Special Features

October 2001

Pattern on Pattern: Marilyn Hower and Paul Vincent

Pattern on Pattern: Rose, watercolor and fabric weaving
Marilyn Hower & Paul Vincent

Marilyn Hower and Paul Vincent are two resident artists at William King Regional Arts Center. Hower works in fiber and Vincent in watercolor. For both, the aesthetics of surface texture and pattern is of primary importance in their work. They continue to explore the visual and textural effect of patterns in their finished pieces. Hower departs from the tradition of following the contour of fabric pieces in her quilting. Machine stitching becomes a visual pattern unto itself. The texture of thread embroidery provides an additional dimension to her work. Vincent initially approaches his paintings as most watercolor artists would, but rapidly diverts from tradition. Through his palette he creates intricate mazes that lie surreptitiously on his delicate enlargements of flora. Further exploration of pattern and texture has led Vincent to the actual "weaving" of two or more paintings, identical in subject but altered in palette. Deeper complexities are investigated through stamping small gouache patterns on the woven strips of watercolor.

What becomes evident to viewers of this exhibition is the influence each artist has had on the other. While working for several years at the Arts Center, their separate approach to their medium of choice reflects the effect of their proximity. The works presented in this exhibition permit the viewer to experience the personal expression of the artist and, at the same time, an inclusive sense of community with shared understandings. These attributes unite these works with great art, past and present.

Pattern on Pattern presents a delightful blend of two very different media. Fiber, often associated with craft, is presented by Hower in such a way as to let it be discussed and comprehended using the same criteria which one uses to approach paintings. Vincent's work, especially the woven pieces, loses a lot of the rigidity associated with painting, and takes on the pliability of fiber. Together they help to close the distance between the object and the viewer. The result is a more holistic experience of art for the audience, a new way to connect art and life.
Thomas Perryman, Curator

Thomas Perryman: Let's talk a bit about your background and how your work has evolved to the pieces you are producing today.

Marilyn Hower: I have a life-long interest in all types of needle arts. When I was a child I learned to sew at my grandmother's knee. I made huge quantities of doll clothes by hand and then progressed to using a child's metal Singer sewing machine that operated with a hand crank! My stashes of brightly colored and textured fabric scraps were always close at hand. They even traveled with me when I visited friends or relatives. As I grew up, extended family members taught me how to sew on a real sewing machine as well as how to knit, crochet, and make needlepoint, counted cross-stitched and crewel embroidery pieces.

Marilyn Hower, Checkerboards and Tile, fiber, machine pieced and quilted

I was always fascinated by the intricate patterns and stitching in quilts, but never had the opportunity to learn how to make them until my second son was born in 1985. At that time I enrolled in my first quilting class and was instantly hooked! I loved the technical aspects of construction as well as the finished product. The classes I took were steeped in traditional quilting methods and patterns, which gave me a wealth of information for my own creations. Eventually I began to combine traditional patterns in unique ways to create secondary designs. The quilt Checkerboards and Tile exemplifies the way I like to place block patterns next to each other to create a totally different overall secondary design.

In 1999 I studied with Nancy Crow, one of the leaders in the art quilt movement and the originator of the biennial juried exhibition, Quilt National. She taught me how to approach quiltmaking as artist who uses fiber as her medium to explore color, line and shape. I now work with the fabric in a much more direct manner, letting it speak to me about pattern and design. Rather than planning a piece from beginning to end, I embrace those surprises that occur when experimentation and spontaneity are part of the process.

Paul Vincent, Ravenna Dahlia, watercolor

Paul Vincent: I have a B.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the University of Georgia. When I finished college I painted mainly landscapes from life in acrylic, then later in oil. Since I tended to overwork my oils I switched to watercolors - with the goal of painting directly and not going back to rework anything. I also began working from photos rather than from life and switched from painting landscapes to large-scale botanicals. So I changed my medium, drawing method and subject matter all at once and found my voice as an artist. After six years of doing purely realistic botanicals, I began to overlay geometric designs on the natural patterns found in plants - pattern on pattern. This lead to the paperweavings. I saw weaving as another way to work pattern into an image. The first paperweavings were florals done in 1998 and in 1999 I began the portrait paperweavings.

TP: We have titled the exhibition Pattern on Pattern, a concept more easily associated with quilting than watercolor. However, in these quilts the patterns in the stitching goes much farther than traditional quilting. If you would, Marilyn and Paul, discuss your curiosity and exploration of pattern and texture, which go beyond common approaches.

MH: I love to explore traditional geometric quilt patterns and then manipulate them through design and color choices, as is evident in my miniature quilt, She Made Me Use Yellow. I am constantly driven to make my quilts look fresh and different from anything I have seen before. This struggle always proves worthwhile for me when a unique artistic expression is the result of my work.

Marilyn Hower, She Made Me Use Yellow, fiber, machine pieced and quilted

Texture in a quilt is composed of the closely woven elements of fiber and pattern. Although fiber is by nature a very tactile medium, our eyes perceive a quilt's texture in the content makeup of the fabrics as well as the printed or dyed patterns on their surface. These patterned bits of fabric represent many different colors and values and constantly play within the confines of the overall quilt design. My quilts are composed mostly of commercial cottons cut into small colorful geometric shapes and then machine-pieced together to form the desired pattern.

Thread is both a functional and decorative texture in my pieces. A quilt is composed of three layers: the quilt top, a middle layer of batting or some similar fiber, and the backing fabric. These three layers must be attached to each other in some fashion. Traditionally the quilt layers were joined with needle and thread by hand with the stitches either echoing the block design or superimposing a secondary design onto the quilt's surface. I usually sew the three layers of each quilt by machine, using a more freeform, embroidered approach to the type of stitches I select. I often use many different types of thread (cotton, rayon, metallic) in multiple layers of straight or zigzag stitching. This build-up of threads adds yet another dimension to the visual dance of pattern and texture on the surface of the quilt.

PV: As a child I remember being mesmerized by patterns - just staring at wallpaper and tile floors and quilts. So, as a realist painter I began to try to find ways to incorporate pattern into my work. Eventually I came up with the idea of superimposing patterns into my botanical images. This seemed natural, since flowers and foliage tend to have repeated patterns and symmetries of their own. In a series of four-foot square watercolors that began in 1992, I overlaid geometric designs on botanical images. The idea was to get the natural patterns of the flowers and the man-made designs to lock together into a unified whole - the equivalent of counterpoint in music. I've used geometric designs and patterns from lots of sources: quilts, wallpaper, tile, labyrinths from medieval churches, Islamic designs, Chinese lattice window designs, etc. In 1998 I started the paper weaving. In these, the weave itself makes a pattern over the image. I had never seen paper weaving that matched up to form the image of a recognizable object, though later I learned that it is being done in photography. To my knowledge, I'm the only painter doing this. I see the paperweaving as an outgrowth of the earlier, non-woven pattern paintings.

TP: Is your exploration still evolving?

MH: Absolutely! I am never content to merely repeat the lessons I learned in the last piece. I find great challenge exploring new territory within this wonderful fiber medium. I have recently begun to work in a series, as evidenced in the quilts titled Windows #1, #2, #3, and #4. These pieces were commissioned for the Southwest Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Virginia. I based their design on the many different patterns of windows in the building. I am very excited about working with pattern in a more abstract manner. And working in a series allows me to continue to explore many of the new ideas that fill my mind with questions of "what if."

Paul Vincent, Fall Dogwood Quilt, watercolor

PV: The possibilities of the weavings seem endless. There are so many variables to play with: color, texture, the weave itself, scale, subject matter, and media. Marilyn and I have recently completed a joint weaving of a rose. I did a watercolor painting and she did a fabric version. Then we cut them into strips and wove them together. I'd like to try more weavings using different media like collage or monotype, and mixing two or more media into the same weaving.

I also plan to experiment further with the stamping. I think it adds so much in terms of texture, color and additional pattern within the pattern of the weave.

TP: How, if at all, has your working in close proximity with one another affected your work?

MH: One of the greatest benefits I've derived from my tenure as a resident studio artist at the Arts Center is the friendship I've developed with Paul. We have had the opportunity to watch each other work, learn about the different techniques we employ in our separate art forms and discover similarities in our mutual interest in layered pattern. I value his assessment of my work and sometimes ask him to critique or help me solve a problem with a piece in progress. Before meeting Paul, I saw one of his huge watercolor dahlias painted with an intricate superimposed labyrinth design. I was struck by his layering of pattern and was delighted to learn later that he shared my interest in creating secondary designs in his work. And since our studios are right across the hall from each other, I live with a daily awareness of the beauty and vividness of his color palette.

Since Paul began creating his woven watercolor paintings and portraits, we have tried to figure out a way to somehow collaborate in this area. After discarding several ideas that didn't seem to work, we have developed a process for weaving the same image reproduced in two different ways: painted first by watercolor on paper and then created a second time with laminated fabric. Our efforts are still experimental but we are fueled by a desire to produce original work that embraces both media.

Paul Vincent, Alex, watercolor paperweaving

PV: It's been wonderful to have Marilyn and her work and her amazing stock of fabrics right across the hall for these two and a half years. I think that the stamping that I have started to add to the paperweaving comes from seeing the rich textures in her work. Somehow I think that each of our work is beginning to look more like the other's.

TP: What are some of your inspirations?

Marilyn Hower, Windows #4, fiber, machine pieced and quilted

MH: My inspirations come from everything I experience. My work environment at the Arts Center is charged with a creative energy and an affirmation or ideas new and untried. I am greatly inspired by seeing other artists' work, whether it be in fiber or another medium. I am always challenged by seeing quilts, both traditional and contemporary, and by constantly studying new techniques through articles, books and classes. The colors, shapes and forms found in nature also provide an infinite wealth of ideas for me.

PV: Back when I painted landscapes, some of my influences were George Innes, Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Fairfield Porter. All of them are great at depicting light and handling paint in a natural, unforced way. These are qualities that I'm always after. Chuck Close's portraits that are painted on a grid, one square at a time, gave me the idea to try a portrait in paperweaving. Now I'm hooked!

TP: You both have a tremendous eye for color and, again, your palette is far from traditional. Let's discuss your ideas on color and color theory.

Marilyn Hower, Windows #2, fiber, machine pieced and quilted

MH: I have learned about color mainly through the trial and error of making quilts over a period of years. I have never taken an art course and therefore have no formal training in color theory. Although I have a color wheel on one wall in my studio, my color choices are made primarily through experimentation. I often look at many different colors and values before choosing the combination that is most exciting to me for a particular piece. I guess you could say that I rely on pure instinct rather than academic premises for my color selections.

Paul Vincent, Larissa, watercolor and gouache paperweaving

PV: Before the pattern paintings I used color realistically. But superimposing the pattern requires two or more sets of color so it forces me to use color non- objectively. It's been very liberating. I generally like to play warm colors against
cool ones, sometimes in subtle ways and other times to the extreme. In the woven portraits I've been working with the idea of optical color mixing, so that the further back from the image you are the more your eyes blend these diverse colors into natural skin and hair tones.

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