by Kara Q. Smith
Here, the process and patterning of quiltmaking multifariously inspires. The repetitive tattoo of the sewing machine, the lush and rough textures of fabrics, and the echoing generational symbols of the tradition thread their way through varied works. Each artist concentrates upon, refines, or abstracts individual facets of the rich history of the quilt-as-medium, using it as a launching point for experimental explorations in the present.
At its simplest, the mathematical construction of the quilting star in blocking patterns allows beginners an entry point, and at its most complicated, advanced makers can create their own unique designs. Lena Wolff crafts Radiant Star (2014) out of pieces of hand-painted birch, shaping and seaming the pieces like fabric into that familiar shape. The visible seams of the star’s fabrication draw attention to the hand-cut texture of the birch and each piece's perfection and whiteness. They simultaneously contrast the multi-colored, soft-fibered nature of quilts with the rough texture of bark. This quilts together an affinity between the advanced viewer of art and the advanced quilter, who both must be able to notice subtle shifts in color and texture in fine craftsmanship of material. Just across the gallery hangs Wolff’s O San Francisco (2014), a framed paper quilt comprised of red crosses, each with a hand-written name of a space or organization, still extant or not, making up the cultural fabric of San Francisco. It’s a mandala-like homage, a humble offering to our fair, changing city.
Michelle Grabner, Untitled, 2011, Canvas on gesso on panel 18 x 12 inches; Courtesy of the artist and CULT | Aimee Friberg Exhibitions, San Francisco
The small rectangular panels of Michelle Grabner’s Untitled (2011) and Untitled (white) (2011), located nearby, each contain a gessoed-over piece of canvas. Creating a stark white textured composition, the pieces don’t harness the perfection of Wolff’s Radiant Star; the roughness of the canvas still comes through as do the imperfect, fraying edges of the material. Together, with welcome intimacy, they draw the viewer near, not entirely unlike a blanket might. Several additional works by Grabner also experiment with the aesthetic abstraction and tactility of fiber, while other pieces shift focus from the material to the laborious process of sewing and creating patterns. Untitled (dot tondo) (2014) is a circular panel containing a pattern of dots that meticulously swirls around the surface creating an op-art/Yayoi Kusama-ish motif. The interaction of black and white specks comes together in a way akin to weaving; the distinctness of individual fibers become blended to create a something wholly new.
In the small, dark room between the front gallery and the back gallery space, Angie Wilson’s Entrance (2014) comprises a hanging tapestry and a small rug made by the artist. One might enter the room and consider the prayer rug. The formation of cut in the center of the woolen tapestry, with its architectural presence, welcomes one in rather than shrouding what may lie behind it. Something sacred is felt when in the room—how, magically, wool and linen can come together to create a beckoning, spiritual presence. In the next room, Wilson’s Traditional Queer Double Wedding Quilt (2014), created by sewing together women’s undergarments, blends symbolism of the traditional quilt with that of queer history, creating a new pattern for the books, as if one could navigate to McCall’s now to find it.
Angie Wilson, Entrance, 2009-2014, Linen and wool yarn, hanging panel: 38 x 72 x 3/8 inches, floor panel: 38 x 62 x 3/8 inches; Courtesy of the artist and CULT | Aimee Friberg Exhibitions, San Francisco
Near Wilson’s quilt is a small framed piece by Wolff, depicting several celestial shapes. While her other works embody the formation of star as traditional quilt block, One and Other (2014) represents stars as small circles, the way we see them dotting our night skies. It’s a playful twist, abstracting her appropriated quilt block star shape into stars' actual representational form. The phrase “under a blanket of stars” further extrapolates the twist in Wolff’s piece, highlighting her astute navigation between form, process, and representation. Stitched together, this trio of artists makes for an impressive array: a harlequin blanket of diverse visions, no less warm for its patchwork.
—Kara Q. Smith
(Image on top: Lena Wolff, Radiant Star, 2014, painted birch, 60 x 60 inches; Courtesy of the artist and CULT | Aimee Friberg Exhibitions, San Francisco)