Archive Page 2

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.

18 December 2016

The week began still looking for suitable subject material.
Working on A5 copy paper, first with wax pastel then charcoal, yoga and pilates videos, a mix of 10 – 30 seconds each. The yoga was slow and repetitive, the pilates a bit quick. I had a lot of trouble fitting the figure on the page. The length of upper legs in particular keeps surprising me.
Only a small selection of many, many attempts shown here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next working in a sketching app on my tablet, on a bus trip. Very fast – 10 seconds was common, occasionally more, and various false starts shorter when a person moved or was blocked from view. Again a selection – this turned into a fun game, working very quickly to avoid staring at people, some at the end out of the window (earlier was on the freeway).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On another trip I played with some of the different pens available in the app. Still having trouble working at a size to fit in the whole figure. I discovered the app lets you move the drawing to create more space, but of course that messes with time. Some of these app sketches were done with my finger, others using a little stylus. I can’t tell the difference.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve now moved on to Chapter 2 – Seeing contours. It’s blind drawing – very slowly. Only one so far, in HB pencil on A4 copy paper. 30 minutes, my son watching TV.
Lots of repeats – for example his nose. Again trouble fitting on the page – there’s no looking forward, just concentrating at the point where the eye is travelling. It’s light and delicate, satisfying in its way.

Susan Best visualizing feeling: affect and the feminine avant-garde.
Still in the first chapter. I’m nervous of “psycho-babble” (for example earlier this year, Briony Fer On abstract art), but have noted my own attraction to work by women, and my intention of materials and process driven explorations, yet with potential connections to the body and bound to be an expression of my self.

Right from the introduction I’ve been enjoying this book. Best selects as a source “the most useful for my purposes” – and I intend to extract what is useful for my purposes. The emotive work that interests her is “feeling at once spontaneous and obscure” – not the cliched or sentimental, not facile shock. This resonates with me.

Best is interested in the “peculiar entanglement of beholder and work of art” – after all, many of the works she examines could be regarded as minimalist, the artist denying their own expression.

Lots more in my notebook. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to pull together some threads of particular relevance to me.

Thinking about this reading, this week’s collage work returned more strongly to the formal explorations of John Nixon (27-Nov-2016), adding in the body almost as texture – the anonymity of crowd scenes. The original photos were from a web search, but all in Sydney and places where I might have been (but wasn’t).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These were all done in one session. This project is achieving objectives, in the sense of working fluently, intuitively. I actually got into that timeless zone, moving from one collage to the next, a range of compositions based on my source material then an additional one quite different, using scraps on the work table.

Not using a critical eye at the moment. That can wait for the end of the series.

Morning journal writing is continuing. If any themes or conclusions (! unlikely) appear I might summarise on this blog, but it’s too new and developing as yet.

Barbara Cleveland: Bodies in time
This project at AGNSW highlighted for me how narrow my understanding and knowledge of art is. I don’t have language or a structure for performance, don’t understand what reanimating a score could mean. My original purpose was to use the video as a source of drawing material, but I haven’t got the speed (yet?).

11 December 2016

A quiet week, with energy drained by an extra work day, oppressive weather, insert rationalisation here… Needs must, so I’ve been nurturing myself with some rest and recuperation time.

AGNSW – Drawing Rodin’s ‘The kiss’
This workshop felt very special – early entrance to the Nude exhibition, and over an hour’s concentrated drawing, sitting on our stools around The kiss.

Enjoyable in its way – but frustrating. The drawings all have their faults – for example the first much too upright, the last with a gumby-like bendy wrist/forearm. But that’s missing the point – or at least my point.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In my Foundation plan (15-Sep-2016) the idea of life drawing was to develop skills in seeing form for sculpture. Instead I keep trying to make a picture of what I’m looking at. The result is boring, static, flat – but worse, no sense of energy or volume in space. My default drawing isn’t the sort of drawing I want to do.

Drawing exercise – Daniela Brambilla Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements.
Mentioned last week (4-Dec-2016), I think working hard following this book could be my answer – very directly in some parts (chapter 6 “Modelling” has exercises using plasticine as well as on paper). I’m still on chapter 1 (Gesture), which emphasises physical structure and actions in space, quick fluid lines, motion and energy. Plus lots of observation and lots and lots of practice.

A brief session in the food court one lunchtime was disappointing – need to consider opportunities when selecting a table. Croquis Cafe is too static – they are poses, not gestures. Contemporary dance seemed a good potential source – but all attempts “live” were dismal, the movement much too fast and varied. I started pausing the video, with a timer. First using HB pencil, 30 second limit per sketch, then black wax pastel and 45 seconds per sketch. Some better results, but not in the spirit of the instructions. A selection of results are shown below – there were many more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Done on just two days (but still averaging 1 per day!), my working is becoming more fluent, my decisions faster, more instinctive. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with collage.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

9. Image from a card advertising the latest NGA exhibition, a painting by Carl Van Loo. Madame de Pompadour, the beautiful gardener, never lost her head,
10. but it seemed amusing to put it in her basket of choice items.
11. A short series combining dance and other flight.
12. The framework used by this Pierott suggested the structure of (circus?) stripes.
13. Reflections falling out of the frame.
14. Skywards with a mass flock.
15. A final combination of scraps on the workbench. It doesn’t work, but it feels like something is close.

Reading and reflecting
This week I’ve been reading Daybook: The journal of an artist by Anne Truitt. Quoting the back cover, “Renowned American artist Anne Truitt kept this illuminating and inspiring journal over a period of seven years, determined to come to terms with the forces that shaped her art and life”. After an overwhelmingly busy period Truitt started to feel less visible to herself, and decided to write in a journal each morning for a year.

I’m finding the journal inspiring, illuminating, some unexpected parallels in my own life and many differences. I’d like to become more visible to myself – my motivations and aspirations as an artist, what I can bring to my art. I’ve begun writing – actual writing, pen on paper. In the interests of keeping open to myself, this one part of my practice I’m keeping closed to the blog.

4 December 2016

Art from Milingimbi : taking memories back

This exhibition at AGNSW (link) resurfaced some of my recent concerns about museums, their collections and the politics and power imbalance of groups (20-Nov-2016).

Tom Djawa Djarrka (water goanna)

Tom Djawa
Djarrka (water goanna)

The descriptions of individual works mix personal and clan group significance with formal critical concepts. For example of Djarrka (water goanna)
by Tom Djawa we are informed:
In ‘Djarrka (water goanna)’ c1959 Djäwa provides an image of the black and yellow Mertens’ water monitor that relates to his mother’s clan group. The animated forms of the goannas are exquisitely realised, with intricate detailing of fine dots, dashes, line work and cross-hatching. Set against a plain ground, their dynamic forms give a sense of dimensionality, their seemingly suspended bodies anchored by the assured yellow line that dissects the composition, dividing the male goannas from the female.

There are placards with images and biographical information on each of the identified artists. According to the signage at the entrance many of the works were collected 1949 to 1959 by the mission superintendent. The sign concludes “Working with the Milingimbi community to realise this exhibition and the accompanying publication, has also allowed the artists’ descendants to reclaim their cultural inheritance and play an active role in the interpretation and presentation of the artworks … to take their memories back”. Presumably that’s reflected in those descriptions mentioned earlier. I didn’t detect other active participation in the exhibition space.

Am I too cynical, too negative, too guilty? During the week I finished reading the simplest words: a storyletter’s journey by Alex Miller. In the life experiences of this Australian immigrant from the UK, the friendships he has formed, the stories he tells, there is hope – that the story isn’t finished. It’s probably still true the best I can do is keep out of peoples’ way, but maybe I should add some trust and hope.

Nude: art from the Tate collection
I did a quick reconnoiter of this exhibition the day it opened, and two more visits this week. Still lots to see – there are around 100 items (the magic number at the moment, including from the British Museum (20-Nov-2016) and in Sculpture by the sea (6-Nov-2016). I suppose it’s needed for “blockbuster” status.)

sketch20161202_01Nude: Fitzroy Street no. 1 (1916) by Matthew Smith has captured me every visit. I’ve been excited by his work before – in AGNSW’s collection (31-Jan-2014) and at Carrick Hill (16-Oct-2016). Wonderful red in all of them – making photographs particularly disappointing.

In this painting the strong complementary colours could riot, but the spine of the nude anchors the composition. The body stretches, expands to more than fill the canvas from the elbow extending beyond the frame to the tip-toe feet. Complex angles in bands of colour create a space to hold the volume of the nude. The relatively subdued yellow of the chair stabilizes, provides rest. On the same wall in the gallery space are Pablo Picasso’s Nude woman in a red armchair (Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge) (1932) (link) and Matisse’s Draped nude (Femme nue drapée) (1936) (link) – both fascinating, but don’t demand my attention in the same way.

Actually I think it would be easy to spend a few days sitting looking at that wall. The way the body has been placed within each picture, relating to the space…

When working on my related collage (below) it occurred to me the lost elbow avoided a disruptive pointed angle – a distracting flaw and loss of flow in my quick sketches.

Repetition Collage
Quickly apparent that it was a good idea to include the word average in the brief for this investigation (see 27-Nov-2016). I’m keeping quick and intuitive, waiting for more experience and a body of examples before looking critically at results.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2. Matthew. Printed out section of life drawing. Paper strip stencil, roughly painted corners in black (attempted monoprint, but forgot how quickly this paint dries.
3. Fingerprint. Stenciled repeated thumb prints (very directly identity and body) through a circular stencil. Played with the idea of a medal on a ribbon, ended playing with different sides and orientations of patterned paper.
4. Nancy’s burden. The shape keeps reminding me of a cross. Fabric from an old dress – the owner has been in high level care for almost 6 years now. The background was scrap from an earlier day – another quick decision.
5. Kiss. An image of Rodin’s The Kiss from AGNSW publicity material. Distorted hessian overlaid to reveal and conceal.
6. Presence or absence? Slices of John Currin’s Honeymoon nude, again from publicity for Nude:art from the Tate collection.
Practice version

Practice version

7. From Matthew Smith. Based on my examination of Nude: Fitzroy Street no. 1 in the exhibition. Sadly this version is weaker than my first impression or the practice version.
7. Ascending. A variation on the shapes and imagery I’ve been playing with so far.

I started the week still working with croquis cafe, but began to lose confidence in basic shapes and proportions (have mislaid a handout from Matthew). This is why I’ve started and stopped before – repeating the same thing didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Quite suddenly remembered a recently purchased book on human figure drawing (how did that slip my mind?) – Daniela Brambilla Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements.. Could I work with that?

On Tuesday night I tried to find some energy, looking at the model posing on the screen, trying to surround the shape. There was no energy – not in me, after the work day, but also not in the static pose of the model.

Wednesday morning bus I was reading John Berger’s Bento’s sketchbook, a bit about drawing María Muñoz, a description of the dancer’s preparatory position, the Bridge, …”between those two fixed points the whole body is expectant, waiting, suspended.”

Parts from both Berger and Brambilla seemed to click, I was seeing people moving around me differently. In the food court at lunch, the next day in the local plaza, I tried to see fleeting moments, bodies in space.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They don’t look like much, nothing different – but my energy and attitude were.

Then another shift of gear – a last minute opportunity for a day’s Life Drawing Workshop with Sue Vesely at Sydney Community College. It’s now late Sunday and no time for a detailed story, but a few quick notes I want to remember:

The importance of grounding with feet; the vaguer you are the move the viewer will read something into it; pair lines that echo|answer each other; editing lighting – choose what you want to use, simplify; measure, check, accuracy – or poetic, the grace of the figure, the emotional response; find the line of the spine, then shoulders and hips, then stick figure, and build on framework.

Sue gave demonstrations and her own notes on that last part, also tips on drawing the head (see the eggs she’d made for the class in the slideshow), handling light, drawing eyes and hands… We had a male model in the morning and a female in the afternoon. I used charcoal and a full A2 sheet each attempt. An intense and satisfying day. Unfortunately I didn’t have any fixative, and wouldn’t have wanted to use it in the confines of the class, so everything is already a bit extra blurred and messy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Reading: Joke Robaard How do you repair a weaving flaw
This reading is from, one of the links given by Jessica Hemmings (27-Nov-2016). I’m not going to discuss the ideas presented in the article. Instead this is a list of questions and ideas that occurred to me while reading. The quotes included are taken out of context and re-interpreted according to my personal interests.

“The gap is the very essence of weaving.” I’ve been focused on the orthogonal warp and weft, but this could lead to presence and absence, literal or metaphorical gaps.
Purposefully leaving holes, the choice of whether to make connections. A hole is not equal to a flaw. (hole or whole?)
“fastening off the edges in a good manner” How could one explore “a good manner”?
“Weaving” – an object; an (ongoing?) activity
“the idea of manipulability” ???
“the level of pure chaos” – is it suggesting that is at a macro level? In weaving the detail is controlled, placed. Also at the level of the spun thread, fibres aligned. We can (can we?) choose to give space to chaos.
Each participant speaking with expertise and subjectivity.

Too late. Too incoherent. Darn.
Try again next week 🙂

27 November 2016

With classes and lectures finishing for the summer there are some quieter weeks coming up. A good time to re-balance, sort out my work area, and have some solid studio time starting to integrate all the external input.

Jessica Hemmings Making meaning: craft & labour

“Questions are a minimum of what we need these days.” “Why am I thinking about [a work] again?” Jessica Hemmings has an issue with works that are generic and anonymous, and took us on a rapid tour of some works and artists who make her think about craft and labour. don’t make functional carpets. The works look like carpets, in materials like plastic S-hooks. The labour is hard and long – but is performed from a position of choice.

Toril Johannessen could be seen as gradually relinquishing control in an exploration of optical illusions, cultural identity and authenticity, moving from photographs to digital print to giving fabric to HAiK design collective – who then took the risk of taking the fabric to Ghana, designing there based on local research, rather than outsourcing being directly involved in production. Factory workers model the clothing in some photos.

Formafantasma, in Moulding Tradition, question craft, tradition, that has become synonymous with national identity. The functional becomes symbolic, attitudes become static. We forget, for example, that migration has occurred throughout human history.

In Kimsooja’s Archive of mind visitors queue to roll spheres of clay, to add to the huge numbers. Mundane activity – and very popular. There are aspects of mindfulness and contemplation. How different to the labour if it were an ongoing job?

Links to some other artists and projects mentioned: Kara E. Walker’s A Subtlety
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower seeds – provoked considerable discussion during Q&A. What is intentional? How much is media driven post-rationalising? The effort of creating the seeds, the meanings they continue to carry. Creative writing about art practice. Making hidden labour apparent.

The above is only part, but shows some of the consideration of what “craft” and what “labour” can mean. There were works that vacillated between personal and political, explored identity, issues such as child labour or the impact of automation, outsourcing, or creating employment and social empowerment.

During Q&A use of modern technology including rapid prototyping was discussed – mainly in relation to student use (we were in a tertiary institution). Hemmings commented that it is hard to make it interesting, to remain critical and questioning. I link it back to Ruth Hadlow’s discussion about the process, the levels of thought, knowing your starting point rather than end point.

Other discussion touched on material loyalty and inter-disciplanarity. It takes time to learn, and doing a little of lots leaves you feeling broad and shallow.

MCA, collage
Sally Smart
The craftiest of eyes (borrowed dress) 1994

Sally Smart The craftiest of eyes (borrowed dress)

Sally Smart
The craftiest of eyes (borrowed dress)

Sally Smart The craftiest of eyes (borrowed dress)  detail

Sally Smart
The craftiest of eyes (borrowed dress)

“I have always seen the act of cutting as political, which I refer to as the ‘politics of cutting’.” (Smart, quoted in MCA material).

A very interesting work and artist, on this day I approached it trying to apply techniques learnt with Ruth Hadlow (see 13-Nov-2016). From long lists of properties observed and associations made I extracted

  • edges – cut (political!), stencil-like, soft
  • manipulating support
  • layers
  • bodies / identity
  • An aside – the approach was intended to mine the work to find my own beginnings, to slip sideways. Although I’ve been trying to develop my looking skills for a number of years, this felt the most intense observation and involvement with a work.

    John Nixon
    There were two long rows of works by John Nixon, one above the other, all framed the same size in neat white rectangles, all I think untitled and dated 1984 – 1988.

    John Nixon has chosen to work with highly restricted colour and shapes, using the readymade, examining the possibilities of art making – a matter of intellectual enquiry rather than technique.

    I find the results austere, beautiful, fascinating, satisfying. Repetition but so many possibilities in what at first seems severe restrictions.
    Points extracted from my list:

  • basic geometric shapes
  • overlays and stencils
  • Reduced
  • My learning plan (15-Sep-2016 – in Ruth’s class it was likened to a Foundation year) identified collage as an area of investigation. Not much of a sideways movement to use ideas from collage to create a brief using collage… but maybe a combination from two such different approaches could give enough space.

  • Basic repetition of simple geometric shapes
  • Repetition of format
  • Bodies / identity
  • Focus on edges – vary cut, torn, …
  • An average of one per day for the rest of the year, working quickly and intuitively. Have an idea, do it. I’m using a spiral book of A6 cartridge paper.

    I’m not quite sure what I mean by “bodies / identity”, but the thought scared me so seemed worth pursuing.

    day_1-basic-arrangementsDay 1 was a quick summary of the arrangements used by Nixon, then a composition using a cross shape. The four corners came first, a photo of ancient ruins. For the body element this linked to eyes as windows.

    repetition collage day 01

    repetition collage day 01

    It’s too big on the page. Very (too) complex. I don’t think you can see enough of the central image, which was intended as a key to what is going on.

    Is it noticeable that the only eye looking out directly is the animal one at the bottom? I like the (accidental) way it merges with the shadows of the neighbouring photos, so it pushes out into them.

    Life drawing
    The last night of the beginner class, and was meant to be with a life model. He didn’t turn up, so our brave tutor Mat both posed (clothed) and in his breaks went round the class giving feedback and advice. Perhaps because of the improvising, or just having got to know each other over the weeks, it was particularly fun – lots of work, but a relaxed, joking, supporting atmosphere.

    We started with lots of 1 minute poses, just trying to get movement, then some 2 and 5 minute ones finishing with a couple of 20 minutes. Mat must have been stiff the next day!

    Initial focus was finding the main line, capturing movement, if possible weight placement.

    As the poses got longer we were encouraged to focus on relative placement, checking, not worrying about detail, using chunky charcoal to loosen up, getting broad areas. Then using a range of different widths of charcoal, moving material around, creating highlights with a putty eraser, going darker with compressed charcoal.

    The final two poses, with detail shots:

    More drawing
    The class was great and I’m booked into a life drawing class next year. Wanting to keep building skill – and having fun! – I’m trying cafe croquis again.

    Staying with charcoal on cartridge paper – I enjoy it and like some of my early results.

    Did all 5 x 1-minute and 4 x 2 minute poses on a single A2 page, rubbing over with my hand between each sketch. An interesting sense of movement. The 5 minute pose is on its own.

    4 pages – 5 x 1 minute poses (general blocks rather than line); 4 x 2 minute poses; the 5 minute poses; then I used one of their photos and worked for 20 minutes.

    Susannah Place
    Just a quick note that I visited this museum. Interesting textures and stories. A potential resource if I ever want a nostalgic / family theme.

    Letting go
    Finally a quote from a book I’m reading, Alex Miller’s the simplest words: a storyteller’s journey.

    “…our works…are imperfect experiments abandoned and left to survive as best they can on their own.”

    20 November 2016

    A minor theme emerged this week – museums, their architecture, their purpose.

    Peter Kohane Art museums in Australia: Past, present and future (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series)

    Kohane considered a number of aspects or themes around the architecture of art museums – their impact, what makes them memorable, what adds to our experience of viewing art. The major focus was AGNSW, with other Australian galleries in Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane providing different perspectives. Ideas around the external composition and the ritual of entering the building I found particularly interesting, beyond the more simple idea of spaces for viewing – lighting, sight lines etc. No building was “tops” in every aspect, but there was enough to bring pleasure to the local audience (as well as slight apprehension about forward plans).

    Nicholas Thomas The return of curiosity: What museums are good for in the 21st century
    Purchased with an eye to portability (weight, dimensions) as well as interest, I’m still in the first chapter of this book. Thomas sees a huge resurgence in museums worldwide in recent decades. Destination architecture, telling a peoples’ / region’s / nation’s stories, a rationale for some museums of past colonial powers hanging on to the treasures they have accumulated…

    The last hit a long-standing nerve in me. Keeping artefacts because their history is more complex than original creation in a particular community, or keeping them because it offers a chance for ongoing relationships between current custodians and orginal peoples (a relationship that would end if items were repatriated), or keeping them as a resource for all to spark new insights and technologies…

    More to read and think about, but in the meantime this weekend I traveled to Canberra with my mother to visit …

    A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum, currently on exhibition at the National Museum of Australia (

    Limestone female figure. 4500BC-3200BC 1886,0310.1 © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Limestone female figure.
    © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Some fascinating and beautiful objects. The Karpathos Lady is close to life in scale. The focus on face, breasts and vulva is so keen – one can stand in a reverie, thinking about the people who carved and used the work. What exactly was its significance.

    On the other hand the exhibition was exhausting – unlike when visiting an art museum I spent more time reading the labels than looking at the exhibits. They seemed more examples illustrating a story than pure objects of interest and conjecture in themselves. And the stories started to feel political. There was A Purpose. And not just To Educate/Inform. Perhaps because of my recent reading the exhibition felt like a justification of the British Museum and its determination to maintain control of “its” collection. They’re sharing, they’re showing the world our stories.

    Astrolabe 14thC 1893,0616.3 © The Trustees of the British Museum

    © The Trustees of the British Museum

    This is the item that crystallized my discomfort. The information under the image here is from the British Museum website, as is the photo. Information on the exhibition signage is a bit different. An excerpt:
    70. Hebrew Astrolabe
    Brass, 1345-1355 CE.
    Probably Spain
    Christians, Jews and Muslims lived alongside each other in medieval Spain, creating a climate of intellectual debate that resulted in unprecedented advances in maths and science. This scientific instrument is called an astrolabe, used for navigation, astronomy, astrology, and for finding the time. Originating in ancient Greece, astrolabes were refined by Islamic and Jewish scholars in medieval Spain. The Spanish and Arabic words inscribed on this astrolabe are written in Hebrew, suggesting it was probably owned by a Jewish scholar.

    Helpful, contextual information. A celebration of human ingenuity. A timely reminder in these difficult times of the benefits of working together. A practical example of the benefits of an institution holding treasures and sharing them with the world. An overt political act on many levels.

    I took photos, but chose to use the better quality images on the British Museum website under their open-handed terms. I’ve also found their interactive “Museum of the World” ( associated with Google Cultural Institute. A whiff of hypocrisy from me? There’s plenty to go around.

    I re-read my account of exhibitions at the National Museum earlier this year, including Encounters from the British Museum (17-Mar-2016). More ambivalence.

    There was an “Australian Aboriginal Basket” in the current exhibition (item number 5). Interestingly, based on the exhibition history on the British Museum website entry for this item (,08.35&page=1), the bag has only been included on the Australian section of this long-term world-wide traveling show. A sop to the locals? An intelligent respect for the particular audience, with an eye for careful conservation? Whatever the case, this bag “possibly used for carrying human remains” (from the exhibition catalogue) will be leaving with the rest of the loot/collection.

    National Museum of Australia

    National Museum of Australia

    National Museum of Australia

    We went back the next morning to visit the permanent collection of the National Museum. It is definitely Destination Architecture. It is definitely telling the nation our story Our Story. Again I was reading labels, being told, no space for imagination – everything shown had illustrative purpose.

    This account isn’t fair. It was well done. The story is important. Events had combined to nudge towards cynicism. Given the previous day’s viewing of 101 objects (there was a bit of a cheat to include the Australian WLAN prototype test-bed) we were exhausted within half an hour. I couldn’t take any more balanced, professional, modern exposition. After a restorative brunch in their very good cafe (another essential for the modern museum) we went to a very different exhibition which exhilarated, but backtracking first…

    Another event was actually early in our time in Canberra, and held at the NMA in conjunction with the 100 Objects exhibition – but was excellent and I didn’t want to sully it by association with my diatribe above.

    Alison Betts Trading tales of the Silk Road
    This was one of the high points of the weekend. A fast and entertaining overview of the history of the Silk Roads (note plural) and unintended consequences. Not a single path, not a single journey (people and goods passed along shorter sections, in a more complex trading sequence).

    We touched on Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Chinese Han empires – business is best under large and strong empires, with safer roads and elites hungry for prestigious and luxurious items. There was a fragment of a letter from a woman to her absent husband – she’d “rather [be] a dog’s or pig’s wife than your’s”. A quick glance at plague, fleas on marmots in mongolia, local population immune, the consequences as items traded to the west. Vikings as traders, as well as raiders and invaders.

    Mum brought a photo, Alison in a group at Chilpak or “Tower of Silence”, taken around 16 years ago when she (mum) spent a couple of weeks on a dig in Uzbeckistan led by Alison. One of the slides during the lecture included virtually the same view, which had us nudging each other in appreciation.

    Repurpose Drill Hall Gallery (
    My planned research on collage has stalled, but not disappeared. This exhibition highlights “works [that] feature a foreign object, a third party, a ready-made pretext or a pre-existing form that generates a fresh outcome. Through incorporation or obliteration, addition or subtraction, the re-purposed template alters its identity and its function.” (from the exhibition website linked above).

    The venue was light and bright. Signage was limited but sufficient – brief explanatory overviews, then basic artist name, title, materials, lender, for each piece. Each of the eight artists had multiple works included. Ample space and no crowd (nice for us, but sad as I think the exhibition is well worth time). Room to think. Restorative. Exhilarating. I had a sense of being at home after the information fatigue of NMA. Impossible to focus on 2 or 3 works – I wanted to spend time with them all.

    But I’m not going to write about them here today. I’m still thinking and researching. Go to the Drill Hall website. currently has some installation shots of the exhibition. has more information including links to artist interviews and biographies – Matt Arbuckle, Peter Atkins, Chris Carmody, Nicole Ellis, Erwin Fabian, Robert Motherwell, Elizabeth Newman and Trish Roan.

    National Gallery of Australia
    On our final morning, before the drive home, we went to NGA. Some contemplation time in James Turrell’s Skyspace, then less comfortable contemplation in Artists of the Great War ( Some charcoal and wash drawings by Will Dyson I found particularly moving, with a sense of the human moment. For some reason mum and I had been talking a lot over the weekend about her parents and the impact on their generation of war – grandpa underage, wounded on the Somme, grandma the only one of her group of friends to marry. The nightmares continuing many decades later.

    This week we moved on to the proportions of the body (using an artist’s mannequin), followed by portraits (taking turns in 5 minute poses).
    I started in pencil and working relatively small, but was much more comfortable with charcoal on A2 cartridge paper. Lots of fun, not bad results for starters, and as always more practice needed.

    A few days late posting, but more is happening so moving right along 🙂


    Fabulous figure sculpting workshop with Kassandra Bossell!

    Calendar of Posts

    April 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Mar