Crotcheting paint: the works of angela teng
photos: angela teng
Through crochet, Angela Teng explores relationships between domestic space, studio space and the gallery, examining the still overlooked role of women in the history of art.
Angela Teng crochets with paint. Using lengths of paint skin, crochet needles, simple pinframes and geometric pattern grids, Teng crotchets paintings that alternately reference modernist colour-field abstractions, knitted dishcloths, Bauhaus textiles and Rosemarie Trockel’s famous
‘knitted pictures’. Teng explores the relationship between painting and craft. But where women artists of Trockel’s generation examined craft in terms of a feminist response to the negative cliche of women’s work in a male-dominated art world, Teng’s consideration of both painting and crochet is in accordance with the current regeneration of the discourses of painting, particularly by women painters such as Mary Heilmann, Elizabeth McIntosh and Silke Otto-Knapp. For Teng, this reconsideration intersects with the renewed value of handmade production in postindustrial societies. In this context, the notion of labour, and particularly women’s labour, alongside the labour of making a painting, is an important concern in Teng’s body of work.
Teng draws on hand crochet as a skill passed down from mother to daughter, as an art-form connecting communities of women, as an art-form having
(auto)biographical potential and as an art-form enjoying a revival of interest in mainstream North American popular culture. Through crochet, Teng explores relationships between domestic space, studio space and the gallery, examining the still overlooked role of women in the history of art. By choosing to work with techniques of crochet, Teng consciously feminises her approach to painting, not simply to rehearse a feminist critique, but in order to position her work alongside, yet differently, from male painters. For example, Teng’s crocheted works appear to reference the hard-edged, geometric structure and pure saturated colour of high modernist abstraction. Works such as Two Reds and Blue (2014) or Mystic Healer (2015) or Golden Bqy (2015) recall the formalist colourfield paintings of artists such as Barnett Newman or Elsworth Kelly. But rendered in neat rows of crotchet stitch, and working at small scale with dimensions that are comfortable for her body, Teng’s works also reference simple and functional hand-knit textiles. Her approach subverts the male-dominated tradition of modernist painting to consider various possible and potential meanings of abstraction. The aesthetics of crochet insists upon quotidian possibilities, considering vernacular genealogies, and suggesting the simple pleasures of painting – the idea that painting can invoke a sense of comfort, familiarity and well-being. One’s initial response to Teng’s body of work is typically of amusement and delight: her works are disarming, unsettling painting from the highbrow, existential realm ascribed to it by the Greenbergian avant-garde, positioning painting as part of a lexicon of everyday creative explorations and expressions. This is in counterpoint to a history of painting that has long celebrated the masculinist gesture (most famously, for example, in Jackson Pollock’s drip-paintings).
In this regard, the aesthetic choices that Teng makes are important. The dimensions, the techniques, the gestures that comprise Teng’s approach to painting refer to women’s work and to the female body. The aesthetic is deliberately homely, feminine, familiar and decorous, even as it is irreverent, seeking to challenge painting’s rules. Further, by drawing on techniques and gestures that reference craft and domestic labour, Teng positions painting within the broad genre of women’s work that includes knitting, sewing, embroidery, crochet, and also, cooking, baking, and cake decorating. Her approach recalls theorist Jan Verwoert’s idea of painting as being adjacent to, and thereby coexisting or intermingling with, the practice of the informed by and refers to everyday life; it is not rarefied or set apart from daily experience, but is approached as an extension of the daily routine, informed by the day-to-day experience of the world.
Teng belongs to a young generation of painters who are engaged with the project of renewing the viability of painting by investigating its material possibilities. As such, she exploits the material qualities of paint, experimenting with its viscous, plastic and tensile qualities, so that paint itself becomes the subject of her enquiry, rather than simply being the medium by which to create a picture. As an undergraduate in the acclaimed painting department at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, Teng began experimenting with paint skins, eventually discovering that she could squeeze and dry tubes of paint into long, skinny strings, pliable enough to crochet. She was able to produce paint-objects that dispensed with the canvas and stretcher. These paintings are time and labour-intensive. Once the paint skin threads are made, Teng works according to a rough design sketched out on graph paper. But she also needs to be prepared for the possibility of broken threads which may disrupt the design and require improvisation. Working in this way, Teng intentionally pushes the material logic of paint to question what painting is: is it merely the application of paint on a surface? Or can a painting be something else? What makes a painting a painting?
An article in Art News magazine from a decade ago addresses this age-old question. It quotes the curator and professor, Robert Storr who proposes that,
” … both the pictorial conventions and the material qualities of an object … makes [a painting] a painting. For an increasing number of artists, the very game of stretching definitions is the substance of the work.”3 Painting today is the broadening of the ‘idea of painting’. It is an intellectual process as much as a material one. This investigation and experimentation with the idea of painting is not new as painting is a genre which is constantly re-inventing itself, constantly breaking its own rules, constantly working against the prophecy of its own demise. Robert Rauschenberg, for example, was influential amongst the 1950s New York avant-garde for his radical approach which expanded traditional definitions of painting; similarly artists such as Yves Klein, Donald Judd, Carolee Schneeman, Eric Cameron, amongst numerous others challenged traditional definitions of painting. In the same article, the New York painter David Salle proposes that it is the performative aspect of painting, that is, the process of its making, that will always distinguish painting from other forms of art. “No matter what it looks like,” Salle states, “[painting today] is connected to a painting made hundreds of years ago … ” In other words, painting is painting because of the artist’s engagement with its material processes and gestures; that is, because (of what) the artist does with paint. This ‘doing with paint’ refers to processes that are at once intellectual, playful, experimental, gestural, alchemical, and indeed laborious.
Alongside her experimentation with paint skins, Teng makes small, often monochrome, oil paintings, lathered with thick grounds of paint resembling buttercream cake frosting, or grease slicks, or wads of silly putty. For these works, Teng typically crochets her linen canvases; then, using a brush or palette-knife, she quickly applies thick layers of oil paint to produce dramatic and seductive surface effects. She explores contrasting edges and surfaces, for example in the painting Banger (2014); the sharp-edge and flat plane of the painted surface here contrasts with the texture and soft corners of the crocheted canvas. She uses her finger to cut through the flat colour-field to introduce a contrasting shade and to vary the gestures of markmaking. Similarly, in the humorously perplexing work, Moon Pull (2014), Teng uses a brush to paint a field of pale blue on her crocheted canvas, works quickly to introduce purple squiggles with her finger, then uses a brush to cut through the first two layers of colour, drawing a square with black and yellow lines. The final work comprises a layering of planes and surfaces according to a process that is as measured as it is impulsive. Teng works against the logic of painting, consciously setting out to consider the notion of
‘wrong painting’ in order to disrupt readily accepted ideas of what painting should be, and how it should be done. She rejects the rules that have legitimised abstraction in order to explore new meanings and new evocations of the abstract.
Teng considers these oil paintings as studies for her crocheted paint skins. With these works she experiments with colour, composition and design to produce tactile and unctuously layered objects that approach sculpture or assemblage. Through the layering and accumulation of materials and processes, and noting an attention to the edges and borders of her stretcher, Teng experiments with the object-nature of painting; yet displaying her works in a conventional, wall-hung, painting format, she plays with ideas of pictorialism. Consequently, Teng works at a limit between conceptual art and craft, between the familiar and unfamiliar, between notions of tradition and innovation. She explores both aesthetic and material concerns to consider painting as a new kind of object. ii
1. Veiwoert, Jan. “Why Are Conceptual Artists Painting Again? Because They Think It’s A Good Idea” lecture at the University of Glasgow.
<https:/ /vimeo.com/6054911 0>.
2. Veiwoert, Jan. 2005. “Why Are Conceptual Artists Painting Again? Because They Think It’s A Good Idea” in Aftera/1. Issue 12.
3. Yablonsky, Linda. April 2005. “What Makes A Painting A Painting” in Art News”. <http://www.artnews.com/2005/04/01 /what-makes-a-painting-apainting>.
Haema Sivanesan is currently a Curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) (canada) and a Consulting Curator with the Bengal Foundation (Dhaka, Bangladesh). She has a special interest in the historical and contemporary art of South and Southeast Asia, alongside a dedicated interest in working with diasporic artists. She is currently developing a range of projects for the AGGV that focus on the practices of Asian-canadian artists, examining cross-cultural issues and relationships to art history.
Leading Image : Ringer (detail . Crocheted acrylic paint on alu panel 18 x 24 inches. 2015
photos: angela teng Through crochet, Angela Teng explores relationships between domestic space, studio space and the gallery, examining the still overlooked role of women in the history of art. Angela Teng crochets with paint. Using lengths of paint skin, crochet needles, simple pinframes and geometric pattern grids, Teng crotchets paintings that alternately reference modernist colour-field…