Net

I haven’t blogged for ages, because I’ve been working on the paintings for BOAA, the Biennale of Australian Art. (See their website: http://www.boaa.net.au) But I must have been writing, because I found this in my journal although I have only the vaguest memory of having written it. So, belatedly:

If I say ‘net’, what does it mean to you?

If you lived on the coast of far northern Australia you might think of fishing: throw nets to trap little darting silvery fish for bait. Drag nets for hauling up larger fish in larger numbers from deeper water. Ghost nets – the nets that have come loose and that now float about trapping and killing unwary sea life to no purpose.

Nets have been used to trap living creatures of all kinds, from butterflies to tigers – or to keep them out. We net the fruit trees. Nets are for keeping in, and for keeping out. They are a human device invented for controlling nature. Can you remember when old ladies wore hair nets? And hats had veils? It was all, one way or another, even if self-imposed, about control.

Most likely, however, living in the present, if I said ‘net’ you would think of the internet. I will leave the parallels between one sort of net and the other for you to consider.

I’m interested not so much in the net according to its function, but according to its construction. Fibres twisted and interwoven, web-like. Leaving plenty of gaps for air and water, sustainers of life, to flow through unimpeded. Feeling neither trapped nor excluded, merely connected.

The very word ‘web’, of course, also immediately suggests the internet, and I’m sure that those who coined those terms were thinking of it as a means of connection. The only question is whether you are part of the fabric of the thing, or something that gets caught in it. The web, or the fly. Human inventiveness is the spider.

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”

Colour persists

The arts reflect the influence we humans exert upon the world of which we are a part. For me the role of the arts is to nourish and replenish, to sustain our inner life and to affirm our ability to respond in a sentient way to what we observe around us. Through the arts, we colour our existence.

The arts gather together our visions of who we are, where we have come from and what we will become. Through music and movement, through poetry and literature, through story and song, through the imaginative construction of image, we assert our ability to shape our lives, our world, our future.

Colour is a characteristic of life. Living things lose their colour when they die.

In these paintings, colour stands for all that is living and hopeful, vital and transcendent.

Colour persists.

East wind

1 East wind

acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

The colours of this painting suggest central mainland Australia, yet there is something indefinably Japanese about it. I have always found Japanese art and design very beautiful. For me, growing up on mainland Australia, there was always a metaphoric wind blowing from the East.

Approaching zero 1

2 Approaching zero 1
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

Approaching zero 2

3 Approaching zero 2
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

In mathematics, zero is the point from which all reckoning proceeds, the neutral value between positive and negative, the point of intersection of the axes on a graph. It might be thought of as nothing, or as the point of perfect balance.

Family Lines

4 Family lines
acrylic on canvas
175 x 175 cm

This painting contemplates the curious blend of individual colours and characteristics that go to make up every family. Crochet is a skill passed on to me by my paternal grandmother, who used to make huge scarves for us all. Often she wove coloured strands between the crocheted stitches, producing garments that were known throughout the family as “Nanna’s horse blankets”: warm and comforting, and slightly scratchy and inflexible, but always lovingly made… a fair metaphor for family life in general.

Colour persists

5 Colour persists 2
acrylic on canvas
108 x 130 cm

Colour persisits sketch

6 Colour persists (sketch)
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

Living things lose their colour when they die.

Colour persists in all that is living and therefore hopeful.

Chant

7 Chant
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

The repeated “crochet” motif with five lines “woven” through it vaguely resembles a musical score, but with only one continuous low note.

Tim Winton: “In the south, which boils with gothic clouds, the sky’s commotion can render you so feverish your thoughts are closer to music than language.”

From the deep

8 From the deep
acrylic on canvas
(diptych) 2 panels each 90 x 70cm

The ocean is sometimes used as a metaphor for the subconscious mind. After storms, fishing nets draw up fragments of seaweed broken by the sea’s turbulence. Similarly, thoughts rise to consciousness from the depths of the psyche, sometimes to be captured in works of art. The right hand side of this painting contains lines of text relating to the sea, taken from many sources, from Pete Hay to Virginia Wolff.

First rain

9 First rain
acrylic on canvas
110 x 130 cm

Hobart’s climate is surprisingly dry. Having lived in many parts of Australia including the tropics, I miss the heavy summer rains. The first few drops of a good fall bring the senses alert with anticipation… and then comes the deluge and the sudden flush of green growth that follows. There is nothing like the smell of rain on dry ground.

Red red rose

10 Red, red rose
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

I enjoy exploring the boundaries of image and text. This painting is based on the words of Robert Burns.

“My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
My love is like a melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.”

The place where waters meet

11 The place where waters meet
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

In India, near Allahabad, there is a place considered holy by Hindus, called Sangam, where the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswat meet. It is said that the colours of each river can be seen as they combine at Sangam.

The words in this painting are taken from the poem Where Water Comes Together with Other Water by Raymond Carver:

“I love creeks and the music they make.
And rills, in glades and meadows, before
they have a chance to become creeks.
I may even love them best of all
for their secrecy….
…And the places streams flow into rivers.
The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea….
It pleases me, loving rivers.
Loving them all the way back
to their source.
Loving everything that increases me.”

The Door

12 The Door
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

A poem by Charles Tomlinson was the starting point for this painting, and set me searching for other references to doors.

“Too little
has been said
of the door, its one
face turned to the night’s
downpour and its other
to the shift and glisten of the firelight….

…too little
has been said
of our coming through and leaving by them.”

Cropped field

13 Cropped Field
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

A little field painting; a little painting of a field. Cropped. After harvest.

Untitled

14 The River
acrylic on canvas
110 x 130 cm

The river flows by, bearing on its surface small, bright leaves and the reflection of all that stands beside it. The river flows on, deeply, darkly, but we only see the surface. If we focus differently, we can sometimes see what lies beneath.

Australian parrots, Latin names

15 Australian parrots, Latin names

acrylic on canvas
110 x 130 cm

Rainbow lorikeet: Triglossus haematodus.
Pale-headed rosella: Platycercus adscitus.
Parrots.

Bright feathers. Clustered in trees, or flashing by.

Regardless of any name we give it, a parrot is simply itself.

Score for frogs and rain

16 Score for frogs and rain
acrylic on canvas
45 x 45 cm

In Australia’s tropical north there are times when rain falls heavily after dark, in great curtains, parallel strands, drumming where it lands, its sound broken only by frog song. It’s the noisiest kind of peace I know.

Time and space

17 Time and space
acrylic on canvas
110 x 180 cm

There are many grid-like diagrams representing time and space, drawn to demonstrate the physical “laws” that govern them. However, we don’t really experience time and space that way. Places that seemed huge to us as children are surprisingly small when we revisit them. The time it takes to reach a destination always seems longer than the trip home.

For me, time and space swoop and fold like a blowing curtain as I make forays into the landscape, and into memory.

History

18 History
acrylic on canvas
175 x 175 cm

An interaction occurs. It is documented. Later, the documentation is reinterpreted from different points of view. Patterns are sought, lines of logic drawn. Detail is emphasised, and obliterated, as the process continues over time.

History is written and rewritten, and in the end the interpretation obscures the event.

These are the processes of history, regardless of the scale of the event. The original interaction might have been of national or personal importance; the process is the same.

This painting began with a series of overlapping panels. The rest is history.

Piecework of recall-1

19 Piecework of recall
acrylic on canvas
110 x 130 cm

Not long before I began this painting I met a friend I had not seen for decades and we reminisced about our early lives. Each of us remembered things the other had not; each of us was able to shed light for the other on the events of long ago.

We piece together our memories so that they make sense to us, finding order where we can. But there are always pieces floating outside the pattern, sometimes in the memories of others, which must be allowed to find their place in the whole.

Butterfly

20 A butterfly flaps its wings in China… somewhere a love affair begins
acrylic on canvas
Diptych: 2 panels each 45 x 45cm

“The butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” (Wikipedia)

The idea of a small occurrence influencing later events is more appealing to me than “fate” or “destiny”. It demonstrates the inter-connectedness of all things, while reserving judgment as to the likely outcome.

These paintings are from my solo exhibition Colour persists at Handmark, Hobart, January 2015

My grateful thanks to:

• Allanah Dopson and the wonderful staff at Handmark for looking after me and my work so well

• Scott Turnbull at Turnbull Family Funerals for generously providing me with studio space

Andrew Veivers for enliving the opening of the exhibition with his splendid music

• My family, especially Neil, for their patience, and even enthusiasm, for my work

Aspiring to the condition of music

Back in June I wrote a post called About Writing About Art. I had just heard an interview with the resident conductor of WASO, Asher Fisch. The last sentence of that post was “And remind me to play some music at the opening of my next exhibition.”

I’m delighted to announce that composer/guitarist Andrew Veivers is going to play at the opening of my next exhibition, in Hobart on 16th January. If you are not familiar with Andrew’s music, have a listen on his website, http://www.andrewveivers.com

As one reviewer wrote, “This guy must eat Gypsy hearts for breakfast…” How lucky am I that he will still be in Hobart following performances at the Cygnet Folk Festival!

Music has been very important to me during the last two years, while preparing the work for this exhibition. My painting method is slow and exacting. I find that if I play music while I work, I do not tire. The mark making, which involves a lot of repetition, becomes meditative. Time passes without my noticing. My best source of music is ABC Classic FM, because it saves me having to choose. I like surprises.

Sometimes, I can see the music in the work, the rhythm of it, the arc of the melody.

Favourite composer to paint by? J.S. Bach, no contest. But to celebrate the culmination of two years in the studio – Andrew Veivers, for sure.

It was English writer Walter Pater (1839 – 94) who wrote, “All art aspires to the condition of music.” I tend to agree. For my paintings to demonstrate structure and harmony and to evoke associations and emotions through abstraction, as music does, strikes me as a worthy aspiration.

There’s a lot going on in Hobart (festival capital of the known universe at this time of year), but for me the best gig in town will be at Handmark in Salamanca Place, 6 pm, 16th of January 2015. All welcome: see you there!