Archive for the 'Weekly roundup' Category

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).


6 April 2017

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.


Brenda Livermore

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.

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.


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 🙂

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!

Summer break

The Plan didn’t include a summer break, but my brain and to an extent body had their own ideas. I did what was set in front of me but there was no reading, no reflection, no planning. No point resisting what is necessary.

Now I have to dig myself out of the hole, refocus. So a brief, factual outline of what’s been going on.

The new AGNSW lecture series, Site specific: The power of place, has begun.The first, Michael Brand on the history and planned future of the Gallery itself, was much more interesting and engaging than I expected. The photos and drawings of proposed reuse of World War 2 oil tanks were beautiful – I would love to experience that space.

The most recent lecture was Canaletto and Venice. An engaging thread linking paintings, postcards and selfies.

Four weeks into a six week Life Drawing class. Sometimes I’m happy with progress, sometimes I seem to be going backwards. It’s always totally absorbing. The local council art gallery runs occasional “sketch clubs” – two hours with a model, no tutor. I’ve been to a few and it’s a great opportunity to practice and to try a few different things.

Work has slowly continued on the random weave over welded frame piece. Still quite a way to go.

wire_lightAs light relief, or when wanting work to take with me, I’ve done a couple of quick studies using the wire. I was particularly focused on experimentation with the starting point, having not been satisfied with an earlier bowl twining_201701-02_2 where the cross-over of wires in the base seemed a bit clumsy, and was certainly a bit tricky to manage. In this new one the wires started in a wreath-like coil, then braided upwards together. Love the light and shadow and eccentric shapes that can come with this material.

basketry_20170210cIn another variant a CD was drilled with holes around the edge, then wires threaded through. Strips of fibreglass insect mesh were twined through, looking for layering and varying density. I was planning to do more mesh at the top, but in the end decided that would be a distraction.

Margaret Olley: painter, peer, mentor, muse at the S H Ervin gallery.
A great idea for an exhibition and some interesting works – I especially enjoyed looking at some student life sketches done by Margaret Olley and her contemporaries, which included some classic and familiar-to-me struggles with sizing of feet etc.

The actual layout and signage of the exhibition was less successful. There was a narrative here, but my companion and I struggled and then gave up trying to follow it.

That’s about all I have to show for the last month. There has been more – a family weekend on Cockatoo Island, trialing software to better manage, locate and document photographs, moving to cloud-based backup, etc. All the bits and bobs that fill our lives.

Deep breath, sitting up straight. Up-to-date more or less. Time to move on.

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.

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.

31 December 2016

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

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

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

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

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

It was serene, hypnotic, deeply thought and felt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fabulous figure sculpting workshop with Kassandra Bossell!

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