Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Is An "Art Quilt"?

What are "art quilts"?  They are layered and stitched textile "pictures" that are hung on the wall.  They might be abstract or realistic or any other style of design that you might be aware of from the world of painting.  They are like fabric paintings.  The "quilt" part of it is because they are layered:  the designed top layer, a batting/padding of some sort, and a backing fabric, and then those layers are stitched together in some way.  The variety of styles and techniques used to create an art quilt is more complex and varied than paintings usually are.  We call this "surface design" and it runs the gamut from rusting, dyeing, painting and stamping to beading, weaving, embroidering, and pleating.  And that is only a sample of the possibilities available to us.  There are no boundaries.   

And that is why I love being an "art quilter".  I get to play with color, texture, line and shape to make wonderfully rich and fulfilling pieces of art.  I have a muse and I use it to transform materials into abstract representations of experiences and memories.  Just like a painter would.  Only the basic materials used are....well....material!  

Human beings are exposed to material from birth in the form of clothing, blankets, bedclothes, towels, and even furniture.  We are wrapped in it, walk on it, use it to clean, cover windows with it, and have our picnics on it.  Wrapping in a warm towel after a long bath, covering up with an afghan to watch a movie on the couch, or dressing up for a prom are all things we enjoy partly because of the qualities of fabric.  Fabric is part of the fabric of our lives.  It is comforting and offers us security.  We have fond feelings for many of the fabrics in our lives---the first blankie, the favorite pillow, the afghan that grandma made, the comfy socks, and, for me, the Scottish tartans of my heritage.  

Naturally this bodes well for an artist who works in the medium of fabric and textiles, right?  Unfortunately what I have found is that many people can't understand the concept of hanging fabric on the wall as art.  Don't quilts go on a bed or over the back of my couch?  There is a disconnect between the idea of fabric as a functional object that we use and wear and the possibility that it could be enjoyed like a painting to enhance your living or work environment.  It doesn't seem so difficult to me since I have many quilts on my walls and love looking at them as the light changes throughout the day and over the seasons of time.  They are warm, colorful, intricate and remind me of the experiences and memories that influenced their creation.  It seems perfectly natural to me that a quilt should hang on the wall and be appreciated as art.  I make my art out of fabric and then I stitch it like a quilt.  It is art.  They are no more difficult to hang than any painting.  They are lighter, warmer and more textural than most paintings.  If you own one you probably know----they are very pleasant to live with and decorate your walls with.

If you have never been exposed to this form of art you are missing out on what is becoming a more respected and accepted medium by galleries, museums and cultural centers the world over.  I belong to an organization called Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) that is internationally in the game of promoting the art quilt as a legitimate and honored form of art in the venues of the world.  They have exhibitions and publications that help to expose audiences to beautiful works of art that start with fabric and are elevated to a higher level in the hands of artists.  

I consider myself an artist first and foremost.  Textiles, thread, and beads are my tools.  I create abstract pictures inspired by nature.  I am influenced by my home in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana and the beauty that surrounds me and engulfs me every single day.  Sunlight and shadow, leaf and tree, water and fire.  The joy of working with color and texture to make something beautiful that has meaning to me and to my audience keeps me inspired and productive.  I love what I do and if you love it to, share it with others.  When you see something beautiful that a textile/fiber artist has made share it.  Decorate your home or office with fiber art.  Fiber art goes beautifully with pottery, paintings, sculpture, and wood.  It is a wonderful way to incorporate more of the fabrics and materials that we love and have grown up with into our lives in an aesthetic way.  Wear them, wrap up in them, cover your table with them, and hang them on your bedroom wall! 

I love it when people come to one of my shows and say that they have never seen anything like my work before.  They didn't know anyone was doing this with fabric.  But they love it.  A convert!  I try to get my work out wherever I can to try to educate and expose people to textile art.  Hopefully some day they will remember that they liked it and when they need something for their newly furnished dining room they look for a piece of fiber art.  Or maybe they just want to remember a visit to Montana or the woods they wandered when they were young.  I think fiber art is more expressive and tactile than a painting ever could be.  You want to touch it, you identify with it, you feel comfortable with it.  It is fabric and you have had it around you all your life.  


Robbie said...

Good post! I belong to a small fiber group and we have had our work on exhibit at several galleries, libraries, museums for the past 4 years. It's always interesting to hear the comments that visitors make when they see our art quilts. As you stated, so many folks haven't seen 'fabric' on a wall! We have actually been asked back to venues because of the positive response from patrons. Nice to be able to introduce this form of art to others.
On a side note, your work is wonderful!

Heidi Zielinski said...

I never got a notification'of your comment here, Robbie but I thank you for it and for reading my blog! I guess I better check in more!

Stuffed Turkey Thigh/Legs

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