I recently discovered Carolyn Quartermaine, , an inspiring and talented British stylist and artist, and even though I realized I had recognized her gorgeous prints and fabrics in various home magazines, I didn’t make the connection it her until over five years ago when working on my MFA thesis. She only has a couple books devoted to her work and it seems they are already out of print which is very frustrating. But I ended up finding a used copy of Carolyn Quartermaine Revealed by Kate Constable. The photographs are stunning and I love how the book is organized into her various practices: fabrics, paper, collage, color, painting, etc.
” . . . I always get a thrill when I first put my brush into the liquid and begin to paint. The process is so wonderful that hte actual result seems of little or no importance compared to the act of loading the brush with paint and moving it across the paper or fabric. Paint is so much about possibility, about creating worlds, about layering, texture, and surface. But mostly it is about that physical process of dipping your brush, or maybe, just your hands, into this pool of wet, dripping colour.” (p. 101).
I’ve always been interested in painting on fabric and 5 years ago, I started painting on tablecloths bought at a local discount household store when in my MFA program. I have always loved to paint on chairs (like the chair collections in Restoration Hardware), Quartermaine paints on luxurious silks! And also paints beautiful chairs and finishes them, etc.
Quartermaine went through art school so her background is more of an “artist” than a traditional textile designer. Her approach is very art-based which also is very attractive to me about her work. But she moves so easily between art, design and even the “decorative” seamlessly, that it really doesn’t matter to me the purpose of her work, it all has a fluidity and all about process that clearly evokes her love of color, texture, paint and layering. There is a delicate, soft texture to her work, it is careful but allows spontaneity and I can see that she admires the imperfect print or brushwork. It is much more careful then my own work (I just don’t have that much patience!). But the watercolor look, the print and the experimentation with paint, ink and fabric is what has always attracted me to her work as an inspiration to my own.
“A good wall has the same spellbinding quality as a Twombly or a Rothko painting for me. I love the mottled marks, the mould, the flaking caused by pollution, the scratch marks of the graffiti. I am drawn to a feeling of time passing, of that feeling that paint has been built up over the years and then has been worn away again, either by chance, or by the weather, or by intent. What is revealed underneath the paint is as interesting as the texture of the paint that is left behind. I photograph walls like that endlessly. In fact, walking around Rome, I sometimes feel that I want to take the walls home and hang them in my apartment, like a painting.” (p. 110-111).
You can definitely see the influences from Twombly and Rothko in her work (I’m obsessed with Twombly! I wrote my first MFA thesis on his work!). But the end of the quote struck me because I found I was drawn to these exquisite textures in Italy myself when I visited in 2009 (see a few of my photos). I mean, who isn’t when they visit Rome? The inspiration is literally on every single wall in the ancient city.
“For [Quartermaine], the thrill comes in trying to controll the uncontrollable. All these paints behave differently. ‘It is so exciting to have these jars and tubes of fabulous, intense colour around you. But what comes out of those jars of orange and blue or green is even more magical. The way the colours seep into each other, bleed into each other, is stunning. And you are always there watching, watching all the time, trying to control the wash of colour.”‘ (p. 112).
“With paint, it’s all about controlling accidents, knowing when to pull back and when to let the paint do what it wants to do.” (p. 113).
I LOVE these quotes – putting into words exactly how I feel about the process of painting.