a quick post to share new stitching/textile work in progress – happy creating!
a quick post to share new stitching/textile work in progress – happy creating!
Let’s drive somewhere we’ve never been before, Sarah says. I leave our familiar circular route and take one of the many rutted tracks that leads to the Far Beyond. The car bounces over the small and hardened anthills that entirely cover its red clay surface. In the far distance, we can just make out what appears to be a settlement of mud houses – red, like the road.
“Architect-turned-milliner Gabriela Ligenza has teamed up with the London Festival of Architecture to curate a pop-up exhibition that explores the intersection between hats and architecture. Ligenza and multidisciplinary design duo You&Me commissioned a group of local artists, architects and designers to produce hats inspired by the city of London.”
The settlement looks ancient, but I sense that it was very modern in its time – whenever that was – even ahead of its time. Is this our time? I wonder out loud as we drive past a row of low, sturdy dwellings decorated with many blue hand prints, fanning out like the feathers of strutting birds. We leave the car at the end of the lane and walk to the labyrinthine heart of the village, where the narrow alleys are covered with sheets of hand-blown glass that reflect pools of muted rainbows onto the ochre walls.
I have been in a place like this before, Sarah says, craning her neck to look at the glass ceiling, in a small country that eventually toppled from the top of a large continent and crumbled into the sea. I suppose we’re lucky, she adds, being far away from so much much water.
We are hungry, and begin to look for a place to stop and eat. All the eating halls we find are filthy and full of stale air. We keep on walking until Sarah spots an open field, green and muddy, but festooned with tables and chairs and bright streamers hanging from bare-branched winter trees. The tables still hold the remnants of a recent feast, and noticing us, the waiting men and women quickly start clearing away the debris – I spot an entire cake (small, round, chocolate) being dumped into woven hessian sack. One of the women leads us to our table – a small child-sized one, with its sturdy legs firmly planted in the muddy ground.
Sarah and I shake our heads, simultaneously exclaiming, No, this won’t do.
The woman grins, as if we’ve passed some arcane test. I didn’t really think I could fool you, she says and takes us to a proper table, with proper chairs.
The table is already set, and two men arrive with trays of food, none of which I recognise, and in colours I have never seen before. The waiting men and women don’t seem to understand when I ask if the dishes contain meat. I realise that I’ve not seen any animals – domestic or wild – in the settlement, which is good news, or bad, depending.
“Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz are photographers and authors in New York City who share a desire to re-create, cook and capture some of the best recipes of the 20th Century that they either missed the first time around, or want to relive in their own kitchens.”
After our meal, we walk back to the heart of the village. On our way we pass a dry moat, its walls and bottom sprouting weeds from a multitude of cracks. We go into several small shops that sell trinkets and intricately embellished fabrics. In one of them, a slice of the moon is on offer.
Even though I find it hard to believe, my heart aches as we walk – empty-handed – back to find our car; my left hand opens and closes as I try to grasp its chalky smile.
Did you know that the moon doesn’t have any ‘weather’? (That’s why items left there by astronauts will remain undisturbed forever.)
I am rediscovering the collages of Katrien de Blauwer at the moment – the one below resonates strongly today. There’s definitely a short story there…
On her website I found this quote – Where must we hide when it comes from inside? by J. Taylor. (James Taylor?)
Another perfect gift.
A few snaps of my latest work – painting, mixed media and fabric + thread.
Lula notices that the honey pot is shaped like an elegant long-nosed dog – a pointer maybe – with crossed forelegs and its head tilted back to form a handle. She gently lifts it from the glass shelf, noticing a small hole in each delicate ceramic toenail, from which the honey, presumably, will pour.
It will make a perfect gift for her friend Reeza (beekeeper and dog lover) so she takes it to the counter and pays the hefty price written on the tag.
Lula has to cross a river to get back to her house, barefoot and muddied up to her knees, but she doesn’t mind because a perfect gift is hard to find on this remote island.
While wading through the warm clay-coloured water, she thinks of the dream she had the previous night; of the strange animal she’d met there on the edge of the nature reserve she was staying in in her dream … and then sees the bushveld landscape (acacia thorns and dry scrub) where she had spotted the small, compact dream animal – about the size of a large Maltese poodle – but with dense, short fur.
It had short, sharp claws – not unlike the ceramic nails of the wrapped-up dog she was carrying now, Lula realises.
In her dream, several rows of claws protruded from the animal’s stubby neck, like a designer collar.
The animal seemed to be wounded and in distress. There was another woman present, holding a spade, threatening to decapitate the frightened creature if Lula couldn’t/wouldn’t take care of it. She longed to cradle it like a baby; instead ran back to her tent to fetch a bucket to carry the spiked animal to the edge of the dry river.
Walking away, Lula felt as if she was joining all of creation on a stage; birds, animals big and small, insects, reptiles, flowers – all drenched in an African sunset of flame and ash.
The performance felt personal; for her eyes only.
Reeza’s party is wonderful – literally full of wonder: everywhere Lula looks, someone is engaged in some form of extreme creativity – an opera singer walks up and down the indoor staircase singing Lucia di Lammermoor, while a cross-legged sage nestled on the leather couch in the downstairs living room wrestles himself in a bout of impossible chess, board balanced on his lap.
Lula glimpses the headline on the paper lying next to him: “Reburial Aborted”.
There’s definitely a poem in there, she thinks.
The glorious supermoon energised me last night – finishing this post (in draft mode for weeks!) is the proof. Listening to the downpour outside, winter’s teeth finally showing, it feels good to muse on what inspires me; to reflect on what is happening here and now.
Supermoons occur about once every 14 full moons in a full moon cycle (the next one will be on August 10, 2014) when a full moon coincides with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit. The technical name is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system, and it is known that the gravitational stress on the moon during a Sun-Earth-Moon syzygy can trigger a moonquake – of no consequence to our planet. ( I like the idea of a moonquake … and the idea of an earthrise, as seen by astronauts from the moon.)
A different perspective is always invigorating.
Facts (however fleetingly remembered) add to my enjoyment of the natural world, but sometimes it feels appropriate to surrender to mysteries that can never be known. (At least not by me.) The language of mathematics and geometry continue to fascinate me, and draw me in, as I race through books with titles like “Thinking Mathematically”; “2 x 2=5”; Mario Livio’s “The Golden Ratio”; “The nature of Mathematics”; “Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities” – and for good measure a history of Anesthesia, which deserves a post of its own.
Discrete Mathematics is a branch of modern mathematics which distinguishes itself from the more classical branches in several important respects. Probably the most characteristic feature, “the trademark” of Discrete Mathematics is to study mathematical concepts in a constructive way.
I cannot say I understand much of what is written (e.g. this definition of discrete mathematics: “The classical question Does there exist an object with property X? gets transformed into How can we construct an object with property X?”) but the words spark ideas and images for new work. The visual interpretations of advanced mathematical systems by ancient civilisations like the Maya, further feed my obsession to understand something of the magical world of numbers.
The Dresden codex depicts a number of rituals and gods and documents aspects of daily life such as agriculture. The leaves displayed are part of the tables documenting the astronomical movements of the Great Star (Venus) and the first page of the lunar cycle tables (page at far right). Much of the damage evident in this facsimile occurred during the bombardment of Dresden during World War II.
The Paris Codex contains almanacs, calendar counts, constellation tables, and depictions of the spirit world as it relates to the terrestrial world. In this rendition of the spirit world, the four seated figures at the top of leaf 22 are Pauahtuns, associated with the four world directions, the rains and winds. Just below them are two death deities, identified in part by their “death-eyes” collars. Between the two groups a sky band indicates the division of their positions in the heavens and on earth. These two realms are separate, but they are shown to be part of a unified whole by the green sky ropes that twist and weave among the figures.
The leaves displayed here show a portion of the almanac section used by priests to perform divination rites relating to essential daily activities such as hunting, weaving, and agriculture. The four horizontal rows in the lower half of each panel are composed of the glyphs of the 20 named days which, as in the Aztec calendar, cycle 13 times through the 260-day Sacred Year.
In this painting I recently finished, I dissected and photographed and researched the morphology of orchids; those exotic botanical creatures that seem to possess the power of speech. I heard the voice of one given to me on my birthday in March, still blooming and bewitching, as I attempted to capture its cellular soul.
These images of the underside of my stitched cloth, “The Mysteries”, somehow best reflect how I feel right now. Mystery upon mystery; unraveled yet knotted and secure. I feel like Lula in her dream: joining all of creation on a stage; birds, animals big and small, insects, reptiles, flowers … content, yet curious about what will be revealed.
The art lecturer’s current special interest is human epidermal layers and how to render its tender cellular structure in marble. A few slabs are flown in from Carrara every year to indulge this famous artist whose work seems perennially and fashionably contemporary: in the sixties he was into projections of optical illusions, inspired by the work of Mark Boyle and Joan Hills (art critics like to speculate that this was the wellspring of his later obsession with marble, and skin); in the seventies, filmmaker Sydney Lumet inspired him to incorporate the darker grit of his largely unexplored imagination.
(The seventies were not kind to him.)
In the eighties he moved to Japan and produced a single piece; a rumoured masterpiece that has never been seen or photographed.
In 1992 he joined the fine arts faculty of this remote campus and started to work exclusively in marble.
Images and ideas came too easily to this artist, demanding little thought or processing time. Unfortunately he possessed a workman-like skill to realistically render anything – leaving his finished works largely empty of meaning. This fact doesn’t seem to bother the critics and art theorists who love to hate the ease with which he creates.
What the artist thinks about, and writes about, in the small dark grey notebooks he orders in packs of fifty from a bespoke stationery store in Belfast, no-one will ever know.
On the pages of his notebooks he muses over the geological processes that create marble. Detailed drawings scuttle across the virgin pages, conjuring up sea organisms whose shells – once they’ve died and fully dehydrated – leave behind the calcite-rich deposits that eventually form limestone.
The centre page of his second notebook shows the burden of rock, millions of tons of rock, pressing down on fragile, bleached fragments. Under sustained pressure, hundreds of minutely scratched graphite lines metamorphose into a hole – worked through the page – revealing a strip of pure white marble underneath.
These pages are the artist’s life’s work; this is where meaning is revealed; for his eyes only.
His fifteen students casually refer to his peculiar ‘skinterest’ when talking among themselves; of how cold the tips of his fingers feel whenever he strokes an upper arm, thigh or collarbone to enlighten them.
When the first rumours of his arrest begin to percolate through the department, they assume a crime of a sexual nature has been committed (a not-too-uncommon occurrence on their campus) but quickly agree that the famous sculptor is as cold-blooded as his favoured material, and declare him not guilty.
“What might look like snow cover on the rugged mountains is actually bright white marble, contrasting with Tuscany’s lush green vegetation in this summertime shot.”
A young woman, jogging in the early morning with her camera slung around her neck (vintage SLR Pentax), discovers the scene. At first glance the park below her seems decorated with what looks like an installation of sleeping people. The area is known for that kind of thing – she once jogged past 1000 porcelain toilet bowls filled with goldfish – so suspects no foul play as she stops and raises her camera lens, fixing her focus, moving from body to body. She counts fifteen, a mixture of male and female, all only wearing underwear. Their skin is covered in a white powder. Eyes closed.
A large white van drives into the park, jerking to a halt as two men jump out. They place fifteen black body bags in a long row on the grass next to their van, then proceed to collect the sleepers one by one, carefully placing each one into its zippered envelope.
The jogger lifts her camera to record this – what? performance? crime scene? – but finds that the shutter is stuck, forcing her to squint at the unfolding mystery on the green lawn of the park.
A line from Annie Dillard’s writing echoes what I strive for while stitching my new work (provisionally called “The Mysteries”) : “Crystals grew inside rock like arithmetic flowers. They lengthened and spread, added plane to plane in an awed and perfect obedience to an absolute geometry that even stones – maybe only the stones – understood. ”
Obedience and absolute geometry.
Willemien de Villiers: detail, “The Mysteries.”
I agree on Annie Dillards’s views on the human act of witnessing: “We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”
I had the good fortune to find the gifted fibre / fine artist, Annabel Rainbow, on the internet recently. With her permission, I’m sending you a link to her blog. You can find it here. Scroll down to read more about the three quilts that make up Annabel’s “Life” series, exploring “…what it means to be a modern woman pulled in different directions by pressures of motherhood, domesticity and academic success. Her triptych sequence is broken into three poignant but satiric titles, Be the Change You Want, Switching Off, and Hello Dear. What Did You Do Today?, which maps the roles available to the modern woman.” (Helen Cobby review)
( About Annabel Rainbow) : “I have been making textiles since finishing City and Guilds in 2003, and have been painting since 2006.
I trained as a PA after leaving school and have worked for some very interesting people, but after my children were born, I spent many years as a special needs assistant in a local school, and taught shorthand at the local college. I’ve come to the creative arts a bit late in life, but am having a wonderful time expressing my feelings through observation and colour.
I am happily married to Graham, and have two beautiful, wonderful daughters. I live in Warwickshire and spend my days bumbling through life.
I am motivated by all sorts of random things; colour, movement, words, emotions, music, shapes etc., and delight at finding inspiration in odd places. Quite a lot of my work features very controlled movement of colour from yellow, to orange, red, green, and blue.”
Enjoy, and happy creating!
Crossing the courtyard back to my studio, mug of tea in hand, I noticed a late blooming of one of my moth orchids (Phalaenopsis orchids: Moth Orchid Care is Easy!). Feeling that this gift was wasted on my two dogs, whose sleeping quarters share the pink beauty’s place on a workbench at the back door, I cut and placed it in a small glass bottle on my work table. This time of day the sun casts its last shadows in this room, and provided the perfect backdrop for the photo – and reminded me of another orchid, the (in)famous Lost Orchid painting by Vladimir Tretchikoff.
The Lost Orchid, Valdimir Tretchikoff
Refreshing my memory about this South African artist we love to hate, I found this delightful story behind the most-reproduced artwork in the world, Tretchikoff’s green-faced “Chinese Girl.”
I quote and paraphrase from the newspaper article (please click on the caption to read more): Russian-born Vladimir Tretchikoff always claimed his subject was a woman he met in San Francisco, when in fact it was a 17-year-old South African, Monika Sing-Lee. She was working in her uncle’s laundry in Cape Town in the early 1950s. Mrs Pon, now in her mid-70s, recalls that the artist approached her there and asked if she would sit for him. She remembers that men used to find her sexy and beautiful, but that “growing up in the apartheid era, everyone hated the Chinese and at home I was called ‘flat face’. So I never felt pretty.”
For two days a week over the following ten weeks, Monika posed for the Vladimir and 15 of his students in the sessions which produced the picture officially titled The Chinese Girl.
For another take on Tretchi, read this entry on the blog of South African Constitutional Law expert, Pierre de Vos: Why President Zuma is like Tretchikoff – Constitutionally Speaking. A slightly tenuous connection, but it made me smile.
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