Archive for March, 2013

Exhibition: Knit Knot Weave

knitknotweave_01A few days ago I visited this exhibition at Gallery Lane Cove. Nine artists were represented, from which I’ve chosen three to show here (and apologies for the quality of some of the photos – something about the lighting and my phone’s camera didn’t get on well.)

The works on the left are by Brook Morgan, woven Protea flowers and cotton thread. The exhibition was “created to examine traditional handicraft materials and techniques in a contemporary art context” (1). While the techniques used came from traditional craft – weaving, stitching, felting, crochet – a number of the artists demonstrated more modern concerns in their choices of materials, with recycled and rather unusual natural materials apparent.

Above is Letters From Home by Alice Brickhill. Materials include recycled fabrics and embroidery thread. Alice Brickhill grew up in Tasmania and has moved to Sydney as a tertiary student. The move from the more secluded island state is clearly of great significance in her work, which is filled with a sense of nostalgia in both materials and the theme she has chosen to explore. There is a strong sense of storytelling, but the details of the story remain obscure.

Two works from Gabriella Verstraeten’s Red Crosses Series are shown above – Tile no. 4 on the left and tile no. 5 on the right. The medium is freehand machine embroidery, rayon and metallic threads on synthetic ground fabric. In real life the colour of these works is absolutely glowing. While the threads used are a major part of this, the choice of colours produce a vibration and energy that drew me across the room. Abstract patterning is created using a few simple, repetitive motifs. The artist claims “there are no political statements, no emotional self-examinations, no messages.” (2) The rhythm, the surface created by the dense stitching, and the sheer pleasure in materials and stitch drive her.

Above are two more works by Brook Morgan. All are described as Protea Scroll, woven protea flowers, cotton thread. One aspect I particularly enjoyed in these works was the sense of rhythm in the striping of the wefts. It’s probably easiest to see if you click on the left-hand photo, as the colour of cotton changes gradually from orange to white. At first glance each work has an overall unity and sameness, but detailed examination finds the subtle variation of the materials themselves and the weaving process.
knitknotweave_09In her statement accompanying the exhibition Morgan emphasises the importance of engaging with her materials and process. She collects and prepares the grasses and flowers, creating a connection and communication with them. While the brittle materials pose challenges and limitations, her close involvement and knowledge gained open her to possibilities.

knitknotweave_10I’m not even slightly drawn to the use of “raw” natural materials in my own weaving – not for any particular reason other than that they don’t resonate with me – but I am filled with admiration at their use here. A simple variation in the way the material is inserted creates an amazing pattern. The piece on the right was described as Untitled – Loop Series comprising woven stick and cotton thread. I’ve wondered about “loop”, but perhaps that refers to the visual effect rather than the technique.
knitknotweave_06The works on the left are also from the Loop series (unfortunately this photo is where my camera struggled the most). The work on the left-hand side is described as woven stick, cotton thread. That on the right is woven found wire, cotton thread, although I thought I could also see bundles of white horsehair or something similar in it.

williamson02It’s interesting to compare Morgan’s Loop work with that of Liz Williamson – seen on the right and in my post of 24-Nov-2012. Morgan completed Masters Degree studies at COFA, where Williamson is Head, School of Design Studies. Both have used the same weave structure to create “Loop” series, both tend to use natural materials (often cotton, silk and leather in the case of Williamson), but scales and outcomes are quite different. Williamson has produced a wearable that I see as chic, elegant and urban while retaining a sense of enclosure and protection. Apart from her engagement with materials and methods I don’t know more of Morgan’s intent, but these works brought back to me vivid memories of a childhood holiday staying in shearer’s accommodation on a sheep station near Adaminaby. The house was surrounded by dry paddock, fenced in rusty wire and with an old horse which was rather cranky about my beginner attempts at riding. The materials, and the sense of a rural, larger, but still safe enclosure are a striking match.

(1) Brickhill, A. et al. (2013) Knit Knot Weave. Sydney: Gallery Lane Cove.
(2) Verstraeten, G. in Brickhill, A. et al. (2013) Knit Knot Weave. Sydney: Gallery Lane Cove.

More information
Alice Brickhill: (not a lot of information, but some much better photographs).
Gabriella Verstraeten:
Brook Morgan:

UA1-WA:P1 Learning to read

One of the important tasks at this level of study is “the acquisition of skills and good working habits” to quote from the OCA assessment criteria. Now I’m a few weeks into the course I thought it time to review how I’m going with one of the most important components of the course: reading. This may sound frivolous – I have been reading on a daily basis for a good many years – but I’m finding this a different sort of reading. There’s reading for pleasure, to get information grabs for a report, to cram for an exam… but this is different, and in a way without a specific outcome. Which I find a little uncomfortable, but having identified it (only now as I write and edit this post) I’ll note it, put it to one side for now, and go on now trying to read mindfully, taking in visual information as well as text, trying to be efficient about it but also effective, finding the balance between getting through the course and learning as much as I can on the way.

Above is the current basic setup. There’s a ceiling light above the table, but I have a few “daylight” table lamps for task lighting. One of the lamps has an attached magnifying glass, which is very handy for seeing the detail of illustrations.

Another key element is the mug of tea, however the focus of everything is the text book, the enormous A World History of Art. I’m taking notes, just points that interest me, to keep track of the structure of the information and how everything connects. In a way it helps me to slow down and take in what I’m reading.

wa-reading_02The notes help on the reading side, and I also occasionally try to sketch parts of illustrations. The point isn’t the drawings themselves, it’s just part of trying to take time to really look at the details. In this case, on the left is some of the patterning on a 8th century BC Attic Geometric amphora including some very static, schematic human figures. On the right is an attempt at a c. 480 BC statue where a slight turn and shift of balance gives a more dynamic, animated effect.

Also on the reading desk is a collection of reference material – course notes, The Hamlyn Historical Atlas (my geography is pretty weak), Art History: The key concepts (still learning the language) and the Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture. Part of this is of course to get extra information, but part is … again, I feel the need to slow myself down, to make sure I’m really concentrating and taking in what I’m reading not just ticking off pages.

wa-reading_03Not on the table but just a roll of the chair away is the computer. I only recently read (on another student’s blog that I think has since disappeared or been made private) that classic Greek statues were actually brightly coloured. An internet search brought up heaps of images and articles, most of which seem to be based on the work of Vinzenz Brickmann at the Glypotothek museum in Munich. The central coloured sketch on the left is based on an image of the cloak worn in a statue of Athena, seen in Tracing the colors of ancient sculpture from J. Paul Getty Museum ( (If you want to take a more informal approach, the website of the Acropolis Museum has a page where you can colour your own statue – – the internet can swallow as much time as you give to it).

What’s the point of this post? Well, this is my learning log and in my mind it seems to right place to reflect on my learning. I’m not sure I’ve found the best way to do a very basic and very important thing.

… more pause for thought … hmm, now I think I’ve got it. I’m nervous about this course. I want to show myself and anyone who has read this far that I’m trying. And now I’ve realised this I know I’ve written about it before – when I was starting my first OCA course (posted 25-Aug-2011). That time I mentioned a newspaper article, Courage can get pupils through academic blues by Kim Arlington, about work by Professor Andrew Martin, who has found that courageous students, who persevere despite difficulties, doubts or anxieties, can do as well as confident students. A slightly different approach was taken by a father who encouraged his children to fail – if you’re not failing you’re not trying enough (see

Well this isn’t the ending I expected when I wrote the first 80% of this post. I think now I’ve sorted out the underlying issue I can deal with it – but if you have any good tips on how to read, please leave a comment 🙂

Arlington, K. (2011) Courage can get pupils through academic blues The Sydney Morning Herald [on line] 19 August 2011. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2013].
Berry, S. (2013) Perfect failures The Sydney Morning Herald [on line] 25 March 2013. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2013].
Curl, J.S. (2006) Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harris, J. (2006) Art History: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge
Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.
J. Paul Getty Museum (uploaded 2012) Tracing the colors of ancient sculpture [Accessed 29 March 2013]
Moore, R.I., (ed.) (1981) The Hamlyn Historical Atlas. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group.
Open College of the Arts [n.d.] Assessment criteria for Theoretical Studies modules at OCA. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [Accessed 29 March 2013]

Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one. Classical and religious art.
Topic: Reading for Art History

Workshop with Mignon Parker

mignon_parker01A few weeks ago I went to a weekend workshop with tutor Mignon Parker, organised by ATASDA. The class was primarily experimenting with rusting techniques and on the left is one of Mignon’s samples.
mignon_parker02Mignon added an interesting painting technique plus some gilding, and the second photo shows some of the other samples she brought.
mignon_parker03Here you can see my initial experiments – at the top on calico, and the lower samples handmade paper (from the ATASDA day at Primrose Park a couple of years ago). On the left of the fabric I used a sealer, on the lefthand paper sample a turquoise acrylic paint as a base. Iron filings were mixed with black acrylic paint, then painted on both sealed and unsealed fabric and papers. The final step of the process is to paint a weak acid solution over the dried paint. The iron reacts with the acid to form rust and possibly also water – the acid solution was thickened, but one of the interesting effects was from a rusty water that spread across fabric and paper.
mignon_parker08I experimented a little with other fabrics. On the left is a silver lamé which has some interesting contrasts with the still shiny areas, black discolouration and the actual rusty sections. I applied the paint using a fibrous, holey paper as a stencil and the pockmarked effect has potential. However the rust is quite brittle and seems likely to flake off if one handled it a lot or tried to stitch through it, plus Mignon warned us of potential damage to washing machines which made us worry about danger for our sewing machines. I decided to focus on paper.
mignon_parker04mignon_parker05A couple of flocked papers gave good results when the iron-laden paint was put just on the flocked sections. I tried two versions. The first actually had a light silvered card as a base, and once again the contrast of silver and rust was quite attractive. As you can see in the closeup of the second photo, the flocking gave additional height and emphasis to the crusty rusting effect. One consideration in the technique is that even if you try to keep the rust effect to a small area, it does tend to spread with the water (or whatever it is) produced. Also the acid solution we used had a blue colour – it may have been a safety feature – and this had an impact on the colour of the base.
mignon_parker06It was difficult to apply the iron/paint mix accurately with a brush – and quite hard on the brush hairs too. I found it more effective when stencilling – better control of patterning, plus the stencil brushes had hardier bristles. This sample used a small paper doiley which I tore in half as stencils. I like the patterning on the paper, and the doily itself looks good – rusted colour but not too crusty or brittle in this instance. It could provide a good way to suggest rusted hinges etc on a mixed media wall piece, without any weight. Using a sealant on the rusted paper would help durability.

mignon_parker07A light-but-strong japanese paper made an effective stencil (see the insert lower left of the photo), but given my previous interests it’s no surprise that it’s the light and shadow possibilities that caught my eye. I haven’t got a particular application in mind as yet, but surely the right opportunity will come up sometime to use this.
mignon_parker09On the second day Mignon showed us a way to mix and apply paint using a credit card (or similar) cut to various widths. It gave some interesting colour effects, but I’m not going to show either of my two samples in their entirety. I need a lot more practice and control, and while Mignon had a system which allowed her to produce a very attractive little italian cityscape on the spot, my determination to make my own visual statement(s) did not go so well overall! I also remain unconvinced that rusting and gilding effects should ever be used in the same piece. To me they are so different in appearance and in what they represent (the decay of rust, the luxury of gold) – even going for some kind of contrast or statement would take just the right situation and a lot of finesse to pull off.
mignon_parker10This is my second attempt with the credit card painting idea, on one of those cheap ready-stretched canvases. I didn’t use rust on it, but did try some areas of gilding. They looked rather trashy, so I used some of the acid to knock back the shine. Looking at it now I might even try (one day) taking it off the frame and machine stitching into it, just to see what happens.

I can’t say I’m really drawn to any of the techniques we tried – probably more than anything because the rust (what interested me the most initially) seems to have some limitations and drawbacks for general use on fabrics. Still, it was a very nice group of women, a pleasant way to spend a weekend, and maybe one day one of these ideas will turn out to be just what I need.

Reading: What is art history?

While checking my bookshelves for anything that might be relevant for my new course I was surprised to find a book called What is art history? by Mark Roskill. It’s a 1982 reprint – I was living in London at that time and suspect I bought it then, put it unread on a shelf and it’s been following me around unnoticed ever since. I’m happy to report that after thirty years it has now been read!

The book is intended as a general introduction and each chapter introduces examples illustrating different aspects of the discipline. There is attribution of a painting or other work of art, the “discovery” of an artist by identifying links between a number of works, investigation of how works would have been displayed and understood originally, detection of fraud, and the application of art historical methods to gain better understanding of even recent works.

There was an interesting section on finding the disguised meaning in paintings, with one example being by Diego Velasquez, The Tapestry Weavers (The Fable of Arachne) (ca. 1567). The painting is in the Prado in Madrid – see Click on the ‘enlarge’ icon to get a nice large image – it’s good enough that you can see that in addition to women spinning and winding yarn, there’s one carding the wool. In his book Roskill gives earlier interpretations of the subject as a simple scene in a tapestry workshop. He then presents updated interpretations published in the 1940s which recognise the goddess Athena and the illustration of the classical myth of Arachne. The text on the Prado website gives a similar but slightly different explanation. It seems everything is always open to review and refinement.

I wonder how much the work of Art History has changed or developed in the last few decades. Certainly some of the more newsworthy activities continue (that’s “newsworthy” in the sense of attracting general interest). In the press this week was a story about a painting in the UK that was gifted to the National Trust a few years ago and has now been identified as painted by Rembrandt – see Further tests are planned.


Clark, N. (2013) Rembrandt painting in Devon abbey long thought to be pupil’s work is £20m a self-portrait. The Independent. 18 March 2013. [Accessed 22-Mar-2013].

Roksill, M. (1976) What is Art History? London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. [Accessed 22-Mar-2013]

Anish Kapoor exhibition

anish_kapoor_12Today I visited the Anish Kapoor exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). This photo is just to give some context and local colour for those who don’t know Sydney. The MCA is right by Sydney Harbour. This is the old part, originally the Maritime Services Board building and opened in 1952. There’s a new part to the right, opened in 2012. Shown on the lawn is Sky Mirror (2006).

anish_kapoor_01I found it hard to get involved in the works. In the exhibition catalogue Elizabeth Macgregor, Director of MCA, writes that Kapoor “raises questions about our place in the world with work that can provoke an emotional or even a spiritual response.” For me at first it just brought back memories of visiting the Luna Park mirror maze as a child. I found all the reflections cold, impersonal and rather tricksey – all very clever perhaps, but clever physics and manufacturing.

anish_kapoor_02anish_kapoor_03anish_kapoor_04I tried spending longer with a piece, looking at different angles, up close and at a distance, trying to get under the surface. I became aware of sound as well as light. This dish has a whispering gallery effect, and as people moved around me I could hear snatches of conversations. A school group surrounded me and it got very noisy! Stepping back I started watching the students, their fascination, their experiments with the reflections.

anish_kapoor_09Watching people interact with the work was really interesting. They went into all sorts of postures, made faces, lay on the ground, pointed and laughed at each other. The school groups were the most exuberant, as you’d expect, but people young and old were really getting into it and enjoying themselves. Which rather brings me back to the amusement park – but why should that bother me?

anish_kapoor_06As well as the polished steel there were quite a few pieces that used pigment to create luscious, featureless, hard-to-read surfaces. This is a detail of Oracle (1990-2002), a large sandstone boulder with a precise rectangle cut in and coated with pigment. It is penetrable, unending. The catalogue entry references duality – “… place, nothingness, presence, absence, being and transcendence… an abyss within a solid form…”. Perhaps with some distance of time and reflection consideration I will feel some connection – or some anything – but today it felt like an extremely well-executed magic trick – smoke and mirrors (!), with no true depth or meaning.

anish_kapoor_08Here’s some more of that luscious pigment in Void (1989). Lots of carefully calculated optical illusions.
Another form of optical play used scale. One large gallery was filled by Memory (2008), made of Cor-Ten steel. Approached from a different direction there was a window to the inside, pitch black and a wonderful echo chamber.

anish_kapoor_13My Red Homeland (2003) uses 25 tons of paraffin wax which contains a red pigment. I wanted to be drawn in, to think through metaphors of carving, dividing, reforming, blood, the motorised blade and the finger marks in the piled wax – but I got caught up in mechanics and logistics.

A final photo is below – S-Curve (2006). It’s kind of cool that I can be seen twice taking the photo, one side on my feet, the other on my head. “Kind of cool” – not what I expected or hoped for from this exhibition.

Anish Kapoor is part of the Sydney International Art Series 2012-13.

Macgregor, E. (2012) Introduction. Anish Kapoor. Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

[Note: I want to reference the exhibition catalogue, and thought it would be [anon.] as author as it seems to me unlikely that the artist wrote the text, but from the information on referencing in the OCA student resources I gather the following is correct.]

Kapoor, A. (2012) Anish Kapoor. Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

UA1-WA:P1-p1 The Canon

The clumsy looking title is a new naming convention that may turn out to be just the way to keep track of where I am over various courses, or alternatively an irritating distraction. The full version is
Understanding Art 1: Western Art.
Part one. Classical and religious art.
Project one. Ancient Greece.
Particular topic of this post – the western artistic canon.

This is a provisional post, an initial attempt. Having read the section in the course notes a few times and thought about it a while I attempted to look up ‘canon’ in one of the recommended texts, Art History: The Key Concepts by Jonathan Harris. The entry looks normal – just under two pages giving a high level definition. Unfortunately it turns out not to be in Australian English, or really any English. Ordinary words can’t be trusted. Their use has been refined and/or distorted so that they become unrecognisable – or worse, a pit trap with a surface that looks like solid ground on the top to lull you into a false sense of security, and sharp stakes at the bottom to deal with you when you fall through.

Alright, an indulgent flight of fantasy and classic (if I dare use that word) work avoidance. More objectively, in the entry for CANON CANONICAL the first paragraph of sixteen lines includes 23 words and expressions which need to be looked up in turn. Each of those entries becomes its own labyrinth. Words such as ‘originally’, ‘text’, ‘classic’ and ‘genius’ cannot be trusted. Exciting, an adventure – but daunting and a potential time sink.

Fair enough, in a new field one requires patience and perseverance, plus a willingness to live at least initially with a tentative answer, perhaps a suspension of disbelief. So, subject to later revision, here goes:

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for canon (from the Greek for ‘rule’) has multiple meanings including “A standard of judgement or authority; a test, criterion, means of discrimination”, illustrating its use with a quote from 1601 “…one absolute piece of work, from whence artificers do fetch their draughts…”.

In terms of the history of western art, the ‘canon’ is a group of art works of individual greatness and value to which all subsequent work can be compared and evaluated, and its foundation or springboard lies in ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture. Partially hidden in this definition are the individuals and institutions who over time have had the power to determine what works are canonical. Tradition, education, elitism, power, money and I would guess cronyism have played a part to different degrees.

The canon provides a framework, a context, without which it would be difficult to distinguish one thing from another – nothing stands out. It may give something for later artists to aspire to – to emulate, perhaps join or even surpass, standing on the shoulders of giants. On the other hand the canon could be seen as elitist, self-referential and insular.

A rigid and inflexible canon would discourage innovation and originality. Taking a very long view through history this has not been the case in western art, but perhaps in a single lifetime it would feel like it. This could be discouraging, perhaps lead to self-censorship, or it could stimulate by providing something to react against and protest (probably more a modern idea). Perhaps a truly great artist is able to transcend and redefine the canon (is that a circular definition?).

It will be interesting to learn more about recent evolution or revolution of the western canon. For example the name ‘Fauve’ was a critical, negative, dismissive judgement. I wonder if any works from that movement would now be regarded as canonical. Also perhaps now originality and innovation may be valued more highly than in the past when stability and maintenance of the status quo was vital. Last year as part of my reading during Textiles 1: A Creative Approach I posted about Glenn Adamson’s book Thinking though craft (6-July-2012) and touched on this area. On the one hand Adamson claimed avant garde art was autonomous, on the other it required an “accepted critical account” (page 32). I also quoted John McDonald (2012) writing that when considering contemporary art “one can be a fashion victim rather than an art historian and no one will notice the difference”, and Tom Wolfe (1975): “Without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting … Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” This now appears to me to suggest strongly that the western canon of art has continued to evolve and remains a significant force in contemporary art, although with a pace of change that can lead an over-enthusiastic critic astray.

The role of the mediating individual or institution is a very disturbing aspect of the canon, the power that attends it. Being recognised as working within the canon may provide access to opportunities, recognition and reward not available to others. As a textile-focused person this is particularly important. I have already researched and written a lot about Art and Craft during A Creative Approach – blog entries are included in categories Reading and Research Point. I won’t attempt to re-cover that ground here – there are likely to be other opportunities during the current course.

Adamson, G. (2007) Thinking through craft. Oxford: Berg.
[anon.] (1971) The compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Harris, J. (2006) Art History: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge
McDonald, J. In with the new [Accessed 6 July 2012]
Wolfe, T. (1975) The Painted Word, quoted in Ellsworth-Jones, W. Never mind the theory…–20120629-21792.html [Accessed 6 July 2012]

OCA gathering in Sydney

Today we had the third Sydney gathering of OCA textile students.

In May last year (see 20-May-2012) Claire and I had a very formal Textile Study Visit to the Regeneration exhibition at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum.

In October we returned to Manly to QUARANTA AUSTRALIS (see 7-Oct-2012), this time joined by Jacky who was visiting from England at the time.

oca_sydney_01Today the group grew to four – from left to right are Kath, Eva, Claire and me. Kath and Eva are just beginning their OCA experience while Claire has completed A Creative Approach and continued on to Exploring Ideas.

We didn’t have a specific exhibition to visit or activity planned. Instead we spent some time over tea and coffee getting to know each other and sharing stories about textiles, architecture, travel, OCA, the postal service… We each have different backgrounds and it was great to share such a pleasant and relaxed time together.

oca_sydney_02Kath had to leave to catch a flight to Melbourne, but Claire, Eva and I were able to head across the road to the Art Gallery of NSW. Claire has been working on a theme of Totems, and here is photographing a group of works in the Entrance court (for more information on the individual works see [Accessed 16-Mar-2013], which covers all the works currently on display in the court). [An aside: in the past Gallery policy has had restrictions on which works can be photographed. The policy has very recently been revised and most restrictions lifted.]

Distance learning can be a lonely thing at times, so it is great to have a growing local contingent. More gatherings, with both social and formal Study Visit components, are definitely on the To Do list.

My first annotation

Before getting into the course proper we are asked to attempt one of the basic techniques – to annotate an image. I’ve found it an interesting challenge on a few fronts.

Step one was to choose an image. A selection of works by J.M.W. Turner are on tour from the Tate, but won’t be visiting Sydney.  In April mum and I are going for a long weekend to Adelaide (around 1,200 km each way) to see the exhibition TURNER FROM THE TATE: THE MAKING OF A MASTER. More information about the exhibition can be found at One of the paintings included in the show is The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons. I decided it would be interesting to look at that in my annotation, knowing I would see the original just a few weeks later.

turner_comparisonThe next challenging was finding an image to print and work from. Now the easy way would have been to use the high quality image that’s on the art gallery site at, but for some reason I can’t now explain I chose to do a search. On the right are two slivers of photos I found on the internet. The lefthand version came from, the righthand version from The colour and clarity of the two images are quite different. The version from wikipaintings seemed more colourful, crisp and clear so I printed that out.

I was careful to use just a sliver of the images, figuring that using less than 10% of each in the context of a student discussion would not infringe copyright. I’m experimenting with a different way to show the final annotation here on a public blog. Posting the full image direct from one of the sources would be clearly unacceptable. I think even a photo of the annotation which itself includes a full printout of the painting’s photo with my notes and scribbles on it might still be a grey area of copyright. So below is a photo of the annotation with a quick, nasty and inaccurate sketch by me covering the image printout which is actually taped onto the page. I’m hoping this will make my discussion of the annotation clearer while steering clear of any copyright issues. (Edited to add: a copy of the image is available in a password restricted area here).


I chose to work on an A3 page. A4 seemed a bit limiting. At the top is basic information about the artwork – an oil painting on canvas that was first exhibited in 1810.

Around the image are notes based on what I could see. I’ve also used a tracing paper overlay to identify lines and shapes – they don’t line up well with my later sketch reproduction. In the lower area, below the line, are some notes and information from a couple of sources I looked at after recording my own observations.

Much as I love typing in this blog it doesn’t seem a sensible use of time to type up my notes here. Briefly – a great sense of space and depth; very dynamic with the use of angular diagonal lines; I’m uncertain about colour (see comments above) but there’s a wide tonal range; it feels like there are lines of force converging to crush the hut – and in the the large image available at there appears to be some very energetic brushwork showing the exact moment, the precise point of impact where the hut explodes under the blow of the falling rock.

In the lower section I’ve noted that this is an example of Romantic era sublime landscape – not a dreamy pastoral, but instead triggering feelings of awe and terror. One article I read, discussing a different Turner painting, included “… the play of darkness and lightness is clearly symbolic of the transition from life to death…” (1) and I wonder if that is the intention here too. Could there be a spiritual dimension to the narrative? On the Tate website the catalogue entry for this painting includes some lines that were exhibited with the painting, including “towering glaciers fall … And the toil, the hope of man – o’erwhelms” (2) and there is certainly the feeling of tiny man and his brief life, puny and defenseless against the vast might of nature.

(1) McDonald, J. (2013) Out of the Darkness. The Sydney Morning Herald: Spectrum 2-3 Feb. pp 6-7.
(2) [Accessed 14 Mar 2013].

Understanding Art 1: Western Art

Having completed and posted off the final assignment for Textiles 1: A Creative Approach I have now enrolled in Understanding Art 1: Western Art.

This may seem a slightly strange choice, given there is another Level 1 textiles course beckoning. I don’t really know what “Art History” as an academic discipline entails. There are several reasons for doing this next, and I find it hard-to-impossible to say which is/are most important to me.

  • I enjoy going to art exhibitions and galleries and I think that pleasure will increase with increased knowledge and understanding.
  • I want to improve my own design skills, and looking carefully and mindfully at the works of Masters must surely help. At least, I hope, I will be able to recognise some of my errors and weaknesses sooner and more clearly – which must be a basic step in learning and growing.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time researching and thinking about Art and Craft. The modern debate tends to be focused on avant garde art, but that doesn’t come from nowhere and I think understanding art history should help me to understand contemporary art, and both should help me understand more what it is I want to do.
  • I miss my weaving. I’ve been very busy with all sorts of textile work in A Creative Approach. It’s challenged and extended my skills and been satisfying in many ways – but I miss doing what I love doing, and doing what I choose to please myself. I’m sure Western Art will just as demanding of time and energy, but being much more academic and text-based I think it could leave some space in my mind and hands for weaving. The weaving doesn’t have to be something complex, just the mind-freeing rhythm and the pleasure of watching the cloth form pick by pick. Hence the red warp in plain weave. Nourishment.

I’d already gathered my reasons and made my choice when I read an article in Look, the magazine of the Art Gallery Society ( [an aside – I’m having trouble figuring out how to manage referencing in the blog. Full academic formality doesn’t really fit with a chatty blog / learning log. I’ll check with my new tutor, but in the meantime I’ll use simple footnotes and leave the formal “In (Smith, 2013)” or whatever to the formal assignments.] Susannah Smith (1), who is studying for a master of art history, describes her introduction to art history as a first year student and her on-going interest and excitement. She writes of the multiple meanings, historical insights and the thrill of hunting for information and deciphering puzzles. “It is the study of cultures and histories through artefacts of beauty, decoration, and narrative; it is an unravelling of historical and cultural meanings through visual signs”. So another excellent reason!

The textbook is daunting – a solid 3.5 kg, 984 page tome (2) – and the reading list even more daunting. Living in beautiful Sydney provides another challenge given there’s not much in the way of Roman remains or Gothic churches here. I’ve been spending some time locating resources – for example the Nicholson Museum at Sydney University is “home to the largest collection of antiquities in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere” (3), and it turns out that 20 years after graduating from Macquarie University I still have library borrowing rights. Time to get moving!

(1) Smith, S. (2013) Seeing the wood for the trees: Let me lead you up the garden path… Look: Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 0313, pp. 29-30
(2) Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.
(3) [Accessed 9 March 2013].

Red warp

20130308_redwarp01There has been warping, and even some weaving!

With my final assignment for A Creative Approach with my tutor and my course materials for my next module Understanding Art 1: Western Art on their way, there was a little window of time. I was poised to pounce – I bought an armful of various red yarns a while back in an end of year sale. At the time I was in the middle of design work for my final assignment and knew I would want a change of pace with no deep thought, no consideration of complex structure. Instead I wanted to work intuitively, glorying in colour.

20130308_redwarp02Rummaging through my existing stash added more yarns to the pile. This photo was taken partway through the selection process. The colour isn’t accurate – I always have trouble photographing red – but hopefully you get the general idea. The selection was based on some mohair and wool yarns in the “Ladybug” colourway from Creative Yarns in New Zealand ( There’s a whole mix of fibre types, mostly cotton, wool and mohair with touches of silk and cashmere, in a range of textures and weights. In the front of this photo you may just be able to see the provisional use of the planned fabric – a pattern from the Saori pattern book Shitate no hon (scroll down towards the bottom of the page at plus a little model in tissue paper to make sure I understood the design (the book is all in Japanese, with diagrams).

20130308_redwarp03Continuing the spontaneous slash intuitive approach, I wound the warp with the yarns all in a mix, then dealt with questions of yarn size as I sleyed the reed at the table. My improvised cross-holder is at the front left – two clamps upside down on the table edge. To allow all this freedom I warped the loom front to back – a first. It was not without challenges. I don’t think I’ve used mohair in a warp before and hadn’t taken into account the loose fibres causing tangling between yarns. This combined with a rather delicate wool in my mix and resulted in 10 broken threads by the time the warp was on the loom (ouch! another first).

20130308_redwarp04All that is now sorted, together with a couple of threading errors, and weaving begun. I’m starting with a fine mohair and it’s looking pretty open. I’ll sample a couple of different wefts, then cut off a short length and see if it holds together. Despite the learning curve it’s been fun – hands full of lovely yarns, happy and absorbed in my comfort zone of weaving. And that’s just what this warp is intended to be – a place of colour and fibre, touch, rhythm and comfort, just in case I need the occasional refuge while I venture into the academic world of Art History. I think it should make a good combination.


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March 2013

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