31 October 2014

Covered, at last

Last July I did a week long course called "Ways into Abstract Painting", and on the do-your-own-thing day worked from a poem, Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath, making several paintings around the colours mentioned in the poem.

The long, thin paintings, glued together using the drum leaf technique, made a book - which lay in the dark for a long time, awaiting its cover.

I wanted to include the poem at the end of the book, but dithered as to how to put it there - handwriting? print and paste in? Finally I tried putting long strips of cartridge paper through my printer. They were just a bit too long, and the paper jammed, but it came out in one piece, if a little ridged. I printed a front cover too -
The printing on the cover looked too stark against the handwriting in the book. Nervously hand-printing it, I neglected to centre the title properly  -
(The collage contains my starting point, some of the colours mentioned in the poem.)

The cover was glued to the front edge of the text block, then wrapped round, with a foldover at the back edge. It looked so white! ... too much contrast with the contents. I considered painting the cover, but knew I couldn't match the mood that unified the contents of the book - and besides, though a cover might hint at the contents, it shouldn't detract from them by revealing all.

Next idea was to tint the cover in some way - watercolour? no, too risky, it's not a medium I feel confident of using. So I experimented with chalky pastels, trying out berry-juice colour, then adding a neutral green (green is mentioned a lot in the poem) -
Excess pastel was rubbed off, so it wouldn't smudge or go onto people's fingers.

In the final version, the "berries" are done with wax crayon, They have been polished - again in case of smudging - and gleam if the light is right.
Next (maybe) - a slip case?

30 October 2014

Poetry Thursday - a 9th century poem for 21st century quilters

Tang costume (and cloth) (via)
Last week, writing about Po Chu-i (Bai Juyi), I found this nugget in the Wikipedia article about him; make of it what you will ... a wholecloth quilt? a quilt for a child leaving home? -

"Bai Juyi also wrote intensely romantic poems to fellow officials with whom he studied and traveled. These speak of sharing wine, sleeping together, and viewing the moon and mountains. One friend, Yu Shunzhi, sent Bai a bolt of cloth as a gift from a far-off posting, and Bai Juyi debated on how best to use the precious material:
About to cut it to make a mattress,
pitying the breaking of the leaves;
about to cut it to make a bag,
pitying the dividing of the flowers.
It is better to sew it,
making a coverlet of joined delight;
I think of you as if I'm with you,
day or night."


What might this cloth have looked like? It's described as having patterning of leaves and flowers; probably it would have been intended for making into a garment, most likely not an official's garment. (Here we read that officials' positions were distinguished by different colours: 

"
"purple was used as the garment color for officials above the third grade; light red, officials above the fifth grade; dark green, officials above the sixth grade; light green, officials above the seventh grade; dark cyan, officials above the eighth grade; light cyan, officials above the ninth grade; and yellow, ordinary people and those who did not live in the palace." - interesting that, centuries later, yellow was the colour reserved for the emperor. Sumptuary laws - who was allowed to consume, or wear, what - changed from era to era.)
The Tang dynasty was a time when women could wear men's clothing - read about Tang costume history here ... but the article is scant on information about the actual cloth. In any case, if the cloth was sent "from a far-off posting" it would have been something unusual in central China or mainstream culture. 

Perhaps the posting was in the southwest, an area affected by Indian and Persian influences, such as motifs on cloth. The hufu style of clothing - "foreigners' dress" - was a tight-fitting style popular in the early part of the dynasty (later, the ruqun, with the long, wide sleeves, was de rigeur...for women). 

Or perhaps the posting was in the south-east: "During the Tang Dynasty silk, was a staple textile. Sichuan, Jiangnan (South-east of China) and Henan/Hebei were the most famous silk-producing regions. Sichuan's colorful brocade, Wuyue's unusual faille and Henan/Hebei's silk gauze were precious silk products at that time.

"Silk from the Tang Dynasty is not only colorful and lustrous, but also very rich and beautiful in pattern. Birds were often used, including the phoenix, peacock, parrot, mandarin duck and hoopoe in embroidering, printing and dyeing. Sometimes they were mixed with bees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, insects and so on. Beasts included lions, unicorns, tigers, leopards, deer, camel, and they were mainly used in the subject patterns of heavily colored brocade. 
Flowers and trees were often used also. The peony was first choice, while twining branches, crossing branches and a bunch of flowers were used together, ever-changing and very beautiful. Flower groups in crisscross and square designs were also found." (via)
"
If the posting was in the northeast, perhaps the fabric looked like this, a fragment from the Mogao caves, near Dunhuang -
Embroidered panel, Tang dynasty
The article goes on to say: "The textiles found in the Library Cave [sealed up in the 11th century] include silk banners, altar hangings, wrappings for manuscripts, and monks' apparel (kāṣāya). The monks normally used fabrics consisting of a patchwork of different scraps of cloth as a sign of humility; these therefore provide valuable insights into the various type of silk cloth and embroidery available at the time."
Keep in mind that the width of the fabric on a bolt of cloth would have been narrower than what we're used to now - the width of the loom was limited to how far the weaver could reach from side to side, or perhaps to the width of the reed through which the yarn is threaded. 

29 October 2014

Playing with oil pastels

After the need to "play with materials" hit me, I dug out my venerable box of pastels (bought in Calgary in 1977 - they still have the $3.75 sticker) and picked up the nearest magazine -


False-colour version of an Aboriginal painting
- I learned that blending is the secret for rich surfaces
 Having plunged in, I then watched a few youtube videos of people drawing apples: layering and blending. Turning back to the magazine, I perversely came up with this page of Gandaus, funerary carvings from north Pakistan -
Overlapping colourful lines
Trying a thin, smooth paper
 Bravely I took the pastels along to the Wallace Collection -
Starting to get the hang of it
A "crowbill" cover from the oriental arms section 
And elsewhere -
After a work by Alfred Jensen seen in an exhibition
These two are from the art sketchbook walk course -

After a few days of "play" I was feeling happier with the medium ... even after finding a box of assorted makes of oil pastels, including quite a few Sennelier, which are veryvery oily -

They aren't half messy though! I used these rediscovered old pastels to scale up a small section of one of the pages done in a gallery -
Ah, the pleasures of playing! And all this colour, after working mainly with ink and monochrome, is rather refreshing. Further, lurking on my shelves were two boxed sets, unnoticed during the studio reorganisation. I've had them for years and never used them, just got used to seeing the boxes. The square sticks are Carbothello, watersoluble "coloured charcoal";  the other, Neopastel, is both blendable and "aquarellable" -

Tuesday is drawing day - 4

The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood is like a great big barn, and all those hard surfaces make it very echoey, with nowhere to get away from noise. As it's half term, it was full of children - as you might expect!

I wasn't really paying attention to the kids, though some of the planned activities were rather boistrous. There was a seat in front of the display of children's clothes through the ages, among which were these petulant, wary, abashed, well-behaved dolls -
They are Lenci dolls from the 1920s, made of pressed felt, wearing what look to be hand-knit sweaters and socks.

After spending the entire morning drawing them (and trying out the "aquarellable" qualities of the Neopastels on the boy), I feel very well acquainted with them, and find their expression more interesting than the gaze-into-your-eyes, sweetly-smiley rather-sad dolls of today.
My box of Neopastels contained 10 colours, and no brown, which would have been very useful. Some liberties needed to be taken ... I rather like the inaccurate colours, eg yellow faces and purple in the hair (but am not happy with his clothes, and rather overdid the amount of her hair). It was pure pleasure, though, to mess around with the waterbrush - a new experience. A little colour goes a long way with these pastels.
At one point I heard a woman saying, "Girls, come over here and watch this lady drawing" - I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Madam, I am not an exhibit!" The girls, however, were delightful and we had a nice little talk about the dolls. They came back later with a friend to see how the drawing was getting on.

Karen had come along to draw; at 1pm we escaped from the acoustic and all those kids.

Next Tuesday (Nov 4) - V&A. The glass gallery is usually fairly quiet, but whether any sketching stools can be found remains to be seen.

28 October 2014

Dogged (Bethnal Green Road)

Fluffy white puppies going walkies
(What happened next: the woman in black stopped talking
on her phone and made a big fuss of the dogs; she was a stranger to them)

How much is that doggie in the window?
(Taking in the warmth of perhaps the last fine day in autumn ...
but does a dog know that?)

Art at Imperial War Museum

Transport glitches meant we decided to go see the Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War show at the Imperial War Museum. We didn't expect there to be quite so many people - the museum was packed! - and later we learned that one of the train operators was offering special fares to families. It's half term, so the kids need entertaining...
After its £40m refurbishment, the museum retains its central space but has galleries round the edges. This view is from the back toward the entrance - to go to the upper levels, you either descend and cross the floor, or go through the bookshop and along the gallery, which turns out to be rather difficult in crowded conditions, as bits of equipment on display are sticking out, and the lighting is "atmospheric". So far, not a positive experience, but worth another visit on a weekday.

Fortunately the art galleries were rather less populated, and several had seating. The scenes depicted, and the emotional burden behind them, made for depressing viewing, but there was much to admire, and the labels cast new light on the paintings, the artists - and the shenanigans of the bodies commissioning war artists.
Anna Airy, Shop for Machining 15 inch Shells (via)
The shop for making shells in Glasgow was formerly the Singer Manufacturing Company, notorious for low pay - its turbulent history is indicated by the littered floor.
Percy Wyndham Lewis, A Battery Shelled, 1919 (from here, which has a good selection of images)
Eric Kennington, The Kensingtons at Laventie, 1915
Kennington's painting shows soldiers arriving at their billet; one figure is a self-portrait. It's done in an unusual technique, painting on the reverse of the glass, which requires the paint to be applied top-down, as it were. It was painted when he was invalided out in 1915.
CRW Nevinson, Paths of Glory, 1917
The dead soldiers in Paths of Glory are British soldiers - this didn't go down well - it seemed to be ok to show the dead bodies of the enemy, but not of "our boys". Nevinson was a medical orderly and as he was an official war artist, the painting had to get past the censor - and was banned on the grounds of being detrimental to morale.

It might be worth going along to the hour-long gallery talk (at 11, 1 and 3pm) on the first Saturday of the month - the exhibition runs till 8 March.

26 October 2014

Sidetracked, mapwise

Fluffing around in the studio, I got out the "map folding" project with the idea of making folders for some of the maps. At the CQ winter school, when I last worked on the project, someone pointed out that the map's folder needn't be plain, it could have its own set of decorations. Well I don't want to overdo it, but the idea of something that identified a particular map, allowing it to be retrieved [shades of call numbers on library books!] was intriguing.

So in addition to trying out ways to stiffen the edges of the folder, I was thinking about motifs or marks that would link in to the map.

In the end, five of the "maps" are now separately in rudimentary folders - sheets of A3 typing paper. One has "identification marks", and one simply has a border round the edge to stiffen it. (My first thought for the borders was to stitch something one, and that's still a possibility, but at the moment, glue comes in handy.)
Every map its folder; every folder its marks
It was while cutting the border from the cover of last year's City Lit catalogue that I got sidetracked. On the inside of the cover was a map, rather like the one I'd used to make monoprints for the little fabric/paper/print/stitch books in the summer. I couldn't resist cutting it out ... and given the effort involved, opened the catalogue and cut through a few pages at the same time -
This yielded a few street-grids, and some holes in pages, and rather a lot of incomplete cut-outs.

Starting at the "back" - the least complete cut-outs - I painted each page, sometimes shielding some of the cut-out areas below, to get a sequence of colours -
 culminating in a great mess by trying to paint too much at once, and having the thin structures stick and need careful lifting before the paint dried -
 The bottom layer ... and how the paint seeps under the page -
This started as a way of making a stencil to use in my next monoprint session, whenever that might be. It's all put away for now, to be revisited later. "Cutting through" was fun and has possibilities for the little books, and the sticky mess was a lesson in how not to do it. Using ink on a roller/brayer, rather than a paintbrush, would make things easier in that regard. I was being too hasty in applying globs of paint ... there are times when you need to work more slowly, carefully, thoughtfully.

Also it's a case of how playing around - ie, not thinking too hard about what you're doing - can open up new ways of working ... in this case a different approach to book structure, to include the cutouts and what shows beyond them, and how cutouts can interrelate the pages.

There's a balance to be struck between the playful impulse and the thoughtful execution; that's the tricky bit.

Motoi Yamamoto's salt labyrinths

The choice of salt as his art material is a response to the death of his sister from brain cancer at a young age. See more of his work at here and on his website.

As well as loose grains of salt, he uses bricks of salt - Utsusemi (2003) measures 2.8 x 7.5 metres -

25 October 2014

Contemporary art sketchbook walk - week 4

The theme was collage, so we prepared some pages in our sketchbooks by gluing in coloured tissue paper, if we hadn't done so already... for trying various media on. Another suggestion was cutting through pages, which after seeing how well this worked in the Large Sketchbook course, I was tempted to do ... but haven't got round to it yet...
Collage session in Hoxton Square
Work by John Stark (at Charlie Smith) was rather lurid and dare I say schoolboyish. At least it gave me a chance to use pastels on top of inked paper -
After that, the paintings by Nogah Engler (at Mummery & Schnelle) were a delight to the eye - many layered ... but with a grim story of genocide behind it.
 In the same show, photographs by Ori Gersht (he of the exploding flowers), which gave me another chance to get out the pastels -
On to Flowers East, where Patrick Hughes was showing lots of his 3D paintings - as you walk past them, the perspective changes drastically, due to the construction of the "canvas"  and the use of shadows -
In a back room were a few pieces by Tom Hammick, using collage of Japanese printed papers as well as painting or linocut reduction -
 Coffee time - to The Bridge -
 with wonderful machines on the bar
 and a Russian tea-room feel upstairs -
 Then Lucinda took us to her studio [with views of industrial Hoxton...]. Her earlier work, semi-abstract houses "of personality" -
 has changed to semi-abstract mountainous landscapes, informed by walking in the Pyrenees -
 and is strangely related to the "mountains" of the London skyline -
At home I worked on the day's pages ... away from the subject, they could "become themselves" -
"After John Stark"
"After Ori Gersht"
Ready for a nice fat pen, next time