Sunday, July 29, 2018

Stitches from Sorrow, Neatness Doesn't Count: Outsider Art in Lausanne

In my last two blog posts, (1, 2), I talked about quilt-ish inspiration from a week in the mountains, streets, and, of course, the cheeses of the French Alps and Lausanne, Switzerland. Along with ancient sites, one of the most astonishing places we went was Lausanne's Art Brut Museum - "Collection de l'Art Brut."

Art Brut is a term coined by French painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) - in English, it's called Outsider Art. Here's how the museum explains it: 
"Art Brut is made by self-taught people who often live on the margins of society....Among them are prisoners, residents from psychiatric hospitals, eccentrics, loners and outcasts whose creative expression exists for itself, without any concern for public criticism or what other people might think."
Three things struck me after an hour in this museum. 
  1. The incredible "wall power" - these pieces grab you. 
  2. The multiple horrific tragedies many of these artists endured. Abandonment, loss, profound mental and physical challenges (including, in some cases, blindness) - and not just one tragedy, but many. Several went silent for decades. I was also surprised at how many of the artists were Jewish, and grappling with the Holocaust (among other issues.) 
  3. Neatness doesn't count. 
For wall-power, the pieces that knocked me out included this rendition of the 'Birth of Venus,' by Yves-Jules Fleuri:
And this, by Brazilian artist Antonio Roseno de Lima.
And a massive floor-to-ceiling piece by August Walla)
That's just for starters - the museum has 60,000 pieces, 700 of which are on display, so I won't try to show everything I photographed. Below are a few photos of pieces that might be especially interesting to quilters and other fiber artists. Starting with jackets by Dunya Hirschter (1954-2008) from Croatia:
And her accessories: 
Next, dolls made by Michel Nedjar, (b. 1947), a French Jewish artist obsessed with the Holocaust, fetish dolls, and much more, here

Also by Nejdar: 

Judith Scott, (1943-2005) from Cincinnati, was born with Downs syndrome, deaf and mute, and sent to an institution at 7. She wasn't freed until her twin sister gained custody of her in 1986, when Judith spontaneously took up creative work. 
"She would hide all sorts of disparate objects - a fan, an umbrella, magazines - to form the heart of each creation. Having assembled such objects, she would wrap them with yarn, string and various fibers as to protect and conceal them completely."
Similarly, Angus McPhee (1916-1997), from Scotland, went as a young man to serve in WWII, became schizophrenic, was sent to an institution where he went silent for 50 years. Returned home in 1996, he started speaking again, and worked in the fields plaiting grasses like his father did to thatch roofs. 
"Angus McPhee hijacked his traditional practice to make various objects and items of clothing: hats, coats, trousers, boots, gloves and shoulder bags among others. He would hang his finished creations from the branches of a tree, hide them in the bushes, or lay them on the ground in a corner of the hospital grounds which served him as an open-air workshop."
Here's one of his handbags (which reminded me of handbags I've crocheted from eyelash yarn.) 
(By the way, a day later, in a fancy Geneva airport boutique, I saw this pricey designer fur tote bag, in the background, and snap purse, in the front:
On an upper floor, there were display cases full of recent mail art - pieces mailed to the museum curator over the past 20 years. These were obviously made by lots of different people, and I am guessing these were part of a challenge (but I couldn't find an explanatory label).

And finally, on the very top floor is a tiny room packed with the hallucinogenic work of Paul Amar (1919-2017), born in Algiers, who made massive, dense dioramas from shells.

Born to French Sephardic Jewish and Roman Catholic parents, Amar was a soldier in WWII. At age 55 he discovered objects made from shells in a souvenir shop; that became his life's work. He literally ate shellfish frequently to keep up his stock. 
"He grinds down and carves mussels, winkles and coral and decorates them...assembles them with glue, then covers them with acrylic paint or nail varnish. Finally he attaches them to lengths of box-type frames. The pictures are presented in the form of high and low reliefs an are illuminated from within by light bulbs that the artist conceals in sea urchin shells. Ornamentation with vivid pearly colors saturates the scenes and makes them verge on the sacred."
Detail of a tree:  
If you don't have any plans for a trip to Switzerland, you can explore the collection here. We also loved the Mudoc museum, by the way (it has an incredible show on now about guns and design which I blog about in my next post.)

P.S. I was just told about ANOTHER outsider art museum in Switzerland. I found its website here. Warning: Adult images in the home page scroll.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Walk Ancient Paths, Brainstorm Modern Quilts

Last week, my husband had a teaching gig in the French Alps, so of course I tagged along (devouring cheese). Afterward, we took a train to nearby Lausanne, Switzerland, where we had about a day to see the sights, before flying home. 

I was never someone who constantly takes pictures - not until this vacation. But now I have a new cell phone that hold its charge well. So I took many more photos than usual, and back home, I picked some favorites, to trace and mine for piecing and quilting ideas. 

The first sight we explored was the 13th century San Francois church. It has many doors, and took us a while to find one that opened - one that didn't open had this: 
 That's a quilt, for sure! 
A little color to prove my point:  
I can rest my case! But no, I'll keep going. Inside, the church is mostly grey stone, so the warm brown wooden furnishings glowed. I loved this:  
Tracing it helped me understand why it caught my eye...
...The contrast between curvy and straight, long and compact shapes. I rearranged the elements into an architectural octagon. 
The church's organ is heavenly, but far above my pay grade to replicate in fabric. 
It's held up by these two: 
 I traced and simplified them, painted their violin turquoise, et voila!
They'd make a nice quilting design for corners and other triangles on quilts: 
The design painted on the ceiling has proven its triangle-filling potential.
From overhead to underfoot, the streets are paved with more quilt brainstorming gold. Like this...
Another one: 
Made up of tiny octagons, with squares in their centers. 
There are wave after wave of squarish paving stones, set in scallops: 
...with the occasional drain for counterpoint:  
Below, a radiating circle with surrounding arcs: 
The next design is a tessellation. I think it looks like vertebrae. I bet it could be English Paper Pieced. It could also serve as a filler quilting design, though I'd have to mark it first - no way I could stitch this accurately freehand. 
Another stop on our walking tour was the Palais de Rumine, an Italianate building from the late 1800's. It houses five different museums - none of which was open on the day we were there! Dang! We were, however, allowed to run up and down the stairs and take pictures of the floor. The tile motifs were awesome:
The next one would make an excellent quilt border: 
And here's an all purpose design:
 Traced, with a little simplification....
Looking closely, I discovered that the artisans did the tile equivalent of "echo quilting" - a couple rounds of tiles surrounding and echoing the shape of the motif, then straight rows. In the next photo, for example, look above the head of the lion on the left - there are 4 or 5 rounds of echo tiling between the lion and the (sword? stick?). But over the the head of the lion on the right, it's just one row of echo tiling.
The Lausanne Cathedral was built around the same time as the Francois Church, but it's much more elaborate. The pillars are adorned with intricate, judgmental folk:

(The guy on the left looks familiar. Moses? Is that you?) Here's the church's famed Rose Window. Most of the glass dates to 1230. 

Tracing it in my computer program, I discovered that the artist had welded and broken apart a great many circles:  
The formations made me think of fluffy clouds....
...which isn't far from its original intent. "In medieval times, large rose windows were often a representation of the universe," this informative website explains. "Thus Lausanne's large rose contains images representing the four seasons, four elements, four winds, four rivers of paradise, as well as the twelve labours of the month and the signs of the zodiac." (An even more detailed study of the window is here.)

And speaking of circles...We strolled along Lake Geneva, and popped our heads into what must be the fanciest hotel in town. if not the country, the Palais Beau-Rivage. Through glass doors, I photographed some of the chandeliers, or rather, the circular formations from whence the chandeliers dangled....
When I simplified this one, I wound up with something that looks very much like an African fabric motif! 
The next one...
I like the almost-haphazard "slats" with angled tops that emerge from the center. 
Another useful idea on top of a ballroom door....
...It would also make a nice filler for an arc-shaped quilt expanse
Some of my favorite designs were found in the Hotel Victoria, the  elegant little inn where we stayed, around the corner from the train station. Their decor combined 17th and 18th century European art with modern abstract art, plus sculptures from Africa and Asia.  Below is the huge woven tapestry that hangs in the entrance - it  knocked me out. I'm pretty sure this is contemporary (but the clerk couldn't tell me anything about it, and there was no label)...

Another wallhanging the same size, about ten feet wide, and I'm guessing done by the same artist/workshop:
...and a third (and check out the whimsical wrought-iron rail in front of it)...
...The fourth one is so minimalist that you might expect to see it at Quiltcon (if it were a quilt and not a weaving).
The white parts are woven in, not gaps. I was also entranced by the hotels' tile floors, which peeped out between rugs.
Figuring out the arrangements in different areas was a lot of fun....

We did a LOT of walking. So we granted ourselves other sensory rewards. Like this afternoon cappucino....
...and the following dinner salad adorned with puffs of chevre, goat cheese, on toast. 
The chevre was the exact consistency of a perfectly roasted marshmallow, with a slight skin and warm melty center - divine. DH ordered that dish in the distance, a chanterelle tagliatelle. OMG! (acronym for "Oh My, Gluten!")

More quilting inspiration from ancient streets to come....