Thursday, December 20, 2012

Do Your Work

Monday was a difficult day. Overwhelmed by the events of last Friday in Sandy Hook, I struggled to write a blog post about the project I’m working on for Northwest Arkansas Community College. It was the heartbreaking photograph I saw of twenty-six paper angels atop a hillside that drove me outside for a walk. The Northern California coast, where I am visiting for a few weeks, was at its winter best, the sky heavy with grey clouds, hillsides velvet green and the damp muddiness that comes from weeks of intermittent rain.

Feeling disconnected and out of sorts, I decided to make this a “windfall walk”. I learned about windfall walks a couple of years ago from the textile artist, India Flint at a Surface Design Association conference. India, a natural dyer, walks, somewhat aimlessly, looking for plant material that has fallen to the ground and collects it for use in her work. While India’s work and mine are very, very different—she uses what she gathers to dye the cloth, I use what I find to make marks on and inform my work—thinking of this walking and gathering as an event is very useful to me.  Often I think of windfall in the larger sense: what can I gather from what the world presents to me today? Sometimes I collect only photographs, or my thoughts.

Lining the trail is a stand of eucalyptus trees. California and the eucalyptus tree have a rather unhappy history. Imported from Australia in the 1850’s they were supposed to be a quick growing supply of wood for construction and railroad ties. Unfortunately, it turned out that the young growth of the tree was unsuitable to any use other than a wind block, but by the time that was discovered many trees had already been planted. In the San Francisco Bay Area they are an ubiquitous part of the landscape.

Eucalyptus may not have lived up to its potential in industry, and I’ve read that some ecologists think of them as invasive pests, but they do have at least one redeeming quality if you are a textile artist: the leaves make an excellent natural dye.

As I walked along the path thinking about Eucalyptus trees and unfulfilled potential, I noticed at my feet little round shapes with x’s in them. Eucalyptus seed pods…hmm…perhaps two redeeming qualities…like a good windfall walker, I gathered some up and took them into the studio with me.

Eucalyptus seed pods • Bodega, California • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

I have the good fortune to work with my friend Dotti Day in her studio while I’m here. Dotti works primarily in silk and creates whole cloth art pieces. She is also quite knowledgeable about shibori, here, let me distract you with a detail of one of her gorgeous Arashi shibori scarves.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Dotti Day • Shibori Scarf detail • ©2012 Dotti Day

This past week Dotti has been teaching me about foil application techniques and graciously allowing me access to her vast stash of tools and supplies. First she showed me how to apply special glue made to work with the foil sheets. That worked fine.

Foil application experiments • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Then she brought out the secret weapon 007 glue powder. That was pretty fun.

007 Bonding Agent • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Next we talked about the method of using a Thermofax screen to apply the glue. “It’s easy enough to make a screen,” she said, “you just need to have an image, in black and white, of what you want to print.” Sounds simple enough. To create my image I washed and dried the Eucalyptus seed pods I'd gathered, cut a small piece of felt, dropped some black ink onto it to create a stamp pad and printed a variety of the pod heads in a pleasing manner on a piece of paper. After it dried, I scanned the image into the computer, made the blacks blacker, the whites whiter, and printed it out on the laser printer. Dotti fired up her trusty old Thermofax machine and created a screen for me, then showed me how to mount it into a frame and tape it off.

Image made from Eucalyptus seed pods, ink • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

With the screen mounted it was time to print the glue onto fabric and iron on the foil. I choose for this experiment a piece of cloth I had in my stash and randomly printed my design a couple of times. Then I applied a bronze foil over most of the design then went back and applied some gold foil to add depth.

Seed pod image printed with adhesive and foil applied • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

I am very pleased with the results and can see great potential for using this technique in my work. Dotti generously gave me some rolls of foil to take back to my studio so I can continue to experiment.

What started as a melancholy wander through the rain turned into a productive day in the studio, proving once again the wise words of the Tao Te Ching…
Do your work, then step back.

The only path to serenity.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

'Tis the Season…

’Tis the season…for giving parties, giving presents and giving thanks. Personally, anything that involves sparkly lights is okay with me. I am especially thrilled to be participating in the East Prospect 2 Exhibition: Art for the Holidays happening Thursday, December 6th from 5- 8pm and Saturday, December 8th from 11am to 4pm at 545 East Prospect in Fayetteville, Arkansas, not only because I am in awe of the work of all the visual artists involved but also because Craig Colorusso, who brought his amazing Sun Boxes to the summer east prospect show, is back with a Cube Music installation. (I've been told the lights do not sparkle, but glow with the music, which sounds wonderful.) I will be showing some of my textile paintings and I’ve got a new batch of scarves perfect for gift giving or holiday party wear.

Cube Music • Craig Colorusso • photo ©2012 Megan Chapman
My scarves are also available in my new Etsy shop, if you’d like to take a look. I’ve been experimenting with some new dying techniques and things have gotten wildly colorful—perfect to brighten up those dreary winter days. And, as always, if you are interested in giving a gift of my art for the holidays, or any time, please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you might have. I am happy to ship anywhere in the world.

Scarves for the holidays • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
More exciting news, I’ve been invited to participate in the Snowflake Salon: biennial invitation 2012 at the Art Bridge Club of Center City, 1616 Walnut Street, Fourteenth Floor, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The exhibition runs from December 14th to February 8th 2013, and there’s a reception Friday, December 14, from 5 – 8 pm. If you are in Philadelphia I would love for you to stop by and let me know how it all looks. I may have to figure out a way to get there myself…

Snowflake Salon works in progress • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Friday, August 31, 2012

Folding Cloth

I love getting to the Thunder Mountain Studio* early in the morning. Lisa and I have been chatting on the drive here but we are silent as we enter and get to work opening the windows and doors, she does the left side of the room, I take the right. We step out onto the covered porch area on the side of the building and prepare the tables and electrical cords for the two heat presses. Together we carry the heavy machines to their places, one, two, three, lift, and flip the switches on.

Heat presses at Thunder Mountain Studio, Peters Valley Craft Center ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Returning inside we organize the classroom and materials for the day, Lisa reviewing her lesson plan and samples while I clear my table and mix up some new dye colors. Misty rain falls outside, called a wet soft in Ireland, Lisa told me on the way here. It looks a bit like Ireland out there—luscious, green and wet.

Out back • Thunder Mountain Studio, Peters Valley Craft Center ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Yesterday afternoon Lisa demonstrated a couple of Shibori dyeing techniques. Shibori is a Japanese word for a method of dyeing cloth by binding, stitching, folding or twisting it. The folds, stitches, etc. create tight places (resists) that restrict the flow of dye and create lovely patterns. If you ever tie-dyed a tee shirt then you’ve done shibori. On the one hand, an artist could spend a life-time studying Shibori techniques and never learn it all. On the other, it is an extremely accessible technique that produces great results. (Admit it, you loved that tee shirt.)

Itajime (pronounced eeta-gee-may) Shibori is the folding kind. Last night I made a few sample bundles, which hopefully are dry now and can be set as soon as the presses warm up.

Itajime, folded, Shibori bundles • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Finished Itajime Shibori sample 1 • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Finished Itajime Shibori sample 2 • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Finished Itajime Shibori sample 3 • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
I’m thrilled with the results of my experiments and decide to make more. This time I use these wooden blocks to form the resist.

Wooden blocks used for resist • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
Finished Itajime Shibori sample from wooden blocks • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
One of the many benefits of attending a workshop is the chance to experiment with something new in a safe environment—I’m not trying to make Art here, I’m learning, I’m practicing. This is good for me—I can tell my inner perfectionist to wait outside (in the rain!) and while I’m not sure how I will incorporate this process into my work when I get back to the studio, I don’t need to know all the answers today. I can relax and enjoy what develops.

The breeze blows, the rain falls, I fold cloth.

*This is Part Two in a series about my experience at Peters Valley Craft Center attending Lisa Grey’s workshop, Disperse Dyes: Reinventing the Wheel. Part One can be found here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Peters Valley • Day One

I should be concentrating on what workshop instructor, Lisa Grey, is saying about mixing dye, but all I can think about are the ticks. Yes, ticks, as in Deer Ticks, the kind that carry Lyme’s disease. I am in New Jersey at Peters Valley Craft Center attending a workshop called, Disperse Dyes: Reinventing the Wheel. I’m here at Lisa’s invitation as her guest and also because this is what I do. I make art using Disperse Dyes, a class of dyes specially formulated to work in tandem with synthetic fabrics to produce vivid, detailed and exciting results. Lisa and I are among a handful of professional artists using these dyes, which are employed primarily and extensively in industry. I’ve taken many classes from Lisa, been her workshop assistant, and over the years we have become good friends, but still, I’m not paying attention to her. I keep thinking of the ticks. How many do you suppose there are between here and the car?

Tick Talk

This being the first morning of the five day workshop we started with an orientation lecture from Fran, temporary assistant and knower of all things Peters Valley. She brought up the ticks, or maybe I asked about them, and said we should take precautions, like tucking your pant legs into your socks, wearing light colored clothing and bug spray containing DEET, as well as checking yourself every night for the tiny, pinhead size beasts. Don’t worry, she said, the local medical center is well aware of the situation and ready to treat anyone who develops symptoms (a bullseye rash, fever, nausea). I take a deep breath in an attempt to remain calm, but unfortunately the discussion doesn’t end there. It seems everyone has their favorite Lyme’s Disease story: someone’s roommate had it three times in one summer, a friend got it five years ago and still hasn’t recovered. It goes on, each person sharing until we get to, “my friend used to teach classes here, she and her husband came every summer. One year he contracted Lyme’s Disease, they tried to treat it but he died. She’s coming here to have lunch with me today, so please don’t mention it, you know, while she’s here.”

Making Art Makes a Difference

At that moment Lisa calls the class to order and begins instructing us how to mix the dyes. She demonstrates the proper technique of using the enclosed and ventilated dye booth, the scale, dye to water ratio…she knows there are beginners in the class so she is careful, explaining each step as she goes. After she finishes mixing the first color she says, “Okay, now everyone will get a chance to mix a color, Jennifer, would you like to do the next one?” I look up, startled by the sound of my name, and Lisa smiles at me. “Of course,” I say, “I’d be happy to.” All thoughts of ticks, illness and death fly away from my brain as I move toward the dye box. A sense of peace invades. I can do this. Five luxurious days of making art lie ahead. I’m ready. I’ll worry about finding someone to carry me to the car later.

Day One 

Mixing the dyes for class • Peters Valley©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

We mixed a bright yellow and a buttercup, orange, red, flame scarlet, turquoise, blue, cool black and navy. Of course, one could make an orange from mixing red and yellow, turquoise from blue and yellow, but these colors are sold already mixed in the dye powder form.

Dyes, thickener, color tests: ready to start • Peters Valley • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Each batch of the same color dye can vary due to things like temperature, water composition, and mixing conditions so dye stock colors should be tested first thing—it makes mixing easier if you know where you are starting. Here, the work table is set with dyes, thickener, water and tools. You can see the grass parking lot I was worried about in the background.

Working in collaboration • Peters Valley Craft Center • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

Our first day Lisa covered each work table with a different surface: cloth, newspaper, heavy yellow paper, and a length of white kraft paper. We each mixed a color, any color, no testing, everybody just guessed, and selected a brush or mark making tool. We circled the tables one at a time making marks as we went. These papers and cloth may become elements used in future compositions.

My work table • Peters Valley • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

After our collaborative exercises, we worked on our own, mixing colors we will work with the next couple of days and experimenting with the different markmaking tools available. I especially love the circular marks made by an antique whisk one of the participants brought. I need to find one for myself!

At the end of the day I can hardly remember my anxiety from this morning. I am awed by this beautiful sunset as I trudge across the grass to the car—tired, fulfilled and unworried about ticks, or anything else, for that matter. Once again, art has rescued me and nature has redeemed herself.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

so far, so good

If you count houses, studios, apartments, and storage units I’ve moved eleven times since 2010, six of them in the last six months. Not surprisingly, I’ve been having difficulty keeping track of all that has happened. I decided to take a page, or maybe it’s a post, out of friend, and fellow artist, Megan Chapman’s excellent blog and write a recap of the last few months. Megan is a believer in the power of a periodic review and has repeatedly encouraged me to go through this exercise. Why do I balk and fuss and procrastinate? How hard could it be to list all the exciting things that have happened recently? Good question. In the best of times it is easy to get discouraged and think, oh, I’m not making any progress, my work doesn’t really matter, or my personal favorite, what was I thinking? Those are the usual self-doubts of any creative person and they are magnified under stress. Many wonderful things have happened in the last six months, but as with every life there have been shadows around the edges—for every win there was a loss or two—sadness, illness, disappointment have made their appearances. So every memory contains some difficult moments but I’m making the choice to believe that every moment we are alive is a moment for which to be grateful so today I want to chronicle some of the triumph’s and successes that have been part of my extraordinary journey.

 In January I moved from Northwest Arkansas to Kansas City, Missouri and went looking for studio space. In February I signed a lease on my new studio in the Hobbs Building, located in the West Bottoms neighborhood of Kansas City, it is an old furniture warehouse that has been converted into six floors of artist’s studios, a printmaking studio and even an art school. The artists in the building hold two open houses a year, the next one being October 20th and 21st, 2012. You are all invited! Of course, if you are ever in the Kansas City area, there’s no need to wait, just contact me here if you’d like a studio tour.

Studio 409 • Hobbs Buliding • Kansas City, Missouri • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
With a lot of help, I moved all my supplies and tools into the new studio, and promptly left for Europe.

I used to design housewares products, mainly kitchen tools and gadgets. I “retired” a few years ago but was lured back into the fray, bribed, really, with a trip to Frankfurt, Germany to attend Ambiente, the largest international housewares show, and a side trip to Porto, Portugal to visit both a cork factory and a dinnerware manufacturer.

Ambiente • Frankfurt, Germany • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
Somehow working, when one is in Europe, doesn’t really feel like working. It was exciting to scout new trends, see old friends, and feel a part of the big picture again. This time, since my focus has been on art and not product for awhile, I was able to see things with fresh eyes and I found myself dreaming of possible projects that might combine the two.  It was an inspiring and magical trip, which is good because when I returned I really had to get busy.

The rest of February and all of March were spent in the new studio working on my solo exhibition, Rubicon. This intense creative time, fueled by a tight deadline was a welcome respite from the chaos of moving boxes and organizing the new apartment. The first weekend in May I delivered Rubicon to the Art Center of the Ozarks in Springdale, Arkansas. I was thrilled that so many people attended the opening reception and expressed interest in my new work.

Rubicon • Crimson Trespass • ©2012 Jennifer Libby fay

In June I returned to Northwest Arkansas for an art filled week. On First Thursday I participated in an exciting exhibition called east prospect. Artists Megan Chapman and Stewart Bremner transformed her house into a gallery for the evening. They removed all the art from the walls, put away most of the personal items and stored some of the furniture creating an intimate and delightful venue for the work of ten artists.

east prospect exhibition • Fayetteville, Arkansas • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
Including, Craig Colorusso and his Sun Boxes which sang in the yard while the sun shone. The exhibition was such a success it was extended through Saturday and we plan to have another one in December.
Sunboxes @east prospect • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
Later in the week I had the honor of attending a party thrown by one of my collectors. She was eager to have me see the two pieces she purchased from my Don’t Forget to Breathe exhibition installed in the guest suite. It was a lovely evening of laughter and sparkles, I felt on cloud 9 to have my work included in such a grand home and personal collection.

I returned to Northwest Arkansas in July for the opening reception of Megan Chapman and Stewart Bremner’s exhibition, a place called home. This beautiful body of work is a collaboration between the two artists and a exploration of concept of home. I highly recommend taking a look here. The three of us traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas to do art business with our galleries. I delivered new work to Justus Fine Art Gallery and was extremely excited to learn that two pieces sold a few days later!

Justus Fine Art • Hot Springs, Arkansas • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
July brought temperatures of over 100 degrees F to the Kansas City area. Every day I kept thinking it would cool off tomorrow. It didn’t and it hasn’t. I do have a portable air conditioner at the studio, which has become my new best friend, but it can only manage about 10 degrees of cooling off, which normally would be great, but 90 is still too hot to work, so I’ve spent most of the month working on computer related things. One day, I ignored the heat and toured most of the art galleries in Kansas City.

It has been an exciting year so far. Especially rewarding is getting to know the incredible people who collect my work. One couple told me they were giving this piece, Violet Surrender, to each other for their anniversary present. It now hangs in their bedroom. I love that.

Violet Surrender • 16.5" x 15" • Textile Painting • Private Collection • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay
Another collector wrote this as a response to my thank you note: “We want you to know we are thrilled to have your work in our collection.  And we hope to purchase more in the future as we both feel your special pieces are not only unique, but truly beautiful.  We see YOU in them! Your kind nature, your passion, your training, your expertise, your love of nature itself, your spontaneity!  Thank you for the work you do, and that you share it with others.  We are the lucky ones!”

Lucky? Blessed? I am grateful everyday for the opportunities I have to travel and make art and enjoy the many wonderful people in my life. I’ve chased the shadows away for now…and I’m looking forward to what the future will bring.

I’m sorry for the delay in my blog posting, but now that I’ve gotten you all caught up I would love it if you join me again next week when I travel to Peter’s Valley for a textile dyeing workshop.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RUBICON: point of no return

Overture for Today • 22" x 22" • cloth, dye • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

I have tried, a few times, to describe the process I usually go through when I choose a theme for a body of work—I don’t really know where the seed thought for a concept comes from. It feels like a nudge, from the universe, from God, from my unconscious, or even the collective unconscious? I don’t know. What I do know is that if I listen for the clues they will guide me. What I haven’t talked too much about is all the subsequent “coincidences” (do we believe in coincidences?) that happen over the course of creating the work. Books, about the subject are brought to my attention, I’ll come to a phase where I don’t know how to solve a problem and a person, sometimes a stranger, often a friend, will say, oh, I know how to do that, you just…Sometimes I’ll be listening to a random radio station or watching TV when the person being interviewed starts talking about something that gives me the answer. It’s weird, I know.

For my exhibition at the Arts Center of the Ozarks this month, I was asked to chose the name of the exhibition more than a year ago. I really struggled with this, and wondered if, when it was time to make the work, I would still feel connected to the theme. I chose Rubicon for a very odd reason. On the day I was to submit my exhibition name I found out that a television show called Rubicon that I rather liked was being cancelled. I didn’t even know what the word meant but what I was thinking about that day was how how much I would miss the uniqueness, excellence and character of the show. It was a true work of art.

Bohemian Grove • 21" x 13" • cloth, dye • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

So I took a leap of faith and called my show Rubicon. It wasn’t until a few months later when I started to research the word Rubicon that I realized how serendipitous that leap really was.

Back in Julius Caesars’ day, the Rubicon was a shallow river that divided the separately governed entities of Northern and Southern Italy. Cesar, with his army crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC and this rebellious act started a Civil War. I like to imagine him pacing the bank of the river knowing that with the simple act of crossing, many lives, including his own, would be changed forever. I doubt he could have fathomed that thousands of years later the idiom crossing the Rubicon would still mean passing the point of no return.

there is a way • 16.5" x 16.5" • cloth, dye • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

We all have our own personal Rubicon, a challenge, a rough patch, maybe a difficult relationship we need to leave behind. Sometimes it is a part of ourselves we must release, letting go of whatever is no longer useful or holds us back. This body of work is about the rewards and beauty of the other side. Each piece is a celebration of the journey past the point of no return, where we emerge as a new person, one that is more compassionate for having made the crossing.

Rubicon is showing at the Arts Center of the Ozarks until June 1. If you can’t make it to the show please have a look at the images on my website here: RUBICON

Rubicon: point of no return
May 2 - June 1
Arts Center of the Ozarks
214 South Main Street at the corner of Grove Avenue
Springdale AR 72765
Gallery hours: Monday Friday 9am - 5pm
Saturday 9 am - 3pm

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Art Quill Studio

Autumn Etude • 21" x 14" • cloth, dye • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

If it weren’t for my friends and fellow textile artists, Dotti Day and Joanne Salz (who is, sadly websiteless), I would not be the artist (or person) I am today.

Our friendship is supported by our desire to make art, our love of textiles and our passion (some would say obsession) for learning and inspiration.

In other words, the three of us never met a workshop we didn’t want to take. And so it was that we attended the biennial Surface Design Association Conference held in Minneapolis last June. While Joanne was busy felting the most exquisite miniature books with Chad Alice Hagan, Dotti and I attended Marie-Therese Wisniowski’s workshop on Disperse Dyes.

My workshop workspace • ©2011 Jennifer Libby Fay

Marie-Terese is an excellent teacher. Each day we had demonstrations and exercises that naturally built upon each other. This made learning practically effortless. It also insured nobody felt overwhelmed or left behind which kept the pace energetic. But the stroke of brilliance was this: every morning and every afternoon, Marie-Therese would visit each artist and ask to see the results of their exercises. She’d ask few questions, answer any questions that came up, offer encouragement and issue a challenge. "What if you try this…?" she’d say, or “I’d like to see you do a couple more of these…"

I loved it.

So you can imagine how thrilled and honored I am to be featured on Marie-Therese’s Art Quill Studio blog! I encourage you to take a few minutes to check it out, and not just the part about me. There is a wealth of information there, for instance, her downloadable Glosary of Terms and Fabrics is a fantastic resource.

Art Quill Studio Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Endless Surrender

Arkansas Democrat Gazette • January 22, 2012

 “I saw your name in the paper this morning.” my friend said.

I stared at her blankly. “Really?” was all I could come up with.

“Your work is in the new oncology center in Rogers.”

“Oh, right, yes, yes, it is.”

Last year, Interior designer, Julie Wait Fryauf asked me to submit some photographs of my work to be considered for inclusion in a new cancer center being built by Highlands Oncology Group in Rogers, Arkansas. After a review by the doctors, Julie told me they were focusing on representational work but they liked the comforting aspect of my pieces that include botanicals.

Ashley Batchelor wrote in her article about the project in the The Art Of Healing, in the January 22nd Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

“Julie Wait Fryauf of Julie Wait Designs, interior designer for the project, says her whole concept was to "create a calming, less stressful environment for people who are in a very stressful situation in their lives," and she felt the artwork would help generate that ambiance.

The collection also gives the public more access to works of art and helps support local artists, she says.

The 140 pieces by some 20 artists - most from northwest Arkansas and a few from southern Missouri—were installed throughout the 55,000-square-foot, two-story building. The art includes landscapes and still-life paintings, prints, photographs, fabric art, fiber art, hand-painted bowls and giclées, which are fine art digital prints.

Fryauf said there was quite a bit of sentiment among doctors at the practice that they wanted to build a collection of art by local artists rather than purchasing mass-produced images.

Dr. Dan Bradford, who has been with Highlands Oncology Group for 21 years, said he and other doctors wanted local art because most cancer patients receive their care locally. He said the building and artwork inside it are part of the healing process and comprehensive care.

"It makes it a much more homelike and nurturing place," he said.

Fryauf said she wanted to choose scenes familiar to residents of northwest Arkansas, so she picked quite a few landscapes and paintings with nature motifs.

"Nature is the best art for healing environments." She said she also wanted to emphasize water and its "healing aspects." Because of this, there are a lot of waterfall images, she said.”

I was commissioned to create two 34” x 34” textile paintings to be placed in a sub waiting room on the second floor. This is a place “for families who need more privacy,” Julie explained.

The burden of responsibility to create work that would calm and encourage people going through such a difficult time was heavy. Unlike they way I usually experience creativity this project felt stressful. I procrastinated. When I finally summoned enough courage to begin I already had an agenda. I’d figured it out.

You can probably guess what happened next.

Longtime Sun • 34" x 34" • Cloth, Dye • ©2011 Jennifer Libby Fay

Things did not go as planned.

Thinking that soft, muted colors would be calming I chose the fabric and started painting. After years of working with these dyes, I know pretty well how they are going to react and what the results will be. Not this time. Bright colors kept appearing and insisting on their presence in the pieces. Over and over again my thinking didn’t match the art that I was making. Finally I decided to surrender, to stop thinking. I just got out of my own way and let the work happen.

Endless Surrender • 34" x 34" • Cloth, Dye • ©2011 Jennifer Libby Fay

The result is Endless Surrender and Longtime Sun pictured here in the waiting room at the Highlands Oncology Center.

Highlands Oncology Group sub-waiting room • ©2012 Jennifer Libby Fay

This quote, which was featured in the newspaper article, let me know I had done the right thing.

The effect on sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects and especially brilliancy of color is hardly at all appreciated. People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by color and light, we do know this, they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.

Florence Nightingale

Friday, February 3, 2012

Beautiful Words

Fig. 1 • Tell Me Again • Dye, Cloth • 28" x 15" • © 2010 Jennifer Libby Fay
I have been suffering from a wicked case of writer's block.

There, I said it.

I've been fussing and worrying and and wrangling with it for months now. My friends are tired of hearing about it and I suspect you've grown tired of waiting for me to show up here. I apologize.

Meanwhile in the past few weeks a number of other people have written about my work so I'm going to share their words with you in an effort to get things moving. Sort of like priming the pump, as they say.

The first is Maddie Layton, an honors Art History student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She wrote to me requesting that she might interview me for a paper she was writing for class. The assignment was to choose a local artist and interview that artist about a certain piece of work. I was honored that Ms Layton chose my piece, Tell Me Again, and agreed to answer her questions.  What follows are her words and experience. If I had the words, I would tell you how absolutely grateful I am for her gentle treatment of my process, and willingness to be open and allow herself to look at and feel art (not just mine). It is an extraordinary gift. I hope she keeps writing about and making art!

Art for the Artist’s Sake
by Maddie Layton

At times, art is a difficult concept to understand for an analytical, left-brained, everything-in-its-place type of person like me.  Could a simple spot of color on a page really have a specific, underlying meaning?  I was never so sure.  Needless to say, I was surprised when I found myself intrigued by a piece of art that would normally make no sense to me at all.  I looked at it for a long while, trying to figure out what it was telling me, because I felt there was something more to it.  What was it about this piece that captured my attention like few works ever had before?  I suppose at first it was the quiet drama of the piece.  Lines seem to be irrelevant, as brushstrokes of color in every shape, size, and direction cover the canvas. The strokes are not deep in the space of the painting; instead they appear very close.  A rainbow of colors swirls in circles beneath a blanket of lines that seem muted yet vibrant at the same time.  How is that possible?  Overlapping areas of color create shadows in the center of the piece, which is devoid of any light.  A calmer array of cool blues and greens is separated from a more intense section of color by a column of black blocks that, at first glance, reminds me of camera film.  The bottom of the work has a misty blue effect that provides a different emotion, which is both calming and harried at the same time.  The spots are almost in a frenzy, yet this area of the painting seems to be much clearer than the rest, as if a light were shining on it and illuminating it with realization.  I was surprised at all the conflicting emotions that came from the piece at once.  It seemed to take me through an entire spectrum of feeling; excitement from the colorful left side followed by a disturbing calm on the right and ending with relief from it all on the bottom. While I wasn’t sure if there was a specific story the piece was telling me, I felt that it was reflecting some of my own past experiences.  I was compelled by the divider in the work. Though it severed part of the “emotions,” it didn’t separate them in their entirety, leading me to believe that I cannot ever truly separate them in my own life either.

This piece that so intensely captured my attention is a textile painting by artist Jennifer Libby Fay entitled, Tell Me Again (Fig. 1).  Fay is a graphic designer turned textile artist currently living in Fayetteville, AR.  Her studio is held and her work is displayed in the Fayetteville Underground, a local, non-profit visual arts gallery. (This paper was written in October 2011, before the closing of the Fayetteville Underground in December.)  Tell Me Again is done on polyester cloth using Disperse dyes, which are the artist’s favorite mediums to work with.  Fay appreciates the detail and color she can obtain with these materials, which she finds to be their most advantageous aspect.  In a recent interview, the artist revealed, “I have tried other things, but I feel most comfortable expressing myself in this way.”

A heat press or an iron is used to set the dye.  Fay’s preference for textiles stems from a love of cloth that she has had ever since childhood.  Tell Me Again was completed in 2010 and is 28”x15”, which is consistent with the size of painting she normally works with.  It currently resides in the artist’s personal collection, but it was first created to be a part of Reconciliation, Fay’s very first solo exhibition.  All of the works in this collection express a small part of the overall theme: that in all aspects and stages of life, knowledge is presented to us, and our lives change because of it.  Though I always thought I was unable to see the deeper meaning of an abstract work of art, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my thought process after viewing the painting was not too far off from what Fay was attempting to express.  Any time we gain knowledge by being told something, “we have the opportunity to change what we think about it,” according to Fay.  If the news is not what we expect or want, we can find the positive in it and “thereby reconcile ourselves to what comes next.”  Any sort of news or knowledge, regardless of its content, stirs an emotional journey within us, just as the painting portrays.  These emotions can change and intertwine as they do in the painting.  Tell me something once, and I may find my life spun into a frenzy.  Tell me again, and I might find the calm in the storm.

The first time I looked at this piece, one name immediately came to mind: Kandinsky.  I see so much of his influence in Fay’s paintings and in the way that color and shape are used to form something that is so confusing, yet so clear.  In Kandinsky’s life, “art was a matter of rhythmic lines, colors, and shapes, rather than narrative.”

Fig. 2 • Vassily Kandinski, Panel for Edwin R. Campbell No. 4 (formerly Painting No. 201, Winter) 1914 • Oil on Canvas • 5' 4.5" x 4' • Museum of Modern Art, New York

I thought of Kandinsky’s Winter in particular (Fig.2).  It is an incredibly complex piece of art, and regrettably, I once considered it to be completely random and lacking in meaning.  After gaining insight into the mind of an artist from Fay, who considers Kandinsky to be one of her favorite artists and an influencer of her work, I was better able to understand the creative process of a master such as Kandinsky.  Though I find these pieces to be so similar, I was able to more easily relate to Fay’s piece than Kandinsky’s.  I find Tell Me Again to be much softer and more fragile than Winter.  Though it is likely no one can ever quite comprehend the meaning of Winter in its entirety, I have come to believe that this is true for every work of art.  This makes it easier to appreciate abstract works such as those of Kandinsky and Fay, because I realize that the work was not created for the purposes of my understanding, but rather my interpretation.  A part of the artist is expressed in each piece, which no viewer can wholly understand, and each viewer takes something different from the piece, which the artist can never wholly know either.  The relationship between the artist, the viewer, and the piece is one of mutual respect, discovery, and the acknowledgement of the possibility that just maybe, art in its true form was never meant to be fully understood by anyone.

Tell Me Again brings forth a feeling, a message, that has no form in its original state, yet can be expressed by the artist’s interpretation.  It is in this type of art that shape is given to the invisible.  I find that Fay’s process for creating art is about releasing vulnerability and paradoxically putting forth something mysterious to shed light on a person’s innermost revelations. 

The creation of art is an exploratory journey for Fay.  Even the slightest spark of an idea can be the catalyst to bring forth something from nothing.  She builds on this creation as she goes, seeking to gain knowledge through research, modern culture, and advice from others. Her exhibitions build off of an original theme whose origin she cannot always explain, but that she can feel and be guided by.  In her process to procure knowledge for creation, Fay holds strong to the idea of taking what she needs, and leaving the rest. By doing so, she only allows herself to retain the necessities in order to complete her work. This beautifully simplistic attitude toward art is also a refreshing way to look at life itself, which might explain the calming, straightforward quality of many of her pieces.  Life is a highly unique, personal story for every human being throughout time, yet it is intertwined in ways that we could never understand nor survive without.  Fay’s belief, that the most personal things in life can also be the most universal, resonated strongly with me.  Just as I was confused by how Tell Me Again could bring forth such contradictory emotions, I also questioned at first how such an intensely personal and expressive process could ever make sense to someone outside her vision.  Each brushstroke of Tell Me Again conceals the deeper meaning Fay intended to convey to the world.  Her exploration into a small piece of the process of reconciliation was a personal expression, unique to the experiences of her own life.  Even so, someone who has never actually met her, someone who merely viewed her personal expression of an idea, was able to understand and take something out of it.  Someone like me.

So what is the purpose of creating something that could so easily be rejected by a world that can’t comprehend its message?  For Fay, the creation of art is not something that is done for the purposes or pleasure of others, although that is certainly a joyous benefit.  Instead, it is a way to gain insight, both of herself and of the world, for her.  Her mentor once told her that it makes no difference whether or not other people understand or even appreciate her art, because it was not created to gain their acceptance.  Its existence is to explore the deeper meaning of the world and of herself.  Fay understands that someone might love one of her pieces and dislike another, but that is to be expected.  It all has to do with the experiences and the perspectives of individual people.

For most, a “play day” would consist of spending time away from work.  Not for Fay.  As a professional artist, she never lets herself get too comfortable.  Exploring and experimenting with new ways to create her art are an important part of her growth as a person and as a professional.  This exploration is achieved through scheduled “play days,” where she takes time to learn and work with new materials and techniques for making art.  On these days, she allows herself to be a blank slate, with no expectations of what the day might produce.   After speaking with Fay, I have gained a sense of her work ethic.  I used to sometimes picture the life of a professional artist to mimic that of what I picture (thanks to pop culture) the life of a professional writer to be: sitting around, gazing out a window with a cup of coffee, until a lightbulb appears and an idea hits.  In reality, however, there is no window gazing for Jennifer Fay!  She believes that professional artists cannot simply wait for inspiration, and she works in her studio four or five days a week.  Artists cannot always wait for an idea to come in its own time.  Sometimes it takes a little persistence and exploration to inspire a lightbulb.

Fig. 3 • Maddie Layton, Collage of Forms • 8.5" x 11" • 2011 • Collage on Paper

 For my personal art project, I found inspiration from both my interview with Jennifer Fay and Tell Me Again.  Fay works with textiles because she has had a love for them ever since childhood.  Just as she works with a medium she has always loved, I decided to do the same.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved making collages.  My room used to be covered with collages of pictures that I cut from my mom’s magazines I found around the house.  I love how I can create colorful, sometimes poetic mixtures of things I enjoy in a collage.  When creating my 8”x11” piece (Fig.3), I took cues from Fay, who “begins with an idea and then builds on it by thinking and doing.”  The strong flashes of light in the collage stir a strong emotion of power, and were inspired by the strong emotion I felt when looking at Tell Me Again.  Once I started building the collage, I couldn’t help but add images for no reason other than I liked looking at them.  Some were feminine and pretty, and others had bold patterns or colors.  I didn’t have a concrete plan from the beginning, but I feel that the piece came together on its own.  Fay creates her work for herself and for her own reasons, and I did the same with my piece.  It might be a jumble of images to some, but I enjoy looking at it, and I think others can create their own story from it.  The images in the picture cover an array of textures, lights, and colors.  I think each image elicits a certain emotion.  Tell Me Again inspired this collage to be abstract, and to move from one train of thought to another.

After exploring art through my interview with Jennifer Fay, I now relate it to the tale of the sword in the stone.  The harder you strain to remove the sword, the less success you have.  However, when you barely pull, the sword springs free.  I believe this concept applies to art as well.  The harder I tried to make sense of confusing pieces of abstract art, the less I understood and appreciated them, but when I stood back and allowed myself to simply view a piece without any expectations, the easier it was to gain insight from it.  Fay helped me come to this realization with Tell Me Again.  I now see art through a different set of eyes, and it is more beautiful than ever before.