Rain

Rain has a particular place in the Australian consciousness. It seems there is either too much of it, as you will know if you have lived in Brisbane during the last decade, or too little, as Melburnians could have told you in 2013 as they pulled out the dead azaleas and planted cactus. I have lived in many parts of Australia, from Darwin down the east coast of the mainland to Tasmania, sometimes in rural areas. For sixteen years we were on tank water. I have lived through droughts and floods.

Therefore I should probably not be surprised to realise that so many of my paintings have been about rain. Every exhibition has contained at least one, although it is only now, as I finish yet another, that I see the pattern emerge.

L to R: Sunday Rain, 2011; Cloud cover, 2013; Score for frogs and rain, 2015

As one of life’s essentials, rain has a strong presence in mythology. Most cultures have had their rain gods. Christianity too has its floods and droughts according to how people have been behaving.

Rain appears in literature as an indicator (and sometimes determinant) of mood. “Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur las ville” (Paul Verlaine); “the panic of anticipation… the urgent drubbing on the dust” (Rain on Dry Ground, Christopher Fry). Closer to home, strong responses are evoked by the five descriptions of rain that comprise Sarah Day’s beautiful “Observations about rain”in her collection Grass Notes. The coming of rain after drought often signifies emotional release.

This latest is a painting about the start of a heavy rainfall; the looming presence, the awareness that you are going to be overtaken by it, the drops spattering on the ground as it advances, the worms rising to the surface. I do not know whether it portends abundance, or excess. Either way, I really enjoyed painting it.

Rain_studio shot

(As yet untitled. Sorry about the yellowish tint – it’s just a studio shot).

Tansei: solo exhibition January 2017

cameron_faridah_force-field_acrylic-on-canvas_45-x-45-cm

Force field acrylic on canvas 45 x 45 cm

cameron_faridah_sashiko-1-growing_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-175-cm

Sashiko 1 (growing) acrylic on canvas 110 x 175 cm

cameron_faridah_wish-you-were-here_acrylic-on-canvas_45-x-45-cm

Wish you were here acrylic on canvas 45 x 45 cm

cameron_faridah_shell-unfurled_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-130-cm

Shell unfurled acrylic on canvas 110 x 130 cm

cameron_faridah_tide-line_acrylic-on-belgian-linen_45-x-45-cm

Tide Line acrylic on Belgian linen 45 x 45 cm

cameron_faridah_the-system_acrylic-on-canvas_45-x-45-cm

Leaving the system acrylic on canvas 45 x 45 cm

cameron_faridah_a-loosely-constructed-reality_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-130-cm

A loosely constructed reality acrylic on canvas 110 x 130 cm

cameron_faridah_arrow-feather_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-130-cm

Arrow feather acrylic on canvas 110 x 130 cm

cameron_faridah_cultural-analysis_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-175-cm

Cultural analysis acrylic on canvas 110 x 175 cm

cameron_faridah_star-map_acrylic-on-canvas_45-x-45-cm

Star net acrylic on canvas 45 x 45 cm

cameron_faridah_undulation_acrylic-on-canvas_45-x-45-cm

Undulation acrylic on canvas 45 x 45 cm

cameron_faridah_life-forms_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-130-cm

Life forms acrylic on canvas 110 x 130 cm

cameron_faridah_spangle_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-130-cm

Spangle acrylic on canvas 110 x 130 cm

cameron_faridah_sashiko-4-billowing_acrylic-on-canvas_110-x-130-cm

Sashiko 4 (billowing) acrylic on canvas 110 x 130 cm

Tansei: notes

tansei_calligraphy

The Japanese word “tansei” translates into English as “work”, but with connotations of doing something with “sincerity, exertion, effort, assiduity and diligence.”

In 2015 I spent time in a Japanese rural village where indigo is grown and used for dyeing, hoping to extend my knowledge of Japanese fabric arts including boro (patching and mending of cloth over many decades) and sashiko (decorative top stitching).

Since then the colour indigo has formed the space into which I usually paint. It is the colour of midnight, of deep space or deep water; of infinity, of perfect peace and absolute stasis; the darkness into which the introduction of light comes as a dramatic and moving possibility.

This exhibition brings together several of my ongoing preoccupations. One is cultural inheritance – the ways in which ancestral attitudes and beliefs are reflected in our contemporary context. Another, rooted in my early education in sciences, is my continuing interest in biological forms and physical principles. Yet another is my fascination with art forms that have arisen in cultures other than my own.

These works have allowed me the time and space within which to contemplate factors that have shaped my life, and all our lives; and I consider that a great privilege.

The paintings are on show at Handmark gallery in Hobart from 13 Jan – 6 Feb 2017. My grateful thanks to Allanah Dopson and her splendid team at Handmark; to Miho Leitch of Ebisu Design in Melbourne for her beautiful calligraphy; and, as always, to my family and friends for their love and support as this work was coming together.

The colour of midnight

Last year I visited Japan in order to learn more about Japanese textiles. As part of that exploration I undertook a short course in indigo dyeing.

Since then I have been painting towards a solo exhibition at Handmark Gallery in Hobart this coming January. Indigo has been the base colour for nearly every canvas. After a few attempts at variation, I just had to accept indigo as the force majeure in this body of work.

Once, when I was living in the Northern Territory, I swam in the Katherine Gorge late at night. The land was still warm with the heat of the day, but the water was cool. The surface of the pool reflected the stars and the night sky; it rippled like satin as I moved through it.

That’s what it has felt like to paint these works in indigo.

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Sashiko 3 (detail)

Proximity and alignment

Here is a shibori (tied knot dyeing) pattern known as yokobiki kanoko, square ring dots. I became intrigued by the possibilities of this repeated motif. (Well – whatever helps you make it through the night, right?)

photo 1-2

yokobiki kanoko, square ring dots

I begin on the top left hand side of a canvas 110 x 175 cm with white motifs measuring about 9 mm – square edges, round centres – on an indigo ground. By the time I have progressed through a few rows I start to wonder about leaving some squares blank. (This move always feels like a dramatic possibility in the early stages of a painting and generally coincides with the realization that what has been begun will take a very long time to complete.)

The body itself militates against a perfectly even result. The hand and the sight are both somehow biased, not responsive to the intention of perfection. Gradually, in spite of my best attempts to keep it even, the pattern shifts and, as the shift develops, the shift becomes a pattern in itself.

Thoughts arise. As I repeat the motifs I realize that they have become to me like little organisms, like a culture on a petrie dish, or a community of zooplankton. Which leads to the use of the word culture in a human context and thus to the human form, limbs outstretched, reaching but not touching.

The forces that create the shift in the work become like the forces that operate between people, in pairings, communities, societies: considerations of personal space, of likeness and dissimilarity, of external forces that affect the whole interaction almost imperceptibly at first, then later in easily observable ways. More colours enter the work, and gradually congregate and begin to influence one another. The image begins to develop flaws that demand solutions.

The surface is covered now, except for the sharp contrast of the indigo blanks; and now I realize, as I very often do towards the end, that the whole surface needs to be covered for the work to be complete. So I fill the blanks.

The painting takes more than three months to complete. It contains over 13,000 little “square ring dots”. It has given me, without my having sought it, hundreds of hours of contemplation of the complex interactions between living organisms – attraction and repulsion, association and separation, union and isolation. This is one of the great privileges of making art.

photo 3-1

Proximity and alignment (detail)

 

A la recherche…

Some artists spend a great deal of time on background research before they begin. I confess, I don’t.

My partner Neil obviously gets a big buzz out of studying things in minute detail in the lead up to making work. At present he is looking at Mexican altars, so I get Spanish icongraphy served up as breakfast conversation with my eggs on toast; but I have found that, while I read widely and will follow up on trains of thought as I go, the starting point of most of my work is in my memory already.

Perhaps you don’t remember ragbags. I grew up in more stringent times. Fabric was up-cycled until it wouldn’t go any further. Buttons were cut off shirts for reuse. Patches were cut from old garments to repair slightly newer ones. The repository of old material was the ragbag, a large hessian sack in the laundry. (Every now and again a man would come and take it away and replace it with an empty one; I never found out what happened to it after that.)

My mind is a bit like the ragbag. Those who know my paintings will recognize the aptness of the metaphor. Previously unrelated thoughts are joined and processed and emerge as what I hope is art.

My visit to Japan earlier this year encouraged this way of thinking. Although I had read about boro previously, I had never seen examples before. Boro is a practice of stitching and patching that developed in Hokkaido, where fabric was a scarce and treasured commodity. The resultant garments and quilts are many-layered, having been repaired again and again over sometimes many decades, even centuries. These garments were considered shameful until recent years when private collections began to come to light.

The examples of boro that I saw were almost painfully poignant. They revealed poverty, but also great dignity. There was not a stitch or a patch on them that seemed to have been placed carelessly. They demonstrated  balance and harmony as well as pathos, and invited close examination and a deepening of understanding. Born of necessity, they had become art.

A more recent example of up-cycling was to be found at Mixer and Jun’s studio ‘Saiseiryu’ in Fujino. These two lovely people turn old things into new, creating unique and beautiful objects in the process.

I have gone completely nuts over the practice of top-stitching, called sashiko.

All this is bound to end up in my painting…

Depth – layering – harmony – poignancy – if my paintings can embody these qualities I will be happy indeed.

Boro, Amuse-museum, Tokyo

Boro, Amuse-museum, Tokyo

sashiko fan from Saiseiryu

sashiko stitched paper fan from Saiseiryu

painting not yet titled (detail)

recent painting not yet titled (detail)

recent painting, not yet titled (detail)

recent painting, not yet titled (detail)

Finding beauty

Maybe I embody that instinct in Europeans that caused the great flurry of japanoiserie in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – an innate recognition of aesthetic values relating to nature, and not necessarily evident in one’s immediate surroundings. Whatever, I have always loved Japanese style, from childhood through art school and beyond.

After a successful solo exhibition in February this year, I returned to a blank studio and settled down with a few books, one of which related to a kimono collection, and through a series of strange and serendipitous events that followed I found myself last month in Tokyo.

The exhibition Simple Forms: Contemplating Beauty at the Mori Art Museum was a timely reminder that all that is simple and beautiful isn’t necessarily Japanese. Co-organised with Centre Pompidou-Metz, this show was a breathtaking collection of objects old and new, natural and human made, indigenous and otherwise, that effectively demonstrated a “tranquil and lyrical, universal beauty” (Nanjo Fumio, Mori Art Museum Director).

From Tokyo I went to the mountains near the small town of Fujino to attend a ten-day workshop on Japanese textiles and the art of indigo dyeing.

Occasionally it happens that an experience gives everything you had hoped for and more. Eight of us had signed up, from the US, Canada, Switzerland, France and Australia (all women) and we were joined by one young Englishman who had come to an earlier workshop and wasn’t quite ready to leave.

Workshop leader Bryan was a deeply knowledgeable, generous and gifted teacher. Hiro provided us with delicious and nourishing food, beautifully presented, and gave us joy through his ikebana.

To try to describe our journey together would not do it justice, but maybe some photos will give an indication.

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near Fujino

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lunch

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rinsing in the river

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reeling silk

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Ogata-san makes udon noodles

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indigo vats

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indigo dyed fabric

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tea fields

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hung out to dry

From Fujino to Kyoto, where I rejoined Neil who had been on a guided walk following Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Pilgrim sees a holy shrine.

Elsewhere a woman

Stains her fingers blue.

(Although, haiku never sound quite right in English).

We were met by our eldest daughter, who has a personal history of her own with Japan. Five days more of extraordinarily wonderful experiences followed.

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little shrine down from our ryokan

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mossy hillside above the Silver Pavilion

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foyer, Miho Museum

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dandelion on the Philosopher’s Walk

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home of potter Kawai Kanjiro (now a museum)

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his kiln

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kiln wall

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above the desk: “I want to see a new self. I work”