Mind the Gap

Okay so it’s been nine months since I last posted: a blink in the eye of the cosmos; a lifetime on the thumbs of a Tweeter.  What can I say?  I’ve been busier living life than writing about it.  But I’m back.  And in the coming weeks I’ll be bringing you up to date on what I’ve been doing behind your back.

To begin with, I’ve updated my website; a much needed makeover by my wonderful web dude Arthur Bloch of Hypersphere.   Take a look and let me know what you think.

"No Hard Hats Required" (2012) 70" x 48", stitched organza.

And I’ve been busy making new work that I’m really jazzed about.  My latest piece “No Hard Hats Required,” moves into new territory.  I’ve used organza in varying shades of white and grey for the figure and red and neons for the sign and graffiti.  I cut the shapes free-hand; layered, fused and stitched them to create a work that looks like a pencil drawing and yet maintains its translucence when hung in open space.  The ghostliness of the organza contributes to the overall theme of the piece which depicts an out-of-work construction worker fenced out of a derelict construction site:  my comment on one of the 99% who are victims of the misdeeds of an as yet unpunished few.

Because I’ve decided to concentrate more on juried exhibitions that are not limited to fiber, as soon as I finished it, I entered this piece in a national juried competition on the theme “Consequences” open to all mediums.  Of the more than 500 entries, I’m more than pleased to say that both of the pieces that I submitted were accepted and that “No Hard Hats Required” moreover received a Juror’s Choice Award.   Both that piece and another recent work, “Dude, Who Stole My Money?” will be part of the “Consequences” exhibit at the Arc Gallery in San Francisco May 12 through June 2, 2012.

"Dude, Who Stole My Money?" (2009) 37" x 28" fabric composition on stretcher bars

If you’re in town, the Opening Reception is May 12 from  7 – 10 p.m. and the Closing Reception and Artist Talk will be June 2, noon to 2 p.m.

The Arc Gallery is located at 1246 Folsom St (between 8th and 9th Streets) in San Francisco.  You can also see an expanded version of the exhibit online at http://www.arc-sf.com/consequences-on-line-gallery.html.

Wired and Twisted!

I started quilting in the 1980’s.  Everything since then has been a deeper exploration of the same thing: portraiture and figurative art in fabric.  I made a conscious decision not to get involved in dyeing my own fabric or in the many other wonderful surface design techniques that other quilters were inventing.  I wanted to get really good at a single thing rather than so-so at a multitude of techniques.  For me it just felt right not to become a Jill of all trades.  Finally getting into Quilt National this year seemed like the payoff for my focus.

So you could have knocked me over with a knitting needle when after so many years of noodling my way along as a fiber artist, I found myself suddenly taking a sharp right turn into a brand new medium – wire!  Thanks to a class at the Richmond Art Center, I’ve discovered that I can make gestural drawings by knotting and twisting wire.   They are like three-dimensional line drawings but with bounce and spring.   Of course, since I’m still doing figurative art it’s not really such a stretch, perhaps more a further advancement of what I’ve learned over the years about drawing.

Because I’m using a fine gauge wire, the pieces are not meant to stand up without support; so I have mounted them on stretched canvas.  This is the first piece called “Waiting for the 3:15.”

"Waiting for the 3:15" 18" x 30" ©2011 Alice Beasley

I’ve used bits snipped from aluminum cans for the books that the figures are holding.   It drew favorable response from a gallery so that just egged me on.

"Waiting" (detail) ©2011 Alice Beasley

My second piece is a line of zebras called “Hiding in Plain Sight.”   I’ve begun adding acrylic paint to the canvas to give the figures a more interesting background.

"Hiding in Plain Sight" 12" x 24" ©2011 Alice Beasley

What’s great about wire is that the figures cast interesting shadows onto the canvas backing (or wall if mounted alone), depending on the lighting.

"Hiding" (detail) ©2011 Alice Beasley

The third work is a playful comment on the fitness craze called “Flex Time.”  I’ve used colored wire (the type used in jewelry making) to make their hair.

"Flex Time" 18" x 24" ©2011 Alice Beasley

"Flex Time" (detail) ©2011 Alice Beasley

I have a lot of practical reasons for wanting to continue to work with wire.  For example, we’re about to go off on one of our rv trips.  In the past trying to pack my quilting supplies and sewing machine into a camper was daunting.  Finding the space to sew was even more so.  Wire is much more portable.  In fact, I did some of the zebras in my lap while my husband was driving during our trip back to Quilt National.

Plus wire is durable.  None of the warnings that I have to give purchasers of my quilts about not exposing them to direct light, the potential instability of commercial dyes, etc.  And as commercial fabric has climbed above $10 per yard, it’s a relief to pay $3 for 100 feet of wire. And even less as I’ve found bulk suppliers.

I feel as excited about this new medium as when I first learned that I could make fabric portraits out of commercial cotton fabric.   I am looking forward to exploring ways of combining fiber and wire.  If any of you have done that I’d love to hear from you.

Life Imitating Art Imitating LIfe

The trouble with doing portrait quilts is that I never know when they’ll take a notion to climb off the walls and jump into my world.

Kathleen Dawson, the national director of Quilt National was nice enough to forward this picture of me talking to Geri Barr in front of my quilt “Entre Nous” at the Quilt National opening.  And, of course that’s also me in the quilt talking to my husband Dave.

Are you talking to me?

Then there was this photo sent to me by Marion Coleman.   I had the great pleasure of speaking to the African American Quilt Guild of Oakland on Saturday. Marion snapped this picture of what looks like Guild President Marilyn Handis and me fighting over some hapless man.  No worries.  He’s just a fabric portrait of my grandfather from a quilt I’m working on that I brought to demonstrate my process to the guild.

Unhand that man!

From Heidelberg with Love

Heidelberg Street, Detroit

After the great uplift of my weekend in Athens, OH attending the opening of Quilt National, we jumped in our rental car and took a 1000 mile tour around the Midwest before returning home to California.  Our first stop after Athens was my hometown Detroit, Michigan.  I hadn’t been back in 20 years and it was good to catch up with old friends and classmates.   After the bad rap that Detroit gets, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are also pockets of vibrancy in this city; one of them being the Heidelberg Project  on Detroit’s east side.

One of the polka dot houses

Started by outsider artist Tyree Guyton more than 25 years ago, the Heidelberg Project is a two-block art project that looks like an explosion in an Easter egg factory.   Located on Heidelberg Street in what was a toothache of urban decay, you’ll find assemblages of doors or ironing boards or doll heads; rusty signs; crudely handpainted pictures, shopping carts hoisted up to the top of telephone poles; houses painted with polka dots or wild clock faces.

How to get to Sesame Street?

In short, it’s a vast assortment of refuse reclaimed as bold artistic statements.  Guyton doesn’t seem to self-edit and no much is ever too much in this continuously evolving outdoor display.   But I loved it.

Guyton began the project on Heidelberg because it was the street he grew up on and that he watched decay as family after family fled in the face of poverty and crime.  He found a paintbrush a better way of striking back at the ruin around him than a gun.

Nevertheless, the Project hasn’t always been welcomed.   For many years neighbors bombarded the City with complaints, preferring abandoned houses to ones with busted appliances and auto parts hanging off of them.   In their view Guyton’s creations were the blight, not an artistic response to it.

Time knows no artistic boundaries

Events came to a head in 1999 when the police descended on the street with cherry pickers, front loaders, dump trucks, helicopters and a police escort and began tearing down Guyton’s creations and tossing his scavenged materials into a dumpster.

Now that the Project attracts a quarter million visitors per year, the City appears to have made peace with it. although  Guyton remains taciturn and suspicious as ever of the City’s intentions.

The shopping cart tree

If anything, the Project has gained so much acceptance that it may lose its outsider cache as planning and fundraising are underway in partnership with the University of Michigan for a 10,000 square foot facility that will include performance space, studios and a cafe.

In the meantime the cultural conditions that created the Heidelberg Project remain largely unchanged.  I visited my old neighborhood on the west side of Detroit where gaping holes in the block created by the Detroit riots in 1967 still remain unfilled, with houses falling deeper into ruin.  I could only hope for a Tyree Guyton to paint bright polka dots of hope on this sad picture.

Was It Something I Said?

I got the wonderful news that the summer edition of Fiberarts Magazine would include an article on the upcoming publication of Masters: Art Quilts, Volume 2 and that I was to be one of the artists whose work would be shown in the article.  The specific quilt they were interested in was my not so flattering “portrait” of a Wall Street greedmonger  testifying before Congress.  (This work was originally titled “Bail Me” but later morphed to “Dude, Who Stole My Money?” but that’s another story.)

Since I’ve always considered Fiberarts to be the most sophisticated of the fiber/textile mags, it was good news indeed to be included in this issue.  Then the fiber community got the shocking news that this would also be the last issue of this fine publication.   As they explained it in their letter to the issue’s contributors:  “times change and the support for Fiberarts has not been strong enough over the past several yeas to continue keeping it in circulation.”  So as far as Fiberarts goes, this issue was my opening aria and my swan song.

Perhaps some things are covered as well by instant pop-up journalism online but frankly fiber isn’t one of them.  By it’s nature fiber is lush; it’s tactile and is best seen in person.  Barring that it needs to be ruminated over; thumbed through slowly on the pages of a book or magazine not just tweeted like Lohan twattle.

But, hey, that’s what I said about Gourmet and life went on.  I guess I’ll get over this too.

.Fiberarts - Winter 2010/2011

Fiberarts Magazine RIP