Dianne Shullenberger, Yellow Peony, 12” x 11”, fabric and thread, 2006
The surprise in Dianne Shullenberger’s work is that her “paintings” are not made with paint. Her palette consists of snippets of fabric pinned all over her studio walls and hundreds of thread spools arranged chromatically in subtle gradations of color. She calls her technique “layered fabric collage.”
She begins a piece by pinning large blocks of color to a thin paper ground and then overlays finer and finer detail, often applying tiny pieces of cloth with the tip of a pin.
“Fabrics have many different personalities; I manipulate them by wrinkling, coiling, pulling threads, cutting through layers, reversing sides, exposing raw edges, and constantly altering the textures and color combinations,” she explains.
Once Shullenberger has set up and pinned her composition, she unleashes her 15-year-old Bernini sewing machine, removing its foot – the small attachment that exerts pressure on the fabric as it is fed under the needle. Without the restraints of this guiding foot, the fabric and thread can be encouraged to turn, stall, hesitate, or leap forward. Shullenberger, like a skilled improvisational dancer, is a wizard at this.
A painter is constantly making contextual color decisions: a yellow area surrounded by purple will appear more yellow than that patch surrounded by orange. Complimentary or opposite colors create maximum vividness. Shullenberger ups the ante with her art, as she must also constantly consider the inherent patterns and textures of the fabric and how they relate to each other.
“Yellow Peony” relies on the ability of our eye to blend the varying textures, patterns, and colors of Shullenberger’s fabric. The merging of these often disparate visual elements creates a scintillating effect. In “Yellow Peony,” as in much of Shullenberger’s work, there is a sense of flickering sunlight and the whisper of wind in the leaves.
Dianne Shullenberger is represented by Furchgott-Sourdiffe Gallery in Shelburne, Vermont, where she will have a solo show September 21–October 23, 2012. Her work has been exhibited at the Muskegon Art Museum in Michigan and is part of the permanent collection of the Chicago Art Institute. She may be reached through her website, or through her gallery.