Art Term Tuesday: Texture

Kaitlin Binkley, Marketing Coordinator

Every day we welcome visitors who let us know how badly they want to touch the artwork but know they shouldn’t. It’s true, the rule of art and history museums is “Do Not Touch”, and yet many artists use their skills to help people imagine how their art would feel by creating a visual texture. Artists choose different materials to express different sensory experiences, including how an art object might feel.

Texture in art can be physical, visual, decorative, or mechanical. A physical texture might be manifested by materials like wood, fur, or glass. A wooden bowl is differentiated in one way by texture from a glass bowl, but they are both bowls. But they are also different in visual texture. Visual texture might be defined by the implication or illusion of texture. Take a moment to look at the work below by Sylvia Hyman, a work in our collection. How do you think it would feel? It’s a box of ordinary paper letters, right? Nope! This piece is one object all made out of clay! Clever visual texture through glazing creates the illusion that the hard ceramic would have the soft, flexible nature of cardboard.

Sylvia Hyman. American, 1917-2012. Arrived by Post. Stoneware and porcelain, 2004. Museum purchase with funds from the Hamilton Circle, 2006. Photographed by FWMoA.

We don’t have to touch artworks to know how they might feel because we have touched other similarly textured objects. We know the feel of cold metal, the smoothness of rock, a piece of fabric, flimsy paper plates. When we’re asked by institutions not to touch, texture in art relies upon our previous experiences with myriad textures.

As another example, Ben Venom is a textile artist who works with repurposed materials to create functional pieces of art. His quilts are made from reclaimed fabrics ranging from fleece to jeans.

If the form is the same, does the message change with a different textured material? Sculptor Peter Bremers recently asked this question to himself and explored the answer in his exhibition Perception, a brilliant collection of 13 identical forms made from different materials in different colors. One sculpture is made from shiny chrome, another from cast glass, another by the stone of Mother Nature and millions of years! When you look at each one, ask yourself – would it be warm or cold if I touched it? Is it smooth? Is it hollow or solid? Heavy or light? Then, ask yourself what makes you come to those conclusions. The shiny chrome form could be cold, smooth, hollow, and light. The one made from a rock could be a little warmer, not as smooth with the rocky texture, solid, and heavy.

Bob Cross. American, b. 1956. Koi Pond. Acrylic and wood on canvas, 2018. Collection of the Artist. Photograph by Kaitlin Binkley.

Take a look at this painting by Bob Cross. As an abstract painter, Cross has used paint to create physical texture on his canvases. Thick mounds of paint rise from the surface while at the same time deep grooves sink into the depths of the surface. The edges of the brushstrokes show the brush was dry, leaving a spotty edge instead of a smooth and consistent line. The edges also show the artist might have been moving the brush quickly across the surface, not giving the paint much time to transfer from brush to canvas. Isn’t it incredible that we can gather this sense of how this piece was created without ever seeing the artist at work? You can tell what likely happened throughout the creative process by following the lines of texture. To take this a step further, observe how Cross uses twigs and sticks in his paintings to create dramatic texture by introducing entirely new, textured objects to his paintings. I invite you to see for yourself in Cross’s exhibition on view now at FWMoA through February 24.

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