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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Musings;Art Outside the Box-Symbols I have known.

As someone who has always turned to animal imagery, it's always a hard moment when someone says, " You really like frogs, don't you? "Or bugs, or any of the other creatures that fly, swim or crawl through my work.
Symbolism doesn't work that way. It's not a matter of what you like. Images are taskmasters. They grab hold and won't let go until you somehow dance with them. Work with them. Run them through the mill of the mind. Do what you will. Somehow that image will come around again and again until you've found a way to flip it into a different place internally.


Every so often I run into some bright eyed youngster who tells me their totem is the wolf, the dolphin, the eagle, etc. I loved the young man who told me his was the great brown bear. He didn't know enough to know that that image  is usually viewed as female. He was trying to follow indigenous religion and thought. He thought it was cool.  I think I would have shocked him had I told him, but perhaps he was improved by a female totem.


I've been writing art statements long enough to be aware of where much of my imagery starts. The frogs and bugs come from some fairly deep seated body images.The fish are about life in the stream of life. The birds are about the mix of feral wisdom within a bird's life. And in the midst of all of it, I know with certainty, I'm quilting people I know.  Most often it's about me. It's mostly social commentary. I'm trying to make sense of my life.


At one point when I was constantly on the road, I couldn't leave the dragonflies alone. Then it hit me. They live a transitory life, flitting from place to place. It was like they'd read my itinerary.


I often don't understand my own imagery except in retrospect. That's fine. If I pay attention, listen to the images that drive me, they will fuel my art.It may heal the bruised bits of ego and id that rule the internal chaos.Art is causative and purposely for transformation. Good art changes the relationship between the artist and whatever symbol they're in action with.


Perhaps what each of us have to give that is most precious as artists, is the unique view that spills out of our art. The symbols are a vocabulary. It makes sense if each of us is an island, a separate and distant country, that that language not be the same as anyone elses. What is most miraculous is when someone else sees that land from their distant shore, reaches it to view that different county, and can make the translation of it for themselves. When that happens, art breaks all boundaries, changes people's thought's and minds and hearts.
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Musings: Art out of the box. The Egg Fu Young of Design

Every so often someone asks me if I start with a background or with an image. It's probably cruel when I turn to them and say, "Yes!" So sorry. It's true. The chicken and the egg question is always part of the process of art.


I know when someone asks me that,  they want a formula. Wouldn't that be nice? A simple clean pathway that always produces something wonderful! Do a and b, finish with c, dust it with a dash of e.d.f and pat on the head.  All artists have some kind of map like that but it's always got huge territories within that are marked off with the ancient warning, "Here there be dragons." We don't know for sure that there's a dragon in there. We just know it's uncharted territory. Anything could be in there.


Now we don't have to go into uncharted territory as an artist. Not every day. But if we never go near,we're stuck strictly with what we know. That's sometimes very limited. And when you go into that uncharted area anything really could be in there. The mental quicksand of fear. The cure for internal cancer of doubt. A beauty not yet conceived. Uncharted art may be the last unexplored territory, the last frontier, with all the riches and terrors attendant.


But the nurture of any living thing is uncharted land. A child, a dog, a love, a passion, and a piece of art work are all living things with their own rhythms, needs, flows, patterns. We can extrude our own druthers  upon them, but they crack off as a living thing grows like a bad veneer.




I've maintained for a long time that art has a life entire of it's own. I learned long ago that it extends past my intentions, particularly once it's in the public eye. It often goes places I will never go. It has jobs of it's own to do. And hopefully, as one wishes for one's children, it has a life that goes out, past and separate from my own.
So perhaps it's not odd that I can't say for sure that the chicken always comes first .It simply can't be proved by practice. Sometimes you just end up holding the egg end of it first. Sometimes a background insists on an image and there you are. Insist back if you like, but art will demand what it demands. Whether you're up to it or not. Start with the background and listen carefully. It will take you in, layer by layer.




Other times the images are so strong that I form them first and then shop them around one background after another looking for the right home.It's like selling real estate to an image. we drive up to a piece of fabric, walk around in it and see it 's the right neighborhood and if the schools will be good for the kids. All jokes aside, there's a place that clearly right within a piece of fabric or it won't fit in.







Hunter's Moon

Hunter's Moon was completely image driven. In fact, the owl had been made for another quilt entirely. That quilt involved all kinds of images I couldn't quite master. As an demo where I needed an embroidered appliqué to show, I pulled it out of a pile and made a background for it.


It was a fairly simple thing to pull to pieces together and strip piece them to make filtered moonlight, powered by an Angelina fiber moon.In a way, image focused quilts are simpler. You finish your image and then you simply slip it into it's home, nestled into layers of stitchery and sheers. I added bats and moths because they too hunt the night by moonlight. They're part of it.



Balcony Scene
Background based imagery takes more of a leap of faith. The background for this quilt fairly squished with the kind of marshy land that grows calla lilies and extra large frogs. The frogs weren't exactly an afterthought, but they came after the callas. The butterflies came after that as a way to move the eye through the background.It built up in layers until the butterflies soared around the edges.


If art is alive, if it is a quivering, living thing, then it makes sense that we can't make a formula that works each time. We can't really paint by numbers without somehow losing something in the process. Instead, like every living thing, it grows accordingly to it's own inner map and clock. Like egg fu young, the chicken and the egg are both there, both present. But only in their own way. I can only be present myself, and lend myself to their growth.
Monday, September 21, 2009

The Grace of Derailment

There are many times I thank everything holy I am not in charge. I know for a certainty, I am not in charge of my art.


This is a derailed day. I have two printers out, and I can't find my favorite embroidery hoop. That means no photos for a book and no mailing out letters. Neither of those are blowup, throw up crises, but I do find myself derailed. My plans for the day are as shot through with arrows as St. Stephen and equally dead.

There was a great poem by e.e. cummings about his Uncle Saul who failed at raising chickens, skunks, weasels and every other thing until he died and started his worm farm. Derailment is like that. There's something else to do. I just haven't settled on the right thing yet.

Sometimes I think that the tasks around me are a river that sweeps through. It carries me bobbing along, under, over, sometimes sideways through what has to be done. Some things get more attention than other. I've always thought a dirty house could always be dirtier rather than a quilt be more undone.

Is it a day for photos and dyed threads? I think so. The printers are clearly new paperweights.
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Musings: Art outside the box

Years ago, I had a friend tell me, "Sometimes your art is your life. Sometimes your life is your art."
I don't think I got it at the time. I had this fire in my head that made it impossible to leave the machine, the fabric, the sewing room, all of it alone.

Lately I find myself sewing in words. I'm crafting words and I can't seem to leave that alone. So my machine sits fallow much of the time. It's productive. I've self-published 4 books this year. But it's not making any quilts.

If art is a product, then I'm not doing my art. Is art only a product? Is it only a painting, a quilt, a pot, a weaving. Is it a performance? Something that only matters if we show it? What does art do, other than to be something made and show to others?

What if, instead it's a day to day process, a transformation of what we take in?

There's an old saying."Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so."Perhaps art is that process of rethinking the flotsom and jetsom of our lives so that it coalesces into a more sensible whole. We take our stories, our bruises, our tears, our rages, our hopes and dreams and dress them up through the process of what we make out of them. And somehow, they change our thinking. What was good is better. What was unspeakable is at least funny. Or speakable. What is agony is something that came and went and like the fairies left both good and bad presents.

I think that part of my art gone out of my box, my sewing room, my studio might well be the quilt I'm afraid of. I have a large lizard quilt drawn on my wall. It's komodo dragons, dancing in the moonlight. Is it odd? Well, all of my romatic life is odd or non-existant, but no more than what I see on tv which doesn't even start to define odd as reality.

The actual image is them fighting, in nature. But it looks somehow like a romatic dance. This may explain why I live with cats and dogs.

Will this quilt change me if I make it? Of course. All art changes us. That is what it does. It is the philosopher's stone. It changes lead into more precious commodities.

So today I'm going to pull my art out of the art box. I'm going to make my life my art. Which means the making of my life through small actions into a place of change for good.Wash the dishes. Find the bottom of the kitchen floor. It's in there somewhere.
And go and look at the lizards and see if I'm ready to dance with them yet.
Here lizard, lizard , lizard.


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