From far away, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s large-scale artworks take on the appearance of textiles and tapestries with patterns resembling those a master weaver might create. But upon closer inspection, the poignant pieces are actually constructed with simple bottle tops connected by copper wire. Flattened then stitched, their unique assembly allows the works to move, flow, and take almost any shape. They speak volumes about El Anatsui’s education and home.
In his classic tome on two-dimensional design, Wucius Wong indicates that it takes at least three elements for something to be considered repeating. Repeating elements is one of the first theories you learn as a textile designer. I spent an entire semester discussing the theory of words and their meanings in design language. We were all in agreement: for repetition, two isn’t enough. What about over three hundred?
Wucius Wong’s theory is the first thing that comes to mind when I look at these pictures from an exhibition by the artist Francis Alys, showcased at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In room after room, over 300 portraits of Saint Fabiola are displayed: the same woman in the same pose, the same traditional rendition. Repetition – the same image seen over and over again.
The artist has collected these paintings from flea markets and garage sales in his adopted home of Mexico City. Most are painted by amateur artists. All portray the same woman, again, and again, and again. What Alys points out is that, though the images are similar – they all portray this woman, Saint Fabiola, in the same traditional veil, seated in the same pose and with the same background color – each individual image is unique. Each bears the mark of the artist. One may paint her nose with a slant; another may paint her with makeup or a solemn expression. The artists have copied a widely known image, but interpreted through their own eyes. We see repetition, but without absolutely identical images.
The larger art here is in the repetition of the “pattern,” or image. But, Francis Alys is showing us that even copies bear the mark of the creator. Seeing the same image repeated hundreds of times makes for an impressive impact. Viewed as a whole they represent merely a single pattern; viewed more closely, they demonstrate that, even when re-creating someone else’s work of art, the artist’s uniqueness shines through.
*Photos borrowed from California Literary Review.
There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.
Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.
Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:
“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:
“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading
In 2009 and 2010, an exhibition was held at Pratt Institute to help explain the relationship between fashion and sustainability.
For this exhibit (called Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion), curators Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro (now Conservator at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) displayed garments from our Alabama Chanin Songbirds collection, and also from artists and designers like Susan Cianciolo, Andrea Zittel, Suno, and Bodkin.
Andrea Zittel’s smockshop pattern was included in the “Rethink” portion of the exhibition and provided as a printed pattern at the back of the catalog. From page 36 of the catalog:
A simple double wrap-around garment, the smock as designed by the artist Andrea Zittel, is a versatile and utilitarian garment. For the Smockshop project, it is reworked by a number of artists who reinterpret the original pattern based on their individual skill sets and tastes. In line with Zittel’s motto, “Liberation through Limitations,” the smocks are intended to be worn exclusively for six months, but in an understanding of the idealistic nature of such a practice, the artist is at least hoping “to inspire a more frugal approach to design.” The examples in the exhibition are by the artist Tiprin Follett, who wore her smocks continuously and documented her performance in an interview with Zittel as well as through snapshots.
We will host our first One-Day Retreat of the fall season in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley on Sunday, September 16th. Our day will be spent in a restored nineteenth century factory and will feature local food from Barbara Goldstein of Blima’s.
We were able to talk to friend Melissa Auf der Maur from Basilica to find out a little more about the history of the space, future plans for the center, and where to spend the rest of our weekend in the Hudson Valley.
Below we share what learned – which includes lessons on historic preservation and roof gardens.
“It is essential to remember that as many arts of living exist as cultural nuances and beliefs.”
Now, she takes the work one step further in an exhibition that “proposes a world tour of traditional architectures, known as ‘vernacular’, presented in models, films and photographs.”
It has been a wonderful two weeks at Penland: learning, exploring, resting, dreaming. I dread leaving this magical place and at the same time I look forward to going home and using the tools I learned here to become a better designer. As I pack the car, we leave you with a few shots of the tools of Penland.
Happy trails and a great weekend to all…
Excerpt from *blue highways*
– William Least Heat Moon –
(Lovingly translated to typewriter by my friend Jeff)
“I drove onto the Natchez Trace Parkway, a two lane running from Natchez to near Nashville, which follows a five hundred mile trail first opened by buffalo and Indians. Chickasaws called it the Peace Path. In 1810 th Trace was the main route for Ohio Valley traders who rather than fight the Mississippi currents, sold their flatboats for scrap in Natchez and walked home on the Trace. The poor sometimes traveled by a method called *ride and tie* two men would buy a mule, one would ride until noon, then tie the animal to a tree and walk until his partner behind him caught up on the jack that evening. By mid-century, steamboats made the arduous and dangerous trek unnecessary, and the Trace disappeared in the trees. Continue reading
Having seen Maria Moyer’s recently-released collaboration with West Elm, I can’t help but visualize which surfaces in my home and at the Factory will best display the porcelain vases and tea lights. I’m certain there will be quite a few.
As a sculptor, Maria appreciates the ‘craft’ behind the design, which translates beautifully into her work. There’s a lovely purity of form paired with incredible attention to detail in each piece.