Wilton Library: Taking the silk road to fine art
There was no canvas, no paper, no oils, watercolors or acrylics.
What there was was silk, dye, and a lot of talent.
Wilton Library opened its latest show with a reception on Friday evening, Sept. 6. It is unlike any recent exhibition in that every piece of art is painted on silk — raw silk, crepe de chine, chiffon, crepe georgette, charmeuse, and shantung.
The exhibition features the work of members of the New York metro chapter of Silk Painters International. Sixty-one pieces represent the work of Gloria Lanza-Bajo, Lydia Bang, PJ Cobbs, Christine Cusmano, Jim Cusmano, Calice Fyffe, Susan Grant, Ronda Lanzi, Linda Parker, Suzanne Punch, Sissi Siska and Johanna Tiemann.
Painting on silk is unlike painting on other types of canvas in that each piece has to be worked flat. Most pieces are started with white silk imported from Asia that is stretched on a frame horizontally.
While each artist has there own technique, there are some common elements. Before painting with a dye, many artists will outline their work with wax or a material known as resist to keep the dye from running. The images are built up layer by layer, then set with steam, washed and ironed.
Most of the pieces in the library show are framed or hung as banners, but there were several wearables including scarves and a kimono.
Ronda Lanzi, who lives in Wilton and suggested the show to library art chairman Ed MacEwen, has been doing some form of art since she was a child. In high school she worked in oils, but when she went to college and pursued a career in electrical engineering, art fell by the wayside.
“I got back into watercolors,” she told The Bulletin. While living in England she saw an ad for a class in silk painting sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society. She signed up but it wasn’t until she took another class six months later that she was firmly hooked.
Back in the U.S., Lanzi took classes with Suzanne Punch, whose work is in this show, including a large abstract banner hanging in the main gallery.
“The people in the show are phenomenal, nationally recognized artists,” she said. “I’m really excited to be part of the show.”
One thing Lanzi would like viewers to know is that painting on silk is just that — painting. It is not batik and it is certainly not tie-dye.
Lanzi paints primarily florals and another painter in the show, Gloria Lanza-Bajo of Brooklyn, also started out that way but now, as evidenced by the hand-painted blouse she was wearing, she is more into abstracts.
“I started out with wall hangings and pillows,” she said, but has since turned to doing more scarves. To make them more affordable she has switched from florals — which can take days to complete — to abstracts with a focus on color and texture.
“No two look the same,” she said. Because a piece’s true colors do not show until the finishing process, “it’s very serendipitous,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Lydia Bang, originally from South Korea and now living in Palisades Park, N.J., stretched one of her silks on a large bamboo fan as a wall hanging. Her specialty, she said, is to make her paintings look like watercolors. The fan, which is a detailed floral design, took her seven days to complete, painting eight hours a day.
Sometimes, the texture of a type of silk is as much a part of the piece as the image and the dyes. Bang chose raw silk, which has a bumpy texture, for her painting Sunflowers. Sissi Siska chose a silk jacquard for her piece titled El Mariachi, which is of a guitar and flowers. She liked the jacquard pattern for the way it mimics wood grain on the guitar.
Siska’s work is very varied. The former textile designer from Hoboken, N.J., does a lot of tropical themes. Before she got into silk painting, “I was always painting on my clothes,” she said. “I was always making things.” As more tools and materials became available, she became more inventive.
An arresting banner in the show is her Orchids on Blue Ferns done on crepe de chine, her favorite silk.
Garden Guardian is a framed work depicting a garden fairy. In addition to the dyes, it is embellished with gold leaf and silver leaf.
Different still is her most recent piece, Remembering 911, which can easily be mistaken for a watercolor. The reason, she said, is “I put sizing on the silk which gives more control on using the dyes.”
She used no wax or resist in the painting of a couple sitting on a bench, gazing at the New York City skyline across the Hudson River.
Happily breaking the rules of silk painting is PJ Cobbs of New York City, who cheerfully announced she is not a purist.
“I do mostly street scenes,” she said, but one of her earlier, larger pieces is called The Tourists, a portrait of her sister and a friend who came to visit her while she was living in London.
“I’m not much of a purist. I will use what’s needed to get what I want,” she said, looking up at the painting where she employed pastel crayons, gold outlines and vintage beads for trim. She also used three types of silk: crepe de chine, raw silk and shantung.
The show at Wilton Library, 137 Old Ridgefield Road, runs through Oct. 3. Information: www.wiltonlibrary.org or 203-762-3950.