I am engaged by the notion that cloth should be approached as a work of art.
Early in my artistic life, I felt frustration attached to the techniques I showed my students. I could teach someone to carve a stamp or a stencil. I could talk about all of the paints or the dyes. I could come up with a zillion ways to use the silkscreen. But what we had at the end of the semester was pretty simple and hadn't changed since block printing was popular in the fifties. There had to be more to it than we'd so far encountered.
One night I woke up at four a.m., which is when I do my best brainstorming. The phrase complex cloth wakened me. Those two words described what I was missing. That night, I determined to explore the rich possibilities of the complex cloth surface.
When I woke up the next morning, my whole approach to teaching and to the fabric had changed forever. That very day I started to play with layering the techniques I was teaching. I’ve printed and dyed and layered more than a thousand lengths of cloth. In 2001, I left my ten year position at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas, because I wanted to devote all of my time to furthering this notion of art cloth.
My goals for my cloth are fairly straightforward. And I look for the same qualities in other's work, whether it is the work of my students or the work of another artist who shares my passion for cloth.
It is important that the hand of the cloth be intact.
The hand is the quality of the fabric related to how it feels and how it drapes. I don't ever want to put a medium on my fabric that will change the hand by making it stiff or hard. Some fabrics are thicker, so the hand is stiffer to start. A fabric like that―a cotton or heavy, weighted silk―can have a thicker medium applied to it, then say, a lightweight silk habotai, which is a scarf weight.
The subtleties of printing various media on different fabric types is something we learn as we go along, studying the effects of paints and dyes on silks, cottons, rayons, and linens.
The patterning on the fabric should also catch the viewer's eye and hold her attention.
Cloth may be patterned simply or may have many layers of imagery. Both approaches are valid. Sometimes patterning is achieved through tied or bound resists, or the patterning is screened. In either case the imagery used is all abstract and nonrepresentational.
Other artists choose to use recognizable imagery of one style or another. Any approach to patterning can work, but it must make sense to me and the parts must hang together.
Relationships are important.
The relationship can be a visual one of contrast―sharp shapes against soft-edged shapes, complimentary colors playing against each other in vivid combinations. The relationship can also be psychological, and this is work I find most exciting. For example, combining imagery from Asia with abstract shapes printed against a topographical map of an area begins to tell a story that is as interesting to a viewer as any painting.
Contrast is an essential key to producing exciting cloth. Contrast happens in many ways, including contrast of color, contrast of shape, contrast of texture―shiny foil against a matte silk background for example. Contrast of size plays a big role in keeping a surface interesting. Planning contrast and considering its possibilities is one of the most entertaining and challenging parts of creating art cloth.
My observations have also convinced me that work―no matter what medium you choose to pursue ― gets done more regularly and is more charged with excitement and conviction as a piece of art if the maker is emotionally invested in the process. This doesn't mean the artist cries over her cloth or labors over it while wringing her hands and lamenting...far from it. Conviction can be centered, devoted and calm. But if conviction is missing―if a maker cares nothing for what is being made ― if the making is really just going through the motions ―then the finished object will never sing. Whether analytical, steady and deliberate, free-form, or serendipitous and experimental, the work I respond to first has the maker in it, inextricably and forever.
For more information about Jane Dunnewold, please visit, www.artclothstudios.com