Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First Steps in Crochet and other makings

There are a few memes floating around the internet urging people to share influential books from their childhood or recent reading lives. I've never seen a 'how-to' book mentioned on any of these lists (or a recipe book for that matter) but I was recently reunited with one of the influential books of my life.

Bethwyn picked this up along with a pile of other old books to contribute to our altered book project, Frugal with the Brughel (have you noticed I spell the B word differently every single time I type it?). She had no idea that I would fall upon it with coos of delight and sighs of nostalgic rapture. I had no idea I would either, but every single spread was deeply familiar even though I can't have seen my, or any other, copy of First Steps in Crochet since at least the early 80s.

My first copy would have been well thumbed through the mid-70s, when I taught myself to crochet by laboriously following the excellent diagrams and instructions provided by the 'Editress: Patience Horne of Clackmannashire'. I don't remember actually following any of the patterns to make a 'dashing little bolero' or 'jaunty little hat'.

I suspect that even at a tender age I was more interested using traditional methods to make my own original designs. I do remember working a sky blue wool with the tension too tight, and my frustration at not having the manual dexterity at 8 or ten years to be able to satisfactorily manifest the creation I imagined. Even if all I ever finished was that wobbly-edged scarf I must have studied the whole book very closely to have imprinted it so deeply on my memory.

My first real success with a craft was knitting, which I took up some ten years later, after disappointing dabblings in sewing, embroidery and zine making etc. Penelope started making me a complicated fair isle pullover and then stopped at the sleeves, leaving the body for me to finish. So I was forced to learn to knit but at least I didn't have to cast on until I'd made a whole garment. I became addicted to knitting and didn't stop for about ten years until I'd made everyone I knew a jersey or a hat, and gave myself OOS.

Bethwyn was so thrilled at my delight in reconnecting with First Steps in Crochet, that she withdrew it from our altered book pile (one of our rules is that either of us can withdraw any book from contention for cutting up at any time) and gave it to me as a birthday present.

And then for Christmas Bethwyn gave me this even better gift, a badge made out of an old blanket label (I think it's the label from the blue blanket I used as the ocean background for Ross Island). I love it so much, even though when I wear it, everyone I meet peers at my chest and says 'Hospital? wha?'. The fabric in the background is the excellent bag that Anna sewed for me as a Christmas present. And below are some (just some) of the insane variety of cookies that my mother and I made together last week.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Below the surface

Colour tests for underwater iceberg

I am beginning to make a new iceberg. This one will include the 80% of the iceberg hidden below the water. It's been very difficult to find information on and images of icebergs below water, but after several months of research I finally feel ready to begin.

All the iceberg tips I have made (including the current work in progress) are based on photographs; there are so many beautiful and detailed images of iceberg tips for me to copy. However, my below-surface berg will be based on a composite sketch, pulling together all I have learned, seen and imagined, without having a single reliable image to inspire me.

The Rayleigh effect scatters sunlight so that the further from the surface, the bluer the light that shines through ice. I'm actually basing my underwater ice colours on a description of a deep crevasse in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel, Antarctica where he says

...only the very bluest light made it down here, glowing from out of the ice in an intense creamy-translucent turquoise, or actually an unnamed blue unlike any other she had seen. (...) all of it a blue that could not be described and could scarcely be apprehended, as it seemed to flood and then to overflood the eye.

KSR's novel is the origin of my Antarctic obsession, my most thumbed literary reference (though I do double check my facts in my Reader's Digest encyclopedia of Antarctica). His book can be seen as a framework for the exhibition of Antarctic pieces I will have next August, for he seamlessly brings together the sciences, the human history, the current politics, and potential futures of Antarctica. These are the same themes that I am responding to in my work, and so it is no accident that the next step of my imaginary Antarctic journey is to go below the surface, below the entrancing and accessible tip of the iceberg, to explore the unnamed, the indescribable and the scarcely apprehended.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snail mail joy

Look what was inside the enormous box of goodies sent by my delightful internet buddy, Helen Lehndorf, a talented poet, crafter, performer, Flickr photo curator, brilliant blogger on sabbatical, now the best Facebook status updater out of all 500 million users.

I knew Helen was planning to mail back to me a DVD and book I'd sent to her and I assumed it was taking so long because she is a busy mother and creative writing tutor, with craft fairs to sew for and poems to write. I had no idea she was filling an huge box with a treasure trove of delightful treats.

Here's a small selection of highlights, for example...

A couple of sweet badges which I started wearing straight away: one handmade flower and one bird print . The fish is on a Frankie poster I have hung next to my desk at work. (Another Frankie poster was given to a young workmate who needed cheering up).

From left: cubes of exotic herbal teas, Helen's collaged cards some of which have already been dispatched to lucky friends; CDs of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and the Crimson Club; and the DVD I sent Helen a while back called The Winter of the Beard. If anyone else wants to borrow my copy, you are welcome even if it's not returned in such lavish fashion!

Beautiful embroidered and beaded flower appliques- I have come back from Melbourne determined to wear more flowers (à la Frida Kahlo), an idea reinforced by reading Carol Kaesuk Yoon's wonderful book about the umwelt called Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science. (I should say that nowhere in the book does Yoon offer any fashion advice, but rather she explains why humans love (representations of) the natural world and why it is so important to our psyche).

One of Helen's handmade bunnies in a cross stitched vintage fabric, now making friends with my Peter Rabbit bedspread. A stash of mostly orange fabrics. In my life of the past few years it seems to be the colour associated with creative transformation and so I have learned to welcome its arrival. Also a swatch of embroidery flosses, which I will make good use of you can be sure. I try and do all my experimental and casual embroidery with second-hand floss, though I end up buying new for the final works, to get the colours consistent.

A couple of paperbacks I look forward to reading this summer. Plus the return of Response (with the green on white letterpress cover), the collaborative travelling journal project I launched nearly two years ago. There are a couple of blank spreads left to be filled, if you are interested let me know. It's fascinating to look at how the contributors in three countries so far have responded to the challenge of the blank page. It's a beautiful book, and I look forward to sharing it on this blog when its finished.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Open Studio 2010

Welcome to my Open Studio.

My Open Studio was a great success. Plenty of people came along, and most of them weren't even friends or family! Seeing strangers walking up the driveway clutching a clipping from the local paper gave me such a thrill. It was wonderful to meet some folks who have been following my art for years but not made personal contact before.

Some of the artist's books that I made between 2003-2009

The Open Studio was a chance to pull out a pile of older work which hasn't been seen for a while. I hung Membranes on the clothes line, and enjoyed watching it dance in the breeze- far more dynamic than it's ever looked inside a gallery. The Optimistic Heart remains a perennial best seller, and I'm down to the last dozen or so of the original edition of 400 (it was to be and edition of 1000, but water damage destroyed some of the stock, along with many of my personal possessions, in 2006).

The main attraction of the Open Studio was My Antarctica on its first public outing. My Antarctica is stored off-site so not even I get to see it very often. Spending a day in its company was a pleasure. Visitors stopped and stared when they walked in and saw it dominating the room, even just resting on the floor nestled in its dust sheet. I have recently confirmed a solo exhibition of Antarctic-themed work at ArtsPost in Hamilton, August 2011 so My Antarctica will finally get to hang on a big white wall where it really belongs.

Assorted wall art, book art, and embossed fossil tags displayed on my book press.

Two of the three Coral Portraits sold. They don't photograph terribly well, so I haven't put them on Etsy but if anyone is interested in the remaining portrait (the one on the right in this photo) email me for more information. The first of the embroidered fossils that were in my Punctuated Equilibrium installation sold as well (Sea Stars). The remaining three are still available in my Etsy Shop (or contact me directly).

A box of crocheted coral pins, a pile of painted paper scrolls and some recent artist's books

After looking (and touching with gloves) to their hearts' content, visitors were treated to chocolate cupcakes (recipe here) and homemade lemonade. On Saturday I had taken up a Freecycle invitation to pick lemons from an overburdened tree and they turned out to be the juiciest, sweetest lemons ever: making delicious lemonade. Some visitors lingered to chat in the shade outside the studio. A couple people departed only to return with mother or husband, whom they guided around the studio pointing out their favourite pieces.

It was a relaxed, sociable and profitable afternoon of sharing my work with interested visitors. Thank you so much to everyone who helped me get ready for it. The many days spent preparing and following up were worthwhile and I think I'll do it again next December. See you then.

Bethwyn Littler, with arms akimbo, my collaborator on the altered books project- we had a selection of works in progress for people to leaf through..

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Melbourne Highlights

I like the juxtaposition of beautiful old architecture against the tall shiny buildings. Not so much the murky Yarra.

Some of the best moments of my ten days in Melbourne were the ones where I didn't take any pictures. So the pictures here were mostly taken while waiting for trams or other quiet interludes.

So many lovely architectural details everywhere. Just somebody's house near Brunswick St.

An exhibition of historic lace at NGV didn't so much inspire as intimidate me. It was a reality check on the commitment required to make great lace by hand. Do I really want to strain my eyes, abandon all other media and devote years to learning making lace that is all but indistinguishable from really good machine lace? It was all very beautiful but sobering.

Unnerved: The New Zealand Project. (I didn't go to this exhibition because I figure I can see NZ art at home)

But I didn't stay sober for long because downstairs in the bookshop I found a book on art embroidery that so excited me and filled me with ideas for my next project that I read the whole book right there (too expensive to buy). Then I went to the Contemporary Landscape Photography exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre which was very satisfying- very large format pictures that challenge the scenery.

Multicultural Melbourne

Other great exhibitions in Melbourne last week included Self Portraits at the Ian Potter Centre and the Awards Exhibition for RMIT graduates- some very wonderful things to be see there including a wall sized painting of fountains and an interactive cloud. I went to one opening, at the Australian Print Workshop which was crammed full of beautiful prints and crammed full of people too, on a very humid evening. But I wanted to see their Albion and Columbian printing presses so I kept going back inside.

Cake and crochet in a cafe with Rayna- her first afternoon off without any babies all year.

Hubble 3D at the Imax theatre in the Melbourne Museum was fantastic and really did a good job of giving a visceral sense of the immensity of space. And the natural history wing of the Melbourne Museum was pretty fabulous too. Fossils... I've been so disappointed in my search for fossils in NZ museums but here was everything my heart desired. I also loved the collection of taxidermy animals that was so beautifully curated that it completely changed my thinking on such things.

Window shopping on Smith Street (I liked the irony of the taxidermied birds right next door to the vegan shop)

Who knew vegan shoes could be so seductively elegant? (I took this one for you Sarah and remind me to show you the boots as well)

Most memorable meals in Melbourne: dinner with Louise and Alex at Rice Queen; lunch alone at Don Too, the Japanese noodle bar recommended in a guidebook that I was glad I sought out; dinner on my birthday at Mamasita: we had to queue to get in but the Mexican food was exquisite and the service exemplary; Portuguese pizza with Dutch Rob in a very Euro-feeling laneway; Book Club potluck with Louise's friends on her living room floor (milk cherries!); breakfast on my last morning in the back garden at Mixed Business in Clifton Hill.

Sukiyaki at Don Too on Little Lonsdale

Several meals consisted entirely of fresh, ripe, in-season mangoes: a whole 'nother class of fruit from those we eat as imports. Also, special mention must go to the European cake shops of Ackland Street, St Kilda. I tried to try them all and over a couple of days enjoyed a cherry danish to die for, macaroons too heady to share and a pecan tart piled high with sticky crunchy nuts. Oh, and I mustn't forget M. Truffe and the small, exquisite bar of chocolate so divine I keep tasting smaller and smaller crumbs because I never want it to end.

Rice Queen on Smith Street where the entire staff seems to consist of my daughter's friends and there was a live band on Friday night.

Other things to like about Melbourne. It seems like a lot of people in Melbourne ride bikes like mine, not sporty but stepovers with baskets- very nice. Also lots of car drivers give way to pedestrians.

In St Kilda the dedicated cycle lanes were beyond impressive.

So many, so good, bookshops. I could have spent all my time and all my money in the book shops. But, uncharacteristically, I also spent some time and money on pretty pretty clothes- the best selection was Stella's who was just clearing out her wardrobe with a rack on the street outside her flat.

Window shopping on Gertrude Street (I took this one for you Anna)

I went to Bikram hot yoga sessions three mornings. Whew! I wish we had Bikram in Hamilton. Saturday's flea market at Fitzroy School- although it was sickeningly hot out in the sun, I couldn't tear myself away from the delightful bargains. On my last evening Louise took me up six flights of stairs (no elevator) to the Rooftop Cinema where we sat in deck chairs in the open air and when it got dark watched a movie (Youth in Revolt) against the sparkling lights of the looming skyscrapers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Rock gods can be a literal description

I decided not to post my gushy fangirl ravings about seeing U2 live to this blog, but if you are really keen you can check out my photos and commentary on Facebook.

OK, just one photo here, because you begged me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shelf- An exhibtion of small objects

Looking through the window of Katherine Pigott's cardboard house three stories tall and each interior perfectly and delicately drawn and painted.

I'm honoured to be included in the roll call of well respected artists in this group show at The Framing Workshop in Silverdale, Hamilton until 19 January 2011. We were given the brief to make an object to fit on a shelf 165x165mm and the diversity of responses is satisfying. All so different and every piece a small gem.

The piece on the left is a resin water balloon

Left is a found deer sculpture that has been dressed, centre is Ann Bell's shishiro vessel, and right is a fascinating assemblage.

The Framing Workshop is one of the classiest galleries in Hamilton (and one of the smallest). This exhibiton, curated by owner Sarah Marston and artist Gaye Jurisich, is one of the most satisfying exhibitons I've seen locally this year (am I allowed to say that if I am included?).

I toyed with idea of making an iceberg with the tip on top of the shelf and the 80% underwater hanging below the shelf. This artist was the only one of us to actually use the underside of the shelf, and so wonderfully.

Unfortunately there wasn't a take home catalogue and I didn't document the artist's names as I was taking these photos. Sorry- if you see your work let me know names and links so I can acknowledge.

I submitted four icebergs and there are a pair displayed in each window

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Punctuated Equilibrium in Store

As the end of the year approaches, I am reviewing my achievements of 2010. One of my proudest was the installation 'Punctuated Equilibrium' at the Waikato Museum earlier this year. Almost all of the elements of the installation were actually created (or at least begun) during my 2009 residency at Hamilton Girls High School but I'm counting it as a 2010 achievement as that's when the project was completed.

It felt quite poignant to un-install 'Punctuated Equilibrium' earlier this month, but I am thrilled to be sharing all the individual elements again in another form. As a 'site specific' installation, this combination of works won't be shown again outside of the Vitrine. Instead I have added each of the pieces to my Etsy shop. If you liked my embroidered fossils or the microfossil sketchbook, you can buy these now, just as they were exhibited.

Deep Time, the 570 metres of paper scrolls representing 570 million years of multi cellular life on earth is also for sale, as individual scrolls. You can pick and choose among your favourite colours (not all the scrolls have been added to the shop quite yet, so if the colour you want isn't there, just ask). I love the idea that someone will draw or write on the painted paper, or collage on it or with it, creating a new other life for these unusual books. Of course if you just want to have a pretty cylinder of colour sitting on your shelf, or unroll the paper to make your own installation, that's going to look rather fine too.

The 500 or so woodcut blind embossed fossils in brown kraft paper are also for sale. I'm suggesting them as sets of 10 paper ornaments or gift tags (and have attached hemp twine for ease of attachment. Of course these woodcuts are still available (on luxuriously creamy paper) in the Five Fossils artist's book as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

AJ Seely Gully

The sign says 'second biggest kauri 37 years old'

The other day I heard a radio programme about ecological restoration happening in the Hamilton area, and one of the sites discussed was the AJ Seely Gully which is in my neighbourhood. I have noted the entrance before but not yet explored it as the path appeared steep narrow, muddy and generally unformed. But the weather this month is all hot and dry so a scramble down the track doesn't seem so intimidating as in the middle of a rainy winter. I suggested to Robin that we go check it out last weekend. So we did and this is what we saw.

Not exactly a bridge, but a board walk over what would often be mud. The sign says 'careful'

It's not a big area, and its a nice easy walk when the ground is dry. The land is private and the tree planting the 50 year project of a local man who decided to restore bush long before it became fashionable. There are some impressively big trees only a few years older than me, that he planted. Best of all were the wonderfully quirky hand written signs. Worst of all was the rubbish, though Robin and I picked up most of what we could and carried it out of the gully.

'Miro, note clematis above'. We looked and looked but couldn't spot any clematis.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Deconstructionist Delight

Beads salvaged from Soul of the Sea. Even the most of the snippets of thread go in my scrapjar as future stuffing.

Bulky old unsold works of art, no matter how beloved, are a millstone. I don't want to keep putting them out to galleries because there's always new works I want to show. Keeping them in storage is inconvenient and expensive.

Thus one of the most effective cures for the persistant existential angst plaguing me this spring has been deconstructing pieces that for whatever reason have passed their used by dates. It is extremely satisfying to be actively engaged with the materials, solving logistical problems and clearing the decks for new creativity. I am determined to salvage as much as possible for reuse.

Being gentle to the planet is a central concern in everything I do, not least in my art practice. Deconstructing my work is giving me fresh insights into how I can improve my art footprint in the next pieces I make. I am most pleased with my latest dismantlement which resulted in only a handful of gluey threads and some sticky tape from the packaging going to landfill. Every thing else from the work itself, the hanging hardware, and the packaging will be reused.

Shroud for King Tutankhamun/Soul of the Sea

My latest act of deconstruction is a piece with an illustrious history. It started its life as New Shroud for King Tutankhamun and was selected as a finalist in the NZ Art Guild Art Award in January 2008. It went from that exhibition straight into storage while I set off on my Australian adventure. Later that year when I set up my Etsy shop I renamed the piece Soul of the Sea and it continues to be my Etsy item most frequently selected for Treasuries. So often has it appeared in various mermaid-themed collections that I became quite blase. Last year I touted the piece around a couple of local galleries and Soul of the Sea enjoyed a few months in a prominent postition in the Thornton Gallery, then went back into storage.

Watercoloured die cut circles straight from the Sea

It is always the handwork that I love most about my art. Taking apart the Soul of the Sea brought back the happy memories I had of every stage of its original making: hand painting offcuts of water colour paper, diecutting them with my daughter on the Chandler Price press, pricking the holes, stitching the circles together with beads and finally building the elaborate packaging that has kept this fragile piece perfectly intact through its travels.

Inside the packaging I made out of cardboard from windscreen boxes, masses of bubble wrap and duct tape

As a finished object I was pleased that it was so well liked: as a finalist, as a Treasury frequent flyer, inviting much attention in the gallery. But I also was mostly frustrated that it never sold and so had to continue to be stored. If I had a big enough house I would have happily hung it in my living space. If I was close to anyone with enough wallspace I might have given it away. But now instead I am all afire with new enthusiasm to be beginning again with stitching the circles.

Post Sea circles, tidied up and ready to be stitched again.

This time I will make an edition of smaller Soul of the Seas, that are mounted on a rigid backboard and can be easily and affordably posted overseas. It will be so much easier to spread the love of the original piece in affordable and postable packages. And I get to do a whole lot more pleasurable making without having to buy any new materials!

The small pile in the foreground is going to landfill. The cardboard will be repurposed (for the third time in its life) to make a solar oven. The bubble wrap will come in handy, though these days I prefer to give it away rather than use it to package art.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Out into the world

Icebergs for Shelf - An exhibition of small objects opening 19 Nov at The Framing Workshop in Hamilton

It's an ambivalent moment sending work out from my studio to a gallery and I'm doing it twice this week. Ambivalent because exhibiting is the point of my making and yet it feels so risky. I'm never completely happy with what I've made, the minor imperfections glare out at me almost obscuring the bigger picture. By the time I've finished making something I've learned how much better I could make it next time, and its hard to believe that not every viewer will have as critical an eye as my own.

But out my pieces go, with the gallery fee I can ill afford, with the artist's statement I've sweated over, with my hopes and wishes that it will provoke thought, conversation and affection in many people; and (please God) an overwhelming acquisitive desire in at least one person with the means to satisfy themselves. Sending away my work marks the end of what has inevitably been many hours of pleasurable production, into an environment where those hours of effort are not necessarily valued. It's risky, so I'm ambivalent.

Coral Threnody for the Textile Show opening 13 November at The Depot Artspace in Devonport