Anton Veenstra's Textile Blog

my textile career from 1975

Ramana Sonata

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThis is the third part of a series. 22 cms H X 23 cms W. 8 cotton warps per in; cotton, wool, linen, synthetic wefts.

The sonata form consists of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. Previously I wove two other works. They vary in mood. The first is lighter, stylised, yet challenging.

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The second is slower, larger, adagio; it constitutes a mesh of meditation, combined with the impingements of an earthly reality. In Ramana’s life this involved crucial aspects of Hindu religious practice: whether or not to include women or untouchables or non-Hindus in his ashram. Contrary to many such teachers, Ramana made himself accessible to all. Clearly, as he sat on his couch, surrounded by his followers, he was in a deep state of samadhi or universal awareness. Words are a weak vehicle to attempt to describe his truth. In fact, he instructed his followers to meditate by gently following insistent words to their roots, and by challenging their repeated return to negate their strength and dissolve the ties that the mind form in identifying with verbal concepts. He told his followers to ask: “Who Am I?”

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All three are portraits of the South Indian holy man, Ramana Maharshi. My personal challenge was to express some of the gentle compassion radiating from his eyes; they are ever haunting.

ramana 22aCommon to all three is the background consisting of small or larger shapes that flow into one another, series of columns or grids whereby units of colour interact horizontally.

Two Small Button Works

Exif_JPEG_PICTURECalled The Infanta, 30 cms H X W, sparkling metal buttons on stretched cloth, it might well be a Jungian image of the anima with chakras; Lucy in the garden with diamonds. That was last week.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREWe Sell Weapons Now. Button collage, 22 cms H X 27 cms W, buttons sewn with upholsterer’s thread onto embroidery canvas. My stimulus was the announcement this week that Australia will soon be manufacturing weapons for the international market. Two things happened soon after: in copying photos of weapons factories in World War Two I fell in love with the shape of a revolver, slim and lithe, made for a hand grip. As a teenager in central Qld my brothers and I hunted wild pigs using 303 rifles; I was also issued with one as a cadet in boarding school. The second news item was about US police who went out carrying toy guns to plant on unarmed citizens they had shot while on duty. My love of the revolver was something Oscar Wilde might have described in The Picture of Dorian Gray: slinky evil.

Sri Ramana 2

Just completed; Om Namo Bhavagate Sri Ramanai, 43 cms H X 38 cms W. Warp, 6 ply cotton, 8 per in; wefts of linen, cotton, wool and synthetic threads.

The shapes on each side, literally checks and balances, torrents, cascades, “un blond wasserfall” (Rimbaud) began with the idea of a guru with garlands, mostly yellow and orange. In the 1960’s I saw this on Beatles’ album covers, after the Fab Four had gone to India to study with the Maharishi Mahesh. The image became more universal, of things cosmically interacting and transcending.

Apart from Ramana’s central message, “Who Am I?” which is gnana yoga, the path of knowledge, what subsequently attracted me to Ramana’s teachings was his universality, practised down to the last detail, on a daily basis. He walked around the holy mountain of Arunachala, dedicated to Shiva, twice a day; he made himself accessible to all; he refused to observe the caste system, allowing men and women, and untouchables among his followers.

He accepted food from nearby villagers but demanded that no one person was called on too often for a contribution. He made sure that all his followers were given food before he accepted any.

I especially like the story of his making the effort to obtain expensive banana fruit for his favourite cow Lakshmi, that refused to leave his presence, and along with his followers participated in darshan or meditation. In the wild countryside of the mountain, snakes and tigers approached him meditating without any mutual panic or fear. Cows, peacocks wandered constantly around the entrance to the cave where he lived.

I at first failed to understand the significance of a Hindu priest insisting that Ramana be initiated as a Hindu priest; Ramana put him off for a day and accidentally found a text that stated a person living/meditating in the vicinity of the holy mountain was automatically initiated. The meaning of this was perhaps that, had he submitted to the Hindu initiation, he would have been bound to follow a series of proscriptions, probably involving excluding untouchables from his presence and so forth. While wishing to offend nobody and break no existing rules of his culture, he managed to construct an individual system of self inquiry that he quietly insisted would lead to enlightenment. 

He was visited by an extraordinary range of people, including the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Yung. (This is not a Big Bang Theory joke.)

The flow of shapes and colours represent for me the universality of things, people, events, their interconnectedness. As often as possible, without the calculation of a cartoon I tried to form shapes that flowed in several directions simultaneously; thus along each vertical edge, shapes form columns but also radiate out, horizontally.

Each new unit of colour is applied with a set length of thread that suggests its shape or “closure”; deliberately, the lengths of thread were halved towards the top of the work, to suggest a kind of efflorescence, a treetop effect. As my style of weaving employs an “interlock” method adjacent colour areas are shaped together. My continuing influence from recent art history is the Nabis (Matisse and Derain), Jawlensky and Kandinsky, the German Expressionists to finally Karl Appel of the Kobra movement.

In a time of insouciant global violence we need to nourish our inner peace and mutual harmony, what Buddhism teaches is the aim of meditation.The photo I worked from shows an infinitely compassionate teacher; my work shows him in a stricter slightly reproving mode, of which he was occasionally capable. Om shanti. This work would not have been completed without the encouragement of my friend Kashi (a name that means city of light); he is a superbly happy seeker after inner truth.

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Sri Ramana Maharshi

A saint from southern India achieved samadi at the age of seventeen, and spent the rest of his life meditating in caves below Shiva’s mountain, Arunachala. I was a Beatle fan at seventeen, living in  central Qld countryside, inland of Mackay. I tried to borrow a book on the Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh, but instead I was sent a book on Ramana Maharshi. I found his face so serene and encompassing, so understanding of our foibles. My woven tapestry does him little justice, nor does my approximation of his southern Indian facial colouring. To the left of his face is a column of floral wreaths, clustered in ceremonial reverence.

Ramana, woven tapestry, 2017, 16 cms H X W, cotton warps, 8 pr in,; cotton, linen, synthetic wefts.

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Bogan

I used a pile of crochet squares my friend’s mum made with a crochet technique. Not sure what the verb for crochet is. I must admit, the idea is not original; years ago a lineup of sexy young male models donned shorts made of crochet squares. This is decidedly a case of deconstructing the original or traditional identity of crochet squares. My favourite movie with James Stewart and Kim Novak, Bell, Book and Candle, has a scene where Stewart needs to have a spell removed. He goes, in Novak’s words, to the Brooklyn harpy, who places around his shoulders a crochet shawl. In my case, a friend decided I was being a BOGAN, the words Australians use for doing/being things that are tasteless and pretentious.Exif_JPEG_PICTUREExif_JPEG_PICTUREI like the unpretentious repetitions of pattern and colour.

Apollo Emerged

Exif_JPEG_PICTURERecently, off the coast of Palestine, a fisherman threw his net into the water and hauled in a bronze sculpture of Apollo, his hand extended in a gesture of bestowing blessings and gifts, fit for a temple. In 2015 I created a large button work of the image framed with small woven tapestry images of smurfs. On the quilt of smurfs was where the fisherman had placed the wonderful work prior to its disappearance through the tunnels that honeycomb the West Bank, presumably to fund Hamas and its struggle for independence from Israeli control. My button work hung with several other button embroideries, alongside the work of twelve other artists, in a show called More Love Hours curated by the wonderful Suzette Wearne of the Ian Potter Museum, in the University of Melbourne. Suze is now the proud mother of a baby girl Sylvia: “Who is Sylvia, who is she, that all the swains commend her?”

Apollo Emerged, just completed,  is woven tapestry, 13 cms H X W, 8 cotton warps per in. Its wefts are wool, cotton, linen and synthetic.

I have been a follower of the ancient deity since my visit, decades ago, to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. There, I stood spellbound in front of a bronze Apollo, that, like the above work, had been submerged off Piraeus harbour, just outside the city of Athens. This work is a convincing argument against that commandment that museum curators follow, that works must be displayed at eye level. The Apollo had obviously lived on a temple plinth, bestowing munificence to his followers. Here, he looked down, seemingly, inappropriately downcast. But when I crouched on the floor and looked into his face it wore a most awe-inspiring expression.

Apollo is of course a god for gay men; his lovers were numerous. My only problem is his seeming carelessness with their mortality. Perhaps he wanted them close to him at a higher level of immortality? He had women lovers too. In the ancient world I went in search of gay role models; it’s never too late. Apart from David and Jonathan of the old testament, there was Jesus with John, his favourite follower, who leant against his torso during the last supper. Alexander the Great plus all the famous couples of legend and antiquity.

When Sydney was celebrating its Olympic games Athens’ Benaki museum, home of some exquisitely sophisticated mauve ikons, sent us an exhibition of Greek artefacts, including a bas relief of an Athenian citizen together with his underage lover; the two were clearly enamoured of each other, though what was shocking was the sculptor’s very accurate, practically prurient depiction of his extreme youth.

In the National Archaeological but un-air-conditioned museum of Bangkok were several sculptures of Krishna. Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare hare. They, like the Apollo works, also exuded a benign sexuality. Not for nothing is Krishna called the flute player by India’s gay under class; go figure.

Apollo emerged from water at last, seemingly not his chosen element, nor, surely, would be the basement of a billionaire’s palace where he currently, secretly resides. A small consolation is that Apollo has an amazing resilience and will survive even obscurity. For instance, even in ancient times he had a special relationship with Dionysus, described as his opposite by nineteenth century literary commentators. Recent archaeologists have determined that one of the deities would go on walkabout, and his opposite number would take up residence in the other’s shadowed inner chamber, performing the appropriate functions. Apollo Emerged.

apollo (1)

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s15 selfie as apollo

More Tapestries in Vienna

The Leopold Museum, devoted to turn of last century’s art, had on the ground floor an exhibition of Anton Kolig’s work. Not just a painter and teacher of great talent, he was a designer and worked with various organisations in much the same way that Australian painters design works for the Australian Tapestry Workshop to weave. When St Stephen’s Dom, the famous cathedral in the heart of Vienna, was extensively damaged by bombing during WW2 he offered to re-design the enormous stained glass windows. Sadly nothing came of the proposal and today the cathedral walls feature windows of the most bland colours. In the exhibition was a curious piece titled “painted gobelin” for a Salzburg Music Festival; the base fabric was clearly of woven tapestry on which the artist painted his design of Adam and Eve. An interesting image, but how much more effective it would have been if an atelier actually wove it, image and all.

The Hundertwasser House in Vienna is a most interesting experience: visitors are warned to negotiate the undulating paved floors. Many paintings and water colours hung on the walls; but, among them were half a dozen tapestries. PISS One, my favourite, was called Boy Pissing with Skyscrapers; the figure occupies the entire left hand side: his head is turned awkwardly, the golden arc dissects the landscape in front of the city buildings. However, there were several others, none identified by the workshop where they were created. Must we infer from this curatorial neglect that weaving is not considered seriously in a fine arts environment? Another work was woven so that weft ends hung from the image, an interesting effect.

I travelled to Slovenia where traditional lace making, commissioned by the Church, was featured in museum; woven tapestry was nowhere to be seen. The only other textile was in the Skofje Loka Ethnographic Museum: it consisted of prisoner of war uniforms from WW2 concentration camps.

I visited Lake Bled, a beautiful place whose beauty seems to resist any amount of tourist invasion. walking the circumference of the lake, a necessary pilgrimage, was six kilometres and exhausting. On the shore, below my hotel, a gallery was advertising its show of works by Salvadore Dali, not necessarily my artist of choice. However, I checked it out as woven tapestries were supposed to be on display. Indeed there were three, again without an atelier specified, part of a series of twelve, celebrating the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They were interesting, finely woven, designed in the artist’s well known spidery style.

Only a three week trip but it felt packed with visual experiences. Bled had two villas named Julia and Alice, the two sisters. There were many such quaint and fascinating details. I surprised myself with how competent I was speaking German, always a help in a non-English speaking country.

Tapestry in Vienna and Slovenia

Part 1: I’ve just returned from three weeks in Vienna and surrounding countries. The art in that imperial capitol as collected by the Hapsburgs is superb, it goes without saying. For instance, in the Kunst Historische Museum a grand marble staircase led you to the first floor, where one wing was filled comprehensively with medieval art. One large room was hung with two woven tapestries, described as originating from a Flemish tapestry workshop, 1629 – 1650. One, titled Lovers in a Bower, showed a servant woman with a pewter jug of wine in one hand, with the other shw offered a Roemer glass to a couple framed deeper within the image (in a garden). The knight is grasping a woman from behind, reaching round to clasp her breast. Both are seen as surprised; the woman perhaps that she has been compromised? The tapestry’s designer was Jacob Jordaens, who employs the chiaroscuro made popular by Carravaggio, in this case the figures are ghastly, made so by candle or torch light? Curiously, in the background a stern, authoritarian older figure rises: (a garden statue representing public morals perhaps?) The border of all such works as a subtext commentary; here, the knight’s sword is placed slanted; above among garden foliage are quivers of arrows and gargoyles.

The other work, a Pastoral Scene, is hung in the same room and shows in the foreground a woman carrying a basket of fruits (grapes and apples); the more pointed subtext of such details remain to be teased out. Behind her is a window through which a man grasps her breast. The border is of gargoyles also. The design is again attributed to Jacob Jordaens, design and woven work from a Brussels workshop c. 1627. One must expect, I suppose, that men commissioned such works, rich men who could afford splendidly finished artefacts containing a degree of erotic content.

An adjacent room contained a work titled Deeds and Triumph of Jaoa de Castro, with elephants. A triumphal procession, in the style of Roman emperors, with two elephants and three rows of prancing buffoons, celebrated the Portuguese conquest of India. The designer obviously consulted eye witness accounts of the event, creating an exotic atmosphere yet with lifelike detail. Most impressively, the designer depicts de Castro and his four generals (?) bottom left as life size figures, creating maximum impact when hung in his palace. Bottom right showed his two ensigns. The border was of floral clusters and cupids; the work was again from a Flemish workshop, c. 1557, earlier by a half century work by a half century than the two previously described. I could have spent an unlimited amount of time noting design similarities and weaving differences. They felt different, if that makes sense. This had a tighter feel to its treatment of detail.

The complete collection of tapestries owned by the museum is about 700 large, doubtless allowing for works to be rotated to spare excessive damage from light.

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.

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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.

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