24 October 2014

23 October 2014

Frightening, somehow

Strangely chilling. All found on the same pinterest board.

Closer to home ... emerging from a drawer, these transfer-paint samples (a la Jawlensky) from a class taken some 20 years ago ... lurid, scary ... gone!
Centre to is an original; centre bottom is printed onto pale tights, the rest onto pelmet vilene
ps - seen in Shoreditch -

Poetry Thursday - The Red Cockatoo by Po Chu-i

Poster is available via ltmuseumshop
Sent as a present from Annam—
A red cockatoo.
Colored like the peach-tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.

And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside. 

Po Chu-i (772-846), translated by Arthur Waley

(one of a set of "Chinese Poems on the Underground"; from New Poems on the Underground, 2006)

Also known as Bai Juyi, this poet lived during the Tang dynasty, an amazing time in Chinese cultural history - see a selection of its visual art here...horses, dancing ladies, and more! The Tang dynasty was a fertile time for poetry, too - 300 translated poems can be read here. The poets seemed to have a good time of it; drinking with friends in the moonlight was something they often wrote about.

Po Chu-i worked to develop a style that was easy to understand - the story goes that he would read his poems to an old peasant woman and would change any line that she didn't understand. A government official, he lived through the reign of eight or nine emperors. In 814 his writings got him into trouble when he overstepped his position as a minor palace official. He was demoted and sent into exile, which lasted till 819. Nor was this the only time he wrote contentious "memorials in remonstrance" with the current emperor.

A Buddhist, in 832 he repaired an unused part of the Xiangshan Monastery at Longmen, and on moving to this location, he began to refer to himself as the "Hermit of Xianshang". The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - it is famous for its tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples carved out of the rock.

22 October 2014

Tuesday is drawing day (2 and 3)

Anticipating the start of the "drawing in museums" course today, I set aside the equivalent time on Tuesday mornings for the past couple of weeks and approached the task of drawing as a means of
- recording
- exploring
- experimenting
- communicating
... just about anything goes, it needn't be entirely observational ... which can make it hard to start!

The first week was "inky day" and I blogged about it here.

The second week was a continuation of the pen-and-ink theme. Some luggage labels had come my way, and over a couple of hours a handful received straight lines, applied with various pens.
Rotring art pen; Stabilo whiteboard marker; glass dip pen; bamboo pen
 My favourite marks -
Small and quick;  slow and deliberate;  quick, light, overlapping;  what happens with bamboo
 Least liked -
Tedious little circles;  energetic but chaotic;  horizontal=hard to control;  simply unsatisfying
 Also I tried a bit of piercing, not only on luggage labels...
Look what happens to the wodge of paper underneath!
... but also on other types of paper -
Inked paper folded and stitched by machine, without thread in the needle,
using an automatic embroidery pattern

Tissue paper folded and punctured with a dressmaker's wheel
The third week - today - was to be the first week of the five-week course, Drawing in Museums. But mere hours before the course was to start, yesterday evening in fact, came the email that due to low enrolment, the course had to be cancelled.

I had imagined being in a group that went to different galleries in the British Museum (nearest to the college) and at first thought I might go there anyway. But without someone else's schedule to follow, the whole city of museums was open to me ... where to go first?

My choice, the Wallace Collection, was influenced by needing to return something to John Lewis, and to do a little shoe shopping along the way... so it was after 11 before I reached the museum.

In the dim, quiet, carpeted corridor leading to the lecture theatre hang four wonderful cloths in a glass case. I sat down and got out my oil pastels and was working away quite happily when the place was invaded by a class of schoolchildren, being told to line up against the wall. I was a bit in their way. They were interested in what I (sitting on the carpet with back to wall)  was doing but I heartily wished they would hurry off to somewhere else ... which finally they did. Such are the perils of drawing in museums ...
Velvet applique and silk embroidery, with horizontal seams
The fabric was behind glass and about 2 metres away from my feeble eyes, so I did the best I could on a small scale with the garish colours, then had a good look with nose (and camera) pressed against the glass.
Views from far and near
The velvet is worn - indeed the background and floral decoration is very worn in places. At first I thought the red pile was woven in, confined to some areas, and on looking closer was surprised to see that is was applique, with decorative lines of parallel stitches.
Signs of wear
 And yet, it looked like the stitching had been done over the velvet, outlined with couched threads, at least in some areas -
Embroidery is more intact in this area
Information on this textile doesn't seem to be available online ... it's intriguing. I was originally drawn to the bird, invisible in the top of the first picture; the one in the photo above is a mirror image, much better preserved.

To escape the return of the schoolchildren I hurried to the nearby conservation gallery and got interested in how a boule casket was made, and the tools used to build, shape, and veneer it. The casket and tools were on a revolving display, which required quite a bit of patience to see properly ...
Spokeshave, gouges(?), gluepot, plane, clamps
Two hours of drawing passed quickly. You do it for your own pleasure and edification, but it really is so much nicer to be able to share the outcome of the session with others.

So ... I'd like to invite others (you?) to join me on one or another Tuesday, in one or other museum. Get in touch by adding a comment or via the contact form in the sidebar.

21 October 2014

Not everything works the way you thought it would

These bricks came down from the attic ... last used in the 1960s or early 70s. The idea wast to give the colourful ones to a friends' child.

So I spent a tranquil Sunday morning piecing together, from thicker fabrics on hand in the weekend studio, a bag for the bricks that would lie flat and become a play area, then gather itself up with bricks inside. This was from memories of a pattern I'd seen in the 70s. Which is some time ago.
80cm diameter
I had to improvise the way of holding the cord, and indeed the cord itself - it's a long piece of selvedge.
It gathers up, with a little effort...
... and leaves a bit of a tangle, and floppy bits...
Unfortunately the floppy bits will let bricks escape - I had hoped it would be "tidier" somehow. Next week I'll undo the loops and the edging and add a tunnel into which the cord will fit, and from which it will emerge at useful intervals. Aha, here is a tutorial - the cord emerges twice, not 12 times!

20 October 2014

The comfort of materials

Contemplating this ...
(found on artpropelled; originating here, with more pages shown here)
... my brain whirrs. Pigment on pages of a sketchbook ... gradations, mixtures of paint ... masking tape resist ... perhaps a book that underwent a series of interventions on each page, in no particular order ... the sort of thing a person could do to PLAY ...

Something stops me though from rushing into the studio and plunging into this new project. Well, first I had to look at the rest of Elisabeth Couloigner's work, and that got a bit overwhelming!

My hesitation is about materials. This links with a similar thought that arose in Thursday's sketchbook class, when we used colour, and I didn't venture into using pastels ... because I'm not comfortable with them, don't like what happens when I use them, don't like the bold bright colours. And yet seeing what other people did with pastels ... that inspired me a bit, seeing the overlap of colours when simple (or not-so-simple) lines were used ...

So, you have to be comfortable with materials before you willingly pick them up and "just go". After the recent daily painting project, I'm so much more comfortable with (acrylic) paint and can happily mix and fail and start again to get a desired shade if something needs matching, even though I'm still not sure which shade is necessarily desired when painting "from imagination".

Do you have a "go to" material or tool? I'm comfortable with pen or biro, unfazed by drawing the line "wrong" when working fast - the pen feels like an extension of my eye, rather than something that must tell a recognisable truth to a critical viewer.

And I'm comfortable with a needle and thread, and with colourful fabric to choose from.

But I'm not comfortable - or even excited about - adding a different colour that has to be "thought up", even though I've played about with this for months. Hmm, for the daily painting of the ever-changing stripey picture, I had certain rules, even though they weren't written down... rules about how many colours to use per session (as few as possible), about not having leftover paint, about the shapes that were appearing. Rules, or a method (which is nothing if not implicit rules...) of how to start and what to do next. And an idea of what it will be like when it's "finished".

Play, now ... that has no rules (we are not playing a competitive game or sport). The starting point is vague ... you move a few things around. What happens next at any point is quite possibly random or accidental. "What it looks like" may not matter at any stage, it's about the process of doing, of playing. There is no predefined outcome ... you play till you're played out.

Playing with materials - putting lines or colour or pattern or marks on a scrap of paper or sketchbook page - what a fun thing to do. Remember colouring books? - as children we didn't feel compelled to colour all the pages before moving on to the next book ... we simply left blank the pictures that didn't appeal. (But oh boy, there were "good colourers" and "messy people"... and now we have inner critics...)

Well then ... let's play with one of our "uncomfortable" materials, say for 15 minutes a day for a week. First up for me is - oil pastels.

To end, another of Elisabeth Couloigner's pages from "I'm Searching" -

Moan on Monday - adverbial overload

The world is sad about Colonel Meow (via)
Does no-one simply "die" - or rather, do newspaper reports not allow them to simply die? Every time you read a report of a death, the person has "sadly died". Soon there will be a new word in the language: sadlydied, replacing died ... in much the same way that "suggested" has replaced "said" in recent years (but that's another rant altogether).

I suspect a subeditor was at work in this sentence: "At present, about 8,000 people have been confirmed as diagnosed with Ebola, and of those 3,865 have, sadly, died. " Does the Guardian's style book have guidance on sadly died, detailing situations in which it needs to be bracketed by commas?

A search for "sadly died" (in quotes, entire phrase) gets only 549,000 hits ... perhaps there's hope yet. No, wait - "sadly he died" (no quotes) gets 22,600,000 hits, and "sadly she died" gets 5,240,000 ... and "sadly died", no quotes, gets 22,700,000, presumably including a lot of the "he"s and "she"s.

Sadly here can mean "unfortunately" ... but the ludicrous spectre of the person being sad to be dying will keep rearing its head as I read yet another occurrence of the phrase.

Furthermore, a death toll, eg in the current ebola outbreak, isn't just high (48% of those infected), but "tragically high" ... possibly because a nice long word was needed (high is just four letters, after all), and nothing sensible could be thought of.

19 October 2014

Simply gorgeous

Strip woven cloth made by the Ewe people of Togo (found here). Fabulous. I'm imagining using the stripeyness of the colourful squares for a scrappy quilt - with red lines of quilting on grey.

What makes it dance is the light and dark yellow, and the way thin lines of red are used throughout.


Without writing things down, how do we remember?

The saying goes: I hear it and forget; I see it and remember; I do it and understand.

I heard birdsong and don't know what bird it is. I see artworks and sometimes remember the name of the artist. I follow a knitting pattern and get lost ... but once I understand the structure, I can look back and see where it's gone wrong. Different sorts of memory are at work, and  there are surely ways to enhance each of them.

One such is the phrase or sentence that helps us to remember lists - Roy G. Biv for the colours of the rainbow, for instance. Another method is to have a mental set of places and put objects in each one. Remember names by associating them with something meaningful to you. 

But what about the wider picture? In oral cultures, memory boards help to maintain and transmit historical knowledge. Someone who knows how to read them passes on the knowledge through a performance. 

Lukasa (memory board) in the form of a woman with a tortoise body. Luba culture, Congo (via)
"Lukasa, or memory boards, are hand-held wooden objects that present a conceptual map of fundamental aspects of Luba culture. They are at once illustrations of the Luba political system, historical chronicles of the Luba state, and territorial diagrams of local chiefdoms. Each board's design is unique and represents the divine revelations of a spirit medium expressed in sculptural form ... many lukasa utilize a system of denotation based on masses of shells and beads affixed to their wooden surfaces." (via)

" These wooden memory boards are used by Luba kings, diviners, geneologists and court historians in the Congo. The Lukasa is a memory aid, a means for evoking events, places and names which assist in initiation ceremonies. According to  A History of Art in Africa, "It stimulates thought and instructs in sacred lore, culture heroes, migrations, and sacred rule ...A configuration of beads, shells and pins coded by size and colour on one side refers to kings' lists. Beads may stand for individuals, a large bead encircled by smaller ones perhaps representing a chief and his entourage. Bead arrangements also refer to proverbs and praise phrases" as well as migratory paths and roads." (via)

" a great deal of ritual performance and ceremonial song is linked to repeating pragmatic and rational knowledge. This includes astronomical observations used to retain a calendar closely related to resource availability – be it from hunting, gathering or farming. Star patterns are often used as representations of mythological characters whose stories also encode rational knowledge." (via)

"Sets of locations in the landscape have been used as memory aids – the most effective memory aid known. ... the songlines of the Australian cultures, the sacred trails of the Native Americans and sacred paths found in cultures around the world served the needs of memory in exactly the same way." This is the method of loci, attributed to the Greek and Roman orators.

Medieval manuscripts too were designed as miniature memory spaces.
"In the Middle Ages, the memory arts changed purpose from the oratory of classical times to become the domain of the monks wishing to memorise great slabs of religious tracts. Monks were expected to memorise, at a minimum, all 150 psalms, a task which took somewhere between six months and three years.

"The heavily illustrated handwritten manuscripts were seen as a prompt for medieval memory when books were extremely rare and horrendously expensive. The words were enmeshed in images which match the classical recommendations for making information far more memorable: grotesque and violent acts along with fanciful beasts, strange figures, gross ugliness and extraordinary beauty. It was common to have each chapter start with a coloured initial, alternating between red and blue, with repeated letters each having their own design, such as in the Smithfield Decretal shown above."

To end, a contentious statement from the memoryspaces.com.au blog: "Art in oral cultures is primarily a memory aid to the knowledge system while art in literate cultures is primarily aesthetic."

18 October 2014

Why do we wait so long?

After weeks or is it months of meaning to make a new cover for the little ironing board, I finally did it! A manky towel gives it more padding. 
Times like this, you think: "Why did I wait so long to do this?"

Little things make a big difference. It's such a pleasure to use the board now. No more catching the iron in the ripped bit...

Contemporary art sketchbook walk - week 3

The theme for the week was colour; as it turned out, the shows were mostly black and white, but we gamely drew with coloured pencils and added accents with pastels... 

First stop, Iniva on Rivington Street, where a delightful primary school class was enjoying the "forgotten portraits", including the Black African Choir that toured Britain, coming from South Africa and dressing in "native costume" for publicity purposes - photographs "deeply buried" in the Hulton archive for 120 years. "The Black Chronicles II" runs till 29 November.
London Stereoscopic Photographic Society, 1891-3 (via)
Record books of the London Stereoscopic Society
Then to Calvert 22, a gallery that deals in contemporary Russian art; the current show is Beyond Zero, and includes an intriguing 1965 film, by  visual-effects pioneer Pavel Klushantsev, about the space race, from the Russian point of view ... all those American rockets that simply missed their moon target...
The show includes "a full set of hand-painted colour plates from Mikhail Matyushin’s Reference Book on Colour for the first time in the UK. Matyushin was an avant-garde artist, a musician and a close associate of Kazimir Malevich. Together with his students, Matyushin staged practical experiments to test his idea of ‘expanded vision’. In studying how a primary colour interacted with a surrounding colour, he observed how the neutral space between the two became tinged with a secondary tint. The results, recorded in these hand-painted tables in 1932, have helped generations of architects and designers find harmonious colour schemes for their work."

At Kate MacGarry is Ben Rivers' show "Things" (till 25 October); rather than watching the video I drew "Bedroom" -
Digital print, 102.5cm square, on the gallery's red wall
Next door, Johnathan Viner is showing "Goliad" by Will Boone (till 8 November) - " a new series of paintings which evolved from previous works which superimposed the letters of a word (also the paintings title) on the canvases' surface, thereby treading a fine line between legibility and abstraction" -
Hot seats, monoprinted canvases, and large works of layered stencilling by Will Boone

Lovely old bit of window-opening machinery; the gallery was a printing shop

Sharing sketchbooks over a delicious mocha
 Final stop: on Redchurch Street (artist )
Love the red double doors, very business-like

At the end of the day, sometimes a photo is all you need
Seeing how other people had augmented their sketchbooks from previous weeks by sticking in information and photos, and working on painted pages, I carried on working on my pages at home, sticking in photos, adding more colour (note to self: try oil pastels and chalks sometime soon), and writing a few notes about the works seen.
Blind drawings and overlaid images

Leaving well enough alone (rather than colouring-in)

The drawing made in the gallery (right) translated into cloth and collage; it includes
a transparent layer, as did the original

17 October 2014

Audacious installation

"Olafur Eliasson fills modern art museum with "giant landscape" of rocks." (via)

He filled an entire wing of Denmark's Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (north of Copenhagen) with a landscape of stones meant to emulate a riverbed. More photos are here.

The exhibition is on until 1st April 2015.

A little more art in W1

Claudi Casanovas, of whose show and work I wrote in 2009, has new work at Erskine, Hall & Coe (till 23 Oct) - all the work is shown online but here is my own overview -

We puzzled about how he got that conglomerate texture, so like stones, and whether the pieces were hollow.

"He explores complex ideas using a mixture of local and imported clays, subjecting both to physical, chemical and esthetic experiments. Organic materials, metals and metal oxides create porous openings and unusual colors in the unglazed surface. After firing, the piece is subjected to further cutting, sandblasting and polishing. The final sculpture is a very personal expression of fundamental emotional ties with the earth." (via)

Also at the gallery, a few drawings by Matthew Harris - strips of waxy paper sewn together with long, couched threads -
Mixed media on paper, bound with waxed threads
On to Marlborough Fine Art to see Paula Rego's "The Last King of Portugal" ... her always-interesting "slightly Freudian" scenarios and figures, this time mainly in pastels -
 All the pictures are on the gallery's website, at least till the show ends (25 Oct).
"Get out of here you and your filth" 120 x 160 cm (via)
Passing quickly by Dover Street Market - something to investigate another day -
Window by Phoebe English and Set Designer Phillip Cooper created using
components referencing Phoebe’s SS15 collection