Within the genre of abstract painting, Emily Besser has been engaging with different ways of picture-making that mimic the patterns and processes of historically domestic and decorative crafts. Emily has used repetitive mark-making to engage with the slow processes of embroidery and weaving and has also drawn on the legacy of geometric patterns belonging to the quilt-making tradition to compose many of the works. The paintings re-imagine fabric woven on a loom, quilt squares waiting to be pieced together, and the ubiquitous coverlets, doilies and table-runners of bygone households.
The term ‘pieced work’ describes the art and craft of assembling patchwork quilts, which has historically been a past-time practiced mostly by women within a domestic setting. In the context of modernist abstraction, ‘pieced-work’ is equivalent to the processes of collage and bricolage, which has been used since the beginning of the 20th Century in modern art, and involves parts intuitively pieced together to construct a whole. As with any kind of material that is pieced together, whether it be fabric or paint, the seams and edges placed within the work become opportunities to contrast colour and line. The seam can operate as a disruptive site where ideas collide. Unlike the unilateral edge of a painting, edges within the field of a work allow for multiple ideas to exist at once. In Emily’s work, the many layers of paint that are applied to achieve repetitive lines inadvertently create a ‘seam’, a visibly raised edge, evidence of where the masking tape was placed to contain the paint.
And while some motifs are repeated, many variations are explored, making the act of play and experimentation an integral part of the artist’s process. To further disrupt the work, pattern devices such as symmetry and repetition are broken by ‘wonkiness’ and things being slightly off-centre, which also functions as a sign of the maker’s fallible eye and hand. Welcome accidents such as smears, smudges and drips of paint speak of the history of the particular painting as an object in its own right.
Working as an abstract painter, Emily was curious about the creative conversations that have taken place between the traditions of craft and art, specifically those niches of patchwork quilting and geometric abstraction, or abstract expressionism. As such, her source material and inspiration for these works was varied: she drew on her observations of quilt-making by her mother, grandmother and family friends; images of patchwork quilts both modern and antique; the colour-theory work of Josef Albers; the weavings of Bauhaus textile artist Gunta Stolzl; Matisse’s paper cut-outs and the cloth books, ‘Ode a l’Oubli’, made by Louise Bourgeois.
Emily Besser is a painter who lives and works in Sydney. She completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts with First Class Honours in Painting at Sydney College of the Arts in 2001, and has intermittently exhibited her work since then, while also having studied and worked in native title, environmental and planning law. She has now left the field of Law, and divides her time between raising her two children and a full-time studio practice. In addition to showing regularly at Boom she also exhibits her work in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
To The Edges: Pieced Work runs 25 May – 17 June. To see a full exhibition listing click here.