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Weaving Wednesday

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We stopped in the textiles studio this morning where Robin Johnston’s weaving class was hard at work at the looms. Robin took some time to show us around the kitchen. A ferrous vat of indigo was stirred, a piece of cloth dipped. Another vat totally slept through our visit. And someone was dyeing with lichen in a silver pot.

 

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5 Notes (A studio visit with Robin Johnston)

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1.

Taped down on a table in resident artist Robin Johnston’s studio is a map of the stars. Next to it is smaller map, loose and folded and used, with a handwritten note in the margin: WE SAW FIREWORKS. A map handed out on the Fourth of July last summer, Robin tells us. Robin and her husband and her son (age 2) watched the sky light up above Penland.

 

2.

The moments of immanence that the artist experiences are collapsed into the work, to be revived or reimagined by the spectator when she enters its arena…–Ann Lauterbach, The Given and The Chosen

 

3.

Fireworks, family, the night sky, perception in summertime–Robin is collapsing these moments in her newest work. No, it’s more accurate to say: she’s recording them across the stretched map, each weft piece to be marked with a star’s position before it’s dyed and then the weaving begins. In the final part of the process, Robin will embroider the star charts of each season on the finished piece. This will take months and months. “I love tedious work,” she says quietly, grinning.

 

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4.

If you don’t believe that Robin loves tedious work, please note:

She’s the artist who gathered around 4,000 walnuts, soaked over a hundred of them, wrapped yarn around each one, unwrapped the dried strands, and used them to weave 143 Walnuts, the piece  hanging on the wall in the photograph below. Against another wall in her studio, next to an installation of walnuts still attached to strands suspended from the ceiling, is an old walnut picker. Her grandmother used it first–a handle attached to a metal cage, rolled over a carpet of grass to collect the fallen nuts on her sheep farm in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. “Robin’s work deals with measuring time, capturing moments as they pass, and the sense of loss that accompanies their passing,” her website tells us.

 

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5.

One last note: “immanence” is the opposite of transcendence, and Robin Johnston is an artist residing in what’s in her earthly grasp: 4,000 walnuts, millions of stars, the moth wing-resilience of ikat tape, the fact that indigo is insoluble in water and must first be reduced to a form called indigo white. When the thread is dipped and then pulled from the vat, Robin explains, a molecular change occurs. The indigo reverts to its insoluble form. It retakes its blue from the air.

 

Photographs by Robin Dreyer; writing by Elaine Bleakney

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Studio Visit: Rachel Meginnes

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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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Rachel Meginnes: Evolving the Cloth

Rachel Meginnes, Jentel (Sky) detail, Gesso, ink, and acrylic on sanded cloth with drawn thread
Rachel Meginnes, Jentel (Sky) detail, gesso, ink, and acrylic on sanded cloth with drawn thread

In this month’s Surface Design Journal, Penland Gallery director Kathryn Gremley traces the origins and evolution of Penland resident artist Rachel Meginnes’s cloth work, illuminating Meginnes’s process through a consideration of individual pieces like Jentel (2012), seen in detail, above.

Download a pdf of the article or purchase the issue here.

 

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Photo of the week: Busy Hands

 

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Students in Rachel Meginnes’s textile workshop picked up some crochet moves during a demonstration this week. The hands on the left belong to Elizabeth Meyer of Madison, Georgia, a return student to Penland. When we quizzed her about when she was last here, she furrowed her brow, and then suddenly removed her wedding band to look at the date on the inside. Turns out the year of her marriage was also the year she did a concentration with Julia Leonard in bookmaking. As she turned her ring, Meyer remembered zipping back and forth between workshop and wedding planning, workshop and wedding planning, and smiled.