Tag Archives: quilts

My Neighbor the Artist

Written by KMAC Donors’ Circle Member  Merrily Orsini

Denise Mucci Furnish used to be my neighbor across the street. Before she was a known artist, she was an innate artist. Apparently born as such, she was encouraged by life’s experiences to make art whenever possible. I have a vague memory of meeting Denise, or at least seeing her work, as far back as 1970, when, in Lexington, I saw some cloth dolls she had made. Occasionally, these dolls still haunt my mind. They were ethereal dolls with little bound cloth bodies and round sock faces— beautiful dolls, and dolls that seemed to scream, “Let me out!”

It was a few years later, in 1979, that I ended up on Everett Avenue, across the street from the Furnishes. In 1980, Denise started attending the Louisville School of Art. Her quilts morphed from folded,piles on the top floor of her one time elegant and gabled three-story house, to hanging on the wall, as art. It was a bit later, in 1984 that I purchased my very first original piece of art, Salute to the Sun (Eclipse), from a real gallery. It was the first official piece of art that Denise ever sold. This quilt, made lovingly by Denise Mucci Furnish, still hangs proudly and emphatically, at the entrance to our home. I still enjoy it daily, if not hourly, and it is still as poignant as it was that first time when I was drawn to purchase it, even though it was well beyond my means at the time. However, that quilt is priceless when it comes to the enjoyment and the memories it evokes.

The years between 1980 and 1985 were some of the most interesting years as I watched an artist come into her own. The Mount St. Helens’s eruption in 1980 somehow consumed the artist across the street. There were many variations in her artistic obsession with Mount St. Helens. One of the most interesting, and, a variation of which I have now framed in my office for daily viewing, is making little volcanoes out of dryer lint. The dryer lint is screen filtered into a circular doughnut shape with a small hole in the middle. When dissected into fourths, it makes perfect little volcanoes. A housewife might see dryer lint as something to be cleaned from the filer and tossed, but not the artist. The artist sees opportunity. The artist sees possibility. The artist sees.

Note the color of the lint? It differs according to what is being dried—reds,colors, or denim. The texture also differs, and that is what the artist saw. Try tossing feathers in the dryer and see what happens (not to the poor unsuspecting clothes, but to the lint filter art fodder residue?) What about glitter? It is really amazing how much art can come from a common household dryer when seen through the eyes of the artist. And, those volcanic lint quilts and collages got better and better, more colorful, and more textured, until the eventual end of that dryer. And, for the artist? Another medium to explore with one exhausted.

A life making art. A life enjoying art. Are these two so far apart? I think they are. The artist has a special way of looking at life, interpreting it, finding ways to use common items or common visuals as art. That interpretation, of course, is not what the viewer, or the art collector understands, even when articulated succinctly by the artist. Because, as everyone knows, art is in the eye of the beholder. But the joy, sorrow, jubilation, and emotion are resident as well in the viewer of the art, and, it is this emotion that moves one to enjoy art, to buy art.

Denise Furnish & Walter Early: Color Stories is on view through March 16.

Denise Furnish on KMAC Radio

Tune into ArtFm Louisville for the KMAC radio hour today at 11am to hear Denise Furnish discuss her work currently on display in the museum. She will talk about her ongoing series of painting experiments inspired  by the use of discarded quilts. The discussion will address artist Robert Rauschenberg’s own use of a quilt in the “combine” Bed from 1955 and how this work became a direct influence on Furnish’s work. Image

Denise Furnish, Blue, 2005, 73″ x 68″ Discarded Catch Me If You Can Quilt, acrylic

The significance of the American quilt is bound to our nation’s pioneering history and is situated in a craft tradition that celebrates the ingenuity and collaborative spirit of early American women. After making new clothes for the family, quilting groups would convene to transform their remnants into uniquely patterned bedspreads and baby blankets. Furnish is inspired by this history and through her evolving process of reviving quilts that have been used as dog beds or thrown out due to being threadbare and worn she preserves the conversations that were had during the original communal construction of her fabric painting surfaces. The voices of the women and their care and concern for those around them is radiated and brought back into the foreground due to her use of bold, vibrant colors. Her process could be seen as a kind of repairing technique or decorative bandaging where the new surface becomes the focus and the craft is one of preservation and/or protection. The original fabric is covered forever, but it’s now safeguarded always there beneath the layers retaining its rich, storied past.

The current exhibition at KMAC called Color Stories combines Furnish’s work with a series of sculptures by Walter Early, who likewise fuses contemporary conceptual art practices that explore issues of consumption, waste, and identity with the challenges of modern art aesthetics surrounding form, color and production.

Listen in today for more info on this exhibit and enjoy some music selections inspired by the work.

Quilted Matter

Image above: Denise Burge, Roan Mountain Matrix, 2001. Fabric, thread, 70″ x 84″ Courtesy of the artist

By Mary Wallace

Denise Burge constructs layers of intricate fabrics and felts, explosions of color, lines, and words into quilts that fluidly combine two worlds into one; the graphic nature of the urban city—influenced by her residence in Cincinnati, OH—and the traditional pastime of the American country where she grew up. She utilizes the fabrics to create sprawling, sometimes jumbled images that consume the attention of their viewers and draw them into the work.

Burge, Maquette, 2002
Detailed view: Denise Burge, Maquette, 2002. Fabric, thread, 68″ x 98″

Childhood memories, along with her love of nature and the Appalachian Mountains, inspired Burge to create these quilts, which tell stories through image as well as written word. Thinking of her work as a metaphor for the landscape, she “sees nature as a powerful being and [she] sees quilts as a geological structure.” Just as the American landscape is pieced together with various geological elements, her quilts are a collage of fabrics merged into one cohesive structure.

Roan Mountain Matrix (featured image) exemplifies her connection with the terrain of the Appalachian Mountains which run through Kentucky and several of its Eastern Border States. Roan Mountain is one of the highest summits in the Appalachian Mountain range and is located on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. It also holds one of the largest iron ore deposits. Burge has been affected by the changing landscape due to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, a form of mining practice where the tops of mountains are removed, exposing the seams of coal. Read more about Mountaintop Removal HERE. She has said, “I’ve noticed how the land existed around the highway, changed by mountaintop removal.  I was fascinated by the theater of the land and how we use the land; how the land fights back at what we do to it….fascinated by the theater of how we experience nature.” Roan Mountain Matrix is indicative of the area in which The 7 Borders exhibit encompasses.

When viewing the piece, the eye fixates on the invitingly colorful entrance to the interior of the dark patch-worked mountain. Bright colored yarn creates a cross section of elliptical layers representative of the earth’s structuring layers. The various fabrics, threads and words come together to create a commentary about the fate of this mountain and the want of the matrix it carries.

Denise Burge is an accomplished artist in many mediums, including recent work in photography and film, and has shown in galleries and museums all over the country. She attained both a BFA and MFA in Painting and Printmaking. Though born in North Carolina, she currently resides in Cincinnati, OH and is an Associate Professor and MFA Program Director at the University of Cincinnati.