Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving and Pomegranates

Every Thanksgiving (in the U.S., fourth Thursday in November) my parents took us to another town an hour away to feast with family friends. And every Thanksgiving my mom would rave about the hostess’s salad, a concoction of lettuce, nuts and….. (drumroll) pomegranates. My mom gushed over those pomegranates every (yeah, red, bold, underlined, and italicized) year. My mother's enthusiasm remained a mystery--I didn’t get it. Sitting in front of me was a salad containing maybe five little grains with barely a hint of red. MY description would have been “crunchy and bitter.” However, the meal was always exceptional despite the pomegranates and the company was good. 
         But I must have been scarred by those pomegranates (or my mom's raving) for I have compensated. My garden now contains a small orchard of REAL pomegranates. Allow me to show you my fruit:
And the grains. Note the lovely color, the deep, ruby red--ahhhhhhh.
Need I add that they are sweet? 
Pomegranates have temporarily taken over my artwork as well.
This is a work-in-progress, part of a much larger piece that began as a sketching-on-fabric project, which quickly got out of hand and multiplied.  

My holiday wishes for all: May you enjoy the company of loved ones, may your turkey be plump and tender, and may you taste pomegranates that are red, juicy, and sweet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

“Just use it” and Further Thoughts on Accumulation

Yes, more stories come to mind on this favorite of subjects and my post on “The Art of Accumulation” (here) seems to have provoked some discussion among friends. A family member reminded me of the time I hauled something to the dumpster on the main road and my husband went into such shock that I had to go retrieve it. A friend’s husband built two rooms in the back of their garden to contain the overflow. And someone built a whole house for their daughter who only visits in the summer, because she not only accumulates, but collects as well—a daunting combination.

         To my way of thinking, then, the best projects are those that make use of several accumulated items. I need to make a dent in that pile of small clay pots in which plants are sold. The Before:
Well, how about stacking them? The After:
Much better. One of my next projects will be three or four stacked pots for a more sculptural effect.
Then there was a forlorn bidet, removed during bathroom renovation, that sat in a hidden corner of the garden for two years.
At first, I thought that if I smashed it to smithereens, I could make a really lovely pot from the pieces. It is porcelain after all. My husband objected and mentioned the price (couple hundred dollars, at least—it was imported). Ok, ok. However, the faucet had to be removed as it wasn’t intact and there was a rusty bolt that required removal as well—his job. Half way through the nasty removals, he said: “Wouldn’t you just like to smash this for pots?”!! Not anymore--I had other plans! The trick was to find the right spot.
Wrong spot--it sticks out too much...however, I did find a better place. Next, I placed a tile at the bottom of the bowl and an old paint can. Then I added the rocks for drainage.

And finally the dirt mix.
You may be wondering about the paint can in the dirt. The After:
The paint can serves as the base for the mosaic pot. If the faucet had been intact, I would have used the bidet as a quirky bidet plant container and would not have hidden it’s original function. However, as it stood I had to find a spot that it would fit into discretely. I planted some spillers that will eventually hide the form a bit and I'll add other pots around it.
That’s a successful upcycling project—three items into one. My new tiered planter provides more cool green on my patio for the hot summer months. 

And that's probably the closest I'll ever get to a tutorial.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steps Along the Way

A small quilt marks my foray into needle-turn appliqué and social/political comment. Death of a Forest (August 1991, 17 1/2 x 23"/ 44cm x 58cm) contains a bit of everything : machine piecing and quilting, machine and hand embroidery (French knots) and appliqué and reverse appliqué.
The image of the boxed-in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest (USA) lingers in my mind until today, reinforced by the view of patchworked logged mountains seen when flying into Portland, Oregon. The brown appliqué represents blight and the red appliqué, well, that’s obvious. Concerning technique, I found that the needle-turn appliqué allowed me to create interesting and unusual forms.
       Boxes keep turning up, as in Pandora’s Box, no. 91 (see here), inspired by the first Gulf War. In 1991, my war series began and has expanded to include revolution today.
Then La Porte au fond du couloir (The Door at the End of the Hallway, November 1991, 41"x43"/ 1m04x1m10, machine pieced and quilted) took boxes to an extreme. It started as a drawing exercise from which I made a complex block pattern. The angles were a bear. Talk about learning technique the hard way. This was a one-time-only technique.
       I experimented with form, color and technique, creating Etudes, Improvisations, and Themes and Variations. Here is a small study still using a block format, Etude I (September 1991, 24"x24"/ 60cmx60cm, machine pieced and quilted).
This inspired Etude II  (January 1994, 55"x60"/ 1m38x1m50), which is based upon the block unit from Etude I.
Etude II contains some hand painted fabrics and is the the first piece in which I sewed down bits of fabric to create depth.
In 1993, I created Flowers for Abou Jihad (see here) which took about three years to complete and which was based on a pattern I drew. Sometimes ideas take over—I had to complete this quilt the way it dictated, despite the extreme tediousness of working with a detailed pattern in silks, brocades, and satins, along with cottons. Another one-time-only technique.
       Although I claim all my artwork to this point, Running With the Crowd (October 1994, 40"x37"/ 1m x 95cm) represents the beginning of a preference for certain techniques and a confidence in my artistic voice. This piece was juried into the International Quilt Festival in 1998.
The unusual border fabric (commercial) was a flea market find.
I paper-pieced the light source, and the “crowd” running away from the light source is free-form needle-turn appliqué. Once again, the central element is boxed in with only small openings leading in and out. Ultimately, this is a statement about conformity and constraints. I am tempted to say that not much has changed in the world since then, however, given recent events, that might not be accurate. We will wait and see. And then make art about it.

News Update: The flood waters have receded and fortunately it was only rain water--no messy cleanup. I may lose a few plants, but nothing major. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Underwater Garden and the Big Mama

All right. It’s not an underwater garden, it’s a garden that is under water.
Yes, I was in the middle of a flood this week. Tunisia gets little or no rain from June to September. This year we had one storm in September (which hardly counts, just barely settled the dust), and then we finally got a good storm in mid-October. By my calculations we went for about five months without any substantial precipitation. The driveway this week:
So if it rains for a straight twelve hours or more, there is nothing but trouble. And it rained pretty steadily for three days. Here is my new bamboo fence with rock border (submerged) that I just finished. This makes a good "before" picture.
The road in front of our house.
It’s also bad in towns and cities because, although there are drainage systems, they are not well kept up and easily overflow, resulting in flooded streets and stalled cars. Of course, Tunis beats Cairo, which apparently doesn’t have any drainage or run-off system at all because it would just fill up with sand. So when it rains (once in a blue moon) all the underpasses and low spots fill up with water resulting in nightmarish, snarled traffic.
         In my area, a oued (pronounced ‘wed’, a dry riverbed) overflowed after heavy rains in 1982, making it the worst flood I’ve seen. We were in the middle of a river. Of the five steps leading to our front door, three were covered with water. That was close! Our liquid petroleum gas bottles (weighing around 50 kilos or over 100 lbs) were swept off to the neighbors' house, some 500 meters away.When the water receded, we shoveled silt into wheelbarrows for days—horrible stuff that turns into a cement-like crust if not removed.
         The good news: unlike the recent New York snow storm, our telephone, electricity, and internet services have continued to function—thankfully. Although we did get out the candles just in case. No complaints, then, especially as I found myself with lots of time to work in my studio. I was finally able to finish the Big Mama, which I have been working on a couple hours a day for four months. She’s big.
This pot stands 22/55cm high. The toothy grin was quite unintentional. I’ll have to wait until things dry out to plant it. 
The smaller pot is planted with scented geranium. 
Joke of the week: A section of the garden had stagnating puddles of water, so six weeks ago we informed the water company that the water pipe in front of our house probably had developed an underground leak--and then we called them five more times. When did the water company send out its repairmen??? Yup, last Monday in the middle of the flood.  They'll come back when the area dries out.
And as temperatures have not dropped significantly, I can look forward to knee-high grass and weeds, and swarms of flies. I swing a wicked fly-swatter…

News Update: Tunisia has successfully held elections for a constituent assembly with only a few snags. The moderate religious party, An-Nadha, garnered 40% of the vote and is seeking partners to form a coalition to run the government. The American government appears to accept this state of affairs. French politicians seem worried. They weren't particularly worried when there was a dictator who had "98%" of the "vote." Do you see a disconnect here? We hope that a government can be formed peacefully.