Saturday, October 31, 2015

Writing About Art (Part II)
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed other posts on this blogspot that focuses on writing about your own or others artworks:
Information Overload
Writing About Art (Part I)

Not all of us find it easy to put pen to paper and coherently write an interesting discourse on our own artwork or on someone else’s. Some of us struggle to flesh out the “causes” (i.e. the choices made) that created the “effect” (i.e. artwork). Some of those choices, in retrospect, appear serendipitous yet in reality it is more likely that the choices were made by a subconscious interaction of subtle shifts in purpose as the work slowly unfolded (e.g. “…a bit more green there will balance the image better”). On the other hand, some artists like myself have a title and an idea before we begin, which leads to a number of roughs (water color sketches of the work) prior to selecting one that will serve as a template of the work.

Above is a water color rough of Winter Bolt - one component of a disperse dye quartet.

Completed artwork - Winter Bolt - (Four Australian Seasons – Bolt Series).
Technique: Hand painted and heat transferred using disperse dyes on satin.
Size: ca. 1.50 (width) x 2.00 (length) meters.

In the previous post on the writing of art we dealt with the following categories: subject matter of artwork; difference between subject matter and meaning; compare and contrast subject matter of artworks; line; shape and space; light and dark; color; other elements. Today we shall concentrate on recognizing the principles of design.

Remember, these organizing principles that are espoused below may be added to and/or subtracted from and so they do not represent a catch all criterion. They simply throw up questions that may or may not be relevant for a particular artwork that is being considered. Interesting articles about art are not composed of factual data alone. Generally, interesting articles give valuable insights into the artwork that is being engaged and of the artist that has created the work. It helps if the underlying tenet of the article is optimistic and constructive rather than being pessimistic and destructive. Most artists welcome positive criticism - so long as it is in small doses! After all, why would you want to review an artwork that you detest. If that is the case it is best to remain silent, unless of course you are an art critic that earns a living for your opinion on art.

Recognizing the Principles of Design[1]
Design elements of an ArtCloth work are very important in unpacking the complex nature of the composition before you. Often artists may use these elements to willfully unbalance or disturb you whilst you are in the act of engagement. You will sometimes hear in an exhibition a person proclaim: “There is something not right or missing in this work. I can’t put my finger on it!” We shall cover some of the principles of design that you may want to address in an article of your own or article on someone else’s work.

Rhythm and Repetition
Visual rhythm and repetition is often experienced in works of art. Certain formal elements - lines, shapes, colors - recur in exact or analogous terms, and this repetition creates a sense of visual rhythm that is analogous to musical or poetic rhythm. In all arts, rhythm and repetition serves to organize or order the work into distinct and recognizable patterns.

For example, view Teresa Paschke, CEAH2. In this ArtCloth work there are three dominant vertical lines, three horizontal lines – each one of which is contained within a circle. These repeated shapes and lines serve to unify the composition and so provide a dominant arrangement in the composition. Notice how the “iron” fretwork assists in tying these elements together. The embroidery breaks up this symmetry, although the red embroidery within the bottom circle, anchors the image. The background is meant to be indistinct in order to intensify the act of engagement (i.e. What is it?)

Teresa Paschke, CEAH 2.
Technique: Digital photography, wide-format ink-jet printing on cotton canvas with hand painting and embroidery.

A geometric division, which echoes and reinforces the shape of frame of an ArtCloth work, creates a sense of symmetry and equilibrium; that is, a sense of balance. There are many other ways to achieve a sense of balance in a composition. Radial balance is created when all the elements of the composition seem to emerge from a real or actual focal point. Below is an Art Quilt by an unknown Hawaiian artist. All the elements of this composition appear to be generated from the central eight tear-shaped strokes. Even those concentric circles are emphasizing this point – that it is an ever expanding radial composition.

Artist unknown, Quilt for Queen Lili’uokalani (ca. 1893).
Technique: Hawaiian island cottons, hand appliqúed and quilted.
Size: 98 x 96 inches.

Many works of art utilize an asymmetrical balance in which a perceived center of gravity seems to balance elements around it. It is like balancing a seesaw with a heavy child on one end and a light child on the other: the heavy child moves towards the pivot of the seesaw, while the lighter child sits at the very edge of the plank. Furthermore, relatively dark shapes seem “heavier” to the eye than lighter ones. For example, in my "Namibian Expressions" asymmetrical balance is achieved by placing a large black figure to the right of the centre and pushing the solitary black figure on the right off toward the edge of the composition.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Namibian Expressions.
Technique: Wax resist, hand-painted, sponged, sprayed, stencilled, and screen printed on calico.
Size: 1.5 m (width) x 3.5 m (length).

Proportion is the relationship of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part. An excellent example of this is Jane Dunnewold’s ArtCloth piece “Untitled”. Here the smallest section is to the middle section what the larger section is to the whole painting. For example, if you consider the bottom panel, it is approximately half the width of the middle panel which in turn is approximately half the width of the top panel, which is approximately half the width of the complete ArtCloth piece itself.

Jane Dunnewold, Untitled.
Technique: Wax resist, screen printed and foiled on silk.

Scale is the size of the work (as in a two dimensional artwork) or its volume (as in three dimensional artwork). It is sometimes difficult to get an accurate feeling of the size of a work of art from a photograph alone. For example, if you looked at two of Susan Fell-MacLean’s installations and only viewed each from photographs, which work would be larger?

Susan Fell-MacLean, Visibility.
Installation Description: Five vertical panels, suspended from the ceiling, above a plinth on which rest 25 cylinder forms. The viewer is able to walk around all sides of the sculpture.
Dimensions: Plinth size - 2m x 2m x 25cm height - with a drop of 3.5m.

Susan Fell-MacLean, Multiplicity.
Installation Description: Fourteen red gum blocks make up a heliocentric spiral and support bamboo uprights onto which eight panels of wool are stretched. The viewer is able to walk into the spiral and around all sides of the sculpture.
Dimensions: 2.5m height, with a spiral area of approximately five square meters.

Clearly, it is difficult to get a sense of the size and volume of these installations from the photographs, even though if photographs suggest that they are both large-scale artworks. It is preferable to experience these installations in person, since there is a different sense of scale as one traverses in and around these installations. Moreover, in doing so different features of the installations become more or less in focus.

Unity and Variety
One of the primary sources of interest and power in many works of art is the way their various elements are combined to create a sense of oneness or unity. For example, in my ArtCloth work, Flames Unfurling, each element - from colors to the contrast between light and shade to objects (blackened and whitened flora) to the central and peripheral composition - all give a sense of the voluminous and explosive rush of fire as it devours and consumes all before it. These elements heighten its verocity and speed.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Flames Unfurling (Detailed View).
Medium and Technique: MultiSperse Dye Sublimation (MSDS) which employs disperse dyes, multiple resists and native flora on satin.
Size: 120cm h x 60cm w.

Sometimes it is the variety of elements of an ArtCloth work that just grabs your interest. The sheer diversity and complexity of Jeannie Henrys’ hand printed textile work is outstanding. The colors, lines, shapes and sizes create a vivid liveliness that just arrests your attention. Notice the clever use of yellow that makes it appear as if it was the ground of the fabric. There is little design repetition in this work.

Section View of Jeannie Henrys’ hand printed ArtCloth.
Technique: Multiple screen prints, stenciled and hand painted techniques on broadcloth.

Considering Questions of Medium and Technique
This is not the place to discuss the various capabilities and advantages of specific media (ArtCloth, printmaking, painting, drawing, sculpture etc.) or techniques that works exhibit. Needless to say, each has its distinctive features and within each there are various sub-divisions such as on process, on subject and on art movements. Nevertheless if you feel you are engaging with an artwork that seems to be informed particularly by the choice of material or technique then it is important to learn what that choice of material/technique entails and what it implies. Doing so may involve additional research, but such research will add to the interest of the article. For example, the medium of cloth engages more of our physical and unconscious senses than most media used in art. In theory you can touch it, smell it, see it and in fact allow it to move (if it is not fixed to a wall). The hue it offers is impossible to recreate on canvas. Similar statements can be made about fabric techniques. For example, Leslie Morgan uses a technique called “breakdown screen printing” in order to achieve magical effects on cloth.

Leslie Morgan,"Unknown" (Detailed View).
Technique: Breakdown screen printing.

While predetermined questions cannot guarantee an interesting article, they nevertheless frame some of the research that needs to be undertaken. Here are some questions we might pose, which are relevant to the topic of this post.

1. How are these elements organized:
Is there significant use of visual rhythm and repetition of elements?
Is the composition balanced? Symmetrically? Asymmetrically?
Do various elements seem proportional, and how does the question of scale affect our perception?
Does the composition seem unified or not?

2. Next consider how the artist's choice of medium and technique have affected the piece:
Are effects achieved that are realizable only in this particular medium and/or using this particular technique? If more than one medium or technique is involved, what is their relationship in creating the work?

3. Finally consider the holistic nature of the work:
What is the artist trying to say about the subject matter of the work?
What feelings or attitudes does the composition seem to evoke, and what specific elements or design choices account for these feelings?

Whilst some of the elements of the organizing principles espoused in this or the previous post may not be applicable to wearable art, nonetheless more relevant questions capturing choices may be proposed. For example, in the case of wearables the focus is on the uniqueness of the work and so we may ask - "Is it unique because of the design (including prints), the colors, the cut, the materials used, the texture, the tactile appearance, the drape, the handle, the techniques used or because it delivers a unique admixture of each or some of these components?" Asking questions that unravel the choices made is the key ingredient in producing an interesting article on ArtCloth, Art Quilts and Wearable Art.

[1] H.M. Sayre, Writing About Art, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey (1995).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Writing About Art (Part I)
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed other posts on this blogspot that focuses on writing about your own or others artworks:
Information Overload
Writing About Art (Part II)

When I was guest editor of Jane Dunnewold’s ezine - “HeART Cloth Quarterly” - and more recently as co-editor of “Textile Fibre Forum” (TFF) - an art magazine - I was surprised to find that when I commissioned articles from some of the most verbally articulate textile and wearable artists, they became paralysed the moment their pen touched paper.

As co-editor I was also responsible for the front cover, inside front cover, inside back cover and back cover as well as writing a column (Musings of a Textile Artist) and 50% of the commissioned articles. Janet de Boer (the founding editor) was responsible for the rest. Above is the front cover of my last issue as co-editor of TFF (June, 2015 - Issue 118). The textile on the front cover was created by Lucas Grogan.

Suddenly the “cause” behind their artistic “effect” became unfathomable. Sure they understood the processes/techniques that generated their artwork. Yes, they also knew their artwork was not serendipitous nor accidental but rather planned in a fashion due to the constant interaction as their artwork progressed between feedback and revision of purpose. Also, most of these artists found it hard to title their work; after all - they reasoned - why limit the scope of the engagement of their artwork with a title. Let the observer bring to the act of engagement their life experiences in order to explore and understand the work before them. Such reasoning is more common now than in the past, when story telling was a major motivation behind the creation of religious artworks (e.g. the Old Masters - ca. 1200 to 1830).

Giorgione: Sleeping Venus.

Perhaps the most famous artist who did not want to write or speak about his artwork was Jackson Pollock (ca. 1912 - 1956). In 1967 his wife - painter Lee Krasner - gave an interview nine years after Pollock had died in a car accident near his home on Long Island. She noted that:
“It’s a myth he wasn’t verbal. He could be hideously verbal when he wanted to be…He was lucid, intelligent; it was simply he didn’t want to talk about art. If he was quiet, it was because he didn’t believe in talking, he believed in doing”.

His refusal to title or discuss his paintings informs us that the act of “doing” was for Pollock “causa satis” - Latin for “reason enough”. In “doing” Pollock made choices: he decided not to paint in a representational style; he chose non-traditional subject matter; he chose large canvases; he created scribbles, curves and arabesque patterns as distinct from a grid of straight lines and geometric shapes. All of these choices were “willed” and so not accidental.

Jackson Pollock, No. 5 (1948).

With some of the articles I commissioned to appear in Jane’s ezine, HeART Cloth Quarterly, and in issues of the TFF art magazine, I came across the “doing” artist. I needed to spend time coaxing them to write about their artwork. Saying - “I just did it!” - makes for a really uninteresting article. I would encourage these artists either to find another writer that knew their work well and so could articulate the “cause” behind the “effect” or make the artist address and identify the choices they made and so write about why they made those choices. For example, it is clear that some homosexual artists make art that is informed by their homosexuality (e.g. Paul Yore in “Interweavings: the art of Paul Yore” by Devon Ackermann, TFF issue 118, June 2015) in the same manner as some aboriginal artists create art that is informed by their culture (e.g. Kieren Karritpul in “Kieren Karritpul: the new power” by Maurice O’Riordan, TFF, Issue 118, June 2015).

Kieren Karritpul, Yerggi 1 - Pandanus.
Technique: Acrylic on linen.
Size: 126 h x 75 w cm, 2014.
Photograph courtesy of Nomad Art Productions.

I find it difficult to understand why some people - even in this enlightened age - will accept the latter but not the former. Homosexually informed art appears to be difficult for some to grasp, accept and digest, whereas culturally derived art has no such hurdles.

Technique: Applique, embroidery and beading, found objects/material, beads, buttons, sequins, felt, wool, cotton thread.
Dimensions variable: approx. 2.9 metres x 2.5 metres.
Photograph courtesy of Alex Davies.
Image courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc.

If you are an artist (and that includes being a wearable artist) struggling to write about your own work or someone else’s then perhaps the tips below may help you to focus on how to map out such an article.

Writing About Your Artwork or Someone Else’s[1]
To write about art does not imply you need to be an artist (whether engaging in textiles or any other medium). Nor does it mean you need to learn a specialized vocabulary that only cognoscenti use. For example, most food critics have never trained as chefs! However, there are some descriptors that are useful tools in order to precisé the wordage of the article. For example, descriptors such as “classical”, “baroque”, “romantic”, “modernism” and “postmodernism” – to name a few – places the artwork within a familiar category and context. These definitions (and examples) can be quickly tracked-down on the internet. Moreover, it is not necessary to feel comfortable with these descriptors in order to begin writing about art. The reader is more interested in the uniqueness of the work, the techniques used, its size and most importantly the “cause” underlying the “effect”; that is, what choices were made (“the cause”) by the artist that has generated this artwork (“the effect”).

Ferdinand Victor Eugéne Delacroix (French) – The Death of Sardanapalus (1827). Its Oriental subject matter was taken from a Lord Byron play.

We need an organizing principle to flesh out what choices the artist has made. Here it is important not to be too rigid but rather to use the organizing principle as a rough guide.
Note: The organizing principle espoused below is hardly unique or for that matter comprehensive. Feel free to add and subtract to it as the circumstances demand. After all, if one organizing principle could capture the entire essence of all art, art would stagnate rather than what it is - an ever evolving creative adventure fuelled by imagination and insight.

Subject Matter of the Artwork
The subject matter of any artwork is the sum of the identifiable objects, incidents and iconographic or narrative references that are recognizable in a work. Often it may help to characterize the work (e.g. postmodernism). For some work, iconographic references (e.g. symbolic references) are widely recognizable in a given culture and such references can be explored and written about in a given work. For example, the meaning of a cross or a crown of thorns is widely understood in the Christian West. On the other hand, in aboriginal artworks the Rainbow Serpent (snake) is associated with ceremonies about fertility and abundance, as well as the organization of the community and the keeping of peace.

Lorraine Williams, Rainbow Serpent Dreaming.

It is important to keep in mind there is a difference between the subject matter of the artwork and its meaning. Subject matter placed in a different context has a completely different meaning. For example, Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa has a vastly different meaning to DuChamp's Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q.) DuChamp allowed us to poke fun at and mock or deride the superficial sacredness that has attached to Leonard’s painting. Try getting close to it at the Louvre! After DuChamp’s work became well known, moustaches appeared on the faces of politicians and many other self-proclaimed famous identities.

DuChamp's Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q.)

It is also useful to compare and contrast subject matter in articles. For example, some of Jane Dunnewold’s ArtCloth pieces are influenced by Mondrian's De Stijl paintings.

Piet Mondrian - De Stijl art movement painting - "Pier and Ocean" (1914).

Jane Dunnewold’s ArtCloth work - "Untitled". Jane’s mark-making of this work has been influenced by Piet Mondrian.

Line is the primary means available for defining visual forms and so it is one of the most important elements to be considered in preparing to write about a work of art. Take for example, Dianne Firth’s Art Quilt - “Deluge”. Clearly the meandering of the black lines embeds the image of a river onto one’s mind’s eye. The thinner lines, which ape the contours of the fuller black lines and the grey expanses, highlight a breaching of the riverbanks - a flood of the surrounding district. It expresses - with a minimalist brush - a watery deluge.

Dianne Firth, Deluge.
Medium and Technique: Machine stitching/quilting, reverse appliqué, viscose felt and cotton.
Size: 139 cm (h) x 71 cm (w). Photograph Courtesy of Andrew Sikorski.

Shape and Space
It s obvious from the previous discussion that one of the primary functions of line is to describe shape and space. Hence you could ask - how do the lines describe shape and space? Is it in a consistent and orderly way (see Deluge) or in a disruptive or even in a random manner (see Pollock)? For example, Jackson Pollock never quite manages to define shape, let alone a consistent space, whereas Piet Mondrian had very definitive notions about the meaning of form (see above). Joan Schulze, whose Art Cloth and Art Quilts are influenced by the markings of Rauschenberg, clearly uses lines to create consistent shapes and spaces. In some of her works, color blocks are interspersed with iconic mark-makings.

Joan Schulze, The Angel Equation.
Technique: Silk and cotton fabrics, paper; appliqued, laminated, painted, pieced, and printed; machine quilted.
Size: 144.8 x 142.2 cm.

Light and Dark
In addition to the traditional systems of geometric perspective, one of the ways to evoke the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional plane is by imitating the effects of light as it falls onto three-dimensional surfaces. For example, my MultiSperse Dye Sublimation (MSDS) technique is particularly suited to contrast light and dark and so give the illusion of peering through layers of artwork in order to create the illusion of depth.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Gondwana Retraced II.
Technique: The artistʼs signature MultiSperse Dye Sublimation technique employing low relief items and native flora on synthetic fiber.
Size: 60 w x 146 h cm.
Photograph courtesy of Ellak von Nagy-Felsobuki.

Whilst it is easier to think about the question of light in terms of black and white, the same rules apply to color as well. For instance the difference between pink and maroon is that one is red saturated with white, whilst the other is red saturated with black. Yet color functions in ArtCloth work in terms more complicated than black and white. In the same way that black is opposite to white, each color has its opposite number. These opposites are called complementary colors. Complements are pairs of colors when mixed together in almost equal proportions create neutral greys, but when they stand side-by-side, as pure hues, they seem to intensify and even contradict one another.

Color theory is a vastly complicated field. Nevertheless, in writing about art it is important to understand the basic complementary and analogous groupings. Much of the power of Jenny Kee’s wearable art depends on her strong use of complementary color schemes.

Jenny Kee’s wearable art. Note the extensive use of complementary colors.

Other Elements
There are a number of other formal elements that might be important to consider. For instance, what is the texture of the artwork? Is it uniformly smooth and does that smoothness contribute to the sense of harmony of the work? Is the texture rough and how does that roughness contribute to our understanding of the work?

Norma Starszakowna’s - Razing/Raising Walls - is a remarkable ArtCloth work. Walls mean so much in the context of the holocaust. It separated, isolated and divided humanity from humanity as well as inhumanity from humanity. It secreted practices and moreover created a faceless and stateless space. Texture means everything to such divisions since it arouses a feeling of real separation. It was not surprising that I used a detail of her ArtCloth work as a front cover for the the catalogue of the exhibition I curated - ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions.

Norma Starszakowna - Razing/Raising Walls, Warsaw) - a detailed view.

The time dimension can also be an important feature in a work of art. In particular, Graffiti art images are found on moving vehicles (trains, trams and buses etc.) and are also found on walls. Often these images are viewed whilst the observer is in motion or in a moving vehicle. Hence there is a time component to this work that is not only temporal because of its ethereal existence, but also because of the manner in which it is viewed. This lends itself to artwork that has a distinctive form – graphic and voluminous typographies and images.

“Collaged, layered, torn, worn graffiti poster creating exciting compositions and juxtapositions of colors and fragments that have the power of carefully crafted collages”. David Robinson Soho Walls, Beyond Graffiti, Artist Unknown.

In another next post on this topic I will explore recognizing the principles of design: rhythm and repetition; balance; proportion; scale; unity and variety; questions on the use of medium and techniques.

Good articles on art never arise due to answering predetermined questions. Rather such questions only serve to help the writer organize their thoughts so that they can generate an interesting and thought provoking insight into their artwork or the artwork of others.

Thus you may ask:
1. Determine the subject matter of the work: does it have a title and if not why not? Does the title help you to interpret the work and if not why not? Can you imagine different treatments of the same subject matter that would change the way you understand the work? Can you compare and contrast the way this subject matter was handled with the work of others?

2. Consider the formal elements of the work and how it relates to its subject matter. How is line employed in this work? Does it seem to regulate and order the composition or does it disrupt and fragment the work? Is it consistent with the traditional laws of perspective or does it wilfully violate them? What is the relationship of shape and space in this work? How does light and dark function in this work? Is there a great deal of tonal contrast, or is it held to a minimum? What is the predominant color scheme? Are complementary or analogous colors employed? What other elements seem important? Is your attention drawn to the texture of the work and if so what is its relevance to understand the work? Does time seem an important factor in the engagement of the work?

Remember, some or most of these questions may be irrelevant for a particular artwork. These predetermined questions are not a prescription for successful art article on yours or someone else’s artwork. It is just a starting point to get a conversation on the move and moreover, to make that pen push across a paper in a meaningful direction!

[1] H.M. Sayre, Writing About Art, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey (1995).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chinese Textiles
Amy Clague’s Brocade Collection (Part II)[1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed below associated posts.
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part I)
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague's Tapestry Collection (Part I)
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague’s Tapestry Collection (Part II)

Amy Sanders Clague’s remarkable collection of Chinese textiles incorporates superb examples from the Song through to the Qing dynasties. It enables art historians to re-assess textile arts of China’s recent centuries from 1100 to 1900s. In China, textiles were often admired on par with paintings and calligraphy and so they were inspired and informed by those arts. Their use in tribute and trade as well as in Buddhist ritual contexts was dramatically revealed in more recent studies. The “Clague” collection explores these topics further and therefore, examines the relationship of textiles in the greater context of Chinese art.

Chinese textile.
Era: Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (A.D. 1736-1795).
Size: 53.3 x 14.6 cm. (21 x 5 3/4 in.)
From the collection of Amy S. Clague.

Amy Clague’s collecting was stimulated by recent exhibitions of Chinese textiles in Hong Kong and New York. She lent several works to - Heaven’s Embroidered Cloths: One Thousand Years of Chinese Textiles - organized by the Hong Kong Museum of Art in 1995, the first major international exhibition to bring together textiles and costumes from collections throughout the world. The gathering of scholars and collectors at the symposium for that exhibition fuelled her interests. She was inspired to continue to collect a broad range of styles and techniques within Chinese textiles and so gleaned works of varying function rather than concentrating on aspects of costume, the latter an area where many significant studies have already emerged.

Heaven's embroidered cloths: One Thousand Years of Chinese Textiles, Hong Kong Museum of Art (1995).

Two years later The Metropolitan Museum in New York and The Cleveland Museum of Art held a joint showing of Central Asian and Chinese textiles in an exhibition called - When Silk was Gold - and this gave further impetus to Amy Clague’s desire to collect Chinese textiles. She resolved to follow James C. Watt and Anne E. Wardwell, who set a high standard of scholarship in their ground breaking study of Chinese and Central Asian textiles. She thus allowed her textiles to be subjected to technical analysis and radio carbon dating as well as a full examination by textile conservators.

When Silk was Gold (The Metropolitan Museum in New York).

Chinese Textiles – Amy Clague’s Brocade Collection (Part II)[1]

Ceremonial shawl with horizontal stripes (Tibetan).
Description: Silk tabby with supplementary wefts; polychrome silk yarns in counter changed weave.
Era: Ming dynasty 15th - 16th Century.
Size: Length: 204.5cm (without fringe); Width: 51.0 cm (including selvages).
Comments[1]: The decorative program is conceived in vertical symmetry. A white silk band appears at the top and bottom. Working inward, the weaver has created bright colored bands and then a lattice-like border. The central image is the Tibetan motif called the kalacakra. The symbol is formed of the ten interlocking syllables (including On Ham Ksha Ma La Va Ra Ya Sva Ha) called the “all powerful ten”, written in Lantsa characters, an Indic script derived from Sanskrit and use for Buddhist devotional inscriptions. Together these symbols form both a mantra and a cosmological diagram. The kalacakra emblem appears in more elaborate form in Qing textiles, depicted here with a lotiform base but with added embellishments of floral, cloud and other motifs.

Detail front.

Detail back.

Large square panel with crossed vajras, Eight Auspicious Emblems (bajixiang), lotus blossom and other Buddhist symbols.
Description: Silk lampa; red silk ground of dyed yarns in 2/1 twill weave, interwoven in tabby weave with gold colored silk yarns.
Era: Ming to early Qing dynasty (17th - 18th Century).
Size: Length: 92.0 cm, including fringe; Width: 92.0 cm including selvages.
Comments[1]: This textile is perfectly square including its salvages and fringes and thus appears to be complete as originally woven. Its shape and its radial symmetry suggests that the textile was intended for use as a canopy, suspended to be seen from below, rather than a wall hanging. The symbol of the vajra, also called thunderbolt, is emblematic of the power of knowledge over ignorance. The term vajra is associated with the hardness of a diamond and thus symbolizes the enduring and indestructible nature of Buddhist teachings and enlightenment. The form of vajra varies, but it is usually depicted in two-dimensions as a hand-held symbolic weapon with three prongs on either end. Sometimes the center portion of the vajra incorporates stylized lotus blossom motifs and the prongs themselves emanate from the mouths of makaras. The weavers of this textile alluded to these shapes in their depictions of the implements.

Garment of Tibetan chuba type with four-clawed Mang dragons. Note: It is the front of the garment.
Description: Silk damask brocaded with supplementary wefts; yellow silk ground of dyed yarns in 3/1 broken twill weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with polychrome silk yarns, with gold-wrapped yarns, and with flat gold leaf adhered to paper substrate.
Era: Qing dynasty, probably 18-19th Century, construction, employing Ming and Qing fabrics, probably 17 to 18th Century.
Size: Length: 146.0 cm; Width: 197.0 cm.
Comments[1]: This robe is of the Tibetan type called chuba. Distinguished by its tapering sleeves and its profile, which flares outward toward the hem, the chuba can range from a practical to a ceremonial garment. The more elaborate chuba were often made out of silk yardage woven in China and many such examples survive in museums and private collections. Silks and other textiles were regular traded by the Chinese for Tibetan horses and also presents as gifts to Tibetan Buddhist lamas. The practice began before the Ming dynasty and continued throughout the Ming and Qing periods. As in other border areas, the robes were also dispensed together with rank and privilege to leader with allegiance to the Chinese Court. Silk for court robes, and the privileged wore dragon robes, were bestowed on Tibetan nobles and high lamas and on Mongol nobles and high-ranking military leaders. The Clague’s chuba is similar to robes worn by Tibetan officials on ceremonial occasions.

Back of garment.


Another detail.

Another detail.

Silk chair cover with decoration of a dragon amidst scrolling clouds.
Description: Silk brocade; salmon (faded from medium orange or red) silk ground of dyed yarns in 2/1 twill weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with polychrome silk yarns, with gold-wrapped yarns, and with flat gold leaf adhered to paper substrate.
Era: Qing dynasty (probably late 18th - 19th Century).
Size: Length: 165.6 cm; Width: 52.8 cm.
Comments[1]: The symbolism of the dragon paired with the flaming jewel or pearl is often featured. Traditionally regarded as the bestower of life-sustaining water, the dragon was emblematically paired with clouds or with rolling waves from the Song dynasty onward. In the Ming and Qing times, dragon imagery typically assumes cosmological symbolism. In this chair cover, for example, the dragon – the prime emblem of the yang or male forces of the universe – also symbolizes the heavens and cosmic forces in general; rising from the primordial seas, the triangular mountain peak over which the dragon appears represents the earth.

Silk chair cover with decorations of three dragons against a patterned ground.
Description Silk brocade; black silk ground of dyed yarns in draw-loom or jacquard-loom weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with gold-wrapped yarns.
Era: Qing dynasty (late 19th - early 20th Century).
Size: Length: 237.5 cm; Width: 60.0 cm (including selvages).
Comments[1]: The five-clawed dragons and the extensive use of gold suggest that this chair cover and its mate were made for palace use. The virtually perfect condition further suggests that this cover was never used. Both the black-and-gold color scheme and the use of two hues of gold date this elegant chair cover to the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. In addition, the division of the textile into three, instead of four, compositional sections supports this late Qing attribution as does the unification of the design scheme through the use of the key fret pattern.

[1] C. Brown et al., Weaving China’s Past, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix (2002).

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Chinese Textiles
Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part I)[1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed below associated posts.
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part II)
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague's Tapestry Collection (Part I)
Chinese Textiles: Amy Clague’s Tapestry Collection (Part II)

Amy Sanders Clague has assembled an extraordinary private collection of Chinese textiles, with works ranging in date from the Song (960 – 1279) and Jin (1115 – 1234) dynasties through to the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911).

Sally Lehmann, Amy Clague and Rich Lehmann.

Born in El Paso (Texas) and educated at Smith College, Amy Clague has lived in Phoenix Arizona for more than three decades. During that time she has been involved with the Phoenix Art Museum, first as a volunteer (1967), then as a Director (1978 – 1982) and as a member of the Board of Trustees (1983 - ). She was a founding Board Member of the Museum’s Asian Arts Council formed in 1985, and served as its President (1986 – 1988).

Phoenix Art Museum.

Amy Clague bought her first Chinese textile in 1989, a sixth century brocade altar frontal.

One of the extraordinary Chinese textiles assembled by Amy Sanders Clague. See below for more images of her collection.

Since then she has acquired a number of works, buying from dealers in London, Hong Kong and New York. Her inspiration for collecting came from the accomplishments of her late husband, Robert H. Clague, who built three separate pioneering collections in Chinese art – the first in Chinese cloisonné enamels, the second in Chinese glass and the third in Chinese bronzes. The cloisonné and the bronze collection are now permanently part of the Phoenix Art Museum collection, and the Chinese glass is now in the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art.

A book on the glass collection of Robert H. Clague.

Most of Amy Claque’s Chinese textile collection has been documented in the catalogue - Weaving China’s Past.

Weaving China’s Past – The Amy S. Clague Collection of Chinese Textiles[1].

Historical Journey of Chinese Textiles[1]
The study of Chinese silk textiles offers a glimpse into a complex tradition in which both industry and individual creativity played a critical role. Traditional China viewed spinning, weaving and embroidery as divinely inspired arts to be practiced dutifully at home.

Chinese antique miniature rice paper painting woman weaver at work.

Concurrently, luxury textiles were commissioned for religious, state and private use. Silk was essential in framing China’s foreign policy in order to secure and pacify borderlands. Later, silk became a major export commodity to Europe.

Map of silk route between China and Western World.

Elaborate techniques were developed for producing complex designs both in the woven cloth itself and also in embellishments worked onto the surface. Brocades – fabrics woven with the supplementary weft yarns to create complex patterns – were employed in many variations, including the complex lampas weave with its extra binding warps. Kesi (“carved silk”) - a slit tapestry weave which was perhaps originally developed by Central Asians using wool yarns - come to be highly refined in the works of Chinese weavers in the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) and later.

Hanging: Kesi slit tapestry weaving (Ming dynasty, ca. 1600).
Size: Length: 218.5 cm; Width: 173 cm.

Embroidery - a means of embellishing a woven fabric with stitches made using a threaded needle - flourished throughout the history of silk textiles in China. Artistic experimentation in textiles increased at the level commensurate with other art forms (e.g. ceramics). As in those traditions, professional designers were responsible for designing compositions and decorative patterns for weavers and embroiderers to follow.

Woman's summer robe: central embroidery detail (Asian Art Museum).

During China’s later dynasties, textile arts were pursued as fine arts, appreciated on equal footing with painting and calligraphy etc.

Chinese Textiles
Amy Clague's Brocade Collection (Part I)

Rectangular silk panel with Phoenix-and-cloud medallions.
Description: Silk brocade; light blue ground of dyed yarns in tabby weave, the ground interwoven in brocade with flat strips of animal substrate faced with gold leaf.
Era: Jin dynasty (1115 – 1234).
Size: Length: 96.5 cm; Width: 64.5 cm, including selvages.
Comments[1]: Even if made in Jin dynasty for the wealthy citizens of that state, the subject matter of this panel is purely Chinese in origin. By tradition, the phoenix appears in times of peace and prosperity. It numbers among the four divine creatures along with the dragon, the unicorn and the tortoise. It presides over the heavens’ southern quadrant and thus symbolizes the sun and therefore, warmth. A creature of good omen, the phoenix began to appear independently in the visual arts during the Six Dynasties period (220 – 589).

Detail front.

Detail back.

Zoomed-in front.

Zoomed-in back.

Front: Rectangular silk fragment with dragon-and-flaming-pearl medallions against a ground of scrolling clouds.
Description: Silk brocade; royal blue silk ground of dyed yarns in tabby weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with flat strips of double-layered paper faced with gold leaf.
Era: Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368).
Size: Length: 22.0 cm; Width: 27.5 cm.
Comments[1]: The principal motifs of Yuan brocades typically appear within circular medallions. Often with cusped edges and wide borders, the medallions are set against a heavily textured ground. Furthermore in Yuan period, pieces both the foundation and supplementary wefts are continuous, with no floating wefts. In addition, the foundation wefts tend to be bundled in order to accommodate the wide, gold-faced supplementary wefts, resulting in a finished fabric that appears lightly ribbed.

Detail back.

Zoomed-in front.

Rectangular silk panel with a Buddhist mantra.
Description: Silk brocade; rust red silk ground of dyed yarns in tabby weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with flat strips of double-layered paper faced with gold leaf.
Era: Ming dynasty (mid 15th - early 17th Century).
Size: Length: 21.5 cm; Width: 66.5 cm, including selvages.
Comments[1]: This textile’s seven brocaded characters represent the transliteration of a Sanskrit invocation or prayer; they are written in Lantsa script, an Indic script used in Nepal and Tibet for Buddhist invocations and prayers – and also in China for Tibetan-style Buddhist invocations and prayers. The first six syllables comprise of a mantra that from left to right is conventionally translated as - “O, the jewel in the lotus”. The seventh symbol is a seed character that symbolizes the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, with whom the mantra is traditionally associated. All mantras and invocations are chanted using traditional Sanskrit sounds even when translated into Chinese, since the actual sound itself is believed to hold mystical powers, irrespective if the Sanskrit sounds is beyond the comprehensions of those who hear them.

Rectangular silk altar, table or desk frontal with pleated valance and with decoration of confronting makaras.
Description: Silk brocade; dark marine blue silk ground of dyed yarns in four-end satin weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with polychrome silk yarns and with bundle silk threads wrapped with flat paper strips faced with gold leave.
Era: Ming dynasty (late 15th - early 16th Century)
Size: Length: 84.5 cm; Width: 109.0 cm: selvage-to-selvage width of each lower panel: 54.5 cm.
Comments[1]: Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the makaras that ornate this frontal – and the bajixiang (see below) which emblems the border in its main panel – were introduced to China from Tibet during the Yuan dynasty. The makara - a hybrid sea creature - originated more than two thousand years ago in India where it is regarded as a symbol of fertility, as suggested by the floral scrolls that issue from its mouth. Incorporated into early Indian Buddhist art, along with yaksas, yaksis, and other fertility emblems, makara imagery found its way to all the lands where Buddhism spread. In China the makara was viewed as a type of dragon – where it was variously termed yinglong or kuilong (i.e. a ying dragon or kui dragon) – so that it came to appear in religious and secular contexts alike.


Long, rectangular panel of silk with decorations of eight auspicious emblems (bajixiang) amidst scrolling clouds.
Description: Silk brocade; dark navy blue silk ground of dyed yarns in four-end satin weave, the ground interwoven in brocade weave with polychrome silk yarns and with flat gold leaf adhered to dark tan substrate yarns.
Era: Ming dynasty (second half of the 16th Century)
Size: Length: 266.5 cm; Width: 30.5 cm.
Comments[1]: Popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the bajixiang or Eight Auspicious Emblems, motif was introduced into Chinese Art from Tibetan Buddhism during Yuan dynasty; it appears occasionally on Jingdezhen porcelains and Longquan celadons of the day. Best known as an ornamental motif in the decorative arts, the Eight Auspicious Emblems were also fashioned independently as small sculptures in porcelain, gilt bronze, and cloisonné enamel for placement on Buddhist altars or in three-dimensional mandalas (cosmological diagrams). Although they vary considerably in Yuan-dynasty depictions, both emblems constituting the motif and their order of appearance had been standardized by Ming times as follows: (i) First emblem – the wheel - which symbolizes Buddha and his teachings; (ii) Second Emblem – the conch shell - which symbolizes the voice of Buddha; (iii) Third symbol – a canopy – which symbolizes spiritual authority, reverence and purity; (iv) Fourth symbol – an umbrella – which symbolizes royal grace; (v) Fifth symbol – a flower – which symbolizes truth, purity and creative power; (vi) Sixth symbol – a vase – which symbolizes eternal harmony, abundant blessings and ultimate triumph over the birth and death cycle; (vii) Seventh symbol - a double fish - which symbolizes fertility, abundance, conjugal happiness and protection against evil; (viii) Eighth symbol – a knot – which symbolizes longevity, eternity and receipt of Buddha’s guidance.


[1] C. Brown et al., Weaving China’s Past, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix (2002).