Understanding Shape Languages

I digest and share my world through shapes and colors. Just as an archeologist digs for artifacts, I dig through the visuals and references from my daily life and influences to find shapes that excite me visually and communicate my goals.

In my practice, the more I can pull back and set specific parameters in my work, the more cohesive and communicative my art is. When I am in the process and sketching phase of my work, I think its important to go out broad and wide with my research/sketching to explore all my options and materials etc. But when I start to focus in on specific concepts, I then like to narrow down and streamline my parameters so that I can better articulate my goals. So my art practice is often -> go out broad and then narrow in and then go out broad and then narrow in over and over to attempt to get to the bottom of what I am trying to get at.

With my shape language, I really like to work with a limited amount of shapes (within a certain concept) that I have chosen (narrowing in). Then I can explore the relationships between the shapes, I can dig in deep into specific shapes, and I can refine that shape language by using it in many directions.

I have taken on different shape languages over the years, usually coming from important influences and goals.

I abstracted close ups of fabrics and textiles. This was a formal exploration.

I dug into superheroes and action shapes from comic books. I have always been captivated by the altruism of superheroes. So those shapes were both an attempt to explore that interest and share that mindset.

I also worked with shapes I abstracted from Mother Teresa I felt like she was a real life example of the superhero concept I was digging into.

I worked at a preschool for a period of time and was interested in the innocence and blind genius of some of the shapes that the children would draw. Though, I ultimately decided that I did not own those shapes, so I did not work with those as long.

In grad school, I did a lot of research on our culture's perspective on silliness. I was really captivated by the idea of using silliness as a starting point to spread good cheer to people through my work. This was a concept I discovered through reading the Happiness Project (linked below) by Gretchin Rubin. - - She is one of my favorite self help authors if you ever feel lost I totally recommend her.

So I pulled my shapes in grad school from my research on how our culture perceived silliness. It was things like balloons, and animals with hats, and funny glasses etc. This period was probably the most literal my shapes have ever been.

(Note: If you buy this book through this link, you help support this website and art practice) !!

After graduate school, I started pulling my shapes from drawings I had done with my husband. We have been drawing together since our 2nd date (since 2011). Its something we love to do together.

We work hard on our marriage, and that consistent support and connection is the foundation for everything else in my life. Towards the end of grad school my work started shifting from the focus of spreading good cheer (which I think is hugely important) to connecting people together. Connecting with other people is how we grow and thrive. People challenge us, and keep us sane. Isolation is a very dangerous thing, and with the rise of the internet it is becoming easier and easier to remove ourselves from other people. I believe that through other people we can do and create things together that we might never think or do on our own.

A lot of my installation and performance work physically connects to itself and connects people together (hook and loop tape, snaps, magnets, ties etc). So it was important to me, that my shape language for the objects that I make also be about connection, the deepest connection in my life. I choose to connect my world to someone for my entire life. We committed together to growing as artists and doing great things together.

So I take the drawings and paintings that we do together (I don't do much 2d work unless I am working with other people) and I scan them and pull out specific shapes that excite and intrigue me and that I think I could see myself expanding on. I love that I am never entirely sure which one of us is responsible for the shapes I pick. They belong to us both and would not exist if we didn't work together.

Over time, a lot of these shapes start to feel so natural to me, like home, because I have used them in so many ways. They become part of my body of artwork, which I then spend time with in performing, and in building installations and then in making digital textile prints. So I get very attached and intimate with each shape language. Every time I re-imagine these shapes or send them to fabricators to interpret etc they change and evolve a little bit by bit - they are never really the same shape twice.

When I was in fashion school, we had to draw bodies with clothes on the by the hundreds and the idea was, when you sit down to draw an idea you don't even have to think about how to draw a body, its in your mind and muscles. I want to implement a similar idea with working with the same shapes over and over for a period of time.

I enjoy looking through my current shape language reference pages (like the image above this) because I think of the objects that they have become like the shape that became my wedding veil.

A side fact - the shapes I reference when I am drawing/painting with Clint come from outfit sketches from my daily outfit projects (see image below). You can see galleries of my of my daily projects here. I love that those daily outfit compositions are often quite quick and in the moment and sometimes don't survive the day. But I can immortalize those moments by re- exploring those shape compositions over and over again through this hand work.

It should be noted that most of my best/favorite artwork of mine has come out of me since knowing Clint, and I have developed a deeper sense of color and focus as an art character since knowing Clint. That is the person he has helped me to become through his support and person. Which is hilarious to me, because I resisted getting married so hard. I believed that romantic relationships would hold me back from my goals as an artist. I had no idea with the right partner you fly and are able to accomplish twice as much.

Here are some examples of some of the shapes that came from this shape current language and were shifted into my hook and loop work.

The individual hook and loop pieces pictured above combine together to create installations (and performances) like the image below.

For this 3 person exhibition I am preparing for "Archive as Action" that opens Feb 8th, 2019 at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, I am thinking a lot about the notion of putting heads together "2 heads are better than 1." I am excited that the visual foundation for a lot of my objects will be from this shape language that is grounded in connection and collaboration.

If anyone has any feedback or questions on this shape language or if you want to discuss some of your own processes, feel free to comment on this blog or email me at Lindsey.whittle@sparklezilla.com

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