Why White?

"...sometimes, like meditating, I need to visually take a breath. After every two or three richly colored pieces, I need to make a piece in white."

I love color.  Deep, saturated color that elevates your heart rate.  Most of my work over the years has been done in earth tones and rich jewel tones. But sometimes, like meditating, I need to visually take a breath. After every two or three richly colored pieces, I need to make a piece in white.

Over the years, I have loved artists who work predominantly in white. Most of them are Asian. There is an Asian aesthetic that embraces a quiet, modest, monochromatic white color scheme.  I find these pieces brave and confident in their insistence on using white to capture our attention. When you strip color away, you are left to contemplate form, materials and content without distraction.

I first saw Zhu Jinshi’s immersive sculpture installation, Boat, at the San Antonio Art Museum in Texas. Boat and a subsequent piece The Ship of Time envelop the viewer who must walk through the piece to experience it. The Beijing-based contemporary painter made these pieces using white and naturally colored Xuan (rice) paper.

Boat by Zhu Jinshi
Ship of Time by Zhu Jinshi

Chun Kwang Young, a Seoul-based artist, makes complex abstract constructions, fabricated with hundreds of individual component shapes wrapped in mulberry paper. Each triangular component is covered with Korean and Chinese characters inspired by medicine packets from his childhood. While not all his work is white, most of it is monochromatic.

Pile of White Feathers

Over the last five years I have gradually created a series of white pieces using feathers made from recycled plastic bags screen-printed with images of endangered birds and endangered languages. For the white pieces, I print on white plastic bags and although the overall impression is white, there are many colors in play. 

Aggregation by Chun Kwang Young

The first piece to incorporate my signature plastic feathers was Abandon. The title is a play on words because it evokes that lovely sense of letting go. However, the darker meaning is that we have abandoned our birds by letting our appetite for development prevail over protecting bird habitat and therefore bird species. Abandon is currently traveling throughout Mexico as part of the Rufino Tamayo Bienal, which will culminate in an exhibition of the top 51 painters in Mexico at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City. 

Abandon
Abandon, detail view
Kansai

After the intensely colored Cambodia series where all five pieces appeared in the shape of the country of Cambodia, I was ready for another white piece. Kansai was also based on a map, this time on the state of Kansai in Japan. Whereas Cambodia referred to the last remaining habitat of the Bengal Florican, Kansai is a state where there are 41 endangered bird species. Like Abandon, Kansai was predominantly white but it has a border of red feathers. The red and white color scheme is a nod to the colors of the Japanese flag. In late 2020, I built a crate for Kansai so that she could be exhibited in the Art Textile Biennale, which was traveling to several venues throughout Australia.

Several map-based pieces later, it was time for another white piece. Vortex was my first foray into applying feathers to a sculptural form. Using a spiral shape made from iron, bubble wrap and a coating of paper mache, I coated the form with white feathers that gradually became darker towards the center. This piece was featured on the cover of SAQA Journal, a wonderful magazine that highlights work by contemporary art quilters. 

Saqa Jornal Cover

During the pandemic, I started a huge mural-sized piece titled Accidentals. It was a riot of color and it was no surprise that I needed a visual break afterwards. Devotional was born out of the desire to calm my mind and body and to create a piece that would be an ode to our disappearing birds. I wanted a title that would evoke the prayers one might say to petition a higher source for saving birds.

Devotional vs. Accidentals
Ropa Blanca

I loved the new tail feather form that I used for Accidentals and Devotional and created a smaller piece, Ropa Blanca that was inspired by the huipils woven and worn by indigenous women in Chiapas, Mexico and in Guatemala. Ropa Blanca was shipped to a gallery in Madrid as soon as it was finished. Which means there is another white piece in the wings!

 

My sense is that making white pieces will remain part of my art practice for many years to come.

My Floor as Evidence of Productivity

Process

You’re probably thinking, isn’t your work the evidence of productivity? Well, yes and no. Work ebbs and flows. Like most abstract painting, I build up the surface of my work and sometimes tear it down until I get it right. Despite the progress on the wall, the floor becomes the evidence of how much work is being done. 

Scraps of Accidentals on the floor
Scraps of Fragmentation on the floor

 

It actually gives me satisfaction to come up to the art studio and see all the clippings on the floor. Like seeing paint drips on a drop cloth, I can see what colors I’ve been working on. It’s like a visual journal. I can look at the wall and see what section is under construction. And then look at the floor and see the correspondent colors. 

There’s one more thing about the scraps on the floor that delights me. I love the random pattern of where the clippings fall and pile up. They create their own abstract design on the floor. Sometimes I even save them for other projects.

If you have been following my blogs and art career, you already know that I often recycle scraps from one piece into another. These little clippings are no exception. I’ve included a few recent examples of clippings. I hope you find them as charming as I do. 

If you use drop cloths, scraps, notes or other side products in your work, I’d love to see and hear about how your incorporate them. It would be fun to share examples of this evidence.

The Making of Ropa Blanca

I have just finished my first huipil-inspired piece titled Ropa Blanca. Many of my pieces gestate for a long time and Ropa Blanca was no exception. Like in my piece Kimono, I used the huipil, a traditional women’s blouse, as my inspiration. The references included images of Frida Kahlo’s clothing that are now on view at her museum in Mexico City.

Frida Kahlo outfit
Huipil reference materials
Ropa Blanca, full view

An Inspirational trip to Chiapas...

In April 2019, I visited Chiapas for the first time. San Cristóbal de las Casas (also known by its Tzotzil name, Jovel), a Spanish colonial city, is the center of this colorful textile region.

San Cristobal street view

The highlight of the trip was visiting the Textile Museum, which houses thousands of garments and hundreds of huipils woven and embroidered in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico and also nearby Guatemala.

Textile Museum of Chiapas, huipil view 1
Textile Museum of Chiapas, huipil view 2

The indigenous population of Chiapas is largely Mayan and many Mayan languages are still spoken.  The women wear furry black skirts and colorful huipil blouses. During the trip, I met a linguist moon-lighting as as tour guide. He taught at the University of Chiapas and ended up helping me collect four Mayan languages for my text: Tzotzil, Zoque, Cho’lol and Yakme (look for an upcoming blog about our calligraphy!).

Mayan girl in traditional fur skirt

And Ropa Blanca was born...

I wasn’t as confident about my ability to handle white as I am with strong colors, so I decided to make a smaller piece as an experiment. My interest in making a smaller piece coincided with my musings about huipils and thus Ropa Blanca was born! 

In order to create a large white piece, I realized I needed a big inventory of feathers. Beginning this summer, my screen-printing team began producing hundreds of sheets of primarily white feathers. Although I love working with saturated colors, every few pieces I take a break and create a white piece. Kansai, Abandon and Vortex all fall into this ongoing series of largely white pieces.

Artist working on piece
Screen prints on wall
Assistants working on piece

I decided to sew a wrapped cord onto the top of the piece to define the edge as I had done with Accidentals. I also echoed the vertical stripes that frequently appear in the weaving of traditional huipils.

As Ropa Blanca was taking shape, I was contacted by a gallery in Madrid that wants to represent my work at art fairs in Europe. The first fair will be in Paris in late January. They wanted smaller work and chose two pieces from my Cambodia series. Since they wanted a third piece, I will add Ropa Blanca to the crate going to Madrid in early January. I’m curious to see how my work will be received in Spain and France.

Wrapped cord before sewing onto the piece

I definitely see Ropa Blanca as the beginning of a new series, so stay tuned for more Huipil inspired works!

Looking back on 2016 France Residency

Since it was fall and a bit chilly, there were no other residents. We each had a private bedroom and also a writing or drawing studio. We settled into a rhythm of working most of the day, taking rambles through the beautiful countryside in the late afternoon and making a communal dinner with our Residency Director, Michelle Dominique Anderson. 

Exactly 4 years ago I started my Residency at La Porte Peinte Centre Pour les Arts in the tiny medieval village of Noyers-sur-Serein, France bordered by the Serein River. This picturesque village is 2 hours south east of Paris (by high speed train) in the middle of Burgundy country. Fortunately I had studied French in high school and amazingly it all came galloping back. The other resident was a writer named Amy Williams from Charlotte, North Carolina and we forged a lifelong friendship during our three weeks in Noyers.

When I was getting ready and excited for this first trip to France, my husband asked me what I was going to eat since I don’t eat bread, cheese, wine or chocolate, all staples of the French diet. Twice a week there was a farmer’s market in the square and we could get all kinds of local vegetables including the famous French mushrooms. There was also fish, fresh and smoked as well as charcuterie, so I ate like a queen…well maybe a duchess!

I hadn’t been to a residency for many years and I spent this one researching endangered birds and drawing them. By the end of three weeks, I had a portfolio of 18 new drawings that became the basis for many silk screens and ceramics that I have been using ever since.

In the morning, I often started my day at a local café, where I was greeted by “Bonjour Cobra” from some of the creative locals that have settled in Noyers. I met potters, a leather artist, yoga teacher and other painters. Although there are hundreds of these little villages across France, Noyers seems to have attracted a population of artists and thinkers.

Everything about the residency was inspiring: the massive stone architecture, the late fall flowers, fields dotted with cows and horses, trails through the woods and always the food. We even went to a movement class twice a week. 

(click on any image to view in slideshow)

f you have not yet gone to a residency, I encourage you to apply to one. There are several organizations dedicated to sharing residency information. My favorite is the Alliance for Artist Communities where you can search for residencies by location. Some are free, some pay a stipend and many charge a modest fee. https://www.artistcommunities.org/

Art and writing residencies offer uninterrupted time to create and think and they often provide the chance to meet new friends and colleagues who can also generate professional opportunities. Some residencies serve meals, some are large communities and some are tiny. I will be attending a very competitive one-person residency in July 2021 called Hypatia-in-the-Woods located in Shelton, WA in the Pacific Northwest of the US. http://hypatiainthewoods.org/

I also run a residency program in Chapala, Mexico called 360 Xochi Quetzal, which attracts artists, writers and performers from around the world. Check us out: https://360xochiquetzal.com/

 

My residency at La Porte Peinte was an unforgettable experience which will reverberate for many years through my art and art practice.

La Porte Peinte Centre Pours les Arts: 

Website: http://laportepeinte.com/

Instagram: @laportepeinte

Facebook: @laportepeinte

Previous blog about the France drawings: https://deborahkruger.com/drawings-of-endangered-birds-from-artist-residency-in-france/

Residency Resources:

https://resartis.org/  based in Europe; many great residency listings

https://www.artistcommunities.org/ based in the US with international listings

http://hypatiainthewoods.org/  3 deadlines a year

https://360xochiquetzal.com/ year round personal residencies

Amy Jane Williams:

Personal FB: https://www.facebook.com/amyvangogh

Compassionate therapy FB: https://www.facebook.com/amywilliamswellness

Wanda Petunia for Self Care: https://www.facebook.com/WandaPetuniaLove/

Accidentals: The Story of Randomness in Art-making

In a recent artist interview in the Textile Curator blog, the curator asked how long a piece took to complete. There was really no way to answer but the story behind Accidentals is a good case in point.

Two years ago I pinned up about 90 sheets of my silk screened plastic sheets onto a wall in my studio. It looked like a crazy quilt. I had an idea about making an oversize artist book. It was interesting but not extraordinary.

Part 1: Break A Leg!

Solo Show Proposal Accepted!
Sergio Unzeta, the curator who was responsible for my solo show in Chapala (2018), has become a big fan of my work and has been shopping exhibition proposals around various venues in Guadalajara. At our last meeting in December, he greeted us with a big grin on his face and announced that his proposal for a solo show had been accepted at the Palacio de la Cultura y Los Congress (PALCCO).

Textile Fibre Forum Interview

Soon after we selected Louise Saxton, our first resident artist from Australia (see our interview http://360xochiquetzal.com/louise-saxton/), we were contacted by Janet deBoer, the publisher of Textile Fibre Forum, the premier fiber publication in Australia. Janet wanted to do an article about Louise in the context of her upcoming residency. A nice email exchange ensued, during which I sent Janet some images of my work as a way of explaining my penchant for artists working in fiber.

When Janet saw my work, she immediately wanted to do an article about my artwork and 360 Xochi Quetzal! It was very affirming to get such an enthusiastic response from Janet, who is a household name in textiles. I have read Textile Fibre Forum for many years in order to follow the developments in the vibrant fiber art community down under. I was very honored to be included in this international publication. My 2-page interview appeared in Issue No. 166 (see cover photo).

The interview covers some topics that I don’t usually get to address, like my ambivalence about using digital imagery, the evolution of my environmental concerns, my background in textile design and why I started the 360 Xochi Quetzal Artist Residency Program www.360xochiquetzal.com
http://artwearpublications.com.au/magazines/single-issues/textile-fibre-forum-magazine.html

Community of Women

My Mexican Studio Assistants-
Although I have studios in Durham, NC and Chapala, Mexico, most of my production work takes place in Mexico. Due to the vast difference in pay scale, I can afford to employ a team of Mexican women to fabricate my feathers.

Texture

The favorite spice of fiber artists
Even when I worked with fiber and encaustic, I bounced back and forth between letting the wax glow unimpeded versus adding waxed linen and wire to create surface texture. Now that I am creating feathers by screen-printing on fused plastic bags I have started to feel the tidal pull towards adding texture again.