Textiles Influence Painter Chuck Close

Phil (2011-12) by Chuck Close: work and detail

If you’ve spent any time at art museums, you’ve undoubtedly seen the work of Chuck Close. I’m always taken aback when I round a corner and see one of his early, photo-realistic faces staring down at me—they’re huge (his 1968 Big Self Portrait (below), which I first saw at the Walker Art Museum when I was in college, is nearly 9’x7′).

So yesterday I was reading Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein, when I came upon a chapter about Chuck Close and his creative process (I am loving this book, by the way—based on the Studio 360 radio show, which despite being an avid NPR listener I’ve never heard). Close talks about the way that, because he is learning disabled, he has always created his paintings with a grid. Early on, it served to break the huge portraits into manageable chunks and for many years he would erase the grid (like he did in Big Self Portrait). But eventually he incorporated it into his work. Over time, the photorealism of his images—which had been created with tiny, tiny dots and brushstrokes—gave way to a more expressive way of painting, in which the faces in his paintings are evident if you stand way back, but up close they’re hard to see. And lo and behold, he credits the textile arts as an influence.

Chuck Close, Self-Portrait II, 2001

“I know that one of the important primal experiences for me as a child was watching my grandmother knit and crochet and make quilts and afghans and things like that, which look a lot like my work today. She would crochet pieces and put them together to make even bigger pieces. A lot of what I do has a lot to do with what was called women’s work—a process that you sign on to and you keep working at it until you get something. I think it has a lot to do with construction, and I try to build a painting rather than paint it.”

Agnes, 1998

Of course, if you look at Close’s work it’s easy to see this, but it somehow hadn’t crossed my mind. I got mighty excited knowing that Close’s commanding works have their roots in his grandmother’s tiny stitches, proof that however simple or mundane your work might seem, you never know the influence it can have.

Fabric Smack-down!

So those half-square triangles hit the mailbox on Tuesday, and it was something of a relief to have them out of the house. Soon another 1400 will take their place and I’ll be contemplating ways to sew them together. But for now I’ve got another many-pieced project on the brain.

In January I took a workshop through my local guild with Bill Kerr of Modern Quilt Studio.  I’ve interviewed Bill’s wife and business partner Weeks Ringle for American Patchwork and Quilting, and wrote a story about them both for Magic Patch. I love their work and how thoughtful they are about the design and coloration of their quilts. Plus they’re friendly, funny, down-to-earth folks.

Fabric Fusion

For the workshop, Bill had us bring an assortment of fabrics and we teamed up with someone we didn’t know well and had a “fabric smack-down.” Bill said he and Weeks do this when deciding on fabrics for a quilt, alternating fabric choices and describing why each might work with the others. It was a real challenge: my partner Jean is a batik-lover and my stack consisted mostly of bright and bold pieces. So when she laid down a leafy batik, I laid the Brandon Mabley piece (above) on top of it. We both laughed in surprise—not a combo that either one of us would have thought of on our own, but one that seemed to work.

My Fabric Fusion palette

I took that same piece of fabric and decided to develop a palette around it and make their Fabric Fusion quilt from the February 2012 American Patchwork and Quilting. One of Bill’s and Week’s strengths is combining unexpected fabrics—Jo Morton calicos with contemporary David Butler lines. So while I found 26 of the fabrics to use in my stash they were mostly brights and I had to buy just a few more to round out the look. Here’s what I’ve come up with…are there any that you’d remove from this fabric smack down? There are one or two I’m not quite sure of, but maybe they provide the foil that makes the others work…let me know what you think!

Sweat Shop Sewing

Tiny paper hats? Nope, HST trimmings

A few months ago I agreed to participate in a a half-square triangle (HST) swap. I’m always envious of the online swaps and Instagram challenges I see (I’m still contemplating a scrappy Trip Around the World quilt, although the speedy quilters of Instagram seem to have that one wrapped up already). So I naively thought this might be a good way to get into a little collaborative quilting.

Little did I know when I said yes that the required number of HSTs was 1400! We’re using Laundry Basket Quilt’s 2″ HST paper, which helps because you can make 28 at a time. And I’m enjoying mixing up a lot of fabrics from my stash–a dark and a light for each. But it’s amazing how many I still have to do. I’m past the halfway mark, but still face more nights in my sweat shop…er, sewing room…before I finish.

Next I’ll be stressing over what I’ll do with all those HSTs. That part has been fun to think about, though. The variety of possibilities is endless. When I can’t face making any more HSTs, I fool around with layouts to keep myself motivated. With 1400 HSTs, I might just make two smaller quilts.

Any suggestions for great HST layouts?