If you have attended services at a Quaker meeting house, you will immediately feel at home when you walk into Reynolds Fine Art in New Haven. Here, through Dec. 3, you will find the serene and beguiling "quilt drawings" of Daphne Taylor. She calls them "quilt drawings" but the drawing itself is made with thread on the surface of her fabric creations. It's a hybrid art form, of sorts, but one that seems to come naturally to Taylor.
Born to a Philadelphia Quaker family, Taylor took a circuitous route to the folk and craft traditions of her own heritage. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied ceramics, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a master's in painting and drawing, Taylor learned all of these disciplines before bringing them to an art form that would seem to defy them. And yet, Taylor's "drawings" — all done in thread with a clear artistic hand — contain the same supple individuality as any fine artist's.
"One medium cannot be completely separated from the other," she has said.
Partly to show the lengthy process by which Taylor creates them and partly because they're lovely pieces of art in their own right, the gallery has framed some of Taylor's studies and working models alongside the five large major quilt drawings. The decision to bring the large finished quilt drawings together with the smaller pieces was, said gallery manager David Bennick, "to show the method of her madness."
Taylor splits time between rural Maine and New York City, and these clashing environments seem to infuse her visual field of references. Of the smaller works, her "Maine Woods" studies are stunning gouaches on paper, in which Taylor creates a world of "color" using only black and grey, a mark of her sophistication as a fine artist who has chosen to work in a genre that is often dismissed as "craft" or "folk art."
"She does everything by hand," said Bennick. "It's still considered a craft by some people but Daphne elevates that craft into fine art. Her background is in fine art. Art history is dominated by painting and sculpting. It's like photography in the early 1900s, which was considered a craft, at best, but is now considered fine art. It's almost avant-garde to turn to something like quilting and ceramics and put it inside spaces where the fine arts are on display."
The exhibition opening was, said Bennick, "interesting from our perspective. [Gallery owner] Robert [Reynolds] and I thought we may have been missing something because the space felt so comfortable and serene and everyone was so calm," he said. "Daphne's art is quiet but has a sense of community to it, much like the Quaker meeting house services. It has connectedness."
Of her work, Taylor has said, "Lines reminiscent of landscape and figure are embroidered, pieced and composed within frameworks ranging from open white spaces to complex color fields. The rich visual language of these lines and markings is influenced and restrained by the power of simplicity."
Quilting to her is equivalent to drawing: "While the placements of fabric are composed geometrically, the quilting done on top is a loose, spontaneous act. My hand responds to the shapes in the cloth, creating a loose rhythm of shadow line that is simple, clear and meditative."
Describing these works or showing reproductions does not do them justice. You must get in close and let the threads take you where they will. In short, it's not unlike a Quaker service — reliant on you to provide the spiritual urge and the serendipity of the moment.
Daphne Taylor: Quilt Drawings
Reynolds Fine Art, 96 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 498-2200, reynoldsfineart.com/gallery, daphnetaylorquilts.com
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