Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Life's FLW spiral

I have mentioned before that I think of life as being rather like Frank Loyd Wright's design for the Guggenheim in New York city: a spiral up which one proceeds, being able to look back at areas passed on the way.  This morning I suddenly had a glimpse of an area which I had not thought about for many years.
I went to have my haircut in the nearby town, and having time to spare visited the local museum.  The temporary exhibitions can be quite interesting.  This time the show was of work by Dave McKean.  He is an illustrator, graphic designer, writer, film maker, and much admired and collected.
Many years ago I was commissioning editor of a fiction list for young adults, and published several fantasy titles.  I always enjoyed commissioning the art for these titles because of the broad range of creativity of the illustrators and designers matching the imagination of the authors.  It was therefore with great delight that I went round the exhibition this morning.  It is so good to have unlooked-for input of quality which makes me stop and think, admire and assess, and look into corners of my memory which had become hidden under the dust of subsequences.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Trip to Tate Britain

This morning we set off for London to see the exhibition of photographs Another London at Tate Britain.  There are a great many interesting pictures there among which is this one of King's Cross railway station by Wolfgang Shuschitzky:
King's Cross London 1941
The photographs are all by foreigners, some of whom subsequently settled in London, or England.  I particularly like the work of Marketa Luskacova - an article about her was in this last Thursday's Guardian newspaper.  Her website shows the wide range of her subjects.
I particularly like this Man with chicken which is one of her Spittalfields pictures, and is in the exhibition, although not in the catalogue.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Finger- feeling good (most of the time)

I count myself so fortunate in being able to derive such diverse satisfaction from my work.  My mind enjoys the varied aspects of putting together images, and then continues with the practical problem-solving while my fingers enjoy so much of the materiality of fiber and cloth.
I seem to be working with silk more these days.  Silk initially meant soft and slippery to me, and way back in my dressmaking days was to be avoided.  Then when I worked with a knitting machine silk came in a wondrous matt form, with the slightest knubbles and a ply that reminded me of drying grass stems.  In my smaller pieces I have used habotai silk (very fine white) which I have painted,
Waving (collage) 2005
and dupion silk which is rich in colour, and again with that slight knubble - and which disintegrates at its edges and catches like cat hair.  I have used it most often as the layer to which I cut back in my reverse applique pieces.
Out to lunch (detail) 2007
Although I have found that habotai such as this commercially dyed grey was better for some particular images.
Tightrope 2 2005
I used a combination of the two silks, hand painted habotai and dupion for the flags in my piece of that name.
Flags (detail) 2009
I love the way that the dupion stays stiff while the habotai simply wants to flow down with gravity.  I really wanted these flags to be both stiff and to flop, not to be perfect angled geometric shapes, just as nationality is a portmanteau of fluid concepts.  These silks gave me what I wanted.
By accident I found another property of habotai silk.  When ironing a sheet of printed transfer paper onto silk - because I wanted translucency, and indeed the fluidity at that time - I found that I lost the latter, but gained a lovely stiff fabric.  I used it to produce some caterpillar-nibbled cabbage leaves for a piece the background of which is all over stitched noil silk.
Cabbage white 2005
I noticed when I caught the cabbage leaf to the back that it buckled gently when stitched.  It reflects the light which is caught up in the stitching, making even more of the effect of the matt cotton with which it is stitched, while at the same time retaining the translucency.  I recently used sheets to build up layers of applique, the result of which pleased me greatly.  This is just as well, because it is difficult to sew!
Flow (detail) 2012
This is definitely stiff silk, but it works very well for me.  I am pleased with the contrast with the adjacent areas of stitched cotton.
Now I am experimenting with silk prepared for the printer, and so far it's all progressing well.  So far!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer rain in Birmingham

Yesterday I drove to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.  Given my extreme discomfort in crowds and the decrepit state of my knees, it was the lure of seeing Pauline Burbidge's retrospective exhibition which was compelling.  There were in the end a couple of additional bonuses.
I also wanted to see my quilt Trio hanging in the European Art Quilt VII show, and was curious to see what excellent company it was keeping - including Alice Fox's Folding Wall piece. No photography was allowed, but I did sneak a snap from outside the stand.
I was pleased to see that the catalogue uses both detail shots, which show the stitching.  This lack of visibility of stitching in many quilt catalogues is a point which has bothered me for quite a while.  It became even more obvious in the Masters 2 exhibition at FoQ.  Martha Sielman of SAQA was there, but she was busy when I was at the stand, and I must admit that I do not want to be curmudgeonly while so many folks are having a good time.  My peeve is that so often the images of quilts are so small in publications that one cannot see the stitching, and that the work might as well be a painting, or a digital print.  Surely the whole point of quilts is that they are stitched cloth.  Sure, there can be conceptual quilts, but then as far as being quilts is concerned they are judged by the fit of the concept.
Anyway, ... I digress.
Pauline Burbidge's show has such impact.  It was just great to see the early pieces.  The first time I saw anything of hers was in Foyle's bookshop in the Charing Cross Road, London, in the 70s.  It was a place in which I always got lost, not least because one had to pay for purchases - to a cashier in a large cage - before wending one's way back to the department up short stairs, round twists, past endless piles of books on the floor, to pass over the cashier's chit to collect the book.  Encountering Pauline Burbidge's quilts in their temporary exhibition space was wondrously impactful amongst the Kafkaesque procedures.
I followed her career through notes in Crafts magazine until my next encounter, which was the Take 4 exhibition - another stunning show.  And I also went to see her more recent Quiltworks touring show which coincided with the Telos Portfolio publication.  I was lucky enough at the very beginning of this century to attend two quilt workshops given by Pauline Burbidge, so I was delighted that I had made the effort to get to the exhibition, and to hear her illustrated talk.  I am wowed by her development, and find her current work my favourite.  She calls her large studio quilts Quiltscapes because they are derived from the landscape.
How many of us have been entranced by the marks on sand as the tide moves over it.  So many of us have taken photographs, but Pauline has gone beyond the photographs to make beautiful work.  No photography was permitted at the exhibition, but I got the following details of her Lindisfarne work from Craft Scotland, and Ideas in the Making (which has an interview with PB).
 This would have been sufficient, but I also had the pleasure of seeing a display of work by Janet Bolton, another artist I've admired for many years.  Her book looks lovely.  My personal favourites are the very spare still life compositions such as Old Linen below.
And last, but by no means least there was a display of work by Anne Worringer. Her quilts are also mentioned in Margaret Cooter's blog of her visit to the Festival.  Anne's quilts are all about pattern, materiality, and the act of stitching.  I find the textural qualities of her work enticing.  She was very kind in permitting me to take several snaps of her pieces to remind me of my delight, and to try to share it a little.  She also has a book available through Quiltmania.

And the summer rain?  Well, as I was walking back up to my car the sky opened with a tremendous downpour and I was thoroughly drenched - and remained wet until I arrived back home some two and a half hours later.  But as my Greek grandmother used to say, good feeling quickly overcomes the odd rain shower in summer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Virtual stitching

As a break from intensive stitching in the past few days I have been playing around with my image files.  Not only have I examined the combination shown in the previous post, but a certain leaning towards red seems to have been taking place
The juggler and audience in the previous post is a virtual stitching together of two scans of prints.  In the next conjoining it was a stitching of multiple repeats of a monoprint
with a drawing done specifically to fit the mood conjured by that composite repeat.  I was transported to cold forests and passionate drama: a fiery personality emerging from this sleeping growth.  And hence my Diva was born.
Another design which has become greater for me than its parts began with my wanting to do something with a not wholly satisfactory print from my carborundum experiments.  Despite the failings, I am fond of this figure, there is something I've not yet sussed out which I like about it.  I was also very pleased with the success of the chine colle which consisted of a free sample of Zoffany wallpaper.
The blocks of plain colour plainly did not work.  There is a lumpiness about their consistency, so I needed a different background which would balance the interest yet imperfections in the figure.  Cue a collagraph print I'd done ages before.  I had been really pleased with a great many elements of this, especially those parts which had been made with eucalyptus leaves.  Somehow they also had the effect of an upturned boat - on which my figure could sit comfortably.
I cropped the image file, and hey presto!  The marvellous thing about virtual stitching of images is that one can play about with scale as well as so many other elements.  But woman and background were not quite enough.
It is true that for a stitched piece - a really stitched by hand piece - the design has to leave enough to be completed by the stitching.  In this case I do not know if I shall stitch these designs, but even if or not, this one needs something more.  Comfortable had become its title, but there was something too comfortable, and frankly uninteresting about it. 
Gazing out of the kitchen window I saw our local heron fly past.  It is such a beautiful sight with its wings so wide, and I used to love watching it standing stone still waiting for a frog to pass.  Eureka.  I took my virtual pen, and a scan of a wondrous stone as coloured pencil, and Comfortable became so much more dynamic.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Time is necessary to allow inputs to find their links with all the other rag-bag beachcombing I have in my brain.  Sometimes an element will arrive and immediately will be the key to opening a whole new idea, or sequence of ideas.  But mostly time is needed, or more inputs, or both.
Today I needed to take a break from bending over my hand work - stitching with a paper cut is no fun for someone who hates using a thimble - and so I buzzed through some of my image files on the computer to do some filing.  I was looking at scans of some prints I had made, and came to wondering....
A favourite is my juggler - this one is a carborundum print (carborundum mix 3 on perspex)
I had used this with pastel-covered chine colle, and will doubtless do more experiments with this technique, but it was seeing it next to a collagraph print which set off my imagination today.
This was printed onto dark red pastel paper, which makes a positive out of what might otherwise be seen as patchiness in the ink.  But I have always felt that this design has been waiting for something.
Well, obviously, the audience were waiting for the performer:
It has a way to go before it is done, but so far I like how it is going.  Once printmaking classes begin again next month I shall try it out.  But I shall also try it as a hybrid digital print, just to see how that works.
Now I must return to my stitching.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A powerful effect

It's the uncanny way that the viewer can see all and every one of the figures together and separately. It struck me that here was the historical image made fresh, as it once was, now of our time as well as its own.  Not referential or ironic, but simply there with all of life as it keeps going on.
I find Jenny Saville's work fascinating.  This morning we went to Oxford to see her exhibition at Modern Art Oxford.  I find it like looking at the huge paintings of the Renaissance while also absorbing Abstract Expressionism - what an effect they have!  And now home I have found a marvellous interview filmed in which she explains so much so well - I found it so enlightening about her motivation, process, and so much more.  It is an hour long.  (If the link does not work, go to the Modern Art Oxford site, click on the exhibition, and then on Additional Resources.)
These paintings are huge - they are overwhelming, perhaps like being in a congregation in a Giotto or Michelangelo interior, but knowing that this is life now, this is you, this is substantial flesh, a person but also humanity.
The multi-layered work, translucent layers of figures, nudes, do not have the opacity of the paintings, but are just as substantial.  They capture for me that collage-like knowledge accumulated over centuries of human civilisation.
I am still overwhelmed by the visual experience, and my mind is buzzing with all the input of exhibition and filmed interview. I leave further review to the professional critics: in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Observer and Aesthetica blog.  As well as the work in Modern Art Oxford, there are pieces in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford now.  That is where her reproduction/ adaptation of Leonardo's cartoon for Virgin and Child with St Anne is.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

No mystery

Gustave Caillebotte: Interior, woman reading (also note the gentleman in the background - it is lovely to return to spending evenings with my husband reading, instead of desperately watching dross on television just for distraction!)
For many years now, while I was spending increasing amounts of my time looking after and being with my mother my reading was progressively limited to murder mystery novels.  At first, before her stroke, we used to read the same book so that we had a topic other than that which was distressing her to discuss.  That and television programmes.
After the stroke, when my stress levels increased, I leaned on murder mysteries to whisk me away to the lands where dreadful things happened, but all was well at the end.  I got through boxes of the books - I know, I have been packing them up and donating them to Oxfam.
Now I have a Kindle, and so, the bookshelves can sigh with relief of a lighter load, but the strange thing is I cannot bring myself to read the titles I have waiting there.  I am no longer interested in Inspectors Ikmen or Sejer or Lynley, the work of Donna Leon or Cara Black or Ruth Rendell.  I have a great desire for a quite different diet.
Of course there are the art books - there are always art books. I have so much more time for them now - too many to catch up with even now probably, even if I stop buying (which I don't - more opportunities for purchase now too!).  They make up for all the money I do not spend on shoes, handbags, makeup, scent, clothes, ... all those things that women or those who care about fashion are supposed to spend a fortune on.  But apart from the art books I feel a great desire to return to the novel as challenge, surprise, open-ended speculation, amuse-bouche (I have just completed Will Self's The unbearable lightness of being a prawn cracker, at which I laughed out loud in the dentist's waiting room this morning.), education, companionship, and mind-wandering delight.
I devoured Hilary Mantel's first two books on Thomas Cromwell, again I laughed out loud in places while reading Michael Frayn's novelisation of the theatrical genre of farce: Skios.  I have been a fan of Frayn from many years back, and although farce is not one of my favourite genres in the theatre I thought I'd give this the benefit of the doubt.  I loved it except for the ending, which I found fell somewhat flat - but that's probably being a bit harsh.  I certainly found the character of the academic far more believable than the protagonist of Ian McEwan's Solar (which I did not enjoy at all, unlike all of his other books).
I doubtless will return to mysteries, and especially to those written with more than whodunnit as content, but in the meantime I'm about to embark on an Anne Tyler which I missed a few years back: Ladder of years.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

A break - for inspiration

We have been busy with activities keeping us at home for a wee while now, and on Friday I had a need to get out for a short outing.  Ever practical, we combined a trip to a visually attractive town (Farnham) and an indulgent coffee and patisserie at Maison Blanc with the acquisition of a pile of current magazines for me and a look round The New Ashgate craft gallery, and what turned out to be the real treat: a visit to the current exhibition on at the Crafts Study Centre: Topography: recording place - mapping surface.
Weaving is an activity which interests me, in the way that many other skilled crafts and techniques do.  It is usually tapestry weaving which excites me.  It was in this mindset of casual curiosity, enhanced a little by the Greek name of Ismini Samanidou (Greek textiles are a brick in my own foundation.) that I entered through the Study Centre door.
Well, I was immediately attracted by the large hanging in the atrium of the building.  Muted colours and decorative patterns produce something that for me was recognisably Greek (and by Greek I do not mean work which has developed over the past few decades to satisfy the tourist market, but what used to be produced in the villages in my childhood - as shown in the photos in this blog), but also timeless.
I was fully gripped once I'd entered the exhibition proper.  As illustrated by the photo above (taken from this review) the first display is of Ismini Samanidou's own photographs (she calls her photographs her memories) and notes, including some wondrous work done on observations of clouds.  This is what is shown at the extreme right of the photo.  Then there are woven samples, done to try to capture various aspects of the light, the experience, the feeling of the clouds.  This wall alone was an inspirational experience for me.  There is something about seeing the working process of another maker which seems to throw switches in one's own mind - even if the making is of a different kind completely - and somehow provides another perspective from which to consider one's own work. Ismini Samanidou also combines digital techniques with hand work, which is of interest to me.
And somehow that opening of the sight lines onto one's own performance enhances the attention to and appreciation of the work being exhibited.  It turns out to be a winning spiral which in this case I found exhilarating.
It was my husband who described Ismini Samanidou's work as philosophical.  The weavings are multi-layered, both physically and philosophically.  Paired with the photo which inspired them, some at first glance seem to be an attempt to reproduce the effect - of peeling walls, of rust, of so many aspects of neglect and decay that have become a visual cliche - but they are so much more than that.
The two images above are from Ismini Samanidou's Bangladesh residency blog.  It is so difficult to talk about fabric of such subtlety without being there with the stuff itself - just as it was difficult to stand there looking at it without touching it, pulling it, scrunching it, filling one's hands with it.  I once heard Lesley Millar, a weaver herself, say that in weaving the making is the work.  The room is full of lengths of different fabrics, as well as a site-specific piece of threads woven round the two central pillars.
In the exhibition also, in the large display case through which one can see the hanging in the atrium (I love that building!) are examples of the collaborative work Ismini Samanidou has done with Sharon Blakey in Pairings II conversations and collaborations.
I found the exhibition a great experience: inspiring, thought-provoking, enlightening, uplifting, ... and also was entranced by the piece of conceptual work which was shown only in an album of photographs: Arachni's Revenge.  This is an installation in a disused enamel factory in Greece, where threads have been stretched, woven across the spaces.  This in itself is attractive, but what is supremely delightful is the use that spiders have made of these threads to make their own beautiful webs, to make their essential contribution to the work.  I cannot track down any photos to show of this, but any visitors to the Crafts Study Centre will see the album, as well as the whole glorious exhibition, as will US visitors to the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  And here is another link to information about Ismini Samanidou.