30 November 2008

29 November 2008

Walking on walls

A bit of history. It's 1972 (the poncho should give a clue), and we'd been in Durham for about 8 months. The idea of being in an ancient inhabited landscape was thrilling after growing up in the newness of Canada. It was amazing to see medieval field patterns for the first time, from the train, and to realise these had been made by people and horses over centuries. And even before that, as we landed at Heathrow after the overnight flight, was the view of irregular fields separated by hedges, dotted with houses and villages. Quite, quite different from the grid patterns and extent of the Canadian fields I'd seen, recently appropriated from nature and worked by big machines.
A year later we were walking on walls in Menorca. This island of stony fields is full of walls, built up by farmers trying to clear enough ground for cultivation. The walls are a way of getting the stones out of the way -- but even so, large stones are often left for the animals to graze around.

In the days when medicines came in glass bottles, the walls also acted as a dumping ground, and we found many small purplish vials, took them back to the old farmhouse we were renting, a collection to make that bare space more homey.


This creature came from India, via Joss Graham's shop; he sits in the window and keeps an eye on the comings and goings at Tesco, and all the colourful street characters -
Reminds me of this Egyptian creature, who lives in the British Museum -

28 November 2008


I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. --Mark Twain
Whether we are inclined to take risks or avoid them, we're likely to assess them wrongly. And when a risk has been quantified (a 1 in 500 chance of something, say) we really can't imagine what it means.

Being wired for the risks that faced our ancestors, our brains haven't got inbuilt mechanisms to deal with today's uncertainties, says this article.

The bottom line is that worrying about risks causes stress, which causes more harm than any of the risks themselves. Reassuring, isn't it?

(picture from here)

Tapestry - Banners of Persuasion

In early December this show, Demons, Yarns & Tales, will be in Miami; it was showing in London at a venue (near King's Cross) that until seven years ago was used as a dairy - not for milking cows but for dispatching the bottled milk on those funny electric milk vans that are now becoming rare in London.

In the distance, "Vote Alan Measles for God" by Grayson Perry; nearer, "After Migrant Fruit Thugs" by Fred Tomaselli.
Shazia Sikander's "Pathology of Suspension" and inthe distance, Gavin Turk's "Mappa del Mundo", global packaging and labels.
A closeup of Grayson Perry's tapestry - which is needlepoint, not woven. And much if not most is petit point - lots & lots of stitches!
In Gary Hume's "Georgie and Orchids" the greenery was in a heavier thread that stood out from the background.And even further out from the surface, collage elements in Ghada Amer & Reza Farkhondeh's "The Bugs and the Lovers" -
There's lots more information about the 14 artists and works on the exhibition's website. The artists who designed the tapestries worked in various media; one commentator was "overwhelmed by [the finished tapestries'] fidelity to the original artwork or, where mimicry was impossible, by their inspired interpretation of the source material. This process of translation requires enormous skill. From the original artwork, a full-scale weaver’s graph has to be produced containing an outline drawing of the design, annotated with precise colour references for the [anonymous] weavers to follow."
Footnote: "The inspiration for the project came from Christopher and Suzanne Sharp; they felt it was time to broaden their remit from rug design and chose tapestry because of its links with painting – because both canvases and tapestries hang on the wall and because, throughout the long history of the medium, artists have played a crucial role in making designs for tapestries."

Two sculptors in ceramic

The complex surfaces of Philip Eglin's work recall 19th century Staffordshire figurines. As well as Chinese export porcelain, English folk ceramics, and the language of symbols used on contemporary packaging, he's also inspired by medieval wood carvings - this site presents his work alongside the original sculptures, from a 2001 exhibition at the V&A. The figure above was published in a 1996 Art Quarterly magazine. (Isn't it great, what you suddenly find in old magazines?)

From a 2006 issue of Art Quarterly, work by Claire Curneen -

Her "work with the figure is grounded in the exploration of the human condition, focusing on aspects of the religious and the ceremonial. With semi-autobiographical references, the figure serves as a vessel for the physical and spiritual being" says this website. She works in Cardiff.

27 November 2008

How we live now

All change on the little desk in the corner. The laptop has been relegated to the coffee table, and the Monster Computer has taken over. Ok, it's quieter and faster, and gives me a chance to move only the active files over to it. And it's nice to see all the bare wood.Add ImageMeanwhile I continue to work on the laptop. (The random pic on it is part of the my-photos screensaver - it can be annoying when you see a photo you want to use, and then the next second it's replaced with something else!)

The artworks in the dark, fuzzy distance are, top to bottom, by Heidi Turner, Jean Davey Winter, Dorothy Caldwell.

22 November 2008

Not the usual Saturday

This Saturday was focussed on a visit here -
a giant parking lot for Homebase and Sainsburys which, round the back, is where the local sorting office is -- and where my passport had finally turned up. With it safely in my bag, I bought a newspaper (and knitting magazine with "free" glittery 10mm needles) and settled in at the coffee shop on the corner with a large coffee -- so large that the cup has two handles so you can actually lift it; that was a bit of a surprise.

What with a new computer happening at my place, and all my unfinished projects, and trying to clear the decks before starting my art course in January, I'm very happy to be anywhere but at home at the moment. Which is probably not the best approach in the circumstances, but it might just be a phase....

The "lost passport" incident has thrown me off balance. I'm glad it's sorted, and it was unexpected and pleasant to sit and stare in the coffee shop. People were coming in with parcels saying "amazon" - what a nice thing to do, pick up your book from the post office and then open it up over a cup of coffee.

The way back home is through the park (gosh I've seen a lot of that park lately!), which includes a bit of the New River
and the crows were being hovered by gusts of wind as they tried to fly past trees - couldn't get the camera out in time to catch the crows in this photo, but the light through this birch was lovely even without them.


This simple pattern, vandyck lace, has defeated me - I started it a couple of years ago. What was intended to be a scarf is a grand total of about 12" long, after all this time (and in thick wook), and following the pattern is nothing but aggravation. Time to let 'er rip!

Now what?

Sometimes you think "what was I thinking"... This started as a recyled silk blouse, with red and pink filling in what used to be armholes and other missing bits. Then, what other scraps were to hand? I must have had some idea underlying all this -- pennants / penance, perhaps? -- or, blowing in the wind?

Some things just don't gel. There comes a point when you realise it's not going to work. I'll do the quilting, if only for practice, but it's not saying anything to me at the moment...

21 November 2008

Art heros - Fred Williams

Australian landscape artist Fred Williams studied in the UK in the 1950s. A few years back, the British Museum had a show of his prints -- I didn't see it, but finding the book in a book sale got me interested in his work. I used a print of trees, rather like this oneas a starting point for a small quilt (shown here). Then I saw his big landscape paintings in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne - a whole room full of his Pilbara series. Wonderful. And there's a book!
I was taken to walk along the Yarra at Kew, the subject of this print --Recently Tate Modern showed a roomful of paintings and prints in the "Sign and Texture" exhibition. It included Riverbed from 1981, one of the last paintings he made --What I didn't know until looking carefully through the Tate website, from which these images are respectfully plundered, is that his studio (in Upwey, in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne) was in a valley, so he raised the horizon in his compositions, leaving a narrow band of sky at the top -- as in Upwey Landscape 1964-5 --
You can see his distinctive style - he reduces the landscape to an all-over pattern, with small touches of paint to show trees and shrubs. "Rather than painting the landscape realistically, Williams was more concerned with exploring and creating a visual language through which he could express the character or essence of a particular Australian location in an inventive manner" says this resource.

Finally, Burnt Landscape 1970 - one of his Bush Fire paintings --
Ironically, this painting is one of the few that survived a fire at the warehouse where Williams stored his works.

Cactus garden

20 November 2008

Tetsuo Fujimoto in London

Until 17 December the Daiwa Foundation (near Baker St) is showing work by Tetsuo Fujimoto - he's one of my textile heros. I went to his talk last Friday and saw that a workstation was set up ready for the "meet the artist" day on Saturday afternoon, samples all in a heap -
After telling us about how he started as a weaver and in the mid-90s changed to "drawing with the sewing machine", we moved to the room with the sewing machine and got a short demonstration. At home he has an industrial machine with the stitch lengths programmed in - the beginning and end of each "stroke" are denser zigzag. Surface Design carried an article in the Fall 2005 "machine embroidery" issue. Fujimoto is quoted as saying: "I am trying to make the macro and micro world coexist in one picture surface, through the linear expression of the sewing machine. The overlapping of lines leads us from the surface to the inner world of that thing."
The large pieces take months of intense work, and Fujimoto doesn't do preliminary drawing - he focuses on the idea the whole time he's stitching, unlike with weaving, where he could let his mind wander. The current exhibition shows many small pieces, a chance for play and variation.
His base fabric is hemp, because that is a local material. He uses polyester and rayon thread, but says "silk is the best" because of the way the colours interact. The layers and varying density cause the fabric to ripple, emphasising the textile qualities of these big pieces. The blue piece on the final page of the article is in the exhibition - it measures 81" x 79", draws you in from a distance, then envelopes you as you focus on the details. Macro and micro, as he says.
Most of the other pieces in the exhibition are white stitching on dark backgrounds - sometimes with delightfully vari-coloured bands of satin stitch along the bottom.

This page has photos, including the bands of satin stitch and the demonstration he gave us (I'm in the picture!)

19 November 2008

Finsbury Park again

Lovely day for a walk through the park - to the post office in search of a passport that should have been delivered yesterday and seems to have disappeared.
A clear blue sky, and sun shining through the leaves -especially the birches -
Why are the last leaves left the ones at the tip of the branches? Is it a matter of last out, last on?Irresistible to sit in the sun and watch the women and children, men and dogs pass by.
But that was definitely the most insipid cappuccino in all of London.

More studio rejigging

Step 1 in the reorganisation of my "weekend studio" was clearing out the hidden corner where the fabric was piled onto and sliding off of an old cabinet.
Step 2 was a trip to ikea to get some shelves - and some useful boxes. Of course everything needed assembling.
Straight ahead as you come through the door are some mid-height, back-to-back bookshelves that act as a room divider and work surface (and my threads are lined up on top). On the sewing side, the shelves have been rather cluttered -so the heaps are going into the new boxes. They aren't ideal but they're tidier - and at 49p each, a cheap interim solution. Obviously they'll need labels - silks&shinystuff; wool&velvet; scraps; ufos....Here are the new shelves, complete with a light that used to be in the "living" side of the room -
Love those pull-out boxes for storing the really untidy stuff.


Christmas is coming, the annual consumerfest madness, the fruitless quest for the perfect experience with family and friends who can be ignored the rest of the year. Yes, I’m a bit cynical about Christmas – so it’s good to hear about Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping, a travelling band of comic choirists spreading a message of socioeconomic sustainability in a mock-religious package. “Christmas is being hijacked by the marketing tsunami,” says Rev. Billy.

This project has expanded from a one-man performance artist preaching against consumerism on the sidewalks of Times Square, New York, to a 35-person choir and 7-person band with dozens of original songs and multiple media platforms. It’s educating the public about the consequences of unsustainable consumption. “The message -- consuming less-- is the single most effective and immediate response an individual can take to immediately halting the climate crisis. This same message has reached millions of people and has contributed to the public's increasing awareness of the relationship between shopping and climate change.”

I’m a big fan of making cards and presents, and love to receive handmade things (and find them impossible to ever discard). When we were kids in a cash-strapped family, we made presents for aunties, teachers, friends - frantically, right up to the last minute. We loved doing it. Now, so many people are pressed for time, giving time is the ultimate luxury.Along with the proliferation of "crafty" websites full of inspiration and instructions for thousands of projects, the internet in its wisdom has come up with "the handmade pledge" - at time of writing, 30,526 people have signed up!

Here's something handmade - the "steady hand tester" made by Thomas, age 12. If wire touches wire, the light goes on...