Wednesday, August 5, 2009

interview: Jill Rumoshovsky Werner, curator of Modern Materials, The Art of the Quilt

Modern Materials, The Art of the Quilt is currently on exhibit at [Artspace] at Untitled in Oklahoma City. This exhibition showcases the work of a broad spectrum of 24 art quilters, including two-dimensional and three-dimensional work, kinetic work. Some artists chose more traditional materials, and many worked with film, paint, moving parts, and other unexpected media. The resulting forms vary from elegant to challenging and even humorous. The show as a whole presents art quilting from all points on the spectrum, stretching viewers’ perceptions and expectations of quilting and quilts as art.

The show’s curator, Jill Rumoshovsky Werner, is a nationally recognized award-winning art quilter and accomplished curator who co-founded the Kansas Art Quilters organization. While Werner is not an Oklahoma artist herself, this show brings world class, quality artwork by women to an Oklahoma City viewing audience, and two of the artists in the show live and work in Oklahoma.

I had the chance to talk with Ms. Werner about the show.

JB: What initially drew you to this art form?

JRW: I’m one of those who started out as a traditional quilter. When I was young, I wanted to be a scientist, an artist, and a singer like Edie Gorme. Well, Ms. Gorme doesn’t have anything to worry about, but I have accomplished all the rest. My first careers was as a scientist, in the field of audiology research. Later, I wrote technical manuals for NCR and worked for IBM as an engineer. For a time I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer but decided I didn’t really have the drive or passion for it. Art is actually my 4th career!

I started making traditional quilts and quickly began teaching nationally. I reached a point where a lot of time was taken by doing sample projects to teach beginners. As I worked I found that I enjoyed pushing the envelope with each quilt piece I created, and this kind of work was not serving that purpose. So I entered the world of art quilting. In June of 1999, I took a giant leap of faith, and decided that I would no longer create traditional quilts, and would pursue quilting as an art form.

JB: You mention the difference between traditional quilts and art quilts, could you talk a little about those definitions in your own words?

JRW: There are definitely gradations. It’s hard to choose absolute boundaries. But to start with, traditional quilts are primarily bedquilts or wall hangings. Art quilts can take on many different kinds of forms.

Intent is a large part of the distinction- art quilters are pursing creation of quilts as an art form, bringing art forms into the process of quilt-making. Traditional quilters are very interested in technical aspects of quilting, and while art quilters certainly do focus on technique to an extent, we are not bound by the rules traditional quilters live by.

JB: Tell me a little about your process- how did you find the artists? Did contrast of styles/methods play a part in selecting the group?

JRW: I knew a lot of them already, because I’m fortunate to get work accepted into top national shows. I go to important show openings, and a lot of other artists will too, and I’d be able to meet and talk with them there. So a lot of them I knew somewhat. Some extremely well.

But even if I hadn’t met them, I’d seen their work. I chose the ones I did because they had really impressed me, and I am not easily impressed.

When I was putting the show together, I started out with three-dimensional pieces. I got the idea a couple of years ago while at an art quilting conference, then I emailed a few other quilting artists about the possibility. Then, when this opportunity came up with [Artspace] at Untitled it was natural, I had a group to start with.

But indeed, l wanted contrast—a real cross-section—wanted to show the depth of work that is being made in the art quilting community.

JB: You curated this show and also had work included: do you consider yourself primarily a curator, primarily an artist, or both?

JRW: I was an art quilter first, but I was also one of the founders of a group called Kansas Art Quilters. I became president of the group and curated the first few exhibitions the group had. They were invitational- not juried or judged but did have to put them together, install and de-install work and travel the shows, whatever was needed.

I knew that I would have no problem doing this from my IBM experience: I knew my biggest strength was organizing, knowing what needed to be done. And I’d been to so many openings that I knew what worked and what didn’t. I just knew what had to be done. To me, the whole process was a pleasure and it was easy.

JB: I noticed that many of your pieces in the show play with scale. Is this a particular interest in your art?

JRW: Not necessarily. I do play with scale in those pieces, but it’s not a major motive. A lot of people have mentioned Claes Oldenburg when discussing those pieces; it was not necessarily my intention.

My own artwork goes back to my work as a technical writer for NCR. When I started, they handed me an NCR dictionary. All of the words defined very narrowly, and only in relation to other words in that specific dictionary. It got me thinking about words, and about concepts that words represent. How do you convey a word without referring to other words that you have to know? I consider my work a form a visual dictionary.

Some of the pieces do play with scale a lot, others have almost technological aspects. When I would go into manufacturing plants, I was exposed to a lot of processes and technology. I also have other pieces where there are just words. My sketchbook mostly consists of words. Words I want to remember. More the definition of the words and which words inspire me. I almost have several different thoughts within that, but if you see it all, it makes sense.
They don’t always look similar, in fact they look very different oftentimes; but again if you see them all together, you get it.

I don’t really call myself a quilter- I consider myself more a conceptual artist. There is a term that’s gaining ground: conceptual craft- artists who are making fine art but using craft materials.

Whatever material it takes to produce to what I want, that’s what I use. Pool noodles, toilet flanges, anything. And it can take any form: sometimes hung on walls, but sometimes those wall hangings creep onto the floor, sometimes free standing. Whatever it takes to define that particular word.

JB: Are there any artists in the show whose work you’d like to talk about? Perhaps the two from Oklahoma, Elia Woods and Jean Ann Fausser?

JRW: Elia Woods-I love her work- she does slightly more traditional work; I absolutely loved her installation. I love that you can get inside it and walk around. It’s unlike any other piece in the show, and that was on purpose. I do want to say I chose her because she was good, she just happens to live in Oklahoma City.

Jean Ann Fausser- the other Oklahoma artist in the show. I felt she fit in. My goal was to show a real wide range of cutting edge of quilt art work that is being done by quilters today, and I felt she fit in well.

JB: Is there anything else you’d like to comment on or add?

JRW: Oklahoma City has a true gem in [Artspace] at Untitled- I hope people realize what a rarity it is to have a gallery with so much heart that shows art on such a high level of quality on a regular basis.

We had one third of the artists come in for the opening weekend. One from California- the one who did the ferris wheel- said to me: You have completely blown my perceptions of Oklahoma City. She was extremely impressed with the gallery, with the people, with the commitment to the arts. She went home singing your praises.

Many thanks to Ms. Werner for curating this show,and for her time and thoughtful responses for this interview. Modern Materials will hang through August 29, 2009. [Artspace] at Untitled is located at 1 NE 3rd St. in Oklahoma City, and the gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, 10am- 6pm, and Saturday 10am-4pm. You can visit their site here for more information.

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