arts, she completed studies to be a pharmacist, which influences her artwork. “There is a mathematical discipline in the way the work is constructed,” ​says Akers. “This mathematical sequence is in strong contrast to the organic process — handweaving — and materials — linen and horsehair — that bring the work to fruition.” In the 1970s, Adela Akers lived on the East Coast teaching at Temple University, but she has been creating art as a resident of Califonia for the last 25+ years. Drawing inspiration from African and South American textiles, Akers creates woven compositions of simple geometric shapes, bands, zigzags and checks. She incorporates horsehair into many of her weavings, adding texture and dimensionality. She also cuts metal strips —  from recycled California wine bottle caps — and stitches them into the woven linen strips that make up these works. Her techniques and materials produce images that change under different lighting conditions. In Night Curtain, the horsehair becomes a veil through which metal can shine through, reminiscent of stars peeping through a thin curtain of clouds in the night sky.

An butterfly of horsehair from Chile. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Finally, we were introduced this month to crin, a unique traditional form of horsehair art making from Chile by Caroline Yrarrázaval. When the artist visited bga in June, she brought us a beautiful example of that work. Artisans from a remote rural area of Chile create miniature flowers, animals, butterflies, birds, angels, and witches, woven out of crin de caballo, dyed or natural-colored horsehair. Their delicate creations are unique to this part of the world, largely due to their geographic and historical isolation. The horsehair weaving in Chile uses strands from the horses’ tails — thicker, longer and sturdier than that of their manes — combined with the imported vegetable fiber ixtle to keep the structure more firm and durable. The decorative pieces come almost exclusively from two neighboring rural villages, Rari and Panimavida, located 22 kilometers east of the town of Linares in the Andean foothills, roughly 300 kilometers south of Santiago. “Sitting in their doorways or under a tree, during the evening or between domestic tasks, some 150 women carry out the intricate labor of weaving the horsehair, a tradition that has been passed down for over two hundred years, using only their hands and a needle to finish off their creations,” wrote Maria Vallejos, for AARP International (Mariela Vallejos, “Tightly Woven Community,” AARP International, https://www.aarpinternational.org/the-journal/current-edition/tightly-woven-community). The horsehair used by Kemp and Akers, by contrast, comes from live horses overseas, mainly from the Far East, China and Mongolia.


Artists New to Crowdsourcing the Collective: Meet Jeannet Leendertse and Shoko Fukuda

Baskets by Jeannet Leendertse and Shoko Fukuda
Jeannet Leendertse, Drum-shaped Seaweed Vessel, coiled-and-stitched basket, rockweed [ascophyllum nodosum], waxed linen, beeswax, tree resin, 17″ x 9.5″ x 9.5″, 2022 and Shoko Fukuda, Loop with Corners, coiled ramie, monofilament, plastic, 12″ x 11.5″ x 5″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

For our Spring exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art (May 7 -15) browngrotta arts is delighted to introduce the work of two artists new to the gallery, Jennet Leenderste, Netherlands, US and Shoko Fukuda, Japan. Each of them creates sinuous and supple objects — Leenderste of seaweed and Fukuda of sisal, ramie and raffia. 

Portrait Jeannet Leendertse
Jeannet Leendertse portrait by David Grinnell

Jeannet Leenderste crafted with fabric as a child. She studied graphic design in the Netherlands and at 27 left for New York in search of an internship. After completing her degree cum laude, she moved to the Boston area and became an award-winning book designer. In recent years, has turned her focus again to textiles. Having grown up on the Dutch shore, her fiber work responds to the rugged coast of Maine, where she now lives and finds sculptural forms in the landscape and its creatures. As an immigrant, she says, her Dutch culture and heritage are always with her, while she continues to make this new environment her home. Exploring the concept of belonging, she develops work that feels at home in this marine environment. Adaptation and reflection are ongoing. Her fiber process brings these outer and inner worlds together.

Seaweed Vessels
Reclining Seaweed Vessel, Jeannet Leendertse, coiled-and-stitched basket rockweed [ascophyllum nodosum], waxed linen, beeswax, tree resin 8″ x 13″ x 7″, 2022; Seaweed Vessel with Stipe Handle, Jeannet Leendertse, coiled-and-stitched basket, rockweed [ascophyllum nodosum], sugar kelp [saccharina latissima] waxed linen, beeswax, tree resin, 11″ x 13″ x 5.5″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

“My work grows from coastal impressions and material experimentation,” Leenderste explains. “It takes on a new life when moved out of the studio and placed back in its natural environment.” That feedback propels her process. “I feel a strong responsibility to consider my materials, and what my creative process will leave behind. She began foraging seaweed—in particular rockweed—to work with, and discovered the amazing benefits this natural resource provides. “Seaweed not only creates a habitat for countless species,” she says, “it sequesters carbon, and protects our beleaguered shoreline from erosion as our sea levels rise.  Rockweed vessels show the beauty of this ancient algae, while drawing attention to its environmental value.” Several examples of Leenderste’s seaweed works will be featured in Crowdsourcing the Collective.

Portrait Shoko Fukuda
Shoko Fukuda portrait by Makoto Yano

Shoko Fukuda is a basketmaker and Japanese artist who holds a Bachelor of Design from Kyoto University of Art and Design, and a Master’s degree from Osaka University of Art, where she focused on research in textile practice.  She has exhibited her work internationally for the past 10 years. Shoko Fukuda currently works as an instructor at Kobe Design University in the Fashion Design department.

At browngrotta arts, we were recommended to Fukuda’s work by noted basketmaker Hisako Sekijima. “I encountered Sekijima’s artworks about 20 years ago,” Fukuda says. “Lines made with expressive plant materials were woven into an abstract and three-dimensional shapes. I had never seen such small artworks, like architectural structures before. I have been fascinated by the structural visibility and the various characteristics of the constructive form consisting, of regular lines ever since then.” 

Fiber Sculptures by Shoko Fukuda
Vertical and Horizontal Helix, Shoko Fukuda, raffia, 5.125″ x 6″ x 7.5″, 2015; Traced Contour II, ramie, monofilament, plastic, 6.5″ x 17″ x 3.5″, 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta

In Loop With Corners, Fukuda considered how to create a multifaceted form from a flat surface. By making corners, shapes are formed based on intentional decisions that lead to unexpected tortuous and twisted shapes. By weaving and fastening as if making a corner, a rotating shape was created. The movement of coiling creates a rhythm, and the lines being woven together leave organic traces in the air. In Vertical and Cylindrical helix is made of cylindrical spirals stacked like layers. They were woven from different directions — up and down, left and right — to form a single piece. The work has a dense structure, dyed black and shaped like a tightly closed shell. 

Fukuda is interested in “distortion” as a characteristic of basket weaving. “As I coil the thread around the core and shape it while holding the layers together, I look for the cause of distortion in the nature of the material, the direction of work and the angle of layers to effectively incorporate these elements into my work. The elasticity and shape of the core significantly affect the weaving process, as the thread constantly holds back the force of the core trying to bounce back outward.” By selecting materials and methods for weaving with the natural distortion in mind, Fukuda saw the possibility of developing twists and turns. “I find it interesting to see my intentions and the laws of nature influencing each other to create forms.”

Fukuda’s work, like Leenderste’s, will be well represented at Crowdsourcing the Collective, our Spring 2022 exhibition. Join us at browngrotta arts May 7-15, 2022. Save your space here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crowdsourcing-the-collective-a-survey-of-textiles-and-mixed-media-art-tickets-292520014237


Artist Focus: Rachel Max

Rachel Max portrait
Rachel Max in her studio, Photo by Tom Grotta

Rachel Max’s interest in basketry grew out of experiments with the tactile and the textile properties of metals. The UK artist’s work will be included in browngrotta arts’ upcoming exhibition Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art.  A background in metal work that informs her work, while the materials and techniques used in basketry enable her to create a “fabric” with which to shape sculptural forms. The fabric is a delicate grid structure forming an intricate network of lines that are interlinked. Her pieces are often inspired by natural shapes. The unique shapes that result are endlessly engaging — each takes on a different appearance when viewed from varying vantage points.

The weave creates the foundation of all Max’s work. “I have developed a technique of layering to form structures that explore the relationship between lines and shadows and space,” she explains. The relationships between containment and concealment and movement and space are the constant rudiments in her works. “The materials used may vary; however, I have a particular penchant for fine cane, which has a delicacy that is pliable, with wire-like characteristics that suit the open weave compositions that I have been exploring. The contrast of very regular patterns with looser weaves is a recurring theme.” This weave has become her vocabulary, “a way of drawing in space that enables me to explore patterns and form through the interplay of lines, or light and shadow through density and color.”

Rachel Max wall basket
6rm Tonal Fifths, Rachel Max, dyed cane, plaited and twined, 25″ x 21″ x 7.5″, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Music is a large part of Max’s life and an important artistic influence. She has been exploring the ways in which musical terms, structure and composition can be translated into woven form. Both Endless and Tonal Fifths use, as a starting point, the fugue, a musical composition based upon one, two or more themes, which are gradually built up and intricately interwoven into a complex imitative form. “Elements of weaving are comparable to notes in music, a measure of time, a beat or a pulse. Rhythm is everywhere, in the movement of my hands as I weave, in the tension and spaces between each stitch, in the beat of our hearts and in the pace of our footsteps,” says Max.

Rachel Max,  blue basket
8rm Continuum, Rachel Max, dyed cane, plaited and twined, 15.5″x 17″ x 17″, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Color, the final stage in Max’s work, does not appear as an afterthought, but as an integral element. Color is “a necessary ingredient that unifies the process; it is paramount in my work,” she says. Works like Continuum explore the temporal and spatial elements associated with color. The color blue Max describes, for example, as an “ambiguous” color — cold yet often warm and comforting. “It is a color of depth and distance,” in Max’s view,  “of darkness and light and of dawn and dusk. It is a color linked closely to the sky and sea, both of which seem infinite and finite. Blue is paradoxically continuous, yet like the sky and sea, has a beginning and an end. Our lives, too, are structured around the continuous cycle of beginning and end. Our perception of color constantly shifts as the light changes. My aim was to translate these seemingly abstract ideas into something concrete. Continuum is a piece about such contrasts and opposites. It is both infinite and finite. A Mobius strip forms the inner core of the piece and the structure gradually shifts, forming a piece with two very different aspects.”

Rachel Max, Red basket
12rm Balance, Rachel Max, plaited and twined cane, 12″ x 16″ x 9″, 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta

Max was eager to participate in Crowdsourcing. “The way in which we are all currently living is one of the biggest adjustments I have ever had to make and one none of us could ever have imagined,” she wrote. “I would like to make something in response to the situation. At the moment it all feels uncontrollable, weighty and fragile. But the words ‘ together and apart’ keep coming to mind and I remember writing them down back in March. There is a huge sense of solidarity and compassion. We’re looking out for each other, we’re closer than we ever were but we cannot touch, hug or meet up. Our spatial awareness and of sense touch has become heightened as the air between us and the surfaces we touch have become dangerous. I would like to make piece which reflects this.” The result is Balance, which explores notions of infinity and time. “My aim was to distort the form, but still create something that is both finite and infinite. It’s rare that the title of a piece comes to me during the making process but as I was weaving this I became aware of its changing weight and stability, forcing me to rethink how I originally intended it to be seen. It became a subconscious reflection on the world we are in now: Everything seems to be in the balance.”

See Max’s work at Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art (browngrotta arts, May 7 -15, 2021). https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crowdsourcing-the-collective-a-survey-of-textiles-and-mixed-media-art-tickets-292520014237


Art + Science + Textile

We are big supporters of STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — education initiatives. STEAM adds the soft skills of the Arts to the harder Scientific, Technological, Engineering or Mathematical STEM studies to enhance critical and innovative thinking. As an example, STEAM encourages collaboration to understand STEM concepts. STEAM uses tools such as data visualization or fine art imagery to deepen one’s understanding of science, math and technology. This kind of out-of-the-box thinking is what leads STEAM professionals to create new products using 3D printers or distill complicated data sets into easy-to-understand formats, such as infographics. 

Hannah Skye Dunnigan, NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing Idea Challenge interview

Projects that result from this collaborative approach can be exciting and out of the box — and some of them involve textile concepts. In an unconventional partnership, a team of undergraduates in design and engineering from Brown and RISD won Most Creative Concept in 2021 at NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing Idea Challenge. The team was given $90,000 to create a solution for moon dust. Their solution to control moon dust, which creates significant problems for astronauts and their equipment, involved bundles of fibers, inspired by chinchilla fur, that carry a static charge. Dust that’s not repelled by the charge is caught in the fibers. The design and prototyping lead of the project was Hannah Skye Dunnigan, daughter of bga artist Wendy Wahl and furniture designer John Dunnigan. As a designer, Dunnigan told The Brown Daily Herald,  she was very proud that the team showed that “designers can be in the space as well, not just engineers.” (“Brown, RISD team wins ‘Most Creative Concept’ at NASA Challenge Forum,” The Brown Daily Herald, November 22, 2021). The Brown-RISD connection is potent, Christopher Bull, a senior lecturer in engineering and principal investigator of the project, told the Herald, because it “gets diverse people in the same room trying to solve the problem.” (Here is a Youtube link of their presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQnJnzSlxBo.) 

27lc Data Dots Emotional Intensity cotton, rayon, woven 78” x 50,” 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta

Lia Cook of California, has spent years in STEAM experimentation of her own, exploring the intersections of art, technology and science in her artwork. She is one of the artists in Radical Fiber: Threads Connecting Art and Fiber at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, a celebration of interdisciplinary creativity and collaborative learning. As the Museum explains, Radical Fiber provides the work as at once fine art, process-driven craft, and scientific tool, complicating existing frameworks across fields. It asks questions: “Can a crochet hook and yarn uniquely explain the complexities of non-Euclidean geometry? How does the 1804 Jacquard loom relate to modern computing?” The exhibition reframes the histories of fiber/science intersections, asking not only how artists continue to engage in scientific inquiry through fiber, but also, how the medium can be used to improve our world for the future. Among the questions to be asked is one Cook has been exploring for some time: How do viewers’ reactions vary when they look at a photograph versus her Jacquard weavings of a photo image  During the Radical Fiber exhibition, a study will be conducted by the Skidmore’s Psychology Department in the neuroscience lab comparing behavioral responses to a series of woven faces by Lia Cook with with the identical photo of the same image. The subjects will be shown 10 digitized photos of the black-and-white photographs of faces and 10 digitized photos of the black-and-white, cotton-and-rayon, woven tapestries translated from the photos and asked to rate the intensity of the facial expression depicted in the image, from 1 (not at all intense) to 7 (extremely intense).

Cook has conducted her own studies of viewers’ responses. To create Data Dots Emotional Intensity, Cook conducted an informal survey of viewers of a large childhood photo of herself and a weaving of the same image. She translated the data she collected into dots and superimposed them on a woven portrait — blue for people who felt no difference between the two; yellow for those more affected by the photo and red for those who found the woven image more emotionally affecting. The woven image won. Red dots predominate, an observable amalgam of art and science.  “A visual pun is at hand,” writes Deborah Valoma of Lia Cook’s work.“[D]igital technology is juxtaposed to digital senses, a reminder that no matter how technologically sophisticated the process, weaving is still a medium of touch and embodied thought….,” Deborah Valoma, “Lia Cook: Seeing Touch,” Lia Cook: In the Folds — Works from 1973-1997 (2007, browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT).

10-11fl White Shell Tongue no.1-2, Federica Luzzi, fine art print on “baritata” paper, 66.875” x 24.75” x 1.25”; 78.625” x 32.75” x 1.25”, 2006

Italian textile sculptor, Federica Luzzi has created works born of conversations with researchers at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Frascati, Italy on concepts of dark matter, antimatter, nuclear, subnuclear physics, and an accelerator of particles. Various images of each side of three white sculptures are depicted; “gesture and matter are the terms of a relationship still waiting to be deciphered,” Luzzi explains. Working in the opposite direction of the classic and traditional concept of sculpture as a “way of removing,” the textile medium allows Luzzi to work around a void. Each sculpture, while having a mathematical initial scheme, is ultimately rendered with an element of mistake. “The final unexpected effect I interpret as an ideogram, a gesture, that presents itself as the work unfolds,” she says. “The White Shell Tongue prints suggest a primordial voice, speaking in a language now unknown to us but original, a pure, reductive writing externality, with wrappings and emptied shells.” 

9gs Out of Focus 1-9, Grethe Sørensen, handwoven cotton, 87″ x 85.5″ x 1.5″, 2007

In Denmark, Grethe Sørensen has unpacked digital technologies to create her tapestries. She has developed her own technique, combining weaving and video, selecting and manipulating still images to create a poetic universe of pixels, headlights, traffic lights, neon shop and advertising signs meticulously rendered in cotton thread. She is fascinated by color gradation; dying on the warp before weaving, varying the colors by mixing threads of different nuances in the warp. For Out of Focus 1-9, the artist created an image of hard-edged pixels in basic colors blown up until they appeared “liquid.” Pixels in basic colors are the starting point for her woven constructions. 

Another California artist, Sarah Rosalena Brady,  draws on her multiracial background as Huichol and Laguna Pueblo,  focusing her research on Indigenous scholarship and mentorship in STEAM. She describes her work as deconstructing technology with material interventions, creating new narratives for hybrid objects that speak on issues such as AI, aerospace technologies, and decolonial posthumanism. Her hybrid works operate between human/nonhuman, ancient/future, and handmade/autonomous principles to override power structures rooted in colonialism. Her solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, LA in 2021, https://contemporaryartreview.la/sarah-rosalena-brady-at-blum-and-poe/ featured AI-generated double-sided tapestries depicting satellite images of ice on Mars. 

Brady is Assistant Professor of Computational Craft and Haptic Media in the Department of Art at UC Santa Barbara. UCSB’s is just one of the labs and departments around the US exploring the links between art and science. Another is the recently opened International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins Univeristy in Maryland, which studies neuroaesthetics, the scientific study of how the brain responds to the arts and aesthetic experiences, and undertakes this study for the purpose of improving biological, psychological, social/cultural or spiritual outcomes for individuals or populations. “We’re on a mission to amplify human potential,” the Lab declares on its website. The Los Angeles County Museum hosts the LACMA Art + Technology Lab which supports experiments in design, creative entrepreneurship, adventures in art and industry, collaboration, and interdisciplinary dialogue. Another nonprofit endeavor, the SciArt Initiative,  encourages the connectivity and cross-disciplinary approaches needed for the 21st century. The organization notes that artists and scientists seek answers to the same fundamental questions: who are we, why are we here, and where are we going? Both art and science build models of human experience in order to extend the boundaries of human capacity. Despite this common ground, artists and scientists are too often separate in their endeavors. Through exhibitions and micro-grants, the Initiative aims to create more scientific and artistic exchange. 

Exploration into the merger of art and technology, science and craft, is in its early days — watch for more experiments and innovative works.


Artist Focus: Marianne Kemp

Marianne Kemp weaving
Marianne Kemp weaving her Vibrant Conversation tapestry, horsehair, cotton, linen in 2018. photo by Tom Grotta

Textile artist Marianne Kemp is a specialist in weaving with horsehair. She is passionate about exploring unconventional weaving techniques in her art. That passion, combined with her craftsmanship, is clearly visible in the work she creates. “I’m fascinated by the movement of the weavings, how the horsehair manifests in the net of the weaving technique,” she says. 

Tube Waves
Detail of Tube Waves, Marianne Kemp, horsehair and cotton warp, 78” x 63”, 2015, Photo by Tom Grotta

Some creations, almost-mathematically precise, challenge viewers to become introverted and still. Other work is more extroverted and playful, displaying an exuberant cheerfulness. In either case, her work attracts the eye and stimulates an urge to touch For Tube Waves, for example, Kemp found her inspiration  in the rhythm of the waves. “The flowing colors, going from light silver to aqua, dark purple/blue to deep green, are rendered in the three-dimensional weaving technique I’ve created,” she explains. The ‘tubes’ flow in and over each other, which makes them appear to dance off the surface, depending on your position. From a distance, it’s a dynamic piece; upon closer inspection, there are many different details to discover.”

Vibrant Conversation
Vibrant Conversation, Marianne Kemp, horsehair, cotton, linen, 49” x 70” x 6 “, 2018, Photo by Tom Grotta

Kemp has combined an interest in an architectural weaving process with an appreciation for organic material, creating objects with elements that change space but are experienced as one. In Vibrant Conversation, the top and the bottom layer are embraced in a knot, showing an array of different perceptions in cultural traditions. The work endeavors to tie different generations together via storytelling, confronting collective knowledge with new experiences, prompting new insights.

Orchid
Orchid, horsehair, gold lures thread, wooden frame, 2018, Photo by Tom Grotta

In the stitched and woven Orchid, dyed red horsehair woven in between a delicate herringbone background highlights Kemp’s supreme eye for detail. For Kemp weaving is a form of meditation. “It is the only time of day that I do one thing at the time and think (solely) about one thing,” Kemp says. Weaving allows Kemp to give her brain a rest and explore her creative intuition — a good outcome for us. 

Detail Red Body
Red Fody, Marianne Kemp, cotton, horsehair, acrylic, 56” x 19” x 8”, 2013, Photo by Tom Grotta

Kemp’s work will be included in browngrotta arts’ 2022 Art in the Barn exhibition, May 7 – May 15, 2022.


You make it possible! Thanks to our Artists, Clients and Fans!

Thanks are due all around this year!

Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change
Social-distanced viewing of our spring exhibition Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change, photo Ezco Productions

At browngrotta arts, we hosted two 2021 exhibitions, Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change and Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences.   Each featured exceptional artwork — more than 75 artists from 18 countries were included. Both were open to the public, with proper covid protocols. We got great press — from Art in America online, to Architectural Digest online to Gessato and ArteMorbida in Italy. Our teams from Juice Creative, State PR and Ezco Productions helped us get the word out through emails and social media. They are probably the reason we had more people attend than any year before. We published a full-color catalog for each exhibition. Tom’s had to head to the basement to print more copies of Japandí five times since the show closed. 

Polly Sutton Facing the Unexpected
Facing the Unexpected, Polly Adams Sutton, western red cedar bark, ash, spruce root, coated copper wire, 11.5” x 18” x 32”, 2013. Photo Tom Grotta

Our artists gathered accolades and awards all year. Just a small sampling – Polly Sutton, whose recently acquired work, Facing the Unexpected, will be included in the Renwick Gallery’s  50th Anniversary exhibition, This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World, which opens in May; Adela Akers whose recently acquired work, Compostela, is featured in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s current exhibition, Parallel Lines: New Textile Masterworks Inspired by Geometry (through August 28, 2022); Simone Pheulpin, whose 80th birthday is being celebrated by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (Simone Pheulpin: Time Bender, through January 16, 2022) and the retrospective of Kay Sekimachi’s 70-year career at BAMPFA in Berkeley, California (Kay Sekimachi: Geometries).

Adela Akers Compostela
Compostela, Adela Akers, sisl, linen and wool, 60” x 180” x 6”, 1985. Photo by Adela Akers

Our charitable project for 2021 engaged hundreds of people. It involved our contribution of a early, accomplished work, Spatial Ikat 2, by Lia Cook, created in 1976. The work was the prize in a sweepstakes on the UncommonGood nonprofit platform. Hundreds of people entered the sweepstakes. The proceeds from their entries went to the Breast Cancer Alliance headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut

Lia Cook Spatial Ikat III
Spatial Ikat III, Lia Cook, rayon, cotton; woven, 72″ x 48″, 1976.. Photo Tom Grotta

Great feedback was received from our clients, artists and fans: “Over these past years, I do not walk past any of the pieces you hung for us without appreciating how it enhances my life.” “We are so delighted with our sculpture.” “Thank you also for sharing all the rich documentation on the Japandi exhibition! It’s a real pleasure for us to discover this beautiful exhibition from afar.” “We so enjoyed seeing your fabulous show on display in your amazing home …. Thank you for sharing the art and your time.” “The new exhibition is such a thoughtful juxtaposition of the Japanese and Scandinavian.” “I am happy and proud to be a part of your family of artists.”

We have plenty of plans for 2022 — an exhibition April 29th to May 8th, a browngrotta arts produced book, scheduled for Spring 2022 publication. More on these to come in the next few months.

In sum, a heartfelt thanks to all of you for letting us live a life filled with art and to fill others’ lives with art, too!