Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Wow! Stage Six. We are moving right along and elements of the work are beginning to shift around. Leslie Bixel has given us a through report on her thinking process and how she has contributed to the work. If you didn't see the new Video or the CC Grid from this past weekend, please visit the previous post. I will be updating both of those as the weeks pass. Leslie has a lot to say so let's get going.

Leslie's Observations on the Project

So we are now officially in the messy middle of our conversation. And it does seem very different than what I had expected. I can't just drop a colorful bon mot and expect to move the conversation along. I need to acknowledge the other voices in the room and respond with something appropriate. I feel pressure to resolve the piece even though we just started getting into the meat of the conversation.

Because aesthetic choice is so personal, I realize that someone else's compositional choices may not be the same as mine. I therefore want to be very careful to evaluate the composition I receive on formal elements, and look for areas of potential adjustment or enhancement. I also understand that as artist number 5 of 14, I'm not likely to resolve everything, maybe not anything. So instead, I want to take the opportunity to move the piece along and keep the conversation flowing.

Design Process Notes

First Impressions:

I opened up the package on Wednesday morning. Wow, a total re-design!!! A bit disorienting. I need to get re-acquainted with the piece. Which way is up? Interesting addition of some sienna colored bits to move the eye around. What happened to the first figure? Oh there it is. Now it's a spark plug. Fun. I like the sense of spontaneity and whimsy. But I'm not sure what to tackle first. The piece feels "finished", so in order to contribute, I will likely need to deconstruct something. What will it be?

Still undecided about the orientation, I hung it on my design wall horizontally, in order to have a clear view for considering compositional elements from the other side of the room.

The large yellow rectangle of complex cloth, while beautiful, is very bossy. I feel the need to cut it up, and use its power in a more subtle and controlled way.

I sent a message to the group asking if it would be OK to cut stuff up. They said yes.

First approach a false start with color:

Itching to make my mark on the piece, I dove directly into my stash, and started auditioning colors for new figures. I always start with color. To me color is central to any work of art I make, and since color is often the focus of my work, I had assumed this is where I could safely contribute to the piece.

If I couldn't cut down the complex cloth, maybe I could balance it with some acid greens.

Maybe a figure in a plumy purple, or an ocean blue?

I left it on the design wall for 3 days until I could make time to work again in the studio. Which means I had a lot of time to think about the piece before diving in.

The art class in my head

As I went about meeting other commitments over those three days, I thought about this piece frequently. I even dreamed about it. As time passed, more and more details of the piece revealed themselves to me. It was frustrating not being able to get to the studio, but I was getting something out of reflecting on the work pinned to my design wall. Sitting at my office desk one afternoon, I wrote up a very analytical mini-critique to the compositional elements of the piece.

Color Palette:
From a strictly formal viewpoint, the palette of this piece has yet to be defined, and currently lacks an internal logic, with warm and cool, and multiple values in competition within the space. The red is an extremely strong element, as is the acid yellow, and both want to come forward as figures above everything else.

The line work is a mix of both linear and curved. Still roughing in, the current state of line work lacks a unified sensibility or dominant gesture. The large rectangular fabrics do not have distinctly defined shapes, and do not seem to have been cut with intention.

This new composition has a couple of islands. Not clear that the grey pieced element can stand on its own as a figure. Things are floating, not connected, and there is no repeated shape other than rectangles. The ground is still a single color and does not contribute to defining the space, nor is the current composition create a strong sense of layers or depth.

The current composition reads as two figures. The central figure dominates the composition from the middle, the secondary figure wants to pull you to the edge of the piece, but is not strong enough to do so. The strong yellow element at the very edge unexpectedly disappears, and has the effect of making the mouse grey background more square.

The current composition is balanced so that it reads from most orientations fairly equally, possibly leaning towards a portrait (vertical) orientation.

The only repeated elements, the small sienna rectangles move the eye around the piece. The two yellow fabrics play off each other.

The yellow fabrics create very large figures, and end up dominating the composition.

A Plan Emerges

After thinking about all the design elements of the piece for several days, I decided my objective would be to create a stable ground that allows figures to float above and interact with each other in a jazzy sort of Stuart Davis way.

Studio Day 1:
Structuring the ground
I took off the big yellow fabric to get a good look at the other elements.

I liked the idea of using the strong linear elements to organize the space into distinct areas across the piece. I took everything off the background, but kept some elements pinned together to preserve their current relationship. I roughed in linear elements to proportion the space in a pleasing way.

I restored a design passage I really loved in a previous composition by using the big red element in relation ship to the ocher amoeba-like element to add yet another vertical component.

Time to play with color
So now I had some structure. Time to work on color. In order to push the background even further to the cool side, I decided i wanted to add blue elements to the space. I had another reason for choosing blue. I wanted to include something that both speaks to the environment where I live looking out at the Pacific ocean, and that could contribute a spiritual element of calm comfort in the design.

I used two shades of solid blue fabric and the existing black element to color block the space. After I roughed it in, I carefully cut the shapes to the blocks (blue and black) with focus on the line work at the edges of the shapes. I got the right hand side of the piece looking OK to my eye, but the line work on the blue element to the left felt too hard and straight.

I decided to sleep on it and see if I could do better in the morning.

Studio Day 2:

At first glance, I realize I have been letting the urge to resolve things influence me. My goal was to provide structure and support to the artists ahead of me in the project. So, rather than perfecting the blue shape on the left, I decide to remove the element entirely.

Now the piece feels wide open and unfinished again, and I feel pleased about making room for others. I see about 10 things I want to change, but again push aside the pressure to resolve, and resist and changes that require a sharp blade or scissors.

I feel like I have moved the piece forward and achieved my objective of stabilizing the background by unifying the color palette with cool tones, creating rhythm and structure across the space with the use of vertically placed linear elements, and defining distinct spaces through the use of color blocking on the right side of the piece.

Time to play with figure placement

The Red & Ochre figures now appear quite static marching along with the vertical elements of the background.

I decide to place them oriented horizontally by rotating them 90 degrees. Ahhhhh. Much better.

Meanwhile, I have thought about the shapes I would like to see added as figures. I knew I would cut into the complex cloth I had put aside if I was going to get it to work without overpowering the composition. I wanted curved, organic shapes with a gesture capturing the human arm's motion. I used a chalk marker to draw a sweeping curve, and a boomerang.

I played with positioning the curved shape , first on the left, then on the right.

I responded to the way the curve interacted with the line created by the color fields.

Finally, I added my boomerang in relation to the two strong figures on the right of the composition. I placed it to echo the curve on the left, to build a bridge across the vertical element.

Happy at this added bit of whimsy, I pinned everything in place.

Intentionally Imperfect and Unresolved

Here is my "final" composition. Intentionally unresolved and open to more input, but also speaking to my own compositional sense of rhythm, proportion, balance & gesture.

Leslie Bixel - Stage Six

Leslie Bixel Mini-Artist Profile:

Leslie Bix working with "Desert Life" on wall. This quilt is 73" x 72" and was made in 2008.

About 10 years ago I made a switch from oil painting to quilting. Since then I have been exploring various fiber techniques, mastering the craft of sewing, building a body of work, and searching for my own voice. Color is my emotional touchstone and is a consistent theme across all my artwork, regardless of media. In recent years I have created several color experiments using commercial printed fabrics, ordered by the gridded structure of traditional quilts. My sense of composition has been greatly enhanced by studying under Nancy Crow, and she has inspired me to move forward with more abstract and contemoporary work. In 2007 I began dying all my own fabrics. Currently I am involved in a series of pieces that reflect the organic forms and subtle colors of the pristine redwood forest surrounding my Northern California home.

Detail: Desert Life

To read more about Leslie's life and work as an artist please visit her blog: O-I-Quilt.


  1. Leslie, I appreciate this very detailed look at your process in working through your part of the conversation and your statement at the end that you were sending on an intentionally unresolved piece. The reality is that we can't always resolve compositional choices in a very limited amount of time.

    I have watched the piece change dramatically and I have a few observations. I feel the original versions of the work had strength because they were "about" the relationship and interaction of shapes. I appreciated the attention to negative space and the tension between the shapes as well. I saw the original interaction of shapes and lines as central to the development of the composition.

    Rebecca suggested a while back when the lovely painted shape was added that the rectangular shape could be folded over in a curve that echoed the large vertical red shape and the second limey green one. I see a lot of straight edges and rectangular shapes beginning to dominate and the sensuous, vertical curves becoming less central to the composition. Orienting it horizontally suggests more of a landscape; the original vertical orientation felt more figurelike and sculptural.

    The question it leads me to ask is what the "aboutness" (my term for it!) of this piece now is.

  2. Leslie and all,

    Gah, I finally finished grading what seemed like hundreds of student work and get to enjoy a new conversation. Ah, the joys of teaching. :)

    Leslie, I enjoyed reading about how you approached the piece, "the art class" and the in progress photos very much. As I viewed your changes, I knew that something wasn't working overall for me and couldn't put my finger on it. Then, I captured your final image and rotate it 90 degrees clockwise. I think this orientation puts more emphasis on the slight curves at the bottom and gives them more prominence. I also feel like this orientation enhances the curved, green piece that was cut from the larger rectangle.

    I think the boomerang piece will need some grounding, some friends as the conversation progresses. It seems a bit lost to me, especially with the orientation I selected.

    I really like Jeanne's question, too. It is interesting to see how we approach this from a technical aspect and from an emotional one. As always, Mondays are so much fun anticipating the next reveal!

  3. Oh, my, where to start. First let me say that seeing the grid and the video are very helpful, especially in seeing a "flip book" of the changes, step by step. As to Step Six, Leslie, the numerous photos of your process (and progress) were very revealing. This is just how I work. I was not surprised you left the piece intentionally unresolved, as hard as that may be, because you don't really have to resolve it if you're sending it along! Your solution to the "bossy" fabric (love your description) was an interesting and workable choice. I would have been more inclined, I think, to add more patterned fabric, at least to try it, so I liked seeing how you approached that. The curved edges work much better with both that fabric and the overall composition. I continue to be anxious about "my turn." I so rarely work with all solid fabrics, instead wanting lots of layers and shape repetition, so it will be interesting to see how I actually approach it when it arrives on my doorstep.

  4. Great comments. I want to say to the people reading this who are not participating that as host, if you will, of this project, I have choose to step back and be more of an observer. I plan to continue on that path but the comments today were so good to see I have to contribute one personal thought. This is in relation to the patterned fabric. As soon as it was added I felt there either had to be more fabric of that type, less fabric of that type or that piece had to be more integrated into the composition. With Leslie cutting that fabric into shapes it makes it standout but I don't think it makes it stronger. Fulvia is working on the piece this week and is very involved in surface design so it will be interesting to see how she moves the piece ahead. To echo what others have already said, the artists in the middle of the process don't have to finalize the work but they do need to give the people later on great elements to work with.

  5. I've been watching the progression of this project and enjoying it! I totally agree with the comments about "The large yellow rectangle of complex cloth, while beautiful, is very bossy. I feel the need to cut it up, and use its power in a more subtle and controlled way."
    Keep up the good work ~ Alicia

  6. Now that I'm a little better able to encompass Leslie's contribution to our Conversation, I hope to have something of value in response. Let's see if that's true. :D

    Leslie not only had the wisdom and experience I lack when working with textiles, but the courage to view the varied elements of our conversation with a certain dispassionate eye that allowed her to pick up her scissors and cut.

    I'm still new to working with fabric on a daily basis- new enough that I fall in love with nearly every piece of hand-painted or dyed fabric I create. One of my quilting instructors told me once not to "fondle the fabric" but I can't seem to help myself- I become emotionally invested. That can be deadly to creativity and it's something I strive to cure.

    Emotional attachment to each element makes it very hard for me, therefore, to cut into a beautiful textile, a well-painted watercolor paper or a completed quilt that just isn't working- even if I know a better whole will come from doing so. Bravo Leslie for seeing what was best for the piece and extracting it!

  7. Dear Leslie,
    I feel like I am reading a good mystery while reading about this fabric adventure. The mystery is slowly being solved with each additional person's creativity brought to the piece. I can hardly wait for the next chapter. Your observations brought up a lot of possibilites for the work: orientation, elemental configuring, additional enhancement to tell a story (or not). This piece will continue to unfold until the last chapter resolves all the dilemnas.

    thanks for letting me read/see this adventure as you go along.

    Connie Tiegel

  8. As an artist and Leslie's husband, I was fascinated to observe her response to the piece once it arrived, and then how she worked through her analysis and contributions for others to build on. I make my art in a solitary way and so this collaborative process is alien to me. Seems like it would be very hard, given how individual our creative choices can be as artists. Therefore, I do like Leslie's effort to focus on what she saw as formal issues, rather than purely personal preferences. It struck me as a very good way for her to approach her role at stage #6 out of 14. But, based on the comments from a few people above, it's clear that there can be disagreement over formal criticisms too. There is simply no way to distill out all personal responses to a work of art.

    I am very curious about how Terry eventually brings the piece to its final resolution. It will also be interesting to see whether the finished piece feels like it fits in her body of work, or whether it seems like something else altogether .

    Donald Bruce Wright

  9. Donald, Thank you for your very thoughtful comment and wonderful support of Leslie's work. I think up to this point, one of the most remarkable things to surface in this exercise is how daunting it is to face a work which you did not originate and, as you and others have pointed out, a work you will not finalize. The next most difficult part of this project is the activity of the "conversation" and doing that in a manner that is open and constructive. I recently wrote everyone asking that they jump in and comment more because many have not commented at all. I appreciated Leslie's approach to the process and I think others did as well even though they may not have agreed with every choice she finally made. Actually, I doubt that is a possibility for anyone's version of the project. I suspect I will feel much like everyone else when the work returns to me and that not everyone will feel I resolved the work as they might have but the important thing for me is the interaction. Thank you again for commenting and hope you will join in again.

  10. Loving these comments!

    Especially interesting to me are the design responses that I had not considered. Like rotating the composition to try out a vertical orientation. Yes. And the boomerang needs more grounding. Agree totally. That was somewhat by design since I was trying NOT to resolve the piece. I wonder how the "grounding problem" will be approached by others?

    Most fascinating to me is this big question of "aboutness", and the possibilities for perspective and or meaning in collaborative work. I saw a collaborative painting by William Wiley and other artists at the De Young Museum recently, and was struck by how it was sort of Wiley-like, but seemed to lack a central point of view. And that painting was a themed work about America; not strictly an abstract work. I suspect what we are trying to do here, 14 artists working together on a composition that is about composition is even more challenging.

    I can't wait to see what choices, contributions and adjustments Fulvia makes to the composition this week. I'm getting so much out of this novel experience of working separately and as a group.