Monthly Archives: July 2021

Op Art in Ohio

The state of Ohio has many virtues, but pioneering art doesn’t usually make the list. In the 1960s one of the cutting edge art movements was Op Art. Think dorm posters that were usually considered psychedelic with their vibrating abstract forms. The Op Art movement was named after Ohio artist Julia Stanczak’s first major show, Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings, held in New York in 1964. How one of the leading pioneers in Op Art came to Ohio is a strange tale that shows how life can be stranger than fiction.

Julian Stanczak began his life in Borownica, Poland in 1928. At the beginning of World War II, Stanczak was forced into a Siberian labor camp with his family, where he permanently lost the use of his right arm and his dominant hand. In 1942 his family escaped from Siberia, and ended up in Uganda after passing through Iran, Pakistan, and Kenya. He spent his teenage years in a hut in a Polish refugee camp in Uganda where he learned to write and paint left-handed. He then spent some years in London, before his family moved to the United States and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1950.

Stanczak received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1954, and then trained under Josef Albers and Conrad Marca-Relli at the Yale University, School of Art and Architecture where he received his Master of Fine Arts in 1956. He became a United States citizen in 1957, taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati from 1957–64 and as Professor of Painting, at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 1964-1995. Until his death in 2017 he lived and worked in Seven Hills, Ohio, which is outside Cleveland.

What draws me to his work? His colors and transparent see through effects. I feel his artistic purpose was to paint the effect of light on color. Rudolph Arnheim said, “He presents us with transparencies, a sophisticated blend of defined objects and mere apparitions. And he makes a plane change so subtly that we cannot be sure whether it is still the same or transformed into its neighbor.” (p. 45, Julian Stanczak Retrospective: 1948-1998.)

I’ve mentioned his work before in a post about a trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art. His painting “Filtered Yellow” riveted me. The background is made up of alternating thin vertical bands of red and green, while the yellow is laid into those bands to produce a diagonal folded effect. While some works fall apart when you get close, this painting becomes far more complex the closer you look. The technical mastery in the painted lines is impressive, and the color shifts to an intense yellow are subtle. Yellow can indeed take over like Japanese knotweed, yet Stanczek allows its full intensity only in the two innermost long triangles. The red and green bring it to heel elsewhere.

“Filtered Yellow” 1968

Such precision and minutely planned color changes are not my gift, but I can appreciate their mastery in the work of others. Even the gradation in Stanczak’s jars of mixed colors was art.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Mystery Photos

Thanks to my brother I have a digital archive of photos passed down from several family members. Many identify the people and places shown, but some are just plain mysteries. My cousins have tried and failed to name the people, an unfortunate byproduct of our departed older generation who didn’t write anything on the backs of those photos packed away in old stationery boxes.

I decided to create a multi-panel mixed media piece with some of the mystery photos, which I call the unknown family. Here are some of my candidates.

I’ve settled on three panels: children, women, and groups. I plan to construct each separately, sewing on paper copies of the photos, and then connecting them with some sort of old cloth/lace, etc., so they will hang together. So far I have old linens for a base and decorations. I’m trying out various backing materials for support, but don’t plan to use batting or quilt these.

For a dry run I made a piece that features ancestral houses and an old embroidery sampler.

Top center is relatives’ farmhouse in Telford, PA; top right is grandparent’s home in Germantown, PA; bottom right is grandfather’s family home in County Tyrone, northern Ireland; bottom left is grandmother’s family home in County Donegal, Ireland; and middle left is estate outside of Philadelphia, PA, where many of my grandmother’s family worked as servants. Oh, top left is a drawing of the John Brown house in Akron, OH. He is no relation whatsoever, but I wanted another color photo.

My test showed me the difficulties of using photos with different degrees of clarity and styles. I edited all but one to print in sepia, but still many details don’t show. I also used a lace doily of unknown origin and the decoration from a cotton lawn hanky that belonged to my mother. I added a few more embroidered flowers to try to blend the photos with the background. It’s backed with acrylic felt and a cotton print, both fused on.

I would love to see other pieces that attempt what I’m trying for, either ones you’re made or seen. Cautionary tales about what didn’t work are welcome as well.

I am linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under collage, Completed Projects, In Process, Project Ideas

Slow Motion Finish

Finally it’s done, I thought as I sewed the hanging sleeve on “Shattered” yesterday. Unlike most of my work, this piece has been a multi-year effort. I wrote about its genesis from a photo of a broken mirror earlier (here and here.) To recap, I had Spoonflower print fabric from my photo in 2019, did the initial composition in 2020, solidified the design in early 2021, and quilted the piece in June and July of 2021.

Usually it wouldn’t take me four weeks to quilt a small (roughly 2 by 3 feet) piece, but problems with my neck have limited my sewing machine time. Like Nora Ephron “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” In my case though the bad feeling is from pain, not vanity.

“Shattered” 22 inches by 38.5 inches

The materials I used besides the printed photo include hand dyed cotton and damask, silver lame, and novelty yarn.

You’d think I would choose to go light on the quilting. Hah!

Back

I did walking foot and free motion quilting using six different threads, including metallic, which was a pain as usual. The edges are faced, but I tried sewing 1/8 inch grosgrain ribbon along the raw edges before adding the facings. It’s a technique for stabilizing edges I read about in a Jean Wells’ book. It seems to reduce waviness, but the true test will be on a larger quilt.

Detail
Detail

I’m relieved to have it done and be able to move on to a new project. At this point I can’t tell how I feel about it beyond relief since I’ve been so close to it for four weeks. I should reach a better assessment after I’ve ignored it for a few months.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects, Fabric Printing

Quilts On The Wall

Recently I’ve been trying out some apps that show how my work would look actually hanging in a room. It’s in aid of ways to display my work online if I decide to offer my work for sale. The two I’ve tried so far are WallApp by OhMyPrints and PhotoFunia. Both are free for basic versions. Many more fee based similar apps are out there, as well.

At first I thought Wall App was the answer to my needs. It’s easy to use and offers the option to upload a photo of your own room. You can download the mockup you create to your computer. Downsides are the company watermark on the lower left and the inability to accurately scale your work to the room and furniture dimensions. I guesstimated using the app’s built in resizer.

“Phosphenes” hung above a desk.
“Arches”

Then, I ran into a problem. As I saved more mockups, the saved copies had big black bands across them, like a shutter being lowered. I tried on another computer and had the same issue. I have no idea what the cause is. At first I thought maybe a user gets only a few free downloads, but the app makes no mention of a fee based option, which shot down that theory. I’ve searched online for mention of this problem but have had no luck. Any ideas or solutions are welcome.

PhotoFunia is designed to add many special effects to your photos, but only a few options actually put your work on a wall. Some of those options add filters to your work. They get in the way of showing my stuff as it is. Again, your photos are scaled to fit the frames, so true sizes of work can’t be shown.

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” in triplicate. Photo Gallery option
“Kansas” in a fancy frame. Painting Snap option. Note how the work is also shown on the phone.
“Identical Opposites” side by side. Photo Exhibition option.
“Heart In Gold” in a gold frame. Painting Snap option.

I think that showing any art work in situ helps a buyer get a better idea of how the piece might look in a room. Certainly, serious art sellers are using these options more and more as more art commerce goes online. For now, I think I’ll stick with the free apps. If I get serious about selling my work I’ll revisit my decision.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects

Urban Grime

Ever since I took Tansy Hargan’s “From Sketchbook to Wall” course I have wanted to use painted fabric on a larger scale than 10 inches square, with a lot more glue, and maybe even forget about thread. In essence I wanted to move from a three layer quilt to fabric collage. Restrictions on the amount of time I can spend actually sewing spurred me to combine a photo printed on fabric with leftover hunks of cut up clothing already painted with acrylic. The painted hunks, ripped and rough with some curled edges, are stuck on a foundation with matte medium. The result is quite stiff and grungy.

My starting point was a fabric printed photo taken by Penny and a dye experiment leftover from a theatrical costume.

By the stage above I had covered the dye experiment with diluted india ink and started to audition my painted hunks. The sheer fabric is from an old curtain.

I sewed the dye experiment to the photo and backed it with iron-on nonwoven interfacing. Then I started to position the hunks, adding bits of painted heavy non-fusible interfacing from my experiments pile.

More pinning bought me to this stage.

Close to what I wanted, but not quite there.
I glopped a lot of matte medium under and over the pieces and added a few more flourishes. It’s now pin free.

I think I’ll add a bit of sewing to make sure the pieces stay in place, though how much I add will be a function of how difficult it is to sew over the stiff surface. I may also add bits of paint.

I want to thank Julie Fei-Fan Balzar and her blog for introducing me to Margo Hoff. That post has tons of photos of Hoff’s work, so I recommend you check there for a visual feast. Hoff painted canvas fabric with vivid solid colors and then cut it up to make multi layer collages on canvas. Color, curves, transparency – her work has everything I want to do.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Fabric Printing, In Process