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Pattern is closely associated with weaving, not only because of its prevalence in the textile traditions of so many cultures, but also because repeated imagery reflects the repetitive structure of weaving, under then over, under then over. For many, patterned imagery seems to make fundamental sense.

Susan Martin Maffei, Her Favorites were Sunflowers and her Dog was Blue, 9.5" x 9", 1996

Maffei uses pattern, both for its visual beauty and as a compositional tool. In Flower Man the image of a man in profile is completely covered with a pattern of pink flowers. The flowers’ role shifts from being a shirt pattern to being a wall paper pattern, missing only a small beat at the junction. Because of the flowers’ uniformity and the way they cross the boundary between wall and body, they tend to equalize and flatten the foreground and background of the image. The darkness of the wall recedes behind the figure, but the high value contrast of the pink flowers on the dark wall makes them pop forward. The white of the shirt advances, but the low value contrast of the pink flowers on the white pushes the figure back and the brown centers of the flowers on the shirt bind the shirt with the wall. Her playful manipulation of space, points out the arbitrary nature of spatial conventions and makes the work compelling.

Susan Martin Maffei, Flower Man, 9" x 9", 1993

In Eve [next page], one in a series of pieces on women in history, pattern is used to suggest the foliage of the garden. The juxtaposition of light, medium and dark values within the pattern is reminiscent of both the more abstract patterns of pre-Columbian tapestry seen in this fragment and the use of pattern in the more representational images of medieval European tapestries, such as in a detail from The Hunt of the Unicorn in which the foliage is a pattern of shapes that alternate between dark, medium and light. In Eve, the pattern and the directionality of the light source suggest the light and shadow on the leaves. The decreasing size of the tiles on the floor suggests spatial recession. Yet, the uniformity of the pattern in the shrubbery and the steeply tilting floor reminds us that spatial illusion is the product of conventions of pictorial depiction that are accepted within a culture and within a specific time period. Maffei seems to be playing a game, or having a dialog with the two sides, flipping a coin which half the time lands with “affirm space” up and half the time lands with “deny space” up. The conventions of spatial representation become one of the subjects of her work.

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