Thursday, 27 January 2011

Sandra Brownlee: Notebooks (part one)

Sandra Brownlee notebooks,  Image © Keith McLeod
Sandra Brownlee catalogue,  Image © Keith McLeod
You say couch, I say sofa. Sandra Brownlee says notebook, I say sketchbook. I first encountered the notebooks and woven images of Sandra Brownlee during her solo Weaving Out Loud exhibit at the Textile Museum of Canada in 1995. She generously shared two notebooks for viewing and my immediate impression was that her black-and-white woven imagery was a direct contrast to her colourful notebooks. Sandra's intimate artworks are finely woven using a ground weave with a supplementary weft pick-up with only ubiquitous black and white mercerized cotton threads. An alchemist, she has the gift of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. 
Sandra Brownlee notebooks Detail,  Image © Keith McLeod
Back to the notebooks. They were, and still are, colourful, loose and textured. The covers are lavished with care and attention, like icing on a wedding cake. Jan Baker, a colleague who is a graphic design professor at RISD, inspired Sandra to cover her notebooks with special fabrics from her collection. She takes a mundane notebook and elevates it to a work of art. Some notebooks are embellished with buttons, others have secret pockets stitched into them to hold a pair of embroidery scissors. They invite you to hold them and examine them closely.

Fast forward 14 years. Sandra has another solo show, Departures and Returns, this time at the Mary Black Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her signature woven artworks adorn the walls along with framed textile collages that are pages excised from cloth notebooks, and a few hand-stitched pieces. At the end of the gallery hangs a shelf with a row of her notebooks, except this time they remain firmly shut with a "Please Do Not Touch!" sign. The notebooks beckon, like Lorelei singing to wary sailors, but I reluctantly obey the sign. The closed notebooks create tension as they tempt viewers to step behind the curtain to get a glimpse of Sandra's imaginings. On the other hand, the closed notebooks maintain the mystery of the creative process. They make me wonder and inspire me to do a deep dive into my own sketchbooks.
* you can read part two here


Lcw said...

I loved reading this Karen! Such beautiful writing, such a beautiful subject. But I am biased...thanks for sharing this. X lcw

iNd!@nA said...

notebooks/sketchbooks/journals or even cerebral compost collections...those beautifully bound volumes work well as an installation
i rather like the notion of
forcing the viewer to imagine contents rather than allowing unfettered access