Ambiguity & Enigma: Recent Quilts by Michael James

Ambiguity & Enigma: Recent Quilts by Michael James

Ambiguity & Enigma: Recent Quilts by Michael James

Artists have long used their crafts to help them come to terms with grief and sorrow. The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s searing remembrance of his dying sister Sophie in The Sick Child comes to mind. Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, composed by the Estonian Arvo Part, is a soulful dirge punctuated by tolling bells and darkly colored by Part’s experience of Soviet oppression. These artists, and many more, have made their pain palpable to viewers and listeners through their creative work.

Expressions of grief surface likewise in quilts. In post-mortem photos common during the Victorian era, for example, quilts sometimes wrap children’s bodies, as emblems of familial love and protection. In times of conflict, quilts could help their makers cope, show support, or memorialize. The NAMES Project’s enormous trove of quilts commemorates the lives of thousands of victims of the AIDS epidemic, and the grassroots Home of the Brave Quilt Project honors military lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ambiguity and Enigma: Recent Quilts by Michael James includes what may be this artist’s most cohesive and introspective work to date. Somber, dark, and mysterious, they play bold strokes off ethereal sky spaces, and stabbed marks against lyrical, though interrupted, linear networks. Leaves, branches, grasses and water remind us of the inexorable cycling of the seasons, death and rot leading to new life leading to death yet again. While the broad vistas of the Plains can seem hopeful, they can be lonely and can seem oppressive too, especially when the sky lowers and bears down ominously. The presence of the landscape can be as discomfiting as comforting. Its expanse can as easily fill one with despair as with optimism.

James’s newest quilts have grown out of a very personal experience of loss and mourning, yet they aspire to universal resonance. His sorrow and pain are familiar to each of us, and have no less impact for that ubiquity. Our human destiny is to live, to love, to lose, to mourn. These quilts embody one artist’s reflections on that destiny.

About the Artist

About the Artist
About the Artist

Michael James works in the medium of quilted fabric constructions. His textiles have been recognized and exhibited internationally. They are included in the collections of the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City, the Racine Art Museum, the Newark Museum, the Mint Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Shelburne Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum at the Smithsonian Institution, among others. 

For his work in the area of non-traditional quilts James was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1992 by his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, became a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 2001, and in 2009 was honored with the University of Nebraska’s system-wide “Outstanding Research and Creative Activity” Award (ORCA), given for a sustained record of excellent accomplishment in research or creative activity while at the university. Since 2002 he has focused his creative efforts on digital textile printing and its interface with the quilt as mixed media platform. His work explores the liminal and fluid borderland between the physical and metaphysical worlds. 

James serves as department chair and Ardis James Professor in Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. There he works closely with the International Quilt Study Center & Museum and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of foundation design, textile design and quilt studies.

Visit his website

The catalogue

The catalogue
The catalogue

The catalogue, Ambiguity and Enigma: Recent Quilts by Michael James, includes what may be this artist's most cohesive and introspective work to date. With a foreword by Quilt House curator of collections Carolyn Ducey, and essays by former Art in America editor Janet Koplos and by Michael James, the catalogue documents all of the works in the exhibition, and includes an artist biography and a detailed checklist of the Ambiguity & Enigma quilts.

Purchase it here

Sponsors

Sponsors
Sponsors

Quilter’s Guild of Dallas Helena Hibbs Endowment
Friends of Fiber Arts International
Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment

Event Date
Friday, June 5, 2015 to Saturday, February 20, 2016