Janet Taylor Pickett created these amazing paintings, which I saw at the Morris Museum in NJ. Her use of dresses as powerful symbols really resonated with me - so much of my art deals with clothing. In her great show at the Montclair Museum, she morphed dresses into architecture (something I will never do as successfully as she does, but I keep trying).
I found a dress shape, and used it to experiment with photos of some of my older art. I knew I wanted a lighter dress shape on a darker (more menacing) background. In my Tsunami piece, I had used keys and keyholes to represent homes, and decided to repeat that motif here. I discharged key shapes onto dark fabrics and sewed together a dark, map-like background. Then I took my old nightgown...
...and used my trusty photoshop to add lighter patches with printed keyhole images.
Security (2012 or 2013...not sure) 70"h x 42"w
This is the epitome of anxious fear. Her whole body/dress is an inward clutch. The background keys and the dress keyholes have a sexual connotation and the ripped sections of the dress suggest violence.
Her fear is embedded in her: safety pins and garter clips, clothespins and even salad tongs try to hold her safe. Which brings us to...
Never Enough (2013) 74"h x 28"w
No, no matter how hard we try, we will never be truly, absolutely safe...and we will buy any device that promises that safety. I have a theory: in past generations past, we saw actual, real people more than we saw printed images of people. Now, we see hundreds of perfect photo-bodies for every real person we encounter, and our perception of beauty has been warped by the disconnect. In the same way, we no longer endure the horrors of war, famine and pestilence, but we are inundated with images and stories of every possible catastrophe every minute of the day.
Maybe that's why we're so fearful. We cling tightly..
..and our heads explode with passwords, PINs, codes and combinations. it will never be enough.
If you're interested in the process, take a look:
The white background is constructed with lengths of snaps and zippers, and the hanging rod is built into the top of this fairly heavy piece.
In Decemeber 2011, my husband and I spent a month in Hiroshima. I have to admit my ignorance: when our son first told us he was going to be living there, I asked "but doesn't it still glow in the dark?" He assured me that it was totally safe, and when we learned that he was going to marry a woman he had met there, we came to meet her and spend some time getting to know our wonderful daughter-in-law, Erina.
Hiroshima is a beautiful city. After the bomb, other Japanese cities sent some of their trolley cars to help replace the lost city transportation system. So Hiroshima still has a great system of trolley cars that will get you all over the city, quickly and cheaply. And while many are new, some are still great post-war models with wooden floors.
Well before we went, I planned a map project. I consulted several different maps, some of them old ones that I had seen, and photographed, on previous trips.
Hiroshima has a number of rivers running through it. Each of these is contained within old stone walls, with stone steps leading from street level down to water level. bridges and roads run across the rivers. Here you can see one river wall, and the stone steps. At low tide, there are small patches of ground along the walls.
I took a section of the city, simplified it, and made a paper pattern of it. Each small city section was given a piece of woolen backing, and dyed cloth, and placed in a ziplock back with the pattern piece. This was my sewing kit for the trip.
Each day in Hiroshima, I would go 'beachcombing' in the river beds at low tide. Although the streets and sidewalks are spotlessly clean, the river held all sorts of objects: many ceramic shards, game pieces, small toys, coins....and glass that had been fused in the blast.
I went to the memorial library, and asked about my project. Were people allowed to find and take these bits of history? An answer came back that yes, they had finished their archaeological search, and I could keep what I found. So I searched, and brought my findings back to our hotel room and washed and scrubbed and then sewed the pieces into the cloth of the map sections. Back at home, I continued sewing (I only finished about a quarter of the map sections while in Hiroshima).
A detail of the map, showing pieces of ceramic, metal and glass sewn onto fabric sections. . When all the sections were complete, I pinned them onto the white cotton pattern (traced from the paper pattern, which I had cut up), laid over a heavy black woolen backing. Then they all were stitched together. I had originally planned to remove all of the white cloth when it was finished. But I liked the crisp contrasting edge, so I left a little bit around each section, and enough to act as the roads going across.
On this detail, you can see my rough stitching on the roads, and a piece of the fused glass.
four wall-hung figures, each life size
My husband traced my shape onto brown paper, and that was the basic pattern for these figures. The framework is constructed from recycled campaign materials (those wire and plastic signs that bloom along the roads before an election? Well, after the election, I harvest them. The wire is very strong and useful). I bend and push the wire into shape, use other wire to connect, add wire hangers and more wire until it all holds. Then I 'upholster' the wire frame with old blankets, and cover that with dyed quilts, old handkerchiefs, kitchen calendar towels...and aprons. What you see in the photo is the BACK of the aprons. In this next in-progress composite photo, you can see the front of the aprons, on the backs of the figures.
Why backwards? Partly in honor of the ancient Eastern European tradition of brides wearing special aprons that covered them front and back (to protect fertility, I've read) and because it works visually. I like that viewers see the ends, the workings, not the decorative-protective front.
The scissors on the front represent backbone and ribs. I upholstered the scissor segments in white damask, then sewed them under a layer of wool that closely matched the color of the dyed quilt. Yes, it's confusing, but if you're interested, here's how it goes:
The upholstered scissor segments are sewn between the matching wool on top and another layer under them (think of a sandwich, with the wool as the bread, and the scissors as the filling). First I baste them all together, then sew them very tightly, so you can really see the shape of the scissors. When that's finished, I used a razor blade to carefully cut away the fabric directly over each scissor. All this effort means the scissors look like they're growing up out of the quilted body.
One last, unfinished witness to the past. After visiting the Irish Aran Islands , I wanted to make a figure that spoke of the handworked history of the place - the bleak, beautiful rockiness. The early farmers made a supreme effort just to survive* and life there still isn't easy today. I pictured my witness holding a baby composed entirely of the modern (computer bits, Legos, wires, color!) representing the children today, growing up in a technologically connected world, who can't wait to leave.
But the child figure was too large, the bottom of the mother needed work...and so she waits.
*they literally had to create their own soil, by dragging up seaweed and mixing it with manure. Each field is the size of my living room, surrounded by handbuilt stone fences to keep the wind from blowing it all away.