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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Realism, abstraction and blessings on Hollis Chatelain

A while ago, the SAQA and Quiltart message boards were buzzing with the discussion of what is art and if abstract was better than realism.  I always cringe at this...especially when some people take the stance that the only "REAL ART" is ABSTRACT.  (usually being touted by someone with a bullhorn standing on a soapbox).  

I do a lot of realistic quilts.  I like realism but I also appreciate abstract and do work in abstract from time to time (viz the piece at left...which is actually abstracted realism and something which I am basing a more abstracted piece upon).  Not all realistic pieces speak to me, but then not all abstract pieces speak to me either.

Sherrie Spangler recently did a couple of blog posts about abstract work and tried to answer those who say they "just don't get abstract."  You can see it here.

I must say...I'm a little flummoxed.  If abstraction is appealing to people because of the pretty colors, nice texture, etc., such as what Sherrie shows, then why can't a pretty picture, be it a landscape, or a portrait or a still life be considered in the same vein?  Why do people have to throw clods of dirt at the opposite camp? 

Perhaps part of it is that often the imagery used can be the point of being trite.  Maybe it is that there's a lot of mediocre art which tends to make us feel that the pieces are vapid.  I liked Kathy Loomis's comment on my other blog post on the subject. "I wish we would spend less time arguing about "is this art?" and more time arguing about "is this any good?"

I have to admit, something which makes a piece stand out, whether it is representational or not is what the artwork SAYS.  Recently, at the SAQA parlor meeting in Columbus, one of the members showed a piece which was pretty, looked traditional, and was made out of untraditional materials.  When you first looked at it you thought "Oh, pretty."  Then when she said what she used, my initial response was "What a curator's nightmare! How will this hold up?"  Then, she told us why she used what she did....and it made a moving piece which had so much more depth than being just the pretty, traditional looking quilt that it first appeared.
Hollis Chatelain, World of the Taureg

When I first started thinking about writing something on this, I contacted several well known art quilters and asked them if I could have permission to talk about their work on my blog.  Hollis Chatelain was the only one to respond.  

Hollis' work represents what I'm thinking about here on many levels.  Her images are beautiful and particularly well crafted.  On the surface, you appreciate them, but then when you look at them more closely, you are drawn in and you realize that there is so much more to them than what you first saw.

Hollis often works from images she dreams.  Then sketches them and does the painting with thickened dyes on whole cloth before quilting them.  Her images bring forth a world consciousness and speaks to us all if we would have the ears and eyes to take it in.  Hopefully, we do and take away something which makes us think, and better yet, act.

Hollis Chatelain "Blue Men."
"Blue Men" and "The World of the Taureg" pay homage to the Taureg whose lifestyle is rapidly changing in response to the African droughts which are killing their herds.  These nomads are being forced by the climactic issues to give up their traditional lives.

Hollis often works in a limited palette.  I didn't ask to use her more famous pieces (although her Taureg series is very recognizable) .  The Ecuadorian Girls is quite different in the exuberant colors and because she based it on photographs.  Here is her artist statement as taken from her gallery on this piece:  Our daughter studied in Ecuador for five months last year.  She volunteered to teach English in a small village in the Andes mountains.  We visited her and went to that village where I photographed the children.  I was so struck by how old the girls looked and the responsibility that is put upon them at such a young age that I created this piece in their honor.  These girls are all under fifteen years of age.  This piece is composed of four photographs I combined." 

While she based it on photographs she took, and she does use a lot of thread work, this piece is far from "paint by numbers" quilting and gives us all something to aspire to. 

Hollis Chatelain, "Ecuadorian Girls."
Hollis' work "Innocence" which won the Viewer's Choice award at Houston in 2010 is one which from a distance is an attractive portrait quilt.  When you view it closely, you realize all the statement is in the quilting. 

While working in series and "finding your voice" is important to art quilters, sometimes I think that these same characteristics can easily become a rut.   Given that Hollis does abstract works in addition to nature based pieces, I think she'll continue to inspire us and make us think.  

I believe that the world is a better place for having Hollis Chatelain in it.  Certainly, the art and quilt world is far richer because of her.


Laura Wasilowski said...

The idea of working in an abstract manner is very appealing to me. I enjoy viewing abstract work a great deal. But somehow everything I make turns into a picture, a stylized version of reality.
Artists create from the heart. You can't change your heart but you can admire what others create with their heart.

Michigoose said...

Absolutely, Laura. Something coming from the heart is important and communicating that thought is just as important--perhaps more so than whether we choose to show it abstract or realism.

I do hope for all of us that we are able to work and progress, perhaps even try other styles and then listen to our own heart...and somehow avoid making things which could just as easily been spit out of a photocopier.


Frieda said...

I think many people are afraid of the abstract just like they can be afraid of color.
Color theory can be learned and working in abstract form can also be learned but it takes some work just like it takes work to become proficient at machine quilting.

Michigoose said...

Good point, Frieda. Of course there are many different types of abstraction as well. For all of us, it does boil down to "do the work" doesn't it?

Lisa said...

I read the dialog on quilt art with interest, when artists spoke of abstract work, but when you speak of the art of realism, you speak to my heart. It is the heart felt work of Hollis Chatelain and other realists who drive me forward in my own work. Realism and abstration, two views to appreciate in fiber art.

ann said...

OK. This looks like the usually posting spot.. I really admire Hollis for many, many reasons.

Sheila Frampton-Cooper said...

I agree with Laura, because it's about "your" pure expression as an artist and what you bring that is unique to you. More important is that you enjoy what you do, and that is where the magic is.

Creating art, and the opinions that go along with it are very symbolic in regards to how we approach life. Speaking for myself only, I like to be surprised by what comes out, therefore I am attracted to creating in an abstract way. Of course, that is just a label. Who is to say what is really abstract. (smile)

Chinton said...

I have a funny perspective about art. It absolutely delights me that there is plenty of art that I don't like, don't get and think is ugly.

I guess I really like the fact that art is bigger than I am.

Sherrie Spangler said...

Since you linked to my blog post I guess I'll chime in. In my perfect world, we wouldn't categorize art or draw lines between the "camps." We'd like what we like and hopefully appreciate some of what we don't like, but it wouldn't have anything to do with a category. There's so much art to love that I can't understand why people have to pick on what they don't understand. Good post, Lisa.