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.
'Magnolia georgiana 2014 - after Georg Dionysius Ehret 1743' is almost complete, after work was delayed by a wonderful sojourn in Mexico. In March I began reinterpreting the magnificent Magnolia grandiflora first painted in 1743 by Ehret (1708-70) which, continues my well worn relief/assemblage technique, but uses a cropped image to fill the whole picture plane. I'm also using whole flower and other motifs to build the image, rather than always dissecting them into tiny fragments as I have done previously and vintage velvet to build the leaves. The cropped nature of the work is a reference to Georgia O'Keefe. Photos below show the development of the work and in the top left corner I have embedded several letters within the white/greys - "G" for Georg and Georgia ; "D" for Dionysius and an "L". They were embroidered on scraps of linen sent to me from France. Just before as I was completing the painstaking task of mounting the work, I was thrilled to find an "E" for Ehret. It had been embroidered on a handkerchief belonging to my grandmother Edna, which several years ago had been tucked away in my sewing basket at home. Last week my Magnolia was photographed by Gavin Hansford, my photographer of thirteen years and today, 'she' returned home from the framer! It's worth the struggle (and pain) to have a work that takes so long to make, at home with me for a short while before it goes out into the world.
Work has finally recommenced on my assemblage of the delicate wild flower drawings of Adam Forster (1850-1928) into their new form - based roughly on a Rock lily (Dendrobium speciosum) painted in 1887 by Ellis Rowan (1848-1922) and held in the National Library of Australia. This orchid, with its main pendulous flower made up of hundreds of smaller orchids, suits my desire to assemble the entire 250 illustrations of Australian wild flowers, which Forster painted for Thistle Y Harris' book "Wild Flowers of Australia", into one large floriforous form. As with my needlework assemblages, this new work on paper is painstaking - in the extraction of the drawings; the arrangement of the individual flowers within the larger form and; pinning them into the archival backing. The photos below show some of this process, along with Ellis Rowan's dendrobium speciosum © NLA; and Thistle Y Harris' "Wild flowers of Australia". My working title was; "The field-botanist's lily" (in homage to Forster and Rowan, both intrepid field-botanists - flower hunters and artists) but I've now settled on "Adam's dendrobium". This is my first foray into reclaimed book illustrations, but as with the embroidered flora of doilies and table cloths, there is a striking resonance in their decorative arrangements and their now redundant everyday purpose.
How can I begin to describe the wonderful artist residency I recently completed in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico? My time, as one of three international artists, at the 360 Xochi Quetzal summer residency program, hosted by fiber/installation artist Deborah Kruger, was simply magical - enriching, stimulating and fun. Located on the shores of Lake Chapala, the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, Chapala was my home for one month in August this year. A perfectly appointed casita, perched on the third floor with views of the mountain range, the lake and the Red Cross clinic, was truly a home-away-from-home and also my studio. The purpose of me applying for a residency in Mexico was to experience a culture which still has a living tradition of embroidery, but finding vintage embroidery in Chapala proved more difficult than I anticipated. A lot of needlework found locally is made solely for the commercial/ tourist market - blouses, dresses, table runners, pillow covers etc. Fortunately I met some very generous people, both connected to the residency or in chance meetings, who were able to direct me to artisan pueblos, shops and galleries where I found some exquisite pieces. I was also fortunate to meet an embroiderer who I commissioned to make several Mexican flowers in silk. The residency afforded me time to relax, explore, experiment and enjoy life "without the stress and distractions of daily life" - although there were many distractions which took me out of the studio and into the streets of this wonderful, and very alive, pueblo!
These new works will be on show at Red Gallery in Nth Fitzroy, Melbourne opening on 24th September 2014. Silhouette, is curated by Julie Bradley from Canberra ACT and will include 10 other Canberra based or Melbourne based, ex-Canberra artists. My works for Silhouette "The Audubon Suite #s 1 & 2", respond to the intrinsic relationship between John and Lucy Audubon (The Birds of America, from which I created three works for my Sanctuary collection) and represents more broadly, my concern in acknowledging the unknown, anonymous and unheralded in the creation of art. The silhouettes in the Audubon Suite #1 were first cut by Thomas Edwards in 1825 for John and Lucy. Once again, thanks to my photographer, Gavin Hansford. Invitation design is by Dianna Wells Design. (Dianna Wells is also an artist included in the exhibition)
Earlier this year I was invited by Mobilia Gallery in Boston USA, to make a work for their exhibition 'The New Textiles', which will open in October. The gallery requested a bird and even though my Sanctuary Collection has come to it's natural conclusion here in Australia, this opportunity allowed me to make one more - pair of birds. I had always hoped to reinterpret an historical painting of an owl, either by Audubon or Lear, and now I have been given the opportunity. In the 1830's Edward Lear painted an exquisite pair of Snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus) for John Gould, which I embarked upon reinterpreting in reclaimed needlework, precariously pinned to tulle. As with many natural history paintings, I am drawn to the decorative way in which the artist arranged his birds and in this painting Lear nestles the female (or younger) owl closely behind the male, which creates a very intimate portrait. I am not trying to be exact in 'copying' Lear's birds but rather create a new work after Lear, which allows the unique materials of antique and vintage needlework a new life. I have given the owl facing the viewer a quizzical look, more reminiscent of Lear's poem, than his painting. I had the great privilege of delivering the work in person to the incredible team at Mobilia Gallery in Boston, just last week. The photos below show; Lear's original painting, my development of the work and the final work, photo by Gavin Hansford. The ad was designed by Emily Mele at Mobilia, for the current, Fall issue of Fiber Arts Now, USA.
I am thrilled to have been awarded a month long artist residency in Mexico in August this year. I am one of 8 artists selected out of 180 applicants from around the world for a residency in the idyllic central Mexican location - "The 360 XOCHI QUETZAL Artist and Writer's Residency Program is located in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico on the shores of the largest lake in the country where the perfect year-round climate and stunning Lake Chapala and mountain views have long established the region as an international artist mecca." The aim of the residency "… is to support artists, writers and musicians who would benefit from having uninterrupted time to devote to their creativity….and make artistic progress without the stress and distractions of daily life." This unique opportunity is courtesy of the generous patronage of North American artist Deborah Kruger and the Juror for the summer visual arts residency was Jeannine Falino, Museum of Art & Design, New York City. (Images below are from the residency website: Deborah Kruger - Fiber & encaustic Artist / Xochi quetzal Art Residency in Mexico).
I was happy to discover that the beautiful Heide Museum of Modern Art, where I exhibited 'Sanctuary' in 2012 have included me on their "Heide Story" page on their website, as one of the emerging artists to have shown in the Project Gallery since 1996. This is a great honour to be named as part of the rich tapestry that is the Heide story!
My Sturt's desert pea (Swainsona formosa - previously Clianthus damperi) after Marrianne Collinson Campbell's painting of the late 1800's has been accepted into the 38th Alice Prize, exhibited at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs in May - June 2014. The very exciting news, that my work is one of 66 selected out of 490 entries, was received tonight. It will be a wonderful opportunity to visit the centre of Australia for the first time in May. Photos below show my journal, reclaimed embroidery with Marrianne's Sturt's desert pea, in the National Library of Australia publication "Women of Flowers" (the NLA hold many of her original paintings and her journal); framed and ready to be freighted to the desert, from whence she comes; and on the studio wall at Caritas Christi Artist in Residence studio (2013-14) with another work reinterpreting a 19th century painting of a King parrot by John Hunter (also in the NLA collection). "...we saw that beautiful flower the Clianthus formosa [sic] in splendid blossom on the plains. It was growing amid barrenness and decay, but its long runners were covered with flowers that gave a crimson tint to the ground." (From Charles Sturt's journal, Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia).
In November I won the 2013 Yering Station Sculpture Award for my work 'Let the Jungle In', but my studio practice since then has been focused on completing several large, shallow-relief assemblages which are very painstaking. I am only now beginning to have the time to play with further three dimensional work and 'Deep Water / hanging garden', is one such experiment. It is constructed from the sleeves of a vintage silk velvet evening jacket (c.1950's) that belonged to a family member and a fragile silk shawl (c.1920's) which was donated to my collection recently. Below are some photos showing the work's development. I hope it will eventually hang from the ceiling, so that it rotates gently and can be seen in complete 3-dimensions, but for the time being it is shown as a wall-work.
'John and George 2013 - after John Hunter 1789' was sold by Gould Galleries yesterday - the same day I delivered it to the gallery. My Sanctuary collection, which began with Queen Billie in 2010 for Sanctuary at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2012, and further developed as Sanctuary Too at Gould Galleries in 2013, is now complete - with the reinterpretation of Captain/Governor John Hunter's King parrot, painted in 1789. Hunter copied the bird from another first fleet artist, the more proficient George Raper, whose Emu I have also reinterpreted in reclaimed needlework. Below is a shot of the work installed in Rob Gould's upstairs gallery yesterday, in its beautiful frame built by the team at Chapman and Bailey; in the studio with the original image in the NLA book 'A Brush with Birds' by Penny Olsen; a detail of the hand of King George making his offering and; Hunter & Raper's original paintings - held in the National Library of Australia; final photos by Gavin Hansford. Also a photo by Michael Clayton-Jones to accompany an article by Louise Bellamy in The Age 1st January 2014.
I'm not sure if this is a “Manton de Manila” but it was gifted to me just last week by a friend of a friend. It belonged to her mother-in-law and while it is very old and the silk is damaged, the embroidery is still in tact and she couldn't bear to throw it away - and so now it is mine, thank you Gayle! The very long fringe is an exciting part for me, as I can visualise it being incorporated into a new sculptural work. The “Manton de Manila” has a fascinating history which I discovered through waiyyukkennedy's blog, where she writes about an exquisite shawl in the collection of the V & A (see interspersed with my rather grainy photos below). "The shawls were made in South China but the name comes from the port of Manila in the Philippines. The Philippines became a Spanish colony in 1565 and was part of New Spain, administered from Mexico. This meant that Asian goods for the Spanish market were shipped on “Manila Galleons” to the west coast of Mexico, then transported overland to the port of Veracruz for shipment to Spain."
The Melbourne heatwave has struck and so the studio sits... awaiting my return. The light-filled, once domestic space is situated above a shop in the high street with an enclosed verandah facing north - a perfect spot in winter, but very uncomfortable in the height of summer. Below are photos of the work space, filled with my collection of needlework made by the hands of anonymous others, along with other related paraphernalia both collected and gifted. On the table lies a current work on paper, still in the planning stage - extracted reproductions of exquisite botanical drawings by the late Adam Forster (1850-1928). Interspersed are close ups of my studio inspiration table - an antique Vietnamese silk bird collected in France with a Sydney Harbour Bridge doily bought in a local 2nd hand shop; two of my treasured natural history books; an Australiana koala doily with an antique lace hankie from Paris and the remains of an antique silk dragon from China.
A human heart motif has become a garden filled with the exquisite hand-work of many anonymous makers and also some belonging to family members of friends and acquaintances - I thank them all for their contributions! Photos below show the work in the studio being pinned onto its backing (this allows the work to sit slightly off the final framing mount, creating a slight shadow); a detail of the exquisite needlework; the negative form left in the foam-core once the heart motif has been removed; then to the archival mount-board; and finally the 'Heart Garden' 2013 ready for framing.
I feel very fortunate that this new year's day began for me, with the publication of a fabulous centre-page article in the Arts pages of The Age newspaper. Journalist Louise Bellamy and photographer Michael Clayton-Jones both visited me in the studio recently, Louise having seen my work in Sanctuary at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2012 and again in Sanctuary too at Gould Galleries in 2013. I appreciate her continued interest in the work and in pursuing publication of the article. Michael's unique approach to the medium of needlework, the artwork and my portrait come together beautifully in his photograph. You can read the full article in PDF in my Media page.
In late 2013 I began extracting 250 reproductions of the exquisite botanical drawings by Adam Forster (1850 - 1928) from the once popular, “Wildflowers of Australia” by Thistle Y Harris. Foster was, like our other intrepid “flower-hunter” Ellis Rowan, a field-botanist who risked life and limb to find and paint his beloved wildflowers. The two copies of Thistle Harris' book required to extract the complete set of drawings (1956 and 1966 editions) were found in a second-hand bookshop near my studio. In these drawings, I see the same beauty and decorative arrangements as in the needlework I have been reconstructing for almost a decade. Once all the drawings have been extracted using embroidery scissors, they will be combined to create one or more large flora works-on-paper.
I am one of six artists-in-residence at Caritas Christi, the Palliative Care arm of St Vincent's Hospital, since May this year. In return for having a year long studio at Caritas the artists donate a work to the Hospital's art collection. The various art programs and the art collection are part of what is known as the "Mission of St Vincent" - also referred to as the "Mission to the Heart". In response to this idea I wanted to create a 'Heart Garden' as my donated art work and began work a few months ago. When I shared this idea with the Hospital's art curator Monique Silk, she suggested it might be appropriate for the work to be installed in the newly opened St Vincent's Cardiac Centre. The work will be framed in the New Year and installed on permanent display at the 'Heart Centre', in one of the fully restored Art Deco buildings on Victoria Parade in Fitzroy. The work is also something I've wanted to make since my exhibition, Sanctuary at Heide MOMA, in response to Sunday Reed's 'heart garden'. Now, the circle is complete - a human heart motif has become a garden filled with the exquisite hand-work of many anonymous makers and also some belonging to family members of friends and acquaintances - I thank them all for their contributions!
Earlier in the year I received a 2 kilo parcel of exquisite vintage embroidery and some antique lace, from a friend's mother in France who saw my work on her last visit to Australia. Several months later I received another parcel, of vintage lace trims, mostly made by hand, this time from the mother of my sister's friend - also in France. Apart from their generosity, I treasure the fact that many of these items I would never be able to find here in Australia. The generosity of strangers (friends and family) never ceases to amaze me, as this week I received another unique donation - an heirloom belonging to a friend in Melbourne - a selection of her Aunty and Grandmother's needlework which came in the vintage travel case it had been stored in. Merci beaucoup!
Yesterday I visited the State Library of Victoria, especially to see the Hummingbird Cabinet of John Gould which is on loan from Museum Victoria. Containing 203 different specimens of Hummingbirds (collected between 1857-76), which form part of Gould's (then obscene) collection of more than 3,000 of these tiny, luminescent creatures.