Monday, July 21, 2014

The Woven Work of Stanley Bulbach

Illustration: Stanley Bulbach. 'Agate Stream'.

It is always interesting to see how different creative individuals approach their work and their medium, but it is often just as interesting to see where these individuals originated, where they gained their core influences, and what sent them along their unique creative path. Many are not always walking along the clear-cut path you would imagine.

The artist Stanley Bulbach has a BA in History of Religion and an MA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies. Although these qualifications do not automatically suggest that a career in the creative arts is imminent, it also doesn't necessarily disallow it. There are so many avenues and pathways towards a truly creative life, how you get onto that path can be just as interesting as the path that you follow as an individual. 

Illustration: Stanley Bulbach. 'Agate Stream' detail.

It is often assumed that the creative arts are reserved for academic underachievers, those who couldn't make it in the academic world. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Since starting The Textile Blog, I have come across a range of individuals who have taken up creative arts careers from a diverse background of degrees, diplomas, and lifetime work that have seemingly little in common with the creative art world, but then of course all paths are linked, often on a much subtler level than many can see.

Whatever you do in life is part of your ultimate path. If you decide to be a car mechanic, and then thirty years later shift focus into 3D sculpture, then that is your path. If you work in admin for forty years and then decide to take up quilting, then that too is your path. If, like Stanley you take the road from seeming academia, research, and then the development of a fascination with North African carpet weaving through a trip through the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, then that is another path towards the creative arts.

Illustration: Stanley Bulbach. 'Bridges'.

Stanley has a deep knowledge, understanding, and sympathy for the history and traditions of carpet weaving across the Islamic world, particularly those traditions that are found in North Africa. He has an exhaustive knowledge of traditional weaving found across North Africa. However, with Stanley it isn't a matter of imbuing his carpets just with a flavour of North Africa. These are not carpets that focus on reproducing the traditions of a cultural heritage half a world away from his New York City base. These are not therefore merely extensions of the magic and passion of North Africa, though they are inevitably imbued with it, they also importantly contain part of the personality and perspective of the artist.

Stanley may well call his woven pieces 'carpets' and they are definitely within the general genre of that medium, but they are much more than the name 'carpet' could suggest, and shouldn't necessarily be treated as practical domestic accessories. These are pieces of personal artwork, artwork that could and should equally be expected to have a place reserved for them on a wall, rather than a floor. It would probably be best to describe them as somewhere between a woven tapestry and a woven fine art carpet. The description doesn't really do Stanley's work full justice, but it does give some indication of where his artwork should be.

Illustration: Stanley Bulbach. 'Gotham'.

However, perhaps more important than artistic freedom and the focus on individual perspective that automatically comes with the creative arts, Stanley is also aware of the unique symbolism that is encased in the history and continuity of woven carpet-making as well as the usage of the carpet. To many in the world it is still a vital ingredient of domesticity, and through that, is intimately connected to human life. Woven carpets have been used for all of the major celebrations of human life from birth, through marriage, to death. Carpets can be seating, bedding, used for birthing or for shrouds for the dead. They can be given as gifts, or kept as heirlooms within families as remembrances of generations past and those yet to come. Carpets are also significant partners in prayer; many of Stanley's woven pieces derive at least an element of their origin from the widespread use of prayer rugs that are seen across the Islamic world. 

Weaving itself has always been used as a wide-ranging symbol, particularly when used in the context of the ideals symbolised through the singular weakness of isolated threads compared to the strength achieved by those isolated threads when woven into a fabric. When expanded into weaving as an art form, an artistic statement even, it can be seen that weaving could easily be used as a metaphor for the contemporary world we live in today. 

Illustration: Stanley Bulbach, the artist.

Through our expression of endless and unique diversity as individuals, we can with effort, weave ourselves into the fabric that is humanity. By weaving together the diverse strengths of each of us, we create a fabric that cannot easily be ripped apart. In this respect, Stanley sees his work as a weaver, and with his local community work looking for solutions to the problems of such a large and diverse population as New York City, the two very much become the same thing. Whether you are weaving with yarn or you are weaving with people, a harmonious and interestingly diverse outcome is always hoped for.

Stanley himself weaves a complex subject of research, practical knowledge, and theory that is far too complex to touch on much in this short article, more can be seen and read at Stanley's website, a link to which is given below. However, I hope this has been a good introduction to the work of Stanley Bulbach, and if you are in the New York City area, Stanley's work can presently be seen at the Jason McCoy Gallery.


Please be aware that all photos of artwork illustrating this article were kindly supplied by the artist and are therefore copyrighted to him.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Textile Blog Summer Book Sale


The Textile Blog Summer Book Sale starts today and goes on for a full week, ending at midnight on July 21. All 11 books on The Textile Blog site, irrespective of price or subject are half price, so most will go down from $7.99 USD to $4.00, with the two Reference Guides going from $12.99 to $6.50.

All of the books on this site are in pdf format, so can both be read on your monitor screen as well as printed off if you wish. 

I have updated all of the covers in order to make them more visible, made a few minor alterations inside, and changed a few titles, but little else.

All of the books can be bought on the Books page, which can be found at the top of this page by pressing the tab just under The Textile Blog header next to HOME, or easier still by just pressing HERE.

I hope that you will be able to take advantage of this Summer Book Sale by buying some of the titles, and also hope that you enjoy this offer as much as I do in offering it to you.

With best summer wishes

John


Monday, July 07, 2014

The Work of the Artist Fanny Zakucka

Illustration: Fanny Zakucka. 'Klavierunterricht', 1903.

Fanny Zakucka, or Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka as she is sometimes known, her husband was the artist Richard Halfinger, was an Austrian fine and graphic artist of the first half of the twentieth century. She studied under Adolf Bohm, a previous TTB article about the work of Bohm entitled 'Nature as Illustrated in the Work of Adolf Bohm' can be found here

An interesting aspect of Zakucka's early studies and something that would perhaps colour her perceptions of herself and her future outlook, was the fact that not only did she study art at an all-female art school, but that the school was encouraged to participate in all female annual art exhibitions. Some might see this as deliberate segregation, limiting the scope and reach of female artists; others might see it as a way of ensuring that female artists were given at least some form of public recognition in a creative world dominated by males. 

Either way, Zakucka spent much of her life promoting the path of women's creativity either directly or indirectly. Although a member of the Austrian Werkbund, she was also founder and president of the Wiener Frauenkunst (Vienna Women's Art). She was particularly keen in promoting contemporary female artists, but was also instrumental in equally promoting women who worked in the more traditional arts. 

Illustration: Fanny Zakucka. Potrait study, 1903.

Zakucka must have been well aware of the large proportion of women, many of whom had grown to dominate much of the traditional arts and crafts disciplines of not only Austria, but also Europe in general, that were largely invisible to much of the contemporary art world. Although by no means necessarily raising the status of these women to that of contemporary artist, it was seen by Zakucka at least, that it was important to recognise the debt so many creative women owed to the traditions and discipline of the various arts and crafts trades. Many of these craft trades had given women at least some form of creative outlet over the generations, generations where nearly all artistic creativity had been firmly locked within the world of men.

Zakucka herself was involved in producing work in a range of disciplines including fine art painting, graphic art, illustration, interior design and decoration, furniture design, as well as possible textile design work. Zakucka produced a number of illustrations for books and magazines, often in the form of woodcuts. The three examples of Zakucka's work that illustrate this article are woodblock prints produced for the influential Austrian art magazine Ver Sacrum and were produced in 1903. All three show small little vignettes of domestic life at the turn of the twentieth century, and all are views of women in that domestic setting, a life often not chosen by women, but chosen for women.

Illustration: Fanny Zakucka. Study, 1903.

The twentieth century was a period of great change for many women, and the struggle for that change was made by women for women. It was particularly relevant in the creative art world that individual creative women such as Zakucka were able to reach positions which enabled them to lever open that world even further, allowing more and more women to enter the previously near male world of the arts. Only by the tenacity, bravery, and focused agenda of these women was the world of art opened up to a full representation of humanity and not half of it.

Fanny Zakucka died in 1954. Perhaps symbolically, after her death the Wiener Frauenkunst was disbanded, Zakucka had been its sole president from its inception in 1926. In many ways, the organisation and its president had run along the path far enough for Vienna Women's Art not to be needed any longer. Although it was by no means the end of the road as regards equality in the arts between genders, much had been achieved by the likes of Zakucka and for that we all have to be grateful, both male and female.

Further reading links:

Monday, June 30, 2014

To Name it is to Confine it - Separateness of Name in the Creative Arts World

Illustration: Robert Delaunay. 'Rythme, Joie de Vivre', 1930. (Photo by Guillaume Piolle)

Naming something intellectualises it; it begins to lose its power, its true identity, when we slap a label on it. It doesn't matter whether it's the particular name of a flower, or an art, design, or craft discipline, once you name something, you throw up parameters, walls of knowing.

The title of this article is a paraphrase, a very loose one, from Kirkegaard, but it has also been used by others. Krishnamurti, for example, said, "When you teach a child that bird is named 'bird', the child will never see the bird again." Sometimes, knowing the name of a plant or creature, knowing its dimensions, its life cycle, its parameters, can distance us from the real essence of the plant or creature. Sometimes, we can actually just love what we see without an encyclopaedic knowledge of it.

I must confess that I don't know many of the names of plants and animals in the natural world and I go walking in nature every day. I did try to learn, but I realised after a while that it didn't really matter whether you knew what something was called in order to appreciate it. In order to appreciate it you just need to know of its existence, to wonder and marvel at its construction, its beauty, its vitality, so much is more important in the world than a name, than a technical identification.

Illustration: Heinrich Dolmetsch. Persian ceramic decoration, 1887.

The same goes for the art, design, craft world. I was taught at college to call everything by its professional name. Therefore, someone who works with clay is a ceramicist, not a potter, someone who paints is a fine art painter, not an artist, and within textiles itself there are different official designations for any number of disciplines, and then disciplines within disciplines. A good example and one sure to irritate many is the usage of 'tapestry'. Tapestry is a woven discipline and therefore technically can only be applied to wall hangings that are woven. To call the Bayeux a tapestry for example, is technically wrong as it is in fact an embroidery. One small example in a list of technical foibles as long as your arm.

However, by fencing in small areas of discipline we isolate them from the many who know them by their more popular terms. Language changes the more 'professional' you become, isolating you and your discipline even further. You don't build bridges, build up connections by arguing whether an embroidery is a tapestry or not, whether someone who creates a ceramic vase is a ceramicist or a potter, or even who can call themselves an artist, an artist, a designer, or a crafts person. If we are ostensibly arguing over fine details, are we not missing the work itself? Which is more important, the designation or the finished piece of work? 

I am, of course, not saying that one way is necessarily right and another wrong, it is for each of us to find a good balance, but I do wonder whether sometimes exclusive worlds could do more to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. This is by no means limited to the creative arts world; we find it all around us. There are elements to exclusivity that feed a number of needs of the individuals within their exclusivity, from a feeling of safety, connectivity, all the way to the ego of elitism. However, exclusivity, whether it is through technical language, ability, knowledge, or something else entirely, can easily create a sterile environment where the knowing is more important than the doing, where 'professional' behaviour becomes more pressing than exploration. Perhaps what I am really saying is 'let it go.'
Illustration. Panels of the Bayeux tapestry, 11th century.

Making meaningful and long-lasting connections between the creative arts world and with the traditionally non-creative world seems to me to be much more important than whether we use the right terminology for disciplines and disciplines within disciplines. The creative arts do have a tendency, collectively, to exclude the general public from their world. This is often a thinly disguised defence mechanism for artists true; some of the biggest negative critics of the creative arts are those in the general world, although much of that negativity can be traced back to a feeling of exclusion on their part. Still, should we not be in the basic habit of breaking down barriers, whether put up by the creative world, or those outside of that world?

Only by a deep understanding of what it is we do will we ever be able to expand and encompass humanity as a whole within the ideals set out by the creative arts. This to me personally seems a fundamental human right that should be available to all of us; it should be actively encouraged to be seen as part of what it is to be human, and not just limited to the plucky few who inhabit the creative arts world.

Further reading links:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Creative Art as the Sharing of Personal Insight

Illustration: William Morris. 'Columbine' textile design drawing, 1876.

Some people maintain that being involved in the creative arts is one of the most individualistic approaches you can take as a human being. It is one, they maintain, that borders on self-absorption, which could well be seen as a form of selfishness, even hedonism, and to some extent that is true, though I hasten to add, only to some extent.

However, there is so much more to the equation than the mere thought of individual creativity equals selfishness. Creative art, in whatever form, is about the cycle of absorption and exhalation. The life of an artist is all about the very essence of the breath of life, the root of all we are. A creative individual absorbs the experience of their environment, takes in all of the details of sound, vision, touch, ruminates on them, plays with format and structure, and then expels the results for the world at large. 

Illustration: William Morris. 'African Marigold' textile design drawing, 1876.

The breathing in of inspiration and the breathing out of experience is the lifeblood of the arts, but to call it a selfish or self-absorbed pastime is really to miss the point of why we do what we do in the first place. It is not to preen or beat your chest in self-congratulation, it is not to be seen as overcoming odds, wrestling with the elements and materials of your discipline, it is not even the dismissal of society at large, in fact far from it. The idea of sharing is much more integral the creative arts than many would admit. It is much more a case of humbly sharing your own particular insight on the world through the results of your creative experience.

You are making available to the human condition, the journey that you took from inspirational wonder, through the flow of absorption in work, to the resulting piece, which is to be experienced and enjoyed by others. You are lifting the heavy curtain of insight into the magic of the world, a curtain that remains such a barrier to many. By lifting that curtain, if only to catch a glimpse of what is beyond, you do an untold service to the human species, and you should be congratulated for doing so. In some ways, you are doing a service to the rest of humanity.

Illustration: William Morris. 'Tulip and Willow' textile design drawing, 1873.

Each piece of work that you produce, in whatever form or nature, is a small piece of healing, a way of shifting the human perspective of consciousness to just a little further along the path of well-being. It helps to move the collective human fixation with everything that appears to be wrong with our world, to some of the things that seem right. Creative art helps, in its own way, to move the perspective away from the self-absorption of society, its negativity, and its obsession with what it doesn't have, to an understanding of what it does have.

In many respects, though there are always exclusions, the creative arts are in the business of fostering possibilities rather than denials, focused positivity rather than unfocused negativity. The artists involved in so many prisms of the creative arts are involved in what can be achieved and unfolded in this world of ours, rather than what can't be achieved. Focusing on the ineffectiveness of hurdles, rather than fixating on the impossibility of overcoming those hurdles, is the key to understanding the creative mind. 

It is not often that the arts are likened to a vital service, I would say as vital as the good health and education of humanity, but then again perhaps it should. Rather than being seen, as it so often is by many, as a self-indulgent and self-elitist club, it should be seen as an integral and vital element of our well-being as individuals and certainly that of the species. Creative artists are the practitioners of endless possibilities, guides to the wonder of the world around us, and revealers of the complexity of the human condition.

Further reading links: