Archive for the 'Out and about' Category

Exhibition influences

A couple of brief notes – the month has run away from me.

Remains of the day (honouring the past)
Curl Curl Creative Space

It was a great pleasure this month to see recent work by Nicole De Mestre, celebrating the past by creating sculptural forms from abandoned objects. Nicole was at the exhibition the day I visited – so generous and interesting in her conversation.

I was particularly taken by what I think of as a “billy can” form.

Inglorious basket #55. Tin, wire, driftwood, rope.

Geometric form; mix of materials and textures.

At home later, I wanted to respond.

I See You See
Gallery Lane Cove

This was a collaboration between members of two groups – Open Bite Printmakers and the Southern Highland Printmakers. I was able to meet and talk with a number of the artists at the associated demonstration day.

In my first term of class as a learner printmaker it was incredibly useful to see such a wide range of contemporary approaches to printmaking. I tried to identify what was attracting me.

  • texture
  • pattern
  • colour
  • line
  • energy
  • layering

Splash of colour. Barbara May. Monoprint, chine colle, charcoal

Fortification. Chanel Mace. Monoprint

Ideas are simmering for the summer break from class.

Finally, a few more polymer clay experiments, focusing on finishes (sanding, resin, liquid clay…) and using scraps.


Today, for the first time in almost eleven months, I went to the Art Gallery of NSW. It was both familiar and changed. A lot has happened in that time. It was a brief roam, testing myself.

Under the Stars: “Taking a transhistorical approach, Under the Stars presents stargazing and mapping by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, highlighting the commonalities and connections in our shared attempts to understand the night sky and our place in relation to it.”

The tilted, framing grid of Gail Mabo suggested I may be able to take stock, find myself, in the shifting world.

Gail Mabo

The halting, fragmented music of Katie Paterson, forcing awareness of gaps and absences, pursued me around the gallery, conscious of what is lost.

Katie Paterson
Earth-Moon-Earth: Moonlight Sonata reflected from the surface of the moon

The furious energy of Roger Kemp’s etching. exploding from containment, quickened my breathing.

Roger Kemp

Next to it, a rubbing from a stele engraved in the Song dynasty suggested contemplative, intelligent order, a continuity in the world and heavens.

Unknown artist
Ink rubbing of an ancient Chinese astronomy chart

Real worlds: Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial 2020

Jack Stahel’s drawing installation confounded me. The objects, together with the information signage provided, fascinated, but also showed me how out of condition my mind is. I couldn’t engage as I wanted to. I couldn’t hold a thought.

Jack Stahel
Unified theory of itself

Margel Hinder: Modern in Motion

I’ve shown Hinder’s work a few times in the past. Today it was the small and intricate pieces that caught me. Playing with ideas, experimenting, provisional. A lightness and movement.

Lunch in the cafe was solitary and filled with love and memories.

A salad my mother would have enjoyed – cauliflower, lentils, pomegranate. Her little wickedness, a treat of chardonnay at lunch time. She would have turned up her nose at my sensible glass of water.

Mum was my frequent companion on visits to the gallery – among so much more. Today I tested – proved – my belief that she is with me still.

As I left I heard Ngaiire’s haunting voice, evoking love, change, departure. Her repeated refrain “when I count to three, let go”.

I listened, shook my head, and we walked on together.

Still from video

Tricia Flanagan – Digital Materiality

Conductive embroidery was a one day workshop given by Tricia Flanagan at Gallery Lane Cove during the time of her exhibition Digital Materiality –Coded Textiles. There was a presentation of theory and materials, a couple of simple practical exercises, and discussion of possible applications. We also spent time in Tricia’s exhibition.

Tricia had prepared thermochromatic threads and textile paints by combining specialty pigments with standard textile binding medium and screen printing medium. “Thermo” (heat) + “chroma” (colour). At standard room temperature the powders are red, blue, yellow… Heated, the colour vanishes. So white thread or fabric painted with red pigment + binding medium looks red when cool (the outside colour on the thread) and white when heated (the red vanishes, so the underlying white of the thread or fabric is visible).

Heat was created by making a circuit using a battery and high resistance conductive thread. The thread warms up as the current passes through it.

Top: Simple running stitch in conductive thread, on a rainbow of thermochromatic paint
Bottom: circuit made with battery. Heated thread warms fabric and colour changes

Top: thread painted with thermochromatic paint, couched with a mix of conductive thread and ordinary coloured sewing thread
Bottom: Circuit made with battery. Some colour vanishes, based on proximity to conductive thread.

A simple, static circuit – not exactly exciting. A variation was a sample that had multiple part-circuits. Connections were made by a dangling tassel (metal washer covered by buttonhole stitch in conductive thread) that would brige gaps depending on where it fell on the fabric – effectively a tilt-sensor.

From the studio we went up to Tricia’s exhibition space, to see some of the many what-ifs that this little taster could lead to. One in particular blew me away.

BODYecology 2016 – present (ongoing) handspun merino lambswool, indigo, acrylic, steel, wood, electronics, weaving loom and video

There are basically three parts: a sleeping mat; a winding and dyeing apparatus; a loom.

On the left in the photo above, the sleeping mat. A sensor in the pillow recognises when Tricia is lying there, and the central mechanism is switched on.

At the back left in the centre is a pile of undyed yarn cakes. The other end of the yarn is tied on to a bobbin mounted on a bar at the front. When the mechanism is switched on the bar turns, winding on newly-dyed yarn at a steady rate.

The path the yarn takes is exciting. That metal canister at the back right is an indigo dye vat. The travelling yarn is plunged into that to varying depths. The dyed yarn goes past a blow heater, then is taken on a zig-zag path so it is dry by the time it reaches the bobbin.

How deep the yarn goes into the dye vat varies the time the yarn is exposed to the dye, and so the depth of colour. So what controls the depth of the plunge?

Sleeping Tricia wears a fitness monitor. Data collected on her sleep is sent to a controller on the central mechanism. Deeper sleep –> deeper plunge –> deeper colour. Longer in deep sleep –> longer length of yarn deep dyed.

The next day Tricia can wind off the yarn dyed through the night, and use it as weft on the warp. Apparently it takes around a month to complete the woven piece.

Another view, showing a completed weaving at the back and on video.

Some of my details are probably a bit off, but the basic idea… Sleep patterns coded and made visible in a textile. Beautiful!

See a little of the action:

I was hoping to visit the exhibition again later, for a closer look plus more conversation with Tricia. Of course as things turned out that couldn’t happen.

Some links:


ARTEXPRESS is an annual series of exhibitions around the state showing a selection of artworks by NSW Visual Arts school students. A couple of works in the current AGNSW exhibition particularly resonated with me.

Benjamin Tavita Displaced
This artwork was based on Tavita’s research of his culture and island home, likely to be wiped out within 50 years. The sculpture is a collection of a series of frames or windows, in which hang boards combining images, data visualisation, text, and paper weaving. On the reverse of each board is what I think are traditional patterns laser cut in paper, with some lovely shadow effects. Lots of techniques I am interested in, and a good move forward from more straightforward documentation.

Lemah Orya Mending broken things after the Afghan war
This work also reflects on challenges in the artist’s homeland. The collection of sculptures use Afghan ceramics “mended” in an extension of the Japanese kintsugi method. That’s something I’ve played with in the past (for example 11-Aug-2019), but with none of the elegance and detail of Orya’s work.

The gallery website has extensive information on all the works shown, including images of works and sample process notes for some. Definitely worth a look.

Daughters of the Dragon – exhibition and workshop

This exhibition is on at Gallery Lane Cove until 27 February 2020. It “contemplates contemporary Chinese cultural heritage and identity in an Australian context from a female perspective”, and features work by three artists.

Mimi Tong

Mimi Tong used ink dyed bamboo cotton yarn in her installation. It appeared to be finger-knitted to create more body and texture, with more texture from the uneven ink. It was effective in bringing energy and volume to the space allocated to her, which would otherwise have been sparse, while still at least in my eyes remaining domestic in scale.

Some of my reading lately has been around lines, writing, drawing (Tim Ingold and Michael Taussig) – both overlaps and differences. I don’t know the significance of Mimi Tong’s title, but it made me wonder if there was more there than I understood.

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan

More clearly script-based was Chun Yin Rainbow Chan’s installation Rubble. Made of unglazed salt dough, the fairly roughly made characters were distributed on low plinths around the space. A three part video installation, Hands, appeared to show the making and cooking of dumplings.

Why “rubble”? It didn’t appear to be broken. Unable to connect, instead I wondered about the stamp making possibilities of salt dough in print-making.

The central part of the gallery space, where the visitor enters, held Tianli Zu’s immersive installation Shen Long. It was a beautiful experience.

Tianli Zu
Shen Long

Tianli Zu
Shen Long

I had the opportunity to chat in a group with Tianli Zu during a break in a workshop with her. She explained that the work was based in thinking about the water dragon. No one has ever seen this, so it is her impression of it.

There are so many elements to this. Hand cut mulberry paper, painted with many layers of Chinese ink. It was hung from the walls, and from the ceiling using a multitude of threads (representing the wind). Painted and heat distorted acetate suggest water. The projection onto walls and across the ceiling was based on stop motion photography of the cut paper. It also included text – poetry (in english) by Tianli Zu. Recorded music, composed and performed by her son Andrew Zu, played in the background. Strong currents from the gallery air conditioner kept everything in motion.

The workshop was two very enjoyable hours on paper cutting. Tianli Zu began by giving us some background and an appreciation of the philosophical basis of paper cutting. The balance of positive and negative, the duality of two cut lines needed to reveal the shape, the combination of deconstruction and reconstruction, letting the paper drop away without forcing or tearing it, were all important. We tried to find a smooth rhythm – Tianli Zu finds paper cutting a meditative process, a means of problem solving. There is a care and thoughtfulness built in. And how do you repair it if you make a mistake? Don’t repair – Make another cut!

The gallery provided A4 paper that was a little heavier than Tianli Zu would have preferred, so she reduced the number of folds for our first attempt. While she demonstrated, she was very keen for everyone to make their own choices in the cuts made.

Next up was cutting using images provided by Tianli Zu as templates. She explained the symbology of some of them (suitable as a gift for an older person as it included the character for long life, or suitable for a woman to give to a man to show love – a frog shape, suggesting fertility – as in “I’d like to have your baby”). I’m not sure about this one, but it was definitely a challenge – with the advantage of additional pleasure in finishing 🙂 We were encouraged to work fluidly, not sticking rigidly to the design of the template.

Now we were encouraged to draw our own designs – based on a teapot shape provided, but creating our own designs internally. That was actually one of the key takeaways for me: don’t just cut a shape, make it beautiful with flowers or other forms inside.

Finally I went back to one of Tianli Zu’s designs.

Cutting stencils for use in print-making was my main motivation for taking the class. As well as the cut forms I have kept the negatives – the outside frame and many of the smaller bits removed. I’ll have a session soon trying out these paper ones. Some thoughts for the future:

* Not just the outline. Add internal shapes to create beauty and interest – always with awareness of the positive and negative shapes being formed.
* Cut rhythmically, fluidly. Cut from above or below, supporting the point where the cut is being made.
* Select the tool – large or small scissors, knives… – suited to the shape you want.
* Cut small pieces first. Reward yourself with the longer cuts later.
* Develop shapes with additional meaning, even if it’s not apparent to all.
* Don’t repair. Cut.

(Metaphorical) gluttony and indigestion

Apparently it’s now called Freshwater, but when I was a child we would sometimes drive in summer heat to Harbord Beach. A heavy red and white umbrella. Zinc cream. Burning feet trudging through the sand. Staying between the flags, jumping into waves, attempting to body surf.

And some days the waves, churning sand, would catch you up, tumble you around, water up your nose, struggling – which way is the surface? And you’d stagger out, legs trembling, eyes stinging, swimmers dragging down from the weight of sand in the pants, hair drying crunchy with salt. Exhausted. Wanting more.

So I’m mixing metaphors between title and intro, but that’s just how it is right now and we’ll all just have to make do. Because over the last five weeks I’ve been tumbled, and gobbling, and racing back for more.

The blog’s never going to catch up, so a sprint through. Visual focus remains un-balance.
Joel Crosswell in Dirty Paper at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Bad reflections in the photo. Lots of flickering movement.

Toby Ziegler Your Shadow Rising at MONA

Toby Ziegler
Empty Pond

A grid rather than balance.
Layers, accepting chance, multiple approaches (film, installation, …).

ZERO at Mona
Much more time and need for thought and research on Zero and Nul movement(s).

Stripes rather than balance. Amazing what clever placement of some nails can do.

There were multiple examples of the revealed depth of Fontana. Plus movement, vibration, balance by Bernard Aubertin, Jesús Rafael Soto, Jean Tinguely…

Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth Eyes as big as plates at Salamanca Arts Centre

Hjorth and Ikonen
Eyes as big as plates

A wonderful, calming, enriching experience. I chatted for a long time with the two artists, who were incredibly welcoming, forthcoming, encouraging, generous… See more of their project at

Intensive Creative Research with Ruth Hadlow. The first of our group sessions was held over three days in Hobart. “Intense” doesn’t cover it. Work flowing on from it includes my Energizing Objects and Glossary investigations.

Battery Point, Hobart
I walked the harbourside sculpture trail, but found myself more drawn by views of boatsheds, cottage gardens, inventive weather vanes and tardis side gates.

Janet Laurence After Nature MCA Sydney
This major survey shows the depth and wide ranging approach of Janet Laurence. Concentric rings of layered and image-printed fabrics combine with light and film to immerse the viewer in trees, within a tree, in the history of our relationship with trees. Modern and ancient knowledge and technologies are brought together. All our senses are engaged.

A huge tree, killed by drought, has been pieced together in one of the galleries. It is bandaged, glass tubing suggesting life support, or perhaps an exchange between tree and environment of fluid or air. Engraved markings in the bark, and the insects who made them, are celebrated. Is salt rock a blossoming new growth, or the death of salinity? Eyes on balance, I was impressed by the few supports needed to stabilise the tree in the space. A slight discontinuity in deep fissures in the tree showed the small adjustments made to adapt it to its new life.

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John Chester Jervis, National Library of Australia
A trip to Canberra with my mother was focused on the photograph albums of a 19th century ancestor – my great great great uncle. The albums were recently donated by a distant English cousin.

Mum with John Chester Jervis photo album

Mourning locket for Louisa, briefly reunited with photograph of her sister Ellen and brother John

Mum has researched the Australian period of John Chester’s life, from the 1840s to 1871 –

While in Canberra we also visited the National Gallery of Australia, in particular Love & Desire: Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces from the Tate. There were many familiar works included, but there’s nothing like a bit of parochialism.

Ford Maddox Brown
The seeds and fruits of English poetry

The central section of The seeds and fruits of English poetry by Ford Maddox Brown is a study for an enormous painting, Chaucer at the court of Edward III in the AGNSW collection. It’s one of mum’s absolute favourite works, and whenever we have a few minutes spare at the gallery you’ll find us visiting it.

Māori Markings: Tā Moko was fascinating.There has been a contemporary resurgence of this practice, which is of major cultural significance.

Yayoi Kusama
The spirit of the pumpkins descended into the heavens

The bright yellow room presented by Yayoi Kusama is billed as an experience of both claustrophobic and infinite space. I’m sure we weren’t the first to find it puzzling. I’ve been vaguely aware of Kusama’s work in the past, and find the obsessive character of it disturbing and in some sense empty.

We also found our way down to Bodies of art: Human form from the national collection. There we found Number 24, Harry Boyd, by Harry Klippel.

Robert Klippel
Number 24, Harry Boyd

Robert Klippel
small polychromed tin sculptures

It’s hard to believe this massive piece of sandstone was carved by the same man who made the multitude of inventive wire and tin forms which I most recently saw in Mosman as part of Destination Sydney. (I think they’re actually part of the AGNSW collection).

Hossein Valamanesh

Robert Klippel is definitely one of the artists on my list the research further for un-balance.

Part of the interest of un-balance is the constant potential for complete loss of balance – for falling.

On the information plaque Hossein Valamanesh is quoted: “Leaving aside narratives the work stands for itself and is about falling with grace.” The long bamboo shivered just slightly in the gallery’s currents of air. The work is beautiful and elegant, but I struggle that it seems to be set at the moment of impact, where grace can no longer hold. The ground is so solid and hard. I’d like to see it Falling on a plinth, white or even perspex, curving to swoop joyfully upwards.

No photos, but I’ll briefly mention Hassall Collection at Drill Hall Gallery. No photos – we happened to arrive at the same time as a very large group of people from Canberra and Sydney, and it was hard to get viewing space.

In the last few days I’ve been on another interstate trip – this time to the National Gallery of Victoria, and focused on the opening events of Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor. An amazing experience, needing its own post. While there I took a couple of hours to roam NGV galleries, looking for anything that spoke to me of un-balance.

Francesco Clemente
The Midnight Sun XII

I have no idea what to make of this painting, but I stayed with it for a long time. There are scales. There is a balance achieved in the composition in a way I don’t understand. Research needed.

Paul Cezanne
The Uphill Road

The geometry here is amazing. The roof and tree line, with the path at the bottom, struggle to balance that steep, sliding slope.

Then in the bottom right corner, and possibly among the last brush strokes on the canvas, is the slightest hint of a straggle of weeds. And I think that braces, props up, the entire thing.

Currently hanging next to the Cezanne is The bridge on the Seine at Chatou by Maurice de Vlaminck.

Maurice de Vlaminck
The bridge on the Seine at Chatou

Full of energy and zest, and I don’t think the artist cares one whit that the bridge and the entire village on the right bank is about to slide under the waters of the Seine.

Mari Funaki

A dreadful photo, lots of reflections and blurry focus, but I want to remember the works of Mari Funaki. A much better photo is on the gallery website here. A beautifully balanced insect of a thing which could leap across the room in an instant. That leftmost leg is wide but thin – the whole thing looks like it could tip backwards, at the same time as it seems perfectly in control.

Just minutes later I was looking at this jar – Predynastic Period, Naqada II 3500 BCE-3200 BCE. EGYPT, Diospolis Parva


Maybe looking at Funaki’s work I should have been thinking of birds rather than insects. And these lines actually would make a good segue to Alexander Calder and his zoo drawings. But not today.

Instead I’m going to finish where I intended to start – at the pile of books that have accumulated over the same five weeks. In no particular order:

Hassall Collection: A masterpiece Collection of Australian Art. Exhibition catalogue.
John Berger. A Painter of Our Time
Dora Garcia I see words, I hear voices
Alexander Calder: Radical Inventor. Exhibition catalogue.
Landscapes: John Berger on Art
Richard Serra, Hal Foster Conversations about Sculpture
Alexander Calder & Fischli/Weiss
Sol LeWitt: Between the Lines
William Kentridge Six Drawing Lessons
Joy Kenward The Joy of Mindful writing: Notes to inspire creative awareness
Ruth Hadlow Granite
Nancy Spector and Nat Trotman Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better
Joan Pachner David Smith
Anne Carson Float
Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly and Barbara Schroder (eds) Agnes Martin
Eyes as big as plates. Exhibition catalogue
Sarah Edelman Change your thinking: positive and practical ways to overcome stress, negative emotions and self-defeating behaviour using CBT (Lent to me by a work colleague who thought I was stressed. Can’t imagine where he got that idea!)

All this added to the metres of unread and part-read books already piled up on the shelves.

Five weeks, four capital cities, sixteen books. Good days.

Research: Unbalanced, Precarious

3-Jan-2019 presented my brief-to-self exploring the pivot / balance point / precipice / knife edge / danger / unbalance idea. I wanted to actively explore what “unbalance” (etc) can look like, and showed the first nine days of experimentation.

In tandem with this I’ve done some more concentrated research:
* a couple of hours at AGNSW, searching for relevant examples;
* some internet searching;
* a review of this blog to find work that has caught my eye in the past.

Art Gallery of NSW
At first it seemed surprisingly difficult to find examples that fit the investigation. But of course most artists want to keep your eyes on the work. Even if dynamic, with lots of movements, diagonals, etc, paintings generally resolve with some form of balance.

Matthew Smith
Jugs against vermillion background

I’ve seen this before. For example Matthew Smith’s work Jugs against vermillion background. 31-Jan-2014 I wrote “The most surprising thing in viewing this picture is the balance. There is so much information and action on the right, and on the left… I’m not sure how well it shows in the photograph, but that red on the right is so intense, so solid, while the red on the right hand side is just a bit darker, not quite so saturated – and it works.” All the action is on the right, there’s even half a body sliding diagonally down off the frame, but my eye doesn’t go with it. The space and the intense colour on the left provides balance.

Charles Meere
Atalanta’s eclipse

In the painting by Meere above, the two racing figures are unbalanced. The painting as a whole is dead steady.

Robert Klippel
No 102 Metal construction (1961)

Robert Klippel
Left: No 48 Entities suspended from a detector (1948)
Right: No 35 Madame Sophie Sesostoris (1947-48)

Last post I showed some small sculptures by Robert Klippel. Those were from 1995. A much larger metal construction made in 1961 is a complex and fascinating form, with lots of unexpected projections and unlikely balance in the detail, but overall staying steady and firmly in place.

The earlier suspended entities has a very sturdy upright, well able to support the small elements hanging from it.

William Kentridge
Bird catching (2006)

This print by Willian Kentridge, aquatint and drypoint on paper, is more relevant. The figure is definitely falling, one foot not even visible, the other foot outside the internal frame, and although it seems likely the body will fall within the space of the print it doesn’t look like anything can stop the tumble.

I took a couple more photos of different things, but on review they’re not convincing.

Internet search
This was more successful, especially when I changed the significant search term from “unbalanced” to “precarious”. Results have been collected on a new pinterest board –

Blog review
A scan through photos previously shown on this blog produced some more examples.

MoMA at NGV 15-Sep-2018

Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
1913 (cast 1931)

Seeing the work itself, appreciating the scale, was important. This work has movement, but not the sense of potential loss of control. It is striding confidently.

Aleksandr Rodchenko
Non-Objective Painting

I found movement and depth in Rodchenko’s work, but I wouldn’t say it’s in imminent danger.

National Gallery of Victoria

François-Raoul Larche
Loïe Fuller, the dancer
c. 1900

This lamp base has movement, with the additional sense that it wouldn’t be possible to hold the pose for any length of time. In a beautiful and elegant way, it is unbalanced. And I note here a resistance in myself – elegance, the controlled movement, lessens the sense of the precarious.

13 Rooms exhibition – 13-Apr-2013

Coexisting Clark and Beaumont

Nicole Beaumont and Sarah Clark occupied a plinth together – eight hours a day for the eleven days of the exhibition. A sequence of movement for one to stand up seemed particularly perilous.

In Just a Blink of an Eye
Xu Zhen

Xu Zhen’s work is a suspended moment. Entirely beyond precarious, yet motionless.

Art History annotation 23-May-2014

The Townley Discobolus
One of several Roman copies made of a lost bronze original made in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Myron.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The moment before an explosive release of energy, however I found the work strangely static.

Paul Landowski
David combattant
bronze, cire perdu (lost wax)

I showed for comparison a David actually in action here in Sydney. The figure is focused, committed. Action regardless of consequences.

Matt Bromhead Longline exhibition at pompom 22-Jul-2018

Matt Bromhead

Seeing Matt’s work and taking a workshop with him (10-Jul-2018) are a major drivers of this exploration project.

ARTEXPRESS 2018 exhibition 18-Feb-2018

How Irrigating
Hannah Raeside

There are better photos on the AGNSW website – Not quite what I’m looking for, but some very interesting elements – both for balance, and for use of (I’m guessing) concrete.

Sculpture at Scenic World 2016 exhibition 1-May-2016

Elyssa Sykes-Smith

This suspended work by Elyssa Sykes-Smith has bodies reaching, stretching, impossibly.

Her work in Sculpture by the Sea 2013 (3-Nov-2013) shows what appear at first glance more static figures. Quickly the strain of the figures, the weight of stone, give a sense of impending doom.

a shared weight
Elyssa Sykes-Smith

Sculpture by the Sea 2016 6-Nov-2016

Johannes Pannekoek
Change ahead

Is this unbalanced or precarious? I suppose the answer is “yes”, but it is so massive it seems stable. There’s also that sense of elegance in the movement, a confidence that seems to dilute what I’m seeking.

Tom Bass Annual Studio Exhibition 2-Oct-2016

Margo Hoekstra

Centered, but precarious.

Lisa Reidy

This doesn’t really fit my current brief, yet feels somehow relevant. An echo of Louise Bourgeois’s Personages? Arms outstretched, striving for balance?

20th Biennale of Sydney 3-Apr-2016

Nina Beier
Installation view

Another “maybe” example. Clearly there is something clever done to suspend the mugs, but the end impression isn’t one of danger or movement.

Art History research – Gillian Lowndes 26-Feb-2016

Gillian Lowndes
Cup on Base
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Another seminal work for me. So exciting.

The mug is broken. There has already been a collapse, and another is moments away.

MMT research at AGNSW 30-Jan-2016

Fiona Hall Slash and Burn

Definitely dangerous. Menacing.

Art History assignment 9-Dec-2013

Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot
Edgar Degas
bronze, cire perdu (lost wax) 1900-1910 cast 1919-1921

Macquarie University Sculpture Garden 26-Jun-2016

Errol B Davis

Sydney Sculpture Conference

Sydney sculpture conference: a universal language was held in the Sydney Opera House on 5 November. The Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) were joint presenters of the conference together with Sculpture by the Sea. Although there was a focus on education the day was quite diverse and I’m having trouble picking through my notes to create a coherent story.

There was a welcome from the head of China tourism (?if I got that right) plus a number of speakers from CAFA, and it sometimes felt a little careful. Nothing wrong with presenting your best side. There seems to be huge activity, lots of projects and money available, particularly as cities attempt to move up the tiers of importance. Huge scale seems to be a must. Then John McDonald, an Australian art critic, spoke on the topic “A Revolutionary Transformation – The Sculptors of China”, and I wondered how it felt for the Chinese guests, listening to their history from an external perspective.

As mentioned there was a lot of talk about education. I get the impression that many felt that in current Australian degree courses not enough time is spent in the studio, working, making, under the guidance of tutors. Forms, space and light; the manipulation of tools on a material. Presumably the rest of the time is spent with theory and research – perhaps the academic requirements within the university structure have had a high price. CAFA’s course takes five years. It had me wondering about my own goals. I left the Open College of the Arts course after completing first year (taking 5 years 🙂 ) because I wanted to move from a textiles focus. Do I want to do more, perhaps locally, if I could? Am I drifting without structure? Off topic here, at any rate!

Paul S.C. Taçon, amongst other distinctions Chair in Rock Art research at Griffith University in Queensland, spoke on Rock art in the Greater Sydney Region. Paul defined the topic as a mark of the landscape in purposive, symbolic ways. The sites are places where people connect with ancestors.

With over 4,000 individual rock art sites in the greater Sydney region, a current need is conservation and management of rock art landscapes, not site by site. Paul showed us lots of images, and in some a strand of red wool had been put into the groove of a petroglyph as a non-impact way to improve visibility. I mentally shuffled in embarrassment remembering times as a child we drew on them in chalk. The world was different in the 60s.

The oldest art found in this area so far has been dated to around 4 or 5 thousand years. Our sandstone isn’t the greatest for longevity. Paul was excited to give us a tip for news about to break – now published here (and no doubt elsewhere), new analysis dating cave painting in Borneo to at least 40,000 years old – “the oldest figurative cave painting in the world”.

The plan is to include a talk on rock art in each year’s conference program, which I think is a great initiative given Australia is so rich in this.

There was an artist’s focus talk – Hossein Valamanesh: Out of Nothingness. I was surprised by the range of his work, some of which was familiar to me (just not the name). A couple of examples are Longing belonging at AGNSW, and the Gingko Gate in Adelaide Botanic Gardens. I think Hossein described it as an attitude in the work rather than style. He sees it as the work of an artist to throw a little light. His attitude to changes to a work over time was interesting – “The responsibility of a work lingering on is part of their lives, not mine”. Changing materiality is part of the work.

Exhibitions in Canberra

In Canberra for a short visit, mum and I hit exhibitions at some of the big institutions.

Rome: City and Empire at the National Museum of Australia.
With over 200 objects loaned from the British Museum, this exhibition was the main motivation for our visit. It’s a diverse group of things, flitting around place and time. There’s a light touch of some themes, at cross-purposes with chronology. A lot of marble, a lot of coins, some jewellery, domestic and military paraphernalia… Much of the overview information wasn’t new to us, that was mainly in the detail. So for me no earth-shattering insights, but some pleasant hours of looking and thinking.

Javelin head

Dated to mid-1st century CE, found at Hod Hill, Dorset inthe UK, a javelin or pilium head, is softened steel. They were designed to bend on impact, so the enemy couldn’t throw them back. Clever. Dreadful.
Can’t see a way to make that visible and meaningful in a work, but a curious idea.

Military diploma

Bronze plaques, 122 (dated 17th July), Brigetio Hungary, were given to a soldier after 25 years of service. It records Gemellus was granted citizenship on his retirement. The plaques are described as “a four-leaved document” on the British Museum website.
I’ve already been thinking about hammer-punching text into metal tags as inserts to folded books. Was planning to buy a set of alphabet punches, but I should explore other ways of making the marks. And making them directly into a book… possibilities…

Punic funerary stele

Amazing, graphic, lines carved into this burial stone. It’s probably from Carthage, Tunisia, 1st-2nd century CE.
This link might be the right object – the description doesn’t quite fit.

National Library of Australia

Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp

Following up some of mum’s recent reading, we visited both the National Gallery and the National Library, to see Cuyp’s Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter. A very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly volunteer at the Library took us into the gallery – to the wall where it usually hangs. Just so we know next time where to go, as it had been away on loan and was perhaps now being checked in and checked over before rehanging. The Library website catalogue notes “On loan to the National Gallery of Australia”, but when we asked at the NGA information desk they had no information on it. So a reason for another visit to Canberra in a few months.

While at the Library we took in the Cook and the Pacific exhibition.

Tricky stuff. As the website notes “The exhibition web pages may also contain material with terms and descriptions that may be culturally sensitive or considered inappropriate today.” Delicately put! A lot of thought and effort has gone into giving context, and in making sure First Nations peoples from the places Cook visited were heard and seen in the exhibition. Still, some very uncomfortable reading. Included is a document with ‘hints’ provided to Cook by the president of the Royal Society, James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton. The hints advise ‘the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several Lands where the Ship may touch’. Cook may have taken this to heart, but further on:

To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.

To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature:—They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European; perhaps being less offensive, more entitled to his favor.

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.

No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent. Conquest over such people can give no just title; because they could never be the Aggressors.

No excuses.

National Gallery of Australia
Over a couple of days we got to a few exhibitions here.
Australian art: Earth/Sky

Philip Hunter
Night Wimmera X

This abstracted landscape drew us both in, quietly contemplating. There is a shimmering, unearthly feel. Wheat sways in patterns, making visible the patterns of the wind. Are those the min min lights, dancing across the ancient, slumbering land? There is industry in the tracks of the harvesting equipment, balanced by the calm and unmoving certainty of the infinite horizon.

I can see those fields in textured rows of stitching; those graceful, turning, tangles of line woven in metal in a sculpture. While the painting soothed my mind it had my fingers twitching with an urge to be making.

A view of part of the Sky gallery space

Taking a step back to think about the curation of this exhibition. I love the freshness, the new insights, provided by moving away from the geographic | chronological lockstep in presenting a collection. I first became conscious of an alternative when seeing the New Classical at the Art Gallery of South Australia (5-May-2013). Back then I quoted Director Nick Mitzevich in the press release “Boundaries of geography and time have been collapsed to inspire a new way of looking at the rich diversity of the Gallery’s collections. Objects from different periods and cultures are juxtaposed to reveal how art links the past to the present”. In this current exhibition in Canberra, people from different periods, different cultures, different belief systems, but all within Australia, are shown to have a commonality in looking around themselves at this land, at the southern skies. We all seek to explain, to express, how we come to be here, what this amazing place means to us. Visiting the exhibition, I can get a glimpse of other perspectives and share a moment of delight, wonder, perhaps understanding.

Bronwyn Oliver

I’ve never felt moved to write about Bronwyn Oliver’s work before now. Reading about her work it sounds exactly in my interest area, that should have me buzzing with admiration, inspiration. Wire used to create abstract forms, woven or soldered, sewn with wire. Instead there is a level of calculation, control, perfectionism, closed and ungiving, almost desperately balanced, in the work that I find alienating.

As so often happens, I need to think again, look again. Comet has a delicacy, the trailing tendrils of wire are slightly wayward, not all the personality groomed out. You’ll get a better view of the structure on the gallery website, but my poor photos (especially the general gallery view) give at least a sense of the movement, hung in a corner with shadows at different angles on the two walls. Being connected, in conversation, with the other works here also helps me approach it.

Margel Hinder, Revolving construction.
Sorry about the raw, poor video. Any past small skills in my editing software have vanished. The kinetic nature of the sculpture is important, but again, you’ll get a better photo of it on the gallery website.

I have written about Margel Hinder’s work before – see 13-Jun-2014 for a figure sculpture that was warm and inviting, and 31-Dec-2013 for her Free standing sculpture in copper and steel that manages to be enormous, self-effacing, tactile and inviting, and an expression of the importance and economic might of the Reserve Bank of Australia(!).

The NGA sculpture is serious, scientific, an expression of ideas, while still fun and playful. I see a lightness and sense of adventure. Seeing it move, the shadows drawing on the walls, gave a nice segue to the next NGA exhibition visited.

Performing Drawing
This exhibition “explores how actions can become art. Focusing on chance and change, this exhibition highlights the NGA’s collection of process-based drawing, video and photography.”

Ilka White
Still from Drawing breath

In this video Ilka White draws on the ground using sand that trickles down from a sack resting across her shoulders. It is an intensely physical and meditative process. Ilka moves carefully, thoughtfully; pauses and pivots; stretches and expands then draws back in to herself. When the sack is empty she balances, reaches down, gently brushes the sand with her hand and you can feel its texture, the grating of the grains.

Ilka White Installation view in Group exchange, Tamworth Triennial 2015

Ilka spoke at the Art Textiles conference in Sydney in 2008 (ATASDA, supported by COFA). I have a general memory of someone deeply thoughtful, a weaver interested in exploring her world through her craft. She was also included in GROUP exchange, the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial – not in my post (22-May-2015), so I’ve dug through my photo archive to give a view of the range of work she presented then. In that the billabong near her home was her muse, and a central theme the interconnectedness of the world.

That sense of deep and still waters of thought, of reflection of the world around, of stepping lightly on the land, of beautiful traces that will blow away and rejoin the earth, continues though all the different expressions of her work.

Kieran Browne

Kieran Brown
Gallery view

This was so much fun.

Entering this part of the exhibition, on the wall was a screen, blank except for a black mark on the right edge. I looked a while, read the blurb, looked again – and there were grey and black smudges on the screen.

A little thought, a careful scan of the gallery ceiling – and a small black camera or sensor discovered.

I ran to get mum, and we danced together to draw on the screen. Move slowly and a line of grey smudges records your progress. Pause, a little conversation, and that smudge darkens to black. Step away, wait, and the traces gradually lighten and disappear. The viewer creates meaning in the art in a very literal, if transient, way.

David Rosetzky
From memory

Could any maker, weaver, not love, love, love this? In this photomontage portrait of Stephen Phillips the actor plays with a length of string, a metaphor for the act of remembering. The double exposure suggests the passage of time. I think of people telling stories as they make shapes, illustrations, in string between their fingers.

David Moore
Moon writing series

The beautiful lines continue – these works by David Moore seeming so connected to Philip Hunter’s work up near the top of this post. Here the photographer used his camera as a drawing instrument, under the full moon in Tasmania, moving to create shapes. Rhythm, elegance, incredible skill; a flow and a spark.

All this and the long weekend still wasn’t over. We had a spare hour before setting off for Sydney, so returned to the NGA to breeze through American Masters.

American Masters
As I write this post this exhibition is in its final hours, and I am so annoyed with myself. I needed much, much, much more time here.

Alexander Calder
Night and day

Walking up the long, high, dimly lit, hallway to the special exhibition space, this mobile by Calder speeds your pace. Backlit, a series of red ovals can be discerned, with two circles, black and white, moving amongst them. Get closer and look down – a white circle, filled with circular shadows.

It was quite different with the Calder work I saw at NGV this year. The post was 15-Sep-2018, but I didn’t include any photos. Remedying that:

My brain registers everything as circles, even when I concentrate on it.
It’s not just my photography. From the institution websites:

I think there are enough clear circles on the MoMA work that I accept all of them as circles, even those at an angle that makes them just a vertical line. In the NGV version all the red shapes appear oval, with the odd effect that the proportions change as I walk towards them.

Is there something to exploit here? For my own work, don’t know. For the person who designed the NGV presentation, with that white circle on the ground and the shadows – brilliant!

Most of my time was spent visiting old friends:

Eva Hesse
Post 7-Jun-2015

Mark Rothko
1957 # 20
Post 27-Dec-2013

Blue Poles, of course (post 26-Dec-2013). A few more.
Why is that? Is it a comfort thing? I think more that for me they are strong things, works that I continue to think about, that influence in some way the way I see the world and other art, including my own.

So maybe some new friends:

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Core samples of stratified stone, drilled from between 1.5 and 40 metres below ground level in different locations across New York City. Monumental. Fascinating in detail. Seeing what is usually hidden – the structure of the land beneath us. Centering. Dare I say, grounding.

There was a quote from Sonfist on the signage: “My feeling is that if we are going to live in a city, we have to create an understanding of the land… We have to come to a better understanding of who we are and how we exist on the planet.”

Hans Hofmann

The energy and excitment! While writing this up, I found a great description on the NGA website – read it there.

This post has taken enormously more time than I intended. My son sensibly pointed out that I enjoyed it. Plus I know that this process of later thinking and relooking helps me retain memories – and the blog acts as a supplementary memory too. So before I move on, time to record just a couple of works in the general NGV collection that caught my eye.

E. Phillips Fox

Stripes! Diagonal lines! Too many posts, too much material, relate to those. My final assignment for the Open College of the Arts course Understanding Western Art is one. I’ve been enjoying analysing the structure of this painting.

Jane Sutherland
A cabbage garden

Why do I like this so much? It seems to trigger a memory that I can’t track down. Something about the composition? That bending figure? In my memory the colours have more purple. Something familiar…

Sculpture by the Sea 2018

Sculpture by the sea at Bondi is always a feast for the eyes – the sculptures of course, the stunning location, and the people. People relaxed and happy, out for a few hours of entertainment and fun in the sun/rain/cloud/buffeting wind/… I’m also watching myself of course – what is drawing my attention, what about it is attracting me?

Sculpture Inside Gallery

The Sculpture Inside gallery is a fascinating place. I think all of the artists showing there also have large works outside (occasionally in a different year). It’s the scale I work at, so there’s a familiarity. There’s often more freedom and a sense of spontaneity. Safety and gravity aren’t such concerns. Cost in effort and resources is less. Some pieces appear to be maquettes, some are simplifications with similar ideas to the large sculptures, some seem to be basically scaled versions (often produced in multiples, at a more approachable price point than the large works), some appear unrelated other than being from the same hands and mind.

Mikaela Castledine’s Feral installation included 15 pieces placed around a wide area in a small gully. The same crocheted polypropylene was used in her small sculptures. There’s a simplification, but on their plinths the inside cats have personality and attitude.

Wassily Kandinsky
Landscape: Dunaberg near Murnau

vanishing cultures by Stephen Hogan I find very exciting. Perhaps not surprising given my ongoing interest in diagonal lines
– for example by Kandinsky (see 15-Oct-2018). Then there’s the recycled steel rod – linking to my welded Germination II (30-Jun-2017). The base of the sculpture is a number of triangles pieces, which together with the poles create a dynamic mood, but the pagoda/gateway effect of recycled forged steel bracket from a horse dray stabilises the work and gives a serenity. Calming and energising. Hogan’s large work outside is much more placid and stable. It frames the constantly moving waves, but doesn’t respond to them. I felt detached, not drawn in.

Barbara Licha

I didn’t photograph Barbara Licha’s inside sculpture. It was a much simplified version of the same idea, and had much less impact than the large sculpture. For me there was a disconnect in the artist’s statement, which refers to the beauty of Sydney and a desire to make us conscious of where we are. Those caged, twisted forms under the city seem more tortured than happily occupying the space.

Itamar Freed
the kiss (study of auguste rodin)

This small work by Itamar Freed was 3D printed. It’s an interesting modern take on a well-known classic. The figures, clothed in modern dress, appear much more energetic to me than the languorous forms of Rodin’s marble. Male and female have swapped positions in a modern twist. Freed has created an edition of 20, plus 5 artists proofs – taking advantage of the modern technology. I find it interesting and a “proper” use of technology – unlike the AI portrait recently sold at Christies (

Moving outside now…

Sandra Pitkin
Wave Within

Sandra Pitkin
Wave Within (detail)

Beautifully detailed and crafted work from Sandra Pitkin. The wave motif is clear, especially in this location. The artist’s statement references an integration of neural activity within the waves, and our inseparable part in nature.

Lucy Barker
Outlet (detail)

Lucy Barker

Lucy Barker provides quite a different kind of detail. The materials listed for this work are bamboo, salvages electrical cables, bronze. The artist sees this as “a means to rewire and decode our problem of mindless waste”.

Sheltered in the shadow of a rocky overhang, the work looks like an unworldly cocoon. Again, beautiful detail and complexity of surface.

Eric Green
Tetrahedron (detail)

Eric Green

Which has me questioning myself about this work by Eric Green. I was attracted to it by the detail. The form seems odd – busy, complex, almost ungainly. The finish close up is so unusual. It looks really rough. Honestly, it looks like my welding. Most of the metal sculptures in the show are beautifully finished, ground down cleanly, often a mirror finish. The artist’s statement is basically about geometric form.

It was curiosity, trying to decipher what I was seeing, that texture, that led me closer to the work. Obviously that “no trace of the maker’s hand” of lots of other works isn’t the point. I feel conflicted. I normally make approving noises about good craftsmanship. Clearly that’s not the point in this work, there’s a different approach, prioritisation, train of thought. I like messy, lively work. Is it the the thick paint that bothers me? Somehow I find this work unsettling. Which makes it interesting.

Leo Loomans
Icarus Rising (detail)

Leo Loomans
Icarus Rising

Back on safe ground here.
Lots of detail and interest, voids and shadow. Even a classical motif. Interesting, powerful, satisfying, I find more each time I look at it.

Andrew Rogers

“Hold closely in one’s arms; form not anchored by weight; motion within, rhythms, lustrous sheen.” (artist’s statement).

Complexity and detail. Polished and precise – a little too perfect and manicured perhaps. Balanced movement.

It’s getting long and late, so a quick slideshow.

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Deborah Halpern
The Face

Finally, simply – joyful and fun.


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