“I was asked, ‘What is a quilt?’ It is a question that, at first, seems obvious, but the answer goes much deeper than a hand-made bedcovering. The process of defining a quilt is the essence of my art. The quilt is a sign of women’s work. The making of a quilt implies a chain of signification through conception, use, deterioration, and, in my case, transformation.” — from Denise Furnish’s Artist Statement
In the history of Modern Art, or the still-being-written chronicle of Contemporary Art, the quilt can still seem like an outlier, despite several generations of fiber artists using it as the foundation of their work. Yet the very associations that might lie at the heart of perceived limitations – namely its functional role as comforting family heirloom, are also the source of the quilt’s unique power in communicating themes and ideas. Denise Furnish exploits these attributes but also subverts them by using discarded quilts as a vehicle for painting.
“The quilt as a sign for bed interests me, yet I nearly always remove quilts from the bed and put them on the wall. For his collage, “Bed”, Robert Rauschenberg took a quilt from a bed and destroyed it to make art in 1955. The difference is that I am interested in taking already damaged quilts and transforming them into art. I later realized that seeing that work in the Museum of Modern Art in 1968 has influenced me.”
The inherent qualities of each quilt are crucial in the conceptual nature of Furnish’s approach, informing her thoughts and application of medium, but there is also a sense of rejuvenation emanating from the transformation of a tattered, worse-for-wear object becoming a wholly new creative action.
“My work developed as a chain of signification beginning with the recognition of quilt as a sign of pre-feminist ‘women’s work.’ This work was created and executed with attention to design and purpose. It was used, washed, worn. Often, it was separated from its maker. It was found by me and painted–a sign not only of transformation, but also of post-feminist women’s achievement.”
Denise Furnish’s work is currently featured in the Louisville Visual Art exhibit, Tessile Ora, on display at Louisville’s Metro Hall through May 26, 2017.
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: BA, University of Kentucky, 1972; Attended Louisville School of Art 1980-1981; BFA University of Louisville, 2008; MA University of Louisville, 2009
Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2016 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserve d.