30 April 2015

An art-rich afternoon

Dragged out of cosy domesticity by a dental appointment, I continued into town to see "From her wooden sleep" at the ICA [till 17 May], which is an installation of the artist/curator Ydessa Hendeles' collection of manikins ... about 150 of them, arranged in various ways. This is what you see when you enter the room -
(Via an image search; see closeups here)
What's missing from the picture is the sense of being watched - not so much by the manikins but by the three be-suited guards stationed around the room. All day they must listen to the music that plays over and over - Debussy's "Golliwog's Cakewalk", a 1912 recording of the composer himself playing it. The 78-page booklet that accompanies the show has information about many of the components of the show, including a history of the cakewalk as a musical form. The manikins are pictured in thumbnails, and information about them is given in the pamphlet - the earliest date to 1520. The furniture and vitrines - and 15 funhouse mirrors - add another je ne sais quoi.
Then to the Westminster art reference library to leaf through a few magazines - an expose of dry cleaning practices in Vogue, and article on Samuel Levi Jones and a review of Lucy Skaer's latest in Art in America. 
Samuel Levi Jones eviscerates, rips up, and even pulps encyclopedias (via)
Lucy Skaer's Sticks and Stones series has used insets of studio objects
 into mahogany planks that lay underwater for centuries (via)
Also I was excited to see work by Argentinians Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolas Goldberg that used thin sections of a meteorite from Campo de Cielo, held at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and sent to Buenos Aires for photographing by the artists. Another part of the project is to reunite two halves of a meteorite that went to different scientific institutions for study and display.
(The printed image was completely square; via)
In the thin section you see diverse components of a seemingly unified rock, each of a distinct shape, transparency and hue [perhaps another idea for the Elements challenge, which you can read about tomorrow]. More about their Numero project is here, the Art in America article, where the specialised technique of production (through a microscope) is contrasted with the simpler means (a scanner) used by Christoph Keller to produce huge prints of leaves from the Amazon for his Anarcheology show last year.

Planting at the Barbican

Poetry Thursday - The Silken Tent by Robert Frost

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware. 
An analysis of the poem is here: "The whole thing is written in a perfectly balanced structure, like a tent, and can be read in this way; it is considered to be a perfect sonnet example by many."

Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in America. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. He won four Pullizer prizes, had six children, and is noted for his irony.

29 April 2015

Jasper Johns and the critics

Jasper Johns' involvement with art critics and their writings began with a letter reacting to a review in the New York Times in 1959, which concluded that the possibilities of the medium of painting were exhausted. His reply: "Well, thank God, art tends to be less what critics write than what artists make."

That same year he first made a drawing and sculpture entitled The Critic Smiles; in 1969 he produced an edition in lead relief -
Sheet lead, gold casting, tin plating; 23x17" (via)
Replacing the bristles with teeth raises the question: can critics' urbane smiles be real? Other works, too, seem to suggest that critics occasionally neglect what Johns termed "the business of the eye".

Johns said that The Critic Sees was a response to a critic who jabbered at him incessantly. It's been interpreted as a critique of the impossibility of thought without language.

In 1978 he described these works to art critic Peter Fuller as cartoons. Fuller replied: "Exactly. They're the kind of ideas a good cartoonist has a dozen times a week." "Of course. I hope so," said Johns.

28 April 2015

Tuesday is drawing day - Assyrian lion hunt at British Museum

A nice quiet room?
"A lion is released from its cage by a small person, possibly a child, lifting a trapdoor; he has a cage of his own in which to hide." The Royal Lion Hunt - Assyrian, 645-635BC - from Nineveh.

Two hours later (why does it take so long? too finicky?) -
There was time to tackle the adjoining scene, or part of it, but quickly, using a lumograph to get nice dark lines - no erasing! -

Another lion in a cage, one of those drawn by Jo -

Sue used pencil on pastel paper, and added in a bit of colour and the white highlights -
Caryl did an interesting thing - first she got to know her lion by quickly sketching in pencil on the left page, then carefully drew him on the right page, then went back and, using pen, adjusted her original sketch -
Mags, too, tackled the same subject several times, and with different media -

27 April 2015

Gifts from the garden

It was while planting an Osmanthus burkwoodii between the remaining bit of privet and the now-rather-large Buxus that the large bit of blue-and-white appeared (19th century?). The plant has been removed from its 5-litre pot and put in the ground, and its companion (the two were delivered this morning) is now destined for the other side of that bit of privet, rather than needing to be transported (it's a metre tall) by train to Tony's garden. It was while I was digging the second hole, having cut back a binful of ivy, that the second shard appeared (20th century?). Thank you, garden!
Removing all that ivy has made hardly any difference, but has revealed a thick stem: now dead, formerly a privet bush ... they gave up the ghost quite a few years ago, and the ivy just grew and spread, as has the box hedge, which consisted of two 10" plants when I moved here 20 years ago. The old plants are enjoying the new soil in the raised bed, and I'm enjoying putting plants in it. I even planted some big pots, which at the moment hold the pots that all the other plants came out of, but soon will hold changing displays (that sounds rather grand!) of potted plants in flower ... in case the slugs and snails make a meal of everything else.

A few days ago it looked like this (note the refulgent ivy) -
We have our very own manhole, thanks to a lot of drainage problems, which took nearly a year to resolve. Finally the new pipes are in place under the neighbouring garden as well; the rubble has been removed, the paving to the bike shed laid, and I can finally plant things. Seed packets of zinnia, viola, nasturtium are on hand to fill in those empty spaces. It doesn't look like a lot of plants, but they amount to 27 species.

The pink parrot tulips, planted in two of the big pots about five years ago, are again in flower; the low-growing thyme is starting to creep onto the paving slabs (must get some more...), and the forget-me-nots will be seeding themselves everywhere any moment now.

And once the man with the saw removes that thick, dead stem, the other Osmanthus can go into its freshly-dug hole.

Temporary display

Before (with rabbit and map-teddy made by Karen)

After (with prints by Sarah Garvey and Sara Muzira, and quiltlet by Kathy Loomis)

In storage
They get dusty, so once I've photographed the new pots, most are going in storage too. That will make room for the new ones, which are waiting at City Lit for collection. Boxes and padding must be gathered, so that the new pieces survive the journey home.

26 April 2015

Second thoughts on journal quilts

My first thought was to make a frieze, month by month, carrying one or two elements forward onto the next JQ - here are the early plans, which included printing and stamping -
By the time three were ready and one halfway there, I was getting frustrated, not really sure where the frieze idea was going. And doesn't the shiny fabric make them difficult to photograph!

Along came "the wrinkly pieces", an offshoot of preparing organza to be dipped in porcelain slip. So I started a second series.  

Days before the deadline for posting the quilts on the JQ yahoo group, I have the first four ready; they are definitely not a frieze, and don't really "journal" anything ... but they have been a chance to try out a few variations of a new technique -

The individual "wrinkly pieces" are mounted on stiff interfacing and backed by black fabric with a torn edge. Usually torn edges give me the heebie-jeebies, but both the organza and the backing has been torn, and I'm managing to cope with all those frayed bits - perhaps it's the subversive thrill of tearing the fabric, something that would never get past the Quilt Police!

The middle layer is cut slightly smaller than the backing, which is 6"x12". Sometimes the ruched organza ends up a teeny bit smaller than it should be, and the edges of the interfacing need a touch of colour (dilute acrylic paint, usually) to prevent a stark line.

They started from the flat pieces made for dipping in ceramics class, which included metallic fabric and threads to get dark areas in the finished, fired work -

which evolved into a lot of stitching on synthetic organza -
This became "February"
Used in "March", along with a central section embellished with beads
The threads are pulled up tight and the bundle is put in the steamer -
After the threads are released, the fabric is "simply" sewn onto the backing.
What are these JQs about?
The joy of stitching, mainly. There are probably 4000 stitches in each JQ, but it's running stitch and goes quickly. The small pieces are easy to handle, and carry around, so I stitch while on public transport (seating permitting), or while listening to the radio. Pure pleasure, as is choosing the colour combinations.
Where are they going?
These were made in rather a hurry and all in a bunch, so there hasn't been a chance for reflection or for development. At the start I had planned to add beads, as in one ceramic piece where they melted into flashes of colour, but this seems unnecessary when the threads themselves can have such interesting textures. Using compatible fabrics as blocks of appliqué, or joining fabrics before stitching, seem a simpler way to get variety or start to move toward "something" as yet undefined. 
How are they made?
I choose colour of fabric [will steer away from the very dark ones in future!], any bits for "applique", and the sequence of colours for the thread. Stitch length, and the relation of stitches to each other (random or aligned) is a last-minute decision. After stitching, the threads are drawn up and wrapped around the piece, which is steamed for half an hour, then unwrapped carefully and stretched out to the required length. The thread ends are stitched into the middle layer, catching down some of the fabric. Finally the backing is hand stitched round the edge.
The firmness of the pleats gives a lovely bounce to the surface!

25 April 2015

Next bit of stitching

I'm excited about the colours, especially the neon orange!

Squaring up photos in Photoshop

These instructions are for Photoshop CS4. I usually straighten photos "by eye", but there's a more accurate (and probably faster!) way of doing it, by using the Grid.

The photo was taken in haste, and it turns out that the camera was not only tilted but not quite parallel with the wall that the picutre was hanging on. (It saves a lot of editing time if the photo is taken properly in the first place!)
A wonky photo 
To activate the Grid, go to View and check that Extras is checked -

Then go to Show and check that Grid is checked -

You can toggle the grid on and off with the keystroke Control+H.

To select the photo and get the "handles" for distorting it, use the keystrokes Control+A (select all) and Control+T (free transform).

If you're not comfortable with keystrokes, you can find Select All in the Select menu, and Free Transform in the Edit menu. (If you need to do a lot of straightening photos, it will save a lot of time to get used to the keystrokes!)

Ready to transform/distort

The "handles" are the little squares in the corners and centre -

To use the handles, hold down the Control key (not doing so will stretch the image), put the cursor on one of the handles, click the mouse, and move the mouse till the lines in the photo align with the lines in the grid -
That gets the vertical line on the right lined up, but it moves the line on the left slightly to the left - so another correction is necessary -
Note that these adjustments have lengthened the photo and thus changed the proportions of the area of interest - it could have been avoided by moving the handle to the left instead of downward.

Use the handle at bottom centre to get the "picture" back to the original proportions -
Now you can crop to get rid of the white areas -
The grid is useful for making the border symmetrical.

Control-H to turn off the grid, and it's done -

Another way of doing it is here - it uses the Measure Tool, which is hiding behind the Eyedropper Tool; clicking and dragging along something that should be straight; using the "Rotate Canvas - Arbitrary" command, and then using the Crop Tool. I've not tried it yet, but it could be a fast way of straightening crooked photos.

24 April 2015

Front and back

Lately I've been ruching up a lot of fabric, with a view to using it in journal quilts. This is an offshoot of the ceramics made from slip-dipped fabric, as the fabric is gathered up and the folds set by steaming to help hold the shape during dipping. I dipped some flat pieces, and then realised that the ruched, steamed fabrics themselves were ... or could be ... interesting. 

At first I used plain fabric with various threads to add interest - but why not use printed fabric? This snippet, about 6cm high, was screenprinted at college a few years back, and I wanted to keep the print showing (sort of like veins on the back of a hand) -
It looks fairly hideous and was even worse before gathering, but hey it's a sample - and might get painted with gesso, who knows?

Turning it over is a different story - the (rayon) thread has looped in the areas where the stitches are large -
Perhaps this is the "right" side.