With my recent project Vinland (2012 – ongoing) I decided to make a radical change in my process, allowing ideas to develop organically while incorporating more chance and randomness into the work. For Vinland, I followed an 1980 oral history I’d conducted with my grandmother, Grace Adams, back to her birthplace – a small two family outport in Newfoundland. Newfoundland is an large but isolated landmass off the coast of Canada – a harsh environment, striking in its beauty but scarce in resources. The project is a meditation on the complex and continually shifting relationships between social and economic structures, personal and collective histories and conditions of migration and place.
This last February I was awarded a 30 day residency at the MacDowell artist colony in the woods of New Hampshire and decided to further challenge myself by learning a new medium. I ordered a set of watercolors and had them sent directly to MacDowell. Also, the day before I left Los Angeles, I impulsively photographed a quilt purchased from my great aunt during an October 2013 visit to Newfoundland.
At MacDowell, I borrowed a black and white printer and while I waited for the rest of my studio supplies to arrive, I loaded the quilt shots onto my laptop and started “cutting” the 123 fabric panels into separate images using Photoshop and the cataloguing software, Lightroom. Lightroom makes it easy to play with where the image falls on the printed page, so I decided to resist my tendency to scale and center everything. Instead, I let the panels live on the page where they felt the most “comfortable”, sometimes pushing them towards an awkward placement. Printing each panel in black and white emphasized the shapes, which were irregular, having been cut from scraps to fill the rectangle of the quilt. I quickly realized that I could use the black and white prints as templates for teaching myself watercolors.
I decided to make one painting for each of the 123 panels of the quilt. As I cut, printed, traced and then painted each panel, I thought about how the quilt represented the ethos of reuse discussed by Grace in the video Vinland (Grace) (2014/15), “When the clothes wore out, (my mother) made rugs out of them for the floor. Everyone was poor – we saved everything – packrats, like I am now.” The odd shapes of the quilt panels were the result of scarce resources. The quilt also represented an economy of goods imported into Newfoundland – fabric, clothing, bedding. This was the inverse of the economy of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper, Newfoundland: Daily Mirror; Indian Express; New York Post; Virginian-Pilot (June 27, 2014–August 31.2014) (2014), a work that traced exports of Newfoundland lumber, as newsprint, to distant corners of the world (in addition to being a metaphor for the diaspora of the Newfoundland branch of my family). The exhibiting institution subscribed to the newspapers, which were collected on a table for the run of the show. When the audience handled the newspapers, they were touching the lumber of Newfoundland.
33 panels were completed during my MacDowell residency, 90 were painted after my return and completed Labor Day weekend, 2016. There are still a few tweaks but as of this writing, it’s mostly finished.
I’ve also come to recognize the relationship of Quilt (Gladys Osmond, Beaches, Newfoundland, 2013) to the very first works I produced thirty years ago: the 100 part Security Envelope Grid and photographs of fabrics which resembled abstract painting.