Category Archives: Discussion

Peonies Unparalleled

When I was in my 20’s, I had the extreme good fortune of being invited by a distant relative to accompany her on a trip to the Far East. It was the mid-80’s and China had barely opened their doors to the West. Inspired by Chinese art history classes in college, I had developed a fascination with Chinese culture. And having the opportunity to fully immerse myself in that environment before westernization took hold, (as much as any American was allowed to immerse themselves at that time), was an incredible opportunity.

Peony

Paeonia “Coral Charm” – from my garden

Images of Beijing and Shanghai today portray metropolises of high-rises and neon hardly different from any of the world’s other great cities, but when I visited, China was truly a different world, caught in a different time. Most buildings then were no taller than 3-4 stories and the streets swarmed with bicycles rather than cars. There was a sense of space and intimacy despite the burgeoning population, qualities that the encroachment of concrete and highways tend to nullify. Everywhere you looked there was something beautiful to see, and it was not unusual to come across a sight (such as fishermen casting their nets) that was exactly as illustrated in a centuries-old painting. The importance and attention attached to aesthetic details enhanced even the most banal of structures, leaving a lasting impression. Flora and fauna were liberally depicted and our guides made a point of sharing their symbolism.

 

Chinese Peony Painting

 

I didn’t have much expendable income, so was careful in keeping my eyes open for something I could bring home to mark the experience. By far my favorite and most significant souvenir is a lovely painting of a peony and butterfly that has hung prominently in every home I’ve lived in since. The peony is the national flower of China, and in full bloom it symbolizes peace, making for a worthy remembrance.

Peony 2

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Peonies are such glorious flowers and hold a special significance for me, a factor which I’m sure influenced my choice of Chinese souvenir. My mother had a peony bush with pale pink blooms that were lightly streaked with deeper pink stripes. It was one of the showiest and most exotic flowers in her Maine garden and we eagerly anticipated its annual display. Like a sacred object, she would bring a single blossom inside each year to grace the dinner table, floating it in a square silver dish that I don’t remember being used for any other purpose. I have an ancient childhood memory of sticking my nose into one of the flowers, deeply breathing in its scent with the naive expectation of being rewarded with the cool aroma of peppermint, as its coloring suggested.

Peony 3

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

In my current garden I have three varieties of peonies that bloom in succession and all strike me as just as extravagant and rewarding as my mother’s. It’s as much a treat today as I remember it was then to bring in one special bloom to set on the dinner table to treasure in its fleeting glory.

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yet another reward of keeping a sketchbook…the opportunity to tap into the richness of memories while standing firmly in the beauty of the present.

Have I recommended this before?
The Flower Recipe Book by Althea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo is an extraordinarily beautiful book – one that will sweep away anyone with the slightest interest in the forms and colors of flowers. I would even go so far as to recommend the digital version as  the backlighting of an iPad or similar device somehow adds to the impact of the gorgeous images.

See more inspiring and lush floral imagery on Instagram: @pottersarms and @tulipinadesign

Pike Place Peonies

Hard to resist these buckets of peonies at Pike Place Market in Seattle last month

 

Escaping the News

I need a break from current events…how about you? This week I’m sharing three artistic escape valves that caught my eye. Each offers a healthy measure of food for thought and moral fortification for moving forward since putting our heads in the sand isn’t an option. Hopefully one or two of them will interest you as well.

Townley Untitled 1979

Untitled 1979, ©Hugh Townley, Mahogany and maple relief, 26 x 15 inches

If you’re in Vermont between now and September 10, please consider a trip to Rochester to see the Hugh Townley exhibit at BigTown Gallery. It is a lovely collection of Townley’s sculptures, reliefs and prints, highlighting his strong sense of design with a healthy dose of play. You couldn’t ask for a better example of the power of art to lift one’s spirits in pure joy; it’s just the ticket for getting your head in a better place.

Dark Night 1992

Dark Night Tuba City 1992, ©Hugh Townley, Obeche relief, 26 x 16.5 inches

Townley’s painted works are bright and amusing, and his prints are strikingly engaging. Yet I was drawn to and favored the oiled wooden wall relief pieces. His manipulation of light, shadow and shape draws one into each imagined space, accentuating the natural grain of the wood while emphasizing each piece’s rhythmic layers of depth. The work is vaguely reminiscent of Louise Nevelson yet never loses its infectious sense of playfulness. I found myself smiling as I made my way through the gallery, and realized later that, in addition to being a bright spot on a dark and rainy afternoon, my visit was also a very welcome respite from the anxiety that has been hovering over my shoulder with each new revelation from Washington.

Townley Lost in Space

Lost in Space 1996, Hugh Townley, High-gloss painted wood color relief, 35 x 19 inches

To maintain the good mood, cap off your visit with a slice of homemade maple cream pie from the Rochester Cafe a couple of doors down from the gallery. There is much to be said for the art of a good baker!

Townley Untitled 1998

Untitled 1998, ©Hugh Townley, Mahogany relief, 23 x 18.5 inches

Fortuitously, the next day Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings article “Wallace Stevens on Reality, Creativity, and our Greatest Self-Protection from the Pressure of the News” showed up in my inbox. It is a lengthly, but oh-so-worthwhile read if, like me, you are feeling a bit overpowered by the unrelenting media onslaught. As the world continues to spin, I think many of us are wondering how our work can fit in and remain relevant; whether it can possibly stay abreast at a time when it seems an artistic perspective is more important than ever.  Which leads to the question: what exactly is an artist’s responsibility in such times?

Townley Fight Night

Fight Night 1996, ©Hugh Townley, High-gloss painted wood color relief, 31 x 24.75 inches

Popova’s article includes the following quote from Stevens which addresses that specific question:

Certainly it is not to lead people out of the confusion in which they find themselves. Nor is it, I think, to comfort them while they follow their readers to and fro. I think that [the artist’s] function is to make his imagination theirs and that he fulfills himself only as he sees his imagination become the light in the minds of others. His role, in short, is to help people to live their lives.

For further reading on the subject, check out the links in my post from last January: Art as a Responsibility; Art as Superpower .

Townley Soaring

Soaring (Ups and Downs) 1992, ©Hugh Townley, Mahogany relief, 22 x 11.25 inches

And finally, consider giving a listen to Joseph Todorovitch’s interview on the Savvy Painter podcast to see how the act of buckling down and doing your work can be a remedy in itself. I found much to connect with in what Todorovitch says, but what struck me most was his articulation of an overarching truth I am coming to understand through stitching and drawing — the value of slowing down and being present. Ironically and counterintuitively, it is perhaps the best escape of all.

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                                  

I crossed another big project off my list this week. I invite you to take a swing through my newly updated website — it’s reorganized and simplified with new work added.

                                                                                                                                    

Reportage

There’s a lot to be said for keeping up the sketching habit while traveling. I love that drawing gives me an immediate sense of grounding in unfamiliar surroundings while allowing for more fully absorbing a new environment. Stopping to sketch is a wonderful opportunity to squeeze in a breather during a busy day of sight-seeing, and to pay closer attention to the common bits that define a particular locale. At the end of a full day of exploration, my husband and I have become very fond of finding a cafe or bar where we can sit with a drink and watch the world pass by while recapping our experiences. Pulling out my sketchbook has become a comfortable part of that favorite routine.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board, BTV     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

That said, this past week in Seattle there were eleven of us, so my best chance to draw was in the morning while everyone was relaxing over coffee as we pulled together our itinerary for the day ahead. Therefore, my drawings are mostly rooms around the house we rented and various breakfast-related still-life set ups. Even so, there is enjoyment in going through each drawing after getting home because, even if the subject itself isn’t that exciting, I am brought back to that moment so precisely: the conversation, the surrounding atmosphere, the overarching feeling of that point in time. It’s a wonderfully direct way to re-experience the moment; there is much to be said for the power of drawings in recording an event.

Cafe Flora

Cafe Flora     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On the flight home I read this article by Lauren Tamaki who had been tasked by the NYTimes to sketch the Bill Cosby trial since photographs weren’t permitted. Her drawings and accompanying text bring a level of humanness to the proceedings, a quality that could potentially become lost in photographs. My point is not to discount the poignancy and recording power to be found in excellent photography, but rather to draw attention to the benefits contained in a drawing made with time and consideration and which, via the individuality of the artist’s marks and gestures, expresses an immediacy and presence in that particular moment. Details Tamaki captured by hand, such as the ornately carved courtroom door, the assistant district attorney’s hand gestures, or the body language of others in the courtroom, convey an emotional connection with the circumstances that might otherwise be overlooked.

Counter Shapes

Counter Shapes, Breakfast     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Since becoming acquainted with Urban Sketchers, I am much more aware of reportage artists and the importance of their work. Using their skills to tell some of the harder stories that surround us, via means that are arguably more intimate than those of a movie camera or still photography, they have an opportunity to fully immerse us in that particular time and place.

Iris Chair

Iris Chair     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I encourage you to explore a few such artist’s work:

Veronica Lawlor drew on the streets of Manhattan as 9/11 unfolded and in the weeks following. She compiled her sketches in the book September 11, 2001, Words and Pictures. This blog post from The Global Art Junkie drills home the power and authenticity of Lawlor’s drawings in marking that day.

I first learned of Richard Johnson’s work on Instagram. Citizen Sketcher Marc Taro Holmes interviewed Johnson about sketching the homeless in Washington, D.C., resulting in a very interesting discussion about the ethical responsibilities of such work.

Molly Crabapple is an award-winning artist who reports on injustice and rebellion around the world. Her work is spellbinding.

And let’s not forget Winslow Homer who was a reportage artist during the Civil War.

In circling back to the more mundane matter of keeping an account of traveling for pleasure, I know that bringing home spectacular images of newly discovered territory is commonplace when everyone has a smart phone capable of taking wonderful pictures. My husband’s photos are terrific and and I am so grateful for the fleeting moments he is able to catch in a heartbeat.

Knife & Spoon

Knife & Spoon     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yet there is also a lot to be said for the depth of memories that are rooted in the slower process of drawing. For me, they have unmatchable value as souvenirs.

 

Art & Taxes

Good news coming from Washington seems a pretty elusive beast these days, especially where the arts are concerned. But I was pleased to read recently that our senator Patrick Leahy has taken advantage of the ongoing discussions surrounding tax reform to speak up for artists by introducing The Artist-Museum Partnership Act of 2017. This past March John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced it in the House of Representatives as well.

2 bowls and a knife

2 Bowls and a Knife      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

It’s a little known fact that artists are only allowed to deduct the cost of materials when they donate their work, while collectors are entitled to deduct the work’s fair market value. How does that make sense? I figure the coffee cup pieces I’ve been making take the better part of 60 hours each to create, not counting the framing. But the materials that go into them run in the neighborhood of only $20, also not counting the frames. If more people were aware of this inequity, there might be greater understanding of why artists are so reluctant to offer their work to fundraising benefits and auctions.

Dog Lamp

Dog Lamp      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

This current bill would make it possible for artists to claim the true worth of their work when donating to museums, making for a win-win situation for those who are working at that level; artists can achieve agreeable compensation and museums will likely receive more work from important living artists to share with the public.

lemon-ginger

Lemon-Ginger      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

This is a wonderful first step, but I wish the bill would go further. What about the little guy? How many of us have been approached by non-profits with a request for a piece of work that they would like to use to raise funds? Most of us would love to donate, but it’s much more cost effective and advantageous to write a check. Unfortunately, many organizations have no concept of the financial ramifications on an individual artist whose situation is so unlike the other businesses they approach that can freely deduct the value of whatever service or product they pledge.

Wine & Soap

Wine & Soap      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Of course the sad fact is that, according to the recent press release about the legislation, “Leahy has introduced this bill in each Congress since 2000”, so we will have to wait and see whether it will finally go through. But, I am proud and grateful to live in Vermont where our senator continues to stand up for artists and the arts in general, recognizing and appreciating their value. Let’s all hope that his determination and the greater awareness he brings to the issue will one day lead to success.

Worth sharing: I found this project by art students from the National Taiwan University of the Arts speaking to the issue of water pollution quite compelling, well executed and particularly effective.

Serendipity

During my first months at college the world began to crack open.
Taking the obligatory introductory courses, each as different from the others as you might expect, I remember coming back to my room one afternoon and realizing that, despite their apparent disparity, threads of information were weaving together and overlapping such that a web of connection was beginning to form. Rather than merely providing separate pockets of information to be remembered for the inevitable test, a pathway was suddenly opening toward seeing the world as a unit composed of links and associations layered upon each other, offering a widened and enriched viewpoint reliant upon that interdependence. It was a seminal moment that has stayed with me.

The Rainbow

The Rainbow ©1967 Marc Chagall

Since then, it’s always a joy when unexpected associations appear between seemingly unrelated events/subjects, the discovery of which elevates the routine with a bit of the magical. Visiting Montreal this past weekend was one of those occasions when serendipity held the reins. Partway through the weekend I realized that the three major events we attended could not have been more interconnected, even though I wouldn’t have thought so at the onset.

VOLTA Cirque du Soleil              photo credit: Patrice Lamoureaux

First, Cirque du Soleil never, ever, disappoints. An example of sensory enrichment on overload, the troupe’s mastery of color, light, sound and daring physical feats is unsurpassed. At a time when I sometimes feel we are sadly in danger of building immunity to a state of wonder, due mainly to our media-driven saturation of deadly events and despicable behavior world-wide, it is utter pleasure to put aside any jaded perspectives for a couple of hours in order to experience the pure joy of human creativity. The current show, Volta, “is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and the power of the group to make that possible. It celebrates freedom as a movement”.

Dancer with Tambourine

Costume design for Daphnis and Chloe: Dancer with Tambourine ©1958 Marc Chagall

In hindsight it makes total sense that, in the midst of the surplus of color and visual excitement on view in Chagall: Colour and Music at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, I began to draw parallels with what I had seen under the big tent the night before. So much more than a chronological compilation of a lifetime’s work, the Chagall retrospective is also an extravaganza of color, light, sound (Chagall’s lifelong devotion to music was an integral part of his work), and daring physical feats — as seen in the trapeze artist below, or in the soaring lovers so often associated with his work.

The Blue Circus

The Blue Circus ©1950-52 Marc Chagall

Standing in a room devoted to paintings of the circus, the proverbial lightbulb went on as I realized that Chagall, who had escaped to the United States just in advance of World War II, created art that offered a source of respite and joy amid a world seemingly run amok. And similar to Cirque du Soleil, his work honors the principle Volta espouses: being wholly true to oneself. Reading the following quote on the wall of a gallery filled with Chagall’s circus collages and paintings made the connection with Cirque du Soleil all the more meaningful:

The Circus as a Metaphor for the World
Depictions of the circus, present in the imagery of Chagall’s earliest creations and an essential theme until the end of his life, arose from his vision of the world firmly rooted in Hasidism. This branch of Judaism conceives of the world as a game of divine will and apprehends God through overflowing joy, ecstasy, singing, dancing, music and acrobatics. For Hasidim, clownishness and humor are the incarnation of spiritual values that ensure the salvation of humanity. Traveling performers and musicians enlivened religious celebrations with their little shows in which biblical themes were intermingled with comic interludes, pantomimes and humorous plays accompanied by music.

Chagall stained glass

Marc Chagall

And while I was aware that Chagall had worked with stained glass toward the end of his life (read about the windows he created for the Art Institute of Chicago in this post), there was much I didn’t realize. He also designed tapestries and was a sculptor and a ceramicist. His love of opera ultimately pulled him from a deep depression and an inability to create after the sudden death of his first wife. His return to work involved designing extensive costumes and sets for multiple operatic and balletic productions, culminating in the creation of a nearly 2,600 square foot painting that now graces the ceiling of the Paris Opera House. Immersed in his colorful world, which honored music as much as visual art, the fact that he had synesthesia makes perfect sense.

Fox Costume

Fox costume designed for the ballet Aleko, Marc Chagall

As a final nod to the power of imagination and creative spectacle, we were incredibly fortunate that our visit coincided with the weekend that the giant marionettes of Royal de Luxe (a street theater company based in Nantes, France) roamed the streets of Montreal as part of its 375th birthday celebration. Leaving the Chagall exhibition, we made it to the Place des Arts just in time to get a ‘ring-side’ seat for the arrival of the Deep Sea Diver. Despite his enormity (50 ft.?), he was spectacularly deft as he strode into the square with eyes that blinked and seemed to look right at you. The acrobatics of 20-30 handlers, swarming over him like Lilliputians, brought him to life, enabling his movements via pulleys and ropes. They did nothing to break the spell he cast on the crowd and I don’t think I’m being too dramatic to say we could all only gasp in awe to be in the presence of a living giant.

Deep Sea Diver

The Deep Sea Diver arrives at Place des Arts, Montreal

Deep Sea Diver

Deep Sea Diver by Royal de Luxe

The word circus derives from the Greek kirkos, meaning “circle” or “ring”. How appropriate that these three exhibitions formed an unexpected circle of connection between each other, looping back and forth in their collective presentations of color, light, sound, and daring physical feats. And how serendipitous to have experienced them all in a single weekend.

The exhibition Chagall: Color and Music runs through June 11, 2017

Cirque du Soleil Volta will be on view in Montreal through July 23

Reframing What Goes On In The Studio

In general, I don’t think there’s enough discussion by artists about the nuts and bolts of what we do that doesn’t involve creating art. Alyson Stanfield of Art Biz Coach has and continues to make tremendous headway in helping us understand and gain ground on the non-making side of our careers, but I do wish more artists would draw back the curtain on their individual approaches to the business end of their practices. Not only would sharing those details give viewers and collectors a better understanding that making “a go” of things isn’t only about materializing ideas and inspiration into a finished work, but fellow artists would also profit greatly from a wider discussion of the different systems that occur within our workspaces.

It Isn't That Simple

It Isn’t That Simple   ©2016 Elizabeth Fram  12×12″  Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

This week I’ve been largely caught up in administrative tasks. Practice-wise, I was only able to accomplish my daily sketches and the beginning stages of two new textile pieces. For the most part it’s been a week of support work: framing the cup and saucer pieces and tending to various computer chores — including, but not exclusive to, preparing submissions for two exhibitions, crafting specific artist statements, photography, research, email, and of course writing this post.

Morning Musing

Morning Musing   ©2017 Elizabeth Fram,  12×12″   Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

During weeks when I have my fingers in a lot of different pies and find myself jumping from task to task, (when I’d really rather be stitching for hours at a time), I’ve found two things to rely upon for a sense of balance. First, I do my best to make at least one daily drawing. A half hour minimum is doable most days and not only lends a sense of grounding in its regularity, (no different from any other type of exercise), but each page filled in a sketchbook gives me a concrete sense of productivity in a way computer work can’t. That in itself makes the day seem more successful, even if the drawing is less than stellar.

Respite

Respite     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram   11×14″   Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

I’ve also found it’s helpful to have a good, long book in the works that I can retreat to in the evening because it offers a feeling of continuity that carries from one day to the next — a quality that is often missing from the rest of a week that is all about checking off a string of to-do’s.

Quiet Moment

Quiet Moment   ©2017 Elizabeth Fram   11×14″   Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

Now that they are in place, I am very happy with these maple floating frames. I particularly like that they complete the cup and saucer pieces by providing subtle visual support without grabbing too much attention. For the fun of it, and a completely opposite approach, check out the work of Holly Lane whose fabulously carved frames merge with her paintings in a 2-D/3-D amalgam that suggests, as she says in her statement, “contingency, time, potentiality, future, past, or cause and effect.”

Pick-Me-Up

Pick-Me-Up    ©2017 Elizabeth Fram   12×16″   Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

And if you’re looking for something meaty to think about while making your way through your own list of office chores, consider the editorial “Why You Should Read Books You Hate” that appeared in the NY Times last Sunday. I guarantee it will get your wheels turning.

Be Careful How Much You Say

“Design is a way out of confusion”
– Platon, photographer

This past week I finished the NETFLIX series Abstract: The Art of Design which delves into the minds and careers of eight top designers who practice within different branches of the field. Covering a myriad of ideas, each program highlights and demystifies a leader who has reached the pinnacle of her/his discipline, one step at a time. Listening as these artists/designers discuss in their own words the generation and evolution of their ideas makes the series especially inspiring. In fact, even the episodes that center on a discipline I wouldn’t ordinarily care much about (such as car design), had me hanging on every world.

Pick-Me-Up

Pick-Me-Up     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram      Stitched-Resist Dyeing with Stitching on Silk, 12×16 in.

In mulling over some of the takeaway lessons afterward, I was particularly moved by the sentiments of the photographer Platon. His portraits, of both the powerful and powerless alike, lean on simplicity, boldness, and clarity to convey the story and essence of each subject, rather than extraneous details or elaborate backdrops.

Growing up with extreme dyslexia, Platon found the world unmanageably complicated and had trouble coping with what, to him, was a cacophony of stimulation. Design became a means of making sense of that complexity. By capturing the core of a subject and condensing information to only what is necessary, he found a key to interpreting his surroundings. That inclination toward self-editing has, in turn, become the foundation of his artistic success while modeling an important lesson for any of us.

Two Cups

Two Cups     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

With practice, I am beginning to better understand the wisdom that what you omit via editing is just as important as what you let remain. It’s understandable that we tend to be protective of favorite passages as we work, but we have to fight that instinct. Being of a mind to vigilantly cull out the unnecessary, in deference to clarity and conciseness, is much more valuable for longterm growth and development. Admittedly, such self-control is much more challenging to accomplish in the moment while drawing with ink, than over numerous drafts while typing on the computer. But regardless of medium, the importance of editing is inarguably one of the best tools available.

It’s not so much what you say, it’s what you leave out that makes a piece soar.

This short post by Clint Watson on Fine Art Views, makes the crucial point that judicious editing is another level of communication, showing your viewer not just what you are making, but more importantly, why you are going to the effort.

And on a lighter note: are you familiar with the band Darlingside? If not, check out this video, or you can find their music on Spotify. While chatting up the audience at a recent concert they mentioned that they get a lot of questions about their name. Explaining that they had a teacher who counseled the adage that you have to “kill your darlings” for successful writing, a name was born. Choosing to steer clear of the intonation of death inferred in “Darlingcide”, they opted for Darlingside as a more acceptable name. Either way, another nod to the multilayered benefits of editing.

Less is More

Happily, the snow that has fallen this week has blanketed our woods again.

Respite     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                      Stitched resist dyed; Hand-stitched on silk

Getting out to walk on our trails with Quinn has provided a welcome reprieve from the relative visual cacophony of pattern and color I’ve been immersed in while working on this latest cup and saucer piece. I’ve long been an avid fan of the traditionally quiet Japanese aesthetic with its subtle contrasts and expanses of open space, which probably explains why a snowy landscape represents a such a welcome counter-balance, not just to working with pattern for hours at a time, but also, theoretically, to the hectic realities of life as we all know it.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about February’s inherently restrained character and was gratified to hear from quite a few of my Vermont friends that they too welcome this season as a time for regrouping, of calm reflection, and as a period all the richer for its subdued identity. If you live with winter for a large chunk of each year, there’s an element of self-preservation in figuring out what gifts you can glean from it.

But in thinking more about the appeal of winter’s sparseness, I did a bit of research on the idea of unadorned beauty. I came across a fascinating lecture by haiku poet Madoka Mayuzumi entitled “Japan’s Culture of Silence”. It goes a long way toward explaining, especially in relation to haiku, the significance of an “aesthetic of reduction”. Haiku invites the reader into the poet’s world, relying as much on the blank spaces incurred through its brevity, as it does on the words which comprise each poem. Mayuzumi explains: “We tend to find the greatest beauty on (sic) what is left unsaid, in the rich possibilities of blank space”.

It’s a principle that can be applied to any of the arts.

Looking out my living room window, layers of fog not only mute any sense of depth, but also lend an openness to the landscape in much the same way as snow.

I’ve always loved winter, so a snow-covered landscape is a welcome seasonal perk…just because. But from an artistic and working viewpoint, there is a lesson in the snow: the importance of finding a balance between maintaining a certain boldness (via composition, pattern, and texture) while remembering to get my point across as simply as possible.

If this subject interests you, you might enjoy this 2 minute video on the concept of “ma”, which discusses how this aesthetic of reduction is integrated within Japanese culture.

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                           

If you will be any where near Montpelier on Thursday, February 9, I would encourage you to attend mixed-media art knitter Eve Jacobs-Carnahan’s presentation Art as Action: Knitters Speaking Out. Inspired by the article What It Means To Be An Artist In The Time Of Trump, Eve will discuss and show examples of projects undertaken by art knitters to raise awareness about social and environmental issues.

Art as Action: Knitters Speaking Out
A presentation by Eve Jacobs-Carnahan
Thursday February 9, 2017 6:30 – 8 pm,
Center for Arts and Learning, 2nd floor
46 Barre St.  Montpelier, VT  05602

Art as a Responsibility; Art as a Superpower

As troubled as this world is and has always been, we owe a huge debt to those artists who have the ability and the courage to give voice and form to our collective conscience, pulling it back into the light in times of darkness. It is no small service that they remind us of our shared humanity during those periods when that treasured quality appears misplaced.

This inspiring Huffington Post article, “What It Means To Be An Artist In The Time of Trump”, published soon after the election, asks 21 artists how they envision their creative role for the next four years and what advice they would offer to other makers. Their responses speak to both a common distress: “pain, anger, sadness and fear” as well as the optimistic power of “hope, unity, compassion, motivation, and strength”. Above all, they acknowledge the importance of not remaining silent. Read what they have to say, it will make you proud to be part of their tribe.

Starting Point

Starting Point     © 2016 Elizabeth Fram

In 2015, Toni Morrison wrote the following in an essay for The Nationentitled “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear”:

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art.”

Starting Point detail

Starting Point, detail     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I am not a political artist, but this past month I’ve found a small sense of solace in making the above piece to fulfill the prompt “fantasy” for the Journal Project, the group I’ve participated in over the past year. Believe me, I am not deluded enough to think the president-elect will show any remorse for his xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-environmental, self-centered, self-serving, and frankly hateful rhetoric and actions. (In acknowledgement of that fact, in addition to referencing America’s red, white & blue, the dyed color, pattern, and bleed are a subtle nod to hell freezing over.) I am, however, grateful for Michelle Obama’s graceful, grown-up response “when they go low, we go high” as a reminder that decorum and measured intelligence still hold sway and will always have champions.

In the tempestuous days ahead, we can look to artists to challenge us and provide prospective, giving voice to our shared humanity as they always have, while not letting us off the hook. A mere apology is by no means the answer, but wouldn’t it be a nice starting point?

Needlework: ‘Redemptive and Rebellious’

It’s been snowing off and on much of the week which has been great for productivity. Does anyone else notice that no other light quite compares to that which fills a space when it’s snowing outside? Colors appear crisp and true, reading more clearly than usual.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                             Follow along with me as this piece progresses

As you can see, this week I’ve been concentrating on marks and the visual texture of stitches to pull out the form of a cup and saucer from the open section of last week’s dyed piece. I am still working to find a way to marry my daily drawings with my textile work without compromising either. It’s been a bit of a balancing act to keep the image recognizable while simultaneously leaning toward an abstraction of the forms’ shapes and cast shadows. By sticking with one color of thread, I’m relying on the direction of the stitches, their weight, and the patterns they create to define both the space and the image. I quite like the way they work in tandem with the dyed ‘mokume’ pattern. Before I began, I wasn’t sure how successful a partnership it would be, but I am encouraged by the way things are developing.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I found two thought-provoking articles from Brain Pickings this week that I’d like to share. They seem particularly appropriate since I’ve been totally consumed with needlework. The first, Stitching the Stars, centers on the nineteenth century astronomer Maria Mitchell’s theory of the needle as an instrument of the mind and why she felt it gave women an advantage in the field of astronomy. In turn, Brain Pickings’ creator Maria Popova posits that the mental space afforded via the slow nature of needlework has been a cornerstone in the “long history of thinking-by-hand in the intellectual life of women”. Bravo! Stitching is an art that is typically sidelined as ‘women’s busy work’; how absolutely satisfying and encouraging it is to see an acknowledgement in print of one of the most cogent hidden strengths that many of us who are actively engaged with needle and thread know to be true.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

The second article, which segues easily from the first, The Dinner Party: Artist Judy Chicago’s Iconic Symbolic Celebration of Women’s Heritage in Creative Culture, is so very pertinent considering the political climate we are facing. It is an all-important reminder that the message of Chicago’s unparalleled project is just as crucial today as it was in 1979.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Finally, I am quite honored to have been invited last month to join TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art list. As “a business community of entrepreneurs rooted in textile and fiber art products and traditions”, it supports artists, retail and wholesale e-commerce, cooperatives, galleries, organizations, writers, publishers, and collectors. The TAFA icon in the upper right of this blog’s sidebar is a link to my profile page. But more importantly, explore all of TAFA’s website to learn more about it as an organization and to see work from its over 500 members representing 44 countries. I have no doubt you’ll find something remarkable.

In process     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

And please stay tuned. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this piece will be finished next week.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram