Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Greetings to all who read here

Build on the past, as you Embrace the New Year.

Wishing us all the best for 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I might have known

that of course a book edited by Jessica Hemmings would in fact provide a several course meal!  The first chapter of Cultural Threads has me wandering off into further fields of thought, not wanting to move on before I have had a good mull.
I continue to delight in the way that threads pull together to weave elements of what I'm reading, thinking about, seeing, etc. into a substantial cloth to handle and even in which to wrap myself.  Reading the first artist contribution to chapter 1: Artist statements had pulled two main threads from my recently completed reading of A.N. Wilson's fictionalised biography of Josiah Wedgewood, The Potter's Hand, the extensive research which Penelope Fitzgerald did for not only her biographies, but also her fiction, as noted by Hermione Lee in her biography of PF
These have been joined by a niggling frayed edge: my own sceptical approach to works of art born of research.  I well remember a novel marred by too much insistent information about growing, pressing, transporting, eating olives, way beyond the point of contributing to the plot, characters, or ambiance - and also been frustrated by looking at some impact-free art object whose presence was justified only by an accompanying essay.
The artist Julie Ryder's account of her work in the 2008 exhibition Generate for the Australian National botanic Gardens to coincide with the bicentenary celebrations of Charles Darwin has fascinated me.  The above work, Generate: Emma represents Charles Darwin's wife, Emma, also his first cousin, and is made of hand cut leaves stuck onto tapa cloth.  (The process is described here.)  The point of the exhibition was to tie together inspirations from Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, his approach to collecting specimens, his outlook on all he was observing, the culture he represented, and the indigenous cultures he was witnessing. 
Patterns from 19th century European textiles are used alongside indigenous patterns and materials such as tapa cloth.  Although examples of the work are shown, I have been frustrated in that details appropriate to the research are not illustrated, such as a triptych symbolic of indigenous societies that Darwin encountered:
Pollinate: Originate, Infiltrate, and Eliminate are to represent the effect of colonization on eradicating the traditional.  The three works carry a tapa cloth design from Samoa (of which the above is one third: Originate) that is slowly being supplanted by an English damask design.  I am intrigued by the idea of this, and would really like to see the work to appreciate its meaning.
The photographs, like of the ones in this post, are pleasant patterns, seen from too far to discern sufficient detail.  The words do the work of conveying what I would hope that the work seen displayed looks like.  I also wonder what has happened to the work.  Does it fall into the category described by Margaret Cooter in this post for Ragged Cloth Café: is this work to be remembered as a temporary exhibition to commemorate an anniversary, and as a visual summary of research, noted here and there in passing on the artist's website and the odd blog?

If this book continues to occupy my mind like this, I shall be here for some time!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Progress through the pile

Carl Larsson: Karin reading (from here - I have been an admirer of both Carl Larsson and Karin Larsson since my publishing days.)
I am steadily making my way through the reading pile.  Yesterday I finished Hermione Lee's excellent literary biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, and at bedtime read the first story in the latter's collection of short stories : The Means of Escape.  Bedtime reading will now be Ian McEwan's The Children Act.
This year the hibernation is not quite a total envelopment of books because both of the room exchange, and because I have a deadline for the finger-aching stitching of a seemingly endless piece of work.  But I have now completed my current thinking about the extraordinary work of Anselm Kiefer, and put to one side all the memories of German novels, poetry, and tales which rose up in my mind to accompany the contemplation of his genius.  The catalogue of the exhibition we saw is a meaty one, and I'm sure I shall be nibbling at it for years to come.
Before that I very much enjoyed reading the essays in the catalogue for the Fiber: Sculpture 1960 - the present.  Would that I could have visited the exhibition itself in Boston Mass.  I wrote a post in Ragged Cloth Café, and am pleased that I seem to have spurred interest in others to add to their bookshelves. 
My daytime reading at present is a collection of writings by and about textile artists: Cultural Threads, Transnational Textiles Today edited by Jessica Hemmings.  In a way this is to be an amuse bouche on the way to a good full course expected of the second volume of Christopher Simon Sykes' biography of David Hockney: A Pilgrim's Progress.  That should see me well into January.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Contemplating two views, .. then hibernation begins

In my memory the two seasons of Winter and Summer are times for two essentially linked views: outside in distinctive weather, and inside, out of that weather, but in a way that both inside and out are appreciated because of the other.  I feel that one of the differences between where I live now - in effect for what has been most of my life - in southern England, and my childhood in Scotland is that two view Winter. 
I did not realise this until a couple of years ago when my duodidactic friend and I went to see the exhibition Weaving the Century at Compton Verney.  Within that excellent and most memorable exhibition was a piece woven by Dovecote Studios from a painting by Victoria Crowe. (Image below from here)
The painting Two views is of the interior of Jenny Armstrong's cottage, looking out at the shepherd herself working in the snow.  It immediately struck me in the way that Matisse's Interior with violin had encapsulated the way I felt about the summer heat of Greece.
I had not encountered Victoria Crowe's work before, but have been much drawn to what I have seen since online.
Tree snow study (from here)
I very much admire her scrubby trees, and I am especially drawn to her combining of landscape and still life, or her division of the composition as in Two views, so that the eye and the mind each roams across so many associations within the one painting.
Rosa Proprina visits the Winter Garden (from here)

Now that it is Christmas Eve, we have brought in the tree, decorated it, made the evergreen displays and put up all the cards.  The fruit punch is mulling, and I am ready to settle into my hibernation.
I thank all those who visit this blog, and hope that all who read my ramblings have a good time over the holidays, re-charging their batteries for the beginning of the imminent new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hedgerows in Winter

are open caskets of treasure.  When in full leaf they become mysterious thickets of life, drawing in the hand and eye, to part and peer at what delights there are within.  In Winter the covering of leaves has become the floor out of which the growth declares itself proudly in all its complexity. 
The chaotic shapes entrance, and yet we have a need to simplify, to order.  Although I have minimised the shapes in this lino print, it still conjures up the tangle for me.
I like this sparse mnemonic of what is crowded reality - Winter Hedgerow by Silvy Weatherall from here.
And this close-up piece of stark calligraphic juxtaposition of twig/thorn with berries from here.
Sometimes not only berries provide colour, but a few clinging or stuck leaves turned but not fallen bring a warmth when caught by the low sun as in Jacqueline Orr's Winter Hedgerow from here
Here is another lovely rendering in watercolour and charcoal pencil by Vivien Blackburnfrom here
And another by Tom Wanless, from No.40 here. He has more Winter trees and hedgerows here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

English trees in winter

Although it is now over 44 years since I came to live in England, and although I feel British rather than specifically Scottish, I still feel an element of living in a different land - especially when it comes to the landscape of England, and particularly that of the southern counties.  At this time of year I start looking for the Winter trees, and enjoy those that remind me of some of the painters I think of as being particularly English.
Samuel Palmer: Tree studies (from here)
Paul Nash: The Orchard (from here)
Edward Bawden: The Artist's Garden in Winter (from here)
Eric Ravilious: Winter Landscape (from here)
Kurt Jackson: Bird song between showers (from here)
David Gentleman: illustration from Ask the fellows who cut the hay (from here)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

David Gentleman: Reed beds at Iken Cliff, with skeleton oak and Iken church (illustration from the Folio Society edition of Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay)  
The world turns.  Today, a marker towards light, always strikes me as bearing a positive message through what is really the beginning of Winter, oft seen as a negative.  Although this is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will become longer more slowly than they became shorter on the way to this point.  Cold and wintery weather will increase from now awhile - my hibernation can begin gradually to take over until the turn in the calendar.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The random and the nature-collaborative

One of the attractive by-products of printmaking I have found is randomness - the odd unpredictability of what emerges on the paper no matter how hard one tries to control all the elements beforehand.  That chance contribution can of course be negative just as often as positive - although that can depend on whether one is of a positive or of a negative disposition.
Sue Cor: catch the wind (from here)
I have been thinking a lot recently about artists who deliberately court the random by collaborating with aspects of the natural world.  Richard Long uses mud from nearby sources for installations and drawings, Andy Goldsworthy uses what is around for his largely ephemeral sculptures, many people use the sea such as Debbie Lyddon, and Chris Day (as described in Margaret Cooter's post on Ragged Cloth Café), and Sue Cor uses seaweed in the wind to make drawings.  There are also many artists who use the staining qualities of aspects of the natural world, and especially fashionable at present is the random effect of rust.
John Cage: Strings 1-20 (from here)
John Cage made a system of using randomness which he used not only for composing music but also for visual art.  There is a fascinating explanatory film here.
David Nash sculpts wood, and one of his projects was to make a wooden boulder which he left to the mercies of a river in Wales.  The boulder was carried down to the sea eventually, and now it is not known where it is.  Here is a short film of the boulder.
Image from here
Another example of intentional randomness is to be found in photography these days: ICM is intentional camera movement, which is explained here.  Is it because we are more aware that there are indeed more things in the universe than are dreamt of in our consciousness that so many are reaching out to the unknown effect to further their practice?  Is there a feeling that no matter what we decide to do, the outcome will not be in our control so we might as well throw our bread (or some crumbs, at least) upon the waters, and see what the tide washes in?
Are the artists intrigued by the enhancing of their own ideas if they harness or at least co-operate with the creative energy of Nature?  Or do they think that they are adding the creative element to the random forces?  In most cases the artist does have the final say to accept or to reject chance's effect. 
I do enjoy the odd surprises thrown up by the printing process, and the random consequences encountered in the making of work, but I must admit to a preference for thinking that I am largely in charge - even if that is ultimately an illusory notion!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Bill Woodrow: Black and White 1 (from here)
Reading an interview with sculptor Bill Woodrow in the current Sculpture magazine I was drawn to his Black and White pieces. 
Bill Woodrow: Black and White 8 (from here)
I was intrigued to read that they are white painted bronze on black rubber.  What attracted me was an aspect of bronze which I've found fascinating before: its ability to take on the haptic visual attributes of whatever made the impression.  In this case particularly the cardboard.  I was entranced by the bronze's ability to seem just like cardboard, as well as the cardboard being a completely acceptable representation of ice layers.
Miro: Personnage Gothique in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park 2012
 Bronze's chameleon aspects have delighted me in the work of Miro.  His playful approach to figure and form making using bits and bobs from here and there is enhanced by the unifying quality of the bronze so that the whole is obviously the whole, while the parts are still noticeably distinct.
The threads holding parts of the upholstered form can distinctly be discerned, just as the cardboard 'head' declares itself proudly aloft.
Giovanfrancesco Rustici: The Pharisee, St John the Baptist and The Levite from The Sermon of Saint John the Baptist, 1511, from the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore (Photo: Antonio Quattrone, Florence)
I think that now is the time to add another book to the hibernation pile: the catalogue -only skimmed through so far - for the excellent Bronze exhibition that was on at the Royal Academy a couple of years ago.  Sometimes I find it imperative to read the catalogue immediately after having experienced the exhibition, but often I like to return to read it thoroughly after having been spurred by something related.  I then enjoy the exhibition all over again in my mind's eye.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter delight

Vuillard: Deux femmes sous la lampe (from here)
When I was five years old I was an only child, and we lived in a big schoolhouse right on the borders with England.  My father taught in a school in the nearest village.  The school in our garden was for those in our hamlet, all of us mixed ages together in one room with one teacher who told us if we picked our noses they would fall off.
Winter was a good time, because if it snowed the few yards to the school at the back became a journey.  Coming home meant coming back to the warm range where my mother made a raw egg and cocoa drink and I was allowed to light the lamps.  I would then read with my mother in the warm light of the lamp sitting on the range.  A cosy small world in a rattling house with no electricity.
On the nights when my father tutored the local farmer's son, I led my mother up to the one bedroom we shared.  The floors of the other rooms were covered in newspaper-wrapped apples from the trees in the garden.  My mother was afraid of the dark, and especially on the stairs.  I loved the almost dark that cast about the lamp as we moved - the looking to see how things were changing. 
Even now I dislike a strong artificial light unless I am working - as in an office, workroom, or a kitchen - otherwise sufficient spot light clearly to read or stitch is enough.  On Winter nights being indoors with the enveloping shadows is the season's delight.

Friday, December 12, 2014

First it has to get worse ...

before it gets better!
The room exchange is in full swing now, except that our desks are still in place and functioning. 
Meanwhile I've been piling up all my stuff into my new room,
and spilling over into the bathroom too (this is an ex granny annex, and with no grannies any longer in residence, the bathroom is not in full use).
But I'm trying to keep the kitchen - my print area - calm and tidy.  My new drying rack is tucked up waiting for its first use.  I was so pleased that I managed to find one the appropriate size through an educational supplier.  They addressed me as a primary school, but it eventually got to me. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


I always imagine that it must be more difficult in the Southern Hemisphere to take a period of reflection at the start of the hottest season, to asses the previous year and make plans for the one to come.  I welcome Winter, the darker days, the cold: driving me towards inward occupations such as reading and reflecting.  For me heat and light lead to looking outwards, while cold and dark encourage inner examinations.
I am thankful that I live in a temperate climate with distinct seasons so that life changes gradually and greatly through the year - nothing too predictable, but also with enough familiarity both to anticipate and regret as the world turns.  There are of course the festivals which mark seasons, Christmas being the loudest of these.  Now that there are just the two of us we can relax and opt out as much as is politely feasible.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Winter sunshine

On Wednesday I met a friend for lunch at the Polly Tearooms in the delightfully attractive small town of Marlborough.  It's over an hour's drive away, and so I was pleased that the sun decided to shine, making my route even more pleasant than normal.  It is a route of vistas and not much traffic - always a plus!
The river Kennet runs through the town, and I enjoyed watching the ripples,
the reflections,
and the water fowl.
Marlborough is a market town, and Wednesday is market day.  The High Street is reputedly one of the widest in the land, but unfortunately that means that the stall holders' large vehicles can be accommodated alongside their stalls: ugly.  But it was too sunny to bother me for long.  There was so much else to delight the eye.
I have known the Polly Tearooms since the 70s, and always enjoyed going there.  I have not been for some time recently, however, and had seen an adverse review online - but I can report that it is better than ever.  Clean, bright, welcoming service, good food, and we never felt rushed as we chatted.
I had been apprehensive about parking, about Christmas crush, ... but it turned out to be one of those glorious days which is full of joy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

As part of the room exchange

I have been moving my short story collections to another location.  I had tidied them out of the way, packed into the bottom shelf of a bookcase while my mother was using the room, and had almost forgotten about them.  One aspect of tidying and sorting which I do enjoy is the rediscovery of fading memories.
I love the short story form.  I never really understand why it is not more popular.  I encountered the form first from reading essays at school.  My parents were strict about how much time I should spend at homework, and so when I had finished, I always had a book to read.  With a short story I could quickly be whisked away to another environment, and have an intense relationship with character, plot, ambience ... which could all then be savoured in my mind when doing chores etc.  Novels' worlds were more difficult to hold onto until later in my schooling when homework legitimately took all evening and part of the weekend.
I realised as I was transporting my collection the other day, and placing them on accessible shelves, that if I had to choose just a couple of shelves of books that I could keep, it would be the short stories.  I smiled in memory as I put them up: authors like William Trevor, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Somerset Maugham, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt, Borges, Theroux - whose short stories I always found more satisfying than the novels or the travel books, William Boyd, D.H. Lawrence - again I prefer his short stories and poetry to his novels, ... oh, just too many to mention.
Some memorable collections are Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino, Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags by Shena MacKay, Unlikely Stories Mostly by Alasdair Grey, Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez....  I also discovered a volume I'd completely forgotten, and now add it to my current hibernation pile: Collected Stories by Carol Shields.
I also have collections by country, by topic, and by general anthology like the absolutely marvellous Soho Square collections 1 (cover pictured above), 2, and 3 published by Bloomsbury.  Now, where no illustrations are involved, I shall be continuing to read short stories, but on my Kindle, so this collection of books dating back to the early 60s has become even more precious.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winter projects indoors

My husband and I have decided to swap rooms, and to do so before the end of the year.  This is easy to say, and it's a pleasant occupation to plan where everything will go, but in the meantime it is appalling how much stuff there is to pack up and move.
As a diversion from this I have been working on some designs.
Quiet contemplation (design in progress)
First, based on the scan of the cotinus leaves I appropriated a figure from elsewhere in my files.  I'm pleased with this start, and will likely take it further.
Building an argument (design in progress)
Also the grid ideas have been bubbling away on the back burner, and this pair popped into my mind.  I think I'm reasonably pleased with this too.
But now I'd better put away my digital stylus and get sorting!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gearing up for winter projects

This end of year is proving to be a busy one, especially in the garden.  We have almost completed an area of gravel near the dark side of the house.  We chose a local flint which has a lot of white and has already made a difference to the light on darker days.
Last year we had a deer fence erected on one boundary, and this winter we propose to plant a hedge just inside this fence, eventually to overgrow it.  I'm busy sorting out the quantity and variety of native hedge plants which will feed the birds in years to come.
Hawthorn grows well here, and provides lovely blossom as well as berries - and thorns to repel unwanted visitors!
Holly has the same qualities as the hawthorn, but the added benefit of being evergreen, and thus providing a bit of all round privacy.
Guelder rose, the common viburnum is a plant I really love, also with blossom and berries, but it has the added beauty of glowing red leaves in autumn.
Spindle, euonymus, has berries like earrings - such an exquisite delight to discover when looking closely.
Dogwood, cornus, provides interesting leaves in the summer and attractive stems in the winter.
And I am assured that they will all grow quickly at about the same pace.