Sunday, November 30, 2014

As part of the room exchange

I have been moving my short story collections to another location.  I had tidied them out of the way, packed into the bottom shelf of a bookcase while my mother was using the room, and had almost forgotten about them.  One aspect of tidying and sorting which I do enjoy is the rediscovery of fading memories.
I love the short story form.  I never really understand why it is not more popular.  I encountered the form first from reading essays at school.  My parents were strict about how much time I should spend at homework, and so when I had finished, I always had a book to read.  With a short story I could quickly be whisked away to another environment, and have an intense relationship with character, plot, ambience ... which could all then be savoured in my mind when doing chores etc.  Novels' worlds were more difficult to hold onto until later in my schooling when homework legitimately took all evening and part of the weekend.
I realised as I was transporting my collection the other day, and placing them on accessible shelves, that if I had to choose just a couple of shelves of books that I could keep, it would be the short stories.  I smiled in memory as I put them up: authors like William Trevor, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Somerset Maugham, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt, Borges, Theroux - whose short stories I always found more satisfying than the novels or the travel books, William Boyd, D.H. Lawrence - again I prefer his short stories and poetry to his novels, ... oh, just too many to mention.
Some memorable collections are Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino, Dreams of Dead Women's Handbags by Shena MacKay, Unlikely Stories Mostly by Alasdair Grey, Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez....  I also discovered a volume I'd completely forgotten, and now add it to my current hibernation pile: Collected Stories by Carol Shields.
I also have collections by country, by topic, and by general anthology like the absolutely marvellous Soho Square collections 1 (cover pictured above), 2, and 3 published by Bloomsbury.  Now, where no illustrations are involved, I shall be continuing to read short stories, but on my Kindle, so this collection of books dating back to the early 60s has become even more precious.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winter projects indoors

My husband and I have decided to swap rooms, and to do so before the end of the year.  This is easy to say, and it's a pleasant occupation to plan where everything will go, but in the meantime it is appalling how much stuff there is to pack up and move.
As a diversion from this I have been working on some designs.
Quiet contemplation (design in progress)
First, based on the scan of the cotinus leaves I appropriated a figure from elsewhere in my files.  I'm pleased with this start, and will likely take it further.
Building an argument (design in progress)
Also the grid ideas have been bubbling away on the back burner, and this pair popped into my mind.  I think I'm reasonably pleased with this too.
But now I'd better put away my digital stylus and get sorting!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gearing up for winter projects

This end of year is proving to be a busy one, especially in the garden.  We have almost completed an area of gravel near the dark side of the house.  We chose a local flint which has a lot of white and has already made a difference to the light on darker days.
Last year we had a deer fence erected on one boundary, and this winter we propose to plant a hedge just inside this fence, eventually to overgrow it.  I'm busy sorting out the quantity and variety of native hedge plants which will feed the birds in years to come.
Hawthorn grows well here, and provides lovely blossom as well as berries - and thorns to repel unwanted visitors!
Holly has the same qualities as the hawthorn, but the added benefit of being evergreen, and thus providing a bit of all round privacy.
 
Guelder rose, the common viburnum is a plant I really love, also with blossom and berries, but it has the added beauty of glowing red leaves in autumn.
Spindle, euonymus, has berries like earrings - such an exquisite delight to discover when looking closely.
Dogwood, cornus, provides interesting leaves in the summer and attractive stems in the winter.
And I am assured that they will all grow quickly at about the same pace.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not rust, but salt

I am learning about salt in the FutureLearn course on Exploring our Oceans this week, and we were provided with this link to fantastic photographs of volcanoes, such as the one below -
Like in a coral reef, yellow ridges of salt rise to the surface of the blue lake (Dallol, Ethiopia).
 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The rust age

Natural dyeing is so popular these days, and particularly the use of rust - just put the words rusted textile into Google and look at all the divers images that pop up.  I have written a short post about this in Ragged Cloth Café, but encountered so many more examples that I've continued here.
I particularly was interested to see what folks made of their rustings, and was struck by the following:
I really like the combination of indigo and rust in this piece by Jenny Bullen.  The image came from here.
And I very much like the combination of colours in this piece by Constance Rose.
 
Mixing the rust element with colour gives it another dimension, it is more than an end in itself -
although having said that, I do like this photo of rusted cloths hanging out to dry (from here).
I also like this checkerboard weaving of rusted cloth with batik by LuAnn Kessi.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mellow yellow

November certainly rings the changes.  We awoke to steady rain, and it took a long time for the light to dawn this morning, yet here we are in glorious sunshine with not a cloud in the sky!  I dashed out without pausing even to put on a cardigan - though I suspect it will be chill once the sun goes down.
The grasses have developed highlights of yellow through buff to almost white.
A lovely contrast between the yellowed leaves and the darkening red sedum flowers.
More grass, with one of the cemetery oaks in the background.
As some plants are fading, so the mahonia is developing its buds.  By January it will be covered in sweet scented flowers and accompanying feasting blue tits.
A young hazel, planted by one of neighbourly grey squirrels.
One end of the beech hedge, allowed to grow taller to help disguise the electricity pole.
The other end of the beech hedge with some willows still with their leaves.  Without their leaves after some windy days are our black poplar to the left, and the cemetery sibling at the right back.
The dogwood on the edge of the wetland,
and across the wetland the yellow leaves still on willows in front of the Lombardy poplar, which was shaken leafless.  Note the blue sky!
The wisteria leaves are only just beginning to turn yellow, above the winter jasmine
which is blooming in the warm sun.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reviving a memory

Anselm Kiefer The Rhine (Melancholia) image from here
Spurred by Eirene's post on Sigmar Polke I started remembering German artists whose work I admire - but I do not think of artists by nationality normally, and so it was only when I was thinking further about Kiefer's wondrous woodcuts in the Royal Academy exhibition (see some above) that the image of Matthias Mansen' Das Haus prompted me to explore more about both him and Kiefer's woodcuts.
Matthias Mansen About the house  image from here

Image above, and more information about woodcut illustrations here.

German woodcuts were attractive to me as an illustrative medium first, always striking me a having the drama which so many other illustrations lacked.  And I mean woodcuts rather than wood engravings.  I admired the latter, but they lacked joy for me. 
Woodcuts in the British Museum collection (images from here)

As a child early religious illustrations in woodcut such as these always struck me like stills from animations of icons.  My admiration of woodcuts continued as part of my general interest in art, not becoming separately specifically interested until I became drawn to the image by Matthias Mansen above.
A young friend who was at art college at the time saw an exhibition of the woodcuts at the Alan Cristea Gallery in London in 1998.  I am sorry to say that I have never actually seen any of Mansen's work other than in reproduction.  The friend gave me a gatefold card of About the house, and I was smitten - I have had the card up on my pin board ever since.  However, it would be several years, not until 2011 before I explored printmaking for myself.
Matthias Mansen: Gehen 1994 (image from here)

In this recent exploration of Mansen's work I am delighted to find that he too is interested in combining, as is Kiefer, though in different ways.  Anyone with sufficient interest, and a bit of time can read a fascinating article here.  And there is a quick introduction to the About the house exhibition here

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Smoky November

Parts of our smoke bush seem to have a virus that is quite beautiful.  I gathered some of the affected leaves to scan.  The two leaves at the bottom are the normal ones, and the one at the left is showing the equally attractive back.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Windy doodle

The bitter wind whipped up in the past couple of days brought to mind the poem by Sara Coleridge in which November is characterised thus:
Dull November brings the blast;
Then the leaves are whirling fast.

And while I was thinking about something else, I doodled:
I do like the seasons to be distinct, and each month to make its particular presence felt.  It is monotonous weather which gets under my skin.  It will doubtless have been noted that there are no leaves in this image; that's where the stitching (if this gets that far) will come in.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A bitter wind today

as I worked on a design which had been started in milder weather.
Autumn: dance from memory - now reached the stage when it can be left to simmer.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Monumentally visceral

We first encountered the work of Anselm Kiefer in the Venice Biennale of 1997 - room after room dwarfed by the one or two paintings hung.  We were unprepared for the effect: straw, mud, submarines, trees, words ... wow!  The limited subdued palette of earth, ash, rust, crumble was more powerful than any dazzle of colour and shine.  He delivered a knock-out blow.
More recently, as an Honorary Royal Academician, he has contributed one stunner of a punch to each Summer Exhibition.  That show comes without explicatory labels, and so the mind has to rely on the evidence of the eyes fed through the emotions and memory to make something of these exquisitely powerful works.
I was anticipating the current Royal Academy exhibition with much excitement from the moment that I learned it was planned.  Today I determined that I would approach my visit in the way that I have enjoyed the previous encounters: mostly without information.  With the help of the catalogue I shall fill that in later.  
For this post I am providing only one image: Hortus Conclusus, a collage of woodcuts.  Kiefer's work really needs to be experienced.  A small reproduction does neither the work nor the viewer any favours.  One needs to be overwhelmed by both the size and three dimensionality of it.  (Eirene has provided images from the exhibition in her blogged review here and some specific information here.  And there are further reviews of the exhibition here, here, here, here, and here.)
I scribbled down a lot of seemingly incoherent notes while I viewed and marvelled.  Here are some of them:

mythic/religious, construction/destruction, order/chaos, birth/death/birth, the marvels and messes of mankind

a beautiful ruin - why do we find ruins beautiful?  can we cope only with historic destruction while avoiding any thoughts about current or recent destruction in which we may have been complicit?  do we believe that we can always build better on what others have destroyed, or caused us to destroy?

monumental work showing the destruction of monuments.

hubris and its desserts/deserts

look and ye shall see, seek and ye shall find

I am jangling like a shop door propelled open in such a rush.  In a few days I shall read the reviews linked above, and soon I shall read the catalogue, but for now I shall savour my still vivid emotional memories.

Questions 3 and 4

Why do I create what I do?
Because I always have to be making something.  I need to be doing something with my hands, and I need to be doing something that needs planning, problem-solving, creating with my mind and eye as well as my hands - and provides me with a visualisation of where I am.
Grasp (2007)
I am fundamentally a story teller, and so the image I create can be seen as an illustration of an idea.  It is a means of expressing what I think and how I feel about what is going on.
Waiting (2008)
I use fabric because it suits my hands, it is clean, can be picked up and put down, can travel with me, ....  I also use fabric because it is historically an expression of a woman's life - or at least the feminine in life, and that is important to how I define myself.  I also use fabric because it is flat without being flat, it hangs in an alive way, it catches the light, it looks warm, it looks reassuring even if what it depicts is not.

How does my creating process work?
A great deal of how the image comes about is a mystery to me.  My subconscious spins straw into gold. The quilt below was one image which presented itself to me when I was looking through my photographs of Avebury - a place I love, to which I have returned many times, and the history of which intrigues me.  A henge is a prehistoric structure which could loosely be described as a large circular ditch with an accompanying mound, and this with the stones at Avebury imbue me with a feeling of the significance of the human hand on the landscape, and at the same time the insignificance of the individual human. 
Henge horizon (2010)
My subconscious imagination having presented me with the image, I tried to analyse it after I had made the quilt: the two horizons are a means of recording both the round and the revisiting/time passing.  The man with his bicycle was a fluke in my photograph, but it captured a time which could be said to be nearer the present, but leaning back, so to speak.  The head is made of stone (I used a photograph of one of the standing stones) is vaguely classical, and perhaps self important.  I also hope that I have captured some of the mystical ambience, and left hanging questions.  That is an example of how my creating process often works.
Another example, below, is my reaction to various news items about political prisoners, while I too at that time was feeling an emotional prisoner of sorts.
Game (2007)
I do not use a sketchbook, but I keep digital files of my photographs, and of other digitised work such as traditional prints, scribbled drawings of the sea, pastels, scans of leaves or other objects.  I also draw people - either from life as blind drawing (as above) which I then scan, or straight on the computer in digital form from my imagination, sometimes helped with details drawn from photographs rather than life.  These are ingredients, and I cook them together digitally in different recipes - often reusing different combinations of the ingredients.
Although I do not use a sketchbook, I do use notebooks to write down various ideas for 'meals' which pop into my head.  My memory is dumping more and more these days, so if I don't write things down they disappear.  I am adding more process notes now too as I leave gaps between stages of digital development - again, it's memory becoming alarmingly more sieve-like.
The red room: Recognition (2008)
I do a lot of digital drawing, collaging, and other manipulation before the image is ready for printing onto fabric.  Once that is done I then enjoy choosing the colours of threads, and mostly use Stef Francis' space dyed cotton or silk.  And while I am stitching I am also thinking - not least about projects in the pipelines past, current, and future.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Question 2

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Well, I suppose, first I have to define my genre.  This is something I have been thinking about more since I added traditional printmaking to the techniques I use.  The end product is textile, however, so I suppose I should still be described as a textile artist.  And yet it is important to me that the work is largely created digitally, from both digitised and originally digital beginnings. 
Every pebble an adventure (161 x 100cm, 2005)
For the purpose of this exercise I shall confirm my genre to be the art quilt, and I have used my earliest art quilts as the images in this post.  I mostly chose the form because it provided an immediate and straightforward way for me to present my visual expressions in a large size.  I find the functionality of being able to pick up and put down the work with hardly any mess to clear up, and the overt links to women's work all attractive attributes of the way I use the form.
Penelope's garden (122 x 114cm, 2006)
How is my work different from other art quilts?  Certainly my work does not come out of traditional pieced quilt making (although this is how I first started making quilts when my figurative work was in acrylic paintings), nor does the stitching derive from the quilting patterns of traditional whole cloth work.  My work is pictorial: it is figurative and narrative.  It is predominantly whole cloth, or is made of a few large straightforwardly pieced elements.  The fabric is digitally printed and then predominantly hand stitched/quilted.  I am more concerned about the visualisation of the idea rather than the specific form it takes - although, of course that form contributes another layer of interpretation.
I am visualising my own ideas and feelings about what is happening in my life and my reactions to what is going on generally.  My thoughts about humanity, about our emotional interactions, our psychology are all depicted as intimate, but I hope referring also to a larger scale - a wider perception.  My aim is to present the narratives as possible inferences.  I want to deal with whatever is going on in my own little world, and at the same time I want to make people think.
No need for words (124.5 x 84cm, 2005)
My figurative imagery is intimate but anonymous.  Facial expressions are too easy to categorise instantly, and I prefer to have the onlooker take time to decide, to see the ambiguity of the body language or of the figure made symbol.  I want each piece to be attractive, but also to intrigue - not simply in a technical way (I wonder how she made that), but to spur thoughts, memories, questions.
Outside (120 x 117cm, 2008)
The two main differences from most other art quilts however I think are that my technical physical construction is simple, and that my construction of the image is by complex digital collage, and the image is printed digitally onto the cloth. 

I will answer Questions 3 and 4 together in the next post.