It’s the bright colored, almost tye-dyed fabric that draws you in to Susan Caulfield’s work, but it’s the messages that hold you there. Caulfield's work will be on display at Friday's Kalamazoo Art Hop.
“Most of what I make, especially the earlier pieces, is what I would call ‘meditative wall hangings’ or ‘contemplative wall hangings.’ The idea is that they’re things people can place around them to help them go inward and just think about what’s working them.”
In Caulfield’s art, you’ll see quotes from poets like the 13th-century Persian theologian Rumi, as well as musicians like John Lennon and Leonard Cohen. Caulfield says she tries to match the fabric with the quote. In one piece, Caulfied screen printed a quote onto light bluish-green fabric and cut it into a wavy shape using round-cut scissors. She then placed it on a dark green fabric and used a deep blue with a bubble-like pattern for the border.
“This is a Juan Ramón Jiménez quote: ‘My boat struck something deep, nothing happened. Sound, silence, waves, nothing happened. Or perhaps everything happened and I’m sitting in the middle of new life.’ And I love that quote because it reminds me of how much I don’t know about my own life and how much I might run into change, run into opportunity," says Caulfield. "And I like putting it on what also looks like a river because it has ‘boat’ in it and it has movement.”
Caulfield also uses positive words in her art to make pictures. Words like love, hope, community, and trust. Caulfield says she wants to use her art to counteract negative messages.
“We’re in a consumer culture where most of our images are ‘Buy me! Buy me!’ or ‘You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough,'" Caulfield says. "So the sense of being able to put out messages that are positive and grab people.”
Caulfield also makes heliographs or sun prints. To make the prints, Caulfield takes white cotton, lightly pins it to a foam board and then paints it in one or multiple colors. She then puts it out in the sun for a few hours. The result looks like a negative, whatever objects she puts on the fabric don't hold the color.
“One of the pieces in the show actually…it’s fabulous. I used metal washers," Caulfield says. "And for some reason on that one, I decided to leave it out overnight—either I forgot about it or I decided to leave it out overnight. And the washers interacted with the paint and created extra little spurts of different color. And it’s a fabulous piece. And I then screen printed a quote about letting go of plans because life does what it wants anyways. And it’s a fabulous example of that.”
But words aren’t the only way Caulfield gets across themes of peace, reflection, and loving life. The symbol of a famous 13th century labyrinth in Chartes, France, also plays a big role in her work.
“The thing about a labyrinth, especially about the 11th Circuit Labyrinth, is you walk the same path in that you walk out. And when you first start, you start, you go in a little bit and then you turn. And then you turn back to where you came from, you think, ‘How does this work?’ And you don’t really have to think about it because if you just follow the path without trying to figure out the path, you get to the center,” says Caulfield. “It supports the notion of it’s important to go inward, it’s important to reflect and to trust, but you still have to come back out into the world.”
You can see Susan Caulfield’s sun prints and other fabric art at Diekema-Hamann Architecture near the corner of Ransom and Church streets in Kalamazoo.