Sunday, July 17, 2011

Inspiration from African Kuba Cloth or "organic geometry"

After my last post, and in contemplating how to combine "geometric" pattern, line, circles, squares, etc. in an more organic and less hard edged way in my painting, I came upon a Tumblr image that was described as "Ceremonial Cuban cloth) . . .

Image from Tumblr and it's link here.

This started a contemplative "journey" in my mind's eye, as to how to incorporate what I call "organic geometry" into some kind of abstract compositions on my painting surfaces.

Many, many years ago (I won't say how long ago!), I saw a piece of what was described to me as "bark cloth", which had been brought back with a couple from their trip to Australia. I think that was probably the first time I had ever seen anything like that. It was very large and the texture was wonderful and the designs were amazing. I never forgot it.

When I started seeing examples of a type of these designs on Tumblr from the Hamill Gallery in Boston, I learned that it is called "Kuba." Here are a few more examples from the Hamill Gallery, and in their description, they use the words repetition and rythym.

My very favorites are the patterns and repetitions in black and tan . . .

It wasn't until I decided to do this blog post, that I found out a little more about
the story behind the making of these beautiful designs, which I found on this African imports site. This link to this page on their site has a youtube video (that I don't know how to post here . . still learning) about the meaning of the cloth, which I find amazing . . .
The Meaning of Kuba Cloth
 African Kuba cloth is just starting to become popular in the United States. Using the leaf of the raffia tree, the Kuba people of the Congo first hand cut, and then weave the strips of leaf to make pieces of fabric, often called raffia cloth. There are several different sub groups of the Kuba people. Each group has different and unique ways to make the fabric. Some make it thicker, longer, shorter, or with different patches. Each patch is symbolic and many times a piece has many different meanings. When Kuba cloth originated there were probably no patches used, but as the cloth is brittle it is quite likely that the patches were used to repair the frequent tears. Later each patch developed a meaning, many patterns are uniquely arranged to tell a story. 

      TheMaking of Kuba Cloth
The process of making Kuba cloth is extremely time consuming and may take several days to form a simple placemat size piece. The men first gather the leaves of the raffia tree and then dye it using mud, indigo, or substances from the camwood tree. They then rub the raffia fibers in their hands to soften it and make it easier for weaving. After they've completed the base cloth the women embroider it. They do this by pulling a few threads of the raffia fibers, inserting them into a needle running the needle through the cloth until the fibers show up on the opposite end. They then take a knife and cut off the top of the fibers, leaving only a little bit showing. Doing this hundreds of times forms a design. The designs are seldom planned out ahead of time, and most of the embroidery is done by memory. 
The Kuba people, who developed this and many other fabrics were very resistant to using European cloth; and for many years seldom used machine made fabrics. When researching this and other cloths that the Kuba people developed, it is not hard to understand why they resisted the change so much. Each fabric, each pattern, and each design in traditional Kuba fabrics has great meaning. On the basis of what a person wore; you could interpret much about them. Social status age, marital status, and a person's character were just a few of the things a piece of cloth symbolized to these people. 

When I found this painting, by Kelly Marzycki, on her blog "Aesthetic Work", which, to me, reminds me of, or has the "flavor" of, Kuba cloth . . . well . . .viewing this piece was the synchronicity that drew me toward an inner reflection process that I write about here, how much I loved the organic nature of Kuba cloth . . organic yet with structure. Her painting is less structured yet still has that feel.

Kelly Maszycki, The Earth Forgets Nothing
(Acrylic on nujabi paper)
Now I know that the patching results in the combination of seemingly dissimilar patterns, which I love visually (reminds me of Asian boro cloth), yet it also has symbolic meaning. The following are images of kuba inspired patterns in my living room. I also love zebra patterns, although that may come from liking a black/white palette, but the pattern is also organic.

A wall hanging in my living room

Pillow from Ikea on my couch

This cloth covers my piano

Another pillow from Ikea . . although not organic, I like the repetition

Not Kuba . . but here's the circle!

Detail of my living room rug (wool not zebra!)

This juxtoposition of pattern, rythym, repetition, grids, yet so organic fascinates me. I don't know at this point, where this all will take me in my painting, but I wanted to share with you what is feeling very exciting to me. All of you don't know my "story", but there is a whole lot that has "percolated" within me thoughout my life, that I am discovering, and it seems to be, at one time . . erupting . . at another time . . a quiet blooming . . . and . . rather late in life. It has been feeling lately very rich and deep, and I'm having thoughts that all this may be fodder for a book. Ha!!! . . who knows! After all . . . one never really knows what tomorrow will bring, as long as one keeps moving and doing . . and paying attention . . not remaining rigid and opening to new possibilities . . and, I believe, the Universe does the rest.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Between organic and geometric . . .

I've been going through a struggle . . am trying to look at it as a dance . . between painting organic, textural images and putting what I'll call geometry (line, squares, and circles) in combination with organic (now only visually) more textural surfaces. I have been calling it a struggle, because the images I gravitate to, visually, as I look at paintings on fb, galleries on the web, and especially Tumblr (you can see what I'm speaking about by viewing my Tumblr archive page here). Most of these images have nothing to do with geometry and only some suggest it.

I have known that I felt compelled to put circles in my work for some time and have accepted that. Somehow . . from the past to now . . how do I put it . . "they just want to be there". And so I've felt that I will do that . . . until I don't feel that! I have no idea where this urge comes from . . somewhere inside . . and completely out of any "rational" explanation. As I've been working on about 21 cradled panels (oil & cold wax) from 8" square (a series) to 24" square, it seems that lines "want" to go in. Yet when I do this it takes me away from the organic nature of images you can see on my Tumblr archive site . . and . . I don't like them. So these surfaces will be dancing back and forth. I've been thinking of how to make the more geometric shapes more organic and more subtle.

These are pics from the progress of my last post of developing images in oil and cold wax, and they are nothing like what I started with. 

The series of eight 8" panels &
the two panels I had started in my last post

The next photos are what has evolved up to this point:

oops! just noticed my shoes!

I looked at my sketchbooks, as I remembered I was doing the same thing . . had the same "struggle" or "dance" going on. Some pics of some of my sketchbook pages:

So! . . this has been what's been going on. I'm tempted to go back and finish some encaustics that were almost done when I stopped, but this "dance" is starting to intrigue me rather than feeling like a struggle. I have a degree in psychology and training in being a counselor in a transpersonal psychology program, and I have been quite accustomed to delving into where emotions and feelings originate, but this (!) has been very perplexing. I actually feel better in "exposing" this dance of mine. And it feels more like an excitement in solving a puzzle . . but not by analyzing it . . just DOING it . . and letting "the chips fall where they may" or allowing what's inside to emerge.

As far as non-representational art (prior to going in that direction I did faces and figures with abstraction), so abstraction is a totally new journey for me.

Thank you to all of you for following me. In my personal life there are not many who understand my tastes in art, and seeing your icons here (and connections to other artist on fb) keeps me moving forward. I read about other artists' struggles, and it comforting to know this is all part of the ever evolving dynamics of doing art.