This weekend in New York City was bittersweet. If you read my previous blog From Blossom to Bloom you know all about dropping my daughter Emilie off at the residence hall for Marymount Manhattan College. Once I gathered my emotions and drowned my sorrows in the artwork Gustav Klimt (and a pastry) at the Neue Gallery, I set out to be inspired by blossoms and blooms for my new series —Fashion and Flora.
We are embarking on some personal growth on all fronts here, people!
I have always been equally interested in and inspired by fashion as well as by art and artists. For this reason, it made total sense that I would find my way to Manus x Machina at the MET.
Manus x Machina
The Costume Institute’s spring 2016 exhibition explores how fashion designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear. — MET website
Can I just tell you how fantastic the design of the exhibit itself is? The videos (showing detail of the featured fabric and fittings) that played in the arched alcoves behind the dresses, the music that gave a sense of motion and relaxation, the lighting, the white netting that redefined the shape of the exhibition space entirely. Not a single detail was missed by the exhibition design firm, OMA New York. I bet you never thought about the actual design of an exhibit, how the art is presented to the public within the museum space–I must admit, I hadn’t. A truly creative and perfect display at the MET for this presentation by their Costume Institute.
Manus x Machina explores the ongoing dichotomy, in which hand and machine are often presented as discordant tools in the creative process, and questions the relationship and distinction between haute couture and prét à porter or ready-to-wear fashion. Visit the MET’s website for more in depth information.
Design in the Details
There are many amazing details of fashion highlighted in this exhibition. From sequins to lace, from leather to PVC, from pleats to bows, from feathers to flowers. I appreciated them all, but I was mostly inspired by the flowers.
When I read about the painstaking process of cutting blossoms by hand, of dipping them individually in dye and folding them before hand stitching them onto garments… I began to think about the creativity, craftsmanship and time involved in fashion, as an art. At one point of the exhibit it was noted that throughout history, a dress designer was a profession of the utmost importance.
The above wedding dress was designed by Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) for House of Chanel (French, founded 1913). It’s a wedding ensemble from autumn/winter 2005–6; haute couture. Every one of those flowers is made by hand, and they cover the entire dress, top to bottom. Floor length and long sleeves. If I’m not mistaken, the info at the foot of the dress indicated that there were over 15,000 hours of hand-work in this masterpiece!
I’m looking at blooms and blossoms with new eyes, I’m being inspired by the shapes of petals, the combination of textures and colors, the light, the softness, and the organic curves. These camellia flowers combined with the softness of ostrich feathers were simply beautiful, even in their lack of my beloved color.
The exhibition offered a whole section dedicated to flowers in fashion. I enjoyed examining the blooms and combination of blooms, up close and separate from the design of the dresses themselves.
The above “May” 1953 House of Dior dress is machine sewn, hand finished with hand-embroidered flowers, clover, and grass. I love the whispy long think curves of the grass as it compliments and contrasts the more compact clovers and blooms. This exhibition taught me a great deal about what can be done by machine, and what must be done by hand in garment making. The hand-work is done by artisans from studios that have been crafting this kind of fashion for 100’s of years.
I am appreciating the circular curls of the petals of these roses juxtaposed with the straight, flatness of the leaves. The delicate colors and soft overall impression that the combination gives. I feel as if I can represent this types of blooms in both collage and paint. Just look at the way the light hits the petals in some, and how some fall in shadow, and cast shadows.
Brushwork that Blooms
After the fashion exhibit, I promptly headed up to the second floor to partake in 20th Century painting. I knew I’d find flowers amongst the impressionists. There’s nothing like getting up close and personal in order to examine the brushwork of a painting, much to a security guard’s chagrin. When you walk around with your fancy iPhone up and out forward, don’t forget to look down. Museums have taken to putting small rope barriers at foot level that will trip you and send you phone-first into the artwork if you are not careful.
Do as I say, not as I almost did.
Vincent Van Gogh’s brushwork makes me think of little pieces of paper in a very big way. In the painting Oleanders, I feel like each one of his brush marks could be represented by a tiny tidbit of hand-painted collage paper. I love the looseness of the detail and the very thick paint application of the highlight colors.
Food for though.
Matisse simplified his florals and leaves right down to fun circles. I love the movement he achieves by the circular brushwork within the petals and leaves. I am beginning to look closer into each example of florals, directing the brushwork and the shapes, thinking about how to translate the classic media work of the masters into my own version of mixed media.
As you know by now, Klimt is my favorite. As I lingered in front of Mäda Primavesi, a woman with a lovely Spanish accent camp up behind me and said “She has your style, your color.” I turned toward her and exclaimed, “He is my all-time favorite painter.” She smiled sweetly at me and said, “It shows in you.”
Just look at those flowers and their direct connected relationship to the greenery that surrounds them, anchors them. On her dress (designed and sewn by Emilie Flöge) they look very separate and decorative, like the embellishments from the Manus x Machina pieces. In the detail from the background, they appear like water to me. The blooms look like the swells of waves, the ripping of a reflecting sun on its surface, one blending into the next.
So simple, yet so complex. How do I get there? A complex question with no simple answer.
“When I paint flowers, I feel free to try out tones and values and worry less about destroying the canvas.” — Renoir
I find this to be true in my work as well. I am experimenting with painting in background colors and then adding “free form” collage over the top. I have no defined plan for every paper tidbit, some of them I just place where I feel they would work. This freedom is truly less worrisome in flowers than more complex subjects.
This unusual up-close view of densely packed blossoms made me lean in… (careful for the rope!) and visual disect every stroke of the brush. The play of light is achieved with simple, light and deliberate strokes that lie on top of layers and layers of darker ones. It seems like Caillebotte has rendered every single petal.
This effect by Caillebotte is in contrast to the above soft effect by Renoir, depicting the same subject of chrysanthemums. Don’t you love how two different artists can paint the same subject and come up with totally different results? Renoir’s petals are soft and fuzzy, whereas Caillebotte’s are soft, yet more defined.
These very simplified water lily flowers are seemingly created with three or four perfect placed brush strokes. This piece was said to have been done later in his life, when his vision was fading and his shapes were much more simplified than previous paintings of the same subject. I like it, I feel like it would translate well to torn paper. Just look at all the color he has on one brush stroke however, highlight, medium, and dark all in one.
Pure, and simple, genius.
This piece offered more lovely and colorful negative space between the leaves that is just as important (if not more) than the leave shapes themselves. Certainly the warm and vibrant hue of the negative space makes it advance toward the viewer and become a dominant part of the composition.
Note to self: it’s important to have plenty of negative space between the floral elements, bringing the background color through the dense flora.
I have been through a wringer of emotion this past weekend in the Big Apple (blossom). Typically this kind of emotion results in more art, better art, different art. The art of growing, blossoming, and blooming. So, stay tuned for new work from me, but be patient. I have three workshops in three states in the month of September, one last big push before the holidays.
I plan to take small boards and create more floral studies, if I can, on the road. I’ll bring back what I’ve worked out in my studies to create another new Fashion and Flora piece in the series. Stay tuned, and as always…
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