(click ⇑ ≡ for menu)
Self-portrait with Lapettes
2016 18 in. h x 15 in. w
Improvisational lace-making on a tapestry loom; mixed techniques. Natural and synthetic threads, yarns, strings and ribbons. Photo: John Blake
The linen wings of peasant women’s caps are drawn with intoxicating gestural loops, often used as key compositional elements in early works by Van Gogh and Gauguin. And yet, even in close-up views, these painters use perspective lines and flattened space in a way that implies an observer separated from the scene. Today we find our distance from 19th century Breton peasant life compounded by nostalgia and an idea of the historic. Wanting to understand a more fully shaped world of the Breton women—their labor, their landscape, their society and their faith—I began by untangling the physical structure of their lapette caps from the 2-D picture plane. The birch tree trunk background of my circumscribed and clothed self-portrait honors Paula Modersohn-Becker, a Post-Impressionist whose artistic life unfolded between the rustic Worpswede colony and Paris, and whose robust nude and pregnant flower-crowned self-portraits portray a human being, natural in a natural world.
Self-portrait with novelty hat
January 31, 2015 (St. Brigid’s Eve)
10.5 in. h x 13 in. w. Improvisational tapestry techniques. Linen warp; cotton, wool, silk, linen and synthetic threads, silk and synthetic ribbons. Photo: John Blake.
penelope dissembling in frackutopia
July 2015 32 in. w x 35 in high. Improvisational tapestry and stitching techniques, strip weaving:
natural and synthetic threads, wire, silk ribbon and factory ends. Photo: John Blake
The idea evolves from an intersection of concerns: my own physiognomy— unreliable skeletal structure in middle-age; the rage and current of deep shale fracking that quakes the earth beneath my town; and weaving, which I choose for its surface sensitivity (like skin and land), and for its structures, which are inherently responsive to our assumptions about the stability of all matrixes. Critical junctures attract heroic examples. And so my self-portrait was conceived as Penelope, whose intimacy with the principles of her craft enabled her to achieve what is normally out of the reach of mortals. Weaving by day and unweaving by night, she created time (or she seemed to), and so she preserved her family, property and person from certain treachery. In life, there are times, simply put, when our refuge is in our hands.
June 2015, support structure for hand, from back.
covered wire attached to woven shape with thread; base of wire structure is seated in wooden strip that will support the whole weaving from the top
work in progress, November and December 2014
December 6, 2014
approx. finished size 36 in. h x 34 in. w. Strip Weaving with working drawings.
December 6, 2014—-
Working Title: “Fracked Selfie: Penelope Unravels”
It’s not photo-based, but more intimately drawn from the touch-topography of my middle-aged body. Is it possible to know what we really look like? Perhaps it is more possible to know what we FEEL we look like—through a fusion of sensory knowledge, including sight, emotion and the body’s interior contexts of touch.
To weave this image of myself, I referred to a mask of my face, cast and painted 30 years ago, in my twenties (and marveled at how I have changed–an aggregate of subtleties like pebbles filling the pocket of a favorite shirt). Most of the changes were noted by detailing the structure of my aging face with fingertips: the shadows are seen, but moreso, are felt.
A postcard, as old as the mask, cropped up—announcing the two-person show for my husband and me, in the process of divorce. We had drawn our portraits as Exquisite Corpses, folding and mailing the image back and forth, trading body segments, working downward. We had each done our own heads: mine was flung back in delicate profile with swan neck and hair-like, a little veil draped from my naked head. We called the show “The Two-backed Beast” and that was no kidding. The whole of the postcard image read like two stacks of blocks, turned which-a-way: a time of instability, living by wits, bootstraps and guts.
Here in the comfortable digs of my fifties, with life goals accomplished and prospects ahead–what’s really changed? My body , unreliable, literally coming unstacked with degenerating spinal disks; my town and the land under my house wracked with aggressive shale gas fracking–2 earthquakes with aftershocks since it began, in a place said to be “non-seismic”. Christmas is coming, and the lies on TV are thickening–thickening… well… as thieves. My closest neighbors, elderly, dying and moved out, younger folks dying while cursing the living; a broken neck. My husband is up on the mountain, my daughter doesn’t need to come home any more, my brother has broken off… expected, eventual and natural.
I am a weaver now. And hardly concerned with failing in my art–as I was back then. Hardly afraid of being too ugly or being too fat–life has resolved these things for me; physical pain is a leveler of one’s priorities–just as love is another. And I have much and many to love.
Strip weaving a selfie image, appropriately impractical and probably unresolvable (an ideal set of problems for me) with a built-in stratified structure–like a geologic scaffolding for stacking and fracking an image of Self in transition. As the image develops, I call upon drawing again, to manage the segments, and I’ve remembered how satisfying an organic line can be when it is eloquently mated with the human figure.
Is there really a difference in the truth contained in an image captured in a moment and the truth compressed within an image made over time of focused, persistent searching? Is one by definition more shallow/ more candid? Is one more introspective, or potentially more edited/ contrived? Is the human psyche enslaved to photographic imagery? (Who’s asking–me? the daughter of an Iowa County Beauty Queen?)
Margaret’s tapestry blog: http://margaretsundaytapestry.com
SELECTED WORKS FROM THE 1980s
January 12, 2015—
Digging through old slides I found self-portaits in oil and charcoal, the earliest made around 1983 after my MA in Printmaking, when I started teaching college part-time, Art and freshman English. The photo is from my project for Tribal Art class, 1982.
“Self-portrait with Mother-in-law’s Tongue”, 36 in. h x 30 in. w, 1984. Oil on canvas, carved wood frame.
“My House of Stone”, 42 in. h x 31 in. w, 1987. Oil on canvas, carved wood frame.
“Frozen Charlotte”, 49 in. h x 43 in. w, 1985. Oil on canvas, carved wood frame.
“Cryacinth”, 60 in. h x 33 in. w, 1989. Oil on canvas, carved wood frame.
“Portraits for Sister Iphigenia”, 21 in. h x 16 in. w sheets, single and doubled, 1984. Charcoal on handmade paper. From a series of 20 self-portraits drawn over a 1 month period in winter.
Myself painted for a Tribal Art class project, 1982.
“Self-portrait”, 15 in. h x 13 in. w, 1987. Oil on canvas, carved wood frame.