I have just joined Facebook (thanks, D.) and of course, instantly found a group dedicated to a textile artist’s focus: namely, texture.

The photos of “texture” on the group site were close-ups, both of quilted fabric and of objects that showed as textured. I started through my photos and quickly realized that deciding on what shows texture is not as easy as might be imagined. Here are some possibilities from my files.

The High Note, JOU, Computer images on Silk, quilted, 12 x 12″, 2008.

The upper layer (of computer-printed sheer fabric) is turned back to show under layer. Normally the sheer would fall over the entire piece, showing through as it does on the right bottom. This dropping of the sheer obscures much of the texture while at the same time, contradictorily, adds to it.

Vilhelm Hammershoi, Sunbeam (and various other titles), 1900, oil on canvas.

I was thinking of writing this post on Hammershoi, so I had lots of photos of his work easily accessible. He’s Danish, died at age 52 in 1916, was in Paris while the Impressionists were impressing people (he wasn’t, impressed, I mean), and shocked his contemporaries by not making paintings with stories, content, mytholgies, or “meaning.” Of course, we’ve added all those to his paintings since then.

Photo, Main Street in January, Portland Oregon, 2009

More often than not, we see texture, even if we know the thing we are looking at is flat, like those tree tops that look soft.

Vilhelm Hammershoi,Gentoft Lake, 1905, oil

Hammershoi’s techniques included using paint thinly, in layers, ala Vermeer. His work is near-abstract, although the images are clearly identifiable. He has been highly touted because of the flatness of his images, although his late paintings of city buildings in London have been less than positively reviewed — mostly, I suspect, because they use perspective so classically. But in the Gentoft Lake image the water has great texture, as do the doors in Sunbeam.

Charley Bierly, Little Pine Creek in Snow, photo, about 2005

JOU Little Pine in Snow, oil on board, 2008.

So texture isn’t just a matter of medium (as seen in the quilted piece, The High Note) or a kind of technique (as in my version of Little Pine Creek). It, like most art, is a matter of illusion. Even though we know the tips of the trees would lash rather than soothe and the hills are solid and stony, they still look soft.

Photo of Vilhelm Hammershoi’s parents home in Copenhagen (portrait above piano is by Hammershoi, of his sister, who is most likely the pianist, also)

Vilhelm Hammershoi, Interior with Woman at Piano, Strandgade 30, 1901

Hammershoi gives us clear texture in the table cloth, the woman’s hair, even the butter (which has more goosh to it than can be seen in this internet version).

I’m still maundering about the question of texture in photos (and, necessarily, on the internet.) Shadows, hue changes, and recognition of objects seem to be the most immediate elements that cause us to “see” texture. More often than not, we see texture in almost all representational images, even if we know the real thing (the computer screen, the photograph, the painting) to be flat or relatively thus. Only in true abstraction is texture sometimes obliterated.

Clement Greenberg and the abstract expressionists knew that flatness was an essential of painted art. Greenberg said, ” The essence of Modernism lies… in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself… What had to be exhibited and made explicit was that which was unique and irreducible not only in art in general but also in in each particular art.” ( Modernist Painting, 1961 ) He also said, “It has been established by now, it would seem, that the irreducibility of pictorial art consists in but two constitutive conventions or norms: flatness and the delimitation of flatness (After Abstract Expressionism, 1962).

We have come a long way from the ab exes and C.G., but we also, because of media explosions, see more and more in 2-dimensional imagery in which we insert our own sense of texture.

So I still haven’t resolved in my own mind what I should be looking for when I’m thinking about photographs of art that contain “texture.” Anybody have a brilliant (or even a generally interesting) thought on the subject?

PS: For more about Vilhelm Hammershoi, see also the Ragged Cloth Cafe recent post.