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- Mark Making, The Zen of Seeing, the Byzantine Monocondyle and the Seven Bridges of Königsberg November 30, 2018
- On the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice: Shanks, E., 100 Years Dead, Not Forgotten November 10, 2018
- Black Bean Dye and Black Bean Soup October 23, 2018
- A Titanic Love Affair, Horse Chestnut Husk Dye and Mordanting with Moses the Chemist October 15, 2018
- (no title) October 4, 2018
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Dear Westminster City Council Planning Department,
After a fight, a statue of Dame Millicent Fawcett, suffragist, was erected earlier this year in Parliament Square, the first statue of a woman ever to be placed there. This, together with the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in the nearby Victoria Tower Gardens, represents the only two great women commemorated in the area around Parliament. When Millicent Fawcett’s statue was unveiled, PM Theresa May made a speech to the effect that she would not have been standing there making her speech had it not been for the great woman.
There are currently only seven statues of great women in Central London. Aside from Millicent Fawcett’s and Emmeline Pankhurst’s, there are statues of Edith Cavell, Florence Nightingale, Louisa Blake, Margaret Ethel MacDonald and Catherine Booth. It is already a sad indictment that there are considered to be only seven British women worth publicly commemorating in the capital and it would be a greater indictment to reduce this number back to six by removing the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst to the grounds of a private college. Please turn down the planning application to do so. Those seeking this should instead focus their attention on increasing the number of public statues of great women, not decreasing them.
Mrs Ann Isik
Dear Internet friends, if you’re wondering what this has to do with art, writing, singing, spirituality of walking (my blog themes) I can only echo Theresa May’s sentiments at the unveiling of the Millicent Fawcett statue. I doubt I’d have had the right to an education equal to a man’s and the freedom to pursue my artistic endeavours or to write this blog had it not been for women’s rights pioneers.
You can sign a petition to protest this planning application at 38 Degrees.
During my recent blogging sabbatical I took part in the London Women’s March on Friday 13 July 2018. It was to be a celebration of diversity. We were to be colourfully dressed and bring stuff with which to make a lot of noise. Many brought pots and pans and something to hit them with. I brought my soprano voice.
It was demonstrably clear that there were others besides myself marching not just in protest at Donald Trump’s visit to the UK, but also in protest at Melania Trump’s, because of the visit she made to McAllen, Texas – the heart of the caged children crisis on the US’ southern border – wearing a jacket on the back of which was written: “I really don’t care, do U?”
During my walk – I carried one of the orange balloons – I marched a while next to a woman with a young girl; the little girl was carrying a placard that read: “I really care, don’t you?”
I hope when the Trumps had tea with The Queen that the sugar in the sugar bowl was switched for salt.
Would they have noticed?
I really don’t care, do you?
“I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle. ” ~Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing.
I like the above quote because it’s a bit cleverer than it looks if you meander away from just the sense of sight when interpreting the word seen.
I’m meandering towards the point in this blog. I’m a great fan of meandering, as a way of thinking. I’ve until now, mistakenly, described this as lateral thinking. It’s not. Lateral thinking is about active problem-solving. It’s about seeking out. While art is about problem-solving, thinking meanderingly (I know, there’s no such adverb as meanderingly) isn’t. It’s more like thinking magnetically. While thinking laterally requires action, thinking magnetically is passive. If a magnet takes a meander, whether it likes it or not it attracts objects to it as it goes. Thus, a magnetic thinker having a meander will attract thoughts, images, ideas. Even to the extent of hearing voices, having visions – the artist William Blake had full-blown visions from the age of six; at nine, he saw a tree full of angels.
Whether the attracted perceptions arise entirely from the mind or whether some come from an external source/sources, is a matter of experience and belief. What is different when it comes to art is that the artist spends long periods of time looking. And I suggest that this releases chemicals in the brain which open doors to heightened perception. I’ve had a number of experiences of heightened perception due purely to looking at something – such as a still life, while in the process of painting it – for long periods of time.
What I’m calling magnetic thinking is expressed so well, I think, in Baudelaire’s poem Correspondances from his collection Les Fleurs du mal. The original in French and a number of English translations can be found at fleursdumal.org
From the first verse: Man walks through woods of symbols, dark and dense, … (Trans. Jacques LeClercq) and this is both the destination and point of departure of magnetic thinking. Magnet meandering?
The sketch above is of waterlily leaves on my pond. No, they are not lotuses, which characteristically stand up out of the water, while waterlilies lie flat. My waterlilies don’t lie flat only because they’re overcrowded. Food for thought (magnetically attracted).
I started the sketch – which I am doing with the idea of stitch in mind – by drawing without looking at the paper. Just meandering (there’s that word again) over the paper, trying to capture the waterlily forms, with an HB pencil.
I hadn’t planned to meander in this way but it happened. Those grey thready lines in the background. I then focussed on a section of the pond and tried to draw some leaves in relationship with one another, superimposing these on top of the thready grey. I’m looking forward to trying to stitch something from this drawing. I’ll be doing a lot of studies of the pond. Different kinds of studies. I’ve taken some silt from the bottom and am grinding it into pigment for paint. For instance.
It came to me during this meander across the paper that the leaves were like bowls. That the pond is a bowl: bowls inside a bowl, jostling each other for space, light, air, water. Now there’s a symbol from the forest to die for. And homophonically speaking, to dye for. I will certainly dye but hopefully, not die, soon.
There’s a lovely mature wisteria growing right across the front of my house and I’ve been pruning it. So there were tons of prunings to dispose of. I filled a bucket with stems and leaves, chopped the stems into small pieces, added a good quantity to a stainless steel dye pan. I poured in tap water into which I’d dissolved a couple of teaspoonsful of soda ash – a dye-fixing agent – and simmered (not boiled) the brew for an hour or so to release the dye from the wisteria.
I then added some silks and cottons and threads and continued to simmer it for another house or so. I left it overnight to cool. The dye bath was a really dark brown, but look at the results: pale pinks and pinky beiges.
I was expecting a yellowy-green. Hmmm! It must be the water, which is the hardest in England. I’m having a water softener installed soon. It will be interesting to see how this affects dyeing. The silks as usual took up more dye than the cottons, though they aren’t quite as pink in reality as in the picture.
I must still have been thinking of bowls because I had lots and lots of whippy wisteria stems left over and wondered if they could be woven. I’ve never woven a basket in my life but I thought I’d have a go and found a You Tube video explaining very clearly how to weave a simple basket from blackberry stems. Be ready to be entertained as well as informed by the very funny Paco Warabi.
And here’s my basket. My first ever woven basket. And it only took about three hours to weave. I astonished myself. It’s not perfect, of course. Look at the base and you’ll see that it’s not centred. I did some research on basket-making and found that the shape that’s made when starting off a basket of this kind is called The Eye of God or God’s Eye.
And you’ll see if you watch Paco’s video that the basket is started-off by making a cross of three stems one way and three the other and the three stems end up as the twelve ribs around which other stems (weavers) are woven. You will also see that once the base is done, there is a thirteenth rib added. This ensures that the horizontal weave is always able to alternate between forward and back of the ribs. When I finished my basket I counted the ribs and I’d lost my thirteenth. I suppose I must have woven it back into the horizontals of the basket at some stage.
These twelve/thirteen ribs made me think of Jesus of Nazareth’s disciples and discovering the name for the centre of the basket’s base as the Eye of God confirmed to me the biblical and generally sacred aspect of basket-making. It pre-dates Christianity, of course, and evidence exists to prove that the practice dates back 25,000 years. There aren’t any 25,000 year old baskets of course, but there is archaeological evidence of them by way of carbon-dating results of impressions of baskets found in rocks.
I’ve been reading the Gospel of Judas on and off recently. It’s one of the scriptures found near Nag-Hammadi in Egypt not so long ago. And throws a whole new light on the role Judas played in the crucifixion story. It has never made sense to me that Judas would be chosen to be condemned for all time, by a loving God. I hope, like my rogue basket rib, that Judas is some time soon woven back more sympathetically into the Jesus fold. After all, had he not betrayed Jesus, Jesus would not have been crucified – and resurrected. He was part of the plan. So I’m calling my first woven basket, the Judas basket.
Bowls have so many metaphysical and spiritual connotations there are too many to list in this already criminally long blog. I really enjoyed the process of basket-weaving. It was a very calming and contemplative activity. I’m sure the shape – the bowl – had something to do with it.
So look what magnetic meandering got me. I have the beginnings of a new skill and lots of ideas for incorporating basket-weaving into my art practice. I found time to sit quietly and contemplate.
I’ve been to the seaside recently, twice. And started compiling a series of little books …
I was delighted, when we first came in May last year to inspect what was to become our new home, to find no less than four mature Staghorn Sumac trees flourishing in the garden, for I knew Sumac to be good for eco-dyeing and printing. When we finally moved in, it was late August and knowing I’d have little time for eco-dyeing and printing until order was restored, I bagged and froze a good number of flower heads (drupes) for future use.
The future arrived a couple of weeks ago so I dug the bags of drupes out of the freezer and plunged them immediately into warm water as per India Flint’s ‘Ice Flower’ technique – described in her book Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles.
The theory is that the physical shock of the contrast in temperature between the frozen flowers and the warm water, causes the plant cells to burst, which better releases their colour.
I simmered (not boiled) the drupes for an hour or so in order to get as much dye out of them as possible, then added some silks and cottons, and some cotton string for use as thread, then simmered the whole lot for another hour or so. I then left the dye pot with fabrics to cool naturally. I left the fabrics in the pot for another 24 hours or so, then rinsed them and let them dry outside in the sun.
Here are the results. As usual, it was the silk which achieved the deepest colour – a rich tan.
A word of caution – if you come across a tree in the wild which looks like Staghorn Sumac, take care that it is not in reality Poison Sumac, which is related to poison ivy and poison oak. In fact, don’t even touch it if you aren’t absolutely certain which Sumac it is as it can cause a very very nasty skin rash!
Staghorn Sumac is reputed to have many medicinal properties. First Nations Indians in the US apparently used it both as medicine and for food. It is thus, considered a sacred plant amongst certain tribes. There is a lot of information about Sumac as medicine and food on the web, but I can’t say what’s correct and what isn’t, so won’t say anything.
The drupes are used to make a lemonade-type drink. I haven’t tried this yet, but I will with the new drupes on my trees when they’re ripe and let you know how it tastes.
I like the idea that if a plant is healing, it is therefore sacred.
In my next blog I’ll write about my recent experiments with wisteria – not just eco-dyeing.
The other day I was unpacking a box (yes, almost a year after our house move there are boxes yet to be opened) and came upon a small yet very heavy suitcase and on opening it found it housed my collection of items unearthed from the allotment we were keeping up before the move.
Nine Stones is an arrangement from this allotment collection. I have a good number of other collections from around the world. I’ve pondered extensively on my compulsions to collect. One reason I’d not considered triggered this blog.
Some pieces I’ve collected have held more significance than others. The peculiar object in the second image is a piece of fossil coral I picked up in 1997; and which still holds me in thrall.
Originally lighter in colour and weight, it became progressively darker and weightier while in use as a mould for papier-mache casts. That meant coating it first with Vaseline which was thirstily sucked-up by the fossil’s dry, dead and empty coral cells. A sort of accidental unembalming – stroke – unmummification. Mummification having already been accomplished by time, the sea and the baking sun.
The two dark lines across this form mark where twice I dropped and smashed it then glued it together again (badly) with epoxy resin. There are permanent glittery bits where tinfoil has become embedded here and there – another side-effect from the papier-mache cast-making process.
The third image is of one of the papier-mache casts lying beneath a row of cross-sections of the fossil sliced from another cast. I added wax to these, which I discovered much later is used in mummification. Much later still, the use of wax developed into an interest in encaustic.
The fourth image is of a (water) coloured drawing of the fossil. And in image five, the form turns up again in Book of the Dead 2, a quasi artist’s book.
Synchronistically, the day I rediscovered my allotment collection, I also caught the back-end of a TV programme about a recent Royal Academy exhibition of the work of Tacita Dean.
In a Guardian article of an interview of Dean by Tim Adams I read: “… among other wonders she is including her collections of clover and round stones.
Stone collecting is a habit she shares with some other artists she’s gathered here: Paul Nash, Henry Moore. Her own fossicking was handed down from her father, a circuit judge and frustrated writer; the 17th-century house in which she grew up on the North Downs in Kent was “full of pocketed flints – it’s quite a British thing, isn’t it?””
I had to laugh. Here’s a picture of two from my flint collection. And another of some of my round stone collection.
Maybe it is a British thing. What could that mean?
The fragment I caught from the back-end of that TV programme about Tacita Dean is what compelled me to recommence blogging, after a three months’ silence (and I noticed just now that by sheer coincidence it’s exactly three months to the day since I wrote my last blog). The fragment addressed collecting in a way I’d not considered. Here’s the gist:
Collecting is not about the object collected, but about the holding oneself in a perpetual state of looking. It’s about looking, searching, noticing. Exhibiting the objects found is exhibiting looking-, searchingness.
Here’s a video about Dean’s RA exhibition that discusses, at 3.58, collecting and shows her collection of clovers.
The video is one of many published by The Art Channel.
Another bit of Tim Adams’ Guardian article that I like: “I always use the phrase ‘being in a state of grace’,” she says. “Sometimes when you are working hard and open to things you start to see patterns. I am not thinking of grace in a religious way, just in your head.”
As an aside, being away for such a long period from my work in the end made me ill, and it has been so dreadful that I plan on never doing that again. The plus in this is that I had never realised how vital is the process of art making (not its outcomes) to my health and well-being.
Creativity and health, ergo, walk hand-in-hand? Ergo, an absence of creativity walks hand-in-hand with sickness? Doctors take note.
I’ve just done some dyeing with some sumac heads I collected last year from the four mature sumac (Rhus typhina) trees I found growing in the garden here. I froze these for future use and as the future has now arrived … I will write about the results soon.
I’m having to have a break from blogging. My longest since I started blogging in 2013. My first blogging holiday in five years.
Meanwhile, it’s catkin season.
I’ll be back.
Hope you’re all having a good 2018.
See you soon.
More eco prints on watercolour paper. The deep brown-black of the sumac is the actual leaf. It fused with the paper because I made an extra-tight sandwich of the materials and steamed it for a longer period of time in my dedicated pressure cooker.
I placed a square of heavy-duty plastic food wrapping between each pair of prints in this bundle, as a resist, i.e. to prevent colour seeping through. I’d noticed in a previous batch, that one of these plastic resists had, due to the pressure and heat of the process, become impressed with the image of the leaves/stalks. I decided to try to repeat what had been an accident.
It worked. You can just see this imprinting in the second image. I am calling these impressures. A different kind of reality to the prints, yet still a reality created by pressure and heat.There’s metaphysics in there to be explored at a later date.
The pink around the edges of the plastic squares has resulted from the water in which I steamed the bundle, which contained a mix of madder root and woad dyes.
They reminded me of photographic negatives. Yet another kind of reality – negative reality, like negative space. The transparency also reminded me of some silk organza that I’d dyed with mushrooms and then stiffened. I hunted it out. The plastic squares are sitting on it.
I have an idea of making a strip, like a film strip, using the eco prints, the plastic wrap and the stiffened organza. Attaching each to each with stitch. I’m also reminded of musical composition, musical notation. Graphic notation. Sound as well as vision. I’m interested in graphic notation. I must do more research on the subject. Here’s a performance of the earliest example of a complete graphic score. The composer is experimental composer and graphic notation pioneer Morton Feldman. It’s his Projection 1 (1950) per Violoncello. I just love this music!
So, I have taken a step that moves beyond portrayal of object and what that might sound like.
And I haven’t found it. Blue. Yet.
And in the first picture, when I believed I was dyeing with black beans, I discovered I’d used black lentils. Pah! Black beluga lentils, which are – blue. I do like the bronzey silks, however. The top one is satin silk.
Black beluga lentils are delicious. I didn’t eat the ones I’d dyed with. And don’t you do that!
The second picture is of fabrics dyed with black beans. Still no blue. On top of the pile is some thread I’ve dyed, too. I make a practice of this, so as always to have matching thread to use.
The third picture is of fabrics dyed with woad. I didn’t have time to do this per the instructions, but wanted to know what would happen if I just mixed woad with water. As you can see, some of the results are quite spectacular.
But still not blue.
The very vivid purple fabric is in fact fabric from a stash of fabric conditioner sheets. I’d put these to one side for what is now a long-forgotten project.
No doubt the colour is due to the conditioning chemicals embedded in the sheet, so it is upcycled and not truly eco. The paler purple is the bottom of a leg from a pair of white jeans. (I’m not tall and regularly have to reduce leg lengths).
They’re stretch jeans. I suggest that whatever was used to elastic the fabric has worked as a resist to the dye, while the white cotton has absorbed it. Some sort of synthetic rubber? I’ve just bought a couple of masking pens. Masking liquid is used as a resist by watercolourists. It must be some kind of synthetic rubber. The masking liquid has been put into these pens to make it possible to draw it onto watercolour paper where liquid would normally be brushed or splashed on. I wondered if I could use it to mask negative space into my printing? I wonder if it will work on fabric? Look out for the results of some experiments with these masking pens.
The woad and water technique dyed the chestnut colour into silk and I love that colour. (Now I know how to get it). The thread has accepted little of the woad dye.
I steamed the fabrics in ordinary tap water for about a hour in my pressure cooker dedicated to dyeing. I washed them afterwards with olive oil soap. I did these experiments in January and so far they haven’t faded.
Spring is on its way here, after a week snowed-into the house. I’m surrounded by snowdrops, crocuses and budding daffodils.