Archive for December, 2016

31 December 2016

There has been procrastination and sloth. It’s too hot, too humid, too much seasonal food and drink. Now there’s not enough time – tomorrow I’m off for my first week of summer school. So this post is a brief overview, a couple of bits already written, and a line drawn underneath ready for the new year.

Exhibition: Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect with Everything
This exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art is part of the Sydney International Art Series. A wonderful experience. A very solid philosophical base, incredible variety in working within chosen area.

Tatsuo Miyajima began as a performance artist, but felt it wasn’t generous to viewers – it existed only in the moment. He turned to objects. I’m distorting to keep brief, but he presents/explores the cycle/spiral/sine wave of counting down 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 (light, life), then not zero but void, (dark, death, but full of energy) and the countdown repeats.

Another concept is “Art in You” artwork exists so people, the audience, can discover the arts in themselves.

Works reflect on the importance of life, the slaughter of the 20th century (MegaDeath), the irreversible direction of time or life (Arrow of time).

It was serene, hypnotic, deeply thought and felt.

Unfortunately my photos are rubbish, particularly those of works involving led lights (the majority, the most mesmerising). I’ll include a couple and hope you follow the link to the MCA website instead.

I’ve mentioned Elwyn Lynn a few times, including some of his collage works (2-Oct-2016) and a response work of mine (16-Oct-2016). I’ve since been reading Peter Pinson’s book Elwyn Lynn: metaphor + texture, and learnt some more not only about the artist but also about the history of some Sydney art institutions, society and politics.

After a long period painting with heavy textural and material effects, Lynn turned to collaged elements when he became interested in (relative) flatness, the way meaning could be established simply through contiguity. There was often a central motif set against rhythmic horizontal bands. Pinson suggests that “perhaps the central challenge of his collages [was] getting right the balance between the opposing imperatives of order and (the appearance of) urgency.” A critic as well as an artist, Lyn was conscious of theoretical possibilities such as collage’s disruption of the picture plane and the often surreal intent in juxtaposition of images. As an artist it allowed him to play with references and themes, veiled, obliquely, amusingly…

Lynn collected and used ephemera from his own travels and life and gifted by others. These could be interpreted as private diarist collections, but Lynn saw them as his environment, shared and known by others, just as the landscapes explored by other artists can be. Pinson writes “his environment was books, travel, exhibitions, museum visits, and images and impressions from print and screen.” That excites me, an Australian who feels alien at the beach (thoroughly screened and anointed to fend off the sun) and released and at home in dim caverns of polished concrete and careful lit art.

Later in life Lynn continued to use collage. Pinson suggests he was interested in formal contraditions, combining careful geometric shapes with roughly torn forms. To my eyes there is still a rigidity in the compositions, with limited and deliberate breakage of a structural grid.

First of a number of pages, based on Lynn's compositions

First of a number of pages, based on Lynn’s compositions

In my collage project the brief combined ideas of the body (from Sally Smart) and the formal enquiries of John Nixon (see 27-Nov-2016). Mining the images of Lynn’s work suggested some new frameworks of composition. With this I wanted to combine a revitalized view of “the body”, inspired by my reading of Susan Best and her insights on Eva Hesse.

Having got this far in my thinking, I woke early one morning and decided to play. I looked at what I’d written and sketched, then ignored it. Over the days since I’ve worked quickly, with whatever popped into my head and hands. There’s a few thinking of Lynn, a return to some of the formal investigation with different papers… From the initial brief (27-Nov-2016) the only points completely met were the daily average and the manner of work – quick and intuitive. I’m happy with that – especially given previous dislike of collage.

Altered book
Also stretching collage skills was a day spent with Claire (TactualTextiles), starting an altered book. There was cutting out and gluing of pages, watercolours, collage, monoprinting, talking… Much more to be done.

On to chapter 2 of Daniela Brambilla Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements – Seeing Contours. It began with some experiments with different media, then a session drawing my son (slouched on the couch watching TV in the heat, more movement of arms and legs than I’d like).

Trying out different lines and marks with different drawing materials, I didn’t get through all I’ve collected, but feel enough to be getting on with and my brain filled. The most surprising/interesting was wax pastel lines with charcoal rubbed over. It caught the charcoal, the line darkens and seems sharper, with still a hint of the colour underneath. In fact that whole page – rubbed over with charcoal to give a base mid grey, lights added using eraser, white charcoal, white chalk pencil, darks with different charcoals and that altered crayon – is exciting.

I’d like to do much more life contour drawing, but finding it tricky when wanting longer poses – ie, not just people moving about their daily life. A few opportunities coming up.

Three books being read in tandem. The idea is that they all throw light on each other. More another post.

No reflection in this post. No time. Also conscious that my 5 month plan is in its final weeks – so there’ll be more detailed review after that.

18 December 2016

The week began still looking for suitable subject material.
Working on A5 copy paper, first with wax pastel then charcoal, yoga and pilates videos, a mix of 10 – 30 seconds each. The yoga was slow and repetitive, the pilates a bit quick. I had a lot of trouble fitting the figure on the page. The length of upper legs in particular keeps surprising me.
Only a small selection of many, many attempts shown here.

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Next working in a sketching app on my tablet, on a bus trip. Very fast – 10 seconds was common, occasionally more, and various false starts shorter when a person moved or was blocked from view. Again a selection – this turned into a fun game, working very quickly to avoid staring at people, some at the end out of the window (earlier was on the freeway).

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On another trip I played with some of the different pens available in the app. Still having trouble working at a size to fit in the whole figure. I discovered the app lets you move the drawing to create more space, but of course that messes with time. Some of these app sketches were done with my finger, others using a little stylus. I can’t tell the difference.

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I’ve now moved on to Chapter 2 – Seeing contours. It’s blind drawing – very slowly. Only one so far, in HB pencil on A4 copy paper. 30 minutes, my son watching TV.
Lots of repeats – for example his nose. Again trouble fitting on the page – there’s no looking forward, just concentrating at the point where the eye is travelling. It’s light and delicate, satisfying in its way.

Susan Best visualizing feeling: affect and the feminine avant-garde.
Still in the first chapter. I’m nervous of “psycho-babble” (for example earlier this year, Briony Fer On abstract art), but have noted my own attraction to work by women, and my intention of materials and process driven explorations, yet with potential connections to the body and bound to be an expression of my self.

Right from the introduction I’ve been enjoying this book. Best selects as a source “the most useful for my purposes” – and I intend to extract what is useful for my purposes. The emotive work that interests her is “feeling at once spontaneous and obscure” – not the cliched or sentimental, not facile shock. This resonates with me.

Best is interested in the “peculiar entanglement of beholder and work of art” – after all, many of the works she examines could be regarded as minimalist, the artist denying their own expression.

Lots more in my notebook. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to pull together some threads of particular relevance to me.

Thinking about this reading, this week’s collage work returned more strongly to the formal explorations of John Nixon (27-Nov-2016), adding in the body almost as texture – the anonymity of crowd scenes. The original photos were from a web search, but all in Sydney and places where I might have been (but wasn’t).

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These were all done in one session. This project is achieving objectives, in the sense of working fluently, intuitively. I actually got into that timeless zone, moving from one collage to the next, a range of compositions based on my source material then an additional one quite different, using scraps on the work table.

Not using a critical eye at the moment. That can wait for the end of the series.

Morning journal writing is continuing. If any themes or conclusions (! unlikely) appear I might summarise on this blog, but it’s too new and developing as yet.

Barbara Cleveland: Bodies in time
This project at AGNSW highlighted for me how narrow my understanding and knowledge of art is. I don’t have language or a structure for performance, don’t understand what reanimating a score could mean. My original purpose was to use the video as a source of drawing material, but I haven’t got the speed (yet?).

11 December 2016

A quiet week, with energy drained by an extra work day, oppressive weather, insert rationalisation here… Needs must, so I’ve been nurturing myself with some rest and recuperation time.

AGNSW – Drawing Rodin’s ‘The kiss’
This workshop felt very special – early entrance to the Nude exhibition, and over an hour’s concentrated drawing, sitting on our stools around The kiss.

Enjoyable in its way – but frustrating. The drawings all have their faults – for example the first much too upright, the last with a gumby-like bendy wrist/forearm. But that’s missing the point – or at least my point.

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In my Foundation plan (15-Sep-2016) the idea of life drawing was to develop skills in seeing form for sculpture. Instead I keep trying to make a picture of what I’m looking at. The result is boring, static, flat – but worse, no sense of energy or volume in space. My default drawing isn’t the sort of drawing I want to do.

Drawing exercise – Daniela Brambilla Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements.
Mentioned last week (4-Dec-2016), I think working hard following this book could be my answer – very directly in some parts (chapter 6 “Modelling” has exercises using plasticine as well as on paper). I’m still on chapter 1 (Gesture), which emphasises physical structure and actions in space, quick fluid lines, motion and energy. Plus lots of observation and lots and lots of practice.

A brief session in the food court one lunchtime was disappointing – need to consider opportunities when selecting a table. Croquis Cafe is too static – they are poses, not gestures. Contemporary dance seemed a good potential source – but all attempts “live” were dismal, the movement much too fast and varied. I started pausing the video, with a timer. First using HB pencil, 30 second limit per sketch, then black wax pastel and 45 seconds per sketch. Some better results, but not in the spirit of the instructions. A selection of results are shown below – there were many more.

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Done on just two days (but still averaging 1 per day!), my working is becoming more fluent, my decisions faster, more instinctive. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with collage.

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9. Image from a card advertising the latest NGA exhibition, a painting by Carl Van Loo. Madame de Pompadour, the beautiful gardener, never lost her head,
10. but it seemed amusing to put it in her basket of choice items.
11. A short series combining dance and other flight.
12. The framework used by this Pierott suggested the structure of (circus?) stripes.
13. Reflections falling out of the frame.
14. Skywards with a mass flock.
15. A final combination of scraps on the workbench. It doesn’t work, but it feels like something is close.

Reading and reflecting
This week I’ve been reading Daybook: The journal of an artist by Anne Truitt. Quoting the back cover, “Renowned American artist Anne Truitt kept this illuminating and inspiring journal over a period of seven years, determined to come to terms with the forces that shaped her art and life”. After an overwhelmingly busy period Truitt started to feel less visible to herself, and decided to write in a journal each morning for a year.

I’m finding the journal inspiring, illuminating, some unexpected parallels in my own life and many differences. I’d like to become more visible to myself – my motivations and aspirations as an artist, what I can bring to my art. I’ve begun writing – actual writing, pen on paper. In the interests of keeping open to myself, this one part of my practice I’m keeping closed to the blog.

4 December 2016

Art from Milingimbi : taking memories back

This exhibition at AGNSW (link) resurfaced some of my recent concerns about museums, their collections and the politics and power imbalance of groups (20-Nov-2016).

Tom Djawa Djarrka (water goanna)

Tom Djawa
Djarrka (water goanna)

The descriptions of individual works mix personal and clan group significance with formal critical concepts. For example of Djarrka (water goanna)
by Tom Djawa we are informed:
In ‘Djarrka (water goanna)’ c1959 Djäwa provides an image of the black and yellow Mertens’ water monitor that relates to his mother’s clan group. The animated forms of the goannas are exquisitely realised, with intricate detailing of fine dots, dashes, line work and cross-hatching. Set against a plain ground, their dynamic forms give a sense of dimensionality, their seemingly suspended bodies anchored by the assured yellow line that dissects the composition, dividing the male goannas from the female.

There are placards with images and biographical information on each of the identified artists. According to the signage at the entrance many of the works were collected 1949 to 1959 by the mission superintendent. The sign concludes “Working with the Milingimbi community to realise this exhibition and the accompanying publication, has also allowed the artists’ descendants to reclaim their cultural inheritance and play an active role in the interpretation and presentation of the artworks … to take their memories back”. Presumably that’s reflected in those descriptions mentioned earlier. I didn’t detect other active participation in the exhibition space.

Am I too cynical, too negative, too guilty? During the week I finished reading the simplest words: a storyletter’s journey by Alex Miller. In the life experiences of this Australian immigrant from the UK, the friendships he has formed, the stories he tells, there is hope – that the story isn’t finished. It’s probably still true the best I can do is keep out of peoples’ way, but maybe I should add some trust and hope.

Nude: art from the Tate collection
I did a quick reconnoiter of this exhibition the day it opened, and two more visits this week. Still lots to see – there are around 100 items (the magic number at the moment, including from the British Museum (20-Nov-2016) and in Sculpture by the sea (6-Nov-2016). I suppose it’s needed for “blockbuster” status.)

sketch20161202_01Nude: Fitzroy Street no. 1 (1916) by Matthew Smith has captured me every visit. I’ve been excited by his work before – in AGNSW’s collection (31-Jan-2014) and at Carrick Hill (16-Oct-2016). Wonderful red in all of them – making photographs particularly disappointing.

In this painting the strong complementary colours could riot, but the spine of the nude anchors the composition. The body stretches, expands to more than fill the canvas from the elbow extending beyond the frame to the tip-toe feet. Complex angles in bands of colour create a space to hold the volume of the nude. The relatively subdued yellow of the chair stabilizes, provides rest. On the same wall in the gallery space are Pablo Picasso’s Nude woman in a red armchair (Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge) (1932) (link) and Matisse’s Draped nude (Femme nue drapée) (1936) (link) – both fascinating, but don’t demand my attention in the same way.

Actually I think it would be easy to spend a few days sitting looking at that wall. The way the body has been placed within each picture, relating to the space…

When working on my related collage (below) it occurred to me the lost elbow avoided a disruptive pointed angle – a distracting flaw and loss of flow in my quick sketches.

Repetition Collage
Quickly apparent that it was a good idea to include the word average in the brief for this investigation (see 27-Nov-2016). I’m keeping quick and intuitive, waiting for more experience and a body of examples before looking critically at results.

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2. Matthew. Printed out section of life drawing. Paper strip stencil, roughly painted corners in black (attempted monoprint, but forgot how quickly this paint dries.
3. Fingerprint. Stenciled repeated thumb prints (very directly identity and body) through a circular stencil. Played with the idea of a medal on a ribbon, ended playing with different sides and orientations of patterned paper.
4. Nancy’s burden. The shape keeps reminding me of a cross. Fabric from an old dress – the owner has been in high level care for almost 6 years now. The background was scrap from an earlier day – another quick decision.
5. Kiss. An image of Rodin’s The Kiss from AGNSW publicity material. Distorted hessian overlaid to reveal and conceal.
6. Presence or absence? Slices of John Currin’s Honeymoon nude, again from publicity for Nude:art from the Tate collection.
Practice version

Practice version

7. From Matthew Smith. Based on my examination of Nude: Fitzroy Street no. 1 in the exhibition. Sadly this version is weaker than my first impression or the practice version.
7. Ascending. A variation on the shapes and imagery I’ve been playing with so far.

I started the week still working with croquis cafe, but began to lose confidence in basic shapes and proportions (have mislaid a handout from Matthew). This is why I’ve started and stopped before – repeating the same thing didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Quite suddenly remembered a recently purchased book on human figure drawing (how did that slip my mind?) – Daniela Brambilla Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements.. Could I work with that?

On Tuesday night I tried to find some energy, looking at the model posing on the screen, trying to surround the shape. There was no energy – not in me, after the work day, but also not in the static pose of the model.

Wednesday morning bus I was reading John Berger’s Bento’s sketchbook, a bit about drawing María Muñoz, a description of the dancer’s preparatory position, the Bridge, …”between those two fixed points the whole body is expectant, waiting, suspended.”

Parts from both Berger and Brambilla seemed to click, I was seeing people moving around me differently. In the food court at lunch, the next day in the local plaza, I tried to see fleeting moments, bodies in space.

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They don’t look like much, nothing different – but my energy and attitude were.

Then another shift of gear – a last minute opportunity for a day’s Life Drawing Workshop with Sue Vesely at Sydney Community College. It’s now late Sunday and no time for a detailed story, but a few quick notes I want to remember:

The importance of grounding with feet; the vaguer you are the move the viewer will read something into it; pair lines that echo|answer each other; editing lighting – choose what you want to use, simplify; measure, check, accuracy – or poetic, the grace of the figure, the emotional response; find the line of the spine, then shoulders and hips, then stick figure, and build on framework.

Sue gave demonstrations and her own notes on that last part, also tips on drawing the head (see the eggs she’d made for the class in the slideshow), handling light, drawing eyes and hands… We had a male model in the morning and a female in the afternoon. I used charcoal and a full A2 sheet each attempt. An intense and satisfying day. Unfortunately I didn’t have any fixative, and wouldn’t have wanted to use it in the confines of the class, so everything is already a bit extra blurred and messy.

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Reading: Joke Robaard How do you repair a weaving flaw
This reading is from, one of the links given by Jessica Hemmings (27-Nov-2016). I’m not going to discuss the ideas presented in the article. Instead this is a list of questions and ideas that occurred to me while reading. The quotes included are taken out of context and re-interpreted according to my personal interests.

“The gap is the very essence of weaving.” I’ve been focused on the orthogonal warp and weft, but this could lead to presence and absence, literal or metaphorical gaps.
Purposefully leaving holes, the choice of whether to make connections. A hole is not equal to a flaw. (hole or whole?)
“fastening off the edges in a good manner” How could one explore “a good manner”?
“Weaving” – an object; an (ongoing?) activity
“the idea of manipulability” ???
“the level of pure chaos” – is it suggesting that is at a macro level? In weaving the detail is controlled, placed. Also at the level of the spun thread, fibres aligned. We can (can we?) choose to give space to chaos.
Each participant speaking with expertise and subjectivity.

Too late. Too incoherent. Darn.
Try again next week 🙂


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December 2016

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