Archive for April, 2017

No destination

A liberating moment of realisation – there is no destination, no triumphant end point, no grand statement. I’ve been feeling a bit lost, doing lots of bits and pieces, coming to the end of my grand plan of foundation training and … and then what? I felt I should develop a Brief – capital letter, a big, serious challenge.

Totally blocking.

What I really want to do is make. experiment. explore. play. most of all play.
Inevitably reading and thinking and looking and talking. But not driving to be some kind of substitute course or program.

Live the life and enjoy it. Go to what attracts me. Not look too far ahead.

What led to this insight? In part a great pair of workshops with Keith Lo Bue. Capping off a year of great workshops. I’ve got the beginnings of a great (!) set of tools, techniques, materials, ideas. And now I want a time of free play, see what I can do with it all.

The workshops with Keith were Steeling Beauty (2 days) and Precious Little (3 days), held as part of ContextArt.

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In Steeling Beauty we took 1.57mm steel wire, sold cheaply at hardware stores here as “reo wire”, and turned it into intricate chains and forms. Keith covered tools (options, strengths, limitations), technique (basic how to plus variations, ergonomics, safety, efficiency…) and design.

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Precious Little started by throwing us in the deep end. First we wandered the grounds of the venue, collecting oddments. Then a swap, putting three of our precious brought objects on a table and selecting three others. Then the brief: take one precious object we brought from home, one found object, and one from the swap, and combine in a piece of wearable art – no extras, no glue. Cue the gasps of horror. A group sharing and discussion at the end of the day showed an amazing range of responses to the challenge and some really interesting work.

The following days we could work on our own chosen projects, with group sessions of instruction and demonstration from Keith. This was just as thorough, as enlightening, and as empowering as in Steeling Beauty. At least half a day was spent on drilling holes in different materials. It sounds like overkill, but was just amazing. I’m full of confidence in approaching materials in a safe way, allowing me to experiment and play freely.

sugar tong earrings

The learning and exploration has continued following the class. I bought Keith’s DVD workshop Getting Attached: Rivets revealed! and have been watching that. I’ve been sourcing a few more key tools. And I’ve been making.

A box of old cutlery oddments in an antique store provided the base material for a pair of earrings (begun in class and finished at home. Skills practised included use of jeweller’s saw, filing, drilling, use of various pliers and cutters).

Ceramic and steel earrings

More earrings use forms created from the reo wire, plus pieces from a ceramic egg-cup, found broken in the back of a kitchen cupboard. The egg-cup came from Auntie Min (my “Australian grandma”, although the relationship is more complex). I’m so happy to have found a way to keep this close.

These used the new wire cold-forging skills, sawing and bending, grinding and drilling ceramic… Some adjustments, fine-tuneing and polishing are still needed.

Cold forged, random weave

Finally a first attempt in combining techniques from two of the classes I’ve done this year – with Keith, and the random weave with Brooke Munro (15-Jan-2017).

That same reo wire is also being used in the ongoing random weave on a structure begun in class with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017). And I’ve got ideas about using that wire, and some of all those skills, combined with some of the lines and form explored in the various life drawing and life sculpting classes (with Kassandra Bossell 1-Apr-2017, amongst others).

Playtime!

6 April 2017

Lectures
The AGNSW series Site Specific: The power of place continues. Each lecturer has a different style, and has interpreted the brief differently. Sometimes the connection of artist and place is at the core of their work – for example Constable: Flatford Mill and the River Stour as discussed by Lorraine Kypiotis. Constable’s images of the Stour are deeply felt, emotion invested in each scene, not idealised and not confirming to the academic hierarchy of the day. Kypiotis is an entertaining speaker, throwing herself into every subject she undertakes.

Deborah Edwards speaking on John Olsen: the littoral and the void; A journey into the ‘you beaut’ country gave the perspective of a curator (the exhibition John Olsen:the you beaut country had just opened at AGNSW). Edwards gave a lucid account of Olsen’s influences, development, and place in Australian art. Everywhere in Australia is Olsen’s place, and he responds with imagination and emotion.

During the lecture my mind was playing with ideas with wire and literal space. Energetic line, surrounding the void… I need to return to this, perhaps develop a brief and respond in my own work.

Vitalism was mentioned in the lecture, and by chance in my current reading, Passages in modern sculpture by Rosalind Krauss, I’d just reached a section discussing the influence of vitalism in the work of Jean Arp. Abstraction as a means of creating new forms, the act of creation in which the inert is given animate properties. Flux from vegetable to animal, bone to tissue, an instability or flexibility of surface, exterior disconnected from core. Ideas to explore.

Unfortunately we didn’t hear all of Dr Andrew Yip’s lecture For nation and Empire: George Lambert and İbrahim Çallı at Gallipoli. He simply ran out of time, so the complex story was unbalanced. The action at Gallipoli plays a significant part in a particular perspective on Australian national identity. Lambert’s war paintings feed into ideas of frontiers where nationhood was asserted, a field of masculine energy, the ingenuity of the bushmen, the grand coming man of the bush. These are the stories told to justify war – Over There, or here (intrepid colonial explorers – see below). Visual culture takes the facts of the moment and creates and legitimises narratives, Diggers taking part in the great landscape of history.

The balancing part would be the works of a loose group of Turkish modernist artists, themselves part of the last great Ottoman cultural project before the fall of the Empire.

I seem to be sitting back and sneering, taking cheap shots at the sacrifice of a generation. It’s the futility, the shortsightedness, the manipulation, the myth-making, the way we repeat the same mistakes…

Conrad Martens and Burragalong Cavern, presented by Dr Kathleen Davidson, focused on a particular painting by Martens from 1843, putting it in context with other works by Martens and by others in Australia at the time. Scientific accuracy and the use of drawings and painting as a form of “virtual witnessing” were part of the scientific process of validating the “discoveries” of colonial explorers (my modern mind requires the inverted commas, the caves surely known to generations before them).

ReCollection lunchtime talk: Rayner Hoff Australian Venus
I’ve written about this work before, 7-Sept-2014 and 13-Jun-2014. Deborah Beck clearly has an incredible depth of knowledge not only about Hoff but about the period of the development of the National Art School and many of the personalities of the times in the Sydney art scene.

Hoff started the sculpture in clay, then a plaster mould was made, and the actual carving was done by Julius Henschke – that last more a time management decision than any question of skill. Beck has also identified the model for the work – Beatrice Williams -although Hoff did choose to veer from the model, enhancing some curves.

Again a link to reading Krauss. Henry Moore worked directly with materials, responding to the individual qualities of the grain of wood, the striation of stone. Carving stone to match a plaster cast would have no place in this.

Susannah Fullerton: Jonathan Swift
This was one of a series of lectures on Dublin writers, presented at the State Library of NSW. Satirist, moralist, campaigner, clergyman, writer, and it seems a grumpy, irascible, opinionated and disappointed man. I only know his writing from bowdlerized versions of Gulliver’s Travels.

Exhibitions

Brenda Livermore

Sobremesa
Opening drinks of this exhibition by Nicole Robins and Brenda Livermoe was great fun. Studio 20/17 Project Space is a small shopfront with a tiny back courtyard in North Sydney. It’s an area with great personal resonance as I went to school nearby and as a young adult lived on the same street.

Most of Brenda’s pieces explored a particular form, a vessel – a shape containing space, holding experiences. Using cast paper and a wide variety of natural materials, small groupings were both serene and lively, the variations enhancing the series. Framed works continued Brenda’s experimentation with mark-making on silhouettes of the vessel form, a strategy that I found less effective as it seems to sacrifice the volume, the essence, of her subject.

Nicole Robins

Nicole presented a wide variety of works, all expressing exuberance and joy working with a profusion of mainly natural materials. I particularly liked the trumpet forms, creating clear, dynamic line, and works that were hung in free space at eye-level, claiming space and attention.

John Olsen: the you beaut country

John Olsen
Cooper’s Creek in flood

The day after the lecture mentioned above I made my first visit to the current exhibition at AGNSW.

It was interesting to see some very early work by Olsen, developing quite quickly (based on works shown, not necessarily time frames) to the energetic, linear, graffiti-like works.

What draws me in to Olsen’s work is a sense of something familiar in the shapes and colours, only partly revealed. It’s a personal, autobiographic response – I move closer, looking at details, rummaging through my memories of childhood and family holidays, looking for correspondences. I enter into a world of memory – colours and shapes and often the heat of the sun, breath of wind, laughter and squabbles.

Just a few days later was a weekend with my father, siblings, extended family, celebrating dad’s 90th birthday. There were lots of shared stories and memories, often set in different parts of country NSW, we were in the Hunter Valley, staying on a vineyard property – I was very conscious of that sense of place that is being explored in the AGNSW lecture series. Perhaps that’s why Deborah Edward’s talk on Olsen had the strongest impact on me in the sense of an expression of sharing my own personal space, that of a non-indigeneous Australian.

Returning to the exhibition, I did experience a level of difficulty in seeing so many of Olsen’s works together. There is so much energetic, even chaotic, line and incident in the works that en masse I found it, at a superficial level, repetitive. Focusing on just one or two works quickly dispells that notion, it’s more that I can’t do a quick reading – it takes time to see what is in front of me.

A few ideas already circulating – signage that described the “audacity” of Spanish encounter. Presumably because that figurative, graffiti approach was so new and different, so unlike the abstract art of the time (although typing that I think of some Pollack and de Kooning and am not so sure). There was also mention of the aerial view – making apparent the nervous system of the landscape, and its unruly and untidy nature.

Under the sun: Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker
I did not get on well with this exhibition at the State Library of NSW (follow that link and you’ll see a large detail of the better known version, plus a version originally chosen by Dupain for exhibition). To a white Australian of my vintage it is a very familiar image, iconic. The photo was a holiday snapshot, taken in 1937. It sounds a really interesting idea to commission 15 artists to respond to it. Unfortunately I found the exhibition disorienting and unpleasant, and didn’t stay long.

In the weeks since I’ve puzzled over that reaction. It was like walking into a barrage of light and noise and conflict. Yesterday, still reading Krauss’s book, I came to Picabia’s 1924 set for Relâche – a bank of spotlights, an arsenal, suddenly lit. Unmotivated, gratuituous, disrupting, cruel. I’m sure not what the current exhibition as a whole was aiming for, although individual works such as Khaled Sabsabi’s 229 deliberately unsettle (my word carefully chosen, given the work’s title refers to the 229 years since colonisation/settlement/invasion).

I think my problem was in the main the venue. Beautiful high galleries in the old building, polished wooden floors… reflecting light and noise, crowded by works with strident messages competing for attention. I was unable to summon the focus required by the individual works. Which is a real shame and my loss, given the questioning of our history and future, reflections on environment, multiculturalism, the symbols we choose and the stories we tell.

Activities
In the period since my last post a couple of basketry attempts using insect mesh, wire, and in once case clay, have come to nothing. Did not excite.

The welded steel/random weave begun in class with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017) is progressing slowly.

dad

Celebrations of dad’s 90th birthday included bellringing (a quarter peal with dad and his five children) and a family weekend in the Hunter Valley.

Life drawing class wrapped up. Figure sculpting was a joy (1-Apr-2017)

My reading has been mentioned a few times above. Continuing her discussion of Henry Moore, Krauss writes of the tactility of sculpture. Perhaps that is part of the attraction for me, with my history of the importance of touch and hand in textiles.

Plus all the usuals of life. And tomorrow I’m off for yet more classes 🙂

Workshop: Figure Sculpting with Kassandra Bossell

This one day class at Sydney Community College in Rozelle was engrossing and satisfying. Kassandra is a warm, supportive and encouraging tutor. For me it was a wonderful combination of my recent learning in life drawing with my interest in developing my work toward three dimensions.

Our material was clay (Keane’s white raku), and just a few simple tools. We were given the task of modelling an elephant to introduce us to the clay. It is so pleasant to work with. This really brings the haptic element to work – very welcome to one with a history of working with textiles.

Then our model arrived and we were introduced to the work process. The model posed on a table set in the centre of the room. Touching and almost surrounding it were more tables, with just a short gap at one corner for access. We worked on boards, 10 of us distributed in a circle around the model. After a short period we would move to the next position, reorient our board, and continue working. Eventually we would work our way around the circle and have seen the model from every angle (we could climb up on stools for a top view).

In the first pose we were to focus on the torso – no limbs. For me this made apparent a difference to drawing. Normally you’re fighting to ignore what you “know”, to draw from observation. For this sculpting I found using my own knowledge and experience of the body was helpful, especially when an arm obscured the torso.

However what we know is always a dangerous thing. Some of the heads in the class looked more like a ball balanced on a short cylinder, and I think virtually all of us had the head too small. Kassandra asked us to focus on the head and how it sits on the body in our third attempt.

A reclining pose raised new problems. Parts of the body were pushed around or hidden by cushions. It was difficult to avoid having the body look like it was emerging through the table.

Throughout the day Kassandra continued to introduce new ideas, or refinements of technique. We needed to think about proportion, weight, volume. Light shows form, and I love the way light almost seems to caress this clay (I haven’t seen it fired, but presumably it could look quite different).

There was a wide variety in results. Some students used transformations, interpretations – definitely not literal representations. I tried hard to reproduce what I was seeing. I also noted again that I naturally use an additive style, building up material rather than carving out.

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The timing of poses varied. First time round I think we had 2 minutes at each position in the circle. Later it was generally 4 minutes and sometimes completing two circuits but moving two positions each time. We all became more and more reluctant to move on, always wanting to do just a little more.

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In the final pose of the day the model was hunched forward, putting a lot of weight on her arms. Without an armature my work kept sagging forwards. Kassandra showed me how to build up and strengthen the arms. In theory I could work on the clay when it is dry, fix up the shaping a bit.

A week later and the clay is far from dry. Sydney has seen a lot of rain, but none of the winds and flooding the north has experienced. Kassandra finished the workshop with a lot of information on how to prepare the work for firing. I haven’t decided yet which if any I will take to be fired. There’s also the question of finish. I never had time to blend in the extra material as I was adding it so the figures look very patchy, a little Frankenstein’s monster. I actually really like that, the way light is broken up, and wouldn’t want to do a lot of smoothing or try to “correct” any mistakes.

No hurry to make a decision – but I was in a hurry to book into Kassandra’s next life sculpting workshop. Given my place is secured I am happy to recommend the class (link) to you all.


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