Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Making Art In The Time Of Covid-19

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

Many artists I know claim they are surging ahead, making wonderful new work with all the extra time they have with inspiration based on , blah blah blah… But apart from the extra time spent in the higher priority of maintaining personal contact a bit more frequently with the far flung family, I am also one of those who’ve found the sudden rush of this virus and impacts on daily life a bit stifling of my creativity.

I’ve read about the same number of novels as usual, watched maybe a bit more news and analysis on tv but never during the day – around 9am we switch to music for hours – on the cable channel we have you can select radio music to just play continuously with almost no interruption, and my choice each day varies between symphonic, R&B, and 70/s hits. I think Caribbean salsa sounds nice for one day this week … It’s nice and easy to have it playing in the bakcground. Every day I read a local newspaper with greater focus, and spent about the usual time reading the US and Aus newspapers I’ve always read – as after all that’s where our family members are. Then there is the far greater mass of information of varying quality and veracity that has flooded the Facebook pages, and I have found myself spending some very interesting time there. I don’t have time for twitter for goodness’ sake – it’s probably like Pinterest, able to let you spend hours more time than is good for you!

After close and extended family, I’m most interested the posts of close friends, especially old ones, and fellow artists I know personally, and people who actually post a personal thought or message, not those who just click the share button al l the time. I haven’t watched any streamed opera or ballet yet, haven’t done any virtual travel or museum visits, either, but how wonderful so much is being made available to help people get trhough this period of isolation.. Even though Mike and I have settled into the new normal of social distancing, I was kept obsessively busy the first couple of weeks of the emergency here in Uruguay; and still every day I wonder where does everyone find the time for all that additional kulcha?

The answer is the same it has always been – it all depends on your personal priorities. So after the first couple of weeks of dithering tinged with panic, I’ve re-ordered my priorities and developed a routine of sorts. It includes at least 2 hours a day of stitching, preferably in the morning after the household chores. It’s a good time to do something that’s always been important to me, and unless I’m focused on problem solving or designing, it’s an activity I do with the additional pleasure of listening to an audio book. I’m currently really absorbed in “The Weight of Ink” by Rachel Kadish. After lunch I read the newspapers and write to or phone family, or phone at least 2 people a day who I haven’t spoken to for a while. On thursday mornings I tune in at 10.30 to skype for a morale boosting chat with the mahjong girls, at our usual weekly time (we meet for brunch before playing the game) It’s something we’re all missing under this emergency. We’ve alwaysknown that each of us have problems in our lives, and on occasion have been known to just stop playing to listen… Today everyone’s current worries are different with weighing more heavily on certain shoulders right now. Finding some me-time, some mental health time, through balanced interactions and activities has never been more important.

And so I come to my current project.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Basted white lines (temporary only) outline approx 10cm squares; layout is the 9-patch from traditional patchwork. The theoretical plan, subject to artist’s change of mind: that details of landscapes and borders of squares will also be rendered in hand stitch, using reds/oranges.

I’ve recently posted my current interest in little landscapes, or miniatures , which until now have been of improv/freehand patchwork. In January last, before our lives were turned upside down by covid-19, I made one 40cm sq work to enter into Australia Wide 7, and this may be another, it all depends how we go. I’ve said elsewhere that this size and shape, with post-bushfire theme of regeneration and restoration, are to be the parameters of my textile art this year.

Why I Make, Write About & Keep Samples

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

My regular readers know I always make samples when trying out something new to me – a technique or an idea, problem solving, or just doing a quick aide memoire for later. These bits, rarely more ‘finished’ than this one, tend to live for a while on my pinup design wall, and eventually find their way to the bag I keep samples in. It’s one of those large cheap tartany tarpaulin fabric ones with handles and a zipper that cost about $3. I generally travel with one and find it handy to put the winter coat into for the flight home, as it easily pushes up into the overhead bin.

Looking for a particular sample recently I was rummaging in the green/blue/white check one (batting offcuts go in the red/blue/white one) I didn’t find it, so know it’s in the – oh, never mind, there is another bag too … In this process I went right to the bottom of the sample bag and found this assembly of strips.

From the “OMG what Was I Thinking?” department … (fabric approx 20cm x 6cm)

Now, I’ve been putting fabrics together this way for 25+ years. So familiar am I with my favoured go-to technque for pieced fabric/patchwork that I also teach it as improvisational patchwork. How or why I put this particular group of fabrics particular fabrics together, though, I have no idea. It’s not as if you could do this by accident. There’s no doubt these are my fabrics, the youngest being the lovely swirly batik in greys at the top which I think I bought perhaps 6-7 years ago. And, it’s true, I have had some health challenges and surgeries the past few years, so I may have been ‘on something‘ when I sewed them, but I must have totally lost my mind to lump these particular fabrics together. So this sample is from my “What Was I Thinking? department. I’ve kept it to unpick – there’s some good stuff in there – but threw out a bunch of other odd things from the same department.

These next samples though, are related to what’s on my mind at the moment. They date back 6-8 years, experimenting with hand sewing over laid strips, some of which are fused down, others not. It was good to see them in all together in a group. There’s a lot of information in this group – think ‘shorthand’.

A group of samples of shapes and stips oversewed (for want of a better term) in different ways.

In the past I have machine appliqued quilt designs featuring fabric, leather and mylar strips, and made a whole quilt of fused fabrics over sewn/quilted with red threads (left) and machine appliqued Mylar onto black vinyl with clear nylon thread. (right)

L About Red 2014 hand appliqued/quilted
R Landmarks 2015 Machine appliqued/quilted clear nylon filament

This blog is the nearest I will ever come to keeping an artist’s book or diary. I’ve been writing it for 15+ years, and it’s coupled with some of the things I put on Facebook as Alison Schwabe. I don’t have a separate Artist/Teacher Facebook page – it’s all together because I believe everything in my life around me – people, experiences, things I see, read or watch are relevant, and each is part of what makes the artistic side of me tick.

And finally, a note about making art in the time of COVD-19. Many artists I know claim they are surging ahead, making wonderful new work with all the extra time they have, blah, blah, blah. I am one of those who found the sudden rush of this virus and its effect on my own daily life all a bit of a speed governor on my creativity; and it has taken a while to shake that lethargy off and focus on this part of my life again. Adjusting to the new normal, I’m feeling a bit less hampered now. Wash your hands everyone.

Continuing Miniature Landscape Explorations

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020
L – an old sample, (8×6 cm) c. 2012 R – approx 6cm x 4cm.. 2020

I’m still working on how I’m going to use the idea of little landscapes. Of the two samples above,

  • on the left is an older one that I removed from it’s mounting, so could I say it has been ‘deframed’? (as in defrocked) though I like the colours, it is pieced and the seams make it ‘lumpy’ when pressed and bonded down onto its backing fabric. It was free machine appliqued to the cream fabric.
  • on the right is one I just made a couple of days ago. The fabric sections were cut so they exactly fit edge to edge (improv way of cutting) and bonded into place without any seaming. All a bit fiddly I found. It was then machine appliqued with a luminescent red thread signifying a landscape hit by fires, but a bit underwhelming, lacking drama. Even so, a whole group of them would have a richer effect, but do I want to make a bunch more this way? A bit ho hum.

Roughtly post card sized miniature landscapes, improv cut and pieced. L– as they are today, ‘de-mounted’ R– as they were shown in an exhibition of aft textiles in Perth, possibly 2000, mounted on hand woven basketry mounts of rolled newspaper pages.

In around 2000, I made a bunch of these little landscapes for a textile exhibition. They are all different sizes but roughly ‘postcard’ sized, and with me being in love with woven rolled newspaper at the time, that’s what I used to construct these mounts for them (varnished). A number sold, but these were left, and sometime a few years ago, in a bit of a rush I ripped them off their mounts (tossed the mounts) and brought them back to Montevideo … with no particular aim in mind. I still don’t have a plan for them, but they’re better without the mounts!

  • The strong blue skies and earthy colours are definitely Outback Australian, but belong to a much happier time for Australia than March 2020. Bushfires of course have always been and always will be part of the weather related life cycle of our continent. Only occasionally has such an extensive severe drought co-incided with specific regional strong weather pattterns to exacerbate and prolong the devastating 2019-20 fire season Australia’s just had.
  • In the last few months, many of the more densely populated parts of the continent and big areas of forests were devastated by fire, leaving blackened trees, blackened heaps of rubble and roofing iron, miles and miles of wire fences without fenceposts, and of course, burned and blackened everything else too unspeakable to put into words. But I hope I can put some of that unspeakable into fabric and stitch, which is what I’m working on right now.
From the back seat – the kids’ eye view of Outback Australia.

And just for fun, these are two of a group I made for the same textile exhibition. I’ve spent a lot of time driving in the Outback over the 20 years we lived out in some of the most remote places around Australia. We’ve seen a lot of our own country, courtesy of several mining companies who sent Mike out there to explore for minerals ­čÖé

Looking through the windscreen as it were, front seat occupants silhouetted against the landscape outside. OMG it was fiddly to hand cut the detailed shape out of the dark bonded fabric and apply it for that effect.

Dreamtime Art At MAPI Montevideo – “Tiempo de Sue├▒os: Arte Indigena Australiano”

Monday, March 9th, 2020
Owen Yalandja’s “Yawk Yawk” a group of three lithe water spirit figures, of carved and very finely painted wood. Link at end of post.

I attended the November opening of this exhibition at Montevideo’s MAPI museum, Museo del Arte Precolombino y Indigena and returned last weekend with Mike and our friend Gail for another, more careful look than was possible that day. This visiting exhibition is currently showing until sometime in May; but don’t leave it until the last week to go see it. Of course, being a (non indigenous) Australian, I am thrilled to see this collection of art from our ancient continent appearing here in Montevideo UY after extensive travelling in Brasil. It’s here with sponsorship from various parties Australian, Brasilian and Uruguayan.

Like many other ancient people, Australian Aborigines see the natural landscape and phenomenona around them in terms of behaviour or decrees of their spirits. Every object, every landscape feature, weather event, every animal, every person, has a spirit. To understand and be connected to the world it is vital to know ancestral and spirit stories: these contain the societal norms and environmental knowledge needed to remain connected to the land on which Aboriginal people have lived for at least 40,00 and possibly 60,000 years according to some experts.

A really informative statement appears here, in the weekly listing of cultual programming here in Uruguay, which my computer automatically translates

In common with many other indigenous peoples, story telling often has woven into it the impact of a colonising group’s arrival. In 1788 a group of English settlers, convicts solders and government officials landed on the east coast of the continent to set up an English penal colony at where the city of Sydney is today. January 26, 1788, began a new phase of the human history of the continent which is now Australia. The process of colonisation severely damaged the Aboriginal people and their culture, as usually happened elsewhere. Recovery from that position has been long, painful, and is still incomplete.

“Yam Dreaming” Emily Kame Knangwarreye

This exhibition includes work created by indigenous Australians over the past 50 years, in effect most of my adult lifetime. I became aware of Aboriginal art while I was still at school, and a bit more so while at university. It is true that during my own lifetime Australians as a whole have gained greater knowledge and understanding of the Aboriginal people through their art in particular. Our museums, institutions and major collectors contribute to the growing popularity of all forms of Aboriginal art through exhibitions like this one. Intellectual property rights are now fully protected by law and generally respected.

Abie-Loy Kemarre “Bush Leaf Dreaming” (detail and full view)

However, all is not rosy in the idigenous population. In common with other colonisation in other parts of the world, the clash of cultures resulted in social problems that were exacerbated by government administrators and by missionary do-gooders who all operated on values of two centuries ago that are so out of step with modern values. There were brutal repercussions and massacres in retaliation for stock thefts or other crimes against white man’s property laws that were not easily understood by Aborigines.

Jack Dale “Packhorse Road”
Queenie McKenzie’s “Horse Creek Massacre” – I included this poor image behind glass for it’s powerful statement about an actual incident. The artist’s grandfather as a young child hid in the belly cavity of a killed beef cow and witnessed the killing of men women and children in the group. Police troopers are depicted in white hats and holding weapons.

In a different kind of violence, people were pushed off their traditional lands to make way for farms and sheep and cattle stations, and forced to live on reservations. Aboriginal children were taken into mission schools and towns so that they could get a (foreign, alien but ‘proper’ english education) Far too many were brought up not knowing their true identity or anything of the families they’d been taken from, and many never recovered from that trauma. Sally Morgan has written of her first hand experience, see link at the end of this post.

Sally Morgan “Women Together” Morgan was one of the ‘stolen generation’ who in adult life discovered the extended family from whom she had been taken to ‘protect’ her by being fostered to a white family in a town. She published a book about her discovery, link at the end of this post.

Treating Aboriginal people as simple minded children who needed to be paternistically controlled by well meaning authorities, though they meant well, has been disastrous for the Aboriginal people. Today, their part of the Australian community has much shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality rates, widespread health and welfare problems due to dietary changes and alcoholism. There are bright spots though, including that today more Aboriginal people are achieving the education required to thrive in the non-traditional world while maintaining strong links to their traditional lands and cultural practices.

Jack Britten “Night Corroboree” A favourite. Britten was from the East Kimberley, country out near the northern West Australia/Northern Territory border. A contemporary of Rover Thomas and other Warmun painters all of whom painted in a similar style.
I’ve included this didadtic panel in both english and spanish as a wonderful example of how the dreamtime or creation stories are woven around to everything in the environment of every particular tribal group of Aborigines, and how the artists have painted the stories they know so well. (David Daymirringu Malagi “Black Cockatoos”)
David Daymirringu Malangi “Black Cockatoos”

In this lovely exhibition there are many more works, but I just selected the few most special ones. Others included work by names I knew well, but wasn’t so excited about. For example the work Punmu – The Universe by Rover Thomas, was behind glass and hung up so high it could not be seen well at all, and in that position didn’t look too interesting compared with others in the show.

This visiting exhibition is currently showing until sometime in May; but don’t leave it until the last week to go see it ­čÖé


Continuing Miniature Landscapes

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

My work always references landscape in the process of change, and the landscape of much of my native Australia has recently suffered the onslaught of ravaging bushfires. I have some things to say, which have begun to appear in my recent work.

My next work will incorporate miniature landscapes, following on from those about which I recently posted,

Miniature landscape samples c. 2014.

A few years ago I was thinking about these again, took photos of course, but for various reasons I was sidetracked from this idea. The 2014 samples (above) were very quick, totally improvisational, and worked directly from the scrap bag! as there is no ‘pattern’ for this kind of thing. Without being backed (stabilised) they were pinned onto the fabric and sewn down, so are not very robust samples. I think of them as sketches, and therefore very important, as a little fabric piece is the most powerful aide memoire of all. So then we come to this week’s samples:

Mini landscape samples, March 2020. 6-7cm longest measurement.

From these three the following notes are important to me:

  • On the left, the black backing (with misty fuse showing) has yet to be trimmed away like the other two.
  • Considering the size, it seems unnecessary to form the more distant landscape elements of miniature patchwork – see the difference in the 2014 samples. At this size, simplify to clarify.
  • The skies in the right pair are a bit too much for that scale of landscape, perhaps even not abstract enough. I realise I prefer a simpler, plainer neutral sky, not necessarily blue, either, just ‘light’.
  • Foregrounds – I will need to be much more selective of the fabric here: the middle one in particular is far too big a print for that role.
  • My next move must be to go through my scrap bags again, selecting only plains, subtle textures, hand dyeds and hand dyed look alikes in Australian landscape colours, and light coloured neutrals.
  • This means most of what is already out on my table can be bagged up and put away out of sight, less overwhelming.
  • These take very little fabric.
  • Consider gold, silver, pewter, black or red for the ‘framing’ of these pieces …

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