Posts Tagged 'CA1-P4-Other'

Sketchbook, theme book and Francis Bacon exhibition

I’m getting things ready to post Assignment 4 off to Pat (my tutor) and want to record a couple of things before I forget. This post gets rather heavy towards the end, but I’m sure everyone knows how to click delete or back or whatever if it makes you uncomfortable.

In the OCA course we’re encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes a day working in our sketchbook. That turns out to be very challenging! Finding ten minutes of time, energy and an idea to work on is harder than you think – especially after a work day, or when absorbed in project work.

Early September I came up with a new strategy – each night plan sketchbook work for the next day, then each morning get up 30 minutes early to do the work. This is working pretty well (except when project work takes over), and that period of focus and purpose sets me up well for the day – a friend has likened it to her morning meditation ritual. Deciding what to work on remained a problem, then a couple of weeks ago I came up with the idea of combining it with my reading.

The essential encyclopaedic guide to modern art: styles, schools & movements by Amy Dempsey was recommended to me by Pat in her feedback to my last assignment. It has over a hundred entries, each just a few pages including illustrations, going from Impressionism, Arts and Crafts and Chicago School to Destination Art, DesignArt and Art Photography. For a few weeks now I’ve been reading an entry each evening (I’m such a creature of habit!).

I’ve found before that making notes and quick sketches helps me take a bit more time and absorb a bit more information while reading. Under the new regime I read an art history entry, then either choose one of the book illustrations or search around on the internet for a related image. In the morning my sketchbook work is based on that. I’m not trying to reproduce anything, just focus and think a bit better. The first photo above was after reading about Expressionism and is based on Emile Nolde’s Candle Dancers. The one on the left is from a work in the Ashcan school – Cafferty by Robert Henri. Really nothing like the original!

This is a collage using an adjusted photo of a kettle designed by Peter Behrens (Deutscher Werkbund movement). I’ve been trying to vary my approach each day. It’s only been a week or two so far, but it feels that I’m getter better value from both my reading and sketching. All very pleasant and ordered and effective, until Friday when I came face to face with art that felt raw and shocking and visceral and demanding and thumped me about the head until my ears were ringing.


The exhibition is Francis Bacon: Five Decades at the NSW Art Gallery. This link takes you to a slide show – the first image (when I just checked) is A study for a figure at the base of a crucifixion 1943-44, and is one … well, it’s actually a totally personal and individual response, because in every screaming face I saw Nancy, the subject or at least focus of my Ageing theme book.

So this is my sketchbook for Friday and Saturday:

Nancy is around 86. A few years ago, after years of pain that medical professionals have been unable to relieve, Nancy attempted suicide. She was put in a psychiatric ward, and has spent the last two and a half years in a high level care nursing home. Her pain has never been relieved. Any mental distress or disturbance she has been experiencing has not been addressed. She used to watch TV, and had a window through which she could see trees and the occasional bird. A few weeks ago Nancy had a medical incident – the family thinks perhaps another stroke, but Nancy is clear that she doesn’t want medical intervention. The last few times I’ve visited the television has been off and Nancy has been lying on her side, her back to the window. She is now totally bedridden and has bedsores on her back and her arms. I asked her what she thought about while she was lying there, hoping perhaps for some lovely memory or moment of redemption or meaning. “How sore my hand is” was the response. We used to chat about my family and hers – she was always interested in the kids. Now after a sentence or two Nancy just shuts her eyes. I feel like an intruder.

How can I express such pain in textiles? How can I shout to the world that this is wrong, that we have taken everything, all meaning, from this woman and condemned her to years of torment – all in the name of other people’s beliefs (not Nancy’s) and for fear of harming the vulnerable. Yes, Nancy is vulnerable – and anyone who could look at her and not acknowledge the harm being done to her right now, every moment we force her to continue, is … unspeakable. There is no redemption, there is no meaning, there is no dignity or respect for this individual, there is no hope except for an end.

Such a long and dreadful death should not define or dominate Nancy’s life, but neither should we look away and focus on the good and meaningful and loving parts and ignore what is going on. I think there could be another trap, thinking that somehow I could make Nancy’s experience meaningful by trying to use it in some way to promote change.

I can’t help Nancy. She is alone and abandoned and I can’t reach her. I’ll visit her this afternoon, as I do each Sunday – and I’ll try to chat or listen or leave early, whatever she wants. I’ll also keep working on my Ageing theme book. I know I won’t be able to express all I’d like to, but I hope I can find a way to express some part of it.

Exhibition: Double Take at the White Rabbit Gallery

Yesterday I visited the White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before – one of the largest privately owned collections of contemporary Chinese art in the world, the entire four floors of exhibition space is rehung twice a year with a mixture of new acquisitions and other works from the collection.
Above is Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village (2010) by Gao Rong. This is an extremely detailed re-creation of the entrance to the basement flat Gao Rong lived in as a student in Beijing.
Check the detail photo on the left – that’s just one of the rusty/flaky spots on the downpipe, all executed in hand embroidery. The entire scene is fabric and stitch. The attention to detail is stunning and the result very convincing. Meticulous and obsessive.
I believe this was Gao Rong’s exhibition piece as a student. The Gallery is also showing Station, a re-creation of the signs at the bus-stop she used. Earlier this year (blog post 27-Aug-2012) I saw a much more ambitious work based on her grandmother’s home which I found disappointingly incomplete. The subjects she has chosen are very personal, a record of places she has spent a lot of time. To me the original basement work is the most satisfying – complete and convincing. I wonder where she goes from here – larger meant that even with assistance it was impossible to achieve, certainly more realistic doesn’t seem possible.

Dust (2008) by Cong Lingqi is another example of epic detail. There are 210 tiny models of everyday items, each carefully handmade by the artist, suspended in a beam of light (although not the intended strong, focused beam just now – that light is under repair). The shadows are as important as the actual items, a dreamy memory. I haven’t included a distance shot showing the entire work, but the overall effect is light motes of dust moving hazily in a sunbeam. The whole effect is magical.
More and more I’m drawn to works which use shadows and light. Possibly not a safe choice for an artist – even in a very well setup gallery like White Rabbit there can be glitches in special requirements. Another aspect of particular interest to me is the way this work has coherence and meaning as a whole, and also richly rewards close inspection. That’s a recurring challenge for textile work.

The works shown above and the one on the left are identical – the only difference is the manner of display.
Paper (2010) by Li Hongbo is accurately titled – it’s paper, two very large stacks of paper that the artist has carved with an electric saw. The information plaque at the gallery describes it as “rigorously rule-based construction enabling a near-total liberation of form”.
One interesting thing is that the artist leaves it to the curator to decide how to present the work. Another issue is the fragility of the material – something I commented on briefly with another of Li Hongbo’s works that was shown on Cockatoo Island during the biennale (post 8-Sept-2012). The guide at White Rabbit was quite relaxed about it. A number of times they’ve come in of a morning and found an arm dropped off or similar. They just repair it. Simple.

In this last work I am back to full size and meticulous detail – although this time not something you could mistake for the real thing.
This is Shi Jindian’s Beijing Jeep’s Shadow (2007). It’s made in wire in a technique he describes as crochet. Apparently each individual element in the piece is made around an actual jeep part to get the exact shaping, then the part is removed leaving a steel wire lace.
All the works I photographed are large, detailed and obviously took an enormous commitment and effort to create. Sometimes working in textiles I’ve been conscious of the time taken, the repetitive process. How important is that time and input? A pleasurable activity (mostly) – but does quantity of time spent mean more than that? Should it?

Exhibition – Ruark Lewis

My friend and fellow student Claire wrote about this exhibition on her blog – I followed her link to the Hazelhurst Gallery, and to cut the story short, we met up last Sunday for an artist talk and performance in the gallery (plus bonus of wandering through the Gymea street fair together).

Photos were permitted during the performance, so on the left you get a glimpse of a small part of the exhibition. Ruark talked about the importance of process and pattern in his work. A recurring process has been making, fairly quickly, a series of marks – notations to music, positions of cities, skewed perspective lying in a hospital bed etc. He then refines the marks, meticulously working in graphite or other materials to make thickened lines or visual bars, creating a patterned surface that is not representational but still often captures the original moment or thought.

One thing that struck me was the long gestation of ideas and projects. Ruark would talk about conversations and possibilities that could swirl around for years before there was finally the opportunity to create the work – or recreate, with materials being reused and repurposed. I like the sense of awareness of the world and openness. For example the frames in the back of the photo above were used in a previous performance and installation. While dismantling the exhibition the packers stacked the frames together – and now, here they are.

Ruark’s work often has a philosophical and/or political as well as collaborative element. The second photo shows his fellow performer (unfortunately I haven’t been able to find her name), who moved around the gallery creating connections with yarn while Ruark spoke in performance – sometimes quotes from politicians or others (“I’m not a racist but…”), sometimes what I think is called glossalia – a waterfall of non-words and trills and syllables. It seemed to cover a huge range of recent political issues, and there was clearly a plan and structure in what they were doing, but although sympathetic to or sharing many of what I gleaned to be Ruark’s politics, there was just too much I didn’t understand. You probably can’t see in the photo that the performer was holding a shell in her mouth. I missed the significance and was just left bewildered.

The work that has remained in my mind was based on points and connections between cities. Thinking of my theme work on ageing and the contraction of space and choice moving from one’s house to a room in a nursing home, I wonder if it would be possible to create two maps, showing the scope of Nancy’s movements over a day pottering around her home and garden, and now virtually bed-bound in the nursing home.

This brings me back to Dion Horstmans’ work which I saw this weekend in sculpture by the sea (blog post 2-Nov-2012). That is obviously in three dimensions, and according to the catalogue “map time and space to reference the landing on earth’s moon”. I don’t know how I could take these ideas into the theme work, how to show the very different scales of movement and also how to make the textile element important.

While doing a little research for this post I discovered that some earlier work by Ruark is very relevant. In My Empty House was an installation in 2010 which followed the process of the emptying of a house, a home, due to the ageing and changing needs of the occupants. A very helpful essay by Melissa Laing comments on the importance of the home as a repository, the possessions that help to create and preserve identity. Destructive forces such as ageing can be followed by liberation – but not for Nancy, the focus of my work. Nancy has been denied choice, denied the capacity to act. Yet another line of research I need to follow up.

There’s quite a bit of information around at the moment that’s relevant to my theme. Euthanasia and the availability and cost of palliative care are both current topics in State Parliament, with a Dying with Dignity Parliament forum on 19th November (unfortunately clashing with work times). On a personal level Nancy, the initial focus and emotional centre of my work, has been very unwell and we think had another stroke (she has refused medical attention). It seems very possible that Nancy will die while I am working on this theme for the final Assignment. I rather dread the thought, but I would not delay her liberation for a moment. It’s now over three years since she was forcibly denied her right to die. I will be sad for myself, but so very happy for her when the time finally comes.

Resources Accessed 4-Nov-2012.
Dying with Dignity NSW ,

Laing, M. “In My Empty House — Ruark Lewis with Loma Bridge” In Studies in Material Thinking, Vol. 5 (December 2011), ISSN 1177-6234, AUT University. Accessed 4-Nov-2012

Paull, J. (2012) Ruark Lewis: Survey 1982 – 2012 exhibition brochure, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre

sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2012 Catalogue and site map. Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated.

Sculpture by the sea

Today I visited sculpture by the sea with my mother and sister. This is the 16th year of the annual exhibition – you can see some photos from last year here (15-Nov-2011).
Ghost net crocodile was the most textile-y piece I saw (there are over 100 items in the exhibition, spread over a large area, so I could easily have missed others).
The photos don’t give a good idea of the scale – that croc is over 10 metres long. I hadn’t heard of “ghost nets” before. They are part of the marine debris floating around in the the oceans, old lost or deliberately abandoned fishing nets. The nets foul the ocean and coastline, and are a danger to marine life. Ghosts Nets Australia is an alliance of indigenous communities in northern Australia who care for their country through a range of projects including retrieval of nets and recycling/reuse.
Another work that made use of discarded rubbish is Jane Gillings’ midden. There must be thousands of pieces of plastic picnic cutlery, collected over time from rubbish piles. There was wonderful texture and movement in the piece, and it’s easy to see it in stitching – like seed stitch in a way, but grouped and aligned to work as a mass.
Poom by Staccato (a group of students from Chung-Ang University, South Korea) is a steel frame filled with used clothes. Going inside you could view messages from other visitors, words of hope to refugees. I gather the plan is to reuse the clothing after the exhibition, although perhaps only as rags after their exposure to the elements.

One of the things we’re meant to do as students is relate works in exhibitions to our work. Here there’s obviously a trivial level of colour mixing and texture (french knots on a large scale?). The idea of textiles as protection and shelter is more significant, the importance of textiles to human survival throughout history. The senses of continuity and connection are important parts of the attraction of textiles for me.

I love the directness of the message in this work by Dave Mercer – although checking the catalogue I see my interpretation didn’t quite match. I was thinking of the way corporations brand and appropriate community resources. The artist statement refers to the validation and importance that branding can give. I don’t think this view needs branding to be appreciated!
Here you can see my sister Rachel enjoying the view assisted by another sculpture, came back by Hiroaki Nakayama.
The thumbnail gives an idea of the outlook. These massive pieces of black granite stand in a wonderful relationship with the landscape. The catalogue includes some detail on Nakayama’s approach, and I am particularly drawn to the respect he gives to his materials, not challenging it but conscious of retaining its essence. Those ideas fit well with my interest in craftsmanship and the thought, care and respect I value in working (see post of 1-Nov-2012, especially comments on Ann Richards’ book).
This is part of mirador, by Rachel Couper and Ivana Kuzmanovska. This large dome is timber on the outside and a reflective material (perspex??) on the interior. In my photo I’ve carefully excluded the human element and focused on the framing of that view, but from the catalogue I gather that the artists intended reflections of the viewer to act as a commentary on the complex relationship between ourselves and nature.
With my textile hat on, ideas about layering, revealing and concealing, and contrasts of scale and material come to mind. I like the regularity of the dome’s structure imposed on the more chaotic natural world.

More reflections, this time kaleidoscope cube by Alex Ritchie. This cube of polished aluminium casts shadows as well as reflecting light and its surroundings. The shapes are simple and repetitive but the result is visually complex and varied. You might need to click on the photo for a larger view to see it, but it’s a surprise to see the sandstone cliff reflected with the sea behind. It would be interesting to see this work on a stormy day – I wonder how the light would change.
It’s interesting to go through my photos – it’s only now as I write this post that I see some common threads in the works I chose to photograph. This is m . 120901 by Toshio Iezumi, a stunning column of float glass, mirror and stainless steel.
Once again there is reflection and distortion, and I would very much like to see this in different weather and lighting. (Rae, if you’re reading this it would look most wonderful at your home, and then I could come and visit lots 🙂 ). Complex simplicity. Beautiful.
Repose by R.M. (Ron) Gomboc looks like a frozen moment, balanced and at rest. It was interesting to see something so matt and non-reflecting, and the contrast between that tranquility and the ceaseless movement and pounding of the waves below.
These works by Dion Horstmans are part of a series moonfire lm, using abstract geometrics to map time and space. In my mind they relate to some work by Ruarc Lewis I saw last weekend. I need to write about that, since it started a new train of enquiry for my theme work on Ageing and the contraction of Nancy’s physical space. Hopefully that post will come later this weekend.
A couple more of the sculptures to finish off. This is spinal column by Michael Purdy, and according to the catalogue is about growth. That’s it. No great explanation, no deep and meaningful or (alternatively) humour really. “Just” a very interesting and expressive shape beautifully executed.
April, cherry blossoms by Koichi Ishino has both the granite and the reflections that attracted me today. That line between the granite and the stainless steel is wonderful. To have it reflected in the “table” section together with the clouds today – very lovely indeed. There’s a quote from a newspaper in the catalogue which seems to me entirely unrelated to the piece, so I have no idea what is meant to be going on. There are curves and repeated shapes and hard lines – and how do such hard materials give a sense of fragility and lightness?
Finally, transition by Greer Taylor. It looks as if someone has taken a ruler and a couple of pens and drawn on this photo. The colours and shapes seem so out of place in the landscape.
…Having typed that I noticed that in the catalogue the work was shown with the sea and horizon in the background, so I’ve added a thumbnail which at least shows a little horizon. That straight line makes me see the work differently. Interesting – the importance of links between elements. The artists statement includes “…the roundness of the earth becomes a horizon”, so it seems that aspect of the setting is intentionally significant.

sculpture by the sea: sixteenth annual exhibition Bondi 2012 Catalogue and site map. Sculpture by the Sea Incorporated. Accessed 2-Nov-2012


More reading about weaving

I recently wrote (posted 13-Oct-2012) about some classics of weaving literature. Yesterday I finished reading a more recent book – in fact published just a week or two ago. My tutor recommended it, but in a nice piece of timing it was already in the mail (from a pre-release order).

Warp & weft: Woven Textiles in Fashion, Art and Interiors by Jessica Hemmings presents a wide-ranging exploration of contemporary woven textile art and design. Almost all of the many (clear and good quality) photographs are labelled with details of warp, weft, type of loom, and often weave structure, but the book’s focus isn’t really the specific technicalities of weaving. Instead the book is organised in themes – Threads; Light; Motion; Sound; Emotion; Community – showing the incredible variety and innovation, the inter-disciplinary approaches of artists and designers who work in (or close to) weave today.
Hemmings also pushes boundaries, for example including Philip Beesley’s ‘Hylozoic’ series in her discussion of Motion. I took the photo on the left of Beesley’s work Hylzoic Series: Sibyl earlier this year during the Biennale of Sydney (see post of 8-Sept-2012). Seeing the original work was an wondrous, immersive experience – but I didn’t associate it with weave. However Beesley has identified woven structures as a basis for the series, partly developed out of dialogue with Warren Seelig.

Other examples are clearer to me, the artists/designers combining weave with other technology such as microprocessors, sensors, fibre optics and LED displays. A dress by Barbara Layne and Studio subTela has an LED display, using Bluetooth to send a text or graphics message to change the image. See for other work developed by this team. There’s a lot of potential there, but at the moment it looks to me quite raw and clunky, which of course is normal in developmental work.

A number of the artists in the book refer to this point. Lise Frølund has a recurring goal of “the moment when complexity returns to simplicity” (page 76). The project illustrated in this book, a collaboration with musician Hanne Raffnsøe, used technology to interpret sound files in woven structure, and weave structure was converted back to music. While researching for this post I was interested to see that Frølund has also worked on connecting weave and light as well as sound – see

The potential of new, high-tech materials is an area of exploration for many of the artists and designers. Returning to my earlier point, Elaine Ng Yan Ling uses new materials such as shape memory alloy yarns and veneer constructs in her weaving, but the technology isn’t the focus – it’s not there because it’s new, in fact it isn’t new any more. It’s one of the carefully considered elements of the design.

Of interest to me in my course theme book work on Ageing, a number of the artists in the book use weave structures in a sequence of construction and deconstruction steps. For example Sue Lawty weaves with lead warp and weft, then uses a hammer to mark and fragment the material produced. A quote from Lawty: “The ambiguity of a corrupted structure is a real link with time, but there is a tension here between the stable longevity of lead and the vulnerable qualities of the woven fabric” (page 22). Elana Herzog staples woven cloth to walls, then tears away areas of cloth. A cloth is destroyed, but the remnants and grid of staples on the wall creates at least the appearance of a new cloth.

Experimentation with rust dyeing and with abrading cloth are on my to-do list for my final project. There are clearly connections here, but I will have to think further. There are more links in the section on Emotion, such as Liz Williamson’s Protection series which raises ideas of bodily protection  and possibly memory and identity. I’m partway through researching and writing a post on Liz for the course research point on textile artists, so more on her another day.

There are many, many other artists and avenues of work included in Hemmings’ book and I think it gives a good overview of the contemporary, exciting world of weave. Only time will tell which avenues lead to major new vistas of weave and which turn out to be cul de sacs. It’s in the nature of such books to be incomplete, so I’ll finish with a couple of links to the Fluid Fabric work of Nathan Johns: and an interview on the World Of Threads Festival site (thanks to Jane for sending a link to this site which has some amazing artist, and which is an amazing time sink!). Johns weaves with polyethylene tubing and transparent fishing wire. Coloured water and air is pumped through the tubing – beautiful and mesmerising.

Hemmings, J. (2012) Warp & weft: Woven textiles in fashion, art and interiors. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

OCA Visit

Last Friday we held another OCA get-together, again to the Manly Art Gallery & Museum but this time with a 50% increase in student numbers! Jacky, who started her OCA textile studies quite recently and generally lives in Shropshire UK, is in Sydney for a couple of months and shook off her jetlag to explore with us.

Claire and I visited the Regeneration exhibition in Manly last May (Claire’s post about it is, mine was here on 20-May-2012).
This time we were visiting QUARANTA AUSTRALIS: Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson (this link is to current exhibitions, so you may need to do a search on the gallery site for the correct information). The exhibition is the result of a long collaboration between the artists. There are four artist books and a series of prints. The subject matter was Cockatoo Island and the former Quarantine Station, the historical treatment of Australia’s unwanted and marginalized, and parallels in current events. I felt very challenged by the material, especially following my recent visit to Wybalenna on Flinders Island (blogged 7-Oct-2012).

Also being exhibited in the centre were photographs – “light paintings” – by Peter Solness, plus part of the Manly historical swim-wear collection, which altogether gave us lots to talk about.

And talk is the main thing we did. After the exhibitions was lunch – Thai, and our pink drinks are watermelon juice. Jacky is on the left, Claire in the middle, and I’m that vacant spot. A lot was about OCA – why we each signed up, our hopes and aspirations, interpreting project requirements, assignments, assessments and the post. Jacky’s background is in painting and printmaking, so I think it’s a brave and exciting thing to enrol in a textile course.

After lunch we strolled along the Manly Corso to the beach on the ocean side (Manly is on a narrow neck of land leading up to North Head, with a harbour beach on one side and the ocean beach on the other). It was school holidays and up to 35 °C in parts of Sydney (crazy this early), so there were lots of people enjoying the day. We sat on the steps, looking out at beautiful Sydney… and talked 🙂 .

It’s a great benefit of OCA, to interact with other students in forums and blogs, and now in person. It’s also fun to show-off Sydney to like-minded people. A really good day.

Southern Islands Air Tour

Last weekend I accompanied my mother on a three day flying trip to three southern islands – Phillip, King and Flinders. It was a lot of fun and we saw, if only briefly, some very beautiful places.

We flew in a 10 seat plane – the pilot and 9 passengers. I haven’t been in such a small plane for extended periods before, so it was interesting to learn more about the complexities of flying, all the weight/weather/refueling points/safety calculations. Plus we got great views flying low.

I’m not going to do the whole travelogue thing, so very briefly:

King Island is well known for its cheese and dairy products. There are also meat, mining, and kelp industries, some fishing, lots of birds and other wildlife, jagged coastlines, shipwrecks and lighthouses.

Flinders Island is larger in land, smaller in population. They have cattle and sheep, stunningly beautiful coastline. Also there is Wybalenna, a dark place in Australia’s history, part of the 1830’s “solution” to the conflict between Aboriginal people and settlers in Tasmania. Dispossession and death.

Of course a lot of my photos concentrated on texture, colour, stripes… I think I could base my entire weaving project exercises on the texture of one small part of King Island.

Layers of Texture – Workshop with Helen MacRitchie

I spent today in an ATASDA “Textile Taster” with tutor Helen MacRitchie (blog I did a two day class with Helen last year, making a bag (blog posts 12-June-2012 and 30-June-2012), but being a Taster this wasn’t about a particular finished product, but a speed tour of heaps of different techniques and ideas.

I had camera failure at the workshop (actually multiple operator errors – the camera remained at home and the phone battery was flat!), so the photo on the left of Helen’s work is taken from her blog (with permission) – see her post here for lots of information about the multiple materials and processes she combined to produce an integrated final result. Helen has completed a City & Guilds Certificate in stitched textiles and is currently completing her Diploma (I felt rather daunted just now when I saw her work on woven structures using paper strips here).

The photo on the right is of Helen’s work, a sample for today. The topic was layers of texture – blending texture through paint, fabric and stitch. We looked at lots of different ways to create textural elements which can be layered and combined to create a work with depth (visual and physical) and coherent design. A particular focus was how to visually disguise the borders between all the parts to avoid jarring and create a flowing whole. Shape, material and colour can be repeated in different combinations at different scales in all the individual elements to assist in bringing it together.

Helen started by showing us lots of samples and giving a general overview. Throughout the day she gave demonstrations and led discussions, and we all attempted to try at least a little of everything. As usual I was slow and didn’t get through it all.

First up was a base of pelmet vilene, covered with texture – in this instance cotton and jute scrims, torn and distorted. We used a dilute, matt, clear-drying ??? gel medium I think. Like everything else we did, this just scratched the surface of possibilities such as adding colour with paints and dyes, and/or using one or more of a huge variety of gels, pastes and mediums.

My second background is a hand-dyed cotton base (from a class I did with Djanne Cevaal years ago), with some dyed cotton scrim in the little pack of materials from Helen.

We also used the gels etc to make some elements that could be added later in a layer. This is some cotton plasterers’ scrim strip with a matt heavy structure medium stencilled on (through a paper doiley). This could be painted or distorted later.

In avoiding jarring effects we can’t make boundaries disappear, but we can help the eye move smoothly across by providing links that blur the edges, using colour and to a lesser extent shapes.This is a poor example, but the idea is to stitch in a thread colour closely matching each fabric piece, effectively bleeding the colour into the surrounding area.

One technique I didn’t have time for but really want to remember was the use of whip stitching. If I had just that top green square on the cream background, I would whip stitch on the green using a green thread in the needle and cream thread in the bobbin, producing flecks of cream on the green fabric. Then I would use cream thread in the needle and green in the bobbin on the surround cream fabric, producing flecks of green on the cream. Helen had a green and black sample that was lovely.

As well as whip stitch Helen demonstrated cable stitch and using thick threads in the bobbin. I didn’t get to those either.

Instead I spent my time on a series of samples of this technique – scrim in a hoop, then stitching over mainly in zigzag, distorting the weave and in places cutting into it. I tried using the regular foot and feed dogs up, and another version doing free motion stitching with feed dogs down.

I tried the cotton scrim, the much stiffer plasterers’ scrim strip, and a dyed scrim.

I don’t know how yet, but as soon as I saw this I started thinking about my theme book work on ageing – surely this technique would fit in somewhere.
Later in the day Helen talked about how she puts all the parts together, and very bravely (I think) actually did a fair bit of work on a sample piece. She had a reference / inspiration photo of some leaf and bark litter in the garden. Helen already had a base in suitable textures and colours, plus at least half a dozen separate elements. We discussed how to keep the eye moving around the final work, balance and variety, creating lines but not obvious, continuous ones – the viewer will follow the idea. Helen is very clever in her layering, gradually anchoring things and taking care to overlap in different ways so there’s no clear ordering of the layers. She didn’t have time to get to an end result, but talked about the extra stitching she would do to introduce and extend various colours in areas around the work.

On of the things I’m appreciating and enjoying about the OCA work is actually doing the work. It’s very easy to read books, look at blogs, go to galleries, see and talk about things – but nothing beats getting down and doing it. A single day can never be enough, so I’m going to have to make sure to find or create opportunities to practice all of this, because I’m certain that my work will improve if I can incorporate even part of what Helen shared today.

Drawing workshop with Gria Shead

Today I attended a one day workshop with Gria Shead at the Art Gallery of NSW. The class description: “In this workshop you will focus on drawing fabric as a starting point for exploring the heart of an interior. You will be focusing on tone and line, the bare minimum, in order to create a tactile aesthetic, representing form while understanding what it feels like. This workshop is suitable for all levels of experience.” Learning to draw while focusing on fabric and suitable for beginners – yes please!

On the right is a photo of recent work by Gria, which spent the day on an easel at one end of the room. It’s one of a series she has done of interiors of Vaucluse House. My phone camera comes nowhere close to doing it justice! Apart from other considerations, you could see the sofas were covered in velvet, that the curtains were sheer, that the floor was covered by carpet not linoleum. The texture is lovely. Look at those little highlights on the seats and top edges of the sofas!

This is a display of our work at the end of the day. Gria’s work is at the far left. Mine is as far away as possible on the far right 🙂

The workspace is in full public view on the main entry floor of the art gallery. You might be able to see a display case at the entrance of the Upper Asian Gallery at the back on the left, and the escalators leading to lower levels through the glass behind the easels. You might also be able to pick up the stunning view reflected in that glass – beautiful Sydney in full spring splendor!

We started with  a visit to the 19th century Australian painting gallery, to look at some of the painted fabric on show. Hugh Ramsey is a favourite of mine (see here and here).

Then we came back to the studio to draw – handkerchiefs. First one handkerchief, in willow charcoal on cartridge paper. You can see in the workroom photo above a handkerchief artfully arranged on the floor (not my hanky though). The instruction was to focus on getting the shape and size right – basically life size. I found this hard.

Then we graduated to two handkerchiefs. As the day progressed I wished I had arranged my hankies in a more simple way, or stuck to one. I tried to concentrate on drawing the negative space and not what I thought I was seeing. I found this hard too, but I was enjoying trying in a somewhat frustrated sort of way.

Next step was some better quality paper, still trying to understand that shape. Gria had given us soft brushes to remove some of the charcoal when lines went astray. You might be able to see just how often I had to use mine! At least this time I was getting the concept of focusing on the outline, not thinking about the inside of the shape too much. I didn’t get the shape right, but I was more certain about where I was wrong.

This is what I ended up with. It works best if you stand well back and squint. I’m sorry now that I didn’t take a photo of my handkerchiefs – I didn’t get it right, but it’s not all wrong. But what I want to record and remember is the process, not my results on the first try.

After all our preliminary work becoming familiar with our shapes, Gria gave us a sheet of craft paper that had been roughly painted with gesso. On this we drew our outline in charcoal one more time. The early sketchwork made this so much easier, plus any problem lines were easily brushed from the gesso.

Next we painted the entire shape in grey acrylic paint. Just a single big blob of grey. That would become the darkest areas of our fabric. The process was then to add light and highlights – first by sponging off areas of the still damp paint, then with white paint (gouache and acrylic), and white pastels, and some people went a bit further with some more willow charcoal and some touches of colour.

Starting dark and bringing in light is such a great system. Doing the preliminary work meant that while painting I got closer to what I wanted, but also that I knew what I was painting so much better and was much faster at figuring out where a problem was. One big issue was the light direction changing as the day wore on, making painting shadows tricky – but as Gria pointed out to me, that always happens so you have to learn to deal with it.

Looking at a small piece of fabric with such intensity over hours and working so hard to really see it was … so many words – exhausting, satisfying, frustrating, enlightening, absorbing… I absolutely must make sure I follow up this with lots of repeats in my regular sketchbook work.

Biennale of Sydney wrapup

The Biennale closes soon after over two months. I blogged about some of the textile works (27-August), but want to record my impressions of some other works – not really in themselves, but in ideas I want to learn/remember from them. All the photos below were taken on my phone, so check the Biennale website above for better images.

This is Claire, fellow OCA student and member of ATASDA, interacting with Philip Beesley’s work Hylzoic Series: Sibyl in the old industrial buildings on Cockatoo Island. (Claire’s blog entries of our Biennale vists are here (Cockatoo island) and here (Museum of Contemporary Art).)

We were immersed in the experience, wandering through the huge, darkened space, surrounded by sound and light and scent, gently touching the work which responded to our presence. There was a sense of wonder and joy. Even the shadows on the old walls were fascinating.
I’ve said it before (24-June-2012), scale is important. Small can be exquisite, being big isn’t going to save bad work – it’s more that size should be a conscious choice, not just how it turns out or what’s convenient.
Light and shadow – very evocative. I want to incorporate this in my work. Lots of research to be done.
These photos show just part of Ed Pien’s work Source. It’s made of paper, mylar, rope, sound and video – the sound being throat singing by Tanya Tagaq.

In this the viewer, or participant, wanders through a labyrinth, exploring a watery world.

Scale, light and shadow, multiple senses engaged, immersion of the viewer…

Switching venue to follow the theme, this is Anything can break
by Pinaree Sanpitak, installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Once again large, with light, shadow and sound. I imagined it as walking just below the surface of the ocean, but have since read that the work is based on watery clouds and the female form, particularly breasts.

Some of the glass forms are lit using fibre optics. There are motion sensors in some of the grey origami “flying boxes”, which trigger speakers issuing a huge variety of sounds which meld together creating a world around the viewer/participants. The gallery is a double height space in the new part of the MCA and the lowered ceiling effect further enhances the feeling of being enclosed within the work.

The thumbnail photo gives an idea of the significant engineering required to support the work. Another common element is that a team was needed to produce and install each work.  Planning, project management and getting funding must have been huge tasks in each one.

Jumping back to Cockatoo Island, this is Gravitas Lite by Peter Robinson. The thumbnail photo is to give an idea of scale, but these shots show less than half of this amazing work in polystyrene. There’s an interesting clip of the artist speaking here.

Once again we have scale, light and shadow (I think all natural, thanks to the rows of skylights). Collaboration was an important element – around 60 crew and volunteers worked over a 5 week period to put it together. The sense of place is something I want to remember and think on. The work was conceived and created for this place, this event, and the polystyrene will be recycled afterwards. The chain motif references the convict and industrial past of the Island. The chains wrap themselves around and through the detritus of previous use.

I’m also taken by what I see as whimsey or humour – what the artist describes as the “contradiction of motif and materiality”. Some of the works in the Biennale seemed turgid, so (over)full of concept and meaning and gravitas. I like the idea of being thoughtful, meaningful and serious with a light touch.

In the video linked above Peter Robinson talks about the decisions that crew and volunteers made as the work was installed, and the sense of collaboration and ownership that each developed. Mit Jai Inn goes further his work No 112, leaving decisions about arrangement of his work to others. These abstract works use oil paint and pigment on canvas and the colour is complex and beautiful. Reading in the catalogue, there is a deep philosophical and political base to the artist’s work. I enjoyed it on a simpler level of rich colour and also rather intriguing speculation about how I would approach arranging this work.

How much can and should one let go of work – create it then send it on its way in the world? Robinson’s work will be recycled, confounding assumptions about the impact of the material he has used.

When I revisited Cockatoo Island a couple of weeks later, areas of Beesley’s touch sensitive lights no longer worked.

This beautiful gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art has work by Liang Quan on the back wall, moon jars by Park Young-Sook on the left and Yeesookyung’s creation using ceramic shards on the right. On a return visit various sections had been roped off.

I’ve been told Li Hongbo’s bright paper Ocean of Flowers (actually based on the silhouettes of weapons) now has areas crushed and ruined where people have simply walked on them.

I’m not sure of my point here. Is it that one needs to let go, or that one should only use robust materials? Is this just the nature of such a large and long exhibition, especially one that attracts so many who don’t normally go into galleries?

That’s rather a muddled and low thought, so rather than finishing there I’ll show some shots of Air and Inner by Honore d’O, installed at Pier 2/3. You can read the artist statement here – I have absolutely no idea what it means, if there’s anything lost in translation, if it is intended as a joke or if it’s just I don’t get it. But I enjoyed experiencing the work 🙂

de Zegher, C. and McMaster, G. (ed.) (2012) all our relations: 18th biennale of Sydney 2012, Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Ltd.


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