Thursday, February 26, 2015

Top tip

Duane Michals: Dr Heisenberg's Magic Mirror of Uncertainty
In today's Guardian newspaper the photographer Duane Michals gives as his top tip:

Don't try to be an artist.  Find the thing within you that needs to be expressed and then you might find it is art.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A man of parts

Following my visit to the New Brutalist Image display and sight of the sculpture Forms on a Bow (seen above) a few days ago in Tate Britain, yesterday I made a quick visit to an interesting display of Eduardo Paolozzi's collages and screenprints.  I have been attracted to Paolozzi's work since I was young enough to know that although I wasn't sure what it was about, I wanted to see and know more.  He came to my attention first as an artist from Edinburgh, and then it was through seeing Paolozzi's examples that I became interested in collage, printmaking, the processes involved in bronze sculpture, and even tapestry weaving. 
The Whitworth Tapestry, designed by Paolozzi, and woven at Dovecote Studios (picture from here)
Wittgenstein at the Cinema Admires Betty Grable screenprint (picture from here)
Wittgenstein in New York screenprint (picture from here)
It was also through Paolozzi's work rather than the university philosophy department that I first encountered Wittgenstein!
His work has kept popping up through my life, and almost always instantly recognisable it raises a smile when I encounter them.  There is an interesting article here on how despite examples of his work are widespread in many of our art and cultural institutions (such as in the Whitworth, the V&A as well as Tate, as seen above), his worth is generally underrated.
Cyclops bronze (picture from here)
There are some photographs here by Nigel Henderson, with whom he formed Hammer Prints.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Biography of a not-so-random object

She always wore her hat, and she only came to the afternoon gatherings.  I can't remember when Kiria Selini started being part of the weekday rotation, but it certainly was not right from the beginning.  I also do not know whose friend or neighbour she was, because she was not part of the family.  Formality was always observed with her, a small woman, neat and chirpy, removing her gloves as she entered.
After she had had her coffee and sweetmeat she would take her hand work out of her handbag.  It was always a crochet hook, and always one of two items that she was making: a looped washcloth or a needle case.
Every time we were there for the summer and she would say that we would not find her the following year.  It was, however many years before she was missing.  Life had caught up with so many of us in different ways by then.  There was so much I did not know about her, but somehow I felt that asking would emphasize my being the outsider.  I do not even know if Selini was her surname or given name but the Kiria (Mrs sounds so prosaic, Madame would be a better approximation) was always used.  I never heard her address anyone directly  - or perhaps even indirectly by name.
All I know is that apart from being a widow there was some sadness about her, which I understood from the vague muttered sympathetic adjectives overheard when she was not present - sadness more than simply that her son was a communist official in Russia!  In any case he was not discussed - well, not until Greece took in the folks who wanted to come back from Russia.  The son joined his mother, but by then I was married and no longer a summer visitor.
Over the years we received many washcloths: strong cotton constructs which did not disintegrate from one summer to the next.  But in 1969, on my last visit before marriage I also received this needle case, and I use it still.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reading progress

I am partway through two books at present, and very much enjoying what might seem like slow progress.  The physically big book, and therefore having to be read with support, is Turner in his Time by Andrew Wilton
This is brilliant, and I am really lucky to be reading the second and much added to edition.  Wilton has been involved professionally with Turner's work for many years, and also writes well.  I like this kind of biography of art work.  It is like the excellent three volume Picasso biography by John Richardson.  Progress moves from painting to painting, covering the context of the life as it moves forward.  There are many illustrations too, of the works discussed.
I find that this kind of biography is not one to be rushed.  I like to read a chapter at a time, then enjoy thinking about what I have read, mulling it over thoroughly before moving on to the next chapter.
I am also savouring my bedtime reading: The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare.  This is a delightful meander through Hoare's journeys around coasts, in oceans, on islands,... his thoughts and experiences.  I don't know anything much about the author except that he lives around Southampton in the UK, and that whale conservationists and scientists allow him to come along with them.  At this point I only want to know what is revealed as the book progresses: I am a fascinated passenger on this trip.
Every evening I also read one story (or two if I miss a night like yesterday when we came back late from a concert) by James Robertson from his 365 stories.  There is one for each day, and also they are 365 words long.  I love the idea of the exercise for both writer and reader, as well as enjoying the stories themselves which are in no way obviously constrained.
Meanwhile of course while I meander about in this casual way, savouring the diversions along which each book sends me, the reading pile steadily increases.  So, what's new?!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Printmaking progress

Birdie (lino and digital)
This is a mix of experiments. 
I started with a simple outline drawing of the woman and the bird.
Not sure what I wanted as a background - certainly something more than just something coloured. 
Perhaps branches.
I wanted also to print on tissue paper which had been covered with pastel in colours which had been influenced by the Roman bricks I have been looking at in the archaeology course.  But I also wanted to use a commercial tissue paper which I received round a present.
I started printing the background onto the pastel papers,
and onto a collage of the commercial tissue.  After the background layer prints were dry I printed the top layer.  Unfortunately the collage of commercial tissue started coming apart after printing.  The other prints worked - more or less, but I really wanted to try the wildflower greens. 
I had taken photos of all the background prints as well as of the final layer prints in order to be able to collage digitally. 
I did not want the branches to be too definite, and so I chose one of the 'least successful' prints.  And I must say that I like the result so far.  Now it goes into the back burner for further pondering.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The fascination of walls

Today I have been entranced by Roman wall-building.  In the online archaeology course this week the main subject is how excavation is carried out, but this section on wall building is going to distract me a while, I think.
The photos below are all copyright the University of Southampton, whose course this is, and were taken by Hembo Pagi.  I think they look absolutely beautiful.
Here is an interesting page on Roman building techniques and their descriptions.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Familiars and other interests

Eduardo Paolozzi: Collage mural, 1952, from here
I do like to visit Tate Britain when there is no specific exhibition.  This is a good time of year to find more quiet and space simply to wander through the galleries reacquainting ourselves with old favourites, enjoying the discovery of newly displayed work, and relaxing around the mini themed displays.  These last can often be more rewarding than huge blockbusters.
Today I very much enjoyed exploring the New Brutalist Spotlight 1949-55 involving Eduardo Paolozzi, Nigel Henderson, and architects Alison and Peter Smithson, and Ronald Jenkins.  (There is an interesting associated article here.)  The main focus of this display is their work on the Hunstanton School in Norfolk.
Karen Knorr: Untitled from Series Belgravia, 1979-81, from here
Another Spotlight display which we enjoyed is the work of photographer Karen Knorr.  The combination of photograph with pithy text makes a compelling social commentary.
Henry Moore: Draped Reclining Figure, 1951-62, from here
I always thoroughly enjoy seeing Henry Moore's sculptures and maquettes, but today I was particularly pleased to see two small intaglio prints, the one above in particular.
Henry Moore: Reclining Figure, 1951-66, from here
On nearly every visit I try to seek out the Reg Butler sculptures
Reg Butler: First Maquette for 'The Unknown Political Prisoner', 1951-2, from here
One of these days I shall indulge myself in the Margaret Garlake book on him.
Francis Bacon: Painted Screen, c.1929, from here
The delightful surprise of the day was seeing an early work: a screen painted by Francis Bacon when he was about 20 years old.  I imagine that it must come from his time as an interior designer.  As a great admirer of both Oskar Schlemmer and Ben Nicholson, I was intrigued and very pleased to see this.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love the quote - agree with the article

Creativity in all its forms is a passionate engagement with making something happen.

This sentence near the beginning of Jeanette Winterson's article in today's Guardian Newspaper's Culture section struck me as such a positive affirmation.  I found myself agreeing with the whole article.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Proofs and crops

I have cut the first lino block, along with a block for a background layer, and have just printed a few proofs.  They seem OK so far, and so I shall go on to think of colours and a base layer of chine collé.  Meanwhile the proofs are dying nicely on my new rack - leaving my surfaces free for other work.
Also today I rescued some work which was put aside a while ago.  When I was experimenting with carborundum and drypoint I did not quite get this particular visual idea right - and did not manage to get back to it.  I had thought that I would have to abandon the prints, but in looking through my files today something made me try out another idea.
If in doubt, crop - is barely second to my primary dictum: if in doubt, don't.  So crop I did, and I did a bit of digital combining too, and out of four trials which were not expected to go further than being lessons I have got two possibles. 
There is still a fair bit of digital work to do on them, but I now have something I like.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Logos do matter

I am in the third week of the online Archaeology of Portus course, and fascinated once more at what elements of detritus from ages past can tell us about the folks then.  And coupled with our ongoing downsizing exercise, I look around me and wonder what will be salvaged, in what state, and whether it will enlighten the examiners.
Last week on the course I learned that maker's stamps on bricks in Roman times are of vital importance now to archaeologists (image above from here).  I suspect that the Victorian times with their pride in stamping drain covers etc. will be a much more fertile source than today's plastic and electronic markers.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The robin's song

I don't remember reading in literature about the song of the robin. 
Now as the light creeps in earlier, I am beginning to pick out voices celebrating the new day.  High in the holly outside our bedroom there is the bare branch of a rogue Ena Harkness rose, a favourite perch for the robin which lives in our garden.  What a voice for one so small!  Such a robust song, which falls in deliberate phrases.  What does it mean, I wonder?  Probably a chiding that we are not out digging worms!
The photo above is from a country diary article here, and you can hear the robin here.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Winning hands

It strikes me again and again that the person who benefits most from fibre art is the maker.  To my mind the overwhelming reason for using fibre, cloth, thread, etc. is because of the feel of it - and yet once it is made art it must no longer be touched.  It is often admired and judged by photograph - a two dimensional reduction of a whole body experience which can powerfully include smell in the case of huge sisal weavings, rope crochet, oiled wool knitwear, dried grass baskets, even paper ....  I love combining ideas, thinking, drawing and digital collage, and the two dimensionality of printmaking - those intellectual pursuits - with the haptic pleasures of working the needle through the cloth.
Of course it is not just fibre which gives this pleasure: the handling of clay, slip, wood, stone, - the holding of a pen, etching point, knife, chisel as well as the wielding of a needle and scissors all bring their particular joy.  But perhaps because fibre deteriorates first, after the piece is completed, if it is deemed to be art rather than artefact it is handled less.
How lucky we makers are to handle, to feel, to manipulate, to stroke and be stroked, to use the fingers' fine nerve endings to distinguish the subtleties of soft, to gauge just the right amount of strength, pressure to use to turn, to fold, to pierce (and be pierced!), to pull - not simply to use those fingers to point and drag.  Handling fibre helps us to see in fine focus as well as in broad perspective, and in making by hand we make time for ourselves as well, gradually building our self portraits.  When I handle one of my basket collection I feel an urge to be making a basket.  When I see a weaving or tapestry I admire, I feel the urge to be weaving in order to appreciate it more.  It is the fantasy of handling the materials which is seductive.

How much my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts all enjoyed the social stitching of items for family and friends.  My Scottish grandfather too, the tailor, enjoyed the feel of a good tweed or twill in his hands.  And now I have the added exciting challenge of trying creatively to combine intellect and emotion with the haptic pleasures in the repeated attempt to express myself artistically in such a way that the two dimensional representation of the finished article will somehow convey not only a meaning but also the story of the making.

Are we makers not fortunate indeed!

Friday, February 06, 2015

Deconstructed weave?

This is the time of year when those of us who have left last year's growth to sprawl as a haven and/or food turn to tidying.  I do enjoy each phase of growth - even this supposed untidiness.  Looking at our most rampant clematis I think of it rather as an unravelling basket: a beautiful ruin.  So I thought I'd take a few snaps before it is clipped back in preparation for new shoots.
The sun is bright and the cold is sharp; the wind biting straight through.  A lovely day to go out, but even lovelier to return to working indoors.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Settling into February

Now that my latest quilt is finished, I am hoping to spend a solid period of time in the print kitchen.  I do like to have a pile of ideas ready before I start carving the plate.  I had printed out some potential designs shown in this blog already, and I have worked up another two or three now. 
That should be enough for a decent session.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The snow brings even more light

We are lucky enough to live in extremely quiet surroundings, so we did not realise that snow had fallen overnight until we woke.  I never fail to be uplifted by the sight of snow - the beauty always strikes me before any impracticalities. 
And this is the first time I am experiencing the garden under snow as seen from my new sewing/computer room - a double delight.  That is my computer area above, with at my right elbow a radiator, and the hydrangea which gives me great joy.
At my back as I sit at my computer is my sewing machine table - close enough to use the same radiator, and the same chair
and with a window out towards the back of the main house.
We call it the bay room because of a wide bay containing three windows onto the garden.  The above view is out of the left pane of the left window, and below is the view from the right pane of that same window.  The fence marks our boundary with the church path.  Beyond is the cemetery, and fields further away.
The middle window has a view down to the black poplar, and the far end of the beech hedge which marks a boundary with the wetland part of the garden.  In the foreground is a splendid mahonia which is about to flower, and the buds of which attract many little birds for a feast without diminishing the fragrant bounty.  We have two mahonias: this one is a smaller one, while the big shrub can be seen behind and to the left of the yew above.
From the right window in the bay can be seen the church above the beech hedge and the willows of the wetland. 
While working at the computer - and as I type this post - can be seen the wetland in a slice through the French windows, and I look forward to the whole view when warmer weather comes and I can take my stitching outdoors.
The room is more or less generally sorted now.  I am sure that I will make adjustments certainly small, and possibly large as I go along, but meantime I am happier than even I imagined.
It is a big room, and I am extremely fortunate to have so much space in addition to the kitchen for prints, and a large cupboard besides - and the large annex bathroom as a temporary (!) dumping ground.
True the stuff that still needs sorting remains in ominous piles,
but some areas just came together naturally.