Saturday, 17 October 2015

Project 5 - preparing wools

I have been looking at colours and spinning wool in the last few weeks, partly to prepare for these tapestries in project 5. I got some good green silk from Oliver Twist at the Knitting and Stitching Show, as well as some green wool fibre which has enabled a few different yarns to be made. In addition I have been assemblign my greens and browns more widely, so here are some trials as well as colour charts I worked up from the season-inspired photographs I have taken for this project:





This wool is partly handspun (some by me, some by others) and partly commercial.

Spring - Summer

 The two skeins, seen bottom of photo, were some I recently spun, plying together wool and silk and different greens, the red silk is for spinning

Silk brick for spinning, and top right some silk waste I spun into various novelty yarns, and here are some of the novelty yarns, plyed wools and silks in blues and greens

 A green colour selection from a 'summer' themed photograph

Some autumn visits - shows and exhibitions

Knitting and Stitching show

I went to Alexandra Palace for the show this year, helped out at a stand in the morning and then wandered about in the afternoon, mainly focusing on the exhibitions, rather than the shopping stands.

There were graduate stands including students I had seen at New Designers, and there were quilters, felt makers and embroiderers of all descriptions showing their work. The stand I was very taken with was Vivien Prideaux's large space where she had hung her wools and silks, shibori dyed in amazing colours from natural dyes. The wools were finely woven light fabrics and hanging them so they can be seen at their best if a great way to show off the work. She also had a small selling corner and there the silk csarves were folded up, and so not giving them the full effect of the print.

This is the third or fourth time I have been to the Knitting and Stitching Show. It is a huge event, and you can easily get overloaded with impressions; I find that on repeat visits the stalls look increasingly the same from year to year and so unless there is something absolutely specific to get then most stalls can be skipped as otherwise stuff is available on-line. But at the core is shopping, and that gets a bit tedious after a while, although one stand I had planned a visit to was Oliver Twists, to pick up some green silk brick for spinning, and more about that in the posts about the final project.

On the on-line shopping point: I was very sad to learn that Texere yarns had gone into liquidation and is no more. This was a gift of a yarn and fibre agent and I will miss it very much.

The Fashion and Textile Museum - Liberty in Fashion

This museum is a small, but well layed-out space in a gentrified part of London. This was the first time I visited, so I did not know what to expect in the way of space and volumes of work on show. The Liberty exhibition covered a range of liberty designs used in dresses and blouses, there were a few trousers and more recent shoes.

What I liked best of all in the exhibition were the early embroidered pieces. Detailing in capes, kimonos, collars of bodice pieces on blouses and dresses. These were not huge embroideries but small sections adding s sense of luxury to an already fine garment. Liberty has always stood for quality and the high end of the market and there were plenty of examples of such quality garments on show. There was a also a room celebrating the liberty scarf and Liberty print in general, The Art of Pattern, showing surface designs by Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell mainly from the 1970s. This was a nice display of draft designs, proof prints and garments made in a particular print, with a lot of individual objects on show themed around print designs such as florals or the Bauhaus designs.

It was a worthwhile visit, and the ore so because I discovered on the way that the Londn glass blowing centre was alomost just across the street, and second to ceramics I love glass, so I had a quick look around to see some of the current works on display there.

Having just come back from Austria where huge internation-level museums take entry-fees equivalent to the Fashion and Textile Museum I do question how value is determined on museum displays. The Liberty exhibit was OK, but not amazing, and charging £9 for entry to a small specialist museum does seem a bit steep.

Contemporary Ceramics Centre and British Museum: Celts: art and identity

Whenever I go to the British Museum I pop in to admire whatever is new in the world of British Ceramics across the road. This time there was a display of monumental slab-built works by Paul Philp. These were large pale shapes which had been placed in groups of twos or threes to enable the shapes to relate to each other. The piece in three parts in the main window was very impressive, it would appear that it was made to be a whole in three sections, with a quiet strength in their standing position, taking up space around them and needing that space to speak properly. I liked this work, it was strong and yet modest and abstract although it used the idea of the vessel as a foundation for the expression.

There is also work by other people on show, often smaller pieces, and it is interesting to walk around looking at how some ceramicists use mark making on the surface of their material, while others use the materials themselves such a glazes and the process (firing for example) to enable the final object to stand as an object in itself. (I am not really sure what the equivalent of this working out of process in textiles is - weaving definitely has this tradition of writing about process, from Anni Albers' writings and the way the Bauhaus weaving workshop tried to work out their language of textiles, and occasionally you see the discourse on process turning up in some embroidery books, but in the ceramics tradition there is a very strong tradition on discourse on process which permeates the final pieces in some works).

Monday, 12 October 2015

Project 5 - Assignment 10 - themes and ideas for the final project

So, it has been a while since I did any concrete design, although I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this project. I have for example recently been thinking about what inspires me - whether visual art, film, literature, or music, and I will list some of those things later. I also thought about what words I aspire my work to describe or contain (rather than words describing the work, which with maturity may coincide, but certainly don't at the moment) - words such strength, subtlety, reflection, energy (whereas right now I think my work can be described s developing, experimental).

The things that inspire, or evoke imagery I think might some time become a work or series of works include key books I have read such as Haldor Laxness' Independent People, Herman Hesse's Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte, Sjon's The Blue Fox (this book I have read every year since I first got it, it is short, poetic and very beautiful, like a small gem you can pull out and adore from time to time). There are many works of art I find inspiring, so rather than list these, I will list some key artists (and this is a short and very incomplete list in no particular order): Anselm Kiefer, early Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffman's jewellery, Finnish landscape painters such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, landscapes by artists in the Group of 7, some Matisse, landscapes by Schiele, the German Expressionists, Breughel's landscapes describing the seasons (especially the autumn picture which has such strong blues and browns), and the list could continue.... fact, these lists sound a bit like the lists Sei Shonagon wrote out in her Pillow Book. Totally subjective and impressionistic lists of things that stimulated her. I think long lists of picture like the ones you often find on personal blogs are inheritors of this way of listing things out.

Music: I am partial to national romantic music such as that by Sibelius, Grieg and Smetana, and I recently started listening to Beethoven's music properly and can't believe how amazingly beautiful it is. Mozart's Magic Flute I listen to from time to time and any choral music by Bach is so incredibly transcendental somehow - it carries so much with it I wouldn't know where to start explaining what it evokes, in fact Bach's music is probably what I would take with me to a desert island.

Film - there are many films I have found inspiring, but here are a few - Etre et avoir, The Story of the weeping Camel , Sleeping Beauty (Disney's animation), Hitchock movies such as North by Northwest, To catch a Thief and Rear Window (costume, humour, suspense, sets - all such great assemblies and story telling), some films by the Cohen brothers such as Fargo and Oh Brother where art Thou? and Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, which I also try to watch once a year as it is so resonant with feeling, childhood, magic and Christmas, it is just a great film.

And where is this leading..... how does it lead into a textile project? Well, I guess everything you enjoy, digest and are touched by as you wander through life will somehow infuse thoughts about any project you do. I have already mentioned that Hesse's Bäume is a key source for project 5 in a different post, and so when I look at landscapes, trees, foggy meadows or certain architecture, my reflections may involve thoughts and memories of particular themes from this stock of culture. I guess an example will help describe this: it is a common thought that gothic architecture may have been inspired by strong slender trees, but mix in ideas about dark forests from fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood and something else is added, and when thoughts about Kiefer's use of forests and wooden huts creating dark places in his art are then added as well, suddenly forest trees gain a certain feeling and maybe something useful can grow from this.

So, to the themes

The plan is that I will weave four smallish tapestries and develop them into a joined outcome at the end if I have time and am given permission to do what I have in mind. The four tapestries will be on the theme of trees, based on the seasons.


I haven't fully decided how the spring piece will look. I worked up some photographs of blossom from a large tree in our garden by my childhood home:


Or perhaps the spring theme can be based on buds and the idea of becoming, a notion Hesse evokes as tree coming into 'becoming' in spring - for Hesse trees are lifegiving, nurturing, giving things that you can study to find meaning in life - his celebration of trees sits with his idea of nature as innocent, and as spiritually enriching. Spring buds are a reminder of this life-giving essence of trees:


This is more clear - there is a particular tenchique I want to try out in tapestry weaving, a way of rendering the structure of the weave open and wavy. I haven't tried this before but Fiona Hutchison uses it to great effect in her tapestry work and taught it in a summer school I attended once.

The summer piece will therefore be an abstract reflection of leaves and light, and maybe a bit of earth and sky, which the tree is so dependent on.


Here I want to work with a representation of roots and winding, snaky vines through the  wrapping technique. It will be in browns with hints of green and blue. I am planning vertical lines with some flowing lines.

An autumnal tree, the colours enhanced in Paintshop Pro. Although these are good autumnal colours I will not include all of them across the piece but will be be selective about how they will be present on each individually wrapped line.

I will be working with these pictures - colour them by hand and draw a few examples to work out how the lines and waves might work.


Skeletal trees look great against winter skies. They seem mournful and sad, alone and yet still proud and waiting. They are still and fragile without their leaves.

 Some wintry trees in a baroque park in Bayreuth, Germany

Bark detail coloured with blue and greens, in colder tones. I am tempted to weave something along these lines but will work up some drawings to see how his will work.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Austrian holiday - city visit 2 - Vienna

Vienna is absolutely great - it is a beautiful big, and big in all manner of ways, with large scale architecture and town planning, wonderful architectural detail and great museums. Again, where to start? I will just discuss a couple of things, how you can find art nouveau detailing in the street, baroque churches and just drink in some amazing art in the large art galleries there.

We visited the Leopold Museum where the Tracey Emin exhibition was just finishing (in a recent programme of What do Artists do all Day, she had been shown preparing for this show), and where they keep beautiful judgend stil furniture by the Wiener Werkstätte and paintings by a number of Viennese turn-of-the-century artists, Gustaf Klimt, Otto Kokoschka and great Egon Schiele works. I was really taken by the Schiele works in particular, his work with shapes across bodies and backgrounds, the body in paint, and his later work where he was modelling the body more, they seemed less thin and distorted and more fleshy and real. I thought this work very impactful, even his landscapes and houses, described in flat shapes were fresh and demanding.

This was a very fine museum in the city's museum quarter, but from there you just crossed the Ringstrasse and entered the other museum area where the Kunsthistorisches Museum stood, which we also visited. This is a great museum, not just in size, but also in its collection. They had a temporary exhibition on while we were there, on tapestry (entitled in translation, The Strands of Power), which had tremendous tapestries on show, including a royal throne balcony. This show also showed medieval prints of tapestries in situ: at a French emperor's coronation, hanging two tapestry-deep on all spare walls of the church, there was a picture of a renaissance banquet where people's faces and the large wall hangings were illuminated by candlelight.

A gold automaton in the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorishes Museum - also in the background an amazing automaton in the shape of a ship that could roll down the table with small mechanical people playing drums, waving their arms, and as a finale a canon would explode to complete the effect. I loved this display and wished we had more time to look at more in detail. this gallery had benches along the periphery of the room where you could sit down and study films of the automata in action, showing the wind-up mechanism and clock-work wheels and gears of the machinery.

The Vienna Sezession building, a gem of a place, so complete and a statement of the new feeling for art that the Viennese artists of the turn of the century was working to create:

And so, when you walk through the city you can find all manner of art nouveau detailing:

These balonies sit on Majorlica Haus a residential building designed by Otto Wagner, 1898-99, it is a large building and the neighbouring block is equally grand with its gilt surface designs. Unfortunately the buildings sit on a busy road with a lot of traffic and so any picture taken of them is crowded at the bottom by cars ziping past.

You can walk into churches you pass by and find the most serene or voluminous interiors without it breaking the bank:

We also visited the Upper Belvedere palace which houses collections of Austrian art, again key works by Kokscka, Schiele and Klimt as well as other, earlier art works. Here was my favorite Klimt painting, a portrait of Sonja Knipps (1898), before he started painting the longer, thinner more distorted bodies of The Kiss and the paintings of the Beethoven Frieze from after 1900. 

In the Lower Belvedere they had an exhibition on called Klimt and the Ringstrasse, a title that was in fact a bit of a mis-nomer, as it was about many different artists and architects and their patrons at work at the time of the design of the Ringstrasse and those grand buildings I mentioned earlier. However Klimt had painted some small works in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which I tried to capture; so, spot the Klimt(!):


And lastly, part of the central European tradition of puppetry is being performed (perhaps slightly touristically) at the Schonbrunn Palace. We did not visit the Palace, but went there to see The Magic Flute in a performance of puppetry, that was quite sweet, but very well crafted. The theatre had a small display of puppets in glass cabinets so here is an impression of soe of them:

I love puppets, since childhood I have enjoyed puppets and stop-motion animation, and in the 1970s in Denmark where I grew up, there was this Saturday TV programme for children with a small puppet on a string that would play piano and talk with a human presenter. And so I seek out puppet theatres and performances when I can, and naturally if there is one in Prague (which was definitely for tourists) or Vienna (which was less so and had local people in the audience) or even somewhere near where I live in the UK, I will seek it out. I am not sure why I love puppets, maybe it is the way this dead matter, wood or a synthetic material, is dressed up and animated, breathing life into an inert thing can evoke dream-like states, like a suspended reality, or parallel life.


Austrian holiday - city visit 1 - Salzburg

Cities can be wonderful places to go on holiday - art, architecture, music, history, it is all there to explore and find. We recently went to Austria to visit Salzburg and Vienna, with a quick visit to a small place called Werfen.

Salzburg was the seat of princes and bishops during the 16th and 17th century, and continued to be a regional capital for centuries. It was also the city Mozart spent much time in, it provided the backdrop to the Sound of Music, and is generally a photogenic place, which people visit. So there are a fair few tourists there, but they didn't seem to be in the city museum, they were at the castle and toured various sights which we also visited.

The old city centre here seen from Museum der Moderne, looking across to the castle. I think you can see the narrow streets, and the small squares between the buildings. Below is a close-up of the towers of the cathedral and other churches.

Where to start? This needs perforce to be a summary of the visit, so I shall just mention some of the key areas of art that interested me, and will show a few impressions.

We visited the Museum der Moderne (Museum of modern art split into two separate places in the city), the cathedral, the Hohen Salzburg Castle, the City Museum, other churches and generally walked around the city. There was just too much to see and experience to share here, but I will show some pictures of beautiful, unexpected details that can be found as you walk around the old part of the city. The below will be impressionistic shots of architecture:

Museum der Moderne: when we visited the exhibitions at this site were of 1960s and 1970s performance art. This was quite interesting, in particular the work by E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), an American group of artists who used technology in their expression, for example in the Pepsi avillion in Japan in 1970, an impressive experiment using sight and sound and immersive environments to stimulate visitors. Interestingly they used personal audio devices for visitors, the types of audio devices we now take for granted as optional in museums.

the other site of Museum der Moderne had a show on of Charlotte Salmonon's work. This was interesting from the perspective of how autobiograhical her gouache/water colour works were. She painted a lot of these paintings during the 1930s and early 1940s, and looked back at a relatively happy childhood that then seemed to grow into an adulthood of tense relationships, and then the disturbances of war, her diaspora into France from Germany and then the narrative ended and the disaply explained she had died in Auschwitz. There were many many pictures here, mostly dark and brooding. I thought one was interesting in the way she had drawn up her boyfriend's reclining body and then repeated it down the page and in the process creating a pattern. There was a lot of text drawn up around the images. It was striking how this use of the study of the self was used in this work. Not unlike a strand of contemporary art that uses the self in representation, these drawings/paintings drew on Salomon's life to describe a modern woman's thoughts in Berlin in the interwar period.

Walking around the old city 

There were so many different details left on buildings to study and enjoy:

An old door handly on an old door.

One of several passges you could walk through from one road to the next, often ended by old doors and some with shop windows.

On the way to the cemetery of St Peters, here a modern wood-carved sculpture, ancient rock and the medieval castle, Hohen Salzburg in the background.

A very beaurtiful baroque church had wonderful stucco in white marengue-like clouds, with putti floating generously through it all.

Salzburg has along history of being ruled by Catholic Princely Archbishops and even in more recent times the Christian faith could be seen in modern renditions such as this relief panel on a wall and in the same corridor a saint in colourful tile-work.

It really was a joy to find all this history and ways of making connection with life in the city. Here are some bell-pulls, I am not sure whether they are still used: 

A ram's head on a large iron gate flanking a concert house in the city centre:

And the famous fountain next to the cathedral which stands alone in an open area, on one side the Salzburg Museum stood, which housed great collections that we enjoyed in almost solitude. This museum had a number of displays of which three were really enjoyable - first a display of landscape paintings, watercolours and prints mainly from the late 18th and early 19th romantic period. There were conventional landscapes of the Alpine landscape around Salzburg, but there were large drawers which could be pulled out to reveal prints advertising the landscape, sketch books by artists, and watercolours. There were vertical stands of prints which you could pull to the side to reveal each print in turn, and in this way there was a lot on display without over-hanging the walls and prevent over-exposure of light on the works on paper.

There was also the gallery of musical instruments, really the best one of this type I have seen - here there were instruments, some recognisably violins and violas, horns and zithers, but some also slightly strange such as violins with horns, a contra-base type of instrument to be thumbed, that would make a trumpet-like sound, a steel piano that was used for the Glockenspiel tune in the opera The Magic Flute. Alongside each instrument was a monitor and headphones showing the instrument being played, using music of the time of the instrument, as well as introductions to opera and choral work. It was such a treat to go around exploring this, here the instruments were alive with sounds, played by talented musicians, a great aspect of this central European culture that otherwise would be confined to concert houses and the radio.

And lastly I got very excited when I learned that there was an early 19th century Panorama at the museum. We had panned this visit in advance and I looked forward to this treat, as I had read about panoramas during my studies, and here was one, complete, showing a 360 degree landscape of Salzburg at the time. It had been taken around Europe on a tour that lasted 10 years and would have introduced many people to a city they may not even really have heard of. It was very detailed, with trees, mountains, streets and streams all shown in a daily-life sort of way, with washing drying on the grass and people walking about attending to their daily deeds.

There was of course a huge amount of other things to say about Salzburg, about the castle, about puppets, about the Mirabell Gardens, but that would just be too much for this place.

Lastly I will show some pictures from a haberdashers shop which lay in the heart of the fold town in as complete a 1950s state as it could be, all the way down to the small white card boxes they used to store their buttons in:


We the spent a night in Werfen, where a certain castle is better known as Schloss Adler from Where Eagles dare, a film in which Clint Eastwood manages to kill a lot of nazis, and seems to be a cult movie. The sleepy town was pretty and the castle looked great and imposing amongst the mountains: