Friday, November 02, 2018

Autumn art

As we enter the last month of Autumn I try to drink in the glory of leaves that are still around before the frosts blacken them and they drop to mulch.  Folks often prefer to have windows which face south to catch the warmth of the sun, but I love our north-facing windows showing the south-facing garden.  It's the light in the early morning and in the evening as it illuminates the leaves which I savour every day.  It takes but seconds to pay attention and drink it in, and it lifts the spirits immeasurably.
(image from here)
Nature does a pretty fabulous job, but also many artists cannot resist the temptation to take those leaves to a different level.
Christine Juillard (image from here)
Andy Goldsworthy (image from here where there are more works)
Lesley C. (images from here)

What I admire most about great Land Art is that it makes the observer look hard at the land at least as much as at the art.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


The word seems so old fashioned now, but very recently brought to my mind, evoking memories of childhood.  First there is the Vuillard exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.  I am currently reading - savouring the catalogue, (image above).  A review of the exhibition can be found here.
I am a great fan of Vuillard's intimist work, enjoying it much more than many other of his contemporaries perhaps because he does for me capture so much of the atmosphere which surrounded me as a small child in Thessaloniki, Greece in the very early 1950s.  The UK was forward-looking then, and by contrast the life I encountered with my relatives in Greece was backward-looking.  Refugees in the '20s, they had come from divers locations but were closely related, and met often, and mostly told stories about the past.  Looking back as I grew up, it felt as if I had vicariously lived in a previous century as well as the present.
There was electricity, but because of the strong sunlight during the day, the shutters were often closed and we moved about in the dim light so often seen in Vuillard's paintings.  The rooms were full of women.  Most of my relatives were aunts and great-aunts, and older cousins who had survived their husbands.  Their clothes were black.  There were few shops with clothes because everyone went to a seamstress.  The two we frequented were also Pontic Greek refugees.
My mother paid very little for the clothes that were made for us because not only did we bring our own fabric, but also we used to haul out of date pattern catalogues on our trans-European train journey.  The seamstresses did not need paper patterns, but were delighted to receive the drawings that showed the garments: nearly up-to-date styles.  They were remarkable women who achieved a great deal with small reward.  As we ourselves could afford more, we brought more than enough fabric so that they could use the remainder for themselves, whether for other clients or no.  In fact I never saw our main seamstress wearing anything other than her slip, with a pin cushion tied round her wrist.
Edouard Vuillard: Atelier de Couture de Madame Vuillard (image from here)
The second evocation of my earliest encounters with a seamstress was brought to mind when I went for a breast screen last week.  The radiographer was so gentle she reminded me of my grandmother's and aunts' fittings for brassieres.  In the earliest '50s such garments were not available in any shops in Thessaloniki, but there were seamstresses who specialised in the architectural design and manufacture of corsets and brassieres.  As a toddler I was like Vuillard an observer, amazed by all of the experiences.  
Alas, as the years and decades went by there was less and then no work for the latter seamstress as mass manufacture and sale of underwear became ubiquitous.  I continued to have dresses made for me until I became engaged in 1969, but after that I became a tourist in Greece, no longer living there for the whole season of summer.
But Vuillard's paintings bring it all back to me.  
Edouard Vuillard: The Thread (image from here)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dedicated to books and reading

My grand sorting really has led to a great project which has gripped me.  I am not devoting every minute to it, but somewhere in the back of my mind thoughts are churning away.
I wrote a post about the initial idea last month, and since then my interest has deepened, and I have realised just how personally relevant the project is.  My career was in publishing, and specifically in children's non fiction and in educational publishing.  From 1977 - 81 I was a commissioning editor in London for Blackie, whose gazetteer I am now canibalising.  That gazetteer came from my Scottish grandparents' house - and Blackie was a Scottish publishing house. (It was one of the Blackie family who commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design Hill House.)
I also had a passion for encyclopedias and gazetteers when I was a child.  For Christmas 1953 I was given the complete Arthur Mee's Encyclopedia, and I have had a thirst for reading for information ever since.
So, all in all, I can see that this project will occupy quite a bit of my thinking and designing for a while.

Friday, October 12, 2018

There are some buildings

... to which I become attached at first sight.  Two in Oxford of which I never tired are the Natural History Museum (above) - which is also stunning beautiful inside, and houses the extraordinary Pitt-Rivers Museum, so ticks many boxes - and Keble College (below).
(image from here)
Today in Glasgow we visited another such: the former Templeton Carpet Factory.  It is a bizarre but delightful conceit of an edifice, and thoroughly dispelled any notions of feeling miserable because of the heavy rain (obviously the photo below was not taken on such a day).
These three are decidedly of the decorated school, and are not what I typically go for in a building, generally preferring clean lines.  But these are just so boldly sure of themselves, and have their own elegance I think.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

This is what I call luxury!

Some people crave a roll top bath in the bedroom, but we are enjoying the delight of watching the early morning light change from moment to moment with this view from the bed in the self-catering home we are renting this week.
The big window has a wide sweep over the valley of the Water of Fleet just north of Gatehouse of Fleet.  The garden falls away precipitately to reveal the glorious west-facing view.
Even on a misty drizzly morning it is fascinating.  Thank goodness for the horrid hard bedhead, otherwise it would be too tempting to linger!

Monday, October 08, 2018

Away from the madding crowd

Even when crowded, the occupants of a cemetery enhance one's enjoyment of solitude.  The startling blue in the background is the Water of Ken in Galloway reflecting glorious sky.
This cemetery also boasts a spectacular avenue of limes, and a rowan bower (one side red berried, and t'other yellow) over a well-placed bench.
It is lovely to be far from the bustling metropolis in Autumn.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Instructional and inspiring exhibition

(image from here)
On Sunday we went to see the Renzo Piano retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. (reviews here and here)  It was an opportunity also to see the newly joined buildings, the Piano exhibition is what I still think of as the Museum of Mankind, although the ethnographic exhibits have long been housed in the British Museum.  The galleries that contain the Piano displays are wondrous indeed, helped even more by a clear sunny day.
We found it to be a remarkably pleasing, informative, curiosity arousing, and even inspiring exhibition.  Such beautiful display, thorough, beautiful, and totally uplifting.
(image from here with more photos and a review)
There were three projects where I concentrated most of my time.  One was the Emergency Children's Surgery Centre in Kampala, Uganda.  An element which caught my imagination was the information about the use of packed earth blocks - not only the information, but the presentation of sample coloured blocks themselves.  An acrylic structure housed them in a way - as with all the displayed materials and samples - that made them aesthetic objects in their own right.
This is a Shutterstock photograph showing the displayed blocks.
Another project was the Menil Collection building - one of Renzo Piano's earliest buildings.  Elegance once more to the fore in the shape of the ventilation louvres.  Samples were hanging as part of the project display.
It is fascinating to read the client's brief, then to see the solution which lifts the heart.  As stated in this article, source of the image below, the elements of the solution, the parts which go to make a whole greater than them, somehow transmit a feeling of creative empowerment in the viewer.
I overwhelmingly was drawn to the project the display of which I just wanted to bring home: the Tjibaou Cultural Centre Noumea, New Caledonia.
(image above from here, with an article about the 'Piano Method')
(image above from here)
What struck me most about all the projects was the attention to situation, and the striving for the most elegant practical solution to each individual need.  This is an exhibition which will return to in my mind again and again, I'm sure.

We went through to the original RA building, passing this delightful courtyard between the two.  
Outside in the courtyard stands Cornelia Parker's PsychoBarn.  I was lucky enough to see a film of her visiting old barns in the USA in order to make this piece for the Metropolitan Museum Roof Garden, New York.  A fusion of two iconic images of buildings in the USA, I love the detailing - such as the roof 'slates' being carefully cut corrugated metal.  I find that Cornelia Parker's art is always taking me by surprise.
All in all it was a brilliant day of thinking about buildings.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

An author for the favourites list

Katie Jean Wood: Story Hour (image from here)
It is so frustrating that while it takes but a few days - or sometimes hours to read a book, it takes an author a year or several to produce the next one.  That is why it is always good to have a list of favourites to whom to turn for the next good read.
I became aware of Joanna Cannon first by being attracted to her title The Trouble with Goats and SheepThe review in the Guardian newspaper pushed me to acquiring it, and was delighted as a result.  Here is an explanation from Joanna Cannon herself of how the story came about.
I very much enjoyed the effortless way I as a reader was taken there to become part of that community, a child, an adult, turn about, understanding with humour and also pursuing the mystery.
So I was delighted to read the review of Three Things About Elsie.  And again I very much enjoyed reading the book.  Two friends since childhood once more, but now set in a care home at the end of life.  Another mystery, and once more we are swept into the lives of the community with humour and understanding - and with a real curiosity to solve the mystery.
Imitator of David Teniers the Younger: An Old Woman Reading (image from here)
Now I shall just have to fill in the gap until Joanna Cannon's next book is published.   No problem there - indeed, how lucky that there are so many good books to be read.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Great quote

Said by the film maker Agnès Varda, but relevant for all art: “Art should ring a bell in your own life. You should get involved. I don’t want people to say it’s great, I want people to say: ‘It is for me.’”  Both quote and photo above from here.

Monday, September 17, 2018

My current reading

Vuillard: Woman Reading in the Reeds, Saint-Jacut-de-la-mer (image from here)

I'm only reading one book at present: Wilding by Isabella Tree, a memoir of how her family have been turning their farm back to a lost landscape.  There is an excellent film here where she explains what has been happening over the years, and the extraordinary successes.
I find it a fascinating read about what has been done to nature over the recent decades.  There are reviews here, and here.  Humans seem to have reached a point of decision about how we go forward with how we live together on our planet.  It is not easy, but it is good that there are books such as this one which help to inform us.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Decisive workshop

I thought that it might be interesting to describe what helped me to make a big decision about how I shall take my work forward.  It also was a vital ingredient in forming my criteria for downsizing stuff.
In January I attended a fascinating workshop given by Debbie Lyddon which I wrote about here.  Given that I turned 70 this year I had already determined that I wanted to focus my making.  I have a great admiration for DL's work, and with my ongoing wondering about 3D, a workshop within a half hour drive of home was too good to miss.
I learned a lot over the two days, and even though DL was talking about 3D textiles she also was happy to talk about her textile collages.  Indeed, I realised that her workshop on the collages was what I would have preferred, had it been on offer.  
Rather than just going with the flow of the new techniques I was learning - as I usually do on a workshop - I was curious this time to see if I could make a final piece which looked as if it had been made by me.  Previous 3D workshops have seen me come away with examples of techniques which bear no relation to what I do day to day.  This had meant that 3D remained a tantalising 'what if, perhaps ...' not generating any ideas.  This time I wanted to be more personally rigorous, taking all the 3D thinking I had been swilling around over the years along with the new techniques.
I was quite pleased with myself that I managed to put together a little maquette which used what might be called signature elements from my work while also carrying some meaning for me.  (I had been thinking about the refugees in the Mediterranean.)  I came away with some 2D waxing/stiffening techniques too.

But, ... a lot of thoughts developed after the workshop was over.

The satisfaction which came with the maquette was for having come up with something in the workshop.  I was not satisfied with the idea, nor did I feel a deep impulse to refine it, make it into a complete work.  I decided that I do not want to play around with experimentation for the sake of itself.  Fundamentally, what is important is that I want to improve the work that I am doing now where ideas build on themselves.  From time to time when strong ideas drive me to do something different I will perhaps pursue them, as I did with Acrobats electric (below).
Rather than exploring techniques in 3D in order to find ideas for work, I want to build on the ideas I already generate and develop any necessary additional techniques to make them into complete pieces.
Given that I want to downsize stuff in general, that decision about my work helped me to cut out all extra stuff which was/is in my cupboards just in case it might be useful.  And I have not at all regretted that decision.  A really positive feeling has ensued.  I shall hang on to the little maquette because it means more to me than just technique, but I have already disposed of the part-made komodo dragon and the papier mache mythical beastess that I made in previous workshops.

Friday, September 14, 2018


Edward Hopper: Office at night (image from here)
I get a deal of satisfaction from filing.  It is not the most exciting  job, but it's a great feeling having it all done.  In my days as a temp, as a secretary in publishing, and then all through my subsequent career, I took pride in keeping the filing up to date (or making sure my own secretary did!).
The most recent aspect of The Great Sorting has involved a contemporary kind of filing.  I have been going through all my printmaking efforts to try to cut down the amount of space taken by all those sheets of paper.  I have digitised it, then bitten the bullet and put everything that I would not be happy framing - in other words the overwhelming majority - into the recycling.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

The positives of restraint

I am in the middle of a great downsize of stuff - for several reasons.  The main one is that I hope that we can move house in the not too distant future, to a smaller more manageable dwelling; but also because even if we stay here, I dislike not being able to find what I want because there are too many places to look, as well as too much stuff in those places.
The sifting is a slow and sometimes painful process: the most difficult question being will I ever want to use this?  In so many cases there is no satisfactory answer, so I have to devise further questions, such as could I easily purchase it again, perhaps in a more up-to-date/otherwise appropriate version if I do need it?
Sentimentality is a stumbling block to downsizing - or it can be.  Having saved when impecunious to buy something like a loom, or a press which is no longer used, it is still so difficult to let that go.  On the other hand out there it is highly likely that another enthusiastic young person is saving like mad to acquire just such a press or loom in order to work. 
Luckily, since I settled on making the way I do, I have been able to dispense with any temptation to acquire more stuff which is yummy, but not anything I am likely to incorporate now or later into my work.  I still admire the yumminess of stuff, but am thankful that the natural restraint of reason means that I have no desire to reach out my hand.
Chaos control
The restraint of space is also helpful in sifting what means most. Having seen that it is possible for me to make work with elements kept from previous creative activity - such as screen prints made during my attendance at the Textile Master Class at Abingdon in the late 1990s and the knitwear I had made in the mid '90s, then felted, used to make Chaos control recently, I do not want to dispose of all that kind of past accumulation.  
Deciding how much of previous creative work to keep can be made simpler by providing a definite space in which to hold it.  I have four* open mesh storage drawer sets from IKEA (in a manifestation similar to but in a previous incarnation to the one pictured below), and I am restraining myself to keeping fabrics etc. in them.
(*Two of the sets work as pillars supporting a table top which I use for my sewing machine.)
I still have decision difficulties, but I find it an effective discipline.  And in general I find that I come to better, more satisfying solutions when I have some kind of restraint.  I suppose it to be rather like writing poetry: the meaning, the emotions, the appropriateness has to be distilled into the most elegant solution.  Or that is the ambition, at least, and whether it is any good, of course is a whole other matter.
I was inspired to make Chaos control by this great downsize exercise that seems to be taking so long, with piles of ensuing stuff mid-sort.  My workrooms are indeed now to be found in waves of seeming chaos which is under some, not necessarily obvious, control.  What is essential during all this I have found is to have a small corner which is free of any kind of sorting, where I can sit and stitch, read, or just catch my breath while I think about the next area to be tackled.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Brilliant book

(The front cover and interior illustrations are by Fabulous Cat Papers)
Today I spent the whole day reading Handywoman by Kate Davies.  I found it as compulsive as any well crafted whodunnit novel - more so indeed because it is so many books combined.  It is biography, a harrowing account of how she learned how to work half of her body, and how to appreciate living with the continuing results, a glimpse of her academic work on how the domestic and the intellectual need not be seen as mutually exclusive, ... it explores the importance of knitting *, and the development of her online business, ....
I came across Kate Davies' original blog Needled at at time when I needed support with being my mother's sole carer just before and after her stroke.  Davies' positive outlook in the blog was a great encouragement to me, and my mother enjoyed hearing about the exploits - despite her own depression and negativity.  Captivated, I have continued to follow the new blog, and through it have also come to think about perhaps moving back to Scotland.

*The thoughts on knitting can indeed be applied to any hand work.