Pieced and Pieces

Two sides, same person. I often work on more than one piece at a time. This month I have been working on two pieces. One is contained and precisely pieced, the other looks like Dr. Frankenstein took out his needle during a side show.

She didn’t have the password started as an abstract composition of black and white fabrics laying about the studio. I always have black and white “units” to play with. They are off-cuts of other work or random shapes put together when I can’t figure out what I want to work on. In fact, I have a whole drawer full of them that I vaguely think about putting together in one huge piece but I never get around to actually doing it. So a piece like this takes the place of that grand plan.

Here’s a detail of the piecing and stitching. Each unit of black and white pieced fabrics is put together to form a landscape that can tell a story. This story has to do with feeling like you aren’t part of the cool kids. Like you don’t know the secret word and everyone else does.

Working on this piece is analytical, planned, light-hearted and precise. I wait for the work to tell me what it needs. It’s a quiet dialog that builds with each detail.

She didn’t have the password - detail, 2019, Paula Kovarik

The original title for this piece was “It looked like fun in there but she didn’t have the password.” The piece measures about 35” x 29”

Dark Heart is an assemblage of cut up quilts. Using traditional quilt patterns, in this case an eight-pointed star, I cut up quilts that are already stitched and reassemble them with Frankenstein-like sutures. I wanted to make fractured crowns, but then it morphed into this bird-like creature overseeing chaos.

Here are some detail shots of the stitching.

Dark Heart, work in progress, detail, Paula Kovarik

Dark Heart, work in progress, detail, Paula Kovarik

Dark Heart, work in progress, detail, Paula Kovarik

Working on this piece is emotional, unplanned, dark and messy. I wait for the work to tell me what it needs. it’s a greedy piece clamoring for more each time I look at it.

Dark Heart, work in progress. Approximately 54” x 46”, Paula Kovarik

So, yes, sometimes I feel like a nut and sometimes I don’t. Two sides, same person.

Better Not Said

I’ve been thinking about what we don’t say.

When asked how we are doing we say “fine.” Not “I’m anxious as hell and I don’t want to take it anymore.“ When we are in a group of strangers it’s difficult to talk about abortion, racism, immigration or politics because it might step on some peoples beliefs. We send out little hints in polite company, feeling out which side of the great divides they are on before revealing our position. We use code words to express our dislike. In the South it is “bless her heart” for someone who is hopelessly wrong or clueless.

So I started thinking about how a language that doesn’t say anything would look. Kind of a secret language we keep to ourselves as we navigate these non-conversations. It’s a language only we understand. You know how it sounds right? It’s that voice inside that calls out your truth but in a whispering tone that only you can hear.

These hieroglyphic shapes could mean anything to the passing stranger. Or nothing.

And then I started thinking about what holding back does to our consciousness. How does NOT saying something affect what I believe to be true? How does NOT saying something create a tacit understanding among community members of where I stand? How does NOT saying something affect my inner peace? Does saying my truth out loud create barriers or bridges?

I’m all over the place with this. It’s hard to even write what I mean here.

Does polite conversation have a place in the dialog of change? Certainly ambassadors must use it when they are negotiating deals with despots. They seed their conversations with objectives while avoiding hot spots. Our president seems to think that name calling and dramatics will result in him getting his way. But will it? Or does the abandonment of polite conversation give us chaos instead?

Keeping my truth to myself results in little reservoirs of doubt and anxiety.

Keeping my truth to myself results in little reservoirs of doubt and anxiety.

So here is Better Not Said. A study of inner thoughts and outer NON dialog.

Better Not Said, 41” x 26.5”, linen, cotton, thread and batting. Paula Kovarik

Enough time to just think. And stitch.

I spent the past week sewing like a madwoman, hours and hours in joy and contemplation. Thinking about influences. And inspirations. The Stitched festival at Crosstown Concourse that I organized and facilitated is over. So now I have time to think.

The work started with these three pieces that did not resolve well. So I cut them up into 5” equilateral triangles.

Though I am jazzed about the work and feel that I really have no choice in the matter—I have to do it— I still have that consistent question hanging over the work at all times: I make art—so what? Some people see it—so what? So what now?

I experimented with a lot of different configurations of these triangles with the underlying thought of what the hive mind can do to ideas. Here they became a beast.

It’s not a self doubting thing. On the contrary I believe the artist mind is critical to society. Its more like I am conscious of other things that seem so much more important. There are people shooting people down in the streets in this country. Lots of them. The government is relaxing standards for environmental stewardship and doubling down on fossil fuels. Our newspapers are failing and fake news is everywhere. Racism, bigotry, nationalism, terrorism, etc. etc. etc. The chaos of all these threats brings a foreboding reality.

Since the precut quilt pieces already have stitching on them the challenge I faced was how to connect the diverse patterns. I was thinking that ideas and communications can be like viruses, floating through space. But also how we suture together a narrative based on our own biases. Standing alone in the midst of forces that are hard to define.

I channel these worries into the art but feel like a micro blip when it comes to reaching an audience. Is it just therapy for my unsettled mind? Do I obsess over stitch to treat the anxiety I feel with regards to the future?  How do you process these thoughts? Do you have them?

Hive mind, Paula Kovarik, 40” x 43.5”, 2019

My act of making art is cerebral, logical and also intuitive. The sense of play is important to me. Seeking meaning through pattern and stitch allows for connections that are not always apparent at first glance. Letting the medium tell me what to do feels spiritual and mysterious. But am I acting in a vacuum? Does art become important only after it is released to the public? Or does the act itself activate an individual wholeness that the artist seeks and therefore adds to the cosmic underlayment of society?

At play in the garden of stitch

Three weeks, three pieces, three inspirations. My weeks have been full of obligations and distractions so I haven’t been able to concentrate on much of anything in my studio. The distractions were also inspirations. So my art shows it.

Those who follow my work will know that I tend to avoid patterned fabrics. Since my focus is on the stitching I like a background that is open and structured. This piece is exemplary of that technique.

Whispered nothings, Paula Kovarik.

These detailed stitch drawings bring story to shape. In this case the story is about the media and how we get our news. The texture that develops can add another layer of drama.

Detail stitching both by hand and machine betray my tendency to believe that more is, in fact, more.

But what now? After a workshop with Pamela Allen I did some hand stitching. This time patterned fabrics were part of the composition — foreign territory for me. I am not a patient hand stitcher so I started machine stitching after awhile.

Patterned fabrics add a sense of mystery to this composition. Stitching adds texture.

This one will stay on the board for awhile until I have the patience to stitch on it some more.

And then I spent a few days with Maria Shell building a community quilt with some folks in Memphis. Her fabrics added a sense of joy and energy to our community quilt that challenged my vision of how things go together. I mined the garbage can to come up with some scraps that I could experiment with on my own.

The scraps are ironed onto a navy blue background.

Added some stitching

And some more stitching.

Then some more stitching. I want to call this “We don’t know what’s down there” because it reminds me of a National Geographic special on the ocean that I watched last week.

I’ve been so happy to have the time to work on these experiments. And happier still to have the opportunity to learn from other artists. Thanks to Michael Brennand-Wood, Pamela Allen and Maria Shell I have a new box of toys to play with.

No turning back

I had the privilege of spending a week at a Shakerag Workshop with Michael Brennand-Wood this past week. It was partially an escape from Memphis and the quilt festival that has entangled my spare moments and partially a way to peel back ossified habits and open up new space in my brain.

It worked on both accounts.

Fungi is an assemblage of quilt pieces, wire structures, wood, stitch and felt—A study in growth and emergence.

First, let me praise Shakerag Workshops. This place is a magical oasis in the hills of Tennessee that brings serious artists (both skilled and unskilled) and teachers to play with each other. The atmosphere is educated, welcoming and full of joy. And the food was from the gods. Go there. No, really, go there.

Michael’s class was called Random Precision: 3-Dimensional Line, Stitch, Structure and Light. We used drills, saws, glue, paint, thread, nails, twisty ties, wires and our thoughts to explore space, light and structure. Michael talked about building artwork physically but also conceptually. We considered the push and pull of dark and light, hard and soft, and structured and unstructured bits. It was a joy. And, it will change the way I look at my own work.

I have been eager to explore 3D qualities with my stitching. Through quilting I can build or deconstruct a flat surface that speaks to my fingers. The traveling thread becomes a narrative element that translates my thoughts. Now I will explore how that thread can build space, encapsulate ideas and stretch the boundaries.

Meek is a bundle of threads and wires.

Eek celebrates stitch and fabric by offering up samples to consider.

These figures and assemblages spoke to me. They tickle my fancy and release the prankster within. They breathe life and rhythm into my space.

Thank you Michael. One of the most generous teachers I have had.