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Studio Visit: Rachel Meginnes

rachel meginnes at penland

In December, Rachel Meginnes’ sewing machine broke. She asked her friend, fellow resident artist Robin Johnston, if she could borrow hers. Nervous about roughing up Robin’s machine by sewing on paint (which is how Rachel broke her own machine), she stopped herself. “I thought about building up texture with more paint instead of by sewing,” she said. “I’m interested in pulling color from the cloth in ways I haven’t before.” From a busted sewing machine, Rachel’s process busted too.

Correction: processes–there are many. Rachel is a relentless pursuer of textures–“texture” having arrived to us from texere in Latin: to weave. Weaving is where Rachel started, and her creation of textures extends from a consideration of fibers, patterns, and their possibilities. How might an artist trained as a weaver accommodate painting methods and material foreign to the loom? Where would that take her? Rachel has gone far, far out with these questions–not unlike the child in the outfield who forgets, the second she looks up and sees all kinds of blue roping through the clouds, about being in a baseball game. Behold the wall of current Rachel Meginnes experiments:

 

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“If they fail, they fail,” says Rachel, about these ideas: gessoed paint build-ups, magazine transfers on cardboard, abraded surfaces, color behaving and misbehaving, thread and weave, articulate paper folds, that ominous X. Looking at each moment of texture, one begins to see the depths of Rachel’s experiments. “What happens when I can’t sand away?” she says, noting one of her techniques. Rachel’s studio time this past winter has involved voicing her  internalized methods and then veering away–toward discomfort, change, and not knowing what will happen. As a testament to her endurance in this process, check out her bowl of paint-shocked pins:

 

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Enduring a winter of self-imposed counter-intuitive experimentation might sound, well, painful. Perhaps the pain, for Rachel, is eased by an adherence to the grid–that endless, giving pattern she uses repeatedly. As I entered her studio, Rachel was applying white strokes of gesso to a fabric made from handwoven scarves that she had bought in bulk, cut up, and then re-pieced. She began to talk about the observational part of her work: watching, day to day, how paint affects not only the surface but the stretch of the fabric. I was immediately reminded of Agnes Martin: how the grid is a constant chance for alteration, for something else to happen. Rachel readily cites Martin, Robert Ryman, and Mark Bradford as influences.

The studio isn’t all action. Set away from a table populated with tubes of paint, there’s a small desk next to a well-tended bookshelf. On the desk, quiet arrangements: a draft for a dragonfly, an old issue of American Craft featuring the image of Ruth Asawa, who said once: “An artist is not special. An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.”

 

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Photographs by Robin Dreyer and Elaine Bleakney; writing by Elaine Bleakney

Read Kathryn Gremley’s 2014 essay on Rachel Meginnes’s work from Surface Design Journal here

 

 

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Personal Cartography: Weaving with Robin Johnston

Robin Johnston, 143 Walnuts, handwoven cotton, 2013
Robin Johnston, 143 Walnuts, handwoven cotton, 2013

“Above all else show the data,” wrote Edward Tufte, the trailblazing philosopher of quantitative information and how humans present it. Weaver Robin Johnston takes Tufte to heart in her practice. One of Johnston’s recent woven works, above, involves hand-dyeing yarn by wrapping it around individual walnuts. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see walnuts meticulously placed below the finished work.

Considering her taste for slow, mysterious processes, it might be no surprise that Johnston’s favorite music to listen to in the studio is “sort of melancholy Americana: slow, sad music. Gillian Welch, M. Ward, Iron & Wine, Billie Holiday.”

Johnston will teach an eight-week weaving workshop for all levels in spring 2014 with an exploration of processes in mind, inviting her students to come to the studio with their own ideas about personal patterns and the documentation of these patterns as sources for art making.

 

 

 

Robin Johnston, Full Worm Moon, handwoven and embroidered cotton
Robin Johnston, Full Worm Moon, handwoven and embroidered cotton

Robin Johnston – Personal Cartography
March 9-May 2, 2014
In the textiles studio

This workshop will use weaving to delve into students’ individual interpretations of mapmaking. We’ll explore basic weaving and dyeing techniques that lend themselves to charting, plotting, and coding information—including pattern weaves, inlay, tapestry, painted warps, and ikat dyeing. Through daily sketchbook exercises we’ll envision woven surfaces that emphasize color, pattern, image, and texture to create maps of all kinds. Whether we are describing geographic or conceptual spaces, we’ll apply personal cartography to the art of weaving. All levels. 

 

 

 

For more information about this workshop and registration information please click here.
Spring scholarship deadline is November 29.

 

 

 

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Photograph of Robin Johnston by gwendolyn yoppolo

Robin Johnston is currently a resident artist at Penland School of Crafts. Her work deals with measuring time, capturing moments as they pass, and the sense of loss that accompanies their passing. Information such as light, temperature and heart rate is collected and tracked during the making, creating real-time maps of her physical experience weaving.  The levels of translation involved in the charting and integration of various data into the woven structure add to the slowness of the process, illustrating a personal reaction to fast-paced society.  Since moving to the mountains of North Carolina, Robin has been researching colonial weave drafts commonly used in the early days of Lucy Morgan’s Penland Weavers.  She is combining these traditional woven patterns with data, such as sleep patterns and moon cycles, gathered from her daily life.