Friday, October 26, 2012

Quilts and Color

Michael James' "Lush Life."

This week's assignment for color class was to go to the museum and look at the quilt exhibit.  There is no way I can call that "work!"  We were asked to pick one piece and write about it in relation to the color combinations used.  I felt a little bad for not picking the Nancy Crow piece, but it was "March Study," from the 1970's, and the use of color in it didn't really excite me.  Since James uses strip piecing I thought it would be more relevant for me.    Here's my essay.

 I chose Michael James' "Lush Life,"  which was created in 1992.  The piece is constructed using strip piecing, a method I am exploring in my current series, so I thought it would be interesting to look closer at a master's work.  

Very generally, strip piecing involves cutting long thin strips of fabric, then sewing them back together into new "made fabrics."  The "made fabric" is then usually cut up and reassembled in various ways.  This is where any similarity between Michael James and I ends.  Obviously there are an infinite number of ways to slice up and reassemble fabric.
Unlike some of his other works, such as Rhythm/Color: Morris Men,(See below) in "Lush Life" the  the strips are arranged in a very simple allover 45-degree diagonal pattern.  Although each made fabric is made up of various colors and patterns of fabric, the simple overall piecing design allows sections of dissimilar value to read as solids when placed adjacent to each other. 
Looking at the piece from a distance, or on a small screen,  what you see first is the stencil-like cut-out shapes that appear overlaid on a contrasting background.  Low value figures on a high value background.  Or is it the other way around?  James is able to achieve subtle gradations of value and hue by carefully selecting the alternating color strips.

 In places the light fabric gradually transitions into dark rather than being sharply contrasted with it.  Where does one figure end and the other begin?  This draws you in closer, to the point where you realize it is all one very, very, carefully constructed symphony of strips.  Or stripes.  The lightest areas use pale gray and  pastel tints, so that there is little contrast between them.  The fabric reads overall as light.  In the mid-range values there is more contrast, so that the patterning is more evident.  In the darkest sections contrast is reduced again, and the overall image is "dark." 

I think that blue is the dominant color, but that is by no means certain.  There is also a lot of yellow and pink.  The blues tend toward blue-green and range from palest tint to darkest shade.

To me, this piece is so complex I can look at it, and try to understand it, for hours.  There are so many levels of color, shape and design that it's hard to know how to take it apart.  Here is the Nancy Crow piece that was featured in the show:
Nancy Crow, "March Study"
And here is Michael James' other work mentioned,  Rhythm/Color: Morris Men.

Rhythm/Color: Morris Men by Michael James
Morris Men

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