Thursday, January 17, 2013

Last week in the studio

Preparing for an Exhibition in Paddington next month has been keeping me busy. Percolator Gallery, where I will be showing, faces out onto a lively boutique and second-hand shopping precinct on a hillside close to the heart of the city. Even better... its in the same building where my studio is located so logistics are very doable. Consequently I've felt very positive about managing the other things on my calendar at this time which I mentioned in the last post... relocating my home.

The postcard I designed and ordered today as an invitation to the
upcoming show. All the details are on the back
. More info here.

In 2011 I made a postcard for an event I was evolved in in Brisbane and the concept of Bio-cultural-diversity seemed to just pop into my mind then and there. Obviously I had absorbed it somewhere along the line.

Every time I glanced at that postcard afterwards I'd think more deeply about the concept. By the end of last year it was becoming  a significant influence on my aesthetic, the general direction in my art practice and my research. I started to write about it and reconsider our place in the world according to age-old practices across time and place.

Gravitating towards print-making once again since the Cairns Residency I've re-examined tendencies in my work over years and noted that it was around 2005 when I'd started working with collaged fabric on canvas fro painting on, and using the selvedge,  stitching and textural features from time to time.
I started working on calico cloth as well as canvas back then and a while later painting on linen. I've painted on cloth since I was at school way back when I immersed myself in batik for a few years ... heavily influenced by having studied Indonesian in Language at School.

I've mused on deep attachments I've had to certain fabrics I've owned, bought at op-shops or elsewhere, having been given or inherited. I had a mother who sewed and was known to find uses for pieces from  my collection. My cherished pieces were left alone though and it occurred to me they are virtually the most durable of things I own, having moved so often Ive been able to see what's lasted through considerable change...and more rightly... what I've managed to pack and bring with. Textiles pack well... and my stash has stood the test of time better then most other possessions.

This fabric I couldn't bear to part with despite its eventual worn-out state. I took these photos at the wonderful Dorothy Caldwell Workshop 'Human Marks' in May last year. Dorothy's art practice celebrated the life of garments and fabrics and much was made from old as well as new materials.
I was overjoyed to have a place to take this once perfect item made from superb Italian seersucker. They'd been made for me years before from fabric I'd found at a wholesalers. Beautifully designed fabric... it had been so light and cool to wear I really missed them in my wardrobe. 

I remember packing for my 2008 move interstate to Brisbane and giving many precious pieces from my kitchen to a few good friends because, not long out of hospital, I was beyond trying to pack prized tea cups and all. What did come with me were the fabrics that have always made wherever I live feel like home. 

An important piece from years ago, a lino-printed and painted table cloth that my mother made with my help in Melbourne 20+ years ago when she was down on holidays takes pride of place on the family table all these years later.

It has such history now... so many dinner parties and events ... it really is of huge significance to her ... and to me. The lino squares featured in that cloth came from my teaching days in the 1980's... reminding me of the extraordinary remote coastal place I lived when those squares were cut. There is an octopus lino-cut inspired by an Ancient Greek ceramic vessel from 3,000 yrs ago. The cloth's design was made up of so many pieces of history... complex and storied. 23 years  later I wanted to make revisit that idea and make another cloth to imbue with story. 

So this is what I was working on in the studio last week...

Working on a linen-cotton piece of fabric 200 cm x 140 cm ...with the idea in mind to create a cloth to be hung, not stretched! Exploring Bio-cultural-diversity across cultures, time and landscape of late got me thinking about Tapa cloths in particular.

In Queensland one sees these cloths wherever Pacific island people are represented. In Cairns I felt so much more a part of the Pacific ... the presence of island people is very strong there.

Reading about Tapa cloths online tonight I found these notes from the Kew Gardens Economic-Botany Collections:

Bark Cloth

The Economic Botany Collections at Kew house around 40 specimens of bark cloth, a versatile material made from beaten tree bark, once used widely in the Pacific Islands and Indonesia . Bark cloth comes primarily from trees of the Moraceae family, including Broussonetia papyrifera, Artocarpus altilis, and Ficus spp. It is made by beating strips of the fibrous inner bark of these trees into sheets, which are then finished into a variety of items.
The main use of bark cloth is for clothing. The Collections at Kew illustrate the amazing ability of this beaten tree bark to form soft and delicate items of apparel. Examples include shawls, loincloths, headdresses, skirts, dresses, shirts, and even a tight fitting jacket. 
Bark cloth has not just been worn, however, but has also been used as a wrapping for the deceased, a dowry, a room partition, and a mosquito screen. The cloth has played an important role in the societies of the South Pacific, being incorporated into folklore, religion, culture, and ritual. It has been popular in ritual gift exchange, in everyday trading and in healing ceremonies, and it has been used to symbolise status and wealth, with the level of decoration, the style of wearing, and the amount of cloth worn signifying rank.
 In Tahiti , for example, the upper class wore the ‘ahutara' or shawl over their shoulders, while the lower classes wore one rectangle tucked around the body and under the arms so the shoulders were exposed to passing superiors. Meanwhile, in Fiji the length of a man's loincloth symbolised his rank. A chief's loincloth would drag on the ground, while a poor man's loincloth would drape over his belt as little as possible.
Each region in the Pacific developed its own unique methods of production, style of wearing and design. The Economic Botany Collections at Kew have examples from a wide geographical range, including Pitcairn, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Futuna, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Sulawesi, Halamahera, Seram, New Guinea, and Java. The samples cover the many diverse uses, designs and styles of bark cloth, and are the result of a number of private collectors and colonial expeditions in the 19th century, from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh to the mutineers of the HMS Bounty. Most of the examples at Kew date from the late 19th century. The production of bark cloth slowed considerably in the 20th century, eventually dying out in all but a few islands as missionaries from the west visited the Pacific, bringing with them western ideas and goods such as cotton textiles. In fact, it became a sign of a convert to wear cotton, rather than bark cloth.
With the manufacture of bark cloth in such decline, the Collections at Kew serve as an important reminder of this unique craft. The specimens kept here will provide present and future generations with a chance to see samples of the beautifully crafted cloth, and an opportunity to learn about the societies who once used bark cloth in nearly every aspect of their lives, from clothing their children and adorning their priests to healing their sick 

The part that interests me at this time is the way the Tapa cloth was incorporated into folklore, religion, culture, and ritual ... and with this feeling of the value of ritual, cultural practice and remembering I  worked on the 'Homage to the seed' cloth last week late into the nights.

Building up layers slowly by creating a foundation using square lino tiles that I've been using for 26 years now. There is a personal history held in the marks the old lino-squares make... coupled here with recent lino cut motifs. 

I like to merge the organic with the more geometric... working in a painterly manner ...leaving space and adding dots which always to my mind are seeds ...especially after times spent in the seed lab counting tiny seeds... dots as seeds. 

The lino-prints are worked with in this painterly way to allow for a raw and natural aesthetic... also reflected in mono-printing with recycled polystyrene trays... a quick way to do series of stripes and some of the dots. 
Interestingly much of the Islander work may not feature a 'raw' aesthetic, but, rather favour extremely precise and masterful line-work, cutting, printing and painting techniques. A Thursday Island artist I met in Cairns described the high level of competition in his community (amongst males) to draw well and produce prints that were extremely fine works.

An area of the cloth that feels like a painting within a painting. Seed-capsule circular cross sections are shown on the right. My objective is not to emulate in any way cloths that one might see... but to focus instead on making something that holds stories for me and that may communicate something of the continuous thread of nature... the eternal cycles and rhythms.

In the workspace the cloth was so large I kept turning it around ...using a table I could move as needed.

Getting closer to completion... working flat on a table where one's vision is not an overall one make balancing the composition and colours a little harder. There is a desire to retain some of the raw first layer and to allow the fabric to show through... it is a painting... yet its not quite how I usually go about painting. On a stretcher frame there is more freedom to overpaint, or take out an area thats not working or adjust colours and so on.

I like to walk away from work nearing completion so I can get some perspective.
This work will be in my Exhibition coming up next month at Percolator Gallery... so it will be interesting working out how it should be hung... and seeing whats needed for it to feel complete. A bit of finessing to get the compositional balance I like yet. 

My next cloth is almost completed now. I went with a simple composition for that one... lots of raw fabric showing through. 
I look forward to putting these up to see them properly.

I've posted The making of a 'Homage to the seed' cloth (9 photos) on my Homage to the Seed page on Facebook  so if you wish to follow the Homage to the seed page visit (above) and click on like! 

Welcome to those new to this blog and I wish all a most productive week!


Janis said...

I admire the way you throw yourself into your work, how bold you are, and without an ounce of hesitation. And look at all your deep and beautiful creations... You are an example to me. I would love to have just a tiny seed of your boldness and energy. XO

Sophie Munns said...

HA.. who me? how sweet. Lets swap for a week Janis?
Give me San Francisco and your nuanced, well rounded and beautifully graceful lifestyle and self and you come step into this tiny spot on the globe and be moi for a week. Oh it would be fascinating I think... we would have so much to talk about afterwards!
You're kind... your words almost make me believe in them... funny how retiring and non bold I can be too...
but yes... bold... i know that one... I do bold often whilst feeling so shy... what a paradox!!!
Are we not a bit crazy with our funny ways my friend? Thanks for coming over!

Sweetpea said...

Such beautiful work, Sophie, a joy to see and a pleasure to read about how you get to where you are going...even if you're not sure of the destination ;>]]

I've especially loved reading about your deep attachments to certain fabrics as I am trying to grasp/understand how this effects me, too. It's almost something I never thought about in my younger days, but looking back it is so clear to me, my often profound attachment to cloth. I so appreciate that you can put these kinds of thoughts into words ~ and into your work.

Thanks for a fabulous post and Happy Making to you!


Ro Bruhn said...

Your homage to the seed cloth is divine, there's a story in every square, love it.
Good luck with your relocating, a daunting task indeed.

Mary Helen-Art Saves Lives said...

You are an amazing artist!!! Thank you for sharing your wonderful process. I am simply in awe of this body of work. Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

Sophie Munns said...

Hello CHristi,
Lovely to read your comment early this morning.

I was glad you could relate to the thought processes. Over the summer holiday period there's been more time for reflection and to notice all the connections coming from the slow-down, esp when writing. Love that we can revisit old thoughts yet sometimes see more clearly... things jump out and those aha moments confirm why something resonates so much.

Its been particularly helpful to see the role of fabric in my own life as so sustaining with the frustration I've experienced dealing with the downsides of what has seemed at times like too many relocations. I've thought a bit over why one see's all those blankets, textiles etc where there is homelessness... and how central they are to home and comfort.

It reminds one why nomadic peoples have relished their textile traditions so much and why a trolley is the crucial link for a homeless person to those crucial items. Textiles play important roles for people. Thinking about needs and waste and a whole lot of concerns ... i like that all things textile are only more important than ever the world over... and that we in the so-called first world must look deeper at the consumer glut to find the things of perennial value.

Thanks for visiting here... much appreciated your message!

Sophie Munns said...

New Year Greetings Ro!
So delighted to read you message and know that as a lover of colour this explosion of colour probably stood out. Sometimes I go a little minimal with colours... not here!
Appreciated your message re moving!

Happy New Year to you!
Touched by your warm and gracious message... as always!
Go well in 2013!

Anonymous said...

i like seeing your history in art, your love of fabric, your interest in the seed and so forth, all coming together in this work. thanks for sharing.

Carole said...

Good morning, Sophie! I am once again in awe of your story telling through your art work. Your bold use of colours and patterns add to the story and intrigue. I had a peek at FB just to see more as these few photos just weren't enough! This will look amazing hung or draped or framed (?) for the exhibition. Have you thought of wearing one of the cloths?
Until next time. Hugs and congrats to you from me across the Pacific. xo

Sophie Munns said...

Oh... such lovely comments Nance and Carole... back when I am not in a rush to go to the studio!

THank YOU both!

Mlle Paradis said...

great comments here. nice for you sophia. i was going to make me dream!

no question your projects and explorations enter into my own little paint and paper wanderings. the fabric is gorgeous and would love to also see the one that has been so frequently dined upon.

may have to steal mr. paradis' pw and come visit you on fb since i am still faceless mesel.....xo!

Velma Bolyard said...

i was glad to read this post in so many ways, but perhaps most of all was seeing the exuberance of this amazing painted/printed textile/cloth. it is seriously rich in color and pattern, and i feel like i'm looking at an intricate and amazing map of...something magic, perhaps. perhaps a seed?! i anticipate seeing the other cloth and wondered immediately if you would hang them so air currents interact with got me thinking again, sophie!

Bonnie Miller said...

I am in awe. The work you share is so thought provoking and beautiful. Oh for an nth of your talent! Any chance of online workshops? Pretty pretty please? xxx

Sophie Munns said...

Thanks for your lovely comment Bonnie. It's not out of the question to think about online classes after my Hong Kong Residency which finishes in December. I'll try and keep that thought & if you can remind me. I've had others inquire so I'll have a look at what's involved.