Sunday 23 February 2020

A little process work

Having endured my soul searching for the last few posts, today you can just enjoy looking at some fun stuff I've been playing with.
I made a screen to print through by dabbing on pva glue with glad-wrap to make an organic pattern as a resist. I wasn't sure if it would work, but it did, and also survived the clean-up, so I can use it again. I used fabric paint and squeegee today, but I think sponging some paint through would allow some more subtle effects. The image below is one of the last runs, as the paint was running out.
 When it was  dry, I free-motion embroidered over the print, with a thick felt base underneath it, and was very pleased with the result! I'm trying to build up a rock-like texture.
I placed a little piece of leather kelp I made during the week on it.
I made another small piece as a brooch to enter in Timeless Textiles Brooching the Subject exhibition, along with one made of silk paper and uv free-motion embroidery.
 During the week I also played with securing dyed fabric strips with overlocked edges around a frame and draping the rest in the centre to look like ruffly kelp.
 This was a piece of polyester satin painted with metallic acrylic through a flour paste crackle - I liked the effect but thought it was a lot of effort for the result, which led me to the screen-print idea!
When I was tidying up I found my stash of very fleshy eucalyptus leaves from King Island mouldering away between paper in a plastic bag. They made some wonderful marks, and look so beautiful themselves. They are now all dried out and should last a while.
Last week's yarn dyeing worked out well, as did my free-motion embroidery sample with it - sewn on organza on a hoop and burnt out with a heatgun - it shrinks a little, but it also curls up and creates a nice crusty texture.
The orange yarn went pretty well so I tried some different yarn with the lighter green/yellow colours.
This time I also fared better in the winding up when dry - there is a way to make an incredible tangle and drive yourself completely crazy! All in all a success week of work. I am definitely finding it freeing not to have to worry about washability - I can use any paint or process I like. It's also great not to have to consider sizing and openings. I can feel my brain opening up like a blossoming flower. Or perhaps an alien sucker. I guess we'll see.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Experimental work

I ended my last post regarding King Island, “The challenge now is to translate all this into a fitting expression of these primal and timeless tenets”.
Thinking about what pieces I was going to make, I was concerned that I was perhaps being too literal with my interpretations, before realising that many of my source photos had already become an abstraction by the way I had framed images. So many images – so overwhelming!

Although I felt unable to begin work on the island due to the lack of my multitude of materials to experiment with – now, at home and surrounded by them, I have so many choices that I am in danger of becoming paralysed.
At these times, this quote from Sylvia Plath generally sets me right again:

 I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Image by Gavin Aung Than, Zen Pencils.

Well we can’t be having that, can we. Anyway, apparently she may have felt like this because she was hungry. ....
It can be hard to discipline yourself to calm down a bit, make decisions, follow through with experiments, and to properly partake in the exchange between you and the material. Particularly as I am changing the type of work I make, more-so than ever, I can’t just forge ahead, but must slow down and explore options.
I want my new work to explore the themes I described such as mortality, the cycle of life, and the beauty of decay, as well as being intriguing and powerful pieces themselves – no pressure then! Sitting here writing this is like making a mission statement for myself. I’m a little wary of making steps in a wrong direction. Over-excited, I have to focus on exploring the process of sampling. That’s hard when you just want to go forth and make!
Something I do know though, is that the more you play, the more ideas you have, and the more they extend and grow. They all swoop down on me when I try to go to sleep, so I now have to have a wee lamp and my notebook next to the bed for surreptitious scrawlings!
So here are some of my experiments: flour paste on dyed silk to create a crackled, rock-like texture.
Painted over with black dye.
Washed out and ready to stitch into.
Various samples of stitiching into leather, onto satin, free-motion embroidered pieces, and satin and leather stiffened with gelatin.
Embroidering wings over acrylic on satin.
Gummy silk cocoon strippings, painted with glitz sprays.
Leather as kelp, shaped and stiffened with PVA glue.
 Leather as kelp, stitched onto backing and stiffened with PVA glue. Very happy with this!
Leather as kelp, shaped and stiffened with PVA glue, beginning to be painted.
 A background canvas for kelp - covered in beard snoods wet down with PVA to create a textured rock surface - this is going to be a heap of fun to paint!

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Reflections on King Island

At the beginning of my time on King Island, I was feeling quite despondent about the apocalyptic events dominating the world news. It had been a year of Trump, #metoo, Greta Thunberg, endless gun violence, war, and terrorism, culminating in the epic fires in Australia which continue to burn. What was the point of making art? How could it possibly make sense to do so in this world which seems to be imploding around us? It is hard to find a way through the despondency towards hope. Over this period, I’ve watched online as a lot of fellow artists struggled with the same despair.

I've found it interesting that my musings prior to my sojourn to King Island focused on the matter of mortality, the cycle of life, and the beauty of decay. This is precisely what the wild and fierce shoreline offered me.
Kelp lay high on the dunes – black, cracked and crusted, as if it had been burned – a fitting reference to the rest of the country being consumed and destroyed by flames.
Further down it was dark and leathery, often partially sticking out of the sand like emerging fossilised remains. 
On the tideline, kelp demonstrated the battle it had fought with the tide, as its fronds stretched out exhaustedly towards the waves that had left them there. 
Thick kelp with lace-like networks of hole lay in elegant rolls. 
Out on the rocks, kelp clung wildly where it had been flung – sometimes metres long - like the desperate human detritus remaining after a big night.
The remains of an old dozer were rusting away into the rocks, being reclaimed bit by bit, hung with strands of kelp.  
Further out from the rocks where kelp remained cemented in place, it writhed and roiled in the tide, looking like pasta on the boil.
In rockpools, kelp slowly rotted away, turning pink and green with mould and creating a foul smell. 
Kelp flies buzzed around metre-high mounds of slowly decomposing seaweed, rotting down into something resembling flayed flesh.
Graveyards of kelp stipes and holdfasts, cut off by kelpers who only want the fronds, lie where the kelp tracks meet the beach.
Kelp in every stage, from fresh, green, shiny and satin-like to hard, cracked and black. Every stage of life of kelp was beautiful, every stage referenced movement in the way it lay.
Bodies of birds strewn in the detritus, looking as though they had been torn from the sky, unable to defend themselves from the power of the Roaring Forties winds and vicious rocks. Sharply angled, fiercely pitted rocks which it was easy to imagine destroying any survivors from the many shipwrecks in the island’s history. Delicate skeletonised rib-cages remained attached to fully feathered wings.
Crayfish legs littered the beach at times, as well as the shells of their heads and tails, easily spotted by the bright orange, intricately patterned and knobbly surface. 
Glass-like Portuguese Man-O-War’s lay on the sand in echoes of the waves that left them there – strung out like party festooning left over from a night of celebration. As they hardened in time, they crackled under-foot.
Wallaby corpses laid marooned along the roads in varying states of decay, which I learned were: fresh, bloat, active decay, advanced decay, dry/skeletal. The first few are gruesome and very pungent under the fierce sun. The last offered a more intriguing, delicate vision of the life cycle.

The challenge now is to translate all this into a fitting expression of these visceral, primal and timeless tenets.

Sunday 2 February 2020

Remembering to Play

Finally. After a tough week, filled with doubt-riddled but manic enthusiasm, giant messes as I rifled through recently re-organised materials, and a lot of sweat, the weekend provided some return.  The chaos-induced stress of the week reminded me that the ‘brilliant’ work I imagine making doesn’t just happen, it is the product of exploration and play. It’s still hard to allow myself the time and space to try things out with no expectation of success – it can feel like failure. Fortunately, after a few days of flailing, I was rewarded with some success. It felt great.
I was actually spurred along by seeing the work of Sue Hotchkis on Instagram – it was just what I needed. Isn't it beautiful? The layers and texture - delicious!
Sue Hotchkis textile
Her latest work in progress looked like what I was wanting to do to create backgrounds of the rocks and sand of King Island - she had used screen printing and stitch. Of course, I didn’t want to copy it, but it fueled my imagination. I grabbed some of the satin I had dyed this week, rummaged in the filing cabinet and found a liquid acrylic with a lovely graphite colour and sheen. After a failed attempt at creating a mono-print, I used string and scrunched -plastic wrap to create random lines and texture with the paint, before scrunching the fabric up and wiping it in the paint – perfect! I then spent some time painting in lines and solidifying areas. Looking at my source photos again, I saw there were areas of circular divots in the rocks. I used the ends of thread cones and syringes dipped in paint to create these on the fabric. All of these marks will be re-affirmed with stitching.
This is some organza which was used like a wipe-cloth - great marks, enhanced with free-motion embroidery
Earlier in the week, after seeing the work of another artist, Gabriella Loeb, who encases her textile sculptures in resin to retain the fluid movement, I tried stiffening both leather and fabric with diluted PVA glue. Whilst I lost some shine on the heavy satin, whilst gaining it on the leather – I was pretty pleased with both initial results. Here is today's piece drying - next to it is a canvas textured with beard snoods glued to it (Matt has to wear them at factory job sites sometimes)! This should make a wonderful rock-like texture to paint over.

Gabriella Lorb sculpture - fabric in resin
Earlier still, I successfully dyed some grey upholstery leather black (a wonderful gift from a supportive fan years ago – always thought I’d make a WOW entry with it, but onto a new life now..) Unlike vegetable tanned leather, as it is finished, it can’t be moulded, but it can be (painfully) stitched into shape, and it does become stiffer after dyeing.
Add caption
I also tried a felted piece – well, there’s a few hours I lost – but you never know when its’ time will come!
Another win was the dyeing of some satin in the rich colours of the rocks of Naracoopa, King Island. A weakly dyed piece in sandy colours lent itself to over-printing with silver paint with a sponge – many more layers to come. Something wonderful about not making wearable art is that I don’t have to worry about some aspects of longevity and laundering, or hand. Or zips, or linings. Hurrah!!
This picture does the colour no justice at all!

It's been an overwhelming week - an internal struggle between excitement, disappointment, indecision, which leads to apathy, wanting things done in an instant, wondering if something is worth continuing with, which material I should use, should I try that?.......which all leads to a giant mess on every surface which overwhelms me even more!
After a mental deep breath, I have given myself permission to play, and reminded myself to have faith in my ability to do so. I constantly express wonder and gratefulness at my bizarre stash that I can use - from beard snoods to hi-flow acrylic paint of just the right colour, tubs of leather and satin off-cuts. I'm so grateful for all that I have, including this marvellous library of books to advise me when I am lost.  I'm also thankful that I can justify my internet time by being inspired by both Sue Hotchkis and Gabriella Loeb - these are the good things about the global community.