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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 🙂

Workshop: Figure Sculpting with Kassandra Bossell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Workshop: Welding Sculptures with Paul Hopmeier

This week of summer school at National Art School was exciting, exhausting, terrifying, absorbing, expanding, satisfying… It gave me everything I was hoping for and more.

Paul Hopmeier has been exhibiting sculpture for over 30 years and brought a wealth of technical expertise and problem solving ideas. Sometimes with the group but more often individually Paul would share a way of looking at and thinking about sculpture, helping me to see and think about what I was doing. A small comment about not wanting to lack ambition, or a brief discussion on treatment of ends, and I would suddenly see all sorts of new options and possibilities.

Simon Hodgson, the sculpture studio technician, was on hand all week with advice and help, challenging and suggesting, a tutor in all but name in his own right. Paul and Simon together make a great team – great knowledge, lots of respect for each other, but different perspectives and emphases which again made clear the vast choices we have.

nas_workshopThe first day was basically induction and initial practice in safe use of all the equipment available to us. The photo shows one end of the large studio (air-conditioned, thank goodness). At the end are five welding bays, complete with plastic (?) curtains to contain damaging light. We did stick and mig welding. Along the right wall can be seen the large metal cutting bandsaw, on the left wall the sheet metal folder. Left centre is the roller for bending curves. Behind the centre work bench is a belt grinder and a drill press. Out of view is the sheet metal guillotine. The other half of the space is generally for woodwork – we used it as work and discussion area, and for setting out additional tools – different kinds of vise, hand tools, all the safety equipment for eyes, ears, hands etc. Outside was a series of work benches, covered but open, for noisier work – angle grinders (for cutting and grinding), anvils and hammers… There was a lot of equipment to learn about.

It wasn’t until the second morning that we were introduced to oxy-acetylene for cutting and bending. This was the one piece of equipment we could only use under direct tutor supervision, and it properly scared me. In the images above I am adjusting the flame and then cutting some metal. Terrifying.

Then we were let loose. Everyone had brought some bits and pieces of steel scrap and maybe some found objects. We each had oddments from the training process – some cut and bent sheet, a curve of flat bar etc. Outside were some piles and bins of dumped material for us to pick over – off-cuts, abandoned student work, some donations from Paul. We could each decide what we wanted to do, to use, ask for or be offered help and advice, then just do it.

I started with more welding practice. Stick welding you need to control speed, angle, feed (of the stick) and placement/direction. I could manage maybe two of those at once. MIG was a bit easier – no changing distance to work to manage feed, but the sensitive trigger kept auto-feeding wire when not wanted.

My first piece evolved from a series of experiments and then a sort of iterative response to what was happening. No progress photos, but the sequence was something like: Trying out the sheet metal guillotine to cut some strips of thin sheet; combining using plain weave; tacking together using the mig welder (difficult not to melt the thin sheet). Where to go next??? Trying out a different join method by riveting the woven piece to the sample curved metal bar. The result stood up on the table in a curve. Where to go next??? Maybe another piece of welded weave to curve around the back. More cutting, weaving, welding, bending. Put the two pieces together. Boring. Dead space. Dull. Don’t want to do that. Where to go next??? The first bit looks a bit like a mask or helmet. The second piece could be a belly or flank. Nope, sizes are wrong. Swap them. Head and torso? How to join them??? Rummage around the metal bins, found some scrap of heavy mesh. Could weld it on. Where to join? Some discussion, try-outs holding with vises. What angle? Some hammering to match curves. Welding. Pieces are joined. Where to go next??? Could it be free-standing? Audition some possibilities. Not convinced. A wall piece? Oh, that looks promising. Need a hanging mechanism. Bend tabs on that major curve? Complex angles. Cut off excess length of curve and weld on back tabs at good angle? Why not weld right across? So some cutting, grinding, drilling of holes, welding. How to finish/protect the metal??? That final question remains undetermined, but that aside at the end of Wednesday I called it done.

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

One of my happiest moments in a very happy week was when Paul called this “resolved”. I am thrilled by the process and thrilled with the result.

It’s around 73 cm high, 31 cm wide and sits 19 cm off the wall. I find the textures, the balance of weight and space, the amount of irregularity of form, satisfying. It reads best seen from the front, but has some interest from all angles. I chose not to tidy or hide any part of the process. Messy learner welds remain messy. A couple of sharp external points had a little grinding, but otherwise the result seen is what happened. I think for this piece it works.

basketry_randomweave_2dIt was hard to get moving on a second piece. Finally I decided to develop some ideas based on my random weave vine and wire piece from the class with Brooke Munro (15-Jan-2017). Instead of the vine I could weld a rough basket form of bent rod. I had some interesting bits of wire, knotted and cut ties from the scrap metal yard. The tie wire used in the vine work could be used again in random weave, giving a third weight of line.

A cycle of work repeated all of Thursday. Put on outside work gear (leather gloves, eye protection, ear plugs and muffs). Take a piece of scavenged rod, around 1 cm diameter. Bend in interesting curves that will match work in progress (wip) – no machinery, just rod firmly in vise, long hollow square cut rod placed over end to provide long lever, strength I didn’t know I had in me. Take bent rod and wip inside, change into welding gear (leather gauntlets, welding mask). Long frustrating process using magnets, vise-grips, bricks etc to hold rod and wip in place. Tack weld (or bump and have to re-set). One tiny weld and suddenly everything could be moved around, turned upside down, and the weld completed. Repeat. Repeat again. And again.

On Friday morning I made a start on the random weave. I also found materials and time to make a sort of tuning-fork shaped device that can be held in a vise and assists bending (demonstrated to us on Monday, but unfortunately forgotten by me on Thursday – but at least now I have one). It’s still a work in progress, but I can continue without needing any specialist equipment.

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

Photo: Paul Hopmeier

I’m planning different densities, layering… plans that will change as work progresses.

Lamp by Mat

Lamp by Mat

Mosquito by Steve

Mosquito by Steve

It was interesting to see the range of work done by the different students (just nine of us – the tenth didn’t return after day 1, uncomfortable with the equipment). Mat made a very clever table lamp, the flex hidden in round tube, a lump of solid metal providing a solid base. Steve made a number of quirky pieces, including this mosquito with wings and jaws formed by a pair of pliers and proboscis a saw blade.

This was a great class and I’ve learnt lots. It was good to be able to incorporate weaving, basketry and thread skills and sensibilities right from the start. I’ve since spent some time thinking about minimal home studio setup, or maybe joining a maker-space. Certainly I see all the techniques and materials feeding into future work.

This was the last activity included in the five month plan developed in September (15-Sep-2016). Next I need to review what I’ve been doing and update the plan.

Exciting days ahead.


Germination II
In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info

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