Sol Lewitt’s Patchwork Primer

In class this semester, one of the types of poems that we studied were “form” poems, or poems that have a prescribed meter, rhyme scheme, and even construction, such as a ballad, a sonnet, or a villanelle.  Many poets like to write poems in this constrained forms, especially if they are difficult subjects, as the nice, tight boundaries help keep the poet from going off the rails, sloppy and wandering.  Likewise, every once in a while, it’s good to put one’s brain to a task with similar constraints, just to see if it can be done.

sol-lewitt

This quilt started with this drawing from Sol Lewitt: “Fifteen Etchings: Straight lines in four directions and all their possible combinations.”  Lewitt is famous for his wall drawings, where he would draw up a certificate with a set of instructions or descriptions, and others would execute them.  This drawing would serve as my shape boundaries.

SLPatchworkPrimer start

And my fabric boundaries?  I had purchased a stack of Mirror Ball Dot fabrics two years ago to go with the few I already had, I decided to use these as my parameters for this quilt. Those shapes, these fabrics, and I started cutting last Saturday, after grading seventeen essays in a 24-hour period (yes, the brain was fried). I started laying them out, beginning from the upper right.

SLPatchworkPrimer beginning

I cut, added.  Rearranged.  Went to bed.  Cut, added, rearranged, asked my husband what he thought.  Cut, added, rearranged, took a photo, then pondered.  It was harder than writing a villanelle.

SLPatchworkPrimer Near End_1

Until I got to here.  Then it was like this:

Photo Montage SLPP

All. . . Day. . .Long.  I was purposely leaving that last square on the lower right white, for that’s where Lewitt had the writing, the description.

SLPatchworkPrimer-3

When I got to this place, I rested and began to doubt myself, completing ignoring the advice he wrote to Eva Hesse, a fellow artist, which included some of the following (with some edits):

Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, hair-splitting, nit-picking, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!

He continues:

Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever – make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.

Then finishes with:

Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistent approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!

So I called my sister in Philadelphia and sent her some images, and we talked about changing the design, adding another block and what kind of block would it be?  She suggested some time with Photoshop, a tool to help me move beyond my stuck place.  In an obituary in the New York Times (Lewitt died some years ago), the writer noted that “He [Lewitt] took an idea as far as he thought it could go, then tried to find a way to proceed, so that he was never satisfied with a particular result but saw each work as a proposition opening onto a fresh question.”

So the fresh question brought me here, where I think it will stay.

SLPatchworkPrimer Quilt

And yes, that block lurking on the right is an alternative block, which I am leaning away from.  Borders (plain white) will be added last.

A primer  (prim-mer), according to the dictionary, can be as a child’s first book of reading, helping that child to decode and unlock the words on the page.  I doubt Sol Lewitt had any inkling of patchwork, steeped as he was in the fine art world, but when I saw his etchings, I recognized them as sort of a primer for what we quilters do: divide and subdivide and go at it again and again, always looking for that fresh question.

8 thoughts on “Sol Lewitt’s Patchwork Primer

  1. Love, love this concept. And I really thought you were going to leave that very last block plain, as in just white, nothing more. I know it’s a bit unbalanced, but it seemed like a Lewitt-kind of thing. By using a final block, which you struggled with, are you settling? Just being a push-back kinda student here 🙂

  2. I like the sentence “don’t worry about cool. Make your own uncool.” This year I’m not jumping on the cool bandwagons but attempting to do my own (maybe) uncool thing. You always broaden my horizons.

  3. What an awesome exercise in creating! I see a block left on the design wall for perhaps another beginning? Sister in Philadelphia? Would give you a good reason to visit our guild in Lewes Delaware!

  4. Firstly, you have written another inspirational post! Thank you for opening a new world for me- the ‘make the uncool world’!! Your insights and explanations are truly inspiring! (I’d love to be in your class…I’m going to gate crash one, one day!)

  5. A most interesting project with an attractive result. There is enough repetition and enough variation (always a hard balance for me). I really like setting up constraints then working with them–I suppose that is why (most) challenges appeal to me. I recently went to a ballet where the choreographer set up the constraint that dancing groups would always be touching each other. Created a stunning dance. (Alas I’ve forgotten the name.) Oh, and I did have to look up villanelle. Lit study is too far in my past. But I do remember the poem that illustrates it.

  6. Pingback: Sol LeWitt’s Patchwork Primer | OccasionalPiece--Quilt!

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