I’ve always wanted to see the deserts. Last December, I visited New Mexico for the first time. It became a kind of Georgia O’Keeffe pilgrimage as my family and I visited her museum in Santa Fe, stayed in Abiquiu, and rode on horseback around Ghost Ranch where she made her home for the second half of her life. I was spellbound by the landscape, the wide flat plains, the colors of the sky from wintery white to brilliant blue, the orange, purple, and gray striations of the canyons, and the rustic Red Willows that abounded along the water. I took many photographs of the landscape, many of them in motion from through a car window. I loved how the landscape looked while captured in motion as well as the intersection of color and texture as the sky met the land. I created a photo collage and made a few watercolor paintings from these landscapes.
Photograph of landscape from the car en route to Abiquiu, New Mexico
Watercolor paintings of New Mexico landscapes
Last year I also began researching the gorgeous strip weave Kente cloths from the Asante and Ewe people of Ghana. These cloths are made from weaving long and narrow strips of cloth, which are then woven together selvedge to selvedge creating complex and dynamic compositions. These weavings are notable for their alternating vertical and horizontal stripes; the colors and imagery all having their own unique meanings.
Kente cloth from Asante people
This research led me to discover strip quilts made by African American women in the 19th and 20th centuries, with many masterpieces coming from Gee’s Bend, Alabama - a type of quilt-making that seem to have its origins from West African kente textiles. These African-American strip quilts were made from scrap fabrics, usually cut into rectangular shapes (sometimes with striped fabrics which heightened the sense of line) and put together in an improvisatory fashion. For me, they are poetic, abstract works of contemporary art.
Stripquilt by Mozell Benson
Somehow, these two nuggets of inspiration – strip-woven textiles and landscapes - started weaving together in my mind. Perhaps ironically, the kente cloths actually made me think of urban landscapes. The linework, rhythm, and organization inherent in these works somehow made me think of the organization of urban life, of apartments, elevators, and cubicles. The long rectangular units of Kente cloths and African American strip quilts, sometimes further reinforced by striped fabrics, made me focus on a quality of lines. Similarly, in my landscape photos, I was drawn to the horizon lines (which in reality was an illusion - that two extremely different substances were actually touching, colliding along a line). The flat plains of the desert gave me a sense of endlessness – while the inherent technique of strip-woven textiles also suggest infinity since they can be added onto infinitely. Kente clothes are always worn wrapped, voluminous, and layered, and because of that, they are patterns meant to be seen in motion, just as I was particularly drawn to the landscape photos I took while in motion, abstracting the scene into blurred colors and forms.
All of these thoughts somehow became more potent as I faced the shelter-in-place order that so many of us around the world have been living with the last two months. The landscapes I experienced five months ago now seemed completely out of reach while stuck in my own small enclosure. Exploring the connections between landscapes and these textiles, I began to feel that there were more similarities between urban and outdoor "landscape" than at first thought - and that that juxtaposition of containment and infinity was really interesting.
Photograph artwork by Andrea Gursky, Rhine II
Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape
With all of these thoughts in mind, I began experimenting with creating my own patterns. I experimented with watercolor interpretations of the uneven quality of scrap fabrics sewn on the fly.
I played with using the horizon lines of my New Mexico photographs as an organic replacement for the graphic lines in these strip-woven quilts, and also with the organization of the grid becoming a kind of containment for the endless landscapes. Exploring that mysterious balance between order and improvisation, containment and endlessness. I also began draping designs that spoke to horizons "splitting open".
Playing with print and scale
Layered landscapes strip experiments
More to come...