Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Riparian Zone Process

Detail, Riparian Zone Textile #1
seed beads, embroidery, silver thread on dyed linen

For the past 6 weeks, I have been working away on the series "The Riparian Zone". I just submitted the work for a show at the Water Street Studio and was forced to think about my process. The task for me was to work my way backwards in order to tell a coherent narrative about how the work was created. 

Last year, I happened to watch an art history lecture given by UK artist David Hockney. The film was called “A Day on The Grand Canal with The Emperor ofChina”. As Hockney’s fascinating lecture unfolded, his comments illuminate life on the bustling streets and waterfronts of 17th century China. The 7 foot scroll inspired me to create work that captured my own interest in the intersection of natural processes and the reality of more than 3 million people pushing up against this natural resource.


Walking the river trails, many canoe trips and living near the Chicago canal have had an impact on my visual understanding of   our water ways. Using Hockney’s discussion of the 17th century scroll, I was thinking about various formats. The scroll format is eminently suitable to express a river. It has echoes of maps, trails and the sense of a journey.
5" x 11"
You can see more drawings here.

Just as I was finishing up the preparatory drawings for the scroll idea, canoe season started and we put in on a beautiful spring morning. When I got back to the studio, I realized that the works on paper did not seem to adequately express the sparkle of sunlight on the water, microbial life and the movement of water. I wanted the work to capture some of the joy and excitement I feel when paddling on the river.

After creating more than 25 horizontal watercolor and ink drawings, I decided to throw out the concept of a book and switched media altogether. Perhaps textiles could capture the experience of being on the river in that sparkling, Spring light.
 I decided to use embroidery and bead work to convey a sense aristocratic valuation of our waterways. I also played around with switching the format from horizontal lay out like a map to a vertical presentation. This would subtly convey the idea of the river as a royal persona robed in expensive, beaded and embroidered cloth.  If I used expensive and time consuming processes on humbler working class fabrics as a base (canvas and denim) I could also imbue a feeling that our fresh water resources also  do  very muscular tasks. The raw materials of our industrial society are carried over the water ways as well.

A most fruitful idea sprung up as I completed the application process to this show at Water Street Gallery.  I am dusting off the idea of creating a large, ambitious scroll about the Chicago Canal. This time, I want to work on a seven foot long scroll of undyed linen. The original inspiration for this project, David Hockney’s description of the 17th century Chinese Emperor’s trip down an ancient canal inspires me to push my boundaries again…..to work on my own piece about the Chicago Canal.  Rather than representing the end, the work in this show inspires me to continue this series and begin my largest textile piece.


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