my textile career from 1975
After a recent 3 week visit to Haarlem and London I came home and tidied some boxes in storage. There, I found the cartoon for a tapestry completed in the mid 1980’s which seemed to me to have so much energy still that I decided it deserved to be re-interpreted. You decide how the project worked out.
Cartoon: Duo #2:
The 2 tapestries differ in technique; the latter is completed in my recent interlock method, while the first one was woven with slits that were sewn together later, in some places resulting in a wobbly join. The original work showed combinations of colours that were the spontaneous expression of an earlier time. A friend of mine who recently completed an art course quoted his anatomy teacher saying paint twelve versions of a theme; Van Gogh after all completed half a dozen or so sunflower paintings.
As can be seen from the other two depictions, the weaving of a couple is the last of a series, a fiction or fantasy of surf lifesavers, built on my experience of a beach on the Sunshine Coast. Taken there by my bro-in-law, I was enthusiastically invited to join a group of surfers. Art. after all, follows life? Or vice versa? After all the fiction in which I lived at the time was The Lost Boys By William S. Burroughs, and its feminist equivalent, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word For World is Forest.
Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause…
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
G.M.Hopkins, Thou art indeed just.
I never did good things, I never did bad things,
I never did anything out of the blue.
David Bowie, Ashes to Ashes.
I re-played this song and became obsessed with Bowie’s use of the blue image, the note, the situation. It was how the colours sprang into life, as it were. A spear of blueness that arced into the ether and allowed other colours to trail in its wake.
(The image of blueness is Bowie’s code for his magical practice as is the physical gesture, used in the video for this song, of raising the hand above one’s head, then bowing to touch the earth. Bowie also does this in the song Fashion and in the duet Dancing in the Street, where Mick Jagger follows his lead).
Blue, Feb 2017, 10 cms H X 12 cms W; cotton warp 8 pi; wool, cotton, silk, synthetic wefts. Out of the steamy, inclement weather of February 2017, this work continues my previous improvisations of both parallel and curved shapes that interlock in a dovetail manner. My intention is to create dynamic situations, abstractions, spatial play.
During my childhood and adolescence, while religion still had a grip on my psyche, the most puzzling biblical quote for me was: “I am the lord, thy god, thou shalt have no other gods before me”. The central message of catholicism all the while had been monotheism at the core of religion. Yet, here was a quote that seemed to suggest threatening alternatives that co-existed with Yahweh or the one true god, or whatever.
I am reliving this inculcated stuff for a reason, creaky and dusty though it may seem. A while ago, on my Facebook page, an Egyptian friend who was an archaeologist connected with the Cairo museum posted, as he often does, wonderful photo of ancient Egyptian sculpture, representations of Egyptian deities, for instance Hathor. The sculptures were worshipful in their splendour, but when he waxed lyrical about his spiritual connection with them, as part, no doubt, of his cultural heritage, a western person took umbrage. What followed was an unpleasant outpouring of the unique importance of her one true god and so forth, who reigned supreme.
As above, I began to wonder why somebody would feel so threatened by another’s expression of belief; of course ancient Egyptian religious ritual was intensely involved with magical practice, and as such also threatening to some contemporary minds. That aside however, the cross cultural dialogue reminded me of Akhnaten and his attempt to bring monotheism to his culture, or Aten as opposed to Amun, previously reigning supreme amongst a contemporary polytheism.
There is, I believe, only so far that one can delve into another person’s culture. My local medical practitioner together with his wife run the local medical centre; they are both Christian Copts and on a shelf in the reception area are several references to their home culture: a small image of the funerary mask of Tutankhamun, and several small sculptures of Egyptian deities. One need remember that Sigmund Freud displayed on his desk rows of deities from different cultures, like ushabi gathered to restore a patient’s mental health (?)
Apart from all that, I pondered a figure central to recent catholic church history, the narrative of Saint Francis. Best shown in the movie by Franco Zeppirelli, the work looked at a lyrical spirituality which ran counter to the viciously manipulative politics of the Vatican; when Francis asked the pope to recognise his order, a cardinal seated on the sidelines whispered: ” he will speak to the poor and bring them back into the church”. When I saw the movie on its release, Francis seemed a hippy figure as opposed to the rigid establishment.
Today, the lived lyricism of Francis, like the Persian poetry of the Conference of the Birds, could arguably constitute a type of polytheism: “brother sun, sister moon” etc, etc. Yet, this was clearly not the intention of Francis; instead, there was an effortless oneness present, underlying the multiplicity of natural things. Perhaps we could extend the lesson contained in this great individual, so exemplary in his life that the most recent pope felt impelled to take his name. Francis teaches that polytheism is non-threatening; to be threatened is to imply a weakness in your belief system and possibly a tinge of racism felt against another culture.
For me, there is much potential here for exploring the harmonious co-existence of many cultures, with their differing beliefs. Ainsi soit-it, shanti.
This week, the wonderful Ellen de Generis created a skit based on a film she was involved in, Finding Nemo, the punchline of which was, “in the end all the creatures helped the little fish, because that’s what you do”.
Not if you’re pudding faced President Trump’s advisor Bannon. Somebody who worked with him in the past says he thinks only of war, only war, his world is the OK Corral. How scary is that, because that would mean necessarily nuclear.
My thoughts today surround the question of both homeless people and refugees; I was one myself and lived for my first two years behind barbed wire fencing. My mum told me about Cowra migrant camp, which had been refurbished after it housed Japanese prisoners of war during WW2; they burned down some of the huts. When my mum stayed there at the end of the war the men including her husband, my dad, were sent out to work. The women in the camp went on strike for more food and better conditions (Cowra winters were bitterly cold). Food rations were improved.
Looking at TV footage of Manus Isl refugees, I feel and I am sure many Australians agree with Canadians that, were it possible, we would host refugees home by home, not this de-humanising bureaucratic process that can only produce radicalisation.
Meanwhile, I am at my loom, wondering about my next project. The time scale reminds me of a question my cardiologist put to me about weaving tapestry, about whether I worked to a timetable. Even the amazing, master weaver Archie Brennan said once that he could not and did not weave for long periods at a time. In my experience, short bursts of activity, even going to the loom after contemplating work already finished leads to frenzied activity, work that seems to be unaccompanied by a sense of time. I’m sure my colleague weavers have had similar experiences.
I wrote an artist statement for the above work, the top showing a helicopter in the right eye, in the left the dome of a mosque; I wove the piece sideways, unusually for me, and it allowed me to create a cross grain in the background, giving a military character to the image. “Resettle” was a strip at the base of a larger work that I abandoned for lack of direction.
“This work is intended to make viewers question the privilege of their lives, the relevance of home, garden, comfort, as opposed to the dispossession and suffering of others, namely refugees, displaced persons. Their relevance is always a burning issue; the need for artists not just to make pretty toys for the rich but to make all people think about injustice”.
Helicopter/Mosque, 2002, 40 cms H X 80 cms W, cotton warps 8 pi; wool, cotton, linen, silk, synthetic wefts.
Resettle, 2002, 15 cms H X 100 cms W, cotton warps 8 pi; wool, cotton, linen, silk, synthetic wefts.
Glass recently bewailed his “outcast state”, protesting that nobody believed he could write operas.
He had first travelled to South Africa in 1966 where his interest in Gandhi began. This, his second opera, was intended “to use Gandhi’s involvement in South Africa in the years between 1893 and 1914 as an outline of current global political and religious problems. In South Africa, Gandhi formulated his thesis of passive resistance and civil disobedience known as “Satyagraha” or “dedication to the truth” as a reaction to discriminatory governmental measures aimed against the Indian portion of the population, such as the deprivation of voting rights”.
The announcer on ABC radio classic music described a tour of US music venues where he accompanied a group of accomplished musicians; within a dozen bars of the opera all but he had left the concert venue. He played the exquisitely heart rending Evening song, where Gandhi mourns his followers, slain for holding to their beliefs. Exiting the hall at the end of the work, in tears, the announcer was berated by the other tour members for his lack of musical discernment. They had crossed the road and spent the duration of the concert in a pub.
Given recent events and in expectation of things to come, perhaps passive resistance and civil disobedience are the only dignified position possible.
Tonight, I watched the movie A I by Steven Spielberg, starring the amazing child actor Haley Joel Osment. The movie had such intense religious connotations I cried and went to bed with a headache. Osment’s role of an android trying to adapt to human ways and being enmeshed in the love of his mother and father typified the theme common these days of a Sheldon Cooper or a brilliant but Asberger’s child, ill equipped to manage the social complexities of our world.
Osment frankly has the wondrous demeanour of the Christ child, except that, for reasons of religious necessity, the Christ was always depicted as calmly all knowing, while Osment is slightly cross eyed and puzzled about everything, adorably so; oops, there’s the worshipfulness.
Then, of course, there is a more modern, existential debate about what constitutes human consciousness. The scene of Savanarola intensity, in the circus ground, where the ring master defends his Inquisition-like demolition of the mecha androids, describing their existence as an insult to humans, was barbarity personified. As Shakespeare wrote, “If you prick me, do I not bleed?” It was profoundly disturbing to watch even mechanical consciousness destroyed in such a peremptory fashion. Some robots protested to the end, others accepted their fate smilingly. It reminded me that the order by psychopathic Spanish monks of the Inquisition to immerse heretics in boiling oil had to be discontinued; even hardened executioners were unable to listen to the tortured cries.
Perhaps the movie was made more poignant because earlier on ABC I had watched a story about gay rights in India, where the second highest national court had legalised homosexuality, only to have the superior court reimpose illegality. In that climate of intolerance an unfortunate young man, a doctor no less, caught smooching with his lover in a parked car, with clearly no where else to go, was confronted and blackmailed by a corrupt policeman, exacting money and sexual favours, so typical of the “morality police” in many such cultures. Another individual was threatened with hormone treatment except for the sympathetic and timely intervention of his father with an enlightened cry that homosexuality was natural, and nothing natural needs or can be cured.
His mother was doubtless traditionally unsympathetic because of her desire for grandchildren. Without wishing to make light of her hopes and expectations, today’s situation is made up of so many variables. The mother wanted her son to undergo hormone therapy, as her stereotype of homosexuality was a drag queen or transsexual, both especially the latter being realities on the contemporary world stage. As for gays themselves, young people are demanding the right to be accepted. Paradoxically, the expectations of a grandmother, with a little tolerance, would be amply fulfilled by her son marrying his male partner and raising a family.
The idiot summary of this situation recently used to be “the love that dares not tell its name now won’t shut up”. Sexual and ethnic minorities are invisibile as far as the social majority is concerned. Acceptance requires all parties of society to change, to create a new, co-existent reality? I hope so.
“It is with great pleasure that I inform you that your tapestry, Peter & the Wolf, was accepted by the juror, Rudi Dundas, into Small Tapestry International 5: Crossroads. Your piece will be a part of an exemplary exhibition. Our juror considered 125 tapestries and 40 were accepted into the show. Thank you for taking the time to enter and congratulations on being selected.” Deborah Corsini, STI 5 Exhibition Chair, Crossroads. ATA.
Show Schedule: August 17 – September 30, 2017
Gallery on the Square, University of North Texas
109 North Elm Street, Denton, Texas 76203
November 15 – December 30, 2017
Handforth Gallery, Tacoma Public Library
1102 Tacoma Ave. South, Tacoma, WA 98402
“Melodic line and texture are present in both music and woven tapestry, as are colour and lyricism. There are similarities between the musician’s repetitive gestures and the weaver’s shuttling of wefts between warps. I used to write small poems as a teenager, full of images from nature, and progressed to weaving small tapestries that demand total attention from the beholder.
Prokofiev’s scene is based on folk traditions; my European
parents (Dutch & Slovenian) gave me an upbringing full of such imagery, in stories and music. This tapestry event suggested to me a compilation of five images in order to tell Prokofiev’s story,
the tradition of grandfather and boy, the dynamic tension between bird and wolf. I have spent most of my creative life devoted to the medium of woven tapestry, its difficult but rewarding techniques, its rich language.”
My final arrangement will be boy top left, bird top right, grandfather bottom right, wolf bottom left, while a fifth miniature, that of a mouth yelling “Look out” will be the centrepiece.
Another Australian tapestry artist and two NZ artists and were also accepted for the show.
There is a flourishing industry around the quasi mythical figure of William Shakespeare, the Elizabethan playwright. His existence now seems to have been proved by his efforts to secure a heraldic shield for his family, with the motto: “pas sans droit”, or as Ben Johnson translated it: ” not without mustard”, a typically English scathing comment on someone else’s social climbing. The next step, once his existence has been conclusively proved is to further research the phenomenon of collaborative writing. Apparently it was not unknown in Elizabethan theatre writing. Previously, such texts were regarded as “corrupted” or of dubious ownership. Collaboration, apart from being some would be scholar’s rich minefield, or PhD waiting to happen, would establish the roles a committee of writers assumed.
Yes, there is the joke of an elephant being an animal designed by a committee. But exploring such collaborations further would give us greater insights into Shakespeare’s powers. The plays and poems he wrote that are unquestioningly accepted as his alone are like polished diamonds; their facets sparkle wonderfully but inexplicably.
In the world of textile, woven tapestry seems the phenomenon most based on collaboration. At the grand looms of a tapestry workshop, for instance, about four weavers work side by side, to complete a project. Granted, the weavers work as a unified group; one would not assume that anyone’s individuality is subsumed. with the benefit of a historical perspective one wonders whether a portion of a tapestry could be recognised.
“And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul”.
Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats.
Travel through the medieval European countries that inspired Yeats and this poem, the gold painted icons of Istanbul’s churches, and those of Greece and Italy; visit the museums of Vienna to experience Klimt’s golden paintings; even for an Australian, enjoy the paintings of Donald Friend whose backgrounds are a flat application of gold leaf, thus referencing the spirituality of Balinese culture. They have infused this minute tapestry, twice the fineness of my normal work, ie, 16 warps p.i. The wefts are correspondingly thinner, some gold wire expresses the intensity of flame; some of the circular patterns evoke coiled flames. The base is how I started, with trepidation, as in the Cure’s song: “lost in a forest, all alone”.
So, the base, a series of nine upward trending shapes, may be seen as a mess of tree trunks, that tangle as branches and leaves emerge. I was loth to express too strongly the fiery aspect; instead, it is a purifying experience that is presented. Ethan Mordden in his book The Venice Adriana uses the Italian idiom of men being described as “well planted”. It is a cool, inhabited flame.
Part 2: the setting or border.
Finally, the purified sages are what I wanted to have appear surrounding
the work, as a collective, a spiritual academy, the singing masters,
as Yeats refers to them; he entreats them to step down from their iconic seclusion. I depicted them as simply shells, eyes of buttons inside beer bottle tops, which are the essence of a grosser beverage, associated with rowdy interaction and male excess. The complete image had for me a polynesian quality. Raised in central Qld, where the descendants of abducted Pacific islanders worked on cane fields, I am aware of some aspects of their culture. The cowrie shell, for instance, is strung onto necklaces, each shell having the appearance of the eye of a totemic elder, inscrutably deep in thought.
An earlier example of my use of bottle tops is in the work Gaza Apollo.
I continue to be interested in a blend of the fine art of woven tapestry and the roughness of found and collaged objects, with their unknown narrative. Tapestry as I prefer to weave it, differs from the dovetail join
of Norwegian tapestry, where pieces were woven sideways to reduce the number of joins. These are seen as blurring adjacent colour areas and thickening the cloth along the join; neither characteristic seems to me to be problematic. Nor do I find weaving an image sideways appealing: essential characteristics are compromised by their rotation. This is, of course, a personally developed mythology.
Sages Standing in the Holy Fire, 2017; 12 cms H X W. Plus border.
Warp: 16 wpi, synthetic, cotton, linen, gold wire wefts.
A friend of mine once visited my weaving studio, having in tow a cross looking young man, who regarded my work with disapproval. “All you do” he said, “is make beautiful things for rich people”. The observation left me speechless.
Some time later, another friend, to whom I had given a small tapestry, made a present of it to his friends, after a misunderstanding between us. Who knows what conditions the tapestry has endured to date? They were likely smokers, the worst situation for a textile.
By contrast, rich people employ staff to maintain a neutral, spotless environment, and respect things that they have purchased. Unless they are nouveau riche, and do stupid things like cutting holes in tapestries, or using them as mats on coffee tables. Of course, the improved reputation of the artist means a better investment for the owner.