Anton Veenstra's Textile Blog

my textile career from 1975

Matthew Mitcham, Flawed Hero

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREMatthew Mitcham, 2017, buttons, bottle tops, sewn onto canvas with upholsterer’s thread, 2 ft (81 cms) H X W.

MM won an Olympic gold medal for diving, for Australia. What made him special is that early in his career he came out as gay, thus copping a lot of homophobia in a macho world (all those dressing room moments to protect oneself from). This week, he and another wonderful man, Ian Roberts, a rugby league player, who also told the world he was gay (he was the first Australian rugby player to do so) were interviewed about the nexus between sport and politics, following the announcement by the CEO of the NRL that Macklemore, a US gay rapper, would sing his anthem to same sex marriage at the NRL final. Personally I think the NRL Ceo acted like a Renaissance Borgia, commissioning art in Florence; in his case, getting artists on board before someone decides to make a lone statement was a clever manoeuvre; also he was aiming the event at a younger audience. The players are younger as is the audience and it helps to speak the language of a younger generation. Roberts and Mitcham spoke out as fervent supporters of same sex marriage.

MM was always in the back of my mind, for years; who could fail to be attracted by those elfin looks, the demeanour of a startled fawn. I hope that does not overly objectify. Curiously, the UK also produced a young gay diver. Perhaps it goes with the genre, the acrobatics, the plunge, the accuracy and timing, the need for personal strength but not the burly, hefty dimensions of rugby players. In any case, within the last couple of years I wove five small panels of tapestry, but the centrepiece eluded me. The canvas hung unfinished while I worked on the Golden Tree.

I’d begun with the eyes, then the mouth; however, the latter turned out wrong, too parallel. Recently, I re-examined the canvas. Getting the mouth right was the engine for further progress. I settled on a victory pic; MM wearing the Australian gold Olympic medal.

I looked at a number of photos of MM and settled on a victory pic; MM wearing the Australian green/yellow top (wattle and leaf) and the blue cord from which hung the gold medal. The latter had to be implied. On the right I wanted to suggest the exhilarating depth of the pool, with the demarcated lanes implied. On the right, I placed the audience, abstracted by the representation of columns of eyes (bottle tops containing lustrous buttons in front of pearl shell). Behind them were buttons I intended to suggest the architecture.

I have just completed the yellow of the top today; the sequence was: bits of the face, the green collar, the pale blue ribbon, the shoulder outline of yellow, the water which I particularly enjoyed ( its laneways indicating the water’s turbulence) then completing the face, the audience and architecture, finally the luminous yellow). I especially wanted the yellow material to glow.

I continue to ponder at my choice of this medium; it is after all subject to spontaneous scorn (a Fb posting described one of my works as looking like her button drawer). However, it has a scrawled immediacy, it allows me the possibility of including different materials. In an age where people need to interrogate the narrative of things, people, events, each of my buttons come from a different place. I buy them in tins (which on Ebay seem to be more valued than their contents). In my case I look for multiples of the one pattern or colour that can enable me to create a theme or image.

Finally, as a postscript, I need to clarify why the title of this blog described MM as “flawed”. It’s an inconsequential detail of MM’s life because we all know of his dependance on recreational and other medications. Read Colm Tobin’s sensitive and informative book, Love in a Dark Time, about the horrific plight of gay people when expressing their love resulted in a prison sentence with hard labour. The NO campaigners against same sex marriage might argue that they have been victimised, but the situation of LGBTQI people continues to be difficult. For example, consider how many trans people have been murdered lately. As a community, however, we struggle to better our and our children’s lives. We are on the right side of history and change.

Thank you for your interest in these images. Our shared time has been most valued.




The Golden Tree

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe Golden Tree, just completed but planned during my month of flu, is 32 inches H X 20 inches W. Bottle tops form the eye lashes around buttons which have an ocular translucence; the central stem comprises golden circles while the periphery is silver. I make special use of pearl-shell buttons because, after all, they and the bottle tops, which suggest cowrie shells, are reminders of Polynesian culture which I grew up with in central Qld.

Last year I visited the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands which was holding a comprehensive exhibition of Mondriaan’s work of all his periods. Two rooms were filled with his paintings of trees in various colours, steadily becoming more of a mesh of lines and shapes, more abstracted.

Also, recently, I found a scrap of paper on which a young boy, probably the one next door, had written a school exercise. “The tree is a large plant. It has a trunk and branches and leaves.” It reminded me in its innocence of Will Blake’s Songs of Innocence (thou a lamb and I a child, we are called in his name).

For me, the gold represents sunlight on leaf, while the silver is shadow.I wanted to resist any strictly religious interpretation of the work, as the cruciform shape is an archetype that crosses (no pun intended) cultural boundaries.mute witness

This was an earlier version, completed years ago, (2005?), more variegated in colour and design, clunkier in texture, but fresh, nonetheless in those blue/brown and silver/gold contrasts. Thank you for your attention.

Weaving Tapestry

attendantThis photo was scanned by Remba Imaging.

The above works are approx 30 cms H X W, compared to my recent work in the previous blog which is half their size. The distinctive feature the above works have in common is that adjacent colour areas are left unconnected except by a slit, at some points gaping obviously and unattractively. However, the method is in widespread use, the slits being sewn together as the work progresses, something I have never mastered.

This method enables areas to be woven rapidly; the above work of two men kissing has an exuberant procession of small colour areas that complement or contrast in a dancelike fashion. However, I abandoned this technique to achieve a closely finished surface, seamless, uniform, where adjacent areas overlapped in a hounds tooth? pattern. Because of the slowness of weaving method I prefer to limit the size of the work to half that of previous works, that is, 16 cms H X W. What is foremost in my mind is the unpleasant memory of works previously abandoned, because the vigour of the original idea had dried up.

Inspiration is like a bubble which, as an artist, I feel I have to protect. One superstition I nurture is not discussing a work in progress. This was  tricky for instance when the supervisor of my Master’s of Arts at the College of Fine Arts in 2001 would ask me about “work in progress”. What was I working on now, what was my current activity? Instead, I would steer the conversation to my most recently completed work, hoping that my supervisor did not feel left out of the loop, when she was really only doing what was required of her.

So, the smaller work, even if it is woven by a more laborious method only needs to be visited a handful of times on the loom before it is completed. Lately, as the end is in sight a rush of energy seems to accompany the weaving; the finish can’t come soon enough. I wonder if my colleagues and fellow artists feel the same in their art practice?

Postage Stamp Size Woven Tapestry

1sept17 HI RES.jpg

Lopsided portrait, just completed, 8 cotton warps per in, cotton, synthetic, linen wefts, approx. 3 DMC strands forming one weft. 16 cms H X W. A small sized work but thereby having its advantages. I weave such a small work on a small metal framed loom, 22 cms H X 20 cms W. The advantage is that the work is able to involve all the necessary energy in the shortest time. It might well be considered the postage stamp sized woven tapestry.

As for the subject matter, portraiture has been my area of interest lately; “tapestry as cinema” dealt with different focii of the same image, much as a movie camera might show the actor from different sides or distances. Here, I wanted just to show a face using columns and lines and geometrical areas of colour. Thank you.

Tapestry as Cinema

All art aspires to the condition of the most complexly manipulated image of the artist’s age, in my case cinema, or more specifically the rock clip. Here, images are posed and manipulated and overlaid with music. Here, I wanted to take the development of an image I had worked years earlier, and with a different technique of attaching adjacent areas (currently I use a hound’s tooth mode to achieve the look of a finished cloth, without seams. Recently, I was looking at a Pasolini film score and noticed the distinctive notation. Accordingly, I decided on the first image as WS (wide shot) and images 2 and 3 as CU (closeup) 1 and 2.




Peaks and troughs of creativity

Three in a Row

The tapestry exercise I set myself had distinct parameters: my small loom, built from a luggage wheelie, with corks to blunt the sharp ends; on the loom I was able to weave works of 16 cms H X W. Ebay had recently informed me there were several packets of Egyptian embroidery cottons for sale. I bought some; using a cotton warp spacing of 8 per in, I wove the cotton threads three per shed. only occasionally was there a problem as some of the threads were slightly thicker than others.

The first piece reminded me of the violently colourful works by Dutch Cobra painter Appel, that I had seen in the Netherlands last year. The second was in praise of Jawlensky, whom I greatly admire for his use of slightly abstracted form; he represents that moment when post impressionist painters are becoming aware of the exciting potential of abstraction and mechanical invention. They would later have taken their cue from Le Corbusier when he said “A house is only a machine for living in”. “Une maison est une machine a habiter”.

All three works were completed in April, May of 2017, The cotton warp is 8 per in, the weft is cotton.




Even before my recent trip to the Netherlands I was interested in the Cobra art movement. It was ironic to see in the Dutch embassy in Bondi Junction recently, while renewing my passport, a poster of a Cobra exhibition at the AGNSW in 2014 (?). In the Netherlands I managed to see works presumably too fragile to travel, such as a painted wooden column by Appel about refugee children. The paintings were furiously, vigorously energetic and colourful. But my attraction to them was that they were a natural descendant from Derain and Jawlensky, who, admittedly broke the ground, leading away from realism and impressionism towards using colour to express emotion; and we all know where that ends!

The moment in Jawlensky’s work, even its equivalent moment for Kandinsky, when the artist has not quite relinquished his hold on realism and turned to abstraction, as in Kandinsky’s last paintings, point the way inexorably to Appel and his colleagues.

Part of my attraction to these artists is that they explain the possibility of progressions of shapes, ones that suggest realism, but not quite: the various methods of doing so, too, are of interest.

My latest work, just finished, Hello Mr Appel, Dutch art movement leader: 16 cms H X W, cotton warp 8 per in,. cotton, linen, synthetic wefts.


Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale, a gay, UK author, whose novels are redolent with superbly crafted prose and delicately sensitive constructions of character; both of whom generously lend the fiction their lavender, recently wrote A Perfectly Good Man (2012). It is the picaresque tale of a religious cleric and a teacher dubiously charged with rape, whose paths intertwine. Another of the novel’s characters is called Dorothy (gift of god).

I bought the novel years ago but baulked at the phrase ‘paedophilia’, not another story like that, thought I. My own life contained enough of that.So the novel went unread until now.

Both men are punished by social opinion; the cleric manages to deflect local condemnation, (no details, spoiler alert). He gives a sermon about the resurrection, quoting Dorothy Sayers’ account of Lazarus describing life after death as being the moment of glimpsing the “beautiful and terrible” front of a tapestry while the living must content themselves with seeing only the tangle of knotted threads at its rear.

Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey inhabited a world of panelled houses hung with large scale Flemish tapestries, by and large ignored. Unless I have forgotten some action behind the wall hanging, as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Polonius is stabbed through the ‘arras’. One might picture a tapestry making such an impact in Sayers’ or Wimsey’s world.

I was struck, from my career of weaving tapestry for 40 years how we spurn, as it were, the tapestry’s reverse and fixate on the perfect front; though the reverse is a necessary chaos, it plays its role in the completed image.

Variations on a Theme

Back in the 1980’s I wove a series of double portraits of men in amorous embrace, in flagrante delicto; that is, a gay political statement since a gay couple walking hand in hand in public is in itself conspicuous. I re-visited one of the series and its cartoon or behind loom drawing, after I’d recently spent a fortnight in Haarlem and a week in London. I found the cartoon juicy with promise. Below are the three works I wove as a sequence, one leading into the next with inexorable logic.



As a point of reference I add a self portrait I wove or rather completed before the above.


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