Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Is Not A Light Bulb

I am having a grand time imagining the quilts I'm not actually making. But, no, really, I swear I will one day. After talking to a number of artists and hearing about their series work, I've decided I should do a whole series called This Is Not...

The series begins with the This Is Not a Cigarette quilt-- I'm actually going thrift shopping in hopes of finding what fabric I need for that today. Then I will do This is Not a Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake, which will have a thin layer of purple and white at the top, a whole lot of dark brown in the center, and maybe a big fork on the back. What appeals to me, besides the silly homage to Magritte, is that, frankly, these pieces will fall in the Very Simple category, which is what I need to get going. Oh I find the process daunting, still haunted as I am by my eighth grade home ec's teacher palpable dismay at my "skill set" at the machine.

Today's addition the the This Is Not a Series In My Head series, is the This Is Not A Light Bulb quilt. And it is inspired by my trip this weekend to meet with Joan, Joanie and Ai. Joan and Ai both have really organized workspaces (which is not to say Joanie doesn't-- I didn't get to see hers). And Joan and I were discussing how it's important to each of us, when embarking on a new project, to clear the space.

I'm not the neatest person in the world. And as I move toward a deadline, papers and magazines and other detritus can pile up around me. But when I am really ready to move on something, I organize, sweep, mop, the works. Inspired by the conversation about art, the organization of space, and my confessions to Joan about a novel I really want to start writing, I came back to Austin and had a major light bulb moment. Big pieces of the novel started flying at me. So I started cleaning my office, which had fallen into quite a state these past few months.

As I cleaned, I listened to Fresh Air, and a segment about the new Batman movie made me realize instantly a major theme I want to include in the book. It was like the universe was rewarding me for making time to clean, because if I hadn't stopped to do that, I wouldn't have heard the radio show and thus wouldn't have had light bulbs popping on. One thought led to another and, knowing how my brain works when it comes to writing, I made myself wait about an hour before sitting down and typing up the notes that were racing around up there. That's not stupidity, the risk of losing ideas. It's pure percolation. And it worked.

Then this morning, I sat down to do my daily meditation, which is when ideally (but rarely if ever) your head clears out. Not mine. More light bulbs lighting up all over the place. I sat as long as I could (not very long) then leapt up and wrote down more notes. Pretty soon, I'm going to start using every free moment I can manage to squeeze out of the day working on this thing.

This is such a huge, added benefit of researching Quilting Art. What a privilege to get to spend so much time talking to artists, discussing form, function, process, inspiration, etc. And I just cannot wait to get cracking on the novel.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quilting Art: Visiting Ai, and Joan and Joanie

[Joan Dreyer's Flag from the Homeland Series]

Last Friday evening, Warren and I hopped a plane from Austin to Newark for our latest round of interviews and photos for the Quilting Art book. On deck for Saturday was Ai Kajima, originally from Japan and now living in Brooklyn by way of Chicago. Sunday was designated for meeting with Joan Dreyer and Joanie San Chirico.

Let me say that, while the flight to Newark was excellent, the flight back was awful (stuck on the runway for three hours, two of those without air conditioning—really). And riding buses and trains and subways to and fro NY is hardly my idea of a good time—over at my other blog I bitch and moan incessantly about poor, woe is me in the city!

But as for actually meeting my goal of capturing great material for the book? Well that, despite all the logistical hurdles, was a smashing success.

Oh where to start? I want to not give away too much, since I am writing a book about all of these artists. Meeting Ai was really interesting because she is, as far as I can tell, very much a free agent, not especially connected to the quilting art community. Which is not to say she has a shunning attitude. It’s just that she went to art school in Chicago and then followed an art path and happens to be into working on her own. There’s a gallery that reps her in NY. And she spends much of her time working on these really interesting collage quilts, which often feature pop cult characters and images. One work-in-progress we saw was a huge montage centered by Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin embracing a buff and topless Bruce Lee.

[quilt by Ai Kajima]

Ai clips these characters from recycled fabric—kids’ bed sheets are a favorite—and fuses them together, usually without a back piece, just directly piece on top of piece. The quilting itself is fairly microscopic and, as it follows the images on the front, winds up looking like a thread painting on the back, which is typically black.

Next stop, back to NJ. Sunday morning Joan Dreyer picked us up at our hotel and immersed us in such a humongous pool of hospitality and art talk that I’m still processing the kindness and the education. I’m excited about every single artist that’s going to be in the book but I was really drooling for a chance to see Joan’s x-ray “quilts” up close. I’m not even sure I should put quotes around the word quilt there. Technically Joan uses layers and stitches and so, there you go, that’s a quilt. I suppose some critics might disagree but really, who cares?

In addition to Joan, we were lucky enough to get to meet Joanie San Chirico, who is a friend of Joan’s and who lives close enough that she volunteered to drive up. The four of us spent hours talking quilts, art, textiles, and history. Both artists explained their philosophies and also gave us super up close looks at the detail work. I came away feeling like my brain had grown some. Not only does it still sometimes surprise me that I’ve wound up writing about this world, but I’m also continually amazed at the education I’m receiving. The more I talk to the artists, the more I semi-joke that I’m going to go back to school to study the history of textiles.

[from Joanie San Chirico's Catacombs series]

I want to send out an enormous thank you to all of them. Warren and I are pushing it hard, packing in these weekend trips on a tight time/money budget, and Warren especially is pushing it, since he has traditional work hours to keep during the week. That all of the folks we’re meeting are being so generous with their time and knowledge and food and hospitality continues to make us increasingly excited about a project we were already thrilled to take on.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pictures from Our Missouri Trip

A couple of photos from our trip to visit Pam and Russ RuBert in Springfield. One in front of a neon sculpture Russ did and the other in front of their warehouse-turned-studio.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ce N'est Pas Une Cigarette (This is Not a Cigarette)

I’m a huge fan of the painter Magritte and I’m lucky enough to live about 2.5 hours from a good collection of his work. This is housed at the Menil in Houston. I was just there recently, sad that my favorite Magritte, Empire of Light, wasn’t on display, but delighted that I was able to find a new favorite, The Origin of Language, which very much made me think of a recent trip Warren and I took to Hawaii. (Yes, we are spoiled with all of our traveling.)

[The Origin of Language]

One very famous Magritte that was not hanging—though an early sketch of it was—is Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is Not a Pipe). As I recall from a long ago trip taken as a chaperone with a bunch of eighth graders to see this and other works, the title is a reference to the fact that, though you’re looking at a pipe, really, you’re not. You’re looking at a painting of a pipe.

[This is Not a Pipe]

That said, l was thinking yesterday about my ongoing battle to quit smoking. After smoking for about fifteen years, I quit in 2000. To do this, I first took up knitting and then, when my hands were really obsessed with the knitting, I made the leap to quitting. It worked and I stayed quit for six years.

By that point, I was in a really bad marriage with some really angry stepkids who, despite the fact they were legally adults, frequently acted like tantrum throwing toddlers. Now that I’ve been away from them for over a year, I can have a bit of compassion. I think that what they were most angry at wasn’t me. I think they were furious that their mother died when they were little, and no one helped them grieve properly. So when I showed up, it was final proof that their mother—who’d been dead eleven years at that point—wasn’t coming back. All hell broke loose and they got really ugly with me. And then they got violent. And my anxiety shot through the roof.

I began smoking again.

I’ve been trying to quit ever since. I’ve had days, weeks, and even months of success. Then I backslide. I wait for others to bully me into it, like my kid or Warren. But my son doesn’t live with me anymore so he’s not around enough and, besides, why should he be in charge of my dirty habit? As for Warren, he has no sense of smell whatsoever. I could be smoking in bed next to him and, if he were sleeping, he’d never even notice.

So yesterday, as I was recalling how knitting got me over smoking that first time, maybe I could make a quilt to get me through this time. Even though I’m a lousy quilter, once the idea of quilts was introduced to me, I did get a quick case of Quilt Head, where everything I looked at had the potential of being turned into a quilt. Looking out a plane window at patches of land, being in an Olympic sized pool—that big rectangle a beautiful blue dotted with colorful swimming caps and bathing suits.

So I thought, maybe I’ll quilt a big cigarette. Or a box of cigarettes. Though I think an actually cigarette, as if it were unrolled and flat (but still lit) might be funny. Orangish and gray stripe at the top to suggest a burning ash. White for awhile with three gold stripes where filter meets rolling paper. Something like that. And, for the back? Bright pink with appliqu├ęd lungs done in even brighter quilt. And perhaps, in French, This is Not a Cigarette-- Ce N'est Pas Une Cigarette.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Quilting Changed My Life!"

[Pam RuBert's In Bed With a Bad Cold]

Warren and I had the best, best time in Springfield, MO this weekend visiting with Pam and Russ RuBert. I mentioned in an earlier post that they live in a 22,000 square foot warehouse. This is a great example of journalistic error. They actually live in a super cool house with a super cool dog and they work in their super cool warehouse—she on her quilts and he on his sculptures, aluminum and neon. Her work shows all over the country at quilt shows. His is displayed as public art.

We were there for a whopping 36 hours but I have to say we packed in a full week’s worth of vacation fun in addition to our “work.” I put work in quotations because, even though Warren and I are working on this quilting book, it’s such enjoyable work that I think there needs to be a different word for it. I interviewed Pam (and Russ a little bit, too) for a couple of hours while Warren shot pictures of her quilts and studio, which is this super awesome space filled with all sorts of surprises—cool old collectibles—and covered with her work.

When we flew in Friday night, they picked us up at the adorable little airport (I am a huge fan of small airports) and drove us to a nearby park, where Russ’s 23 foot K-Man is the main attraction. As it happens, there was a ballgame finishing up at the stadium next door, and when it concluded, they set off fireworks, which were bursting in the air above K-Man’s head. I suggested they’d orchestrated this to impress Warren and me and to secure a spot on the cover of the book. Pam and Russ also took us out on their boat, and Warren managed to get vertical water-skiing (I didn’t even try—I know my limits), which prompted him to say, “Quilting changed my life!” We pointed out they were setting the bar awfully high for the other quilters we’ll be visiting. Now we expect a personalized theme park treatment from everyone else.

[Russ's K-Man]

I looked at some of the pictures last night and they turned out great. We’re scheduled to meet with a bunch of other quilters over the next six or seven weeks and it’s going to be a major task narrowing down which photos to use for the book.

I was so thrilled that this, our first trip, was so fruitful and so fun, that I got heavily into the fantasy of spending the rest of my working days writing about subcultures and profiling people with niche passions. When I first started writing about quilts, I was interviewing Hollis Chatelain—who’s won a ton of prizes—for Quilty as Charged: Undercover in the Material World, when she told me something that stuck. She pointed out that, like the world of fishing, the world of quilting is this place that, if you’re unaware of it, is a secret, unknown mystery thing. But once you find it, and immerse yourself in it, it’s massive.

There are around 30 million quilters in the US – bear in mind this includes everyone from the fulltime professional artists to folks like me who have some pieces cut out that we keep meaning to get to but sort of never do. Of these, if I’m recalling the stats right, there’s around a million dedicated quilters—those who spend x amount of dollars per year, and lots and lots of time on quilts. And many/most have a dedicated quilting room. A million is a pretty lot, you know? And if I profile them all, twenty at a time (as I am in Quilting Art), well that could keep me busy for a long time.

As for me, when my roommate moves out next month, I’m thinking of turning her room into a dedicated quilting/sewing room. This is sort of funny—last time that room was vacant I made it my dedicated yoga room, by which I mean I put a yoga mat in there, closed the door, and never went in. Hopefully though, I’ll have better luck using it for crafts.

Meanwhile, thank you Pam and Russ. What a weekend!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Book, The Book, We're Working on the Book

So the deadline for my new quilting book, Quilting Art is coming up fast-- September 1st. I'm profiling twenty quilters, and there are going to be lots and lots of photos. Warren (the blog pseudonym for my boyfriend) is taking a lot of these photos and he's organizing the others, previously shot quilt pics. It is a ton of work for both of us.

I just got off the phone with Karen Kamenetzky, who does these incredible hand dyed and painted pieces that she bases on cellular biology. Karen is also a psychologist. Quilting and psychology being two of my passions, I have to say it was a most excellent conversation.

Late today, Warren and I are flying to Springfield, MO, to interview and photograph Pam Rubert, who has a cool series featuring her alter-ego PaMdora. I'd seen one of her quilts at IQF in Houston so when my editor at Voyageur Press suggested Pam as a candidate for profiling, I was all over it. Pam and her husband Russ Rubert, a neon sculpture artist, live in a converted peanut butter factory which doubles as an art studio. They have graciously offered to host us. Should be an exciting weekend.

Then, between now and August 24th, we are also going on trips to NY/NJ, Portland/Seattle, Denver and Washington DC and, perhaps, if time and our tiny budget allow us to, maybe one other locale. Happily, I'm due to go on a knitting and yoga retreat in Maine the third week of September, for what I'm sure will be a much needed break from all this hustling.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How To Make A Button

Over at my other blog, I recently wrote about how I went to a David Sedaris reading. He recommended a book of short stories by Miranda July. I was saying how much I love Sedaris AND July. This post got the attention of the folks at Vice Mag in England. They wrote to tell me about this very funny, very short video featuring Miranda July called How to Make a Button. Check it out.