28 February 2010

Art on the Underground

While sorting through photographs I found these, taken on the Underground last year - artists using the red-circle-blue-line logo of London Underground -

London Underground has been commissioning and presenting art and design since 1908. Since 2000, Art on the Undergound has been working with artists to produce and present new artworks "to enhance and enrich the journeys of millions on the Tube every day". Read and see more here.

Mixed message

27 February 2010

Strange Saturday

On the way to my morning meeting I found 20p lying on the street - lucky money! But putting it in my purse once I got to the meeting room, I heard a thump as it fell. No amount of searching under the table found it... So, what's the superstition about losing money that you've just found?On the way back home I was so busy doing "travel writing" that I missed my stop - and found these interesting 1930s(?) wall panels in the next station along the line -
Got home to find my Domestic Assistant baking bread -
and making a big salad for lunch. Kinda sets you up for an intense afternoon in the studio. I'm aiming to do a few worksheets for the portfolio - time is running out.

26 February 2010

Ceramic Art London

After stumbling on this event last year and enjoying the demonstrations so much, I was determined to go to as many as possible this year, so arrived in time to see how Elke Sada makes her colourful slipware "beakers on plinths". She paints with highly-coloured slip onto plaster, makes a clay wall around it, and pours in casting slip. When it's dry, she cuts off the edges and cuts the slab into rectangles for the vessel, bottom, and base; she uses a transparent glaze. A fair bit of fettling [cleaning up] is involved ...
The next talk was was by Natasha Daintry, who started out learning Japanese and got interested in Japanese ceramics, then went on to make white and celadon pieces, until colour grabbed and held her. She related the qualities of the elements - fire, air, water, earth - to the qualities and attributes of colours. Interesting to me, but much too theoretical for the ladies sitting behind me.

The book stall was conveniently located outside the lecture theatre. I looked at just about every one and made a wish list of a couple of dozen of the tastiest, none of them costing under a tenner -Nearby was a CraftCube - showing the mobius-based work of Merete Rasmussen -
A quick bite in the caf, and it was time for another demo, Robert Cooper's working process - and process it is; he likes to see what's happening to the clay and react to that, rather than starting out making something specific.
Which left a bit of time to see the exhibits, resist the temptation to buy "a nice pot", and head home. The venue was the Royal College of Art, seen fuzzily here behind the Albert Hall -
In the basement was an intriguing small exhibition by the RCA ceramics&glass MA students. A first-year project is to make a replica of an object in the V&A, and then "evolve" it. Melissa Gamwell turned a "mennecy jar" (for cosmetics in 1755) inside out - see how she did it here.

Sculpture week 8

In response to the suggestion that my mountain of cubes might need another element to provide "tension", at home I tried adding a doorway or two -
In class, a moment of jubilation when the plan to plant the legs of the rickety steps into holes in the cubes worked - the cube supported the step. But it's made of foamboard - the porcelain ones will be heavier. And there will be several steps on one cube.
The legs sink down through the holes, given a chance - perhaps little nests of thread will stop them - and be "subliminal" rather than obtrusive -The cube will need reinforcing in some way. Will wire, at each end, be strong and invisible enough (white-coated wire perhaps? florists wire?) - well the wire on hand was strong enough but hard to bend accurately and it wouldn't stay where it was put -Accurate bending will need a jig; I'll make one with wood and nails at home, but meanwhile this bit of improvisation helped -
A continuous wire to strengthen the cube -
And here it is supporting two steps (amid the paraphernalia of the sculpture room)As to the matter of how many steps a cube can support - that will depend on the size of the porcelain pieces, and possibly their weight. They can be used to mark the position of the legs; it's helpful to splay the legs a little, so I've marked the corners of the rectangles and used a bradawl to punch the hole -
The wire shows through a little, adding that element of (literal!) tension -
It's interesting to solve these little problems along the way, in fact the "engineering challenges" are what I particularly enjoy about sculpture. And I love working with the translucent (and crackly) qualities of the tracing paper, not to mention the bamboo sticks, which are taken from a paper window-blind, and recently the embossed porcelain. I'm aiming to keep this pared down and hope that the final piece will ... what? ... "provide a space for contemplation" - ?

Having a proper title for it would help.

24 February 2010

Ceramics week 8

First task was to take stock of what's in my boxes of work - some finished and glazed, some dried out, some bisque fired -
Could any of the stairs fit in with the mountain of translucent cubes...
One task is to set up the items I'm not going to use "as in an exhibition" and photograph them, then print the photos large for presentation in the portfolio. I had a go, but this will have to happen later, when the final project is further along -
For the final project, I'm rolling out porcelain very thin, making rectangles for the "rickety steps" that will climb up my translucent mountain on their skinny bamboo legs, and putting a subtle pattern on in various ways. I discovered that by wrinkling the bottom and top cloths when rolling out the clay, both sides get a pattern - here's the before -
and the after -
You can put nails or other small items on top of the cloth, and rolling will give you a pattern - without the nails becoming embedded in the clay.

If you put nails underneath as well, there will be holes where nails cross - I need to make some more of those (and to try out paper clay for this).

The porcelain was torn, not cut, into rectangles to give crumbly edges, and pierced to make holes for the bamboo sticks. These are ready for firing straight to stoneware. I might make a few more with glaze or with bits of wire in them -
The stairs have been glazed - matte, shiny, tinglaze, and a combination - wonder what they'll look like. I haven't developed a sense of the effect of glazes yet, and until that happens, won't be able to really plan a piece. So far it's been about the shape or even the concept, rather than the finished piece itself.


The new "travel writing" book is coming along quite speedily, thanks to spending at least an hour and a half on Sunday getting to and from the V&A (about twice the expected time). Every road in west London seems to be cordonned off for repair.Inspired by looking at the work of Sian Bowen when she was artist-in-residence at the V&A a couple of years ago, I am longing to immerse myself in this "slow" process and spend hours on a single drawing (perhaps this is a reaction to having to hurry to get the final project ready?).
Also I'm thinking of using other materials than the usual slim silvery fountain pen and A6-size notebook. She often uses "historical papers" - eg old wallpaper fragments - for drawing on, so I found some historical papers of my own - the receipt for a haircut, and another for a snack at the V&A caf. Not exactly ancient historical documents - but these bits of ephemera now have a new life. And the bottom one used three different pens -

23 February 2010

Core studies week 8

The search for clear (acrylic) boxes for my final "sculpture" - or is it an installation? - is proving that they are (a) too small and (b) too expensive. So I was glad to see this sheet of translucent plastic with a corrugated core in a bin - it might prove useful. Took it to class to see what to do with it next -Other translucent materials were to hand - tracing paper of various sizes and weights. I made a couple of large cubes from some crumpled paper that someone had thrown away, and others with fresh, smooth paper -- the crumpled stuff was much more sturdy. But oh so noisy to work with!

The smaller size tracing paper is sturdy enough for its size. To make the open-ended cubes, fold the sides of the paper in to the middle; fold the strip almost in half; open up and fold the short end back to the fold across the strip, then roll the strip up, creasing as you go. The strip will have 5 sides, with the final one shorter than the others - tuck it into the other end, and a cube is formed.
They can be used on their sides or on end -
The rolls of paper will be replaced by "rickety steps" - but what size will the piece be? Is this a maquette or the full-sized piece, with tiny steps, or will the steps I've already made be a suitable size to go with the larger cubes?
Will it be a scree slope of cubes, confined at the end of "tunnel" -- or will it be a small mountain, that people can walk around?

Another consideration is lighting - using a little LED light makes it glow like the blue ice in a glacier -
On my to-do list today was to figure out how the doorways and thresholds have morphed into this form. The emphasis is now definitely on the in-between, away from the inside and outside. We'll be writing a "supporting statement" for the final piece, to reflect these kinds of changes.

Artists who use textiles - John Barbour

John Barbour is an Australian artist who uses embroidery in his work - as he says in the video on his piece Inherent Vice, his level of technical skill is not great. This work incorporates not only applique, but traces of stitches, as well as staining with inks. The museum that bought it sees it as a drawing, and its display and conservation needs are those of a drawing - low light, etc. (The term "inherent vice" refers to the extent of the tendency of materials to degrade.)

He has been described as "an artist, academic and writer - in that order. Unable to conceive of permanence, he persists in making and exhibiting works of art which perhaps might best be described as 'curiously satisfying'. He is also janitor of the International Corporation of Lost Structures (department of dislocated memory)."

His recent work consists of the embroidered drawings; before that his installations included Stills from the Liquid Plain (1995)and Poor Box (2001)

22 February 2010

On the way home (Finsbury Park)

The bright lights of Stroud Green Road -
and glimpses of the waxing moon along Charteris Road -

Some drawings

These are from a book called Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing (published 2005), which is kept "in the cupboard" at City Lit. A lot of the images are off-putting until you take the time to read something about the artist and find out "where they're coming from". But others are immediately appealing, like this one by Trenton Doyle Hancock, who "plays with racial stereotypes and America's fear of otherness" -This by William Kentridge, "a storyteller" -
and this by Marco Maggi, who I've encountered before. In the work shown, piles of copy paper are laid on a floor of paper (visitors take their shoes off); the top sheet in each pile is drawn on with a scalpel -
Drawing, as it is practised now, is baffling; it rather eludes me as a concept. It seems to encompass everything that isn't painting or sculpture - and some things that might be. Categories are fluid ... artists work in several categories, several media ... sometimes their main category is drawing, their main medium a "traditional" one - pencil, charcoal, ink. And it's not always "works on paper"...

21 February 2010

Jet lag opens up the dark reaches of the night for reading. While in Canada I dipped into several books.

Finished this one on the plane going there - translated from Italian, set in Sicily, very enjoyable (and what a luxury to read an entire book in one sitting!) -
A Canadian writer, book partly set in Vancouver but mostly in WW2 North Borneo -
Two from my nephew's bookshelf, both worth reading from start to finish (one day...) -Two from the library, again neither completely read. I'm a big fan of Visser's work - she looks at "the almost invisible ordinary", very eye-opening and thought-provoking -
And this one, still in progress, on the plane home, a biography of Joseph Needham, by a writer of other books on China -
When I was in Cambridge (mid-70s), some people I knew were working with Needham on his massive, complex, fascinating Science and Civilisation in China. Needham died in 1995 but volumes are still being produced.