11 May

The Uncomfortable Zone

The quilt I’m working on right now has got me out of my comfort zone, and not in a way I expected. The long story:

In 2003 (or maybe early ’04) when my hubby returned from war, we marked the event by getting tattoos. Cliché yes, but we did it. His is army related, mine’s just pretty. Knowing he’d eventually deploy again, I naturally wondered if we’d get more tattoos. I figured that I’d go more literal the next time and get a simple “War Sucks.” Straightforward and pretty much applies to all wars, and to all sides.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when a quilted version of the statement came to me (probably in the shower — it’s where I get most of my ideas. I am a walking cliché.). I started piecing bits and scraps together . When my mom came to visit, she asked about the depressing, fractured, army -related bits in progress on the design wall door. When I explained my concept she confirmed that she was getting exactly that vibe from my preliminary patches.

This week I was working on the words. I used my computer to “set type” and create templates for each letter. At the same time I was packing up a care package for Mr. Incredible. My daughter asked if she could make something for daddy on the computer using words and “paint.” Sure. I got her started in Photoshop and showed her the text tool (she’s already pretty proficient with the paintbrush, lasso, and eraser tools) and left her to her own devices while I continued my momentum on the quilt. When I returned to check on her, she’d written “war sucks” in some nice typefaces and bold colors. I gently told her that the quilt I was working on was for me, so I only needed to worry about what I thought of it, but if she was making a picture for daddy she needed to think about how he’d feel and he probably didn’t want the message “war sucks” while he’s sitting in the middle of it. She was understandably upset and ultimately lost interest in the project all together. In retrospect, I realized that she was picking up on my playing with typography and I probably should have stopped what I was doing and sat down with her to find more appropriate words to use so she could enjoy the process as well.

The episode got me thinking. Should I be working on art like this with impressionable kids around? Should I not deal with sensitive issues at this point in my journey? Should I sequester the art so the kids don’t see it? Should I let them see it and just use it as a talking point? (They’ve already seen boobies and a vagina in my 12×12 pieces, and either didn’t get it [the latter], or didn’t care [the former].) I also realized at that point that I would not be taking this quilt to “Show and Tell” at the Hawai’i Quilt Guild. It would fall under the umbrella of dinner party subjects not to be brought up in polite company.

These are concerns I have never had to worry about with my pretty little houses and German landscapes. I’ve never been much of a “statement” person. While I have very strong opinions, I generally keep them to myself and a small group of friends and family (and kick myself on the occasions when I’ve let someone push my buttons at a party or other gathering). In general my public voice and my art hope to be more diplomatic and universal, or at least more subtle in their subversity. I wonder if people who regularly make bold statements with their art have moved beyond the squirmy phase I’m feeling now, or if part of the excitement of making the art is knowing it will bring viewers’ reactions to the surface. I don’t know if I’ll be making more protest quilts or not, but right now, I’m actually looking forward to returning to the nice acceptable roots and houses in my queue.