From the Bower: patterns of collecting, with Deborah Klein, Loris Button, Carole Wilson and myself, has travelled to the Art Gallery of Ballarat, opening on Saturday 29th July and running until 17th September 2017. The opening was well attended with a thoughtful and illuminating speech by Jason Smith, Director of the Geelong Art Gallery. The show is beautifully curated by Brenda Wellman and installed over 4 days with her fabulous team (and our assistance). We held a forum on Saturday 12th August with 60 or so people in attendance and I ran my "reclaim, recycle, remake" workshop with 14 participants on the Sunday. The show is being very well received and we are all very happy with the final iteration of our show, which was two years in development before it's first exhibition in March at Warrnambool Art Gallery. Below are a selection of lovely installation photos by Tim Gresham.
After many months on hiatus, after many months of on and off work, Frida has finally re-emerged in order for me to tackle the difficult problem of how to mount the work for framing! As this is the first portrait work I've made in delicate, antique lace, and she was constructed on tulle suspended and stretched taut on the studio wall, there was an etherealness, which disappeared when I lay her on the mount board! The dark tones in the face became far too strong and I was struck with fear that the work may never be resolved. Below are some photos of the first stage of the process, which has been even more labour intensive than usual - requiring three layers of museum foam-core. The work was rolled around card with tissue paper, then transferred to a stronger layer of tulle on the wall. After pinning was complete the mount boards were delivered to my studio and prepared....areas of flesh were removed from the middle layer to allow light to penetrate the delicate lace which creates the face. It has been painstaking work, but also exciting, to be creating a unique process for the unique materiality of my practice - embroidery and lace discarded, disinherited, rescued and remade. In another journal post I will show the pinning to mount-board process and the final result, so I hope you will stay tuned!
This is an ongoing installation work, which seeks to use a large portion of the embroidered flowers in my 'stockpile' of domestic linens - doilies, tea and tray-cloths, tablecloths etc. I began working on these in November 2016, using embroidery hoops (bought in Malaysia in 2008). I was preparing to give a workshop to a group of older crafters and because I enjoyed the simplicity of working within the limited format of the hoop and working with one colour, or from one piece of domestic table linen, I decided to transfer each one from the hoop to a large 300 x 185cm length of tulle on my studio wall. The idea is to create a large wall of flora, or a 'wall garden'. As with my work of 2015 Feint Heart, I want the viewer to feel a sense of being overwhelmed by the labour, the love and the beauty of every day needlework - when taken out of its functional setting and presented on masse in this way. The photos below show the work in progress, both on the hoops and growing on the wall.
This joint exhibition with Loris Button, Deborah Klein, myself and Carole Wilson is now on show at the Warrnambool Art Gallery until 12 June 2017. It then travels to Ballarat Art Gallery from 29th July - 17th September 2017. Two years in the planning, it took three full days and eight 8 people to install the many artworks and hundreds of objects. 'The artists are linked by their studio practice, their appreciation of textiles and traditional sewing crafts, their regional locations and connections, and their love of gleaning. Their studio collections range from domestic textiles and sewing paraphernalia, curiosities, natural history specimens, memorabilia, discarded books and china, carpet and linoleum, and old tools of trade. In this exhibition a portion of each artist’s studio collection is gathered, in an engaging and dynamic installation, alongside works by the artists which respond directly and/or relate to, their greater collection objects. The exhibition draws the individual artists together into one large ‘bower’ and creates a space in which the private becomes public. It allows the viewer to reflect upon the process of collecting, gathering and making.' Dr Carole Wilson.
Below are some photos taken during installation.
In June 2016 I began a new body of work that was experimental and has in many ways proved quite challenging - as I'm working with portraiture for the first time. I've worked with flesh before, in both Desnuda y Flores (after Diego Rivera) and Partum Floralia (Flora - after Giuseppe Arcimboldo) but not actual faces. The idea is in part inspired by the concept of the "Lover's Eye" miniature portraiture in jewellery (which began in the Georgian period) and also; by wanting to acknowledge the artists who have meant a lot to me, during my own artistic journey. I began the body of work with reinterpretation of an exquisite drawing of and by Frida Kahlo (who I first discovered when finishing my arts degree at RMIT in the early 1990's). And other fabulous artists such as Max Beckman (who was the first artist to speak to me when I was a young art student at Canberra School of Art in 1981). Below are some photos of this first of this series in progress, which you'll see I have cropped elliptically to reference a "lover's eye" painting.
For my next body of work exploring portraiture - both literally and in creating a portrait of the medium - I'm playing with 3D forms. These works will compliment the more complex, time-consuming relief works. I've acquired several canvas milliner's hat blocks, which are roughly head shaped and have begun embellishing them with vintage needlework and beadwork. They are filled with a straw substance, or foam and so are easy to pin in to (the black on black piece is a velour and foam shop-display head). Below are some photos of the heads in progress - none are finished, and I'm finding they are all playfully fun to work with. And, I hope they will bring to mind such artists as Louise Bourgeois, Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Ah Xian.
In addition to my "lover's lips" work after Johannes Vermeer is a new work in progress - the first actual "lover's eye". (Inspired by the Georgian jewellery tradition of "lover's eye" miniatures, which are believed to have originated when George IV commissioned a painted miniature of his own eye for a woman he admired). The work in progress shown here is also inspired by Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring". The elliptical format references the brooch format of much jewellery, including 'lover's eyes'.
Another artist residency is under way at Caritas Christi hospice in Kew, for the St Vincent's Hospital Residency Program 20th Anniversary year. I am using my time in the 'cloistered' room with spectacular views over the Studley parklands, to work on a project that has been in the wings for several years now - The Linen Project. Over the decade I've been collecting, extracting and reconstructing domestic needlework, I've also accumulated a stockpile of leftover linens. The quality of vintage and antique linens is beautiful to touch and to see and that kind of linen, which was once an everyday object, is now rare and very expensive. Many of the leftover doileys, teaclothes, tray and tablecloths etc have a unique negative space, which mimics the embroidered motif that it once held. Others have more random negative shapes from less-painstaking extraction. These shapes are being infilled, by stitching with a vintage sewing machine, another layer of linen - "unfinished business" from either embroidery that was partially started but never completed, or linens with only the embroidery transfer. See photos below. The Linen Project will, hopefully, result in an immersive installation in which the viewer is surrounded by and, in some way feels held by, the protective and comforting materiality of linen. The Linen Project will be a homage to my mother, her mother and all the mothers, who have made and used domestic linens to care for their families. It also acknowledges the intrinsic role of linens in the healing and care of patients in the hospital setting.
Another aspect of the portraiture work, will be a series of "lover's eyes" and "lover's lips". Inspired by the Georgian jewellery tradition of eye miniatures (which are believed to have originated when George IV sent a woman he admired a token of his love, in the form of a painted miniature of his own eye. This was done to preserve his anonymity at Court). The work in progress shown here, is a set of luscious lips - inspired by Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring". Vermeer gave the girl peach coloured lips, but I have chosen to make my reinterpretation much bolder, by using a stunningly large silk embroidered chrysanthemum, which once belonged to a piano shawl and was gifted to my collection by the US artist Erin Endicott. The elliptical format references the brooch format of many 'lover's eye' miniatures. (you can see two other works I have on the go - on the right a new "lover's eye" and on the left, Max Beckman with Saxaphone).
Further to my post on portraiture and my work on the Kahlo reinterpretation, I've begun another, and this time I'm honouring Max Beckman. This new work follows the elliptical format of Frida, taking only a section of the original painting to reinterpret in reclaimed textiles. Max Beckman was one of my first inspirations and influences as a young art student in the early 1980's. I was painting still-lives and one of my lecturers asked if I knew Beckman's work - which I didn't, but soon found a large monograph in the art school library. I was particularly drawn to his portraits, both of himself and other people and the Self Portrait with Saxophone of 1930 was and remains my favourites. I've always loved the contrast between Beckman's dark brooding masculinity and his choice to paint himself wearing a satin dressing gown (or smoking jacket) and pink pyjamas (or is it a leotard?). And now, all these years later I have finally found the space to honour this work by reinterpreting it in beautiful vintage silks and velvets, as well as some needlework. An equally important purpose of this body of work is to create a portrait of the needlework itself. Below are a few photos of the work in progress in my studio, with more to come.
In 2014 I created a pair of Snowy owls, "Bubo & Snow 2014 after Edward Lear 1832" for an exhibition which represented new approaches to textiles in art, at Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge, Boston USA. This year "Lucy & John 2014" (the Audubon silhouettes) travelled to Boston for a Directors choice exhibition, "Superlatives" at Mobilia, and I was also invited to submit a work for a another group exhibition, "Intoxicating Textiles" in June 2016. The work, titled "Sky Jewels 2016 after John James Audubon 1833", reinterprets three of Audubon's hummingbird paintings from the 1830's. The title directly references Audubon's saying that "hummingbirds are jewels of the sky". Photos below show development of two of the hummingbirds and the final arrangement - photo by Gavin Hansford. Also exhibition banner is designed by Mobilia Gallery.
Below are photos from my recent exhibition WILD at Gould Galleries in South Yarra, Melbourne. I was very happy with how this mixed show, of sculptural, installation and framed pieces worked, within the main downstairs gallery, with its combination of dark pink, charcoal grey and white walls. Photos are by Gavin Hansford.
In 2009 I made a work titled Weep, which was the most ambitious of my works in reclaimed textiles at that time. I've embarked on a new work, which will be the same scale as Weep (approximately 180 x 180cm) and also suspended on a swathe of translucent bridal tulle. It will be the largest work in reclaimed needlework in six years. This piece, Feint Heart plays with the idea to "be not of faint heart", as needlework has never been for the faint-hearted and, it is after Adrian Feint's 1944 painting "Happy Landing" (collection of The Art Gallery of South Australia). Feint was a Sydney painter and graphic designer whose cornucopias of Australian and exotic flora are my favourites. He often set the floral arrangements of his paintings in highly decorative porcelain vases with theatrical backdrops. The piece I have chosen to reinterpret in needlework, is a hovering clam shell filled with an abundance of flora. My goal is to create a work which is both a celebration of flora created in the medium of domestic needlework and a homage to Feint's crazily beautiful, surrealist inspired yet little known, cornucopia works. I thank my gallery director, Rob Gould for bringing to my attention the wonderful world of Adrian Feint.
In 2012 I created one of my first experimental 3-dimensional works - using miliner's straw from a deconstructed "lady's hat" to create a nest-like form, which I covered in reclaimed Blue Willow pattern embroidery. I made this work for an exhibition "Feather your Nest" at a gorgeous little shop/gallery in Brunswick called Gleaners Inc. In 2013 I worked with Philip Stokes Studio Glass (then in Richmond, now in NZ) to create glass domes for the nests to reside in. Philip and Scott created two beautiful hand-blown glass domes which we referred to as "pods". As their shapes mimicked the shape of the nests, 'pod' inferred that the textile objects were coming to life within the glass object, rather than simply being protected from the dust outside. For WILD I have gone on to reconstruct each of the 'nests' and to commission one more pod from PSSG, which lays on its side and holds, not a nest but rather, a bed of discarded silk fringing and a number of porcelain flowers. This pod has become Memory Terrarium lying on an antique French doily, from which the embroidery has been partially extracted, upon a velvet cushion. The lush German cotton velvet in a deep shade of bottle green was transformed into a cushion by my friend and artist, Jo Ludbrook of Exotic Cushions. Memory Terrarium is quite funereal, evocative of a coffin cushion. I find it appropriate, as so much of the material I work with, whether textile, paper or ceramics represents the lives of people who are no longer with us. Photos show the development of the work and the glass pods being made at PSSG. Photos by Louise Saxton & Gavin Hansford.
In July I embarked on reinterpreting a detail from Giuseppe Arcimboldo's c.1590 painting of Flora Meretrix - the goddess of abundance, fertility and sensuality. Titled Partum Floralia (a portion of Flora) this will be the smallest work in the exhibition WILD, at only 62 x 62cm and, my second attempt at reinterpreting painted flesh. This work has proved to be quite gruelling, partly as it's a small work and therefore the detail is even harder to attain. "Textile surgery" I call this part of my practice -pinning, unpining and repining!…but I'm almost there, just finishing the mounting stages now. In 2010 I walked the length of the Louvre in Paris hoping to stand in front of an original Arcimboldo, only to find, disappointingly, that every one of his paintings in their collection were on loan to Madrid! I was however fortunate to have some studio assistance for the first time this year, when Emma, who was on work experience from a local High School helped create 75 (out of more than 200) raised and crystal-beaded flowers, which make up Flora's 'fur' collar!
'Desnuda y Flores (Nude and flowers) after Diego Rivera', which is taking shape on my studio wall, pays homage to my time spent in Mexico on residency in August 2014. It is also my homage to Frida Kahlo, who I see in the nude of Diego's painting "Desnudos con Alcatreces"/ Nude with Calla Lilies, which he painted in 1944 during a break from his major mural commissions. One of a series of 'cornucopia' works for my next solo exhibition with Gould Galleries in 2015, it includes the spectacular Tehuantapec embroidered flowers I purchased in Mexico. I was not able to travel to the Tehuantapec Isthmus in the State of Oaxaca, but I was able to purchase some of their unique embroidery from an Artisan Gallery, Del Corazon de la Tierra, in Guadalajara. I also commissioned several silk flowers (including the Bird of Paradise buds on her left shoulder) from Lopita's Hand Embroidery in Ajijic. The nude is constructed from antique lace doilies which I purchased at a flea market in New York City and I've given her a 'tattoo', of an exquisite cross-stitched rose, found in a consignment store in Boston. The contrast between the delicate translucent lace and the strong vibrant colours of the Mexican embroidery adds to the work's beauty I feel. Photos: Diego Rivera's painting, my reinterpretation, in progress and the final work photographed by Gavin Hansford.
I recently had the unexpected pleasure of hosting a work experience student from my local high school in the studio for five days. As an arts student Emma was interested in working in a creative industry and because of my past connections with the school, she was put in touch with me. I devised a program which would hopefully be interesting and fun for her (and also for me). This involved assisting me in studio 'production' and some time on her own work. We also spent a day at the National Gallery and at other exhibitions in the city and a day op-shopping for art materials. Below are photos of Emma working in the studio (cutting, extracting and assembling) and contemplating the beautiful large scale watercolour drawings by John Wolseley at the NGV and photographs by Anne Zahalka at Arc One Gallery. (Emma helped me make 75 of the 250 or more backed and crystal-beaded white flowers for Partum Floralia after Arcimboldo c.1590.)
After returning from Mexico in late 2014 I came across several strange, but wonderful porcelain flowers in the window of a local op-shop. As my current body of work (in progress for my next solo exhibition) focuses largely on flora, these cast-off objects triggered my imagination - a garden in three dimensions could make an interesting addition to my relief works in reclaimed needlework and paper and a development of my newly discovered sculptural practice. I see a strong connection to the needlework I use, in that these ceramic objects have also been discarded, even disinherited. They are no longer in vogue or seen as useful - they no longer have the cultural currency they once did. Like doilies and table linens, the decorative porcelain (and some Lucite) objects once adorned the dressing tables and other furniture of people's homes, reminding them of the garden beyond. Some were also made to rest on the gravestones of loved ones. This new collection and body of work-in-progress, also represents the beginning of my new 'treasure-hunt' in the op-shops, markets and garage sales. Below is a taste of the growing collection, installed temporarily on one of my studio work tables and the final arrangement, (which in the end was inspired by an earlier relief work, the Heart Garden) which has gone on to take up residence in its very own custom made 'heart plinth'.
In researching Dutch still lives I came across some wonderful Vanitas painted in the early 1700's by Herman Henstenburgh (1667-1726). He painted in watercolour on velum which gives the flowers surrounding the strangely smiling skull, a wonderful luminosity. (See first photo below, provenance unknown). My reinterpretation of the Vanitas, in reclaimed needlework, is the first in a series of 'cornucopia' works planned for my next solo exhibition with Gould Galleries in 2015. On a recent trip to my mother's home in regional Victoria, I found some exquisite needlework including Chinese silk embroidered birds with tree and sunset and cross-stitched hummingbirds with honeysuckle. These are being incorporated, along with other pieces from my collection, into the floral arrangement adorning the skull. On my return to the studio I backed the fragile pieces with Vlisofix and silk to stabilise them for extraction. They were initially pinned directly to the wall of my studio while I worked out their arrangement. The first in the series reminded me of the floral bathing caps my mother's generation wore to keep their hair dry whilst swimming, hense my working title, 'The Bather 2014'. My original plan was to model the skull in lace, to more closely reinterpret Henstenburgh's painting, but further work on the piece has resulted in the flora defining the skull as an outline only. There is a sense that the flora is creating the drawing and I like the reference the 'drawing' has to tattoo imagery. I have also begun two other Vanitas pieces - one filled with birds and flowers Vanitas #2 - The Twitcher and the other filled with motifs referencing childhood and children's stories, Vanitas #3 - The Storyteller (in progress). Footnote: I'm very pleased that Vanitas #1 has been published in Portugal, even before it's been exhibited. An online Music Magazine "Satelite" contacted me for an image to accompany their article on Vanitas and their publishing an image by Henstenburgh.