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.
I have an irrational fondness for this one. It has an implied danger, a stress (those 2 white glove-hands pulling in different directions, and the black glove gripping at her). This piece is very tightly stretched over a frame, with all those buttons (and keys, and keyholes) attached with bright red thread. There are paper pattern pieces, too: is she being constructed, or pulled apart?
My friend and fellow-artist Rayna Gillman called these my 'dead baby series' . She has a point.
Generational Fossil (46"h x 30"w) 2009
I continued making Fossil Garments, but now used adult clothing. In this nod to American Gothic, the man and woman are portrayed by their clothing and tools. The woman is an apron/clothespin bag, the man is work gloves and tool belt...and an instruction manual for his head. He holds the keys, the name plates, she has the kitchen tools, and the change purse - the petty cash, not the money.
When I was a child, I made clothespin dolls, so I still have some thought of them as representing people. She holds these clothespin-people in her mind, and in her body.
A few quick words on technique: the bottom layer of clothespins here are printed on cloth, cut and sewn on to the darker background cloth. Other clothespins have been cut in half and sewn over the printed ones, and the clothespin bag was sewn over it all. In the first Generational Fossil picture, you can see several pieces of leather. I soaked the leather, then used clamps to press the wet leather tightly over coins and tools, giving me the impressions in the leather.
Overgrown Fossil (68"h x 49"w)
This is the one that was on the cover of Fiber Arts Magazine in 2010. She started as a nightgown found in a garage sale in Nutley. When I started deconstructing her, I found that the sleeves had been patched several times...and as I took it apart, the patching opened up to resemble wings. Her nightgown figure is overlapping a man's sweater in a way that makes the neck opening suggest her head. So - is she flying out of the green crocheted-and-felted jungle, or is she sinking in?
At her very heart is an image of the original nightgown, with all the patched parts spread open.
Statement: My Fossil Garments are presented as petrified specimens. The deconstructed garments – sometimes embedded in handmade felt – are offered for inspection on taut surfaces. By carefully cutting apart and arranging the garments, their human connection is emphasized. Crochet and lace, showing through the almost transparent garments, appear skeletal. The rigid framing exposes the somewhat sentimental clothing in an unemotional perspective, allowing the viewer to examine the clothing as archaeology.
I really lucked out at the Rutherford NJ Street Fair one year: several wonderful old christening dresses for cheap! They were very fragile, almost transparent, and I washed them gently, patting, not twisting. With a razor blade, I partially deconstructed them - just enough to open them up, so their form was fully visible.
The fabric was so fine that crochet could be seen right though it.
In this detail, you can see 2 cherubs and a face under the dress fabric, 2 pieces of net sewn over the dress, and wheat stalks embroidered on the dress. I was thinking about this piece as I walked through the park here in Passaic, looking at the old sycamore trees. As these trees get older, the trunks develop big sagging lumps. I decided to add just a tiny bit of that lumpy aging to this first garment - a sharp contrast in this infant dress. Look again at the sleeve pointing at you in the first image.
Fossil Garment #2 (36"h x 27"w)
Yep: this piece has everything but the kitchen sink. It has the dress, crochet, lace, handmade felt (with embedded crochet), discharged scissor and spool images, and a handkerchief that tells the story of Cinderella. This one meets all my criteria for good art: 1. it has real visual power, 2. it has content, 3. the content relates to the materials.
In the upper 'wing' above the sleeve here, you can read the embroidered word Mother (from another handkerchief) and mom's profile next to it. A little further down, Cinderella is sweeping up the threads. Another cherub is playing right over a barely visible Cinderella and her coach. If you really hunt, you might find the word GIRL embroidered vertically along one seam...
...and the prince took her away, with LOVE right over them. Which pretty well sums up the whole fantasy that was fed to little girls. Fossil Garment #2: no head, no working arms, the dress is trying to grow wings, the whole piece is falling apart (and threatened by those red scissors) and she's carrying all that romantic nonsense.
The infrastructure of our country – roads, bridges and railroads – is collapsing. Our rich, powerful country does not have the political will to maintain itself. Structurally Unsound embodies that incapacity: a giant teetering on wobbly legs, desperately trying to hold itself together. Structurally Unsound was assembled from Salvation Army jackets and sweaters (literally, the clothes of our workers) and embedded with construction tools. Is this piece really headless? Are we?
This piece had been dancing around in my head for a long time. It began as a sculpture, eventually morphed into a human-like figure, and then it was ready to be made visual on the computer (I really love that so much of my art starts with technology and finishes with traditional handwork). I asked my husband to take some pictures of my arms in different poses, and overlapped them onto a sweater image. By copying in some tweed patterns, I figured out how to proceed to the work wall.
This was supposed to have white edging around each section, but I happened to grab an old orange cloth, just for the initial pin-up....and I knew the orange was perfect. The color of danger, warning, traffic cones!
I worked on each section, layering it over actual tools and kiddie plastic tools. below is the wooden handle from an old saw, which I cut in half (front to back, to reduce bulk).
The rusty fencing material was found beach-combing, and my husband donated his glasses seen on the first picture(which he had accidentally stepped on, perfect for our lack of vision and planning).