Less is definitely more for artist Barbara Todd


One of artist Barbara Todd’s favorite quotes these days came from a yoga instructor: “Focus more and more on less and less. This is a testament to the continued refinement and downsizing of his work.

Todd’s favorite medium is woolen fabric, and she has made hand-quilting a high art. Unlike the delusional mix of colors and patterns that characterizes most pieced quilts, Todd brings a minimalist aesthetic. Often times, there are only two or three pieces of solid color fabric sewn together into quilts measuring up to 8 feet long and meant to be displayed on a wall. The expanse of pure tones framed and interspersed with meticulous stitching can be as captivating as the paintings of Josef Albers or Ellsworth Kelly.

Todd’s latest works are brought together in “Parallel Play,” an exhibition on display at the Courthouse Gallery of the Lake George Arts Project until December 18. There is a rhythmic structure where the pieces hang. At eye level are a series of what Todd calls “fabric designs”. These framed square works, measuring 10 by 10 inches, consist of two horizontal pieces of woolen fabric in distinct color combinations.

Spread out all over like a grid stretching from top to bottom, there are a lot of small linen collages. These are also squares (5 by 5 inches) divided into two colors. “Wallpaper” is how Todd referred to their use in the exhibit, saying, “I could write a recipe for this à la Sol Lewitt. Place these designs evenly spaced throughout the space.

The intimate scale of the rooms is a testament to Todd’s desire for simplicity. “I wanted to do something compact that had meaning and purpose,” she says. “These are two pieces of fabric on Japanese paper. There are no seams and I can fit 100 in a box. I try not to overwhelm myself.

There is a visual backstory to every color combination. Each duo is drawn from images from the vast archive of day-to-day photos taken by Todd, who describes herself as a “voracious photographer”. A simple example: a brightly colored truck seen on a winter landscape becomes a red and gray assemblage.

Two of the larger quilts in the exhibit were inspired by the view of Todd’s former studio on River Street in downtown Troy. Looking from her space on the second floor of the Market Block building, she saw the facade of the Cinema Art Theater with closed shutters. Transferring that to the quilting, it again leaves the details and exalts the tones. The building’s mustard-colored bricks and gray tile mosaics are referenced in woolen fabrics placed in simple block arrangements.

There might also be a hint of sentiment in these particular works. A video game company has expanded into Todd’s workspace, forcing him to leave in early 2020. “How could I imagine a more beautiful studio? There was the ability to work big or small and the space allowed me to contemplate, ”she says. “Maybe it was too satisfying to be there. I would put stuff on the walls and just be satisfied.

In preparing for the current show, Todd worked in his dining room although the effort spread throughout the house on the East Side of Troy. Originally from Canada, Todd has lived in the city since 2004, when she moved from Montreal to join her husband, composer and pianist Michael Century, who had accepted a position with RPI the year before. Taking a wait-and-see attitude about upstate New York, she lingered north of the border with the younger of their two sons.

“I didn’t realize it was such a great place to live. I’m slow to adjust and just wanted to feel safe, ”she says. In the local arts community, she found camaraderie and many opportunities. His works have been featured in several Hudson Mohawk Regionals and have been exhibited at Collar Works, the Albany Center Gallery, and the Albany International Airport. A selection of her works is on long-term display at Carmen’s Cafe in Troy and for over a decade she taught design and weaving at the Emma Willard School.

In conversation, Todd frequently quotes great writers and thinkers. She is as insatiable to read as she is to take pictures. After arriving in Troy, she challenged herself to have a daily routine of selecting a thought-provoking quote and recording it in her journal. She would then transform this quote into a drawing made of sea pebbles. This practice resulted in a series of photos and cutout silhouettes. The Canadian exhibits of the plays were titled “Stone Days” and “Teaching a Stone to Talk”, the latter title borrowed from author Annie Dillard.

Todd’s “Safety Blankets” and “Coffin Quilts” constitute another body of work. Fabric silhouettes of bombers, missiles and rifles appear in dark grays, browns and blues and are applied to larger fabrics. The call for non-violence is unmistakable. There is also a feminist perspective as the heavy, masculine weapons of war are rendered in cloth and tailoring, once known as women’s work. The series began in the early 90s and individual pieces continue to appear in shows.

Todd has once been described by a critic as having “a poetic and political sensibility.” But lately politics seems to have collapsed or perhaps it has been subsumed by other concerns. When asked if she had deliberately steered away from politics, Todd replied, “I like it when it’s there, but I don’t look for it the same way. If I have a political idea, fine, but it must be good. Later, she adds, “I would rather go for sweet fun rather than wild outrage, although that is contrary to the current zeitgeist.”

A key word these days seems to be “play”. Before “Parallel Play” in Lake George, there was “Color Play” at Galerie Art Mur in Montreal in 2015. “Maybe I’m taking myself less seriously,” says Todd. After a slight complaint about too much in her life, she reverts to the desire for simplicity and quotes sculptor Carl Andre: “Interesting parts don’t make an interesting whole.

Along with the new sense of play, Todd still has work ahead of her with some big projects in the works. In 2018, she received an order for a permanent tile installation at Toronto’s St. Patrick’s subway station, located in an arts district and a few blocks from the Art Gallery of Ontario. Although its preliminary designs have been completed, there have been construction delays in the station’s remodel. The project is just Todd’s latest involvement in architecture and public art. In 2008, she made a 100-foot-long colored glass mural in a Montreal hospital.

Another exceptional commission is a textile project inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot-long piece of embroidery from 11th-century England that depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest. Todd reproduces it on a 100-foot-long stretch of linen she woven from imported British materials. His version will eliminate everything depicted in the original tapestry except land, rocks, and water. For the embroidery floss, she removes strands of the remaining fabrics from the “Safety blankets” series. Apparently, she is not done with advocating for peace after all.

Barbara Todd’s “Parallel Play” exhibition is on display until December 18 at the Lake George Arts Project Courthouse Gallery, 1 Amherst Street, Lake George. Schedules are :

From 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. More information on: lakegeorgearts.org.

Take snapshots then extract the two nicest colors. Read books to find and remember the best lines. Honoring an ancient work of fiber art with a reproduction that eliminates violence. This practice of reduction runs counter to contemporary trends in excess, but Todd has artistic ancestors who were also drawn to simplicity. Another of his favorite quotes comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Perfection is not achieved when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.


Comments are closed.