Traditional arts are often at the crossroads of form and function. Pottery and textiles especially are both useful and, when created by artists, beautiful.
“Unbound” is a juried exhibition of work by members of the Art Cloth Network that falls into this category of art made from utilitarian materials. In this case, cloth.
The show is on view at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth. Admission is free.
When author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios created the Folly Cove Designers in 1938, the group of mostly women artists printed on fabrics that were made into clothing, curtains, pillows and place mats. If these artists had simply called the fabrics art and hung them on the walls of their Cape Ann studio, they would have been something of an early art cloth network—fiber artists ahead of their time.
The Art Cloth Network was founded in 2001 when Jane Dunnewold and the students in her master class Complex Cloth gathered to share ideas about creating art cloth, defined as cloth that stood on its own as a work of art without needing to be made into a functional object. The definition of cloth has broadened over the group’s two decades of existence.
Fabrics are enhanced with wax, fabric paint, stamping, stitching, ribbons, yarn, paper collage applied via inkjet printer and more. Advances in technology allow the artists to work with digital fabric and image manipulation software, and yet, despite the use of computer technology, the artists are “bound by a love of cloth and a connection to traditional surface design,” writes Russ Little, chairman of the Art Cloth Network, in the introduction to the show catalog.
Pieces in the show ranged from art quilts to dyed silks and cloths manipulated by all sorts of processes that were unfamiliar to me but led to beautiful results.
The majority of the pieces were abstract, with geometric patterns, swirls, stripes, splashes of color, designs that seemed to be dripping off the canvas and others that looked as if they were bubbling up from the fabric.
A few of the images were representational.
Melitta VanderBrooke of Newtown, Pennsylvania, writes she was inspired by the view from an airplane to create “In Air,” a cotton cloth in grays blues and browns that shows an aerial view of mountains with a stream running through. The quality is dreamlike, as if we’re looking at an illustration of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
A second piece by Ms. VanderBrooke is even more representational, featuring a large seated Buddha in shades of red and rust.
Jeanne Sisson’s “Ascending,” in similar colors as “In Air,” features nude figures rising through the air from darkness at the bottom of the canvas to lightness towards the top. Cross hatching on the linen fabric makes the image look like an old-world etching.
Another piece by Ms. Sisson, “The Rising,” features the same color palette and what appear to be birds in flight circling up through a dark cyclone.
On the wall opposite Ms. VanderBrooke’s and Ms. Sisson’s pieces are several pieces in color tones of pink, lime green and blue.
“Boundless Journey: Paradise” by Mary-Ellen Latino of Northborough is a silk charmeuse dyed in a swirling pattern that undulated in the slight breeze created by the center’s air conditioning.
To the left of “Boundless Journey: Paradise” was Beverly Snow’s “Red Trees.” A patchwork of colors, different shades of light greens with the occasional red tree printed on the cloth, looked, to this Cape Codder, like algae deposited by the tide and dried in the sun. Ms. Snow, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, likened the imagery to farmland, different plots in different states of growth or fallowness accounting for the variations in shades.
Dianne Koppisch Hricko used the process of marbling to create the ethereal-looking “Drift,” a piece in smoky pastels of blue, red and yellow.
Deborah Weir extends the range of textile art to include upcycled objects such as Tyvek, metals and what she refers to as “household waste” to create her detailed works, including “Brown (Needle Lace),” a piece meant to symbolize the abuse of natural resources by humans. The large work with its many bits and pieces, some that shimmer and shine, all laced together, looks a bit like handmade paper created from pressed flowers and pulp.
In “Travel One: Emergence” by Jacque Davis, hundreds of tiny circles stitched over the dyed cloth are reminiscent of effervescent bubbles in a glass of champagne.
So much of this show seems to be about process and about the notion that, when they begin a work, many of these artists might not have a set idea about how the finished piece will look. Rather, they see where the piece is headed after manipulating the fabric and continue in that direction. This resilience on the part of these artists and their ability to go with the flow, so to speak, is a lesson that we, in the age of coronavirus, should all take to heart.
“Unbound” will be on view through Sunday, September 6.