Gallery Opening

I went to the greatest gallery opening a week ago. Everything was done right. And I left re-inspired and eager to go home and make art. Talk about having an impact!

My friend Carol Ann Waugh, a fiber artist, has a joint show going on right now with a paper maker here in Denver at the Ice Cube gallery in RiNo.  It’s fascinating to figure out all the things Carol did that made this show really work.

To begin with she has terrific marketing skills. As someone who worked in marketing for many years in back in New York, I love to see good marketing in action and I had a blast seeing what Carol did to promote her show.

People think that being an artist is solely about making art. Alas it ain’t so. But all the peripheral crap is equally necessary and probably a lot harder than creating the art itself. And is creative in its own way. Although it will never get credit.

Carol hit on a theme, probably with the other artist, of black and white, and exploited it in her pre-opening postcards. The show’s title rocks! “The F Word”   Provocative and funny. (F for fiber, duh.)

As you entered the gallery, two floor to ceiling panels each displayed 3 black and white works of Carol’s. And three of the paper maker. I have to confess that I didn’t notice that the paper maker had anything hung there until I was about to leave the show. Her works were solid white (with embossing) and my eyes read them as part of the background panel. This may be just me but I wonder if she would have been better served by creating something with white AND black to go there. Something that held its own better next to the pieces Carol had done. (This no doubt brands me as a philistine in the paper making world. But sometimes subtly is too subtle.)

Almost all of the rest of Carol’s displayed work was in glorious color. It really popped in the space. The paper maker, on the other hand, chose to display pieces that were light or dark grey, or white. This made her work seem repetitive to me.

I’ve always liked what Carol is doing with her art. And it’s been interesting to see how her art has evolved in the two years I’ve known her. One thing I love about her work is that it often shows her terrific sense of humor. Without being silly. (Although if silly is your thing, go for it.)

For this show, she apparently worked on some new pieces that show her stretching her technical skills and creating the piece as a whole, rather than a sum of parts.

Quilting is often a sum of parts. We create blocks, we piece them together, and add borders, and Voila! A quilt happens. I make quilts this way a lot. I follow what the fabric tells me to do.But there’s another way to do it and that is to plan out the quilt in advance. Not necessarily every minor detail but the overview.

This is how a lot of art quilts are made, I believe. With a sense at the beginning of where the end will be. In the interim, there can be a lot of embellishment and surface painting. And the quilt may indicate when enough is enough. But there is an overall sense of unity that prevails.

And that’s what I saw this time in Carol’s art. Has it always been there? I have no idea because I had only seen her smaller pieces. Where it’s not something that surfaced in my brain. Could be me. But somehow I sense she has moved into another level here.

To have larger pieces is exciting as well. Carol told me she was more comfortable working small but I have to say her large pieces really seemed coherent, finished, and of a piece, so to speak. I truly grooved on them and noticed people responding to them with enthusiasm.

This doesn’t mean she has to go on making larger pieces. Simply that whatever she learned from the process of going bigger will be something she can bring to her smaller work from now on.

Lauren observed that Carol’s art works viewed both from a distance and up close. Each has an intensity which is exhilarating. Each draws you in and draws you closer. This is what art should do. Art should be an interactive sport. And one look should not be enough. You should want to get to know a piece better and try to figure out what the artist was doing. Carol’s work did that for us, and we noticed other people also doing the walking closer bit.

I have two concerns about of the show. One is I think the price points should be higher on Carol’s work. I understand the importance of getting people to buy. And thus having works under $100 to get people to consider owning something by you, the specific artist. But her work is more valuable than that, and how do we as artists get people to realize our value if we don’t price our works high enough?

I realize I moved here from a part of the country where cost=value. It’s the age-old conundrum – sell MORE less expensive pieces or sell ONE more expensive piece.  I imagine when I have a show I will really wrestle with this one. I don’t know the answer.

The other concern is that Carol has an amazing series of small black and white pieces which ran up the side of one wall and across it. They were awesome as a group. She is selling them for $25 each or 4 for $80. I imagine she debated this with herself. Again the low price point gets people to buy and to begin to think about owning her art and perhaps even collecting it. That’s good.

But to me, the mass of pieces was an art work all by itself. I kind of wanted it to be sold as a whole and for a few thousand dollars. It’s just amazing to see it and it would really be a fabulous piece in someone’s home or a museum. Perhaps a collector would be able to see it as a group. But to display it as an entity onto itself, rather than something whose individual pieces can be bought,  would have been a real statement. I dunno. I go back and forth on this one too.

I am beginning to think it isn’t art if it isn’t seen. Yes, Emily Dickinson wrote her poems despite years of rejection letters. Her need to write overran the depression of rejection. But her instincts about wanting to be published were right – she wasn’t a poet until she was published. Posthumously, in her case. And we aren’t artists if we aren’t visible.

As quilters, we do have our work seen by family or friends. But that’s not enough. If we want to grab the title, artist, we need to put our stuff out there. So gallery openings become key. They force us to take a good look at our work. They make us figure out how to market it, which helps us figure out what we are doing. Because unless we can describe our art in concrete terms that at least some part of the public can comprehend, we aren’t communicating. And art is fundamentally communication.

To see a really well done gallery show, go visit Carol. Her website is  You’ll find the viewing times for “The F Word,” which runs through June 12th 2010. And other ways to see her stuff.