Auckland Art Gallery – 3

February 19th, 2019

For From Pillars to Posts: Project Another Country, 2018″ , Filipino husband-and-wife artists Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, themselves having migrated to Australia in 2006, explore the issues surrounding the concept of home.  Using recycled cardboard boxes to create a model city while exploring the concepts and issues around migration, change, memory, community, resettlement, acceptance, inclusion, family and more, the fascinating installation included a workspace supplied with tools and materials so that visitors could themselves make and contribute small cardboard houses to add into the installation. It was suggested they could make a model of the home they currently live in, one they lived in some time in the past, their dream home or an imaginary one.

Writing about exhibitions I’ve seen often often expands on ideas and thoughts that didn’t immediately register when I was visiting them, and this one especially so.

As an Australian who, because of Mike’s work, has twice lived outside my own country for lengthy periods (USA 1987-94, Uruguay 2000 – present) I found this interview with the Aquilizans highly relevant to my own life. Perhaps their most compelling words were: When you move, it is always a wrenching process not only on the idea that you are actually leaving home but also the process of choosing what to leave behind and what to bring along with you. What do you really need to start a new life? There is always that feeling of uncertainty, vagueness and tentativeness that diverting it to an art form, it becomes a process of healing.

Our overseas periods were initially both intended to be 2-3 years of temporarily living and working elsewhere before returning to Australia, but neither case turned out exactly to plan. We did return to Australia after 6+ years in the USA, but 3 years later came the call to for Mike come to Uruguay to search for gold. In each case, because of expectations that our absences would be only temporary and short, we made the ‘take/leave’ decisions on a relatively small scale, taking only some papers, cds and a few favourite books, and storing the rest until our return. If the question had been put to me all those years ago “How would you like to emigrate to Uruguay?” I’d have told Mike he was on his own – as I would never have agreed to emigrate from the best country on Earth. But in effect that is what has happened, more or less – as after nearly 20 years we’re still away 😉 Last year for a number of good reasons we decided to sell the Australian house we’d left in the care of a series of house minders. Naturally, after settlement we had to clear out our stuff, and spent several days discarding and donating a huge amount of all kinds of things – some I was glad to have an excuse to ditch, others I felt sorry or even guilty about. Then came the packers to prepare what was left for storage. As the packing raced ahead, we caught glimpses of stuff we hadn’t seen for years but hadn’t forgotten: books; vinyls and turntables; some furniture; kitchen gear; beds and bedding; paintings and other art; a couple heirlooms; stamps, rocks, and fabric collections. That was tantalising, and each of us grabbed a couple of small things to bring back in our luggage.

The whole clearing out, discarding and consigning to storage process caused me to consider how temporarily we are anywhere on earth, really; and to reflect on the role of ‘important stuff’ in our lives. I dismissed a well-meaning comment from an old friend who’d never lived anywhere else and hasn’t even moved house in the same town: “You’ve lived without it all for 20 years, so why not just get rid of the lot?” He sort of had a point, but if we weren’t being forced to ditch the lot, why should we?

As “Project Another Country” had been open since April, by December it had become gloriously crowded with little ‘homes’ ranging from very simple to elaborate – and was quite wonderful to see. This installation visibly appealed to people of all ages, and if I’d had more time I’d have sat down to construct something myself, but by the time I discovered this gallery, it was nearly time to leave for the airport, and I thought my best use of time was to just look and enjoy it before leaving the gallery to collect our bags and go.

Auckland – Art Gallery 2

February 9th, 2019

It was our last day in NZ and it was also raining quite heavily – so what better place than in an art gallery or museum for walking around for a few hours before boarding a long flight? In a previous post I wrote of a wonderful morning at the Auckland Art Gallery – and have another interesting work of art to share from that visit – Shield For Ancient Mothers  by Claudia Pond Eyley The artist statement for this series begins “Images from art made by women of other cultures are a continuous theme in the series of “shield” paintings she began in 1983.” The rest of the text to this collection and elsewhere on her website is so powerful that the didactic panel below her work seems a bit flimsy now, but I am leaving it in this post, because I’m sure it’s prompted others to learn more about Claudia Eyley’s art. Again, in my ignorance of things cultural in New Zealand, she was new to me. Visit her website, it’s truly stunning.

I think this is a wonderful painting. Of course I relate to the eternally iconic themes of femininity, fertility, motherhood and all that – and always find its various cultural expressions interesting. One thing about this work caused me to spend a lot of time enjoying this painting is that maybe not in 1983, but certainly in 2019, the artist could have made this piece as a textile work, an art quilt. A textile artist would have used plain, patterned and hand dyed fabrics, digital and other low tech ways of painting onto that fabric before machine sewing the parts together, quilting and finishing it off with a fine binding. Another approach would have been to paint and print onto a single piece of fabric (whole cloth) before quilting and finishing. ‘Trending’ (a useful word I love/hate) today is the use of text as a decorative or design element. It’s not new in most media, but textile artists now have so many techniques by which text can now be applied and used that is driving a new popularity for text. Claudia Eyley applied lettering highlighting key concept words – water, fire, blood, stone.


Based on geometric shapes ( the triangular shields) and bordered by assemblies of lines, squares, rectangles and triangles, this whole piece bears a strong connection to traditional patchwork, the units of which are still used creatively by non-traditional quilters today. Though I didn’t find actual reference to ‘quilts’ in her website, seeing other pieces in this series and noting her deep seated concerns and inspirations in other work, I feel this may have been a conscious choice of format. Her statement refers to the usefulness of mosaics, of how shapes that fit together enable collaging and assembling of units – the general term for which of course is ‘patchwork.’ From this and other series images it is easy to feel these works are imbued with caring and nurturing implied in patchworked bed covers.

Many art quilt makers produce work that begins with or is fundamentally derived from repeated units that can be collaged once their surface design (by almost infinite technical means) has been worked. My own work is full of them:

Repeated squares and triangles, the building blocks of patchworked mosaics.

My introduction to patchwork was via traditional geometric patterning. I made one antique style Flying Geese wall quilt before my need to create original designs took over. However, I love the cutting and piecing of shapes – it remains my go-to technique and I am one of many art quilt makers working improvisationally, while more makers use paint, stencilling or print to achieve surface designs based on geometric shapes.

Landscape – A Metaphor For Life

January 29th, 2019

Late last year we spend a few days with family in New Zealand, and on our last morning we visited the Auckland Art Gallery – NZ’s largest public gallery.

There was this group of paintings by Colin McCahon, and several others by him in other galleries -as he is New Zealand’s most important modern artist, it’s no surprise the Auckland Art Gallery has several in it’s collection. This group was on show:

10/14 Stations Of The Cross by Colin McCahon. Pillars in the gallery prevented me photographing the whole suite end to end (L-R).

On first sight, I instinctively knew these paintings depicted landscape. I studied physical geography and geomorphology, and as a user of very diagrammatic representation of landscape features myself, this group of paintings brought me to a screeching halt. I must confess, in my appalling Australian ignorance, I hadn’t heard of the artist, Colin McCahon. Let me plead living on the other side of the world from Australia for 27 of the last 30 years – if I’d lived closer, maybe …

Though I taught for a couple of years at a Christian Brothers College (Kalgoorlie, WA, 1973-4) and really loved it, I found it never seemed to matter to everyone that I was not Roman Catholic; so until I came to write this post I’d never really studied beyond my basic understanding of the Stations of The Cross

McCahon’s life (1919-1987) was complex and troubled, but he is acknowledged to have been New Zealand’s most important modern artist, with a large, well documented body of work including abstract, figuration, landscape and overlay of text. Q: – Are painful experiences necessary for someone to become a great artist?

These paintings made me think of the work of an American textile artist, Lisa Call , formerly of Colorado, who 2013 moved to a new life in New Zealand. In 2015, during a return visit to Colorado, she staged an exhibition, “Endless Horizon: 14000 Feet to Seal Level” of new works in Denver. Visiting CO at the time, and being very familiar with her work, I was taken with her totally new colour palette and the adaptation of her signature lines across patches of colour to form a ‘diagrammatic’ style of evocative abstract landscapes inspired by her new country. To read more about influences she sees on her work, visit

“NAPOLEON: Power and Splendor” Exhibition

January 22nd, 2019

Mike and I were in Kansas City MO recently, visiting our son and some grandsons over a few days during which we celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary. While there we visited one of our favourite places, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where there is a marvellous exhibition, NAPOLEON Power and Splendor running until March 10th 2019. This sumptuous glimpse of the extravagant splendour of Napoleon’s court and understanding it’s continuing importance to all aspects of French Life today is really worth seeing if you are in the area.

A general view of one gallery with silver embroidered sage green jacket.

In the foreground of this general view of one of the galleries featuring elaborate tableware of candelabras, plates, cutlery and serving dishes in place settings along with some church or chapel altar pieces, stands a beautifully cut grey-green velvet jacket heavily embroidered with silver. According to the panel nearby it was the dress uniform of The Grand Master of The Hunt – to do obviously with management of all the horses and stables and featuring a lovely cut-away style. While I was standing marvelling at the elaborate embroidery and that the jacket was obviously worn but not worn out, one of the museum docents came along and remarked that she wasn’t certain whether this was beading or not. I could have said “Get your eyes tested lady!” but didn’t, instead nicely pointed out to her that this fabulous trim on the jacket was hand embroidered with silver thread, the textures resulting from different stitches, not beads – principally padded satin stitch and lots of couched threads and cords.

Uniforms identified which of the six Imperial Household departments the 3,500 staff members worked in: The Grand Equerry, Grand Master of The Hunt, Grand Chaplain, Grand Marshal of the Palace, Grand Master of Ceremonies and General Chamberlain. Wool tapestry weaving, production of silk fabrics and wallpaper, painting, particularly portraiture of the Emperor and his family plus the metal crafts, jewellery and furniture making are all represented in this fascinating insight into extravagant luxury that characterised the palaces and environment of Emperor’s court.

You know when you’re faced with a lot to take in, your brain sometimes seizes up and refuses to absorb any more! So it was with the couple of hours we spent at the museum. For a non-student of European history, there was a lot I needed to read and try to put in perspective as context to the incredible grandeur I was seeing. All the creative arts and design flourished anew under Bonaparte’s patronage as he sought to elevate his image from successful military campaigner, First Consul, to Emperor of France with extensive power over France, North America, Asia and North Africa. Having in effect restored the monarchy he aggrandised his own image as a succesful military campaigner (despite having had to retreat from The Battle of The Nile in Egypt) strong political leader, tireless administrator, military genius and even some level of semi-divinity with immense power, ultimately becoming Emperor, in effect a ruthless dictator. Architectural projects, household goods and equipment, jewellery and body ornaments plus other worn or held crowns, vessels and weapons symbolised his power. Textiles ranging from enormous tapestry weavings to curtains, upholstery, clothing and uniforms and equipment were lavishly ornamented by skilled craftsmen employing symbolic imagery lifted from ancient Greece and Rome plus others, such as bees, associated with very early French kings.

One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is this beautiful chair, one of Napoleon’s many thrones in the imperial palaces. Upholstered in fabulous red velvet it has a touch of Egypt about it, in the style which came to be known as Empire. It’s in a gallery containing some huge tapestry hangings that had graced the reception rooms at Versailles. The colours of the galleries, in this case red – were stunning, adding so much to the feeling of opulence everywhere you looked.

Another gallery featured soft furnishings and various personal items owned and used by the imperial family. Apparently Napoleon maintained good dental hygiene, so his personal dentist, who travelled everywhere with him, never needed to use some of the handsome tools in the elaborately crafted set of dental tools exhibited. This may or may not be the actual set in the exhibition – but, if not, it is very like what I saw, and the text reads pretty much word for word what I read in that gallery – so I think it may be.

I don’t remember how many palaces the emperor had use of – you can google that! but below are some of the silk furnishing fabrics commissioned during his reign as apartments were refurbished. Gorgeous and no doubt important symbols are in these designs – you can see more Napoleonic symbol images here and, using the googler, explore around ’empire style’, ‘napoleonic’ and related terms come up with some wonderful antique furniture and objects from early to mid C19 France, United States and Regency England.

You and I probably share at least some love of textiles, which is why you’re reading this blog, right? And I hope you’re a regular! Through my long involvement in textiles I have learned a lot of history, but history was never my strong point at school, where the subject was taught by the school principal, Miss Margery Rooney. We adored her, but she was a very uninspiring teacher For most lessons, whe read aloud from the text book while we followed along, and just occasionally there was a change of activity as we copied notes from the blackboard. I hated her boring classes and opted out of history as soon as I could. In my late 20s, though, I realised what a shame it was this dreary teacher had killed ‘history’ as a subject for me. Though I’ve been making up for it over the past 50 years, my knowledge of European history in particular is still deficient in parts, of which I was very aware at this exhibition! While writing this account today, I found this link to the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia) setting out the life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte in a way I found fairly easy and comfortable to wrap my mind around. And here’s a timeline site putting the Napoleonic period into context re textile fashions which I’ve bookmarked for the future.

In summary, we’ve all heard of Napoleon Bonaparte, but I’m sure I was not alone in not realising how much the world, not just France, owes to this extraordinary man. Apparently he was a total workaholic, excelled at devising systems to organise people and services, and slept perhaps 3 hours per night. From the NGV site’s interesting page of facts and figures one most striking to me is “The rule of Napoleon fostered numerous scientific discoveries, many related to warfare. The process of canning food was a product of the Napoleonic Wars and the search for a better means to preserve food for the troops.”  Napoleon was President of the French Academy of Sciences from 1801–1814. The more you learn the more you know there is to learn.

Seduced By Colour

January 7th, 2019

Panama, on the isthmus connecting North and South America, pulsates with life and colour. We’ve been there several times, and one time several years ago I got totally out of control in a haberdashery/ merceria stocked with glitter and lots of interesting ‘stuff’ for all kinds of embroidery and craft activities. My eye was taken by reels and reels of gorgeous bright coloured ribbon, and, as if under some kind of Panamanian Bright Colours Spell, I bought 7-8m of every bright, narrow ribbon I could find, which didn’t look much when organised into balls…

Have you ever found that after buying something gorgeous in a foreign place, you get it home and wonder what the heck you are going to do with it? The only link I can see between ribbons and my preferred usual surface design technique, improvisational quilting, is ‘lines’. Over the following year or two I ‘visited’ these ribbons/lines of colour regularly, letting them slither through my fingers as I wondered what had possessed me, and what on earth I was going to do with them. I ratted one or two colours to tie around wrapped gifts … and realised that wouldn’t use them up any year soon!

However an idea came to mind late last year during a bit of a tidy up. (Don’t worry, nothing too severe) At the time I thought I needed another 100cm x 60cm piece for the SAQA Oceania call for entries for “Connections” so that I’d have two to submit by the closing date in January, but I’ve since re-read that prospectus and found it’s only one entry per member. So, whether or not what follows turns out to be something suitable to exhibit another time, it will be a good learning sample. I’ve always found it worthwhile to make samples when practising or learning new techniques.

I was inspired to use (up) these materials by the memory of one art quilt I saw nearly 30 years ago in Denver CO’s Arvada Centre A huge piece approx 2m x 2m, it was made of bright coloured fabric squares sandwiched between metallic insect screen mesh layers. On the front layer some squares were cut and the fabrics inside eased out in the manner of a facial tissue box top. It was stunning how the metallic mesh shimmered and the colours glowed. I can’t imagine how the maker worked with anything less than leather gloves and an industrial machine to assemble the mesh pieces. I didn’t take a photo or make note at the time, but finding it still on my mind a few years ago, I wrote without success to some likely sources inquiring who made it. I’d love to hear from anyone who recognises my description and knows who made that art quilt.

It was amazing how quickly this process ate up the ribbon of which I only had enough to do 7 x 9 squares instead of the 7×10 originally planned. As I’m using black nylon organza and a black polyester that unravels pretty easily, selecting an edge finish technique for this could be tricky. I ended up placing the ribbons a bit differently, but you’ll get the idea that squares have been marked by tacking to be removed once the organza and polyester layers are fastened together. I plan to have some ribbons hanging out on the front side. It’s well advanced, and we’ll see soon how this experiment finishes up, and I’m considering a smaller version for the annual SAQA auction.

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