Anton Veenstra's Textile Blog

my textile career from 1975

Cake The Distance

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_HoMkkRHv8&feature=em-share_video_user

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.

 

What is Real Life?

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?

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Tropical Garden

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.

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MUSIC

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.

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New Projects End of May

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREMANDALA 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.

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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.

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Fifth Textile Art of Today Biennial

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5th textile art of today; Surfers, triptych.
I was lying in bed today thinking what all of us textile workers will do, having stored a lifetime of textile pieces, unsold. I was in London last year, visiting a friend, and I’d sent him a small tapestry I wove in the 80’s of 2 surfers. Incidentally, the above photo shows one of the surfers with rabbity teeth; it seemed ungainly and I changed it. The original photo was of the 2, in a friendly hug, 1 slightly behind the other; but I found the conjunction totally erotic. Australian culture has always mythologised surf lifesavers, especially the practice males adopted of rolling their “budgie smugglers” or nylon swim briefs into g-string or thong briefs: erotic heroes braving the elements.

Having returned home, and rummaging through my work, I found the original cartoon or drawing that sits behind the loom and guides the weaving. I created a series of works; my original intention was to see how different my later style of weaving would be. Back then, I placed areas of colours onto the warps without attaching them to adjoining areas; this meant the surface had a multitude of slits that later had to be sewn closed; this often left a raised ridge where the sewn join was, and in other areas where the slits were minute I did not bother sewing them: an unsatisfactory, uneven surface. Some tapestry artists sew these slits as the work progresses; I never mastered that concept. By contrast, today, I sew everything horizontally, with a hound’s tooth join; few areas of colour progress further than other areas unless there are inclines in the design.

I immediately saw the rawness of the original work; my recent piece was sedate by comparison. I set about weaving another 2 works on other, smaller looms; these focussed on 1 rather than both faces; the works reflected my current interest in using yellow/gold thread to convey a faux ecclesiastical aura, a sense of the embroidery of church vestments. Tapestry, after all, depicts a heightened, one might say, a spiritual reality.

At the time I was reading the script for Pasolini’s movie Oedipus Rex which included the abbreviations used to indicate camera angles. My 3 works as a result would be: Duo MC (medium shot); CU (closeup) and XCU (extreme closeup). Like any child of the hippy era, I spent a lot of time in cinemas, enjoying the unreality of the rolling image, appreciating the technology that produces such a marvel. Like, however, the cassette, its musical equivalent of the time, visual images on tape are obsolete and replaced by DVD or CD.

However, I wanted to contrast the rolling, multiple components of the movie with the almost static qualities of woven tapestry, formed by a thousand minute applications of wefts. I arrived at my computer today, gladdened to read that my triptych Surfers has been accepted into the 5th Art of Today Triennial, to be held in Bratislava later this year. My heartfelt thanks go to Mr Martin Augustin, one of the organisers and the judges of the event.

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Detention Camp by Moonlight

I don’t usually post works in progress; they often pre-empt the energy of the finished work. In this case I had to take a photo for a particular deadline. The work is 95 cms H X 83 cms W. It is based on a post WW2 photo of my mother, then aged 27. Inscribed on the back is “Juden lager Lichtenstein berg(?) 1948”. As is obvious this means “Jewish concentration camp”; the rest is ambiguous. Lichtenstein does not have any concentration camps, although its complicity with Nazi Germany has been documented.

My mother told me that as a girl in a poor Slovenian village, to escape the harsh domination of her parents, went to work first in Vienna and then Frankfurt, in an embassy as a service maid then kitchen hand. She married a German pilot but at the end of the war the men of her hometown confined her and her brother to a newly liberated concentration camp. In the photo there is bewilderment and fear. Seated on a chair in the yard, being photographed for ID purposes (?) my mother obviously expected the worst. Post WW2 the partisans were murdering hundreds of thousands of collaborators. In present day Slovenia, caves are being discovered with the heaped remains of such killings; however, the Slovenian govt is unable to discuss the matter publicly.

At no time do I think she was a good time girl, cavorting with German officers, swapping uniforms with them, as the internet photos show. She was a nervous, shy, religious girl. She was liberated from this camp by the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) and sent to Australia on an Italian ship. Years later her bedside reading included books with photos of concentration camp victims. What follows is a diary of my work in progress. I must ask the reader’s indulgence where I have repeated myself.

DETENTION CAMP BY MOONLIGHT (JUDEN LAGER)

Fri 30 Mar: so many thing happened this fortnight. For the last month, the process has been one of searching through more boxes of buttons and including new ones to the old. Finally tonight, although I had convinced myself that my energy was not capable of further expression, I looked at the stretcher and, having previously decided that the mouth was problematic (too wide and shapeless in places), I undid most of it.

After two attempts I had a version that satisfied, that however matched the frightened eyed: a petite mouth, the mouth of a young, country woman, who has witnessed some horrible things, who has been in the thick of things. My second effort was to add two shell buttons on each side of the nose to represent the flared nostrils.

Thirdly, there was a particularly bright mauve button that I knew would add a strong accent to the dress; it did so. These days I seem to favour a particular button that exudes its own light rather than just showing a piece of opaque colour; the translucence has a living process to it that adds to the generation and energy of the work.

The three small disparate jobs, all in different parts, in different fields indicated game resumed. I assume: the order will be skin, hair, mauve dress, black/brown buildings, grey/green lawn/ blue/grey sky, but my experience has been that work tends to demand diversions from time to time. We will see, and only time will tell.

The brightly translucent mauve buttons were needed to express a quality of the dress material where the moonlight falls directly, on each shoulder for instance. I have used translucent buttons more frequently recently as they seem to have a presence, an independence. This observation and my need of the quality began long ago with the quixotic workings of light on pearl shell buttons.

Sat Mar 31 The next matter that required my attention was the deliberate area of shading under the hairline around the forehead; why this was important was that it was ambivalent. I used a button that was half dark, half light, and placed each piece so that each followed the line of shading: skin tone below and hair tone above.

Suddenly, I understood a fundamental fact about the mauve dress. I wanted to arrange hues of lighter mauve where the moonlight fell on my mother’s shoulders and arms; but equally, the dress, as it was draped in semi-darkness was pleated in vertical folds. Alongside these, I wanted to create pinnacles of mauves, lighter where the tones were higher, deeper where they were buried in shadow, but all of them in vertical and diagonal folds.

In the darkness of the fences and buildings there are many old, dark buttons that are beautifully patterned and shaped, yes, valuable, although I hope nobody would attend a public viewing armed with scissors. They are a tribute to my beautiful mother, whose burden in life was intolerable and who worked tirelessly at it.

Mon 2 Apr. Last night I started to construct the monoliths of black and steel, equidistant, suitable for expressing architecture. (These are the row of buildings at the upper part of the work, from which, in a way the drama descends, unfolds. As they are placed horizontally aligned with the sitter’s face, they might be thought to represent her consciousness.) In doing so, I fell upon the idea of a grid, a patchwork, of clay horizontal lines, now established. We shall see.

You can begin a day’s work with an idea or a direction only to find yourself drawn onto a completely different path; perhaps unconsciously you recognise that you are unready for the work you set out to do that day. Perhaps the thought that impressed itself most strongly was too urgent to be denied its immediate expression.

At several points in this blog, earlier and from now on, I change tack; the best mode would have been to date each entry and let the the notations speak for themselves.

In my mother’s handwriting on the reverse of the photo is the phrase “Lichtenstein 1958 Judenburg… Lager” I am aware Lager means a concentration camp but have been unable to identify one in Lichtenstein?

I am aware how controversial my use of the phrase “juden lager” will be. It reminds me of a moment in the 80’s when I had given a friend a Spandau Ballet t shirt and he was wearing it in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney behind a well known art gallery, which incidentally we were not stalking, when a Jewish lady berated us about the shirt. My mother was a Slovenian villager; she went to Vienna during WW2 to escape poverty and her tyrannical parents; from there she travelled to Frankfurt where she worked as a kitchen assistant in an embassy, and later learned to be a chef. She married a German pilot and had three miscarriages from malnourishment. On returning to her village she was treated as a collaborator and interned in a camp. The reverse of the photo from which I have taken this image bears an inscription “Lichtenstein (?) Juden … Lager”. She was fortunate in one respect, in that the Slovene resistance fighters killed collaborators by the hundreds of thousands and buried them in caves. These are being re-opened but the issue is not being discussed. The extensive Ethnographic Museum, for instance, of Skofje Lokje, displays large vitrines of one side of a corridor resistance material: photos, artifacts; opposite are collaborator material including a copy of Mein Kampf. One can google the topic of Slovene collaborator girls online

and find their photos, grinning lasciviously, wearing German uniforms. I believe my mother was too involved in one man and believed too wholly in love to immerse herself in such a promiscuous lifestyle; however, war was an extreme experience, and as one writer described the situation of starvation: “food was power”.

She was merely interned not killed. On a personal level, it affected my mother; I was horrified to find books by her bed, her night time reading, filled with images of holocaust victims. Her eyes would widen with incredulity and horror as she described the camps to me.

My original intention was to make use of most of the description my mother provided on the reverse of the photo. However, that would amount to an act to an act worst than mere appropriation, in spite of the fact that my mother was incarcerated in this unknown camp for an unknown period of time. I decided instead to take the emphasis away from the recent history of the place and hope that the peoples who lived and died there and their relatives would not consider that superficial. I felt it was not my voice which should express that narrative, as it was not my family’s plight. My condolences to the families of of those who in that place. I hope that the buildings, the lawn and the sky as I express do their memory some justice. Rest in peace.

My Anglo-Australian friends have a wealth of genealogical history to explore, records that can easily be accessed. In my case, there were so many anomalies that I stopped listening early on, instead of taking notes. My mother’s village is Doklezovje, near the Hungarian border. How did she and her her brother become recognised as collaborators and both become interned in this camp so far from their village? When she was declared a refugee and placed on an Italian ship to either America or Australia (she chose the latter) by the IRO, the International Refugee Organisation, from what port in Italy did she embark? Bari? Brindisi? My friend says probably says more like Trieste? Which we both recently visited, a ramshackle port city. Questions all unanswered.

Fri 6 Apr: colours in the work appear celebratory but are ironic, those of a survivor. Last night, I tackled the large masses of hair and decided they were backlit, whether by daylight or moonlight, my choice the latter. What puzzles me is how she would have sat in an open space on a chair to have her photo taken; by whom? Her brother was interned with her as well; perhaps he was taking a photo of her to send to her family back in her home town to reassure her family? This immediately raised a number of logistical problems. The simpler scenario is of my mother having been liberated by the US forces and photographed for identification.

The masses of her hair being backlit needed to be modified; immediately I began this, my mother’s face appeared more delicate and beautiful.

Sat 7 Apr this is a work where edges collide, everything is a silhouette of everything else; more than any other previous work I can think of. Of course, here, the subject demands complete, serious attention. It is not merely a lyrical exercise but a dramatic, indeed tragic exploration. When I described this scenario to a textile colleague she wished that I would soon be able to recover from the trauma that I had described. Indeed, my mother never did; every day, she found the problems of her existence unbearable and they daily reduced her to tears. They certainly contributed to my bed wetting as a young child. When her large family of six children had grown up and left home she was no longer quite so traumatised.

Tues 10 Apr. Because the final lighting effects may not accord with moonlight I have decided to title the work more neutrally

“ DETENTION CAMP 1948 “. On my birth certificate (I was born in 1951); my mother’s age is stated as 32, which means that in 1948, when this photo was taken, she was 29.

Fri 13 Apr 4.45 am Kandinsky amongst others invites us to explore the spiritual in art; I would suggest it is like a prayer, a constant communication with the cosmos. The examples for this for me are the fact that it is impossible to regulate a day’s work: yesterday, I decided to begin to complete the colouring of my mother’s face. First, the shadow of her neck. Sure enough; that was like a pillar upon which the rest would follow. Then a ring of light pink buttons around her jaw to define it;; the mid left area was in deeper shadow. Much more work needs to happen. Meanwhile, another of those distractions, I sat down and sorted the green buttons into four categories: translucent light green, lighter green, greyer green, dark green and dark blue and shining dark: dark dark dark.

Tues 24 Apr.

Have just completed a substantial section of sky: I had found a cache of gleaming white buttons, not natural pearl shell but lustrous none the less; with these I covered the top of the work on both sides. A forthcoming embroidery competition invited entries that included plans for works to be completed. Towards that end I stretched the top of the material by one row of white buttons; on each vertical side I was also able to add stretchers between those currently existing (ties tied to the stretcher and pulling the material taut). So, I was able to remove and reuse a complete row of large white buttons and developed a way of mixing the two colours needed for the areas of sky: cloud white and sky blue. Sewing is a bit like fly fishing: there is the constant snagging of thread on the highest point: in this case the pupil, which is three buttons high.

What cannot be understated is the importance of reaching the point of reference where areas are completed. Perhaps the reality of the idea is manifested? Currently, the wood of the chair, the gold chain and cross, some of the skin tones of mum’s face, the sinister conglomerations of buildings: black, brown, grey, and from tonight a large portion of sky. The last contribution seems to have such a strong effect as it dominates the work?Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Music to Weave by?

Someone I read recently wrote that classical music has exhausted itself; that all the current potential and exciting experimentation is in rock, rap, R&B, jazz. Certainly, ABC Classical plays a lot of film score music, stuff where you eat popcorn and snooze. Not good. But if you want to go back, try the Dutch Bach Society’s version Matthew or John Passions. First Eliot Gardener then Koopman and then Herreweghe: my Dutch ancestors would be proud.

Even as I type this (second finger, as my index has a painful cut), I’m a one digit keyboardist, I’m listening to The Pretenders The Pretenders. The album starts furiously and variegates into various rhythms; Youtube fans write dubiously about Chrissie Hynde’s non-gendered ferocity as a singer/performer. Anyway, extraordinarily, this is their first album. It’s as if, as in Greek mythology, the US/UK band was born fully grown. Check the fourth track; the rhythm of the second line is clipped in a way I’d never heard before, to give the song a sprung rhythm (pace Gerard Manley Hopkins). That’s “pace”= truce not the musical meaning, but who cares.

Another born full-grown first favourite is the Stooges first album because of all its sexually ambiguous lyrics, way way ahead of its time. “Stick it deep inside, ’cause I’m loose”. But the disappointment is the second album, in spite of the perfect “I just wanna be your dog”. The rest is unoriginal, and quotes freely from The Doors. Back to them later. Is it that a band practises itself to the point of being presentable at the recording studio’s doors, writes a dynamic first and then finds that it has run out of steam and needs to withdraw to the desert in advance of its next incarnation?

The punk band Wire by contrast wrote and recorded its first album (“Saw you in the corner kissing a man… a fag”) as raw, street punk; however its second album Chairs Missing benefits from technological intervention, not too much to destroy the band’s integrity though. “Chairs missing” is a wonderful English idiom; much like the Australian “a few kangaroos missing in the back paddock”, or words to that effect. The typical English suburban house, 2 up/2 down, with its parlour poised for visitors has a required population of chairs. The album is ferocious, still raw with that occasional cockney twang, but also benefitting by techno polish. The minimalist lyrics, delivered succinctly without unnecessary repetition, each song almost a haiku, are remarkable.

The Doors of course are worth revisiting to explore the world Morrison described, the seasons he complained of, the gentle love lyrics. And how the system hounded Morrison: not being able to sing the phrase “we couldn’t get much higher” on the Ed Sullivan show; cut the mike. The times the police dragged Morrison offstage; admittedly he threatened to drop his daks. The woman reporter who asked him what it felt like to be the male Barbie of the time. The video of Morrison in the back seat of a limo, windows open, the star obviously gone to another planet under various influences and jet fuel, being sexually groped by fans through the window with Morrison only faintly reacting to the assault.

The entire period is unique; it had such talented antecedents: the R&B that formed the Rolling Stones. The Beatles with their English nursery rhyme lyrics and psychedelic exploration. I like the str8 up/str8 down music follower who gave up on the Beatles for being incomprehensible, saying he preferred the Rolling Stones, who had stayed true. The 60’s/70’s had an unrepeatable cultural and historical intensity. Who would want those things repeated? Though, one may ask: have we reached a cultural moment where art is no longer a threat to the status quo?

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FATE DESTINY AND SELF DETERMINATION

The wonderful Line Dufour has been organising a multi-country exhibition of small pieces assembled into both a pre- determined jigsaw pattern and a trajectory of shapes, both, together exemplifying the title of her show. My first contribution was an obscure assemblage of two shapes, in fact, the shape of NSW in yellow and blue, the two fitted together together but reversed. Who could get its meaning, of course, but a local?

I decided to enter a second piece having rescued a fragment from my storage cupboard of bits and fragments. Once I had spent an idle but satisfying hour sewing the warp ends behind the work, and tidied its reverse with cotton tape I decided it was worth a second reincarnation. I called it GLYPH, (symbol within symbol), 19 cms H X 5.5 cms W (top) X 4 cms W (bot). The title seemed to fit with the spirit of Line Dufour’s vision, given that she had recently negotiated an extension of the exhibition to Ireland.

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BLOND YOUTH WITH RAINBOW LORIKEETS (HOMAGE TO FRIDA KAHLO).

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BLOND YOUTH WITH RAINBOW LORIKEETS (HOMAGE TO FRIDA KAHLO),

75 cms H X 60 cms W.

All art, my art, strives for a logical development. Using materials consistently in my recent piece, Youth with Two Rainbow Lorikeets (Homage to Frida Kahlo), for instance, I repeated the use of shell buttons for skin tones from my work Matthew Mitcham, also the use of metal buttons, consistent with baroque gilded frames.

Originally, I wanted to compact as many identity symbols as possible of the Lavender Menace, that visual from the video of the Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter, in my case personal images and memories of my membership of Sydney Gay Liberation in the 1970’s. Accordingly, I began with a macrame headband showing at the centre of the forehead a pink triangle. I also wanted to imbue the work with an overwhelming visual of the rainbow coalition. However, this merged into the image of two rainbow lorikeets, since I rejected the still formless image of the rainbow in my work, not to mention the problem of amassing sufficient buttons of each colour of the spectrum. The two bird images were like attributes in an icon, also the companions of Frida Kahlo in one of her self portraits.

The gold buttons echoing the yellow and blond of the hair; the blue of the shell buttons both amplified and reflected the blond tints of hair; they also expressed the blue of a summer sky: “sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines”, all that blond hair!! usually surrounded on either side with worshipping donors or attributes or the like. By making use of the image of the rainbow lorikeet I was able to combine my original use of the rainbow to represent my LGBTIQ communities. Admitting the work resembled an homage to Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait with monkeys was not to say that I had her painting consciously in mind; however, artists as they work depend upon the history of images that have gone before. For instance, before Kahlo one might note Rousseau or Gauguin, at least.

I further developed the use of metal buttons from my earlier portrait of Matthew Mitcham. I long resisted using buttons that had to be attached unseen from underneath; my OC, superstitious logic was that visible stitching of the buttons was intrinsic to the development of the work. However, buttons whose stitched attachment is unseen were in the metal border and in the surrounds of the lorikeets, which suggested by their different coloured centres flowers in the bush. In this work, the stitching draws the eye, not just to black threads at the centre of the lorikeet’s eye, representing the depth of the pupil, but to a couple of stitches nearby that evoke the curve of its upper over lower beak. This was a first for me whereby the stitching travels outside the confines of a button, and performs a task other than merely attaching button to background. For me, it ventures into the territory of embroidery, which requires a certain confidence even audacity, not to mention the tensioned consistency of a tambour.

I can see a logical trilogy created in the Matthew Mitcham portrait, the Blond Youth and Ramana. All show faces larger than life. The Blond Youth began when I found stored in a box of notes, catalogues and small stored works a piece of black embroidery canvas on which I’d traced with white out the larger than life face projected onto it years ago by my trusty old overhead projector.

My use of the shell buttons is a habit I have developed, firstly for the elusive and multi coloured surface the button adds to any work. However in Blond Youth I was able to use the shell buttons as mirrors to amplify the yellow transparent smaller buttons. On the face, as\ in the Mitcham work, I constructed a speckled effect by sewing near each shell button a smaller one with flecks of brown, to resemble skin tone.

A friend recently admired the reverse of one of my tapestries, now in his collection; for him I have included a photo of the reverse of BYWRL (HTFK). I hope it adds richness to his appreciation.

There were several comments on my Fb page appreciative of the reverse as an innovative type of embroidery. What springs to mind is a US artist who uses a loom with nails protruding along the four sides of the perimeter. With a black thread he crosses the space until the threads accumulate and form an engraving like effect. Here are the incidental strokes of going from hole to hole or from one form to another; for me only the upper surface is important; although I manage to gauge the second hole of a button from where the thread has penetrated the underside.

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