Many years ago my quilt ‘Summer Haze aka Volcanic Pizza’ was shown at Alexandria Palace in London, UK. My mother and I looked through the catalogue and noticed a familiar name. Sara Impey’s family lived in the area close to my mother’s house. When I went to the exhibition opening I sought out Sara and we remained in touch ever since. Her quilts have lain on my mother’s living room floor while we discussed the design and content. Sara’s work was shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In fact, they have been shown all over the world.
Over time Sara made textile art based on personal issues and social concerns. She made a name for herself with these text based quilts and eventually Batsford publishers asked her if she would consider basing a book on her work. For a while she resisted. She is well aware of the time and effort involved in authoring a book – she was a Times journalist and has first hand knowledge of the publishing world. In the end though, she decided to work on the book.
Some years ago I was part of an art quilt group founded by Hollis Chatelain. Life and geography have intervened since then but in my mind I hold the quarterly meetings and the members as a wonderful memory. And am grateful for the friends I made.
Hollis found a technique and style suited to her need for political and environmental comment. Quilting isn’t usually associated with social matters. If quilting is mentioned most people’s knee jerk reaction is to say – “oh, I have a wedding ring quilt hand made by my grandmother, could you finish it for me?”. Or variations…….
There is a vast underground of mostly women artists (which is probably why we receive the above comments), who use a soft medium and speak about their world view. Be it social commentary, colour studies, cartoons, abstract, 3-D pieces, or any other known expression of creativity. And possibly unknown!
Enough of the serious stuff. This isn’t meant to be an essay on a particular art form. I want to introduce you to Hollis Chatelain’s work from my point of view.
She operates in three areas. Figurative, Abstract, and Nature. Because I am more of an abstract artist I have greater interest in her abstract work. I have the usual reaction of humans towards realistic depictions. If it’s not spot on it feels off, and therefore makes me withdraw from the work. This is known as the Uncanny Valley effect.
Of course, I immediately show a piece which isn’t something Hollis is known for. It’s one of her alternative methods of making quilts. But I just wanted to point out her use of colour and the title, which incorporates the word FLOW. And exactly describes the work.
This is a piece she made in 2013. It’s absolutely lovely. It uses complicated swirls and patterns from a painting by a Nigerian artist. Hollis bought the painting and translated it from paper to fabric. Once again, this is not what Hollis is known for but makes sense in her body of work as she is firmly connected to Africa.
This piece is created in Hollis’ known style and technique. It is a hand dye-painted, machine quilted, whole cloth quilt.
Her statement: “An area of natural forest the size of a soccer field is cut down every two seconds, estimates Greenpeace.
From lush trees and wildlife to barren fields and deserts, how long will it take before the change becomes irreparable?”
Can you imagine walking into a gallery and being faced with this huge work? it’s nearly 7 feet wide. Firstly you are drawn to the colour – she tends towards the monochromatic. Then your eye turns towards the left of the piece where the heavier and darker trees lie, and finally you mentally walk down the avenue of shady trees.
But the kicker comes when you naturally go closer to the work because you wonder – how on earth is this made?
Strikingly, the whole surface is stitched thread.
Finally, you read her statement. And think a little.
Who knows what goes on in the mind of an artist? People may question why Hollis works in fabric and thread when she is obviously an accomplished painter and photographer. My guess is; the things she wants to talk about are more forcefully brought to attention when a left field medium is used.
It might be a deliberately calculated choice to differentiate her work. It might be Hollis just likes working in fabric and thread.
But she sure gets attention whatever her rationale.