5 March 2017

Melanie Eastburn The art of Lotus Moon, a Japanese Buddhist nun in nineteenth-century Kyoto
In the AGNSW series Site Specific: The power of place

The lecture began “Otagaki Rengetsu was a Japanese Buddhist nun, poet, calligrapher, painter and potter who lived in Kyoto at a time of dramatic social and political change”. Only fragments about her life are known, and attribution of her work is often difficult as she both collaborated with other artists and allowed some to sign their work with her name.

Lotus Moon is known through the “long lines of dancing letters” she left behind, on scrolls and prints, on tiny tea and sake vessels and pots. Melanie Eastburn conjured a world where hosts would give close attention to the right bowl for the right guest, a match of character, behaviour, interests…

The day begins
I’m busy with my crafts
The day ends
I pray to Buddha
and I have nothing to worry about.

Beyond words: calligraphic traditions of Asia AGNSW
The following day, with a spare 20 minutes before meeting a friend, I revisited this exhibition, thinking about Lotus Moon and calligraphy not directly brush on paper.

Yoon Kwang-cho Punch'ông ware jar circa 1990

Yoon Kwang-cho
Punch’ông ware jar
circa 1990

This Punch’ông ware jar by Yoon Kwang-cho (link) is large, modern, luminous, both rich and austere. From the gallery website: “This rich combination of contemporary individuality with a spirit of antiquity expresses the ideals of purity, honesty and humble sparseness so admired by the connoisseurs and tea masters of modern Japan.”

Apparently the inscriptions are from a Buddhist text on nothingness. What could be contradictions – an Object showing nothingness, a modern form created using very traditional techniques – are noted then disregarded. It seems to me entirely, and most satisfyingly, itself.

Brice Marden Etchings to Rexroth 9, from the portfolio Etchings to Rexroth 1986

Brice Marden
Etchings to Rexroth 9, from the portfolio Etchings to Rexroth

(link) This photo shows one of 21 etchings by Brice Marden, displayed very simply, unframed, in three rows of seven. The plate has pressed deeply into the paper, the artist’s marks quite flat but layered. They look like ideographs, or crazing on a ceramic, dancing and pivoting on the page. The sugar lift technique allowed Marden to create marks with a stick, as with his pen and ink drawings.

A quick brief for mark making:
* Stick, ink, print.
* My current marks.

I used a twig from the rain-soaked garden, black acrylic ink, my much used, pockmarked gelatin plate. Fast copies of the warm up gestural drawings from the previous night’s drawing class. Monoprinting onto copy paper.

I like the freshness and energy of the marks. I was working quickly, focused, but not thinking too much (unlike in class!). I like the indirect approach, the distance from the original event / subject, intent modified by separation and happenstance. It’s a good reminder that I didn’t start life drawing with the intention of making a “good” drawing as an independent result.

Life drawing class
There’s too much thinking going on. Placement on page, frame/focus, edit, block in but don’t fill in, suggest… I’ve liked some earlier stuff, but that makes me tentative when trying something new because I don’t want to go “backwards”.

The quick gestural work at the beginning worked best, then I got tighter and slower and trying to force answers.

The selection above shows OK results from quick poses, the medium length pose doesn’t quite know if it’s focusing on line or form, nor quite how to handle the light highlights (this was on brown kraft paper). Then the long pose – almost not shown as just too awful, but that seemed cowardly. A coloured ground, then charcoal, white and red. Dear me what a mess.

Perhaps more practice and more changing things around (eg the monoprinting) – never get too comfortable???

A quick explanation – I’ve been building up this post over the week so it doesn’t swallow Sunday. This might lead to some non sequiturs, as edits and additions are made. In this section on life drawing class, a couple more days produced:

Back to Croquis Cafe, on grey paper, conte crayons.

The poses were from 1 to 5 minutes. I started OK, but as soon as a second colour was introduced on the longer poses I got confused and hesitant. The one on the right above was the 5 minute one. The model was lying on the ground, her head closest, a loosened kimono covering her upper arms, her legs up on a chair. Looking at the photo after a day, it took me a while to remember and figure out what was going on. Drat!

Pushing forward was just repeating the same mistakes. So I decided to take a backwards step, simplify and consolidate. Today’s set used cartridge paper prepared with charcoal over the whole page to create a mid tone, then creating form with knead-able rubber and some form and line with charcoal. I worked smaller – each sketch is effectively A4. An extra challenge (which I’d been trying for earlier in the week), was to focus on an area of interest and not always have the full body floating on the page.

This felt so much better. I ran out of time on each pose, but I didn’t get lost – I always had ideas on what to do next. Hopefully I’ll get some more practice in before the next (last) class, and be better placed to take advantage of the longer poses.

Exhibition talk
Anne Gerard-Austin: Ford Madox Brown “Chaucer at the court of Edward III”
One of the ReCollection series of lunchtime talks.

My first experience of these floortalks, and I’ll definitely try to get to more.

Ford Madox Brown Chaucer at the court of Edward III 1847-1851

Ford Madox Brown
Chaucer at the court of Edward III

This enormous painting (including frame almost 4 metres high and over 3 wide) is significant in itself, it’s subject and it’s time, and also in the history of the gallery. In 1876 it was the first European painting purchased by the nascent gallery and consumed the entire year’s budget of 500 pounds. When London newspapers reported in error that it had been lost in the Garden Palace fire (25-Sep-2016), the artist wrote kindly offering to repaint it for 1,200 guineas!

The huge canvas is crowded, full of colour, movement and vivacity. It was modern in its time. Influenced by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it was painted with “an innocent eye” – with a sense of truth, sunlight and shade as could exist in a single moment, individual, living and engaged faces, an intention of historical accuracy. It can be seen as in search of a national cultural identity – painted in the prosperity of mid nineteenth century England, showing the birth of the native english language, with a sense of topicality. [Encapsulating national identity seems an ongoing struggle around the world. Here we seem to keep reverting to images of heroic white men exploring or battling droughts or fighting wars. Pretty stupid idea really, that something as complex as a modern nation can be contained in a neat, walled, exclusive/excluding, little box.]

The frame of the painting is original, designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who was also model for a couple of the figures). Framing can make such a difference to how we view a work, it’s good to see what the artist wanted.

There’s a great photo of the painting here, where you can zoom into lots of detail.

Mark Doty Still life with oysters and lemon
This small book is more an extended essay. It begins with falling in love – with a painting. Doty writes about the poetry of painting, about looking, light, love, loss, the beauty of the everyday and imperfect, about giving attention, about Dutch painting and still life. A warming, absorbing, inspiring, purposeful meander.

Doty’s painting is by Jan Davidsz de Heem, around 1640. I’ve spent some time with a work by that artist, down in Melbourne (11-Jan-2014). Here in Sydney there’s a work previously thought to be by him, now attributed to Laurens Craen, dated around 1645-1650 – I did an annotation/analysis of that as part of the OCA art history course (13-Jan-2014). In another small pocket of time I revisited the painting this week.

Laurens Craen Still life with imaginary view

Laurens Craen
Still life with imaginary view

I tried to pay attention. To experience it – with fresh eyes, not like my earlier effort slicing and dicing things and trying to sound as if I knew about Art and Painting.

How does one give time, attention, ignore the “opportunity cost” and all the distractions around? And still bring richness, a wider experience? Back in January, during the basketry class (15-Jan-2017), I joined Instagram. All sorts of convenience – capture a moment, the warmth of likes on instagram and facebook, viewable on this wordpress page. Snippets of time on the bus or at lunch can be filled with colour and creativity, scrolling through images from those I follow, liking those that catch my eye. Dismissing the rest. Useful. Treacherous.

Work on the welded and random weave piece continues.

mesh-wire-shaping_478x600Need something portable for next week’s Basketry NSW get together, so tried out cordmaking with strips of fibreglass insect mesh, open coiled stitching in 24 gauge wire.

The flat disc was OK but not exciting, however it is malleable and holds form, and with a bit of backlighting there’s some promising filtering, light and shadow. A strong continuation of my materials exploration – something to take further.

This week has also included some time thinking about my recent low period, and watching my own responses as I regroup. Some was weather and biorythms, some I need to pay attention to (that word again).
* the absence of a plan, a future goal. I talk about process, a way of life, but I got a bit lost.
* feeling constrained by a larger project, more than a sample (the random weave begun in welding class). I think of streams, based on Ruth Hadlow’s model, but how many and what scale can run concurrently?
* managing energy, stress, workload, life balance… social media…
No such thing as “The Answer”, especially as things change over time, but good to be mindful.

Unexpected surprise and delight

Paul Orifice


Outside the art gallery on Wednesday evening Paul (no surname) had set up this sculpture. It’s all found and scrounged materials – bicycle frame and spokes, laptop battery, printer gears, scrap aluminium. Made using handtools and a drill press – Paul has the time and enjoys the connection with his work. A sensor recognises an audience and varies light intensity. Eccentric gears tighten and loosen a cable, causing the orifice to widen and narrow.

Paul was pleased to chat. He makes a couple of sculptures a year, and exhibits by taking them around Sydney to delight people. How beautiful, and how wonderful to share that joy!

1 Response to “5 March 2017”

  1. 1 Kevin Murray March 27, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    I’m enjoying your blog greatly. I’d like to contact you but can’t find an email address here. Can you send me an email at editor@garlandmag.com? Thank you.

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