24 April 2014

Poetry Thursday - Peridot by Mary Reufle

I awoke in an ecstasy.
The sky was the color of a cut lime
that had sat in the refrigerator
in a plastic container
for thirty-two days.
Fact-checkers, check.
I am happy.
Notice I speak in complete sentences.
Something I have not done since birth.
And the sky responds.
by Mary Reufle; from bostonreview.net, which in a review of her "Trances of the Blast" goes on to elucidate the poem:

"A clich├ęd scene of lyric immediacy, an awakening to ecstasy, gives way to a comic comparison of the sky’s gem-like hue to moldering produce. Jackson cites Michael Warner’s description of lyric as an “image of absolute privacy,” self-contained and inviolate, and it would be hard to imagine a scene more freeze-framed than this one. But the “fact-checkers” throw us off the lyric scent. Self-expression reduced to its simplest emotional form—“I am happy”—becomes a syntactic joke: the injunction “Notice I speak in complete sentences” is immediately followed by a fragment, a dependent clause. Meanwhile, the fact-checkers propel the poem into the realm of public discourse, where they testify to the veracity of the speaker’s recollections about decomposing limes. It is an odd and seemingly trivial conversation, aware of the responses of the readership and the sky alike, with no discernible emotional end."

Who made your clothes?

Fashion Revolution Day is a commemoration of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 - it aims to raise awareness and catalyse change

"Who made your clothes?" is the basic question. The website prompts you to
-Be curious
-Find out
-Do something

It seems important to do "one small thing - today". I decided to Be Curious, and Find (something ... what?) Out.

First I asked google "where are marks and spencers clothes made" and got this answer -
Their clothes are manufactured by Dewhirst, whose many factories were moved to new plants in Indonesia and Morocco to protect margins after many challenges hit the textile and apparel industry.

The company's site has a page on "social compliance", including this information -
"We provide each worker with free nutritional meals and medical support. Via a community health clinic founded in conjunction with Marks & Spencer, we have pioneered projects to cut rates of tuberculosis and to reduce infant mortality through education and support for female employees."

So far so good. Same question about John Lewis ... Seems they are looking to bring back textile manufacture to the UK as part of their "made in the UK" campaign - aiming to increase sales of British-made products to 15% by next year.

(This move to "onshore manufacturing" is as much due to rising labour costs in the far east as to a change in consumer preference, though the clothing factory disaster must have gone some way to raise social awareness. One of the problems with bringing manufacturing back to the UK is a skills shortage... but Jaeger - a very British firm that has been manufacturing offshore since 2000 - too is planning to do so for some garments, moving most of the rest out of China to countries closer to home, such as Portugal and Tunisia.)

All very interesting ... as was the trawl through my collection of labels saved from recycled garments, finding ones with "Made in..." for the photo. The jeans I'm wearing today were made in the USA and the top was made in Austria ... but under what conditions?

Ethical shopping ... what a minefield ... the more you look into it, the fewer easy answers there are...

23 April 2014

Colour on a grey day, thanks to Matisse

Within days of the exhibition opening we went to see Matisse's Cut Outs at Tate Modern. It was wonderfully colourful - of course - and quite lifted the spirits on a rainy day!

The famous book Jazz - which was based on theatres and circuses, not on music - was laid out around one room, with the original papercuts above. Matisse was disappointed with the way the printing lost the contrast of different surfaces layered on top of each other; he said that printing "removes their sensitivity", and it's interesting to be able to compare and try to see his point of view. The book has 20 illustrations, and 146 pages - the rest are filled with large script, his hand-written notes, made as he worked -
page-spread from Jazz (1943) (via)
That falling figure appears in other work - for instance my favourite of the prints available in the shop -
The Ascher scarves seen in the Artists Textiles show at the Fashion and Textile Museum were also at the Tate -
L'escarpe (1947) (via)
Matisse would compose his cut-outs directly on the wall of his studio in Vence, southern France, and he originally conceived of this group as one whole composition. In the exhibition they were framed separately, most shown together on one wall.

The Blue Nudes have a room of their own. Four were made quickly, but one was the result of lots of experimenting.
Cut 'in a single movement' (via the BBC's review, where you can see a video of the show)
"The Bees" (summer, 1948) though made of little squares, has the sense of captured movement and flow that exists in his freely-cut works -
"There are Matisse miracles here, some of them surprising" says this review
Some of the works are very large, "Mermaid and Parakeet" for example -
All of the works are wonderfully colourful, and the negative space is easily overlooked but crucial.

After getting an eyeful, we headed over the Millennium Bridge, only to find our eyes fixed on the colourful umbrellas among the crowd of black ones -

22 April 2014

New incarnation for the "museum maze" book

The first version of "Walking the Museum Maze" book was printed on a laserjet printer, and some of the ink (or rather, toner) came off during the waxing process. The photos submitted to the "Inspired by..." show didn't show those particular areas, and my bargain with the devil was that if the work was accepted, I'd remake the book.
First attempt (on the left) was on paper that proved to be too thick, not translucent after waxing. (I'll put it together anyway.) On the right is the second attempt, on an onion-skin type of paper, which became very translucent. Another interesting factor is the ink colour - both were printed on the same printer, without changing any colour settings. 

After cutting and folding and joining, I'll add a line of stitches with thin (linen?) thread along the base of the photos. Given that viewers won't be able to pick up the book, the stitched "footprints" will indicate the twists and turns of the maze.

And after that, it's just a matter of preparing the perspex shelf, and delivering it all to the gallery on the appointed day. 

The exhibition runs from 20 May to 19 June, and the gallery is at 61 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HT, nearest tube Lambeth North.

21 April 2014

Monday miscellany

"Peacock", a hooked rug designed by Winifred Nicholson (1970; 34"x54"). Found in "Rag Rug Creations" by Lynne Stein (the bent shape is due to the curl of the book page). The caption says the rug was hooked by Florence Williams, and inspired by a mosaic in Ravenna of the same theme, colour, and composition. The flowers look rather un-mosaic like, but very much in Winifred Nicholson's painting style (eg here).


Ever wanted to work in a museum? An insight into the job of being front-of-house staff (on the information desk, say ... or as a gallery warder) is at whisperingtrinkets.wordpress.com -

"All I propose is that the big museums in this country cease to see their their front-of-house staff as expendable automata. They are an asset. Hire young people for their enthusiasm and knowledge – they are not too proud to do this job, believe me – and cultivate them rather than alienate them, make them feel that they are part of their museum’s community rather than trapped in a departmental bubble. Help them forge connections with back-of-house departments so they can demonstrate the fact that they are not morons. Make it easier for them to volunteer and they will volunteer, they have paid tens of thousands for their education and they are desperate to learn and to help. My generation accepts working for free as a fact of life, but there’s little motivation to do this when our sense of self-worth is systematically ground down every day. "


Sancaklar Mosque, Istanbul - "its only decoration is the light that washes the Kiblah wall"
Architect Emre Arolat (via)


This cave in China is so large that it has its own weather - including clouds. There are several openings at floor level, but only one near the top - so the weather can't make its way out.
"For this shot, [photographer Robbie] Shone had three accomplices: one standing behind the frame with a large single-use flash bulb, one standing on the rock to the left shining a headlamp at the cave wall, and a third dangling from a rope hundreds of metres away [in the spotlight]. Although the shutter was open for only 30 seconds, the whole operation took four hours, with the team communicating via walkie-talkie because the echoes made shouting unworkable. "


Tchotchke - A small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose. 

Side note: Chotchkie [the word has many alternative spellings] can be pretty, sentimental, or even occasionally useful though it usually breaks easily if useful. If you are having trouble identifying tchotchke just look around your house or someone else's and whatever you see that a burglar wouldn't steal is probably tchotchke. 

Pronunciation: choch-ka


British Pathe has now uploaded its entire collection of old films to the web. The 85,000 short pieces include many news reels and tourism videos set in the capital [London].
Ride around in 1960′s West End traffic for 20 minutes, see what a 1930′s fog looked like (hint: foggy), or check out some vintage sexism as 18-year-old Candy Scott poses on a massive gun.
(from The Londonist; see https://www.youtube.com/user/britishpathe)

20 April 2014

Hoppy Easter!

The bunnies were made with patterns from the Omiyage book by Kumiko Sudo, which contains patterns for useful little bags -- and some fascinating objects that look best when made from bits of kimono silk. Both bunnies are stuffed with lavender - one is made of rough silk and linen and the other of indigo-dyed viscose. They are entirely hand-sewn ... and I find them rather weird ...

19 April 2014

Watching paint dry

Yet another layer on "the landscape" - it wasn't meant to be a landscape, in fact it started in portrait format but quickly got turned round.

This is one of three pieces I'm adding paint to, day after day. Half an hour is about the right amount of time - enough time for deciding what to do next, and then doing it. And not thinking about it between times. Though  I'm noticing more when looking at paintings ... along the lines of "oh that would be something to try, a shape to add, a colour to use".

The idea is to start again completely when it gets stuck, and to enjoy mixing colours and loading the brush and dabbing the paint here & there. To get used to handling these things. To notice what happens.

Some days I take several pictures, some days just the one. It evolves -

Bad little habits I'd like to shed: (a) being mean with paint; (b)getting fiddly; (c) being dull.

Hmm, let me rephrase that! I'm trying to be liberal with the paint squeezed onto the palette, and any moment now BOLD things will appear.

18 April 2014

Kwang Young Chun's wrapped accumulations

They are presented framed, like paintings - but a more accurate description is paper sculptures. The irregular shapes (foam blocks) are wrapped in Korean mulberry paper, tied with paper string. Some works on show at Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Cork Street, were small - you could just about tuck them under your arm, had you been allowed - but most were large -
and the wrapped parcels were set in various configurations and colourways. These are details -

The New York Times said: "Chun’s preference for using natural dyes and handmade mulberry paper was born from childhood memories of his uncle’s pharmacy, where small medicinal herb parcels that were similarly wrapped with paper and hung in tight clusters from the ceiling in order to protect them from insects. ... [he said in interview] "When I started the Aggregation in late 1980, I wanted to express and take forward the spirit of Korean traditions using mulberry paper, which used to be indigenous to every Korean household ... Then in 2004, my work started to look more like lunar landscapes and dry desert as I wanted to express my anger and criticism toward modern society and how it is destroying environment.""

Outside, the one in the window takes its context - reflection of the building across the street - to make an inadvertent "criticism toward modern society" -
His website is chunkwangyoung.com

17 April 2014

Poetry Thursday - Rising Five by Norman Nicholson

"We never see the flower / but only the fruit in the flower"
(watercolour by Katrina Small, via)

Rising Five 

I’m rising five” he said
“Not four” and the little coils of hair
Un-clicked themselves upon his head.
His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare
At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light
Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive
Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more;
_____________Not four
But rising five.

Around him in the field, the cells of spring
Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot
And stem shook out the creases from their frills,
And every tree was swilled with green.
It was the season after blossoming,
Before the forming of the fruit:
_____Not May
But rising June._____

And in the sky
The dust dissected the tangential light:
_____Not day
But rising night;
_____Not now
But rising soon.

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.
We drop our youth behind us like a boy
Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,
But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,
But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed
In the baby’s cradle; we look for the grave in the bed;
_____Not living
But rising dead.

Norman Nicholson (from Complete Verse, Jonathan Cape, 1999)

This poem came my way via the BBC iPlayer, perhaps on "Something Understood" but more likely on "Words and Music" - both are eclectic and always interesting programmes. In an engaging, vivid way, it reminds us to pay attention to today, rather than always hurrying ahead to tomorrow.

Norman Nicholson (1914-1987) is known for his association with a town on the edge of the Lake District, Millom - and for four books of poems, two novels, four verse plays, criticism and an autobiography, Wednesday Early Closing (1975). His work is characterised by the simplicity and directness of his language, and deals with "ordinary" things, whether the industries in his area, religion and faith, or quotations from everyday life. He worked outside the poetry mainstream, and is also known for his social awareness as a champion of the working class.

16 April 2014

"Boro" underfoot

After yet another visit to the Boro exhibition, I'm seeing "mending" everywhere -
Stair boro
Path boro
Pavement boro
Road boro
Window boro
Wall boro
More wall boro

Versatile garments

Traveller's friend, the Kooshoo shawl can be worn in 12 ways. Made from Tencel and sourced from sustainable eucalyptus trees, it's very eco-conscious.

Even more bang for your buck - the Versalette has 30 configurations! It also has an instruction video, and an interesting story of how this idea led to formation of a company, Seamly.co, that makes all its garments from deadstock fabric, ie. fabric discarded by other manufacturers.

14 April 2014

Monday miscellany

Work by Korean-American artist Kyoung Ae Cho, from her solo show (13 April till 13 July, Lynden Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee, WI) -
M-a-r-k-i-n-g, 2013
24 pieces, 30 x 24 inches each
Hair (collected from April 2011-March 2013), silk organza, muslin, thread, mixed materials Hand felted, hand stitched.
Kyoung Ae Cho presents recent, or recently completed, work. Much of it involves the painstaking collection of things over a long period of time, as in M-a-r-k-i-n-g, which references a Korean custom of collecting one’s own hair as it is shed in the course of daily life; or the slow accretion of small objects to produce a whole, as in her 10-foot-square quilt of artificial flowers. Cho’s practice is never far from nature: she collects fallen leaves and twigs for her hangings and closely observes the flowers and insects in her garden, recording their behavior in startling, almost voyeuristic photographs.(photo and text from lyndensculpturegarden.org/exhibitions/women-nature-science-kyoung-ae-cho-one-time)

Delightfully small -
Itty bitty books in itty bitty bottles - by Rhonda Miller, shown at 
Halifax Crafters Spring Market (wish I could have been there!)
See more of her work at myhandboundbooks.blogspot.ca


"The designation of quilts as ‘decorative art’ has undoubtedly made it harder for them to be given the same consideration as paintings or sculpture. First of all, I find the term ‘decorative art’ to be a little misleading. To label objects that have their origins in utility ‘decorative,’ doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Meanwhile, I think it could be argued that other ‘high’ art forms like painting and sculpture are, in many ways, more purely decorative than objects like textiles and pottery." - Virginia Treanor, one of the curators of the innovative display, Workt by Hand, showcasing 35 historic quilts from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts collection; read the rest of the interview at whyquiltsmatter.org


Last week was Coffee Week in London - here's a list of 10 recommended independent coffee shops throughout the city - a mere tip of the iceberg: londonist.com/2014/04/10-independent-coffee-shops-you-must-visit.php  (My local made it onto one of their other lists...)


Not many miscellaneous items have come my way in the past week (not enough computer time!), so I'm including some of my own photos, from the archive -
Still Life in a Traditional Caf (2011)

At the Steam Museum (Rainy January) (2011)


13 April 2014

Painting, engraving, authorship, and meaning - Magdalena de Passe

It's hard to imagine, from our image-saturated present day, how rarified access to art was, 500 years ago. Paintings were displayed in churches, and in the homes of the rich; such images were accessible elsewhere rarely if at all.

So it was collectors, and those involved in producing art, who had the most access to "pictures". And what were the pictures about? Religious themes (often including donor portraits), and depictions of myths. Starting in the 15th century Northern Renaissance, portraits of patrons became an important subject.

In the 16th century, Northern artists, mainly from the Netherlands (which by the way was being over-run by Spanish conquerors), brought back from Italy their own work influenced by the great Italian painters and currents in Italian art.

One such painter who went to live in Rome was the German Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610). He painted small-scale works on copper, and his influence comes from their translation into prints. The lighting effects in his work are remarkable, and Rubens struck up a friendship with him.

Another friend, at least at first, was Hendrick Goudt, who established his reputation with seven prints after Elsheimer at the start of the 17th century, and thereby publicised Elsheimer's work in northern Europe.
Elsheimer's Apollo and Coronis (26 x 32 cm): large-scale composition on a miniature level
Goudt must have shown his engravings, or possibly the original painting, to Magdalena de Passe, who produced her own engraving of a work known since 1951 as Apollo and Coronis. It is based on a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and was formerly thought to be of Cephalus and Procris - both stories involve jealousy and wife-killing.

Magdalena (1600-1638) was taught engraving by her father, Crispin de Passe, along with three of her brothers. The family was rooted in artistic circles - the mother was the niece of the painter Marten de Vos (d.1603; he had spent six years in Italy and brought the Venetian style to Antwerp). As Mennonites, Crispin and his family had had to move from Antwerp to Cologne to escape the Spanish and then to Utrecht. However, work they all did, producing more than 1400 engravings and 50 illustrated works.
Magdalena de Passe's engraving, 21 x 23 cm, with added text
The subject of painting and print (and hence their "meaning" or interpretation) had been contested, and the inscriptions below the image add further meanings, rooted in history. This work "bears all the characteristics of [the] singular and specialized mode of production [of engravings "after" paintings] ... she credits the painter in an elegant italic formula ... she includes a set of verses in Latin to sum up the moral implications of the scene ... she includes a dedication to a prestigious figure" says Stephen Bann in Nelson and Shiff, Critical Terms for Art History, 1996. "The work is enmeshed in a close texture of relationships which make it virtually impossible to separate out the stake of an individual authorship."

Bann compares literature and art - in literature, says the critic Harold Bloom, "there are no texts, but only relationships between texts", and the art historian Norman Bryson has extended this: "in the visual arts, tradition has an even more constraining effect because the image maker 'lacks access to any comparable flow (at least before the mass dissemination of imagery).'"

In the bottom left corner Magdalena put her own name and that of her father: "Magdalena Passaea Crisp. F. Fecit." Above that is a high-sounding dedication of the print, to the prince of Flemish painters, Rubens. The most significant northern exponent of the baroque, Rubens made Antwerp and Flanders the center of northern Italianate painting. The dedication is appropriate, as Rubens valued Elsheimer highly.

A 17th-century German painter, Joachim von Sandrart, warned of the limitations of engravings: by their very nature, they cannot achieve the "excellence" of paintings. (Around the time he wrote, engraving was being demoted from the "artistic" stratosphere, but that's another story.) Stephen Bann makes a case for Magdalena misinterpreting the painting. She has included four lines of Latin verse in a stylish italic hand, and these point out the dangers of ill-directed zeal and draw attention to the "unhappy Procris", who perished at the hands of her husband, or rather, by his javelin (which had been her gift to him as appeasement after a jealousy-producing incident). This is a confusion with the Apollo and Coronis story - Coronis perished from Apollo's impulsive act, again after a bout of jealousy, killed with an arrow - but Apollo, a healer (gathering herbs in the painting), saved their unborn son, who became the god of medicine, Aesculapius.

What is interesting about this mis-reading and mis-naming is that, in the light of the Latin verses, this engraving falls into a class of images espousing wifely virtue, and thus becomes appropriate for a marriage gift. Was Magdalena taking Goudt's title at face value, not bothering to check the details of the story, or was she looking to improve the saleability of the print among her Calvinist compatriots?

Bann hesitates to speculate on "the stake of this dutiful daughter ... in a representation of femininity which differs significantly from the one which Elsheimer intended ... the skillful craftswoman effaces herself behind the scene which she has patiently re-created in another medium."

12 April 2014

Starting the painting project

"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." Don't know how far I'll be travelling with this notion of spending half an hour a day dabbing and swooshing various colours of paint here and there ... but the thing is to start, and then "que sera sera".

Out of the archive came this glued-up thing, about 12"x16" - I covered it with white (using a wide foam pad, and then a 1/2" brush to get into the cracks) and added other colours. It's as simple as that.

Various edges lifted and needed sticking down with blobs of paint. When it had dried, I sanded it a bit with coarse sandpaper, and it's ready to be transformed some more.

As for spending half an hour -- I got so caught up in "mending" the surface that an unknown amount of time passed...

More boro

More from the exhibition at Somerset House. Click on the images to enlarge.