Post exhibition thoughts on ‘Natures Exuberance’……

Last week my exhibition “Natures Exuberance” opened at Timeless Textiles in Newcastle, Australia – it was the culmination of many, many months of work. As the exhibition was being hung I could see my creative journey over the last two years documented in the work and it was a special time of reflection mixed with feelings of excitement and nervousness. Fortunately the art work was hung by Anne Kempton(Timeless Textiles) and a helper, Cathy – the decisions taken out of my hands as to where to hang – a relief!

Recently I shared TextileArtist.org’s FB post “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” Erich Fromm, with the question “Is courage a vital part of creativity?”  My response is “Most definitely!”

Its one thing to spend my days squirreled away in my studio creating, and quite another to create a body of work and hold a solo exhibition; it requires courage to let go of certainties.  There are many uncertainties – will the work hang together as a cohesive collection, how will it be received, will anyone come to the opening, etc., but there is also a sense of excitement and anticipation that builds as the opening date looms closer.

Opening night saw me there early, the work was hung; I could do no more but enjoy the night and the people who chose to come.  Some are friends who come to support me, others I meet on the night…. Anne officially opened the exhibition and I spent my evening talking to people about my work.  It was a lovely evening and I enjoyed talking to those who had a desire to know more about my work, my inspiration, and my technique.

 

The gallery, Timeless textiles, is a lovely heritage building and some features of the buildings  worked beautifully with my work, for example the gorgeous fireplaces.  The exhibition runs till the 8th Oct 2017.

 

What’s in a ‘Title’?

Interestingly after posting on Facebook last week about being at the stage of giving a title to my exhibition images I received in my Inbox an email from an art site, Artsyshark, that I subscribe to titled “The Importance of Artwork Titles”.  How timely was that?  Sometimes titles come easily, sometimes they are a struggle but they are an important part of creating.  In the Artsyshark email, editor Carolyn Edlund writes that “words add value, whether they are embedded in the image itself, or are used in a title”.

I love words, and I enjoy reading and earlier this year I created two art quilts for the “Stitched Up” exhibition and it was really important for me to use words and embed them into the image.

However in working towards my new exhibition “Natures Exuberance”, the visual experience has been the most important and finding titles seemed a secondary consideration. Usually, while I am creating I will consider what the image is giving voice to and what a title might add to the image, sometimes its obvious other times its not, sometimes it emerges slowly and other times I need help to refine it.  As Carolyn Edlund writes a title might “define, delight or challenge the viewer”, but a good title will add ” another layer to the story and deepens the connection to the artwork”.

For example: in creating the Art Quilt titled “The Meeting”, I spent a lot of time playing with how to place these hand painted  seashells, and what background to place them on.

 

 

 

 

I liked the shells on cream and on the blue/green fabric but as soon as I put them on the red with the blue spirals it felt right. Placing them on a red background felt like placing them on a beach rock shelf and the quilting (free machined) is reminiscent of water flowing in and out over the rocks.   I immediately thought they remind me of a meeting or gathering.   A meeting or gathering of like minded ‘people’ – a family or a business meeting….The title adds another layer and deepens the connection…the title ‘The Meeting’ takes the image from being merely an image about shells to a story that we can all relate to, e.g., a family gathering, or a meeting of like minded friends, business associates or a group of people who share the same recreational interest.

 

Natures Exuberance…an exhibition….

Several years ago I booked an exhibition at Timeless Textiles, (Newcastle, Australia), and a little over a year and a half ago I titled it “Natures Exuberance” Why?  Because I am constantly being confronted and inspired by the wonder of the natural world and natures ability to assert itself.  My mantra in the last few years seems to have been about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.  In living such busy lives we filter out much of the natural environment around us, unconsciously filing it in our minds as ordinary and unremarkable.  Sometimes we need to take the time to stop and experience the amazing natural world we live in.

I have just finished reading Hugh MacKays (Australian Social Researcher and Author) book “What makes us Tick?  A wonderfully insightful book and I love that in one of the chapters he discusses our basic human need to be not only connected to ourselves and to each other but also to nature.  I know that if I take the time and wander in the bush or reserve near my home or even spend time pottering in the garden it re-centres my world and there would be very few times that I wouldn’t find something inspiring.

In a recent conversation with my husband I remarked that it would be completely feasible for me to stage several exhibitions with the same title because the inspiration is almost limitless.  This exhibition is a very minute sample of natures exuberance.  In two ways this exhibition showcases the way I work; in content and in technique.  Technique by showcasing my ability to draw with my sewing machine in both thread paintings and art quilts.  In theme; by the way I work, reducing the subject matter to its simplest form before expanding it out again, often using artistic licence to creatively re-imagine the subject.  In working towards this exhibition I have been using colour, pattern, line and structure to portray the exuberance, the vitality, energy, richness and luxuriance of what I observe or have observed around me.

Inspiration……

It has been a while since last writing a blog post…..the inspiration for writing has been non-existent!  After the intensity of working towards the “Stitched Up” exhibition I found it difficult to have anything else to say!

While creating for the Stitched Up exhibition I was also steadily working towards my solo exhibition “Natures Exuberance”.  However as soon as the Stitched Up pieces were posted I needed to dig deep and ramp up my energy again for the final focus on my exhibition.   Sometimes when I feel a little creatively dry I look through my photographs and it isn’t long before I find my creativity  sparking again.  So, recently as I was looking through my photographs,  I was struck by what I saw as the connection between these two images.  There was no conscious connection as I was creating the lace(which is not created recently) but I have been pondering the idea of what we observe consciously and how details of that inspiration may come out unconsciously at a later date.  A conscious decision was made to take the photograph of the sliced red onion because it appealed to me,  but I also stored it in my creative/inspirational memory bank.  I am reminded of the movie “Inside Out” and the beautifully crafted and creative visualisation, in movie/story form, of the different memory banks in our minds and how we access them.

I love taking photographs, just for photography’s sake but also as a record for inspiration.  However I also love the idea that if we open our eyes to observing the world around us then what appeals to us in that environment can also be stored and accessed both consciously and unconsciously at a later date.

I finish with a photo taken in  one of my neighbours gardens – just love the spiral and am looking forward to one day finding it coming out in an artwork!!

Exploring shadows and selfies……

Recently I was creatively ‘confronted’  by a word challenge that was part of a textile art group that I belong to.  The word was ‘selfie’, and the idea was to create an image about that particular word.  I wasn’t excited by the prospect and struggled to visualise  how I might creatively represent the ‘selfie’ in  a meaningful way for me. However although I struggled with the concept of  a ‘selfie’, shadows intrigue me…….shadows have intrigued me since my early twenties when I took a photo of a dandelion against the concrete pavement – not particularly exciting except that there were three shadows to the one dandelion.  It made me think about what shadows might suggest, i.e., shadows give information while leaving room for imagination….for example, I love this image that my kids took of me creating a shell/sand sculpture.  I cannot see the kids in the photo but I can see their shadow which informs me that they are working together to take the photo, they are talking and perhaps giggling because they know I don’t like having my photo taken…..they think I don’t know what they are up to!

So, one day as I was out walking and pondering how to tackle the word ” selfie’, the sun was casting my shadow and I began taking photos, I also began to consider how the concept of the ‘self’ could be represented through the ‘shadow’.

Shadows have been around since the beginning of time, and have many historical and cultural meanings, for example; death, hope, soul, evil….even Peter Pan who lost his shadow……As an Art Therapist I am very familiar with the term ‘shadow’ as representing the aspects of the self that we keep hidden, or don’t wish to reveal, or don’t wish to acknowledge.

However earlier this year I was reading a book by Thomas Moore(an ex priest and a psychotherapist), and came across this sentence which spoke wonderfully to me in relation to my interest in shadows; “We have a shadow self, not dark in the sense of evil or dangerous, but the shadow that follows us wherever we go, a companion figure that inspires, warns, and guides.” Such a positive view of the ‘shadow’ self.

Putting those words together with a shadow photo that compositionally worked I decided to create a ‘selfie shadow’ in textiles, with Thomas Moore’s words stitched around the image…..I love the image as it also speaks to me of choices, directions and roads less travelled….

What do ‘shadows’ or ‘selfies’ mean for you?

A “Stitched Up” surprise and completion…..

The ‘Stitched Up’ project continued to surprise me right up to posting the artworks to Newcastle, Australia, last week.  While working on pulling the artwork together I had many discussions with my husband about which images to include in the final piece – but I couldn’t leave any out.  The final artwork felt dense with imagery and story and  the surprise was that I felt compelled to create another image about the sisters – a more focussed and simple -yet still complex!- response to their time at the School.

The first artwork I titled “Layers, Labels and Paper Dolls – The Story” and the second one is titled “Layers, Labels and Paper Dolls – The Confusion”.   There are so many layers to the story of these girls, so many layers to the research, and many layers of fabric used in the construction of the artworks.  I took the title(label) that was given to the sisters by the original researcher, Jane Ison, of The Most Confusing research, and focussed on ‘Labels’ and ‘Confusion’. There certainly appears to be much confusion around the Young sisters, mostly due to inaccurate records being kept. Confusion around lack of clarity regarding arrests, around accurate birth dates, around accurate names and which of the sisters actually attended the school.

Paralleling the confusing research I wanted to explore the confusion that the sisters may have felt about the circumstances and challenges they faced in their young lives.  One of the definitions of ‘confusion’ that seemed appropriate to these girls was: “a situation in which people do not understand what is happening, what they should do or who someone or something is…” (Google) How do children/teenagers make sense of their world if they do not have responsible adults/ authorities to guide them?  In this sense they have been betrayed by the adults in their lives.

The second artwork came together relatively quickly and easily – and I loved the hand stitching! Not only many layers of fabric but many ways of ‘Stitched Up’!  It has been a most fascinating project……

In fact I even entertained brief thoughts about creating a series of artworks about the sisters……but at this point in time I cannot give those thoughts head space!

 

‘Stitched Up’ progress report….

The deadline for the ‘Stitched Up’ exhibition is drawing near and I have been busy pulling together all the images I’ve created.  Creating the images has been the easy task – pulling them together into a cohesive artwork has been more difficult.  Perhaps this parallels with the challenges of the original researcher encountered in unearthing the stories of the girls who attended the Newcastle Industrial School!

As mentioned in a previous post on this exhibition, my original concept was to use the ‘paper doll’, a childhood toy, as a symbol of childhood; of fun, of playfulness, of imaginary worlds.  Yet the clothes to dress the ‘paper doll’ in this artwork symbolize either domestic service or the garments made by the girls for the ‘well to do’ and speak of the freedom of childhood perhaps not experienced.   A childhood that appears to have had many labels attached; poor, destitute, impoverished, vulnerable, convicts daughter, drunkards daughter, brothel owners daughter, inmate…to name a few.  It has been difficult for me to ascertain exactly what the Young sisters were arrested for,- was it because their mother was unable to care for them?  In fact the four Young sisters first came to the attention of the authorities on 31st July 1867, they “appeared on the list of children at risk” (Wikidot.com) According to the same research “no reports of the arrest of any of the sisters appear in the NSW Police Gazette” but “newspapers report the arrest of two sisters in Sydney” and these two sisters have been identified as two of the Young sisters.  They “had been arrested in Sydney by Sergeant Goldrick, who stated that they had come to him at the Central…and that they wished to give themselves up in order to be sent to Newcastle”.  They also stated they had no parents and had been sleeping at the racecourse.  In checking their story the truth was revealed that they had been ‘in service’ and had run away. The two sisters arrived at the Industrial School in January 1870.

From what I read they were apprenticed to domestic service a number of times but plans fell through each time.   It appears that the sisters I have chosen to focus on have had a somewhat different journey to other girls from the school.  The records suggest that the girls gave themselves over to the police and requested to be sent to the Newcastle Industrial School.  Was home life so tough that they were looking for something better??? One of the sisters married illegally – under age – without the consent of parents.  Was this another attempt to escape ….

Both sisters went on to marry, have children and live to old age.  Charlotte’s obituary records her as Charlotte Elizabeth – an interesting fact considering the confusion over whether it was Charlotte or Elizabeth who attended the school.  It also records that “she was unselfish, active in the Labour movement and a worker for the relief of the poor.”

A fascinating project that has kept me busy for many hours, stretched me out of my comfort zone and taught me a great deal.

On Holidays, and Travelling Art Quilts…..

Much has happened since I last wrote my last blog; my art quilt “An Ode to OZ Flora” was accepted as a finalist for the Australasian Quilt Convention challenge – “Made in Australia Flora and Fauna (see my blog from 11th Feb 2017 to read about the story behind the art quilt) and will become a travelling art quilt. We have also had a much anticipated(especially the children!) holiday to Australia.

The Australasian Quilting Convention premiered in Melbourne from the 20-23 April 2017 but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to the exhibition. However I am hoping that at some stage I will get to see the Challenge exhibition in NZ; apparently it will travel to various venues across Australia and NZ and also includes a trip to Mexico at the beginning of next year.   If you haven’t clicked on to the AQC website and had a look at the 30 successful art quilt entries, they are worth checking out….and enjoy the variety of theme interpretation by the Textile Artists and Art Quilters . The theme could be interpreted using flora or fauna or  include both.  If you do check out the art quilts let me know what you think.

Much of our holiday was spent catching up with friends and family, however I did manage to find time to photograph inspiration for my solo exhibition in September this year.  I have been working towards this exhibition, titled “Natures Exuberance” but it  was a bonus to get a little inspiration injection to keep the creative juices going….

So the holidays are over and it is time to get back to work.  This term promises to be busy with continuing to work towards group exhibitions and my solo exhibition, teaching workshops, and generally getting down to business….

In my next blog I might share some of the inspiration collected from my holiday but I will finish off this blog with some glorious sunrise and sunset images that we enjoyed on our holiday….just to keep the holiday feeling going a bit longer…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Stitched Up”…. an exhibition…

At the moment I am working on a challenging but fascinating project for an exhibition called “Stitched Up – Bringing to Life the 193 Girls from the Newcastle Industrial School 1867 – 1871”.  As one of 25 invited international artists we get to chose a girl/girls from that time and give them a voice.  What does “stitched up” suggest to you?  In relation to these girls and this exhibition we are looking at the idea of ‘accusation and betrayal’.

I love reading historical novels, especially ones that give voice to a woman or women of a different era.  I find it a fascinating way to learn about the history of the time, it makes history come alive for me.  So when I was invited to be part of this exhibition I was immediately drawn to the idea of giving a girl from the 1870’s a voice.  It was a challenge to decide who to chose but I have chosen the Young sisters, two of four sisters who spent time at the Newcastle Industrial School.

So often I get asked how long did that take, or how long does it take to create an art work? I have several answers to that question: how long is a piece of string?, twenty years – because it has taken me twenty years to get to this point in my art career, or I go into a more detailed description of what goes on before I even start a piece of work…..Recently I was reading a book by Bethan Ash, an Art Quilter, and she sums up very succinctly in one sentence – “The final piece of work exhibited in a gallery is really only a small part of the artists labour.” (Pg 88 Vibrant Quilt Collage, Bethan Ash).  Before I have even started this exhibition project:  I have spent hours researching what was happening, and what life was like in Newcastle, and in Australia around 1870, I have researched Industrial Schools of the time and what was happening with regard to children at risk, I have researched clothing worn by girls at the time, I have researched what domestic servants clothing was worn at the time, and researched a particular toy that I wished to use as a symbol to represent the girls I had chosen.

I remember loving dolls in my childhood, they represent my early childhood, I loved to make clothes for them.  As a child I also loved ‘paper dolls’ and I wondered if they could be used to represent the girls and idea of stitched up.  I discovered in my research that ‘paper dolls were first officially printed in the early 1800’s, however they weren’t always paper, sometimes they were fabric or wood.  I also discovered they represent childhood for many people……Stay tuned, it is my plan to document the process…..

‘Orange’, the Aotearoa Quilters colour challenge…..

Orange is the colour  for the 2017 Aotearoa Quilters colour challenge…..their colour choice is indeed a challenge for me because in the past it is not a colour that I have found easy to work with.  We all have our own colour pallette that we feel comfortable working with – I am naturally drawn to blues, greens, pinks and purples.   However because I like a challenge I find myself actually looking forward to creating an image and using orange as the predominant colour.

Although I am not automatically drawn to the colour orange and have to consciously make a decision to use it, at times I have recognised that my work needs a little orange to make the other colours sing.  As a young textile artist fresh from Art School I was given some very simple but effective advise about how to make colours sing – the current terminology is about making an image ‘pop’.  These are the colours opposite each other on the colour wheel – a little orange will make blue sing, the difficulty can be in knowing how much of the complementary colour to use.

Colours evoke different emotions for each of us and I have always felt orange to be a frivolous colour with not much depth.  As I am reflecting on my past difficulty with using orange I wonder if it was influenced by the gaudy use of it in the 70’s?!  Here is a quote from ColourMatters (www,colourmatters.com) on the colour orange : “is vibrant, its hot, healthy,fruity and engaging – but it can be abrasive and crass.  Its a polarising colour – people either love it or detest it.”

However in the last few years I have been looking more closely at the subtleties of orange and find I am enjoying the range; from terracottas, to persimmon, to pumpkin, to mango, to salmon and melon.  Today I went through some of my photographs and am pleasantly surprised at the amount of images that have the colour orange in them…..!! Obviously I am not able to include them all – I have transferred 104 photos from my camera alone today!  I am wondering how I will chose what subject matter for the challenge……