Caption (Left Image): French
Kiss, 2003, Ghada Amer, acrylic and embroidery on canvas,
Courtesy of the artist and Deitch Projects, New York
Caption (Right Image): Sarah Erving,
In French Kiss by Ghada Amer and
in Sampler by Sarah
Erving the artists composed their embroidered pieces using
rhythmically repeated linear
and spatial elements to convey their ideas about
female identity in their respective lives.
In Sampler, Sarah Erving created horizontal bands of
pattern in undulating lines across the work using a single stitch
called the cross-stitch which never varies
in size. The lines created by the stitches vary in width, color
and shape and the patterns they create vary in height and embellishment,
creating a rhythmic progression that moves the viewer’s
eye across and around the piece. Although Erving limited herself
to one stitch, she used it in different combinations to create
varied lines and shapes. She organized the whole space of her
composition with attention to each element’s relation to
the whole as well as to the other elements. It is interesting
to note that the design is symmetrical with just one variation
near the top. Whether the offset of the second band was intended
or not, it gives energy to the piece.
In French Kiss, Amer chose to embroider, on a stretched
and painted canvas, a diagonally repeated motif of faces in profile
about to kiss. The faces are difficult to see at first. What appear
to be paint drips are actually thread ends that would be concealed
in a traditional needle work. Amer left them hanging down on the
front of the piece covering the embroidered broken outlines of
the kissing faces motif. Like Erving, Amer limited her embroidery
to just one stitch, choosing the running stitch.
The short-spaced lines of this simple, straight stitch and the
long, sinuous lines of the dangling thread tails create related
linear rhythms that balance the diagonal rhythmic arrangement
of the faces motif and the patches of red and blue.
Amer was born in Egypt in 1963, studied art in France
and the U.S., and now lives and works in New York City. She has
an international reputation and has participated in major art
shows around the world. In the early 1990s her installations and
paintings began to address the position of women in relation to
Islamic fundamentalism, but in so doing she raised questions about
the position of women in the West. Although her work began
with images of Muslim women, Amer states that it is “is
intended to speak to both sides, to every side. I speak to both
Muslim and non-Muslim, to women and to men as well.”
Amer was trained as a painter but taught herself to embroider
because it is perceived as a female craft. She says, “…
at some point I replaced the pencil by the needle. I thought it
was the best way to speak about women.” While acknowledging
the needlework of women like Sarah Erving and evoking the gender
association attached to sewing, Amer has released it from the
confines of perfection that young girls like Sarah were required
to meet by leaving the threads dangling from the piece. The tangle
of lines created by the threads initially engages the viewer,
who then discovers the diagonally repeated motif of faces.
Related Web Links: 1
also called sams or exemplars, were needle works recording a selection
of different stitches, designs and often, but not always, verses,
dates and the artist’s name.
If a verse figured into the design, samplers were viewed as moral
or religious teaching tools, and in general they gave the artist
practice with stitches, letters and numbers. They also served
as reference works for future sewing projects and were proof of
the artist’s skill and her suitability for marriage. Samplers
were part of every Western female child’s education in femininity
in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Very young girls were expected
to produce perfect works, removing stitches to correct any mistakes
and to incrementally improve their skills by attempting ever larger
and more difficult projects.
Sarah Erving’s Sampler includes a portrayal of
two men carrying a gigantic bunch of grapes on a pole –
a motif that references a biblical story in Numbers 13 about Caleb
and Joshua returning from spying on the land of Canaan for Moses
and the Israelites. The giant grapes they bring back are intended
as proof of the extraordinary abundance of the Promised Land.
Painted with Thread The Art of American Embroidery by
Paula Bradstreet Richter, published by the Peabody Essex Museum
Plain & Fancy - American Women and their Needlework,
1700-1850 by Susan Burrows Swan
The Subversive Stitch – Embroidery and the Making of
the Feminine by Rozsika Parker
Erving (1737 -1817) was born in Boston, Massachusetts,
the daughter of merchant mariner John Erving and Abigail Phillips.
Shortly after her marriage to Samuel Waldo he commissioned her
portrait from John Singleton Copley.
Art Elements and Principles
Six art elements can be thought of as the building blocks artists
use in forming an art work. Seven art principles that organize
the “blocks” can be thought of as the construction
Elements - The building blocks
1. LINE A mark/stoke
longer than it is wide: straight/curved, horizontal, vertical,
diagonal, and thick/thin.
2. COLOR What we
see when light is reflected or absorbed by surfaces: saturated/diluted
3. VALUE (Luminance)
Degree of lightness or darkness of colors: tint(light)/shade(dark)
4. TEXTURE Appearance
of surfaces both represented (2D) or physical (3D): smooth/rough,
glossy/flat, undulating/jagged, and transparent/opaque.
5. SHAPE (2D) FORM
(3D) Area defined by lines, colors, values and textures: geometric/organic,
soft/hard and sharp/smooth.
6. SPACE Distance
or area between lines or shapes: deep/shallow, crowded/empty,
Principles - The construction method
1. UNITY Each element
in art work is necessary, none can be left out with out changing
the work significantly.
2. BALANCE Even
distribution/arrangement of elements in an art work.
3. DOMINANCE One
element is given more importance than other elements in an art
Use of an element(s) more than once in more than one way in an
5. RYTHYM Arrangement
in an art work of element(s) in an ordered sequence to create/suggest
6. CONTRAST Use
of opposite elements (see parings above) in close proximity.
Incremental changes in any element(s), especially a dominant element
in an art work.
Stitch is a simple and ancient double stitch in the
form of an X that has been used worldwide. Since it was also the
predominant stitch used for marking clothing, household linen
and samplers it is also known as “marking stitch.”
Stitch is a small, straight stitch evenly spaced
creating a dashed line that is used for seaming, darning, quilting,
gathering and decoration. In a common variation, the artist fills
in the spaces of the first line with a second stitch, creating
a solid line.
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