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On a rainy weekend while traveling, I had the unique opportunity to collaborate on an art piece with my gifted cousin, Nele Braas, who is a professional photographer plus crochet artist and author. After a trip filled with so much sensory opportunity, the hands-on experience was an added, and welcome, thrill.
In this series, I position my expressive textile paintings as tarps. Metaphorically, I see tarps as protective, versatile and adaptive. They embody the best attributes of textile with the potential of sculptural form and expressive gestures through painting, printing and mixed media.
The Tarp Series asks what is the role of art in our modern world ruled by technology and fraught with serious issues? What does it mean to be a maker under these circumstances where political comment, identity and narrative is the primary conversation? Is there a role for creative expression in non-narrative ways, much like the role that music performs? How can we play more, separating the essence of creativity from the serious presentations of art found only in museum and gallery settings? These are wonderful, rarified, beautiful, but do not tell the whole story and lead us, as artists, to a more commercial view of our work. How can we lighten up?
For me, the concept of the Tarp is a reminder to express the powerful inner light, to shelter, to fulfill the important role that inspiration provides in order to make the rest of the oughts and musts of the world happen. To remind us of our humanity and inspire compassion. And, perhaps to remind us to play, to sail, transporting us elsewhere. Being outside.
These are examples of recent quilted, stitched works from 2017. All my work utilizes fabrics that I print and paint myself.
More textile discoveries at the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico. Several exhibitions of historical and indigenous textiles were featured at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with spillover exhibition areas in the San Pablo Cultural Center.
Perhaps the most intriguing exhibit centered around a mystery textile discovered by at a flea market in the 1980s. Entitled The Plumed Weavings, its centerpiece is, quoting the Textile Museum signage, “the ‘tlamachtentli de Madeline’, thus named in honor of Madeline Humm de Mollet, as it was she that discovered it in a Puebla flea market towards the end of the 1980s. The tlamachtentli is only a fragment of what must have been a most extraordinary huipil; notwithstanding, among its threads we were able to discern the technical sophistication and the aesthetics of indigenous art from over 300 years ago. Only five other textiles with similar characteristics as this weaving have been documented; three of them are located in Mexico, one in Rome and another in New York. All six are Mexican… and share a very special peculiarity; each one has different varieties of cotton thread that have been twisted or spun with duck down.
…While it is possible to find the use of feathers in other regions of the world (like the Andes, the Amazon, the islands of the Pacific and even in western USA) all indications are that plumed threads are exclusive to Mesoamerican culture, and in particular, to the cultures that established themselves in what we now know as Mexico.”
The research into these textiles was then shared with current day weavers from Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The exhibition displays examples of modern-day pieces resurrecting these almost long lost techniques. An excellent set of videos documented the process.
Additional exhibits focused on the use of resist dye techniques globally. Here are a few favorite pictures. Many other pieces were just as sublime.
As part of the 10th International Shibori Symposium, we took a day-long tour of the area and visited with the Chavez Santiago family in the local weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. Federico (Fe) Chavez Sosa is a master weaver who has been weaving for generations, adapting traditional designs with his own color combinations and patterns. Son Omar spoke gave us an introduction in English, and then we were shown quite a big selection of rugs of all sizes.
Like many of the 2000 weavers in the area, he had been using aniline dyes in his spacious studio attached to his home. But since the processing of these dyes was in tandem with a home and living environment, he decided to return to natural dyes used by his ancestors, including his grandfather. Federico’s wife Dolores (Lola) also weaves, as do other family members, including son Omar, Janet and Eric.
Looms are built locally, with carved wood ratchet and wheel (wow- contemporary looms elsewhere use metal for these critical parts) and take about a month to complete.
The family also operates Galeria Fe y Lola, a small, well displayed shop at 5 de Mayo 408, Centro, Oaxaca. It’s located behind a storefront with other shops, as is often found in Oaxaca. Well worth a visit as these are excellent works using natural dyes only.
One of the unexpected surprises of the International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca was the exciting proliferation of small printmaking collectives. Most of them are focused on large scale wood- and lino- cuts, often in political themes. I visited many of the ones located in Oaxaca centro. For this, I used a “Pasaporte Grafico” walking tour guide containing a map, something about each of the ten venues, plus an opportunity to receive a “stamp” at each venue visited. Passports are available at each venue. The entire walking tour was easy to accomplish and inspiring in its discoveries.
The Instituto de Artes Graficas was founded by famed Mexican artist Francisco Toledo, who also played a hand in many other Oaxaca cultural institutions, like the Ethnobotanical Garden. The Instituto has an exhibition space, gathering spot, library, shop and more. Taller Oaxaca Grafico is located near the Instituto de Artes Graficas and focuses on showcasing prints by founding members Edith Chavez, Dario Castillejos, MK Kabrito, Alberto Cruz and Ivan Bautista.
Espacio Zapata “arte popular” is awesome and exciting for those of us who have done printmaking and screen printing. It has mutiple rooms and includes a small restaurant. On the walls are wood or linocuts used for printing, some nearly 2 meters long. It seems more a working space; the “sales” area is smaller by comparison and has a T-shirt shop feel. Its mission is “a political graphics production workshop for artists who consider and utilize art as a tool to support the struggle of our people.”
At Estampa, I spoke with with H.L. Santiago Martinez, a painter. Estampa was once home to multiple artists, now just two and is evolving into more of a community arts space where conversations about graphic and visual arts promote national and international artists. It has a coffee shop. Later this month, it will host a book arts event.
Gabinete Grafico has a wide range of work displayed in a way that is easily accessible for viewing and sold. A very small space with one press and one work table, it makes excellent use of walls and loft to display an exciting array of work. When I was there, one of the artists, Celi Irving Herrera, was working on cutting a woodcut. Visit them on Facebook.
I also visited Oaxaca Subsuelo, which exhibits and sells local Oaxaca art work, and Taller Siqueiros Gallery, mentioned as a space “dedicated to spreading Oaxaca and international street art.”
Not on the passport, but noteworthy is the current exhibition at Oaxaca’s cultural museum, the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, located in the converted Dominican Abbey next to Santa Domingo and the Ethnobotanical Garden. It featured a huge show of graphic art by Leopoldo Mendez.
One of the highlights of the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico, was Traditions from Teotitlan: Optimizing Natural Dyes on Wool, a short, intense presentation by the Jacobo Mendoza family, who have been weaving rugs for generations. The Symposium program describes the presentation in this way: ” Jacobo Mendoza is a longtime dyer and weaver who runs his own weaving studio in the famed Teotitlan del Valle, known for its natural dyes and intricate wool tapestries. Jacob has previously studied under Michel Garcia and has applied a scientific approach to his inherited knowledge of dyeing. Combined with his comprehensive understanding of local natural dyestuffs, Jacob’s weavings exemplify how natural dye on wool can achieve great color fastness and a wide ranged of colors within his own unique bright palette.” A disclaimer here: any technical information included in this post is based on my notes about the presentation, through translation. Please use it to do your own further investigations rather than as a completely accurate source all on its own.
To start the presentation, Jacobo gave a short traditional greeting in Zapotec, then explained that his family continues to further the skills that “our ancestors gave us.” A skilled presenter, Jacobo engineered a one and one half hour presentation which included spinning wool and using four different natural dyes with overdye variations. Mendoza is an award-winning weaver. He concluded his presentation by showing us a rug for which he recently received the top award among 900 entries.
All are dyes that have traditionally been used in Mexico before aniline dyes were introduced. Most of the many Oaxacan weavers use aniline dyes. A number of families have researched and reinstated natural dyes in their practices, and some never abandoned them. This makes their work particularly valuable and noteworthy.
The presentation started with Jacobo’s wife carding wool, obtained locally from sheep, llama and some silk, depending on use. This roll of carded wool was then spun using a large spinning wheel, resulting in skeins of natural colored wool.
Dyes used were cochineal (red), indigo (blue), Mexican marigolds (with a more local version in the Pericon family that yields an even more intense color) and the fruit of the Black Zapote (brown). All wools but the ones destined for the indigo bath were first steeped in a mordant solution, usually included various combinations of alum, lemon juice, sea salt and ground lime. The percentage of mordant used is the key to the color combination. In addition, a local root from the Amote plant is used as a natural soap, to clean, fix and preserve the dye color. (Amote is also used for human hair washing and other uses.)
Cochineal is a small insect that attaches itself to a particular kind of cactus. In the days before aniline dyes, it was a big part of the reason for the importance of Mexico to Europe, as its intense, permanent red was the stuff of royalty and aristocracy. Mendoza purchases cochineal in its dried form; it is then ground into a powder and used for dyeing.
Mendoza says that indigo is too expensive and labor intensive to grow and process themselves. A ton of indigo plants yield about 15 kilos of indigo chunks for dyeing. Their indigo comes from a village near the southern coast, where it is grown and harvested in August/September. After harvesting, the indigo is processed in concrete pools over a number of days. On Day 1, Indigo is cut and bundled. On Day 2, these bundles are placed in concrete pools, to which water is added. Weight is added to settle the indigo to the bottom and start the process of fermentation. On the next day, the plants are withdrawn; the “oil” remains. Then, finally, the liquid is beaten for two days until the froth comes to the top. It is left to rest for two days until the froth settles to the bottom as sediment. The substance is strained in muslin cloth. The sediment that stays in the cloth is dough-like and is put out to dry for 15-20 days.
The Mendozas buy the chunks of indigo. In a method that is not traditional, but faster, they dissolve the indigo in water with chunks of mango peelings or pineapple, cooked for two hours.
The Black Zapote is widely used as an edible fruit, with a black flesh when ripe. For dyeing, it is used in a more immature form. There are many variations of the Zapote plant. Black Zapote is the one that works. No mordant is needed. If the wool is mordanted, the color will be different and less intense.
For its weavings, Mendoza usually creates wool colors in 14 variations of each of the four basic dyes. The weavings below show the incredible range of color Mendoza and his family are able to achieve with their work.
My busy life involves balancing studio work with arts administration and advocacy for other artists. Pursuing drawing in a regularized way has always been an unrealized goal. That’s because drawing requires making time to stop, listen and be present in the moment. My ticker is set to always being on the move.
Last fall, before I accepted the position of President of the Surface Design Association, I had a serious talk with myself. I’d need to make a serious commitment to work-life balance or be swallowed up by administration and regret. But SDA is my homebody group and helping it develop and thrive in the future is important to me. So, just in the way that I took on careful planning for SDA and Iowa Artisans Gallery, for which I work part time and am a co-owner, I decided to plan my studio life. In addition to creating works for the wall, I’d start a drawing series. I’d do it during the week, on several of my admin days. And so I have. Today’s blog post is an update on that process, with 21 drawings into the collection.
Drawing has curious consequences. It teaches me to be more fearless. Taking risks is required, yet not risky. It doesn’t really matter. Drawing rests and re-sets the rational brain. This is helpful in the life of an administrator.
Some days, nothing gels. On those, it’s important to make the habit, to just keep going. I’ll work in my sketchbook, on paper, on fabric with matte medium, or on canvas with gesso, using pencil, brush and ink, watercolors, sticks, and acrylic paints. How about cut-up blue jeans or other clothing? That’s next. Sometimes attempt #8 leads me in a new direction. If nothing else, I can always tear up your paper and try again.
One other curious consequence: drawing allows me to acquire experience rather than always holding on to objects. Best to surround one’s self with the objects that hold meaning. The others? Draw them, commit them to deep, multi-sensory memory, and pass them along.
Stay tuned- more to come.