The Watermarks Series by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade
Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade explain: Textile design and structure of all types have always been referenced in our work. Bedding, upholstery, clothing, carpets, table linen, banners and flags find their way into our studio to be drawn and painted figuring as both subject and ornament. Watermarks was conceived as a journey to create 26 quilts, using the international signal flag alphabet as the basis for exploration.
Each letter of the signal flag alphabet is a study in contrast of color and balance of shape, designed to be visible at a distance. In the age of sail it was an international language that served as a means of “text-messaging” from ship to ship and ship to shore. It continues to function for some marine communication. As a decorative motif it has become ubiquitous in our culture, a constant in nautical and cottage style, it decorates interiors and clothing, expanding from summer rental to suburban home, from cruise wear to urban jeans.
Each of the quilts that comprise Watermarks was designed to incorporate the geometric configuration of one of the flags. In some, the graphic composition is that of the the flag, other works feature it ornamentally and others abstractly suggest the source flag. No sequential approach was applied to the design and execution. One composition would suggest a solution for another and others would inspire invention. The conceptual idea was shared -- each of us executing individual pieces.
Central to this work is a love of the function of pattern and the scrutiny of land and sea. The coastal seascape is delineated by day marks, buoys, lights, heights of land and islands that guide visual navigation and which become the subject of our paintings. The paintings are further arranged with surface patterns derived from rope, water and other symbolic marine related patterns functioning as visual prompts, that by association give meaning to the whole.
Living on the coast of Maine we draw on the historical and contemporary activities that flow in and out of our harbors. From ancestral arrival, to the clipper trade and from stories of friends who fish, build boats and sail, to the images indelibly etched in our own subconscious of the good and bad days on the water. We built these simple narratives to evoke the romance and longing we sense in the seagoing experience: bon voyage, man against the sea, safe passage and heading home.
The works in the series that are framed are painted and printed with fiber-reactive dyes on cotton broadcloth. Each is a single top layer of fabric, layered with batting and backing fabric; this type of quilt is referred to as a whole cloth quilt.
Widely used for commercial fabrics, in our studio, fiber-reactive dyes are dissolved in water and mixed with a seaweed derived thickener, this allows us to paint, controlling the viscosity allowing for effects from painterly washes to clean sharp edges without bleeding. An alkaline chemical reaction binds the dye to the fabric, this involves pre-treatment of the fabric, painting and rinsing and repainting two or four times. Each time the fabric is washed the dye is ‘set’ allowing us to build up color for desired effects.
Most of the framed works are completely painted by hand. In the past some pattern elements have been screen-printed with the dyes in the studio, but the textile industry has developed inkjet printers that allow us to have our pattern elements transferred directly to the fabric with the same fiber-reactive dyes that we have been painting with for 30 years. Much of this pattern work is then overprinted to complete an effect. In the work shown here, rope, coral and number patterns were digitally printed from original works painted and drawn on paper with gouache, pastel and charcoal.
Framed works are machine and hand stitched. We consider a machine-stitched line a ‘hard’ line and handwork generally serving as a ‘scrim’ to view the painted work through and serves structurally to hold the layers together. Each has a layer of batting and backing fabric and is finished as a quilt. The finished quilt is sewn to a stretched linen panel and framed and faced with Plexiglas creating an archival environment. The frames in this exhibit are welded and powder-coated aluminum
Watermark: G-Golf , Artist's Print
UNFRAMED AND DIGITALLY PRINTED QUILTS
Since 2000, we have been exploring the availability and possibilities of digitally printing with fiber-reactive dyes. The Watermarks Project has allowed us to conceive of works that would employ digital printing and quilting technologies.
The designs for the unframed quilts in this series were assembled on a computer monitor from original drawings and paintings executed in our studio.
Two commercial printers were used, both in North Carolina where the textile Industry is both academically and physically active. Three different commercial quilters each with different skills and equipment were used to stitch quilts to our specifications, two from Maine and one from Indiana. In Indiana, we were able to produce the completely digital quilt, the sewing machine was computer controlled, doing exactly as we would. While it proves a point and has advanced our technical horizons—for us, computers and printers are just tools.
The first five quilts produced were printed as multiples of two to five of each of the following letters: D, G, H, N and R, hence they meet the criteria of an artist's print. As such, they are priced accordingly. All other unframed quilts are one-of-a-kind.
Contact Robert Shaw about quilts in The Watermarks Series