It's about the inside coming out

Ladders, clouds, arrows and eyes. Especially eyes. These are common motifs that show up in my work regardless of the subject. The thread is trying to tell me something.

Reach for higher meaning.
Float above it.
Find a new direction.
Look within.

While preparing for a couple of studio visits by local curators I looked for a consistent, underlying message in the work. Something that tells me that I have a point of view -- a recognizable voice that makes sense to me. And it came down to these: ladders, clouds, arrows and eyes. Pathways to understanding, swirling confusion, angular edginess, underlying monsters provoked by overwhelming current events and an inner dialog.  Its' the inside coming out. They are about the edges as defined by line. The layered, ripped, cut, and sandwiched together. Some are more successful than others, but all share a common bond: The work reaches for elusive target.


I've been thinking about edges today — how they define differences and beginnings and decisions and boundaries. How the term edgy feels comfortable in my skin. How edginess often helps me to push on but at the same time reels me in with fear.

Standing above this pool of wetland gives me the feeling that I could dive into a separate reality. The edges here are about perception versus reality.

I'm one of those people who, when confronted with the edge of a cliff, cling to the nearest tree. I am not one to join others at the edge peering into the unknown. No, not me. Edges are too scary. I know that I will be tumbled into the abyss by the slightest breeze. 

But art is all about the edges. And sometimes I am, in fact, tumbling.

The edges of this hole in a sycamore tree beckon curious creatures. There is darkness within.

It's not so much that I don't want to navigate that journey. I think it has something to do with trusting myself to navigate well. Inner dialog is easily obscured by outer pretense. Bare naked exposure can make my skin crawl and my thoughts scrambled. Am I really showing my truth? Or is this an exercise in mending?

Edges of thoughts can be raw, jagged and tongue-tied. Beast (detail) Paula Kovarik.

Sitting down with needle ready can make the silence roar. The edge is near. Sometimes I have to tie it down in neat and syncopated rhythm. It's a mending or bringing together that makes sense to my sense of order and calm.

Suture stitches mimic mending, holding together differing sides.

Other times I let the static in and the edges can feel like the needles. Hairs on end.

focus on something else

One of the goals I set for myself this year is to invite curators and other artists to my studio to show my work. I've spent about two months recording, measuring and carefully storing the quilts that I have done in the past 10 years. I'm running out of closets and storage materials. So the question I ask myself lately is "what's the point?"

What's the point of spending hours on 2 square inches of a three by four foot square of fabric pieces stitching in little stitches, little stitches, little stitches. What's the point of going back to an unfinished piece to see if the answer to the problem is there on the 50th time I look at it? What's the point of taxing my body with every stitch, every ironing chore, every patch? Wouldn't I be more useful at a soup kitchen? or children's reading group? or making more protest signs and organizing the resistance?

Am I being selfish by spending time within rather than spending time reaching out?

And I don't have the answer. So I focus on something else.

Focus on Something Else, 2017, 32" x 32"

Making art keeps me healthy. Making art releases demons. Making art makes sense of confusion and brings confusion to sense.

I am compelled to do it -- without regard to results. Without regard for where it takes me. And sometimes it takes me to dead ends. Where my brain is blinkered and stupefied.

deadend, paula kovarik

That's when I look for another way to make little stitches, little stitches, little stitches.

Then I can think about something else. Something quiet and consuming. Something that closes away the worries, the news, the predictions, the warnings and the opinions that litter my consciousness. Red stitch, black stitch, green stitch, blue.

So maybe the question shouldn't be "what's the point?" so much as "where to go from here?"


Bonus! a book list!

What a list. Thank you, readers, for this great selection of books to read. These should keep me busy for quite a while. And, if you think of any others, or wish to comment on any on this list, or share the list in any way, please do.

Suggested Reading

Same Kind of Different as Me, Ron Hall
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
The Wanderers, Meg Howrey
H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
The Unknown Matisse and Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling
The Curve of Time, Wylie Blanchet
Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala
Some Luck, Jane Smiley
Hild: A Novel, Nicola Griffith
A Constellation of Vial Phenomena, Anthony Marra
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
Commonwealth and State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Devil’s Teeth, Susan Casey
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay
The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks
So Long a Letter, Mariama Ba
Just Kids, Patti Smith
The Homegoing, Yaa Ygasi
The Nix, Nathan Hill
The Portable Veblen: A Novel, Elizabeth Mckenzie
Stormy Weather, Paulette Jiles
The Clay Girl, Heather Tucker
In the Darkness, Susan Faludi
The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
Arcadia, Lauren Goff
The Enchanted, Rene Tenfold
They Take our Jobs and 20 Other Myths About Immigration, Aviva Chomsky
Hope in the Dark, Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Rebecca Solnit
The Orchardist, Amanda Collin
The Keeper of Lost Things, Rugh Hogan

focus on something else

I'm reading many things these days. Political rants, financial analyses, artistic journeys, poetry, the Quran, the New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, Harpers and science fiction by Phillip K Dick. A friend suggested My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. I may read that after I finish The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I'm looking for a simple, devil-take-the-hindmost novel to immerse myself in too. Perhaps a friendly slice-of-life novel would be a good escape?

Escape, one in the Silent Witnesses series of Stones Who Might Talk, Paula Kovarik

No wonder my art flutters from one point of view to the next. Cool and composed to frantic and obsessive. This is a good thing. And this is not a good thing.

Testing stitching on backing fabric. A mindless task that feels soothing.

Testing stitching on backing fabric. A mindless task that feels soothing.

Fractured focus breeds anxiety, allows for mood changes, builds new vocabularies and urges me on. The pile of trials on the table are companions on this silent journey I take each day.

Second in the Chaos series. I'm a little tense sometimes.

Anyone have a book they'd like to recommend?