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Elemental Blue: Water
fabric, circles, spheres, wrapped in fabric, spiritual, spiritual growth, mandala, human knowledge of circles and spheres, working intuitively, dyeing fabric, life purpose, a hundred mandalas, core elements, earth, air, fire, water, wood, world view, intuition, spaces between things, unfolding the unknown, women's crafts of sewing, quilting, embroidery, women's spirituality, celebrating woman, life-affirming, respect, quilting, quilted images, life-affirming, respect for all living things, intuition and the artist, inner space, outer space
description
There is always some kind of deeper base to the work than just the visual that you are seeing.-- Martha Cole

In a 2008 interview, Cole stated that, “We have a deep knowing of fabric --  we have been wrapped in fabric since the day we were born.”  This understanding gives Cole’s artworks an opening for all to enter and appreciate them. In the same interview Cole stated that, “We have an even deeper knowledge of circles and spheres. We start from an egg and we are on a circular planet that circles the sun.” (Potter, 2008)

By using ideas related to fabrics and circles Cole touches on aspects of her own personal and spiritual growth. The circle, which is represented by the  mandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  in many Eastern religions, was the focus of Cole’s study for her 2003 exhibition Envisioning the Whole at the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

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For this exhibition Cole surrounded herself in the studio with many circular images and started working intuitively. To develop her ideas Cole started dyeing fabric and sewing mandalas on small seven-inch squares. She gradually worked her way up to fourteen-inch, then twenty-eight inch, and finally to the four-foot-square Elemental Blue: Water. These large works were the culmination of over one hundred mandalas created for this project. In them she referenced the five core elements of Chinese culture: earth, air, fire, water and wood.

contextual-42.jpg

“The integrated view of the world represented by the mandala,” writes Bailey Cunningham, “while long embraced by some Eastern religions, has now begun to emerge in Western religious and secular cultures. Awareness of the  mandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  may have the potential of changing how we see ourselves, our planet, and perhaps even our own life purpose." (Cunningham, 2002)

Cole knows how to draw realistically, but to create her mandalas she relied on her instincts. The whole process was one of personal growth. It was a daunting task because she had to allow her images to grow and evolve, relying on her own personal preferences and intuition.

In his review of the exhibition, critic Jack Anderson wrote, “Sitting metaphysically on the cusp between inner  spaceSpace can be the area around, within or between images or elements. Space can be created on a two-dimensional surface by using such techniques as overlapping, object size, placement, colour intensity and value, detail and diagonal lines.  and outer space, Cole’s almost luminous coloured fabric mandalas remind us simultaneously of ova and pulsating pulsars, of flower stamens and exploding nova, of living cells and brilliant suns, of magnified crystals and, occasionally, of computer generated fractals.” Cole’s concern, he added, “[is[ clearly not the ‘thing’ but the spaces between things: this work is about unfolding the unknown, about metaphysical reality which overlays and suffuses physical reality.” (Anderson, 2003)
 
tree rings For Elemental Blue: Water Cole decided to present the earth as a water planet. This mandala, like others in the exhibition, gives the impression of radiating outward and inward, as well as rotating around. The swirling blue  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  suggests the earth and its oceans floating in the deep, dark  indigoA particular blue pigment. (Artlex.com)   backgroundPart of the picture plane that seems to be farthest from the viewer.  of the cosmos. For the ‘fire’ mandala she used rich reds to symbolize fire, heat and the sun. ‘Wood’ was orange, a traditional  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  for wood. Her  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)  represented the rings of a tree. ‘Earth’ was green and from its strong centre lines radiated to represent the interconnectedness of all things. The final ‘air’ (metal) mandala was never completed due to personal circumstances.

While Cole worked abstractly with an intellectual and spiritual base in Elemental Blue: Water her work is also rooted in the land. “Martha does basically two different kinds of art work in fabric,” writes Randal Martin. “Her landscapes are Saskatchewan- based and very realistic. The other aspect of her work is based more on symbols and women’s spirituality.” (Martin, 2000)

Whatever her purpose, Cole’s work can always be described as life-affirming, beautiful in appearance, well-crafted and promoting an attitude of a respectful, non-discriminatory relationship with all things.

additional resources An Art Maker and a Culture Maker
Duration: 1:51 min
Size: 8162kb
Cygnus Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy
Duration: 2:03 min
Size: 9031kb
Elemental Series
Duration: 3:24 min
Size: 15038kb
Her Process of Quilting
Duration: 3:06 min
Size: 13073kb
How She Went from Sculpture to Fabric
Duration: 1:50 min
Size: 8177kb
Religious Symbolism in Her Work
Duration: 1:35 min
Size: 6959kb
Strong Grounded Woman's Presence
Duration: 1:03 min
Size: 4506kb
Why She Works in Fabric
Duration: 2:04 min
Size: 8499kb
Things to Think About

Cygnus

  • How have artists symbolized spirituality in the past? Find examples of artists who have represented spiritual ideas in their work. How does Cole suggest spirituality in this work?
  • Martha Cole likes to keep a positive attitude when working. She believes that what she is thinking and feeling at the time she creates seeps into the work and gives it strength. Do you think this could be true? Has how you felt when making an artwork affected the final outcome of the work?
  • Look at artist Art McKay’s mandela (seen here) in the ARTSask theme Beyond Representation. How is it similar and how does it differ from Cole’s Elemental Blue: Water?
McKay
  • Cole believes that it's not only what is produced that's important, it's what goes into the production as well (the input). This can include research into areas of interest, dialogue with fellow artists, regrouping the parts of one’s life, viewing exhibitions in galleries, and finding new questions to explore. What kind of input has influenced your artwork?
  • Cole is a witness to life and the world and through her creativity she shares her vision and helps others to see and appreciate their worlds. Could this be a definition of an artist’s role?
  • Cole loves the creative process and believes we all can be creative and that we all need to fulfill our creative potential.  Do you think this statement is true?  How do people you know fulfill their creative potential?
  • Bailey Cunningham writes that, “The "circle with a centre" pattern is the basic structure of creation that is reflected from the micro to the macro in the world as we know it. It is a  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  found in nature and is seen in biology, geology, chemistry, physics and astronomy.” (Cunningham, 2008) Look for examples of the circle in these and other areas of study.
Online Activity
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Create your own  symmetricalFormal balance where two sides of a design are identical.   mandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  using shapes, lines and  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  within a circular form.  To do this:

Also:

NOTE: If you  printAn exactly repeatable visual statement which exists as two-dimensional physical material.  your online  mandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  designs onto transfer paper, you can transfer these to fabric for your duvet cover, a t-shirt, a backpack, a tea towel or whatever you like!

Studio Activity

Sand mandalas

Tibetan monks and  NavajoA group of Indians inhabiting New Mexico and Arizona, allied to the Apaches. They are now largely engaged in agriculture. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  Indians have traditions of creating sand-paintings to demonstrate the impermanence of life.

Both cultures create  impermanentNot permanent.  elaborate designs using coloured sand. These designs can take days to complete and in both cases the images are destroyed when complete. In the Tibetan tradition, the monks who first worked laboriously to create the design, then pour the sand into a jar and then ceremoniously proceed to a nearby lake of stream to return the sand back to nature. It symbolizes life and death in a simple and profound way.

Buddha statue

For more information on  NavajoA group of Indians inhabiting New Mexico and Arizona, allied to the Apaches. They are now largely engaged in agriculture. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  and Tibetan cultures and traditions see:

Find people who are interested, and as a group, create your own  impermanentNot permanent.  designs or mandalas using a variety of coloured sands as your paint medium. Return your sand back to nature when finished.  You may wish to record your mandalas development and demise using a  digitalA system of representing images or objects through numbers. These numbers can then be re-interpreted by another digital system to generate light and sound.  still or video camera.

Mandala pattern

Martha Cole knows how to draw and create realistic  imageryAn image is a picture, idea, or impression of a person, thing, or idea; or a mental picture of a person, thing, or idea. The word imagery refers to a group or body of related images. (Artlex.com)  but she tells us that one of the hardest things she  setThe hardening process of paint, plaster of Paris, concrete, resin, an adhesive, or any other material which must harden before working with it further. (Artlex.com)  for herself to do was to create the mandalas where she had to work intuitively and trust her instincts with  abstractImagery which departs from representational accuracy, to a variable range of possible degrees. Abstract artists select and then exaggerate or simplify the forms suggested by the world around them.  (Artlex.com)  patterns.

Look at  mandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  patterns at Google Images

Capturing the inaccessible

Try working intuitively within a circular  shapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (Artlex.com)  as Martha Cole did in her  mandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  series. Use any methods and materials that you deem to be important to the message you want to communicate in your finished work.

OR

Curator Tim Long describes Cole’s  imageryAn image is a picture, idea, or impression of a person, thing, or idea; or a mental picture of a person, thing, or idea. The word imagery refers to a group or body of related images. (Artlex.com)  as ‘inaccessible to the human eye’ (2003), meaning that photographs and use of other technology to create artworks provide avenues into worlds we cannot normally see with the naked eye, such as the universe beyond earth, or the nucleus of a cell.

  • Gain access to a microscope.
  • Put a variety of materials under the lens.
  • Decide on the textures, patterns and colours that appeal to you in one of the images that you create under the lens.
  • Use any materials that are available and applicable to your selected vision of nature (paint, paper, thread, yarn, leather, beads, relief-sculpture plaster materials, cardboard, glue, string, foils, raffia, fabric, sand…and so on)

Design a garment for a religious ceremony, or a costume for a drama production or special event

Martha Cole has used her love of fabric, her immense sewing and tailoring skills and her knowledge of  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)  to create artwork for a number of  ecclesiasticalOf or pertaining to the church; relating to the organization or government of the church; not secular; as, ecclesiastical affairs or history; ecclesiastical courts. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  commissions. She designs everything from ceremonial  regaliaThat which belongs to royalty. For example, the rights and prerogatives of a king, royal estates and revenues, etc.  (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  to be worn by church leaders, to church banners to be permanently installed where they may be admired and contemplated by the public.

Book writing, creating and binding

trees at night

Here are some additional online references for book binding:

References

Anderson, Jack.  ‘Cole’s Works Inspire Many Interpretations‘.  Regina Leader Post, April 10, 2003.

Author unknown.  ‘Mandalas and their Symbolism.’  Buddhist Studies. Retrieved from the Internet on May 11, 2008 from:  http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/buddhist-art/mandalas.htm.

Author unknown.  ‘What is a Mandala.’  The  MandalaAny of various radial geometric designs symbolic of the universe, traditionally used in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation. (Artlex.com)  Project.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 11, 2008 from:  http://www.mandalaproject.org/What/Index.html.

Cole, Martha.  Power of Place.  Exhibition catalogue.  McIntyre Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 2007.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 11, 2008 from: http://mcintyre.sasktelwebhosting.com/images/cole/cole.htm.

Cole, Martha.  ‘Title unknown.’  Grain - Literary and Visual Arts, Spring 1990.

Cunningham, Bailey.  Mandala: Journey to the Center (Whole Way Library).  New York, New York: DK Publishing, New York. 2002.

HerStory 2000: The Canadian Women’s Calendar (Silver Anniversary Edition). Network Magazine of the Canadian Women’s Health Network, 2000.

Linklater, Kristen.  ‘Elevating look at Prairie Survivors.’  Regina Leader Post, July 9, 2005.

Long, Timothy.  Martha Cole: Studio Series.  Exhibition catalogue.  MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 2003.

Martin, Randal.  ‘Art in Fabric.’  The Waterfront Press, Lumsden, Saskatchewan,  October 12, 2000.

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