27 December 2016

Happy Birthday, Tammis Keefe

Handkerchief designed by Keefe, produced by Kimball Co., 1950's.

Artist Tammis Keefe was born on this day in 1913.  Ms. Keefe designed everything from handkerchiefs and scarves to men's sportswear. Learn more about her at http://www.tammiskeefe.com/index.html 
Ms. Keefe died in 1960.

09 December 2016

Alma Thomas at the Studio Museum Harlem

Mars Dust, 1972.

The 2015 inaugural exhibit at the new Whitney Museum featured one work painted by Alma Thomas (1891 - 1978), Mars Dust, above.  I asked the cosmos "Why haven't I heard about this woman before?" and the cosmos responded with an exhibit at The Studio Museum in Harlem, on view from July 14, 2016 through October 30, 2016.  "Alma Thomas" was organized by Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum, and featured 16 paintings, as well as 27 studies and other works on paper.

Works on paper.

Ms. Thomas taught art at a junior high school until retiring at age 69.  Her mature style developed when the end of her teaching career allowed Ms. Thomas to focus solely on her art.  Early works included figurative imagery, such as the Study for the March on Washington, below, but she soon shifted to abstract works exploring color. One review included a quote from Ms. Thomas, "color for me is life".

Study for March on Washington, c. 1964.

One gallery of the overall exhibit features several canvasses inspired by the gardenStrokes of  color - almost like the bigger sisters of pointillistic dots - are arrayed in rainbow-hued columns.  The dashes of color are carefully placed so that the white interstitial space develops a line of its own, and close scrutiny reveals that sometimes the colors are over-painted with white for further delineation and a layering effect.

Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968; right, detail.

Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, 1968.

Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, detail.

Ms. Thomas used a subtle color palette in her later work, "Cherry Blossom Symphony". The painting's large, pinkish paint strokes dance in complementary counterpoint with the small blue-green dashes; even without the narrative title, this work distills the essence of the spring season and flowering trees.

Cherry Blossom Symphony, 1973.

Cherry Blossom Symphony, detail.

Exhibit overview.

Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, 1972.

Ms. Thomas worked with an even more restrained color palette in the painting above, in which white is now the top color, overlaying a blue ground.  Three columns feature larger areas of blue, forming accents among the white strokes and cobalt dashes, jazzing up the rhythm of the vertical elements.

Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, detail.

Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976.

Sometimes the brushstrokes of paint enjoy liberation from their vertical arrays, as in Hydrangeas Spring Song, above.

Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976, detail with signature.

Enjoying the paintings.

Three paintings in the last gallery proved that this small exhibit punched above its weight.  In Red Scarlet Sage, below, Ms. Thomas tiled the plane using crimson "shards" of color, with  pea green "grout" between the shards. The image just vibrates as the complementary hues of red and green interact.

Red Scarlet Sage, 1976

Red Scarlet Sage, detail.

White Roses Sing and Sing, 1976.

The work White Roses Sing and Sing, above, features a color palette in less tension; nevertheless, yellow accents ensure a dynamic image.

White Roses Sing and Sing, detail.

Scarlet Sage Dancing a Whirling Dervish, 1976.

As noted in a review in the New York Times, this small exhibit - fewer than 20 canvasses - makes one yearn for the full-scale, comprehensive show which Ms. Thomas deserves. More work can been seen in the catalog, ISBN-10 3791355716, which was not yet available at the time of my visit, so I can't comment on the essays.  The  Metropolitan Museum of Art also has "Red Roses Sonata", from 1972, on view in Gallery 923.

Finally, after enjoying the exhibit, we had lunch at the nearby Red Rooster Harlem restaurant. Try the deviled eggs and cornbread.

03 October 2016

Fiber in the Present Tense 2016 - Surface Design Association annual exhibit

Diane Franklin, Vortex.

Work by Kate Barber, left, and Diane Franklin, center and right, beneath exhibit title.

This year the annual exhibit of the Surface Design Association, Massachusetts and Rhode Island chapter, arrived at a local art nexus, the Arsenal Center for the Arts.  On display from September 7 through November 3, 2016,  Fiber in the Present Tense 2016 featured the work of 26 artists, who dyed, knitted, wove, stitched, and felted their creations.  Some members of my quilt guild also belong to SDA, and I always enjoy their work.

Carol Anne Grotrian, Incoming Tide, Jones River.

Ms. Grotrian is a member of my guild. She hand-dyed the cotton fabric used in the landscape quilt above. Click on the images to enlarge and enjoy this interpretation of the New England coast.

 Incoming Tide, Jones River, detail.

Elin Noble, Excerpts from Fugue 1.

Elin Noble also hand-dyes fabrics, including the small silk piece above.  Silk takes dye beautifully, but wool tints well, too, and can be felted, as in the wearable vest-like garment below, made using a technique called Nuno felting.

Eva Camacho, RUST.

Other wearables included the necklace below, crafted in Joomchi, a traditional Korean hand-made mulberry paper technique. The display mannequin does not show the jewelry to best advantage, but I imagine this circlet would be stunning over a black silk shirt.

Ania Gilmore, Joy at the Meeting.

I have recently had to make many train trips from the Boston area to Penn Station, in New York, and have rediscovered knitting as a way to calm my nerves in the face of Amtrak stress.  The knitter Adrienne Sloane, who teaches at the Arsenal Center, pushes the boundaries of knitting beyond functional, to create works that explore fiber's ability to contain, delimit, and define space.

Adrienne Sloane, Untitled 12" x 12".

Knitting's cousin, crochet, was employed to create the baskets below, one for each of the eighteen years that the son of the artist lived beneath the family roof. The location of this piece, next to the restrooms signs, was unfortunate, but nevertheless the unoccupied space of the vessels is a strong metaphor for the "empty nest."

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets.

One of my favorite techniques is pleating, whether using paper or fabric, perhaps because, in its basic action, folding is an easily accessible skill.   In the detail below, artist Kate Barber  folded woven pieces into discs, resulting in a fascinating corrugated texture. 

Kate Barber, Collect 2.

Collect 2, detail.

Finally, two works which respond to social and political events.  The abstract American flag form below, stitched from the actual labels of imported clothes, is  a reminder of the loss of  American textile manufacturing  and of the globalization of the garment industry.  

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Outsourced.

The last image portrays, in outline stitching, a young man wearing a hooded sweatshirt, with a field of crosses behind. Who is he?  A young man of color whose life ended much too early.

Priscilla Smith, I Could Have Been Your Son.

27 August 2016

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology - Pleating

Mariano Fortuny, evening dress, 1920s.

This year the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Costume Institute presentation examined the traditional métiers, or skills, utilized in both haute couture and ready-to-wear, in an exhibit titled Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.   My husband and I enjoyed the exhibit in July and it deserves more than one blog post.

While my previous blog post provided an introduction to the exhibit, as well as images from the "Embroidery" section, this post presents some images from the "Plissé", or pleating, displays.

According to the curator's wall text:
Pleating has a long history history in stylish apparel.  When the French fan maker Martin Petit invented the plissage au carton, or paper mold, in the 1760s, pleating solidified its preeminence in fashionable dress.  Precipitated by the popularity of the hand fan, the technique was further advanced in the mid-nineteenth century by one of Petit's descendants and is still used today by maisons such as Lognon.

In the twentieth century, fashion designers developed proprietary pleating techniques in tandem with technological advancements. Mariano Fortuny developed a method of pleating textiles by hand that remains shrouded in mystery.  The pleats were not set permanently, so clients had to send their gowns back to the Fortuny workshops to have the pleats reset if they were dampened or flattened.

With the emergence of synthetic textiles came the first techniques for permanently set pleats.  Mary McFadden's patented method, call "Marii" after the designer, used a synthetic charmeuse fabric woven in Australia, dyed in Japan, and pleated in the United States.  Her innovations were continued by Issey Miyake, whose inventive approach involves pleating clothes rather than textiles.  The process entails construction garments at two or three time their intended size, and then precisely folding, ironing, and placing the sewn ensembles sandwiched between paper, into a heat press.

Fortuny, evening dress, detail.

Mary McFadden, dress, ca. 1980.

Miyake Design Studio, Issey Miyake, "Rhythm Pleats" dress, 1990.

The creations by Issey Miyake were displayed both in their flattened, two-dimensional state and in their expanded forms on mannequins.  The flattened garments reminded me of the way kimono are neatly folded for storage.  Western-style clothes hangers are not needed.

Finally, the more prosaic, but colorful, pleated and striped skirts by Raf Simons, designed during his brief tenure at Dior.

Ensembles by Raf Simons for House of Dior, 2015.

02 August 2016

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology - Part I

Karl Lagerfeld, House of Chanel, wedding ensemble, 2014-15.

The exhibit Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,  the latest iteration of the Costume Institute's annual show-stopper exhibit, has proved so popular that the Metropolitan Museum of Art extended its run until September 5, 2016.  The show -  curated by Andrew Bolton, new head curator of the Costume Institute - features 170 items, dating from 1870 to 2016.  The installation does not focus on any one fashion house or  particular movement but celebrates the techniques - implemented by both hand and machine -  used in garment construction and embellishment.

Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, dress, 2012.

The labels and wall text are unusually well written and instructive, making the exhibit really a crash course in the evolution of techniques used in both haute couture and prèt-à-porter.

From the introductory wall text:
The traditional distinction between the haute couture and prèt-à-porter has always been between the custom-made and the ready-made. Haute couture clothes are singular models fitted to the body of a specific individual, while prèt-à-porter garments are produced in multiples for the mass market in standard sizes to fit many body types.  Implicit in this difference is the assumption that the handwork techniques involved in the haute couture are superior to the mechanized methods of prèt-à-porter. Over the years, however, each discipline has regularly embraced the practices of the other.  Despite the fact that this mutual exchange continues to accelerate, the dichotomy between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) still characterizes the production processes of the haute couture and prèt-à-porter in the twenty-first century.

Instead of presenting the handmade and the machine-made as oppositional, this exhibition suggests a spectrum or continuum of practice, whereby the hand and the machine are equal and mutual protagonists in solving design problems, enhancing design practices, and, ultimately, advancing the future of the fashion.  It prompts a rethinking of the institutions of the haute couture and prèt-à-porter, especially as the technical separations between the two grow increasingly ambiguous and the quality of designer prèt-à-porter more refined.

At the same time, the exhibition questions the cultural and symbolic meanings of the hand-machine dichotomy.  Typically, the hand has been identified with exclusivity and individuality as well as with elitism and the cult of personality.  Similarly, the machine has been understood to signify not only progress and democracy but also dehumanization and homogenization.  In examining these values, the show's intention is to liberate the handmade and the machine-made from their usual confines of the haute couture and prèt-à-porter, releasing them from the exigencies of the fashion system into the hands of fashion designers for whom they serve as expressions of creative impulses.

Pleated Fortuny gowns.

The exhibit, on two levels in the Lehman gallery, is organized by the six traditional métiers, or trades, of dressmaking, codified in Denis Diderot's eighteenth century Encyclopédie.  As Roberta Smith stated in her excellent New York Times review, the show is a veritable tutorial on the evolution of these traditional métiers:  embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork.  Sound quaint? Well, the category of featherwork, for example, includes two dresses by Gareth Pugh featuring plastic drinking straws, hand-sewn individually to a substrate in a similar manner as the dyed ostrich feathers hand-glued to a Givenchy gown from decades earlier.

Gareth Pugh, dress with plastic drinking straws, 2015-16.

Hubert de Givenchy, evening dress with ostrich feathers, 1966-7.

In addition, one section of the exhibit is dedicated to the materials used in the process of design - the paper patterns and muslin mock-ups. The final area of the show highlights the two traditional divisions within a couture house - tailleur and flou, or tailoring and dress-making.

The exhibit contrasts traditional and cutting-edge aspects of all the métiers, beginning with embroidery.  As one would expect, the embroidery section features a lot of sequins, although the materials which can be applied to a garment range far beyond this small, shiny form of bead.  Several maisons, or small, specialized companies which employ the skilled workers whose hands produce this work, include Hurel, Lanel, Lesage, Montex and Broderies Vermont. All though these maisons are located in Paris, more work is being sent to India, where artisans are increasingly providing the embellishment for prèt-à-porter garments in particular.

Norman Norell, evening dresses with sequins, 1960's.

Left: Givenchy evening dress, 1963. Right: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, 2012.

Source: http://noesunblogdemoda.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html

Many of the garments in the show are in neutral colorways - white, black, etc. - creating overall tonal coherence, but also giving added "punch" to garments which venture into other hues, such as the coral dresses above, by Hubert de Givenchy and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.  The Givenchy dress is embroidered with glass beads, tinsel and coral, while the Burton garment features glass beads, freshwater pearls, coral and dyed shells. 

The aquatic theme continues with the "Sardine" dress by Yves St. Laurent, one of the "case study" garments - artifacts show-cased in their own niches within the exhibit, and highlighted with a backdrop projection of up-close detail.

"Sardine" dress, Yves St. Laurent, 1983.

"Sardine" dress, detail.

From the exhibit wall text:
Known as the "sardine" dress, this formfitting sheath from Saint Laurent's 1983 "Gilda" collection was created in collaboration with Maison Lesage (founded 1924).  The seams of the black silk crepe dress were sewn by machine and finished by hand in the Saint Laurent atelier.  Lesage hand embroidered all the surface embellishments, executed in black and pewter beads and blue, gray, black, brown, silver, and opalescent gelatin paillettes to evoke the iridescent skin of a fish, a task that required fifteen hundred hours to complete. The allover imbrication, or fish scale pattern, obscures the dress's underlying structure and seams, creating the illusions of a second skin - a conceit that emphasizes the custom fit of a couture garment.  Over the years, Lesage has provided embroidery for many maisons de couture.  In 2002, CHANEL Paraffection, a division devoted to preserving the specialized métiers of the haute couture, acquired Lesage.  To date, the division has acquired ten other ateliers: Desrues, Lemarie, Michel, Massaro, Goossens, Montex, Causse, Barrie, Lognon, and ACT3.
What the exhibit didn't explain was that the specialized maisons were in danger of ceasing to exist all together; Chanel purchased them to prevent skills and expertise from vanishing.

Finally, embroidery and surface manipulation enter new territory in Iris van Herpen's sculpted dress, on the right, below. (I apologize, by the way, for the blurriness of the detail images in this post; light levels were very low and of course flash photography was not allowed.)

Left: Proenza Schouler dress, 2015-16. Right: Iris van Herpen dress, 2013-14.

Iris van Herpen dress, detail.

Source: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673194/iris-van-herpen-grows-her-latest-collection-from-magnets

Iris van Herpen describes the process of construction of the dress (from the exhibit wall text):
"[This] dress has a base made from cotton fabric.  Then there is a rubber component - a soft rubber - in which we place metal powder.  When you mix everything together, the rubber has a few minutes when it is still wet and soft.  We pour the rubber onto the cotton fabric.  Then we place magnets above and below, and you see the metal powder grow piece by piece - in a matter of seconds - before it sets.  The coloration is exquisite because while the rubber is still wet and soft we add a very thin enamel powder that has iridescent qualities."
So, artisans manipulating magnets instead of sewing needles. Throughout the exhibit, garments explore exotic materials and methods, and I'll write more about this fascinating exhibit in additional posts.