“Something blue, something sparkling through. Out of the blue, I’m reminded of you.” — Siouxsie and The Banshees
Is blue the color of serendipity? I began writing this review of textile works by the late Barbara Goldberg on July 2nd and I looked up her obituary. To my astonishment, it was the one year anniversary of her passing.
That seems like the kind of beautiful happenstance that she would have loved. In her work, there is a coherent rhythm. There is a fluctuation of movement that ties centuries-old craft with modern technologies, finding almost musical commonalities and allowing for chance to assert itself.
And there is that blue. It is a deep soulful indigo that permeates so much of the artwork that it seemingly takes on a life of its own. With it, Goldberg in her shibori (a Japanese dyeing technique) creates patterns and complex designs that become almost meditative.
“Shibori ll” (from 1980) features 196 connecting circles of blue and white and in it, negative space asserts itself, refusing to be silenced. In text that accompanies the work, Goldberg noted that “hours of stitching provide time for contemplation, free association and complex problem solving.”
That said, can it be mere coincidence that the circles that make up much of the center of the work resemble clock faces, complete with hour, minute and second hands? It is as if some greater Source (capital S intended) is commenting on the eternal and the transient.
In another shibori work, “Footprints,” the blue evokes melancholy as it too reflects on the passage of time as the barefoot soles of her grandchildren (Michael, Ellen, Ruby, Amelia and Benjamin) parade one in front of the other on a road to their future.
“Self-Portrait l” and “Self-Portrait ll” (the former from 1992, and the latter 2004) are large scale shibori on indigo-dyed linen wall hangings that, when seen side by side, suggest temporal changes. Goldberg in an act of surprising intimacy offers up silhouettes of her own body, as she had her husband trace the outline of her body as she lay on the floor. The newer figure (of the artist older) appears to — perhaps — hold a cane.
Goldberg was a true scholar of her medium and a consummate technician, mastering not only shibori, batik, tie dyeing, and serigraphy as well as more esoteric techniques such as “canning,” in which both ends of a can are removed and filled with a viscous dye, which is pulled over a fabric surface to create a pattern.
A lovely example of canning as artform is on display. “Terraced Stripes” (from 1974) features pulsating fat lines of color — lime green, teal, and layers of deepening maroons and browns — over a backdrop of maize yellow.
The oldest work in the exhibition is “Blue & Orange” from 1970. It was created with batik and fold-dye on cotton. A series of subdued and soft oranges and blues take almost floral forms (as well as sea shells, mandalas and yin yang symbols) in loose rectangles, much like a patchwork quilt.
“Danny’s Fossils” (1978) uses a palette of those complimentary colors - orange and blue - as they evolve toward their union of brown.
Catherine Weller, an independent curator and artist, and Noelle Foye, executive director of the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! curated the display with much respect and admiration for the formidable and much-loved former teacher that Goldberg was.
A display case contains the artifacts of her career and her life: dyed stained rubber gloves, a silk screen squeegee, old catalog and show postcards, photographs, notes, lesson plans. And a bit more blue.
“Fragments of Life: Textile Art by Barbara Goldberg” is on display at the University Art Gallery, 715 Purchase Street, New Bedford until July 16.