Saturday, May 16, 2015

Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Bradford, and Having a Conversation with One's Art Materials

    Recently my friend Matthew Lanci & I had a great conversation about artistic collaborators. That my first love of pottery introduced me to 'The Kiln Gods,' and that in works since, I've looked for collaborators in nature, time, found paper, antique lace, and fabric. Matt is doing a beautiful photography series on his instagram where he looks for landscapes in the dirt on the street. Both of us feel inspired by the aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the perfect mistake as collaborator.  
   While piecing my quilts, I will often have YouTube or Ted on in the background.  Last night, while working, I stumbled across this wonderful lecture.  This Un-Private Collection video with Mark Bradford and Katy Siegel reflects on the conversation that Robert Rauschenberg and Bradford have with their found materials, "It's about not having the fantasy that we're alone in the world."  Speaking to the idea that using art materials with a history imparts an interconnectivity in the art itself; moving it from artistic isolation to a larger conversation.
   I first heard Bradford lecture while I was a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago around 2003, and I was deeply inspired. I met him in person later in 2011 during his show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  I shared with him that he had caused me to think more deeply about my art materials, and that my art students in Naperville, IL were all learning about him. (Then he said that story made his night!) I taught for nine years, and my former students have nearly all seen his episode on PBS Art21, which means I've likely watched it about 70 times. I plan to re-watch this Un-Private Collection lecture several times this week, it's that good!

Flashback 2011, meeting Mark Bradford!!!
    In my recent work, I absolutely feel that it is conversational in nature.  A dot used to be so easy in paint, and now piecing it in cloth requires planning, strategy, and a ruler.  That new relationship creates limitations and obstacles that impact the work.  Moreover, the materials themselves have a way of speaking.  As Siegel mentions, it was important for Rauschenberg to start with something other than a white canvas.  As a quilter, I start with fabric, and all of those textiles have a unique history.  I've spent time this year collecting textiles from South Korea, Mexico, New York, Florida, Michigan, and in my home town of Chicago.  Some fabrics are new and have a history of place and print designer; others are vintage, gifted to me, or dyed.  While listening to this episode, I was piecing the next quilt in my "Night Flight' series.  I purchased navy blue linen at my local Jo-ann fabrics store, and I discovered that I had collected three different dye lots.  Rather than complain, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to have a conversation in my work. These three subtly different shades synchronized together to create something deeper.  A subtlety about the meaning of the piece, and an awareness of the complexity required to construct each dot of light in the cloth.

A photo of my quilt in progress, as captured on my instagram feed at @heidi.parkes

    I hope that you enjoy this conversation like I did:

    The first quilt in the series I refer to is, "Night Flight no. 1"
More images available at