my textile career from 1975
I recently created a series of mandalas of which this is the fourth (30 cm H X 20 cm W). Together with the last one this work is concerned with the circle and the focus. As W. B. Yeats wrote, “the centre cannot hold; the falcon cannot hear the falconner”. The circle wobbles as does the centre; the colours are loosely parallel with some variations. Altogether, the exercise was one of riotous indulgence using mostly DMC embroidery cottons, three strands per shed.
Having completed this I returned ironically to a cartoon, a self portrait I had abandoned and removed from behind the loom to start my earlier mandala. Both were like blessings; I decided to re-attach the cartoon and begin the selfie anew. I had, by now, changed my mind about aspects of the image: how much of the shirt I wanted to include around the neck and the colour of the material. It now became a dialogue of the golden cloth and a deep blue background with a silver shimmer through it.
With every portrait I’ve woven I’ve always found choosing skin tones problematic. This work was no exception. What was attractive about the prospect of the work was the diagonal alignment of the eyes and the downward position of the face, emphasising a domelike shape to the head.
At one point I exchanged the darker blue for one several shades lighter; fortuitously, this happened on the diagonal of the eyes. The left side happened earlier and the right side followed suit.
Some time later, like most of my ideas, just before I have fallen asleep, that time when the subconscious wanders freely, I pondered the possibility of adding a rainbow effect around the upper head: an acid green/yellow at eleven o’clock, blue/green at twelve, mauve at one. What was difficult about this scenario was extending its logic to the weather conditions at large of the background. Was it to be a dawn or sunset? If so should there be a blending/merging of colours to soften the effect.
Also, I was aware that just using a “halo” of colours gratuitously, out of the blue, as it were, might be interpreted as an ideological statement, as the rainbow of the LGBTIQ communities, as in my previous work, the Blond Youth with Two Rainbow Lorrikeets. I decided against this stratagem. Something about the selfie directed me along a simpler more austere path.
“An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
(Again Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium)
Scheyville/bike, 45 cms H X 35 cms W.
Post migrant camp, buttons, 1998, 1 m H X 75 cms W.
Pizza, 2002, 40 cms H X 30 cms W.
I decided to elaborate a stratagem, a proposal for entry to an event. My idea is that the artist develops their self image in the work, not just as narcissism or introspection. I felt it might be interesting to present a montage of selfies I have woven over the 35 years of my tapestry career, as a tribute to the history of self portraiture visible in Dutch art history, for instance Rembrandt. As my father was Dutch and my mother Slovenian, one of my works is a fantasy in “lederhosen” and Slovenian folk motifs.
Veenstra, Slovenian costume, 2002, 1 m H X 1 m W. All my tapestries are cotton warp, 8 per 2.5 cms; cotton, wool, linen, synthetic wefts.
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
Approx 40 cms H X W.
16 cms H X 14 cms W.
14 cms H X 10 cms W.
Drowned image, 70 cms H X 30 cms W. One of my first works, 1980?
Bus to ACT, 14 cms H X 12 cms W.
Image in a mirror, lace patterns, 30 cms Dia.
I put these six images together late last night because I decided one of the best ways of assembling an entry for a forthcoming textile event might be just such a tactic. In all good conscience the entry form query could be answered as recent because the assemblage was indeed that. While individual pieces of tapestry are woven slowly arranging them into a new pattern brings a whole new dynamic into being.
I’ve begun my blog page with a closeup, because the complete work being sexual in nature may well be removed from Facebook. Followers of my blog know where to look. antonveenstratextiles. wordpress.com. The original work begun in the 1990’s was abandoned. It was woven in my style of the moment, with long vertical slits which, as a rule, I sewed together upon completion. I no longer have the original cartoon as the abandoned fragment was stored in many places over successive place changes.
The reason I kept the fragment was that I showed it to a friend (a victim of Aids) who collected visual art and had a keen and cultivated eye. I said I was unhappy with the outstretched hand; he replied that it was brilliant, it was superbly stylised and I would not be able to create a left hand to match the right. Of course it was a challenging comment. In contemporary visual art my influences might have been Francis Bacon, Brett Whiteley or Sidney Nolan. All three of them extended and distorted their depictions of the human form.
I re-examined the abandoned work recently. Having re-interpreted a fragment for Line Dufour’s Fate Self Determination project I wondered if I might rework this piece. I had looked at Banksey’s images lately, and admired how he inverted the images in public currency (Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers), how he used street signage to score political points about our culture. I called my work, as I was weaving it, ENIGMA of a GLASS HALF FILLED. The hand was outstretched below the glass, reaching for it? Yet as the figure on the left was headless perhaps the form in front was actually its head, perhaps its consciousness, reminiscent of one of Bacon’s Three Figures. As the sexual poster on the right is even less complete the viewer must decide its purpose.
Looking at Banksey’s image making led me to set a brown brick wall behind the figures; on the street wall bright yellow punctuation marks: exclamation, three dots and question mark. Alternatively, the three dots might be interpreted as mineral water bubbles. While I was re-inventing this 1980’s work I was copying a Zurburan painting of a pewter cup with a flower on a plate in the National Gallery, London. In my work the long vertical mark in the middle of the image acts as a stem for the flower.
Enigma of a Glass Half-Filled, 1985/2018, 47.5 cms H X 83 cms W, 8 warp cotton per in; cotton, wool, synthetic wefts.
The above rock video shows a NY stock broker (“greed is good”) running for his life. He traverses a number of terrains and obstacles, but he has launched himself from a waiting room that features a large Baroque tapestry. The opening scene shows an identifying label beside the work. The tapestry shows a processional, mostly on horseback, perhaps a military triumph. You can view it here:
What interests me is that the tapestry is not used merely as a starting backdrop, like the boardroom table on which the stock broker performs “warm-up exercises”? The video returns to the tapestry, in whole or close up; the latter with its distinctively grained surface adds a unique touch, parallel to the blurred action on video.
The line: “riding on his horse” is accompanied by a close up woven image of two horses; likewise, the lines: “he’s going the distance, he’s going for speed” focus on woven action. Makes you think of a time when palace walls hung with woven tapestries provided the dominant imagery of the age. They still have that power.
Today I travelled by train to do some chores, unnecessary to detail. In the train carriage slept a homeless person who inspired palpable horror in his fellow passengers. His clothes were crusted with dirt; he slept under a white mesh blanket that you are given in hospital. He was barefoot and his toenails were long and dirty. As I neared my stop off point I dug into my wallet and took out some coins. I tapped him on the shoulder. He opened his eyes and said: “I don’t take money; I have lots of money.” I said: “you should at least get some shoes; it’s cold today”. To which he replied: “everyone keeps telling me what to do”. I shrugged and got off the train.
Admitting that I tried to give a homeless man money compares with that infamous moment in the Metallica music clip “Nothing Else Matters” where the lead singer gives money to a homeless veteran. The richest band in the world needing to advertise their momentary magnanimity?
I mention the above because I recently admired the work of a US tapestry weaver meticulously creating the image of a car as part of her woven narrative. Immediately what came to mind were Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres, Monet’s La Grande Jatte (really his only non-sentimental work) and Manet’s cabaret painting. The genre they created, alongside Picasso and Degas, reflecting the life they led in the absinthe-soaked cabarets was a new version of the tedious Victorian history painting.
Here, reality was created with an entirely new way of applying paint. The genre has been revived recently, as all powerful images are, cyclically, in a ferocious German realist/expressionist style. However, the recourse to expressionism leads to the soon to be discredited infantilism of artists like Basquiat, who assumed an autodidactic style but was actually a middle class raised American. Anyway, German expressionism, much as one might admire Kirschner and his ilk, is attractive but allows the artist to disregard precision.
Getting back to my homeless person, one wonders who is worthy of capture as a visual image? What are/should society portraits look like? Here, I must admit a conflict of interest since a wonderful art collector living in Florida, commissioned me to sew an assemblage of buttons, celebrating the forthcoming wedding of her daughter. The image is below. Should, out of a sense of moral obligation, depict homeless persons, or would that be yet another type of appropriation, laden with social imperative, an ethnic or cross gendered theft?
The work illustrated, diagonals measuring 23 cms X 19 cms, is a fragment of an abandoned, large, erotic work of a figure lounging on garden furniture. The idea consisted (left to right) of the poolside lounge, the paving and a corner of tropical garden.
This reminded me of my upbringing in central Qld (the north eastern state of Australia). My home town was Marian, inland of the coastal city of Mackay. My childhood comprised images of that Australian rock song: I recall cattle and cane. Our town was built around the sugar mill, whose owner was half Chinese, ironic since; our culture had a significant component of sino-phobia, and the mill was the town’s source of employment. The boss’ son, David, was my best friend at primary school. He had two older sisters, one of whom watching their mother bathe him newly born exclaimed: “mum, David’s got a teapot tail”.
No apologies for the erotic references contained above: Freud, after all, affirmed that eros underlay all activity; as the poet William Blake wrote, men and women both yearn for “the lineaments of gratified desire”.
The predominant vegetation of our gardens were the mango tree, mulberry, palm trees with clusters of sticky yellow fruit that we called monkey nuts, guava, custard apples, pawpaws and tamarind. The mango trees were my favourite; the fully grown trees were often four stories tall, and I climbed them, looking over the world. In Oscar Wilde’s words you could see five counties.
The garden I wove was purple and flaming red, interspersed with emerald green tropical leaves and deep blue skies; between them were flying things: birds, bees, other insects.
What fixated me about this project me was that I needed to invent a new way of securing the edges of tapestry that had been shaped, or cut away from the warps. Firstly the edges where the warps ended naturally had to be secured with a row of double half hitches; the areas where wefts had been cut loose were flattened by rows of stitches from which the work could be sewn onto its base. Ideally, each weft, (if they were long enough), should be sewn flat into the underside of the tapestry.
The next step was to take a needle and puncture a shape onto a piece of foam core, slightly smaller that the shape of the tapestry, so there was a little overlap and the tapestry need not be unduly stretched when it was sewn. The use of this punctuation reminds me of that other use made of the needle and connected with Renaissance tapestry weaving. Artists would make life sized drawings, we now call them cartoons. The outlines were punctured by a roller tool that left a line of small holes in the drawing. Onto this surface dust (charcoal?) was blown so that beneath was an exact copy of the original drawing.
Recently on Australian TV, Bill Henson, the accomplished photographer, gave an interview connected with his exhibition of work at a Melbourne gallery. In it, and please forgive me for any imprecise quotations, he derided the imposition of an “arrogant philosophy” on the making and interpreting of art these days. I know exactly what he means as during my recent Master’s degree, my art practice was worlds away from the insights of such individuals as Lacan, Derrida and Foucault. One can only imagine that art courses would be divided between art making and lectures on philosophy, since one could imagine that an auto-didactic appreciation of the above trio would hardly convince.
I recently came across the synaesthesia of senses in connection with art making. The famous sonnet by Artur Rimbaud springs to mind, wherein he gives each of the vowels, the tools of his poet’s craft, an imagined colour. For me, weaving with yarns that are never translucent and rarely iridescent, any attempt on my part to suggest the effects of light is always a struggle. Seeing a fabric work recently reminded me of stained glass work. It is one of the reasons I make use of buttons: because my struggle to reproduce the effects of light is halfway to being successful. Pearl shell buttons evoke moonlight. Translucent buttons catch the eye and hold its attention.
But another equation about art work springs to mind. ALL ART ASPIRES TO THE CONDITION OF MUSIC. Certainly, listening to different pieces of music drives the pace of my weaving, and probably inspires any number of realisations and formations. A good friend who follows his spiritual path suggested that I weave mandalas; not yantras which are precisely mathematical formulae and spiritual incantated rituals but organic forms: “heaven in a wildflower” as the poet William Blake wrote. So I wove a lopsided mandala, (asymmetrical, asleep), to the music of Ravi Shanka of course, (those intricate conversations of different voices, Chopin’s nocturnes and the 90’s disco-noir music of Propaganda.
MANDALA Symmetrical Asleep, 2 ins H X W. My third contribution to Line Dufour’s impressive installation Fate Destiny and Self Determination, which sounds as if it requires a Beethoven sound track. It is currently in Ireland and soon to be moved to Germany. I share with a friend of mine an interest in Indian spiritual practice, as seen in the tryptich of portraits of Sri Ramana Maharshi. He suggested weaving mandalas, not necessarily the mathematically precise, spiritually ritual based Yantra diagrams, but something organic. A minute golden flower I saw in my garden, a weed in fact, became the inspiration for this.
Susan Maffei, partner of Archie Brennan, and master (?) weaver, gave a lecture in Sydney about pre-Columbian Peruvian weaving, how the tapestries were prized more than gold, how the mummies were wrapped in them and buried in shallow graves along the narrow desert coastal strip. The Spanish shredded these priceless cloths, looking for gold. Afterwards, the locals collected these fragments and made dolls of them and sold them to tourists. My niece brought these two (mother and priest) home for me; while their age is uncertain there at least two different pieces of tapestry. I like the relative sizes: the mother with child is the source of life, the priest is just a referee; she holds her child, he has a pair of wrapped sticks. Love that line in the Witches of Eastwick, where the devil is in the pool with the three women, he says to them: “I’d love to be a woman, you can make babies”.
The skirt of the woman and the trousers of the priest are woven tapestry (?); her apron is stitched embroidery or a raised weaving; meanwhile, there are several other woven pieces that comprise the figures. I am embarrassed at how long these figures languished in storage. The priest has a suspiciously fruity expression about the lips (sensually developed?) while the mother is joyously singing. Dolls tell you so much. No wonder children like to play with them; they are an intro to the theatre of our reality.
Mandala #2 is below. Just completed to a soundtrack of Chopin, the Clouds and Propaganda, 16 cms H X 15 cms W. What began as a project guided strictly by symmetry developed with the energy of flow, until such formal structures as the unfortunately lopsided circle and the halved quarters at each corner; the image suggested not only such luscious flowers as the orchid but also the Tibetan Buddhist Brass Double Vajra Dorje Sacred Dharma Item.