05 December 2018

Quilted Fabric Collages by Susan Carlson

Pumpkin Moon, 2001.

The New England Quilt Museum mounted a show of Maine artist Susan Carlson's work, on view from September 26, 2018 through December 30, 2018.  Ms. Carlson has perfected her technique of raw-edge applique, gluing and stitching snips and snibbles of printed cloth onto a fabric base, sometimes adding overlays of sheer or net fabrics, and securing everything with free-hand quilting.

Early portrait work from the 1990's.

The show is something of a retrospective too, with some of Ms. Carlson's early work, see above. This early work features a subdued, naturalistic palette with accents of red and blue. At some point Ms. Carlson adopted the almost psychedelic color schemes of her current work. It would have been interesting to know more about the impetus for this major transition, as I'm always curious about an artist's approach to color.

The portrait below, of the artist's son Sam at age 3, mixes realistic and non-realistic colors for the flesh tones and hair, controlling for value (light/dark contrast) to create shadows and highlights.

Samuelsaurus Rex, 2001.

Samuelsaurus Rex, detail.

Peace, Love, Tie-Dye, Save the Whales, 2012.

When Sam was thirteen, Ms. Carlson created another portrait of him, influenced by the multiple image formats of Andy Warhol, and displaying the full-blown "Grateful Dead" palette.  Any similarity to the late John Lennon is intentional, as Sam is also a Beatles fan.

Peace, Love, Tie-Dye, Save the Whales, detail.

Ms. Carlson's animal quilts have been widely exhibited, including the award-winning quilt below, which imagines her pet dog's fantasies about life in the outback. See this quilt, which features commercial fabric designs based on aboriginal art, in progress.

Dixie Dingo Dreaming, 2011.

Another quilt with a link to Australia is the enormous work below, celebrating the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus Porosus), native to Australia and the world's largest reptile. The animal is fancifully re-named and shown life-size, but in technicolor, in the expansive quilt below, too big even to photograph inside the exhibit space.  The exhibit featured a laptop with video of Ms. Carlson working on this quilt in her studio; in time-lapse style she layers fabric shapes over a black-and-white outline drawing on cloth.

Crocodylus Smylus, 2015.

Detail of teeth, Crocodylus Smylus.

Another fantastically colored animal, below, is derived from an etching by Albrecht Durer. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros but constructed his image based on textual descriptions.   Durer attempted a "realistic" imaging of the animal but did not have the resources to provide an accurate representation.  The rhinoceros, an exotic beast to begin with, becomes even more fanciful, in some way "improved" over reality.  Ms. Carlson builds on this tradition of artistic license by going even further, using a throbbing pink and orange palette to emphasize that this is no real rhinoceros, but a celebration of the artist's imagination.

Ms. Carlson used a fair amount of tulle as an overlay in this work; the tulle masks the underlying fabrics a bit, resulting in a sort of blending and blurring of the individual appliqued pieces.

Tickled Pink, 2005.

Detail showing overlay of tulle netting.

Tulle and other sheer fabrics are also applied to the surface of the work below, an image of a butterfly (although to me, it looks more like a moth). I particularly like the binding treatment of this quilt, which is made of irregular squares of fabric folded over the edge in overlapping layers.

Exuberance, 2003.

Binding edge detail.

Exuberance, detail.

For those wishing to have a go at this type of quilt-making, Ms. Carlson' book, Serendipity Quilts, has patterns and instructions for several small projects. There is also a lot of information on her website (see above link).  As I finish this blog post, it's almost dark here in New England, where the winter sun sets soon after 4 pm. So, appropriately, the last image captures daylight ceding to dusk.

Twilight, 1994.

Twilight, detail.