Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fragments against my ruin: the art of collage

I am becoming more and more convinced that the best aesthetic answer to the unfathomable chaos that is Life, the Universe and Everything is collage.

During a particularly troublesome week I found myself almost by accident at the Whitechapel Gallery  in East London, where, with 50 minutes to kill,  I cantered through an exhibition of photomontages by the Berlin Dada movement's Hannah Hoch - the first major show of her work in Britain. And, ironically given the medium, it all fell into place. This is what I love, and how I want my work to develop.

Credit Crunch (self portrait) 

I have long been a fan of collage art, and have made tentative forays using printed papers and textiles - see the three pictures above and my previous posts. And what else, after all, is patchwork, but a kind of controlled collage - putting one piece of fabric against another and seeing what conversation ensues? Now I realise what an amateur I am, and how tame my forays have been. Because what can be more disturbing and nightmarish than fractured images of the familiar - birds, flowers, human figures, animals, entrails, eyes and mouths - made monstrous through isolation, juxtaposition and shifts in scale? And how else to express the horror of everyday life turned upside down?

Detail of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights 

Looking at Hoch's work I am reminded of Hieronymus Boch's visions of flesh-eating blossoms regurgitating upended torsos, of bulbous vegetation sprouting wings. And I want more.

I think someone at the Whitechapel must love collage too, because an exhibition there early last summer introduced me to the work of Gert and Uwe Tobias. More sparse and painterly and without the overt politics of Hoch, their collages nonetheless have a dark gothic unease - and  the scale of many of their works is that of a double bed quilt. Tate Modern promises more goodies with its Richard Hamilton exhibition next month.

Collage - like this blog, alas - is restricted by the laws of copyright, preventing the reproduction and use, or misuse, of many contemporary photographs and images, and as such it can easily slip into a cosy sepia montage of the past. I want to shake it up! A difficult challenge in textiles, but I guess that's me sorted out for the next few years...

For more of my favourite collage artists check out Amelia Critchlow and Miriam Wosk.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Choosing fabrics is child's play

Anyone who has followed my blog will know that the idea of  "a jolly good rummage" is close to my heart, not least because the phrase has a delightfully rude, naughty feel to it (or is that just me?).

So when I finally confronted the large pile of rumpled fabrics that had accumulated on the floor as I pulled them from shelves and boxes while making my rainbow quilts, it was with a sense of excitement as well as despair at the formidable tidying chore ahead. I wish I had taken a photograph - the heap of colours and patterns were a sight to gladden the heart.

And so when a six-year-old little girl with a love of drawing and painting came to my house in the expectation of being entertained, I decided to let her loose on the fabrics, telling her to choose her favourites.

Not having children myself - my recent enthusiasm for children's quilts having been more focused on the quilts, not the children - I had no idea what to expect, but I was thrilled and astonished when I looked at what she had pulled out of the pile. She had ignored the dinosaurs, dolls and faerie fabrics I had sorted into a separate heap and homed straight in on large scarlet roses and tulips, blue-on-white spots, rich purples - she rejected a blueish purple I offered - and a dash of mint green. Gorgeous. Sophisticated. I love them so much I immediately want to make a quilt for her.

But that will have to wait a while - because now I have to get to grips with the much delayed family "commission" to make a wallhanging in memory of my late aunt. I need flowers. And gold. And saints. A snail. Some butterflies. And a puffin. Another rummage came up with some suitable flowers and owls, above, and so I've officially started on the next project... This is the best bit. Such fun.

(Did anyone else spot how similar these selections are? I have so many fabrics, it has to be a coincidence. Either that, or I have the same aesthetic judgment as a six-year-old. Hmmm. I shall have to think about the implications of that one.)