Archive for the ‘Artwork’ Category

Textile art triptich by Silvie Umiker

Textile art triptych by Silvie Umiker

Today was my first free day to leave Milan in over a month, and what fun I had with it!

I took the train to Lugano. Only an hour away, but I felt like a traveler again. Something about trains makes me feel free and adventurous.

Lugano is always a pleasant experience. Only an hour from Milan but worlds away. Today the pleasure was enhanced by good company and inspiring art.

Four artists have created a fascinating group exhibition, demonstrating both unity and diversity in their collected works. Bea Bernasconi, Marlis Egger, Nina Novikov Brown, and Silvie Umiker are four Ticinese artists who work in textiles. The exhibition, entitled Contrasti (Contrasts) is their first together. It is hosted by the Banca Coop in Piazza Cioccaro 3, Lugano as part of their Eva program for women.

Having met all four women at textile art courses and festivals, I knew they were a creative bunch. But the show exceeded my already high expectations. Silvie patiently guided me through the exhibit, answering my questions and offering both conceptual and technical explanations of the works. We spent almost two hours wandering through the array of colors and textures, and I’m ready to go back for more.

The show is organized by colors and shapes — both contrasting and harmonizing simplicity and complexity, round and rectangular, full and empty, essential and ornamental. Silvie’s work with rusted iron is especially fascinating — layering metal and cloth, blending hard and soft.  All four women show a versatility of technique and an ability to adapt to a variety of materials and ideas. Their enjoyment in playing with the color, form, and texture of their materials is evident. I’m inspired and humbled by what they’ve created.

The exhibition is open to the public during bank hours, from 8:30 to 12:30 and 13:30 to 16:30, Monday through Friday, through January 9. A must-see for all art lovers and certainly an eye-opener for anyone who thinks a quilt is something to put on the bed!

For info, email contrasti@marlisegger.ch or telephone +41 79 6802932.

From left to right, works by Nina Novicov Brown, Marlis Egger, Silvie Umiker, and Bea Bernasconi

From left to right, works by Nina Novicov Brown, Marlis Egger, Silvie Umiker, and Bea Bernasconi

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Creare i Buddha (Creating Buddhas con sottotitoli in italiano)

Creare i Buddha (Creating Buddhas con sottotitoli in italiano)

With the translation expertise of my multi-talented sister-in-law, Cecilia Mari, and the technical assistance of Roberto Ciscato of 01 Editing in Milan, an Italian subtitled version of Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost‘s acclaimed film, Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas has been born! The Italian title is Creare i Buddha: la realizzazione e il significato dei thangka in tessuto.

It’s just in time for my upcoming exhibition in Milan which will open on November 29 with a film screening that night. The exhibition, Mosaici di Seta: immagini e tecniche sacre dalla tradizione tibetana, is a small solo show hosted by the Centro Mindfulness Project in Via Cenisio 5. I will display a range of works from traditional to contemporary, sacred to profane. Visitors will have the chance to see three traditional thangkas I’ve produced over the last ten years, including the Green Tara featured in the film. My recently completed thangka-quilt of Chenrezig will also be there, displaying a combination of traditional and contemporary techique and style. I believe this piece exemplifies the most promising direction for my work in the near future. Finally, there will be two pieces which bring to life photographs of ordinary Tibetans by Diane Barker. In addition to viewing the artwork, visitors will be able to read about the tradition and view photos illustrating the traditional production techniques. I will be present every Wednesday and Friday between November 29 and December 19 to answer questions and share my experience. Other viewing times can be arranged by appointment through January 4.

Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas (Creare i Buddha: la realizzazione e il significato dei thangka in tessuto) will be shown on Saturday, November 29 at 9 pm and on Friday, December 19 at 7 pm, as well as by special appointment for groups. The Benvenuto Club has already booked a screening, as has the Dzogchen Community of Milan.

A note about my hosts (loosely translated and adapted from their website):

The Mindfulness Project is a not-for-profit association whose purpose is to deepen the dialogue between western thought and buddhist dharma, particularly in the field of helping relationships. Founded in 2003 by a group of research psychologist-educators and Buddhist teachers committed to finding ways to integrate and adapt the “traditional culture” of Buddhist teachings into our western experience. Mindfulness Project collaborates with the Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa in Pomaia, Italy, but is independent and does not identify exclusively with any single Buddhist tradition. Instead, it seeks a nonsectarian approach, convinced that this approach is the foundation for the development of a modern Buddhism.

In recent decades, a lively dialogue has been building between western psychology and the Buddhist view of the mind. The interaction between the two approaches views psychological development and spiritual growth as mutually supportive. Personal psychological development is considered essential to spiritual growth and the transformation of suffering.

Mindfulness Project aims to be a starting point not a destination. Seeing the process of integrating classical Buddhist teachings with the modern western reality as a long and ongoing endeavor, their intention is to create a space of open investigation through their conferences, counseling school, and training programs.

The Center in Milan (at Via Cenisio 5) offers therapy and training to groups and individuals. The focus of all their activities is on the development of the human potential, always present even where uneasiness and suffering appear. This development occurs through recognizing in each person a zone of health and wisdom, of resources and intuitive knowing, and of spirituality — levels of being frequently obscured by the flow of existential events.

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I’ve been slow. Summer in Milan can have that effect as routines break down and everyone leaves for vacation. I actually finished my Chenrezig art quilt/thangka two weeks ago. Here it is:

Chenrezig art quilt thangka

Chenrezig art quilt thangka

This “thangka” is a unique combination of traditional and new, eastern and western techniques. I drew the figure of Chenrezig (that’s his Tibetan name. In Sanskrit, it’s Avalokiteshvara.) several years ago while studying thangka drawing in Sarnath, India with Alex Kocharov. Chenrezig embodies all the fully awakened compassion of the enlightened mind and is the deity closest to my heart. In China, he takes the feminine form of Kuan Yin. In Japan, he is Kannon. The Dalai Lama is a living manifestation of Chenrezig too.

I pieced this figure in the traditional Tibetan fashion, using pure silk satins and gold-patterned brocades from Varanasi. He’s seated on a deep blue and violet lotus, inspired by this traditional Tibetan poem found in Sogyal Rinpoche’s book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Avalokiteshvara is like the moon
Whose cool light puts out the burning fires of samsara
In its rays the night-flowering lotus of compassion
Opens wide its petals.

After the figure was pieced, the nontraditional aspects of this thangka began to emerge. I suggested the nimbus of glowing light around the body with a transparent metallic-effect synthetic organza, machine stitched with radiating lines. I cut the head nimbus from a beautifully patterned cotton scarf remnant purchased from the Etro designer outlet in Milan, Italy. Chenrezig’s immediate background is a deep, variegated, blue of hand-dyed (not by me but by a woman near Munich in Germany) cotton sateen, quilted in a pattern echoing the outlines of the form. Surrounding this central block are six quilted blocks of cotton fabric from the US. I arranged these to form horizontal bands of color reminiscent of some of the oldest Tibetan applique thangkas where sky and ground are represented by three graduated horizontal bands. The six sections also imply the six realms of sentient beings — the forms in which we can take birth, or the reactive filters through which we can see our experience and react to it. Narrow strips of red and white cotton separate these blocks as Chenrezig’s bodhicitta permeates the worlds. The sun and moon are quilted in the dark sky above.

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Today I stitched some pieces of what will become the background for my Chenrezig. I’m very excited about this piece and don’t know whether to call it a thangka, a quilt, or something else. The figure is purely traditional. I used the traditional piecing and applique techniques I was trained in by Tibetan masters in Dharamsala. I created the drawing myself while studying how to draw within sacred proportions with Alex Kocharov in Sarnath many years ago. I have a special love of and connection with Chenrezig as a meditation deity, the representation of fully enlightened compassion and of our own potential.

And this Chenrezig will become part of a cloth wall hanging more similar to a contemporary art quilt than a traditional thangka. It’s an adventure, an experiment, which thrills me with a sense of risk and daring but also feels lovingly respectful of this Chenrezig figure I’ve created.

So today I was quilting. And since I’m still so new to quilting, the work was accompanied by a bit of fear of screwing up and curiosity about what technique might work best. While building some skill over the past months and waiting for some fabric to arrive, I’ve brainstormed design ideas which have changed multiple times. Now I think I know what I want the piece to look like, but bringing that vision into physical reality is something else.

My biggest discovery for the day was my love of free motion quilting, the life of the stitches, creating a rhythm of motion and breathing. One section, in particular, is long and horizontal, with long, rougly parallel lines of stitching running its length. In my practice pieces, I experimented with a normal presser foot and a walking foot — feed dogs up — as well as with a darning foot in free motion — feed dogs down. Because I had difficulty stitching smoothly at the long edge in free motion, I did the first few and the last few rows with the walking foot. But for the rest, I played joyfully in free motion. I have to say I like the subtle (well, at least as subtle as I can manage) irregularity of the stitches. I like using my breath to guide and time the movement. Here are some pictures of my results:

green quilting

turquoise quilting

purple quilting

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In my ongoing efforts to expand my skills, I’ve been taking a machine quilting class from Ramona Conconi in Melide (Lugano), Switzerland. And I also did a Saturday workshop in serigraphy (silkscreen printing) with her. This quilt is a result of both lessons.

The print is from a photo of my stepdaughter which I took on our trip to Paris last spring. The quilt will be a gift for her 20th birthday this week. I hope she won’t mind my beginner’s mis-stitching.

As many of you know, I live in Italy and my husband and stepchildren are Italian. Stepmom is often a challenging role wherever it’s played but, in Italy, it offers an additional, unexpected challenge: there’s no name for the relationship! Nor for stepchild, stepson, stepdaughter, stepsister/brother, etc. Of course, they have fairy tales in Italy, but the words used there have retained their negative connotation. No one would use them in the real world unless they intended to insult. Divorce has only been legitimized recently in Italy, and the church makes great effort to keep it marginalized, even if more than half the marriages in Milan end in divorce — or some approximation of it. The social denial of its existence results in a lack of vocabulary to talk about the new relationships that follow from it.

If I want to talk about my stepdaughter in Italian, I have to say the equivalent of ‘my husband’s daughter’, as if I myself have no relationship with her. My stepson is ‘my husband’s son’. And for them, I’m their ‘father’s wife’, even if we’ve been family for more than seven years. This has an emotional impact that is not pleasant. It denies the unique relationship that exists between us. It alienates us from one another in the public eye. (Not when we talk to each other, since we don’t use labels in direct speech, but still…) It’s even stranger when I hear my parents referred to as their nonni (grandparents), my siblings as their zii (aunt and uncle), my nephews and nieces as their cugini (cousins). Of course, all of these labels make sense because I’m their —– … moglie di papà (dad’s wife). Rather disconcerting…

Anyway, here’s a detail of the quilting for my stepfiglia (my invented anglo-italian word for stepdaughter that no one understands but who cares?):

I’m such a novice with the sewing machine, but I love the possibilities it offers. The speed and potential for spontaneity are appealing to me now. I finished this quilt in three days. Can’t do that with a thangka… and I wouldn’t want to.

But that reminds me of an encounter I had several years ago in Dharamsala:

I met a Tibetan man from Amdo who makes the glued form of applique thangka, with facial features and contour lines drawn on afterwards. Some of these works are very finely produced while others are remarkably shoddy. I never saw this man’s work but I remember his challenge to me.

“I can make a Buddha in three days!” he quipped. “How long does it take you?”

I quietly smiled and said, “A bit longer.”

I’m proud of the work I do on my six-month Buddhas and I think the differences are clear to the viewer. But I have to admit a part of me has always wished that I too could see a completed result in three days! And now I have. Not a Buddha, perhaps, but a portrait of a lovely sentient being who probably has some buddha nature too. 🙂

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I just finished an online course with Alma Stoller through Joggles.com. It was great fun and allowed me to be spontaneous in a way the slow and precise nature of my usual artwork doesn’t allow. Here’s the portrait I created:

She dreamed of touching the sky

Thanks Alma for a liberating experience!

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A trailer of the documentary film, Creating Buddhas, has been posted on the Soulful Media website. Isadora filmed my final stitches to the Green Tara thangka a couple of weeks ago and will complete editing in the coming months. She’s done some beautiful film work and conducted some insightful interviews with renowned scholars of Tibetan art, such as Robert Thurman, Glenn Mullin and Jonathan Landaw and with China Galland, noted writer on Tara and feminine spirituality. I love watching the thangkas from a third-person perspective and hearing other people talk about the preciousness of this tradition. It’s somewhat less comfortable hearing the narrator speak of me in grand terms. I’m not used to being in the public eye, and I usually feel that what I’m doing is nothing special… except in its special economic impracticality and extreme time consumption! It’s nice to be reminded of a different, more appreciative perspective.

Tara Trailer Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo hands drawing flower pieces stitching Tara Robert Thurman China Galland Glenn Mullin

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