Posts Tagged 'UWA-P1-other'

Rock art gallery

Sydney is “one of the largest outdoor rock art galleries in the world”.

So says Aboriginal heritage manager David Watts, in The challenge is how to care for the art. If left unmarked they can degrade or even be destroyed – accidentally or through environmental factors. Call attention to them and they may be vandalised.

Last week mum and I went to a talk last week by a woman from the Aboriginal Heritage Office ( In one sense it was information I’d heard before. I have a certain familiarity with aboriginal rock art in Sydney – mum has always had an interest, and she took us to out-of-the-way places when we were young and showed us art to marvel at, a heritage to admire. The photo shows me, my brothers and my grandma visiting from the UK, with a carving on the rock in front of us. And no, it’s not an acceptable thing in today’s world to walk or sit on the rock. Our ignorance and enthusiasm at the time.


A dilly bag. One of the display items at the talk.

On the other hand the talk was new because it was personal to the speaker – it was her family, she was sorry not to know more about her ancestors and the meaning of art which is her heritage. She wasn’t particularly blaming us – just telling us the situation and wanting us to understand some of our history, the impact and current challenges.

In August I have a trip and a class which may start breaking down my ignorance. Apart from saying “sorry” I haven’t known how to act. This is really a “keep myself honest” post. I need to learn more.

OCA day trip

A few weeks ago the Sydney-ish OCA students got together for a day trip to Mittagong, a couple of hours drive south.

barbara_rogers_01Our stated goal was Parallels, an exhibition of Barbara Rogers’ work at the Sturt Gallery. Barbara is well known for her work in shibori. In this exhibition she explores the stripe, through a wide variety of shibori techniques, layering, and a little stitching.

barbara_rogers_02Barbara chose silk – organza and charmeuse – for all the work included here. She uses azoic dyes (in her documentation with the exhibition Barbara is clearly aware of and actively manages any health or environmental concerns).

The presentation of the resulting fabrics was beautiful. Lengths were layered and hung together suspended from the ceiling. Very simple and very effective. Walking around the room felt a little like walking through the dappled light in a forest – with some very unusual trees!

barbara_rogers_03The layering of the organza, creating combinations of patterns and moiré effects, was fascinating. The gallery had shafts of natural light coming through the high windows, but unfortunately I don’t have a good photograph showing the magic that happened when the layers were backlit. Hopefully you can see the variety and interest that Barbara has been able to achieve using very simple geometric shapes – just lines and rectangles. Some really interesting rhythmic effects.

For me the highlight of the day wasn’t the exhibition, even though I found it intriguing and enjoyable. The real hit was spending time with my fellow students. Distance learning can be tough, so having the opportunity to chat with others who understand is incredibly valuable – energizing, supportive and fun. We’re hoping to set up semi-regular critiquing sessions, and having that direct, personal, (somewhat) objective input and discussion of our work could really help us each push ourselves.

For another take on the day see Claire’s blog entry of 14-June here, plus her entry of 21-June here where the experience has influenced some of her print assignment work.

Turner from the Tate: The Making of a Master

My mother gave me a most wonderful gift recently, taking me to visit this exhibition in Adelaide (approx 1,200 km flight each way).

I feel extremely nervous writing about the exhibition, being in the early sections of an Art History course from an English college. I haven’t read the later parts of the OCA course which would include Turner, but am very aware of a comment in the course notes mentioning Turner’s work as “indisputably part of the British canon, at the very least” (1). Generally when writing in this blog about exhibitions I happily spout personal opinions both positive and negative, regardless of ignorance about history or context of the work. My opinions modify (or not) over time as I learn and experience more, and taking up a position which I can test, change and maybe knock down seems a reasonable part of a learning process. It feels a more exposed position to ignorantly spout about a part of the canon, the heritage, of the very well-informed person assessing me.

On the other hand, I want to capture my initial impressions so when I do get to that section of the course I remember the impact and my initial reactions and questions, and thereby maybe get a little further and a little deeper in my learning and understanding. So apologies, but here goes – not a complete, informed or integrated story, just random jottings of initial impressions.

turner_01_avalancheA surprising plus is that the gallery allowed photographs (no flash or video) – unfortunately quite unexpected, so I only had my phone camera which struggled with the low light, glass reflections etc. This photo shows The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons (1810), which was the subject of my first annotation (15-Mar-2013). For some bizarre reason I didn’t take a clear photo – perhaps because I was trying to concentrate on seeing. Plus I bought the catalogue which has better images than anything I could take – but that doesn’t help in illustrating the blog. Perhaps most of all it was because it was like visiting with an old friend – I’d just come through a doorway, saw the painting across the room, so familiar and yet so much more, and I almost ran across to greet it.

One big difference for me in seeing the original versus the reproductions was the variation in amount of paint. The upper left corner showing a distant clear sky and closer sheets of rain (?) is much thinner and smoother than the violently swirling lumps of paint in the foreground. Also some things I couldn’t quite see or make out in the reproductions (note the “(?)” above) I still couldn’t quite see or make out in the original. Colour in general was richer and more varied, helped by the play of light of the uneven paint surface. There’s a little line of quite bright orange coming from the bottom margin left of centre which leads up to the right, pointing towards the hut. I wasn’t even particularly aware of it in the print I had. More than anything the sheer physical presence, the scale and the way it could take up your entire field of vision, had a great impact.

turner_02turner_03The exhibition covers Turner’s entire career, with works dating from 1787 to 1844, and includes sketchbooks as well as finished works. The top photo here is of a sketchbook, Studies for Pictures: Isleworth c. 1805, showing Study for Dido and Aeneas, pencil, watercolour, pen and ink on paper. The photo below shows the oil on canvas painting Dido and Aeneas (?c. 1805-06).

It’s interesting to see all the shifts between the two works. Together with more subtle compositional changes, the centre of the image has been opened out, broadened, providing a sweeping vista of the city in the distance and also space for the glowing light of the sky. There is also a greater range in values, producing an almost theatrical spotlighting effect on the figures in the foreground.

By coincidence there was an extra connection for me – the book I’d taken to read while travelling was The Aeneid by Virgil, and the previous night I had reached book four: The tragedy of Dido, although I hadn’t reached the hunting expedition depicted here.

turner_04turner_05Another interesting pair started with Scarborough c.1809 watercolour on paper. Washes of colour block the composition and the beginnings of that glowing sky can be seen.

The second in the pair is Scarborough town and castle: morning: boys catching crabs c. 1810 watercolour on paper (a painting that actually belongs in the Art Gallery of South Australia collection). There’s lots of detail and interest – I have the impression it was particularly popular amongst viewers, especially the young.

I don’t know if the earlier painting was part of planning and working through ideas, or a start that got stuck, or some other possibility. It would be interesting to learn more about Turner’s working methods.

turner_06When starting Textiles 1: A Creative Approach I had a lot of trouble with the concept of “mark-making”. Almost two years later, I really enjoyed Turner’s marks – so energetic and expressive. This photo is awful, but the best of a bad bunch. It shows The Ground of East Cowes Castle, with Figures among the Trees; a study for ‘Boccaccio relating the Tale of the Birdcage’ 1827, chalk and pen and ink on blue paper.

turner_07 turner_08Another example of exciting mark-making is seen in A Disaster at Sea, also known as The Wrecked Female Convict Ship, the Amphitrite: Women and Children Abandoned in a Gale ?c 1835, oil on canvas. On the right is a detail and below a photo of the full painting. You can see the waves crashing over the sinking vessel, the sprays of foam and swirling water, the tumult of the sea adding to the horror of the women convicts.

This painting was always going to receive special attention in the exhibition, given it is now believed to show a convict ship bound for Australia. Interestingly, in the light of my current OCA course, this possibility was first suggested in 1993 by Cecilia Powell (2). Clearly the products of art history are very relevant to the modern gallery visitor, evidenced by the large group around the painting as each guided tour passed through.

The painting was never exhibited, and according to the signage in the exhibition is “probably unfinished”. At first that seems strange, but really “finished” is quite an artificial construct. Apparently Turner was well known for making final touches to a painting as it hung in an exhibition. Without being able give an example, I’ve heard of painters reworking pieces after they’ve been exhibited, or even incorporating parts in later works. A recent newspaper article mentioned that van Gogh never regarded a work as final (3). However thinking about it in the exhibition made me feel uncertain.

turner_09turner_10This is Sun Setting over a Lake c. 1840-5 oil on canvas. It is very beautiful. I’ve put a detail below, trying to capture the flecks of colour, the textural globs of paint. The exhibition signage suggested sun, a lake, the Alps. That seems very reasonable, very probable. Perhaps it was unfinished. There was a suggestion somewhere (I’ve misplaced my notes – not good) that Turner had an array of unfinished canvases – I almost used the word “generic” – which he could quickly complete to meet a specific requirement or commission.


At the bottom is a photo of War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet 1842 oil on canvas. Could that have been a semi-prepared canvas that was put to use for the occasion? Would it make any difference to the final result if it was? It was hung together with and in contrast to Peace – Burial at Sea 1842. Given the unusual (based on other works in the exhibition) proportions, the complementary colours and related themes, it seems the two must have been painted from scratch to meet the particular purpose.

The idea of setting up a “production run” is unpleasant to me. There are connotations of being “just” decorative, or perhaps too comfortable, churning things out. Which is an outrageous thing to suggest in the context of this exhibition, which demonstrates just how far Turner went, how he pushed and developed his art – the light, space, atmosphere, use of colour… Is it enough to say that viewing Sun Setting over a Lake was an absorbing and pleasurable experience, finding shadows and images, my own meaning and reflection, in what may be an unfinished work? Which seems to lead to questions around the interaction of the artist’s intention and the viewer’s experience and engagement. No answers, except to note yet again that I have a lot to think about and learn.

(1) Open College of the Arts (2010) Understanding Art 1: Western Art. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts (Document control number ua 1 wa121110), page 17 .

(2) Warrell, I. (ed) (2013) Turner from the Tate: The making of a master. London: Tate Publishing, page 197.

(3) New York Times (2013) Van Gogh’s ‘blue’ bedroom more a violet hue. The Sydney Morning Herald [online] 30 April 2013. Available from [Accessed 2 May 2013]

Archaeology in Sydney

In my post of 13-April-2013 I made a comment about the dearth of Roman remains here in Sydney. Aboriginal archaeology goes back much further – 50,000 years or so according to the Australian Museum website (1). At the other end of the scale, European settlement began in 1788. There’s lots from early settlement to be seen in museum settings, but I was surprised last week when I passed an archaeological site in situ.

The Big Dig site is underneath a youth hostel in The Rocks area of Sydney, and guests walk through part of it to get to Reception upstairs. There are also a couple of display cases containing some of the objects found in the area. Wonderful!

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(1) Australian Museum (2011) The Aboriginal Archaeological Collection [online] Available from: [Accessed 13 April 2013]

More information

The Big Dig:

The architects – Tzannes Associates:

13 Rooms exhibition

On Thursday I went to the first publicly open day of this exhibition – see lots of information and videos at It’s described as “performance art” and before going I didn’t understand that in almost all cases the artists have trained or sent training instructions for the work to be presented / interpreted by re-performers. There’s a video of one of the curators in which he describes it as “living sculpture”, which at first I found helpful but later made me very uncomfortable about the objectification of the people we stared at. If I think of it as theatre it suddenly switches to “acceptable”. Clearly I’m still sorting through impressions, and I’m in no particular hurry to find any kind of resolution. In this post I just want a brief record of some of what I saw.


Air and Inner, by Honore d’O

The exhibition is at Pier 2/3 – a wharf built in the early 1900s and in the short term operated as a cultural facility while redevelopment (still arts / creative purposes) is considered. Rather annoyingly I didn’t take a photo of the overall setup. The first photo is Air and Inner by Honore d’O, part of last year’s Biennale (see my post 8-Sept-2013), to give just a hint of the interior space.

13rooms_01In the foreground here is one of the twelve purpose built rooms in the current exhibition. This particular one didn’t have a door. It is Man=flesh/Woman=flesh – FLAT (1997) by Laura Lima.

As you can see, people crouched or lay on the floor to peer inside (there was an angled mirror on a pole for anyone who couldn’t).

13rooms_limaInside lay a person – silent, looking at a lamp. We were informed that they had a physical disability of some kind.

Years ago I started a degree in Social Work and had a work placement at a rehabilitation centre. As an experiment a small group of us went to a local shopping centre and took turns being pushed around shops in a wheelchair. Around half the time, if the person in the wheelchair asked a question the sales assistant would direct their response to the one pushing the chair. Is Lima’s work in some way about seeing the person in front of us, about the constraints we put on someone with a disability, about experiencing a limitation in our own movement…?

Above are two photographs of Damien Hirst’s work Hans, Georg (1992). This was the first room you come to after entering the exhibition space, and I think it must be a deliberate choice to start people with something so engaging and non-confrontational. All the twins were chatty, open and friendly. Each pair had been given a clothing allowance plus a choice of reading material. The boys here, musicians in their “real” lives, had chosen Moby Dick (both were on page 45 at the time, although they got a bit confused when during the conversation they wanted to check if they were on the same line). The two girls had gone to different schools, were studying different subjects at different universities. The dots of colour at the back are the same colours, but arranged differently. It seems to be a simple comment about not judging too quickly or making assumptions on the basis of appearances. I’m trying not to get too side-tracked from my main line of study for OCA, so haven’t researched further so far.

On the left above is In Just a Blink of an Eye by Xu Zhen (2005). On the right is Coexisting by Clark Beaumont (Nicole Beaumont and Sarah Clark) (2013). These are two of the real physical endurance performances, together with Marina Abramović’s Luminosity (1997).

Clark and Beaumont are the two artists actually performing their own work. They occupy a plinth together – eight hours a day for the eleven days of the exhibition. They were frequently communicating with each other as they shifted around to relieve pressure on their bodies, sometimes twined around each other, at one point a rather perilous sequence for one to stand up on the plinth. The work was about the process of their collaboration and negotiation – but it was their collaboration, their experience. I was an on-looker, and the intensity of their relationship heightened the feeling of exclusion. This could be part of their intent, but that wasn’t my impression.

No photography was permitted in Abramović’s room. The performance was a naked woman, sitting on a bicycle seat that was mounted a couple of metres up on the wall, lit by two strong spotlights. There were some posts protruding from the wall on which the re-performer could partially support her feet and arms if she wished. For much of the time I watched the performer’s body formed an X, her unsupported arms held up, her heels just touching the supports. For periods she would look straight ahead. Then she would look directly into the eyes of a viewer for minutes at a time. There was no expression, no acknowledgement. Was she even paying attention to me, other than just as a predetermined place on which to focus? It was interesting to watch the other viewers, all standing intensely focused but uncommunicative. I have read about Abramović before, on the OCA blog ( posted 19 March 2013 – read the comments too, some interesting discussion and information).

There is a series of videos about the exhibition, and in one – two of the re-performers who are presenting Luminosity speak. One, Kathryn, talks about “sharing the experience with the audience” and being “open and engaging”. The second, Nadia, has the view that while the work is about light, she will have to do a lot of work on grounding and sees herself testing her limits. Nadia quotes Abramović – “art is like a war and you have to conquer yourself” – and that is more what I felt from the work. I did not feel engaged or sharing. I felt I was watching a woman focused on her chosen task of pushing her body and mind further than she had gone, determined to conquer this personal everest. I had the image of an ascetic nun, pushing herself through self-discipline and mortification of the flesh to find enlightenment – an image strengthened by a body position so crucifixion-like.

Since visiting the exhibition the thing I’ve been puzzling over most, the thing I find strange about many of the works is the relationship between the artist and the viewer. In some works the viewer became an active participant – conversing, swapping, perhaps by meeting a gaze. In Marina Abramović’s work in particular a communication may be intended – but the artist herself isn’t there, isn’t listening, and the re-performer didn’t seem to really see me. If the idea is to pay attention it’s odd to be absent. I suppose the answer could be in my assumptions. In most artforms something is created and presented, the viewer or listener perceives or interprets, often at a different time and place – there is no feedback loop. I thought performance art was more intimate – but why, given it is a “performance”?

There were other works, but I’ll finish with one where I did experience a connection, where I felt like a person and not an audience. This was Xavier Le Roy’s Untitled (2012). Again no photo, but this time because in a sense there was very little to see. The door was fixed partly open. The room was unlit. Walking in I was aware of the carpet underfoot, just a sense of the sound of movement, other visitors standing and looking into the darkness on the other side of the room. As my eyes adjusted I began to see a something, a form moving on the ground. There was a woman sitting near a wall, occasionally warning people that they were close to something, and I sat in the dark beside her. We sat in the darkness watching, sometimes chatting quietly. The world slowed down. I could see, or almost see, two bodies wrapped around each other, slowly rolling and moving around on the floor. A toddler ran up and patted the shape. A group of young school children came in for a while. The woman asked what they thought it was – “an elephant” one said. We chatted about the work – the woman was a friend of Xavier Le Roy, was one of the performers but acting then as their watcher. She didn’t want to answer directly my question about the meaning of the work, but drew me out, helped me to explore my own reaction. It was a warm, peaceful, engaged experience. I’m sure it was physically demanding on the performers, but that seemed to be more something they accepted as necessary to achieve their objectives rather than the whole point of the thing. There’s a photo at, but it looks quite artificial, which feels odd since this work was the one that felt to me most genuine.

The exhibition closes 21 April, so if you’re in Sydney you’d better hurry up.

More information
13 rooms, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach:
Pier 2/3:


As well as a large amount of reading, I’ve been doing some listening recently. Nothing that directly relates to either my college or textile work – but if you wait a while most things end up being connected one way or another.

qstation_02Also not directly related are the photos I’m including today, but there is a connection of sorts.

First were two lectures in a series at the Art Gallery of New South Wales presented by Susannah Fullerton ( The series is “Favourite British novels of the 20th century”. Susannah began each lecture with quite lengthy readings from the novels. She is an excellent reader, very expressive and using her voice well without falling into dramatics. The lectures covered both the lives of the authors and discussion of the books. I’ll only pick up on a couple of thoughts here.

qstation_01We started with John Galsworthy and The Forsyte Saga. I hadn’t read these before and don’t recall seeing any of the TV and movie adaptations, but really enjoyed the books when I settled down with them earlier this year. The broad ideas of Property – of land, artworks, wife – could be an interesting theme to explore in a future assignment. I’m interested to see how significant “art as property” will be in the art history course.

qstation_07In the books the heroine, Irene, never speaks for herself. She is always seen through the eyes of others. This was a deliberate technique introduced by Galsworthy, but as a woman today I found that passivity enormously frustrating and annoying. However I have a very un-formed idea of trying to do the same thing visually in a series of works. I don’t really know what that means yet… but somehow the focus of attention is never quite visible.

The second lecture was on Nancy Mitford and in particular her two novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. These are old favourites and it was a pleasure to re-read them – often very funny, but with a slightly distant and cold edge.

A few days later I went to a lecture by John Gascoigne, Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales ( The topic was “Cook, Banks, Kew Gardens and Enlightenment Voyaging”, and it was part of the Q Station lecture series ( qstation_04In the period of The Enlightenment there was focus on the application of reason and interest in combining voyaging with science. Knowledge was liberating, challenging ancient certainties, but “knowledge is power” was quite literal, with men such as Francis Bacon alert to the political possibilities of science. The voyages of exploration had a very pragmatic quality – they were looking for things to bring back, to improve and use for the benefit of the empire. For example breadfruit from east asia could be introduced to the west indies as cheap food for slaves. Not a pretty example, I agree.

qstation_05qstation_06The talk was well illustrated with slides, including quite a bit of artwork. The background information on the period I now have will I hope be useful further on in Art History.

Now an explanation of the photos. The “Qstation” where John Gascoigne spoke is the site of the former Quarantine Station. For around 150 years boats where there was suspicion of contagious disease were not permitted to enter the main part of Sydney harbour. Passengers and crew were taken into the Quarantine Station, put through rigorous decontamination processes, and housed in various segregated sections until there was no further fear of infection. This could take weeks or longer. Many would have died of smallpox, typhus or other diseases. There are more than 1,500 carvings on the site, made by those detained and waiting for disease and death, or release. I’m trying to squirrel away possible theme ideas for future courses. As well as standing alone the quarantine station could link into immigration generally. There could also be parallels with some current political and human issues here in Australia. As always, More Thought Required.

Exhibition: Knit Knot Weave

knitknotweave_01A few days ago I visited this exhibition at Gallery Lane Cove. Nine artists were represented, from which I’ve chosen three to show here (and apologies for the quality of some of the photos – something about the lighting and my phone’s camera didn’t get on well.)

The works on the left are by Brook Morgan, woven Protea flowers and cotton thread. The exhibition was “created to examine traditional handicraft materials and techniques in a contemporary art context” (1). While the techniques used came from traditional craft – weaving, stitching, felting, crochet – a number of the artists demonstrated more modern concerns in their choices of materials, with recycled and rather unusual natural materials apparent.

Above is Letters From Home by Alice Brickhill. Materials include recycled fabrics and embroidery thread. Alice Brickhill grew up in Tasmania and has moved to Sydney as a tertiary student. The move from the more secluded island state is clearly of great significance in her work, which is filled with a sense of nostalgia in both materials and the theme she has chosen to explore. There is a strong sense of storytelling, but the details of the story remain obscure.

Two works from Gabriella Verstraeten’s Red Crosses Series are shown above – Tile no. 4 on the left and tile no. 5 on the right. The medium is freehand machine embroidery, rayon and metallic threads on synthetic ground fabric. In real life the colour of these works is absolutely glowing. While the threads used are a major part of this, the choice of colours produce a vibration and energy that drew me across the room. Abstract patterning is created using a few simple, repetitive motifs. The artist claims “there are no political statements, no emotional self-examinations, no messages.” (2) The rhythm, the surface created by the dense stitching, and the sheer pleasure in materials and stitch drive her.

Above are two more works by Brook Morgan. All are described as Protea Scroll, woven protea flowers, cotton thread. One aspect I particularly enjoyed in these works was the sense of rhythm in the striping of the wefts. It’s probably easiest to see if you click on the left-hand photo, as the colour of cotton changes gradually from orange to white. At first glance each work has an overall unity and sameness, but detailed examination finds the subtle variation of the materials themselves and the weaving process.
knitknotweave_09In her statement accompanying the exhibition Morgan emphasises the importance of engaging with her materials and process. She collects and prepares the grasses and flowers, creating a connection and communication with them. While the brittle materials pose challenges and limitations, her close involvement and knowledge gained open her to possibilities.

knitknotweave_10I’m not even slightly drawn to the use of “raw” natural materials in my own weaving – not for any particular reason other than that they don’t resonate with me – but I am filled with admiration at their use here. A simple variation in the way the material is inserted creates an amazing pattern. The piece on the right was described as Untitled – Loop Series comprising woven stick and cotton thread. I’ve wondered about “loop”, but perhaps that refers to the visual effect rather than the technique.
knitknotweave_06The works on the left are also from the Loop series (unfortunately this photo is where my camera struggled the most). The work on the left-hand side is described as woven stick, cotton thread. That on the right is woven found wire, cotton thread, although I thought I could also see bundles of white horsehair or something similar in it.

williamson02It’s interesting to compare Morgan’s Loop work with that of Liz Williamson – seen on the right and in my post of 24-Nov-2012. Morgan completed Masters Degree studies at COFA, where Williamson is Head, School of Design Studies. Both have used the same weave structure to create “Loop” series, both tend to use natural materials (often cotton, silk and leather in the case of Williamson), but scales and outcomes are quite different. Williamson has produced a wearable that I see as chic, elegant and urban while retaining a sense of enclosure and protection. Apart from her engagement with materials and methods I don’t know more of Morgan’s intent, but these works brought back to me vivid memories of a childhood holiday staying in shearer’s accommodation on a sheep station near Adaminaby. The house was surrounded by dry paddock, fenced in rusty wire and with an old horse which was rather cranky about my beginner attempts at riding. The materials, and the sense of a rural, larger, but still safe enclosure are a striking match.

(1) Brickhill, A. et al. (2013) Knit Knot Weave. Sydney: Gallery Lane Cove.
(2) Verstraeten, G. in Brickhill, A. et al. (2013) Knit Knot Weave. Sydney: Gallery Lane Cove.

More information
Alice Brickhill: (not a lot of information, but some much better photographs).
Gabriella Verstraeten:
Brook Morgan:

UA1-WA:P1 Learning to read

One of the important tasks at this level of study is “the acquisition of skills and good working habits” to quote from the OCA assessment criteria. Now I’m a few weeks into the course I thought it time to review how I’m going with one of the most important components of the course: reading. This may sound frivolous – I have been reading on a daily basis for a good many years – but I’m finding this a different sort of reading. There’s reading for pleasure, to get information grabs for a report, to cram for an exam… but this is different, and in a way without a specific outcome. Which I find a little uncomfortable, but having identified it (only now as I write and edit this post) I’ll note it, put it to one side for now, and go on now trying to read mindfully, taking in visual information as well as text, trying to be efficient about it but also effective, finding the balance between getting through the course and learning as much as I can on the way.

Above is the current basic setup. There’s a ceiling light above the table, but I have a few “daylight” table lamps for task lighting. One of the lamps has an attached magnifying glass, which is very handy for seeing the detail of illustrations.

Another key element is the mug of tea, however the focus of everything is the text book, the enormous A World History of Art. I’m taking notes, just points that interest me, to keep track of the structure of the information and how everything connects. In a way it helps me to slow down and take in what I’m reading.

wa-reading_02The notes help on the reading side, and I also occasionally try to sketch parts of illustrations. The point isn’t the drawings themselves, it’s just part of trying to take time to really look at the details. In this case, on the left is some of the patterning on a 8th century BC Attic Geometric amphora including some very static, schematic human figures. On the right is an attempt at a c. 480 BC statue where a slight turn and shift of balance gives a more dynamic, animated effect.

Also on the reading desk is a collection of reference material – course notes, The Hamlyn Historical Atlas (my geography is pretty weak), Art History: The key concepts (still learning the language) and the Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture. Part of this is of course to get extra information, but part is … again, I feel the need to slow myself down, to make sure I’m really concentrating and taking in what I’m reading not just ticking off pages.

wa-reading_03Not on the table but just a roll of the chair away is the computer. I only recently read (on another student’s blog that I think has since disappeared or been made private) that classic Greek statues were actually brightly coloured. An internet search brought up heaps of images and articles, most of which seem to be based on the work of Vinzenz Brickmann at the Glypotothek museum in Munich. The central coloured sketch on the left is based on an image of the cloak worn in a statue of Athena, seen in Tracing the colors of ancient sculpture from J. Paul Getty Museum ( (If you want to take a more informal approach, the website of the Acropolis Museum has a page where you can colour your own statue – – the internet can swallow as much time as you give to it).

What’s the point of this post? Well, this is my learning log and in my mind it seems to right place to reflect on my learning. I’m not sure I’ve found the best way to do a very basic and very important thing.

… more pause for thought … hmm, now I think I’ve got it. I’m nervous about this course. I want to show myself and anyone who has read this far that I’m trying. And now I’ve realised this I know I’ve written about it before – when I was starting my first OCA course (posted 25-Aug-2011). That time I mentioned a newspaper article, Courage can get pupils through academic blues by Kim Arlington, about work by Professor Andrew Martin, who has found that courageous students, who persevere despite difficulties, doubts or anxieties, can do as well as confident students. A slightly different approach was taken by a father who encouraged his children to fail – if you’re not failing you’re not trying enough (see

Well this isn’t the ending I expected when I wrote the first 80% of this post. I think now I’ve sorted out the underlying issue I can deal with it – but if you have any good tips on how to read, please leave a comment 🙂

Arlington, K. (2011) Courage can get pupils through academic blues The Sydney Morning Herald [on line] 19 August 2011. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2013].
Berry, S. (2013) Perfect failures The Sydney Morning Herald [on line] 25 March 2013. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2013].
Curl, J.S. (2006) Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harris, J. (2006) Art History: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge
Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.
J. Paul Getty Museum (uploaded 2012) Tracing the colors of ancient sculpture [Accessed 29 March 2013]
Moore, R.I., (ed.) (1981) The Hamlyn Historical Atlas. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group.
Open College of the Arts [n.d.] Assessment criteria for Theoretical Studies modules at OCA. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. [Accessed 29 March 2013]

Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one. Classical and religious art.
Topic: Reading for Art History

Workshop with Mignon Parker

mignon_parker01A few weeks ago I went to a weekend workshop with tutor Mignon Parker, organised by ATASDA. The class was primarily experimenting with rusting techniques and on the left is one of Mignon’s samples.
mignon_parker02Mignon added an interesting painting technique plus some gilding, and the second photo shows some of the other samples she brought.
mignon_parker03Here you can see my initial experiments – at the top on calico, and the lower samples handmade paper (from the ATASDA day at Primrose Park a couple of years ago). On the left of the fabric I used a sealer, on the lefthand paper sample a turquoise acrylic paint as a base. Iron filings were mixed with black acrylic paint, then painted on both sealed and unsealed fabric and papers. The final step of the process is to paint a weak acid solution over the dried paint. The iron reacts with the acid to form rust and possibly also water – the acid solution was thickened, but one of the interesting effects was from a rusty water that spread across fabric and paper.
mignon_parker08I experimented a little with other fabrics. On the left is a silver lamé which has some interesting contrasts with the still shiny areas, black discolouration and the actual rusty sections. I applied the paint using a fibrous, holey paper as a stencil and the pockmarked effect has potential. However the rust is quite brittle and seems likely to flake off if one handled it a lot or tried to stitch through it, plus Mignon warned us of potential damage to washing machines which made us worry about danger for our sewing machines. I decided to focus on paper.
mignon_parker04mignon_parker05A couple of flocked papers gave good results when the iron-laden paint was put just on the flocked sections. I tried two versions. The first actually had a light silvered card as a base, and once again the contrast of silver and rust was quite attractive. As you can see in the closeup of the second photo, the flocking gave additional height and emphasis to the crusty rusting effect. One consideration in the technique is that even if you try to keep the rust effect to a small area, it does tend to spread with the water (or whatever it is) produced. Also the acid solution we used had a blue colour – it may have been a safety feature – and this had an impact on the colour of the base.
mignon_parker06It was difficult to apply the iron/paint mix accurately with a brush – and quite hard on the brush hairs too. I found it more effective when stencilling – better control of patterning, plus the stencil brushes had hardier bristles. This sample used a small paper doiley which I tore in half as stencils. I like the patterning on the paper, and the doily itself looks good – rusted colour but not too crusty or brittle in this instance. It could provide a good way to suggest rusted hinges etc on a mixed media wall piece, without any weight. Using a sealant on the rusted paper would help durability.

mignon_parker07A light-but-strong japanese paper made an effective stencil (see the insert lower left of the photo), but given my previous interests it’s no surprise that it’s the light and shadow possibilities that caught my eye. I haven’t got a particular application in mind as yet, but surely the right opportunity will come up sometime to use this.
mignon_parker09On the second day Mignon showed us a way to mix and apply paint using a credit card (or similar) cut to various widths. It gave some interesting colour effects, but I’m not going to show either of my two samples in their entirety. I need a lot more practice and control, and while Mignon had a system which allowed her to produce a very attractive little italian cityscape on the spot, my determination to make my own visual statement(s) did not go so well overall! I also remain unconvinced that rusting and gilding effects should ever be used in the same piece. To me they are so different in appearance and in what they represent (the decay of rust, the luxury of gold) – even going for some kind of contrast or statement would take just the right situation and a lot of finesse to pull off.
mignon_parker10This is my second attempt with the credit card painting idea, on one of those cheap ready-stretched canvases. I didn’t use rust on it, but did try some areas of gilding. They looked rather trashy, so I used some of the acid to knock back the shine. Looking at it now I might even try (one day) taking it off the frame and machine stitching into it, just to see what happens.

I can’t say I’m really drawn to any of the techniques we tried – probably more than anything because the rust (what interested me the most initially) seems to have some limitations and drawbacks for general use on fabrics. Still, it was a very nice group of women, a pleasant way to spend a weekend, and maybe one day one of these ideas will turn out to be just what I need.

Reading: What is art history?

While checking my bookshelves for anything that might be relevant for my new course I was surprised to find a book called What is art history? by Mark Roskill. It’s a 1982 reprint – I was living in London at that time and suspect I bought it then, put it unread on a shelf and it’s been following me around unnoticed ever since. I’m happy to report that after thirty years it has now been read!

The book is intended as a general introduction and each chapter introduces examples illustrating different aspects of the discipline. There is attribution of a painting or other work of art, the “discovery” of an artist by identifying links between a number of works, investigation of how works would have been displayed and understood originally, detection of fraud, and the application of art historical methods to gain better understanding of even recent works.

There was an interesting section on finding the disguised meaning in paintings, with one example being by Diego Velasquez, The Tapestry Weavers (The Fable of Arachne) (ca. 1567). The painting is in the Prado in Madrid – see Click on the ‘enlarge’ icon to get a nice large image – it’s good enough that you can see that in addition to women spinning and winding yarn, there’s one carding the wool. In his book Roskill gives earlier interpretations of the subject as a simple scene in a tapestry workshop. He then presents updated interpretations published in the 1940s which recognise the goddess Athena and the illustration of the classical myth of Arachne. The text on the Prado website gives a similar but slightly different explanation. It seems everything is always open to review and refinement.

I wonder how much the work of Art History has changed or developed in the last few decades. Certainly some of the more newsworthy activities continue (that’s “newsworthy” in the sense of attracting general interest). In the press this week was a story about a painting in the UK that was gifted to the National Trust a few years ago and has now been identified as painted by Rembrandt – see Further tests are planned.


Clark, N. (2013) Rembrandt painting in Devon abbey long thought to be pupil’s work is £20m a self-portrait. The Independent. 18 March 2013. [Accessed 22-Mar-2013].

Roksill, M. (1976) What is Art History? London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. [Accessed 22-Mar-2013]


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