TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Guest Artist: David Lucht of Cowango

I am absolutely thrilled to have David Lucht as a guest here on Fiber Focus. Dave and his wife, Stefanie Graves, moved to Paducah as part of the Artist Relocation Program. We still don't know each other well, but I look forward to growing our friendship in the future. I have seen a lot of batik in the past, mostly from Indonesia, Brazil and by other American artists. I even tried my hand at it a couple of times and was discouraged to end up with blobs of melted wax. Batik requires patience, persistence and skill. David is a master, the best I have ever seen! -Rachel

Batik: A Tradition Looking Forward


Batik? Isn't it that 60's thing with the tie-dye and all? Most people make that connection and associate batik with that particular decade - the freedom-loving, civil rights, ethnic pride decade. The downside of that connotation is that this technique of fabric design with ancient roots can seem dated, dependent on the whims of constantly churning fashion trends. The upside is that batik connects on a very basic level with core values that emerged in that decade, and to an even more ancient history of traditional styles that serve us today through the richness of cultural diversity.

Our traditions are our reference points. They differ from habits in that they represent something about us collectively, something good about who we are. They are social rituals that we consciously maintain because they confer meaning. You belong here. You are in this family. You are part of a good thing. Modern life is a siren song that seduces with novelty, outrageousness and glitter. The value it presents to us is that we must stay entertained and distracted. Our traditions on the other hand act to ground us with timeless values from the past. The values that tradition promotes may be less fun and flashy but they speak to elements of our better nature; how to lead with your heart, serve community, and seek beauty.

Fortunate Son of Fez

Artistic traditions serve the same purpose. Actually, artists conduct their business on the innovative edge of tradition. Even rampant iconoclasts break with something. Most artists I know are proud to stand on the shoulders of the masters in order to discern what lies ahead. Artists learn the rules and the traditions, sometimes using this knowledge in order to break with them. But always with this purpose, with this desire - to understand traditions with fresh eyes. With this knowledge and with a spirit of experimentation we learn to keep what works and is true and to abandon the rest.

It's Snow Mountain

In a sense the most important artistic tradition is artistic activity itself. As long as there is an active culture of art-making the historical traditions can live and new ones can have a chance to be born. Whether we express ourselves conceptually, abstractly, with representational art or with some hybrid form of all the above we are part of an artistic tradition. And we always express ourselves in relation to that tradition, even as we break from it.

The Darndest Thing

I guess all of this discussion about the importance of tradition is to lay the groundwork for my defense of batik as an important medium for artistic expression. Batik seems quaint and arcane. It's definitely out of the mainstream. Maybe that's actually part of the attraction for me. The history of batik is a long one (perhaps several thousand years) but the development of batik as a serious medium for contemporary expression is relatively short. With ancient origins in China and Egypt, batik eventually came to Indonesia and became a large part of that country's artistic identity centered in the city of Yogyakarta in eastern Java. Over the years the use of batik in fabric design achieved an incredible degree of refined craftsmanship that amazed Europeans when the textiles were brought to the west. The phenomena of batik as a fine art is, by comparison, rather recent. Artists in Asia and Europe began to experiment with batik in the 1950's and 60's in order to produce works that reflected both a contemporary sensibility and a respect for tradition.


I've been a batik artist now for many years. I was initially attracted to the medium because it seemed to be full of unexplored potential. There was more space available in batik for me to do whatever I liked since, with its traditional roots in textile design, batik didn't carry the historical burden of painting. I realize now that this is only a trick of the mind (though one that got me back on track) because for me it really is painting and my process of identifying and developing imagery relates to the history of painting as well. Again, this history is a force of tradition that I need to understand, bring forward and reconstitute (or abandon) through the work of artistic creation, based on my personal take on the world.

Monastic Observance

My view of the world emerged during a turbulent and idealistic period of American life. The main lesson I learned then was to look deeper, and to use the heart to try to perceive what is real and true. Like so many others, my wide-eyed idealism suffered some bad erosion in the storm. But I still enjoy kicking down the beach to find what washes up. Scattered everywhere are little gems that tell me this earth is precious, demanding our respect and love.

Dance of Spain

I am a representational artist. My personal approach to image making comes out of an impulse to find the visual component that conveys a certain value. I still pursue ways to include people because I think the human image, rendered by hand, is a way to give them honor. I love everyday settings of work and conversation because these things give substance to our humanity. I am undeniably drawn to landscape and botanical forms because my sense of wonder has its source in the marvel of nature.

Front Back Knit

Batik offers the perfect challenge for me as a representational medium and I have developed a strong affection for the process through the years. I talk a lot about the magic involved: the wax resisting the color, obscuring the design with multiple applications, the revelation at the end when the wax is removed. But there is also the knowledge that people all over the world are doing it to add joy and beauty to their lives. I know this sounds trite but when I do batik I feel connected to the world. The process that developed in the world of craft has begun to flower in a multitude of contemporary styles. Each style, each personal artistic vision still connects back down the chain of tradition.


So can batik survive the burden of history, the burden of tradition? As an amateur student of history I love to follow the threads of tradition and I also recognize that certain periods require us to unravel traditions in order to grow. But the core values in these traditions remain and new traditions emerge that embody the core values of the former ones. Batik is steeped in tradition and will continue to grow. The saving grace is that batik artists who love this tradition continue to evolve and explore new ways to use the medium in an on-going adventure.

" I came to batik painting through my love for its magical qualities of obscurity and revelation. The image is developed through repeated dyeings and waxings, gradually becoming almost entirely covered in wax. The finished work is only seen in its entirety at the very end of the process, when the wax is removed and the image revealed."
-David Lucht

Visit Cowango for more background on the pieces shown in this article and for more of David's work. Stefanie is also a talented artist and her watercolors are also on the site.

1 comment:

“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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