Archive for January, 2017

29 January 2017

A strong theme was apparent in this busy week.

Nude Live

David Mack, Marlo Benjamin and Rodin’s The Kiss. Photo: Pedro Greig

David Mack, Marlo Benjamin and Rodin’s The Kiss. Photo: Pedro Greig

This performance was a co-presentation by Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Dance Company and Sydney Festival. Magical, moving – no word seems to describe the experience. Not so much the nudity, but being so close, sharing the space with the dancers.

The seven dancers moved around the exhibition space, performing in different combinations. The work is non-linear – you can’t possibly see it all as performances continue in different galleries. This made the experience more intimate and personal, choosing to stand or sit on the floor, to stay and watch or to move on to a different area.

Nearly nude drawing

Nearly Nude drawing at AGNSW

Nearly Nude drawing at AGNSW

I went to this drop-in activity at AGNSW with Ginette Wang. We bagged a couple of easels, collected the provided paper and pencils, and set to work. The group of artists grew – some skillful, others of us less so – entertaining the onlookers. A number of educators were moving around, and one encouraged me to find the dynamic line. Certainly something I’d like, but so far I can’t manage the editing needed.

nearly_nude01She was quite positive about my scribbling approach – fortunate, since I seemed to be stuck in that mode. I find life drawing absorbing, frustrating, and overall fun, and the party atmosphere was a buzz.

We left early to go to the next activity:

This was a talk and tour through the exhibition, as Jackie discussed the changing approaches and attitudes to nudity in art. We started with the historical and allegorical approach, the image of the ideal woman – an early photoshop, as Jackie put it. Then came a shift to the intimate, private – a genuine relationship. The model became recognisable, known, meeting our gaze. The body was seen with objectivity. Jackie Dunn made some interesting comments about de Kooning’s work. In the past I’ve only seen violence to women, but Jackie pointed out that violent paint is not equivalent to violence to women. Maybe they are strong to be out there. “Agency” was a key idea – the particular individual and her choices, her control. Cecily Brown’s work Trouble in Paradise, where instead of the nude composite female as the object of men’s desire, a woman’s own desire and sexuality is explored in paint.

Life drawing sketch club
The theme continued into Saturday morning, with my first experience of the local Life drawing sketch club. No tuition or materials provided, just an opportunity to work with a life model – on this occasion a young woman.

I prepared by revisiting chapter two of Daniela Brambilla’s Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements – Seeing Contours, and decided to focus on blind contour drawing.

The first few drawings, fast warm-up poses, were one or two awkward lines.

Moving to longer poses – 2 to 5 minutes – more started to appear on the page, with odd distortions particularly of feet and forearms for some reason. Although not “correct” I really like the quality of some of the lines. I was holding the charcoal, and later crayon, near the tip to give move control and a clear line, as recommended by Brambilla.

The poses got longer again, up to 20 minutes. I also started mixing in a few extra peeks at the page, so not-quite-blind contour drawing.

Again I like some of the lines, I’m beginning to get a feel for the body. This coming week I begin a class in Life Drawing, so I’ll be able to use later sessions of the Sketching Club as practice time.

There was more in the week than nudity.

Louise Hamby: Outcomes from makarrata: bringing the past into the future
Claire and I went to this fascinating exhibition talk. I wrote about the exhibition last year (4-Dec-2016), wondering about my standard mix of cynical and guilty attitude. Louise Hamby explained the meaning of makarrata in history and as used in 2016 when Yolngu men and women performed the dispute resolution ceremony with curators from Australian and international institutions.

The idea of a coming together using traditional forms of law is so positive. There’s a little more about it here. A statement of outcomes has been in preparation since, and apparently is close to distribution for signing by the various participants. During the talk it became apparent that for some years AGNSW and other institutions have worked closely with indigenous communities, visiting them or arranging visits to collections, building ties and understanding. An on-going story.

Silent World foundation
I was lucky enough to visit the private museum of Silent World. This remarkable collection has been created by two obsessive individuals, focused on maritime archaeology in Australia. Many treasures and curios, a wonderful resource that is shared generously with scholars. The Foundation also sponsors fieldwork, diving expeditions, and other projects in their area of interest. Inspiring.

Welded and random weave sculpture
Progress continues on the random weave over the welded frame from Paul Hopmeier’s workshop (22-Jan-2017). Still a long way to go, but I’m liking the way the three scales of line work together, plus some energy and different degrees of density of line.


Altogether a busy week, and even more so when you add in work, exercise (need to build strength and general fitness if I’m going to continue welding), family, home … The big thing missing is reflection. So I’m still working through the review of the past 5 months, and that gap is a big ticket item for the future.

Workshop: Welding Sculptures with Paul Hopmeier

This week of summer school at National Art School was exciting, exhausting, terrifying, absorbing, expanding, satisfying… It gave me everything I was hoping for and more.

Paul Hopmeier has been exhibiting sculpture for over 30 years and brought a wealth of technical expertise and problem solving ideas. Sometimes with the group but more often individually Paul would share a way of looking at and thinking about sculpture, helping me to see and think about what I was doing. A small comment about not wanting to lack ambition, or a brief discussion on treatment of ends, and I would suddenly see all sorts of new options and possibilities.

Simon Hodgson, the sculpture studio technician, was on hand all week with advice and help, challenging and suggesting, a tutor in all but name in his own right. Paul and Simon together make a great team – great knowledge, lots of respect for each other, but different perspectives and emphases which again made clear the vast choices we have.

nas_workshopThe first day was basically induction and initial practice in safe use of all the equipment available to us. The photo shows one end of the large studio (air-conditioned, thank goodness). At the end are five welding bays, complete with plastic (?) curtains to contain damaging light. We did stick and mig welding. Along the right wall can be seen the large metal cutting bandsaw, on the left wall the sheet metal folder. Left centre is the roller for bending curves. Behind the centre work bench is a belt grinder and a drill press. Out of view is the sheet metal guillotine. The other half of the space is generally for woodwork – we used it as work and discussion area, and for setting out additional tools – different kinds of vise, hand tools, all the safety equipment for eyes, ears, hands etc. Outside was a series of work benches, covered but open, for noisier work – angle grinders (for cutting and grinding), anvils and hammers… There was a lot of equipment to learn about.

It wasn’t until the second morning that we were introduced to oxy-acetylene for cutting and bending. This was the one piece of equipment we could only use under direct tutor supervision, and it properly scared me. In the images above I am adjusting the flame and then cutting some metal. Terrifying.

Then we were let loose. Everyone had brought some bits and pieces of steel scrap and maybe some found objects. We each had oddments from the training process – some cut and bent sheet, a curve of flat bar etc. Outside were some piles and bins of dumped material for us to pick over – off-cuts, abandoned student work, some donations from Paul. We could each decide what we wanted to do, to use, ask for or be offered help and advice, then just do it.

I started with more welding practice. Stick welding you need to control speed, angle, feed (of the stick) and placement/direction. I could manage maybe two of those at once. MIG was a bit easier – no changing distance to work to manage feed, but the sensitive trigger kept auto-feeding wire when not wanted.

My first piece evolved from a series of experiments and then a sort of iterative response to what was happening. No progress photos, but the sequence was something like: Trying out the sheet metal guillotine to cut some strips of thin sheet; combining using plain weave; tacking together using the mig welder (difficult not to melt the thin sheet). Where to go next??? Trying out a different join method by riveting the woven piece to the sample curved metal bar. The result stood up on the table in a curve. Where to go next??? Maybe another piece of welded weave to curve around the back. More cutting, weaving, welding, bending. Put the two pieces together. Boring. Dead space. Dull. Don’t want to do that. Where to go next??? The first bit looks a bit like a mask or helmet. The second piece could be a belly or flank. Nope, sizes are wrong. Swap them. Head and torso? How to join them??? Rummage around the metal bins, found some scrap of heavy mesh. Could weld it on. Where to join? Some discussion, try-outs holding with vises. What angle? Some hammering to match curves. Welding. Pieces are joined. Where to go next??? Could it be free-standing? Audition some possibilities. Not convinced. A wall piece? Oh, that looks promising. Need a hanging mechanism. Bend tabs on that major curve? Complex angles. Cut off excess length of curve and weld on back tabs at good angle? Why not weld right across? So some cutting, grinding, drilling of holes, welding. How to finish/protect the metal??? That final question remains undetermined, but that aside at the end of Wednesday I called it done.

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

One of my happiest moments in a very happy week was when Paul called this “resolved”. I am thrilled by the process and thrilled with the result.

It’s around 73 cm high, 31 cm wide and sits 19 cm off the wall. I find the textures, the balance of weight and space, the amount of irregularity of form, satisfying. It reads best seen from the front, but has some interest from all angles. I chose not to tidy or hide any part of the process. Messy learner welds remain messy. A couple of sharp external points had a little grinding, but otherwise the result seen is what happened. I think for this piece it works.

basketry_randomweave_2dIt was hard to get moving on a second piece. Finally I decided to develop some ideas based on my random weave vine and wire piece from the class with Brooke Munro (15-Jan-2017). Instead of the vine I could weld a rough basket form of bent rod. I had some interesting bits of wire, knotted and cut ties from the scrap metal yard. The tie wire used in the vine work could be used again in random weave, giving a third weight of line.

A cycle of work repeated all of Thursday. Put on outside work gear (leather gloves, eye protection, ear plugs and muffs). Take a piece of scavenged rod, around 1 cm diameter. Bend in interesting curves that will match work in progress (wip) – no machinery, just rod firmly in vise, long hollow square cut rod placed over end to provide long lever, strength I didn’t know I had in me. Take bent rod and wip inside, change into welding gear (leather gauntlets, welding mask). Long frustrating process using magnets, vise-grips, bricks etc to hold rod and wip in place. Tack weld (or bump and have to re-set). One tiny weld and suddenly everything could be moved around, turned upside down, and the weld completed. Repeat. Repeat again. And again.

On Friday morning I made a start on the random weave. I also found materials and time to make a sort of tuning-fork shaped device that can be held in a vise and assists bending (demonstrated to us on Monday, but unfortunately forgotten by me on Thursday – but at least now I have one). It’s still a work in progress, but I can continue without needing any specialist equipment.

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

I’m planning different densities, layering… plans that will change as work progresses.

Lamp by Mat

Lamp by Mat

Mosquito by Steve

Mosquito by Steve

It was interesting to see the range of work done by the different students (just nine of us – the tenth didn’t return after day 1, uncomfortable with the equipment). Mat made a very clever table lamp, the flex hidden in round tube, a lump of solid metal providing a solid base. Steve made a number of quirky pieces, including this mosquito with wings and jaws formed by a pair of pliers and proboscis a saw blade.

This was a great class and I’ve learnt lots. It was good to be able to incorporate weaving, basketry and thread skills and sensibilities right from the start. I’ve since spent some time thinking about minimal home studio setup, or maybe joining a maker-space. Certainly I see all the techniques and materials feeding into future work.

This was the last activity included in the five month plan developed in September (15-Sep-2016). Next I need to review what I’ve been doing and update the plan.

Exciting days ahead.

15 January 2017

2017 got off to a great start with the week long Sturt Summer School, learning basketry with Brooke Munro ( Each day a new technique was demonstrated, then we selected from the piles of mainly natural materials Brooke brought in and began to sample.

basketry_wrapped_coilMonday: Hidden/wrapped coiling.
Raffia was used for both core and wrapping. The sample includes long & short stitch, figure of eight and V stitches. A fringe, also of raffia, was applied while stitching the last round.

Tuesday: Cord-making, knotless netting.
I first learnt cord-making with Lissa de Sailles (19-Mar-2016). Somewhat new to me here was the use of natural plant materials, including reeds and cordyline (I’d done a little in a half day class with Brooke – see 23-Oct-2016). The cord is now part of a later sample, photographed below.

basketry_knotless_nettingKnotless netting was also included in that earlier class with Brooke. Here I focused on creating a sampler – loop, round, figure of 8, twisted loop – using an inconsistent but overall fine bamboo yarn (on the right in the photo). On the left is a contrast in scale: a little pot using figure of 8 and round looping in a thicker bamboo yarn.

An ongoing fascination in the class was the way personalities came through with us all using the same techniques and selecting from the same materials. No comparison photo unfortunately, but another student and I both experimented with netting in the fine bamboo, both using a pool noodle as a form while working. Mine resulted in a mass of uneven sizing and tension, sprawling. Edith carefully pinned each small stitch, using the noodle like a lace pillow, creating a fairly dense, firm and neat little basket.

Wednesday: Open core coiling.

basketry_opencore_coilMy first attempt used cordyline as core, and split stitch. It was a penance – constantly stopping to strip down more leaves; the stitching promoting a strong line, which called attention to any unevenness; so, so, so slooooow. Finally some quick stitches, some deliberate loose ends, and it could be called “finished” rather than “abandoned”.

basketry_opencore_coil_2Some thought over lunch led to a second sample. A larger core bundle of material scaled up and speeded the work. The bundle was all long lengths of pre-made cord – consistent size, no preparing or joining of materials. The thread used for stitching still made a visible contribution, but this time through colour. The stitches and the coiling are uneven, gappy, with little nuggets of wrapping. As a final flourish extra lengths of the same materials were added in to create a tassel.

Work was faster, much more enjoyable, focusing on what variation to introduce next rather than locked in to getting it “right”.

Thursday: Random weave
basketry_randomweave_1Right from the start random weave was exciting. It felt as if I was drawing around a space, outlining it. The rules were few, the possibilities wide open. We all started working with cane – fairly easy to use, with a spring that sometimes defied my intentions.

I stopped early, not wanting to obscure the space that had been defined. Others kept working, and it was amazing to see how much material could be absorbed into what still appeared to be very open structures.

Wire was calling me. A length of coiled vine provided a basic structure. The result was difficult to photograph, so two versions, each with issues.
basketry_randomweave_2bbasketry_randomweave_2Two basket-like areas were added, fitting into the vine. What doesn’t show in the photos, but was important to me, was that only the larger basket and one curve of vine touch the ground. The rest floats lightly.

Friday: Open studio
basketry_opencore_coil_3On the last day of class we could continue samples or start something new. Open core coiling still bothered me, so the clear place to start.

New Zealand flax provided the core – long leaves of fairly consistent width, so easy to make long strips that bundled easily without constant fiddling. A large core to grow fairly quickly, and a ring – no fiddly start. To define the edges I sewed on some of the cord made earlier in the week.

nz_flaxThis time the split stitch was more of a pleasure, creating a firm structure and a decorative element. I’ve since bought a number of Phormium (NZ flax), and one day hope to harvest my own materials.

basketry_opencore_coil_1-3So that’s three variants of open core coiling, the first of which was an horrendous process, the others I like and have potential. The most pleasing thing is actually the process – identifying what wasn’t working, finding some alternatives. Powerful.

In the afternoon Brooke gave a quick demonstration of twining – not a planned part of the course, but she is a natural and generous teacher. Working with a fine, long grass and two colours of the bamboo yarn in a very open way produced an attractive fish form.

class_showAt the class show on Saturday morning I was amazed at the range and amount of work we had all produced. It was an exceptional class – a lovely group of women, great tutor, the excellent surrounding organisation and facilities at Sturt… a wonderful experience, and ideas to keep me going for years.

Not all that much has happened in the week since, despite being on holiday. It’s hot and humid in Sydney, so I’ve been moving slowly. Surprising myself, twining rather than random weave has been the technique I’ve continued with.

twining_201701-01Following up the “fish” at the end of class, I used “horse hair” black nylon (?) filament and more of the fine bamboo yarn. The work was kept flat, the twining coils open, with patterning produced by crossing the warp (need to check if that’s the right term). The result has a mandala-like appearance, a level of complexity that I like.

twining_201701-02_1The next attempt used 1.57mm tie wire for the warp and a waxed linen thread for the twining. The idea was the materials would provide a lot of stability and structure, allowing for a more decorative use of the twining technique.

From the top the vessel looks open, irregular, mildly interesting.
Add some directional sunshine and the side view is much more exciting.

rbgs_01The final highlight of the week was a day spent with Claire at the Botanic Gardens taking texture photos – although you have to question our decision making going to the Succulent garden (hottest spot in RBGS?) on the hottest day of the week.

Now there’s preparation for the next week of summer school – more next post.


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January 2017

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