Archive Page 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

    13 November 2016

    An amazing week which I’ll be processing for a long time. So overwhelming it was “October” in the first published version!

    Masterclass with Ruth Hadlow – Creative Research: reading, writing & material investigations.
    There’s an extensive writeup 25-Feb-2016 of a two day workshop with Ruth, Articulating Pracice: exploring the interior terrain. What I learnt then has been very influential on my work since then, and this five day class was one of the lynchpins of my self-directed study plan (15-Sep-2016).

    It didn’t disappoint. My understanding was refreshed, deepened, extended.

    Note taking styles in the class

    Note taking styles in the class

    A particular joy was the individual conversations conducted in group sessions (there was no time for those in the shorter format). There were ten of us in the class, diverse practices and experience. After an exercise we gathered and one by one talked about our exploration, discoveries. Ruth would listen, then check – not so much that she understood, but that we understood ourselves. A particular word used – what exactly did we mean? She has a finely honed expertise in identifying the critical words, the ones that when unpacked shed light or suggested new directions or questions. Next there were references to reading or other artists, suggestions of questions we could ask ourselves. It was a privilege to share in the richness and warmth and intelligence and creativity of each of my fellow participants.

    More learning from the course will become apparent as I work through my notes, but for now I want to record something … a thought still forming so tentative, personal so wouldn’t normally be written here, but which is relevant and I don’t want to slide away and get lost. First background: Ruth’s process involves mining various terrains to identify things that attract which can be worked into a brief of exploration. Keeping specific and attentive, making sideways movements, possibly meandering, the starting point is known while the ending point remains provisional. The initial points of reference could come from objects, art practices, texts, traditions, materials, various more including lived experience. In the past I would tend to avoid lived experience – in a childhood that was in many ways wonderful there was a dark thread that has overshadowed. On Wednesday, responding to the amazing richness and depth in my fellows, I noted “I need to discover / acknowledge the riches of my own knowledge”. On Thursday, on excursion to AGNSW, in an 1873 handscroll by Kôno Bairei I identified as key to me a branch of blossom and noted the associated information of a happy early memory from our backyard. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I noticed the word Blossom. That word, that particular word, would once have triggered the deepest, darkest rage and frustration. And I hadn’t even noticed it. Now Sunday, and puzzling over how this could be, it seems the memories hadn’t been repressed or resolved or dealt with or whatever else … it’s just a long time ago, I’ve got a lot more positive and negative experience, I understand more about the past situation, and I have perspective. Finally to the points I want to take forward: I can access that richness of lived experience, without hiding from or wallowing in the negative. And maybe it’s time to make conscious some default behaviours that made sense in that past but have well outlived any usefulness.

    Visit to AGNSW
    On the masterclass excursion we were given a brief to wander and scan, to select two or three works that attracted us, to list what we could see, to note associations, to nominate key points, to do a short piece of writing in response. Generative activities that can feed into a new brief and exploration. In a small step towards using writing in my investigations, here I’ll limit myself to some photographs and the text (triggered by my observation and reflection, not directly the works).

    Tatiana Trouve Untitled 2012

    Sent to the corner in disgrace. Expelled, hidden, overlooked.
    Assert. Make your presence felt. Swell, Demand, Command the space you need.

    Luke Parker Entrance to the underworld 2014

    Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Pulling, demanding, forcing notice.
    Look at this. Thud.
    Here it is again. Thud.
    Outlined – see? Thud. Thud.

    I look. I search. Puzzle? No, it’s there to find. This goes with that.
    Don’t worry – the net will catch you.

    Kôno Bairei Trip to Lake Biwa (1873)

    Kôno Bairei  Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei
    Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei  Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei
    Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei  Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei
    Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei  Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei
    Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei  Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Kôno Bairei
    Trip to Lake Biwa (detail) (1873)

    Flashes of memory flicker, taunt.
    We were going to … was it a lake? A lake that fed the hydro-electric scheme.
    Migrants came, hollowed out the mountain. Gleaming huge metal turbines. Wide loads moved slowly along the roads – houses displaced, cut, loaded and carried. Children’s wallpaper exposed to the elements.

    This week was single point perspective. Rather technical, and an unfortunate contrast to masterclass discussion this week which had an extraordinarily broad understanding of “drawing” as a verb and paid little mind to “drawing” as a noun and suggesting a representation.

    Nicholas Chambers Robert and Ethel Scull: Pop collectors (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series)

    The theme of this series has proved very interesting. This lecture included a couple of segments of film from the 1973 auction of some of the Scull’s collection and its aftermath, during which Robert Rauschenberg shoved Scull, complaining of his (Scull’s) profit on his (Rauschenberg’s) “working his ass off”. Surrounding footage shows the more complicated relationship, with Rauschenberg describing Scull as an angel for his early support of artists when no-one else was buying.

    The use of the market, the profiting from artists, was used in part to support new artists and work that was resistant to the market such as Michael Heizer’s exploration of earthworks.

    Robert Scull spent a lot of time in artists’ studios, watching them work, sometimes buying paintings before they were finished. A quote from his New York Times obituary:
    When an interviewer asked about accusations that he bought art for investment and for social climbing, Mr. Scull responded, ”It’s all true. I’d rather use art to climb than anything else.”

    Seed Stitch Collective Light
    After our day at AGNSW a number of us went to the opening of this exhibition by the Seed Stitch Collective, shown at Barometer gallery.

    Suzanne Davey Reaching for the Moon (as far as the eye can see)

    Suzanne Davey
    Reaching for the Moon (as far as the eye can see)

    A very interesting opening address was given by Belinda von Mengersen – more than I could absorb in that environment, but she has agreed to send me a soft copy so perhaps more on that later. Certainly the myriad ways of responding to light and the particular depth of responses facilitated by use of textiles was one of the themes explored by both Belinda and by the members of the collective.

    Shown on the right is a work by Suzanne Davey. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet and chat with her. We’ve briefly corresponded in the past when Suzanne contacted me through this blog.

    Suzanne Davey

    Suzanne Davey

    I’m chuffed to think that people find my writing here useful. My primary audience is myself – writing each post is a part of reflecting on my experiences, and searching and reading on it is a vital support to my memory. Still, it’s encouraging to know I’m not only talking to myself and I enjoy the feeling of being connected to a wider community.

    I was drawn to Suzanne’s work as a freely hanging sculpture, the layers of translucent fabrics responding beautifully and variably to the light from the large window behind. In this work, her materials and techniques, Suzanne has combined ideas related to light, to the moon as talisman and in narratives, to the domestic and to the body.

    Gillian Lavery Alight, within (detail)

    Gillian Lavery
    Alight, within (detail)

    Gillian Lavery Alight, within (detail)

    Gillian Lavery
    Alight, within (detail)

    Alight, within by Gillian Lavery was hung in the other window. Working on rice paper, stitching slightly raised, with additional markings on the window pane itself, this piece also makes light an active collaborator in the work. The use of the fabric of the gallery, the dimensional and shifting effect created as you moved and perspective changed, brought a sense of immediacy and expanded space. A different connection to space and place is suggested in the choice of paper and the scroll-reminiscent hanging system, and confirmed in the artist’s statement with a reference to a residency undertaken in Japan. Both sides of the paper are exposed to view, the work of stitching, threads and knots, revealed.

    Deep Dirt Collective You will not be easily erased

    Members of Deep Dirt Collective working in Stirrup Gallery

    Members of Deep Dirt Collective working in Stirrup Gallery

    This was a collaborative live-work installation, six women working together at Stirrup Gallery in Marrickville. It was personal, political, proud.

    Over 6 days the Collective gathered, working together with earth (clay), turmeric, coffee, henna, paper, thread and cloth… and time. They take time, yet act with a sense of urgency.

    Deep Dirt Collective Detail of wall of counting marks, the only text "for the nameless dead..."

    Deep Dirt Collective
    Detail of wall of counting marks, the only text “for the nameless dead…”

    My words are not needed here. They speak for themselves.

    Deep Dirt Collective
    We are telling our own stories and resisting dominant culture.
    We are activating our intuition and healing historical traumas.
    We are honouring our ancestral roots on our own terms and in our own languages.
    We are sparking strategies for dismantling the constructs of gender and colonialism.
    We are transgressive makers of culture.
    We are Samara Shehata, Samia Sayed, Priya Panchalingam, Zeina Iaali, Salwa El-Shaikh and Nicole Barakat.

    Primrose Paper Arts Open Day

    Mandy demonstrating

    Mandy demonstrating joomchi

    On Saturday I visited the Primrose Paper Arts 25th Anniversary Open Day. There was lots happening with demonstrations of calligraphy, joomchi, book making, paper making, collage and card making, origami…

    As well as the fun of watching and joining in the making, it was very pleasant to catch up with a number of friends and to meet others with similar interests. In fact every event covered in this post involved large amounts of interacting with people. I’m quite a solitary person, very happy with my own company. Probably the majority of the excursions I write up in this blog I undertake alone, and most of the rest would be with one other – either my mother or a close friend. I’ll happily chat with those I encounter, share stories while sharing a lunch table or while waiting for something to start, but that’s a bit different. It’s a little surprising that I’ve coped with this week, although there was some balance with considerable periods of individual work throughout the masterclass. Is there something to learn from this? Perhaps just that some variety is not a bad thing.

    untethered fibre artists ebb and flow
    untethered fibre artists are a group within the Australian Textile Arts & Surface Design Association (ATASDA). I’ve been a member of ATASDA in the past, so once again personally know many of the artists exhibiting and enjoyed meeting up with those manning this exhibition at the Wallarobba Arts and Cultural Centre in Hornsby.

    Fiona Hammond Faded Glories:  The Ebbing of Ancient Archaeological Wonders

    Fiona Hammond
    Faded Glories: The Ebbing of Ancient Archaeological Wonders

    Fiona Hammond Alternative Viewpoints

    Fiona Hammond
    Alternative Viewpoints

    I was attracted to the strong colours and animated forms of Fiona Hammond’s collection of coiled and stitched pots. While reminiscent of the shapes of coiled clay pots that may have been used in antiquity, the colours and eccentric but complete forms appear to me very modern. I cannot see dilapidation and the display as group does not suggest desolation.

    Although I don’t feel those associations I was interested in the work itself – in addition to aesthetics I expect this is due to my current interest in basketry and a similarity in form to some of my own recent explorations (2-Oct-2016).basketry_20161001. There’s even the ombre shading.

    I was very interested in Fiona’s second work, Alternative Viewpoints. Photographs of the Faded Glories vessels, taken from a variety of perspectives, were printed, collaged, stitched. This technique allowed Fiona to document multiple viewpoints, both physical and emotional, to her work and the process of making it. This sideways move into other media, which also incorporated elements of the original material (wool) and techniques (stitch), added depth and richness. It allowed Fiona to explore different emotions – after sad reflections on deterioration during the making of the vessels, this re-interpretation and re-staging gave the opportunity for her to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the forms she had created. This seems to resonate with my own response to her first work. When Fiona became viewer rather than maker, her experience of the work changed.

    Jane Bodnaruk Book of rope

    Jane Bodnaruk
    Book of rope

    Jane Bodnaruk Rope Journey

    Jane Bodnaruk
    Rope Journey

    I was looking forward to seeing Jane Bodnaruk’s works, having followed their journey on her blog

    “Journey” is the significant word. The rope making was done over 258 days – the time taken for the First Fleet’s journey from Portsmouth to Port Jackson 1787 – 1788. The performative aspect of the work was reinforced by Jane’s finishing the work during the exhibition opening. She has deliberately undertaken a task that was tedious, repetitive (to the extent of causing injury and requiring a change of technique), personal and humble in scale on a day to day basis but building into something epic. Looking up at the thick looped strands I was reminded of a judge in his wig – a random thought but very appropriate to the theme of the work.

    The documentation that Jane produced during the work – a book with a sketch of the rope in each of the 37 weeks, and her blog – adds dimension to the work. In the project overall time is made visible, concrete. I think the process was deeply meaningful to Jane as an artist and as a woman – an aspect of her practice that I’d like to reflect on further.

    I would like to present more but time has caught me as usual. I was impressed by this exhibition – individual works, the exhibition as a whole and the way the group is maturing.

    A moderate amount of risk taking in this post. Any responses welcome.

    (2) weekly roundup 6 November 2016

    Two related events – last week Sydney Sculpture Conference 2016 – Sculpture: in Public Space, this week a day spent at Sculpture by the sea (

    The conference was held sitting under the concrete ribs of the Utzon room of the Sydney Opera House, so very much talking about sculpture in a sculpture. The keynote address was by Clare Lilley, Director of Programme, Yorkshire Sculpture Park UK. My brief notes on ideas that particularly resonated:

  • Close links to community, a sense of ownership
  • A normal place where extra-ordinary things happen or are seen
  • Not static, not locking down the land. Very few sculptures are owned, many are loaned, there are temporary projects
  • Landscape is a generator as well as background. It reveals itself, unravels. Sculpture can energise a part of the landscape, bring attention to it. A particular example, a skyspace by James Turrell can change the perception of self, the feeling of where you are.
  • Sculptures have a physical, sensory relationship with people. There are often experiential projects, eliciting an emotional connection
  • There is a space for young artists, also a focus on working with children, developing habits of engaging with cultural experiences.
  • Sculpture nourishes the spirit, spurs dialogue, imagination, curiosity
  • Lots of discussion during the day related to what “site specific” means or entails.

  • Chris Booth ( – his approach varies depending on circumstance. He put great emphasis on contacts with indigenous people, working with them throughout.
  • Sculpture may have site specificity, with understanding and paying honour to the land, or be more an outdoor museum.
  • One speaker described the work on the land to accommodate a sculpture. Is that site specific?
  • Other topics

  • Some spoke of being dynamic – artistic, for visitors, continuing relevance. Others disagreed, but I’m not clear on the alternatives. Perhaps contemplative, or maybe those things you’ve never thought of but seem obvious or necessary when you see them.
  • The need for space – not crowding or noise. Which was seen as a potential problem for some sculpture parks, but others could be sufficient, complete, an enduring moment.
  • Intensity of time
  • An unguarded moment
  • Catalyst.
  • Ephemeral / temporary / durational. All meaning not solid and stable and long-lasting.
  • Lots of names to follow up, including:
    Jörg Plickat
    Storm King Art Center
    Naoshima, Japan (I think
    Ian Hamilton Findlay
    McClelland Sculpture Park
    Katie Paterson – Future Library
    Claire Doherty

    Anita Larkin

    Anita Larkin

    The day finished with a reception at the Stanley Street Gallery. Borne (
    ) challenged sculptors to make jewellery. A wide range of responses – many challenging the idea of “wearable”! It was great chatting with various artists, including Anita Larkin (I did a felting class with her years ago). She explained her work using piano dampers and felt, including ear and eye pieces to quieten noise and distractions, and button on pockets to hold necessities – everything a busy person needs to cope with the potentially overwhelming stimulus and distractions of modern life.

    An eye on process and progress
    As I type this it is Sunday afternoon and the familiar decision point – where to spend time.

    Is this blog worth the time? Even as I prepare the entry it proves its worth – I find that I’ve written about some of the same artists before, that the topic of a lecture links to past research, all sorts of connections made and memory refreshed by a quick search on the blog.

    But it takes longer and longer to write as I follow those links, stray onto a new / renewed line of thought…

    Plus there’s a week’s class with Ruth Hadlow starting tomorrow. There have been preparations, but I’m not prepared.

    Balance. Breathe. Pencil it in, flesh out as I can.

    Sculpture by the Sea
    A beautiful warm and sunny Sydney day with a light but welcome sea breeze. Interesting to watch what pulled my attention. Surprising consistency with previous experiences (thank you blog), but certainly a shift of focus in response to recent interests.

    The text on this will be added later.

    Nude: Art from the Tate collection
    This exhibition opened on the weekend with a lecture by Emma Chambers The naked and the nude: Repositioning the artist’s model. The talk, although a bit on the dry and academic side, served as a good introduction to the different approaches and purposes of artists. A reminder of my Art History section on figure sculptures (13-Jun-2014).

    A brief orientation visit to the exhibition itself. No photos allowed unfortunately.

    Louise Marshall The image of the perfect prince: Federigo da Montefeltra, Duke of Urbino (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
    An amazing man, brilliant military commander (paid to stay off the field of battle!), spent lavishly on architecture and art. Breath-taking intarsia (the marquetry, not the knitting kind). A journey towards perfection.

    Professor Peter McNeil Yves Saint Laurent – designer to collector; Or, ‘the funeral of my collection (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
    A side question – What is the role of fashion in societal change – an effect, or enabling?
    Some beautiful, beautiful interiors, surprisingly varied.

    Drawing class
    Two sessions since the last update. Still-life, concentrating on dark, medium, light tones.

    Weekly roundup 23 October 2016

    A busy week! Short of time, so unfortunately once again short on reflection.

    This week I started a six week drawing for beginners class at Sydney Community College, taught by Matthew Rogers. We started by drawing the contours of our hand in 2B pencil – working very slowly. The eye moves around the object, almost with a sense of touch, and the hand and pencil work with the eye. We went through a series of exercises, in pencil and charcoal. Ideas I want to remember – pencil grip, relationships, ways of checking, choose subjects that interest you, most importantly don’t commit too quickly. And practice.

    I’ve been trying to take all of this to heart, and am finding it enjoyable and absorbing. Some examples, first from class:

    A mix from home, on the bus etc. It’s eating into my reading time, but that can re-balance later.

    Preparing for welded sculpture
    A shopping expedition has equipped me with steel-capped shoes, welding helmet, gauntlets… and a box of mixed mild steel (I hope!) oddments picked up from the floor and waste bins of a friendly steel supplier. Most of this will sit quietly in a corner until the class in January, but my husband made the very clever suggestion of using the oddments as drawing models. The first appearance of some is included above and I think it’s a great way to start thinking about relationships and possibilities.

    Associated with the current Art of parts: collage and assemblage from the collection exhibition, AGNSW held a drop in and collage activity. The Sydney Collage Society (SCS) ran the event. Member Kubi Vasak made some brief but helpful opening remarks suggesting approaches. Landscape collage: an example showed a cool mountain lake scene, overlaid by a sunny and bright swimming pool – with the key detail that the ripples of water in each image were aligned. Working with a key image: find something that really takes your eye, then look for material that relates to it. Abstract and/or surreal: covers a lot, but one example is to choose two colours, find suitable images then build with them, perhaps into a fanciful flower. He encouraged us not to overthink, to act on instinct.

    It made collage seem more approachable, less intimidating and intellectual.

    SCS had provided piles of books and magazines with some great images. Unfortunately the scissors were stiff and awkward. After a great conversation with a society member about the relative merits of small scissors and varieties of scalpels I had to hurry off to the evening lecture. So my almost cut-out iconic image of Audrey Hepburn is still waiting for a suitable new environment and cigarette substitute. Next week…

    Craig Judd Collector Dreamers: Kojiro Matsukata, Koyoma Mihoko (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
    An interesting reflection on the motives of collecting, vagaries of history, and cross-cultural influences.

    Dr Jaime Tsai Peggy Guggenheim and the Surrealists (part of the AGNSW Collectors & Collections series).
    Collector, patron, philanthropist – different roles all found in Peggy Guggenheim. At times this lecture felt like a listing of all the big names of surrealism and abstract expressionism – which just shows the influential and important role Guggenheim played in post-war avant-gardism. Tsai presented her as a woman with a sense of responsibility, vision and courage. Impossible to know how different the history of 20th century art would have been without her support.

    In an aside Tsai briefly explained the technique grottage (not frottage) – something I’d like to try.

    Museum of Sydney
    This was my first visit to the Museum of Sydney. Interesting stories and artifacts from local (mainly post “discovery” and invasion) history, however our main focus was two exhibitions: Florilegium: Sydney’s painted garden, and The artist & the botanical collector: The lost works of Lovegrove & Bäuerlen. Some very beautiful images, but I sometimes feel almost claustrophobic looking at such very precise and careful work. A huge amount of skill on display, as well as scientific knowledge and incredible observation. Not something I would personally aspire to.

    Artisans in the Gardens
    A diverse range of works was shown in this exhibition and sale held in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Work by two artists in particular caught my eye.

    Nicole de Mestre showed a range of assemblages. Quirky, lots of personality, all recycled and found materials.

    Brooke Munro‘s work included sculptural forms in random weave and coiling.

    Clearly the work of both artists is relevant to the area(s) of interest that I have identified. Almost as clearly I’m not going to be able to research, consider and make sensible comments at 10 pm on Sunday night.

    More investigation required, but as it happens I visited this exhibition after arriving at the Gardens a little early for a workshop with tutor Brooke Munro so the story continues with…

    Cord Making, knotless netting & bag making workshop
    To an extent this 3 hour workshop with Brooke Munro covered techniques I’ve experimented with before, however I’ve often found that “known” material can be deepened and even transformed with a new perspective and presentation. Different materials, weights of material, “slight” changes in the looping, and the result is entirely different.

    knotless_nettingMy cord went missing during the class – and I didn’t go searching as I have no affinity with damp swamp-smelling vegetable matter. For the looping those who chose to “cheated” using pre-made cord. There’s a strange deformation in my sample – possibly I added some twist to the cord as I was working, or there could be some bias in the looping itself.

    More experimentation required.

    aftermath - Jonathan Jones barrangal dyara (skin and bones)

    aftermath – Jonathan Jones barrangal dyara (skin and bones)

    While walking back through the Gardens I came across the aftermath of Jonathan Jones’s recent exhibition (25-Sep-2016). What deep and meaningful comment sits here?


    The 3 brothers afterwards.

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