I recently just finished a class in abstraction with a focus on bricolage. I didn’t really know what the class was about when I signed up but I knew I wanted to learn from Karen Khoury. I love Karen’s art which is difficult to describe. Karen works with paint but not in any traditional format. She creates art that is both sculptural and 2D at the same time from paint sheets that are rolled and folded much like fabric.
I learned that bricolage is a characteristic of much postmodern art...also learned a lot about what exactly postmodern art is. Bricolage simply means working with materials readily at hand. Altering them to meet your needs or using them as they are. The DIY and indy-craft movement are also examples of bricolage. It was a great class that gave me permission to follow my instincts and stretch my creative boundaries.
As an artist who works a great deal in collage, I realized that as my art has improved I have been working up to the more honest and authentic style of bricolage. When I started creating stories in fabric and paper I would spend quite a bit of time shopping for the right elements, fabrics and images to tell the story. Over the years I have learned to simply create with what I have on hand. There is still the temptation to just go shop for something rather than make it myself or use what I have but I have learned that having less control often results in a better piece of art.
This piece about my grandmother is a great example even though I didn’t realize at the time I was working in Bricolage as well as collage. The rather loud and not quite matching background fabric is from one of her evening skirts. My grandmother owned her own advertising and printing business and every evening when she got home from work she would change into her evening wear. She had quite the collection of long skirts and was quite fond of both Hawaiian prints and velvet. I used this orange and yellow skirt with the curving velvet trim because it spoke of her essence and quite honestly, it was available.
Quite a few times I considered a shopping trip to find a better fabric but that would have taken a lot of time that I didn’t have…and quite frankly I really have enough fabric! I stitched the orange flower embellishments with silk roving and thread I had on hand, pulled shell bits from my collection and mixed up beads I already had. I even used a bit of orange kitchen lace (aka plastic mesh from fruit and veggie bags) because I had it and it was the right color.
A wonderful example of bricolage is the work of El Anatsui a sculptor from Ghana and Nigeria. I have spent a lot of time examining his huge piece that hangs at the Denver Art Museum. Using the metal wrappers that are found on the necks of bottles tied together with copper wire he has created a fabric based on the Kente cloth from his homeland of Ghana. His huge sculptures are breathtaking. You can see more of his amazing work here.
The piece I started in the class isn't quite finished but I promise to show it as soon as it is. It is quite the departure for me and I am very excited about it.