Art spaces, Artists, contemporaryart, Exhibitions, Galleries, Inspiration, Studio practice, Textiles

Entering the experiences of others

Imagine walking into a room where masses of cloth that appear to be stained with something like soot or even dirt are arranged over almost the entire floor. Huge paper panels hang from the walls, smeared with dull-coloured stains. Are these marks made by nature or the human hand? Are the surfaces weathered? Accidental? Angry? This was my response on entering the work of Carmen Argote, a Mexican artist living in the US, whose practice focuses strongly on her immediate environment, and her personal responses to it.

This exhibition, As Above, So Below, curated by Margot Norton at New York’s New Museum, is the result of two artist residencies the artist has undertaken in Guadalajara where she delved deeply into the rural and agricultural environments she encountered.

Responding to her surroundings through observation, bodily awareness, local architecture and agricultural activity, she has used materials from those environments directly in the works themselves. Organic substances like coffee, pine needles, avocado and cochineal are embedded into cloth and smudged onto paper through a process of dyeing, or applied to a support like paint. Reflecting an amalgamation of the corporeal and the spiritual in Argote’s practice, her exhibition’s title speaks to a belief in sacred geometry that sees Earth as a reflection of the heavens.

The scale of the installation seems to suck you in to taste the atmosphere she herself experienced. Argote’s work is a deeply felt response to her culture, new environments, and the political and economic relationship we all have with the land.

It was one of the memorable textile-based exhibitions I encountered on my recent trip to the US.

I loved the cluster of beautiful little textile collages I found by German artist Hannelore Baron at the Guggenheim‘s Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection exhibition. Small, thoughtful and quite pained, they are exquisite little assemblages of life experience.

Born in Dillingen, Germany, in 1926, Baron and her family fled to New York in 1941 to escape the escalating Nazi hold over Europe. Sadly the trauma inflicted on her led to mental breakdowns and claustrophobia as an adult and she lived out her troubled life in an insular and solitary way.

Her work embodies a deep sadness, interwoven with the fragile specialness of life and the uncertainties inherent in the human condition. It’s as though she has caught fragments of things while they were falling around her and cobbled them together in a way that both reveals and conceals her personal experiences and her inner turmoil of depression, claustrophobia and life-long breakdowns.

Beautiful little works in every way.

While in San Francisco it was a treat to accidentally stumble upon a beautiful, intimately scaled exhibition of lovingly mended central Asian storage bags at the de Young Museum. The Turkmen Storage Bag exhibition highlighted not only the different designs of cultural groups but the amazing mending evident on most of the pieces. I’m always drawn to mending for a variety of reasons so I was a sucker for this one. These pieces were lush and richly coloured. So important, so useful, and so laden with meaning, that the wear and tear, as well as the repair stitching, was simply and artfully magic.

Small and thoughtfully put together, this was another textile highlight of the trip.

I love the feeling of excitement that goes with chance discovery. Seeing how others respond to life experience is always an education in itself. What better way to do this than through engaging with art?

rhondapryor.com

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contemporaryart, Exhibitions, Galleries, Inspiration, Stocktaking, Studio practice

Meditating on the simple (?) art of introversion

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Studio detail, 2019

Yes, apologies are in order for yet another late blog post (a significantly late one at that). I’m still guilty of letting life get in the way, and sometimes run off with itself entirely. Life, family, discouragement, health – so many roadblocks on the highway to creative outcomes.

I’ve been struggling lately to put into words what I’ve been experiencing and feeling, and how it’s affecting my work. A lot of self-reflection, drilling down, streamlining, has been happening. I can see new perspectives on the horizon, new methods of working, and more clarity in vision.

My own natural introversion has been overtaking. I’m in a hibernating, ruminating, self-examining, wintry kind of space. Long range studio experimentation is on the agenda. A desire for simplification, quiet, and depth of meaning is humming away in the background.

Fortunately for me the The School of Life blog landed in my inbox recently with a beautifully worded piece that perfectly explains my present mindset. The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’ examines, and indeed justifies, the need for withdrawal into the self in order to reflect and process experience so that productive progress can be achieved. I encourage you to read the entire thing (click on the link above and you’ll see what I mean in a couple of minutes).

Here is a passage worth noting:

“Our minds are in general a great deal readier to execute than to reflect. They can be rendered deeply uncomfortable by so-called large questions: What am I really trying to do? What do I actually enjoy and who am I trying to please? How would I feel if what I’m currently doing comes right? What will I regret in a decade’s time? By contrast, the easy bit can be the running around, the never pausing to ask why, the repeatedly ensuring that there isn’t a moment to have doubts or feel sad or searching. Business can mask a vicious form of laziness.”

And this:

“The point of ‘doing nothing’ is to clean up our inner lives. There is so much that happens to us every day, so many excitements, regrets, suggestions and emotions that we should – if we are living consciously – spend at least an hour a day processing events. Most of us manage – at best – a few minutes – and thereby let the marrow of life escape us. We do so not because we are forgetful or bad, but because our societies protect us from our responsibilities to ourselves through their cult of activity. We are granted every excuse not to undertake the truly difficult labour of leading more conscious, more searching and more intensely felt lives.”

(Owned by, and reproduced from, The Book of Life under Creative Commons License)

I’m tempted to recommend this as a useful passage for artists of any persuasion, but really it’s a permission note for human beings to recalibrate without feeling guilt at not producing tangible outcomes 24/7. How do you feel about this deep-thinking kind of readjustment in your own life? Do you allow yourself the time for this kind of examination?

Exhibitions that have left an impression me, and that have fed into this thinking include Chris Capper’s work at Sheffer Gallery (part of  Damien Minton’s 583 Elizabeth St Projects) in Sydney earlier this year, the Asia Pacific Triennial at QAGOMA in Brisbane, and Akira Isogawa’s show at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Being unfamiliar with Chris Capper’s paintings I was impressed by their charming simplicity. I say charming because at first glance they appear a little naive but on closer inspection they reveal texture and a layering of colour that is both subtle and somehow poignant in their softness. A beautiful combination of still life and abstraction, their buttery paint strokes and soft edges are just quietly, intimately dreamy.

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Chris Capper paintings, Sheffer Gallery, 2019

Mongolian artist Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s work at this year’s Asia Pacific Triennial struck me with its beauty and strength (and apparent simplicity) amidst a lot of detail in a beautifully put together collection of work from the Asia Pacific region. His embedding of memory into his work is achieved through incorporating animal dung, mushroom dust, ash, rust and various cloths – elements of the land and culture where he was raised. Locally dyed blue silk panels, known as khadag, representing benevolence (in this case inherited from his parents), cover a canvas in abstract, ethereal gradations of blue. Likewise, the adjacent piece reveals its own abstract shapes beneath the clouds of rust. Quiet, strong and beautiful.

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Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s large scale work, Benevolence, 2013, silk, cotton thread, rust and gel medium on canvas.

Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, Without Form, 2014, horse dung, mushroom dust, gel medium, cotton and wax on canvas, and Coming Season, 2015, horse dung, gel medium, cotton, wax and hessian sack on canvas

Shilpa Gupta’s mesmerising sound installation piece For, in Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, situated in a dark, cavernous space lit with a few light bulbs, poignantly reveals politically silenced readings from various activists, politicians and influencers through history – in multiple languages – from 100 suspended microphones. The written texts are impaled onto metal rods beneath the microphones. A compelling installation with intense human feeling and truth at its core.

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Shilpa Gupta’s For, in Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, 2017-18, 100 speakers, microphones, printed text, metal stands.

Indigenous artists Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy’s black baskets (bathi mul) are extraordinary. Using strands of pandanus leaf that has been steeped in a rare black (and secretly processed) dye, the baskets are woven in such a way that, on close inspection, the surfaces gradate between black and charcoal, matte and metallic. Beautiful simple shapes, beautiful surfaces, they are objects infused with cultural meaning and earthiness.

Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Mindirr, 2012, pandanus palm and natural dyes.

The Powerhouse Museum’s Akira Isogawa exhibition, while undeniably expressing exquisite embellishment, the underlying shapes are simple, pared back, and economical. His approach, while honoring the cultural significance of the kimono and Japanese cultural practice generally, utilises all of the fabric, either into the garment itself or in accessories. How’s that for virtuosic sustainability! And incredibly striking, inventive clothing that pays no heed to prevailing trends of commercial fashion.

These are works that have left an imprint on me in multiple ways that are augmenting my approach to my own practice.

Stay tuned.

All the best,

RP signature_tiny

rhondapryor.com

rhondapryor10@gmail.com

 

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Artists, Exhibitions, Galleries, Textiles, upcycling

It’s a wrap

Well, Sighting Memory has finished and its time to head back into the studio. The exhibition, with Sepideh Farzam at Gaffa Gallery in Sydney, was a fantastic experience. The gallery team at Gaffa are great to work with, and it was a real pleasure working with another artist who has such an affinity for cloth and feeling, and who produces such sensitive, unique work.

For those of you who were unable to make it to the gallery, you can see images of the works below. Most of these were taken by the very talented Marty Lochmann.

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A Close Marriage, 2017, reclaimed clothing, silks, pearl beads, thread, 203 x 110 cm. Photograph: Marty Lochmann.

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A Close Marriage, detail. Photograph: Marty Lochmann.

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Sighting Memory, installation view. Photograph: Marty Lochmann.

As mentioned in my previous post the exhibition focused on textiles and their ability to store and convey memory, a theme characterising both our practices.

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Familial, (detail), 2017, Belgian linen, reclaimed textiles, thread, hand painted timber frame, 45 x 35 cm. Photograph: Marty Lochmann.

My framed works were representations of people and relationships close to me. Using old textiles that struck me as meaningful and memory-charged, together with thread or yarn, I stitched and abstracted ‘portraits’. The combination of Belgian linen and hand painted frames make specific reference to the tradition of portrait painting.

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Verandah (detail), 2017, Belgian linen, reclaimed textiles, thread, hand painted timber frame, 45 x 35 cm. Photograph: Marty Lochmann.

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A Close Marriage, and Sepideh Farzam’s Principles, 2017, fabric, vest and thread, 91 x 114 cm.

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Sepideh Farzam’s Don’t Leave Me Alone, 2017 (left), fabric, pullover and thread, 58 x 148 cm, and Insomnia, 2017 (right), doormat, fabric and thread, 60 x 56 x 53 cm.

Sepideh’s work concentrates on female perspectives and extensively uses hand stitching. Her amazing work, Insomnia (pictured below), is an incredible piece – sadly, my photograph doesn’t do it justice.

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Sepideh Farzam’s Insomnia.

If you’d like to be informed of upcoming exhibitions and events please get in touch via the link at the top of the page. I’d love to meet you at one of these events.

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The artists. Photograph: Jon Johannsen.

 

 

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Studio practice, Textiles

Returning to the studio…

After a spell of two months looking after and fretting about my sick mum, I’m at last back in the studio gathering up the threads of different project ideas. Taking time off of this kind puts everything in limbo, so play time is now my priority (within the limits of the usual commitments, naturally).

I thought I’d show you some of my experiments of late.  These are textile memory maps (I quite like these). Old fabrics that are memory triggers. I think there’s more to be done on this theme so will get onto some large ones soon. These are 30 cm square.

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Perusing the fruits of a rummage through the vintage fabric pile before getting the shears out.

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The beginnings of shibori stitching on linen (heavyweight Belgian painter’s canvas actually). So nice to work with. Will be dyeing this with something other than indigo – but plant dyestuff though.

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More studio work in the pipeline…

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Japan, Residencies, Textiles, workshops

Investigating pigment, process and imperfection: authentic Japanese textile methods (part 3)

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Silk. Synonymous with Japan, and rightly revered. Another beautiful project we tackled during the residency at Japanese Textile Workshops in May.

Dipping the silk half and half in dye baths made from both gardenia pods and madder, the colours were brilliant yellow and fire engine red. I used a ready made undyed scarf and a length of organza for these projects.

Silk gardenia madder

Then, dipping the lot in the indigo bath changed everything. A few extra dips here and there produced moody, seductive greens and purply browns.

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Silks drying in sun

The shimmery sheen of the silk reflects the colours so beautifully. Food for thought for future projects…..

Silk scarf

 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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I’d also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Copyright Agency Creative Individuals Career Fund for this project

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Japan, Residencies, workshops

Investigating pigment, process and imperfection: authentic Japanese textile methods (part 2)

Mokume at studio

The finished mokume piece drying in the sun.

Mokume. A Japanese term for a woodgrain effect that is insanely time consuming but so beautiful on completion that it sucks you in to do it again (and again).

My residency at Japanese Textile Workshops in May opened my eyes to a few things. First – the homework (to be done before arrival in Japan). Using a lovely lightweight crinkled linen the chosen design had to be marked out on the cloth with a special marker pen (that doesn’t affect the indigo). A brief Mokume prep rundown:

1. Draw lines across the cloth 2 cm apart, and design lines over that.

2. Use a double-threaded running stitch along the drawn lines with long ‘skip’ threads over the design shapes. BIG knots at each selvedge to prevent the threads pulling out.

3. Stitch three lines of running stitch between the 2 cm lines (yes, 5 mm apart). Varying the stitch length and distance between the rows will give a more natural woodgrain appearance.

4. Lose count of the hours (weeks) you’ve spent stitching. Be amazed at the mesmerising effect of the repetition.

5. Fold up neatly, put in suitcase with all the other projects and fly to Japan (if that’s where you’re going to finish the project of course).

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Mokume stitched close up

6. Arrive in Japan (see above). Carefully pull the threads down one side of the cloth as tightly as you can. You’ll find you get some intriguing sculptural forms appearing.

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7. Soak the entire thing in water (it must be thoroughly wet) and squeeze out the excess. Now pull those threads even more to make them as tight as possible. Tie tight, big knots with several threads together to form a tight, fairly rigid form. Cut off excess threads (they’ll just get tangled otherwise).

8. Dip in the indigo bath. I did ten dips, oxidising between each. Unfortunately my gloves leaked on this occasion but I did manage to get it off my rings without much trouble. It was a different story for my hands and nails though….

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Mokume finished

Linen takes up the indigo beautifully. A close-up of the finished goods – and the intricate woodgrain pattern. A very inky piece with lovely bleeds.

 

 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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I’d also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Copyright Agency Creative Individuals Career Fund for this project

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Art classes, Artists, Kids, workshops

Making with kids

I’ve been tutoring my primary kids again this year and thought I’d share some of the work they’ve been up to. They’re a buoyant and happy bunch who always come up with some clever stuff.

Soft sculptureOur soft sculpture workshop covered two lessons and was a complete hit. They were so absorbed in the job at hand and were thrilled at the personalities they gave their creations. No sewing was involved in this exercise – just driftwood, fabric remnants, buttons and string (yarn & other stringy-type stuff) and a little wire. We just wound everything together, tucked bits in and tied knots.

The following two images are from a drawing excursion to our local gallery to see and draw the work at the soft sculpture exhibition The Charged Object. It was an excellent show – I don’t think the kids had seen anything like it. Very imaginative work with textiles, stitching and some left-of-field materials.Exhibit drawing 1

Exhibit drawing 2We’ve also been playing with mark making, imaginative drawing, and watercolour (among other things). It’s always a delight to review their efforts at the end of a session.Coloured drawing

Drawing

Watercolour 2

Watercolour 1A few young artists in the making……

 

 

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