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?

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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.

Mokume pulled dry

Mokume pulled wet 1

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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Inspiration, Japan, Residencies, workshops

Investigating pigment, process and imperfection: authentic Japanese textile methods (Part 1)

 

Farmhouse

Front door

I’ve been very fortunate to receive two artist grants (from the Australia Council for the Arts and the Copyright Council Creative Individuals Career Fund) to learn about indigo shibori and other Japanese textilial processes with Japanese Textile Workshops in the mountain village of Fujino in Japan last month.

Living in a charming 150 year old traditional silkworm-farmhouse/barn I stitched and dyed from early morning until late at night for most of the ten days of instruction by Bryan Whitehead, with eight fabulously interesting women from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Chile, Brazil, Canada and the US. An intensive crash-course in shibori techniques was interspersed with intervals of silk cocoon processing, spinning, cord weaving, stencil dyeing, resist-paste making, artisan studio visiting, and antique textile examining, and, as if that’s not enough, we were treated to wonderful Japanese (and occasionally not-so-Japanese) meals cooked by the multi-talented ikebana expert, Hiro.

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Bryan prepping the indigo vat.

Stitching and folding for shibori is so very time consuming! There were a few blisters and wounds to contend with (from stitching, but mostly from pulling the threads), but the results made up for all that pain. It was a joy working with like-minded people, learning while reinforcing the value of time and care in making something (and believe me, time is necessary) – and laughing a lot while getting to know people.

Indigio samples

Various shibori manipulation techniques, and the first products.

I loved the pole wrapping technique (shown above). It takes nearly forever and is, like the others, so worth it! I especially love the watercoloury bleeds of the indigo, and the not-quite-controllability of the whole process.

Finished work 2

Finished work 1

A selection of my finished work.

The techniques I learned have given me lots of ideas for making work. I’ll be showing works in progress as they develop and would love your feedback, but in the meantime look out for a couple of other upcoming posts on other techniques from the workshop.

Lunch

Not forgetting lunch! Always served with an awesome salad from the vegetable garden outside the kitchen window, with beautiful locally sourced pottery.

 

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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Exhibitions, Inspiration, Japan, Residencies, workshops

Images, memory and boro love

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How do you feel about the power of images? Do you ever stop and think about the impact images have had on your life? They’ve always been hugely influential to me, and I can think of many I’ve carried around in my head since early childhood.

A more recent episode that illustrates this is my fascination with Japanese antique boro textiles and clothing. A few years ago I came across my first boro images (yep, on the internet) and was captivated by their layering, frayed and tangled edges, faded surfaces, and their quirky and sometimes desperate stitching. But what I think screamed out to me the most was the obvious extent to which these items were valued by their makers and their families – out of desperate poverty I might add, but the Japanese have a way with aesthetics that can make your head spin.

While my art practice began with (mostly oil) painting, my recent work involves photography, textiles and installation. I found the sentiment of these boro textiles very sympathetic to the intentions in my own work. Memory, a sense of place, traces of human touch and history now all interconnect with varying input from photographs, cloth and stitch.

All this led me to undertake an artist residency in Japan last month, where I saw authentic boro that didn’t disappoint. More on my residency next week. But in the meantime here are some photographs I took at Amuse Museum in Asakusa, Tokyo that show some exquisite textiles and clothing. Here is the museum’s website. And if you’d like to see more I can recommend Sri Threads beautiful website as well. I wonder if they touch your sensibilities too?

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

aca_logo_horizontal_small_rgb-543223f8c880e

 

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

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