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Dress With Crossed Ankles
life and death, light and shadow, surface and substance, opposites, loveliness and ugliness, growth and decay, ordinariness, dress, clothing to represent person, ideal figure, appearance, inner self, society's ideal figure, female figure, figure types, artist fictions, propriety, prissiness, crossed ankles, artist musings, celebrating the ordinary, sombre subtext, ordinary becomes extraordinary, hand-built forms, liquid cellulose, painting and glazing surface, painterly, sculptor, sculpture, fiction, inventing fictions, closets, propriety, gentility, relief contours, dress forms, traces of the female body, papier-mâché, artist persona, sculpted dresses, hand-built form, society and personal appearances, leaving things behind, loss, abandonment, encoding loss and abandonment, six dresses, relief contours, artist candor, artist skepticism, shadow and light, role of shadow and highlights in sculpture,
description
start quoteTo explain one of my paintings is, for me, to take a voyage into the unknown in a leaky boat with a blind navigator.end quote-- Gathie Falk

Robin Laurence writes about Falk and her work “…it is difficult to disentangle what Falk does from who she is. Her house, her garden, her friends, her family, her pets, her furniture, her communion-like rituals of food and drink, all speak to her art-making - and her art-making to them. Although there is a celebratory aspect to Falk’s images, there is also a sombre one. Her work embraces a number of oppositions: life and death, light and shadow,  surface(an element of art) The outer or topmost boundary or layer of an object. Colours on any surface are determined by how incident rays of light strike it, and how a surface reflects, scatters, and absorbs those rays. The material qualities of a surface, as well as its form and texture further determine how it is seen and felt. (artlex.com) See also texture.  and substance, loveliness and ugliness, growth and decay.“ And about the ordinary object he continues,” “Its ordinariness becomes beautiful, or terrible, or both.” (Laurence, 2000)

Dress with Crossed Ankles was one of six sculptures created by Falk for the 1998 exhibit Traces: An Installation at the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia. It marked Falk’s return to  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  after twenty-two years and represented Falk’s continued interest in having clothing stand in for human beings.  Robin Laurence describes the dress-forms in the exhibition, “Falk’s vision was of sculpted women’s dresses with little shelves, supporting various women’s articles, built into the hems. Realizing that her images were too large to be executed in clay, Falk turned to the lowly and unexpected material of papier-mâché. By hand-building her forms using thin layers of newspaper and liquid cellulose, then  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  and glazing the surface, she imbued her inglorious material with a smooth, sensuous, slightly undulating character of flesh. Through her supple and painterly brushwork, she has further enhanced the sculptures’ shadows and highlights” (Laurence, 2000)

Laurence continues, “The fiction Falk invented to explain the dresses was that each had been found in a closet in a different part of the country, not suspended from a hanger but standing on the floor. Although not fully rounded, each of the six dresses bears the  reliefA type of sculpture in which forms projects from a background. There are three degrees or types of relief: high, low, and sunken. In high relief, the forms stand far out from the background. In low relief (best known as bas-relief), they are shallow. In sunken relief, also called hollow or intaglio; the backgrounds are not cut back and the points in highest relief are level with the original surface of the material being carved. (Artlex.com)  contours or traces of a female body. Falk imagines that some of the owners of these dresses have died, while others have moved away, leaving their clothing behind. Loss and abandonment are thus encoded within these garments, as they had once been encoded in empty armchairs and men’s shoes and clothes.”  (Laurence, 2000)

In the 2002  retrospectiveAn exhibition of work by a senior artist representing all the stages of the artist’s career.  exhibition of Falk’s work, the large wall behind Dress with Crossed Ankles had a  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  of repeated black-and-white silkscreen prints of the small photograph of crossed ankles seen on the sculpture. Robin Laurence comments, “Here Falk is musing - with candour, affection, and a little scepticism - on aspects of her own feminine identity and [that of] of her friends’.”  (Laurence, 2000)
 
On ideas related to femininity, expectations of women and Falk herself, critic James-Jason Lee observes after viewing Falk‘s 2000 retrospective exhibition that toured Canada for two years, ”There are two kinds of prisses. One is the squeamish type whose life is defined by the prohibitions of femininity - where certain things are not done, where gentility is a straightjacket. The other type of priss is obsessed with creating propriety, the correct way of doing [things]. Remember that childhood friend who would sit you down and make you play teatime the right way? That kind of priss may bear soft trappings of girlishness, but the wilful core is steel. The retrospective reveals Falk, the artist, to be the latter sort.”  (Lee, 2000)

Falk’s dress suggests the body of a woman who is not according to society today the ideal figure. As writer Regina Haggo comments, “We are reminded that  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (Artlex.com)  society obsesses about a person’s appearance while ignoring the inner self.” (Haggo, 2002)

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Robin Laurence says, “Falk is a devout Christian who resists a close religious interpretation of her imagery” (Laurence, 2000) Look at examples of Falk’s work (see the Links section for websites containing examples). Can you see any connections to her religious or spiritual beliefs?
  • “The idea that doing what I do is just a lot of fun, or a picnic, is a myth. Nobody in or out of his rigid mind would put himself to so much trouble unless he were driven to do it by forces outside his control.“ (Falk, 1977) Do you agree with or can you relate to this statement by Falk?

Shoes

  • “Falk is a social activist who believes people have an immediate daily responsibility to the world around us.”(Barnard, 2001) Are you a social activist? What is important to you?
  • Falk states in 1986, “I do not intend to put messages into my work but nonetheless I often get messages from it. Often the message is about celebration; sometimes it is about matters that hurt or about danger.” (Falk, 1986) Do you try to include a message in your work or does the making of the work reveal messages to you?
  • What is Falk inferring about women of her era by having a 1940s or 50s woman’s dress highlighted with a picture of crossed ankles?
  • Regina Haggo writes, “With Gathie Falk, you expect the unexpected. She once described some of her works as, 'Figments of the imagination that are given to one like splats of bird droppings from above, unexpected and unearned.'” (Haggo, 2002) Have you ever had insights into your work or your life that seem to have appeared from nowhere? An epiphany?
  • Talk about and think about manners and customs. How have expectations of women changed over the decades?
  • Feisty Falk, when asked ”What does your art mean?” replied, ”To explain one of my paintings is, for me, to take a voyage into the unknown in a leaky boat with a blind navigator…[g]roping in the dark, I occasionally find markers that suggest what my work is about… If my markers are insufficient, launch your own boat and look for more.” What do you think of this statement?
Online Activity
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Work with different fashions for different personalities at The Art of Crime Detection:


Learn more about the fashions of the past at the Costume Drama Game: 

Studio Activity

Dress design

The dress Gathie Falk builds in her  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  Dress with Crossed Ankles is in the  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  of dress that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Go to All About 1950s Fashions to see more of this style.

Pick some fabrics, colours, textures, patterns, lines, shapes, forms and designs that appeal to you and create drawings for your own fashion line.

 

Transform an ordinary object into something extraordinary

Odd photo

In her Picnic Series in the late 1970’s, Falk created humorous sculptural objects by using bizarre juxtapositions. A couple of examples of her works were a birthday cake with one huge fire burning on the top and fish wrapped in fancy ribbon.

 

A  two-dimensionalHaving height and width, but no depth; flat. (Artlex.com)  alternative

  • Cut out pictures from magazines. Join the images together in unusual and creative ways

An online alternative of this…

  • Explore websites online and find specific places with unexpectedly different focuses and retrieve things to juxtapose.


  • For example visit:


    • a bio-science site and a history of music site


    • a candy store site and a tire sales site


    • a fashion sales site and a fishing gear site

  • then find images to join together by importing and altering, printing, cutting and pasting, etc.

Papier-mâché

paper mache

Go to ArtisanCam – How to Sculpt and go through the step-by-step guide. Then build your own papier mâché  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  using  foundAn image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé. (Artlex.com)  materials as a base.

For more information on using papier mâché as a material to make an artwork see: 

 

Using repetition

Writer Robin Laurence states about Falk’s work, “Through her considered use of repetition, the acts and objects of everyday life become ritualized, invested with a character that both honours and transcend them. Life and death, light and shadow, universality and particularity, all abide within the images Falk has gleaned from house and garden, shop and side-walk, closet, cupboard, and the never-ending firmament.” (Laurence, 2000)

Repetition characterizes the process as well as the product in many of Falk’s works. Creating her dresses means a laborious repetition of applying the paper and glue to build the forms. In her  clayMud; moist, sticky dirt. In ceramics, clay is the basic material, usually referring to any of a certain variety of mixtures of such ingredients — fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet, brittle when dry, and very hard when heated. There is a temperature with ceramic clays at which their particles fuse (vitrification), and this is most commonly controlled by heating (firing) them in a kiln. The most common types of ceramic clays are earthenware (terra cotta when fired, terra cruda when not), stonewares, and porcelain. (Artlex.com)  sculptures she repeats apples, oranges and grapefruit in sculptural piles or repeats images of shoes over and over again on shelves or in display cases. In the photograph included in the Dress with Crossed Ankles her own image was enlarged into screen prints and reproduced to cover an entire wall.

Learning to see

Paul Gessell quotes Falk as saying, ”You’re never going to be able to see things in detail unless you can look at your kitchen table, see it and find significance in it, or the shadow that is cast by a cup or your toothbrush. Seeing the detail makes you able to see large things better.” (Gessell, 2002)

  • Take a  sketchbookA book of sketches, or for keeping sketches in.  with you everywhere you go. Stop, and stand or sit and draw whenever you see something that is of interest to you.


  • Practise using your powers of observation to produce realistic works.


  • The more you practise, as in music and dance (or skateboarding!), the better you will be at what you do.


  • Go to art galleries in your community – both public and commerial galleries.  Look in books for examples of other artists and their works.


  • Explore online gallery websites and museums with large collections of artwork.


  • Explore websites whose purpose is to share aspects of nature at a distance and close-up. Study the images of nature offered by these sites. Teach yourself to see the detail by looking closely. Apply what you learn to nature walkabouts in your own community.


  • Attend visual art workshops and classes to learn more techniques from others who have the same interests as you do.


  • Encourage yourself to try new and untried methods.


  • Practise learning to see and remember shapes at: http://www.alifetimeofcolor.com/play/crimedetection/index.html
References

Barnard, Elissa.  ‘Extraordinary Ordinary.’  Sunday Herald, June 2001.

Enright, Richard.  ‘The Thing In the Head That’s There.’  Border Crossing, 1993.

Falk, Gathie. Clay as Sculpture.  Exhibition catalogue.  Alberta College of Art and  DesignA plan, or to plan. The organization or composition of a work; the skilled arrangement of its parts. An effective design is one in which the elements of art and principles of design have been combined to achieve an overall sense of unity. Also [applied design], the production of attractive and well crafted functional objects. Subcategories of the design arts include: architecture, bonsai, fashion design, furniture design, graphic design, ikebana, industrial design, interior design, landscape architecture, stagecraft, textile design, and Web page design. (Artlex.com)  Gallery, Calgary, Alberta, 1977.

Gessell, Paul.  ‘Veneration of the Ordinary.’  The Ottawa Citizen. January 31, 2002.

Haggo, Regina.  ‘Falk Enhances Our Experience of Everyday.’  Hamilton Spectator, April 20, 2002.

Laurence, Robin.  Gathie Falk: Themes and Variations.  Exhibition catalogue.  National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 2000.

Lee, James-Jason.  ‘An Apple A Day Keeps the Critics Away.’  Border Crossings, 2000.

Mayes, John Bentley.  ‘Christian Faith Permeates Work of Art Angel Falk.’  The Globe and Mail, Saturday march 24, 1990.

Miliokas, Nick.  ‘Falk Has an Eye For Details.’  Regina Leader Post, October 1, 2001.

Scott, Michael.  ‘Falk the Enigma.’  The Vancouver Sun. March 4, 2000.

Picture

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning