Anton Veenstra's Textile Blog

my textile career from 1975

Woman in Gold

Entartete Kunst, you can taste it in this second floor apartment, where Gustav Klimt, Schoenberg and Sigmund Freud visited. How embaressing that the art most desired by the Nazi looters was a sort of chocolate box portraiture; anyway, that’s what was filched from the Bauer walls to decorate Hitler’s mountain retreat.

Yes, I’ve just seen the movie Woman in Gold, and after enjoying Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen I can say that this role is no letdown either. Curious if her US lawyer was descended from the 12 tone composer Schoenberg; if it is a historical fact the celestial orbs collided graciously. Klimt’s work references Byzantine icons in the profuse loading of the surface with gold leaf. It takes one of the children in the family to ask why so much gold. The rich and bizarre material is combined with abstracted patterning and an emotional gesture from the sitter that evokes the anguish of the time, the zukunft, as her father reminds her, best to live in the present.

Although I am not familiar with Schoenberg’s 12 tone music, it seems an apt co-relative for Klimt’s austere experimentation.

textile & gender

Bearing in mind my previous chapter about textile and landscape and Jackson Pollock’s mark making, I read a review about US textile artist Mike Kelley which described  the “male artist as a stereotypical female”, in June Wayne’s words, “innately emotional, instinctual, irrational and strange, possessed by mysterious forces of creation”, Cary Levine.

Bowling For Columbine, a doco by Michael Moore, explores the causes of violence in US society. I think it unfair to limit the presence of thuggish masculinity to that culture alone; Australia, is also known for its brutish sports, its manifestations of cavalier machismo.

As far back as the the early 1970’s a sociologist was exploring the ways that sexism leaches into society. Boys were observed in playschool as being individualistic and masculinised; there was a perceived need to explore further. The two archetypal rituals were playing with guns for boys and the tea ceremony for girls. It was noted that boys preferred their guns metallic, girls liked floral patterned cups. But if the order of things was reversed. if guns were decorated with floral motifs girls consented to play with them, likewise if the cups were spiky shaped and painted in harsh metallic colours boys found them acceptable.

My favourite character in the sitcom Friends is Matthew Perry’s Chandler; his name is given to one of Phoebe’s daughters; “Chandler is a girl”, “That’s a flashback from my kindergarten” says Chandler. Likewise in my case; I wanted to make pretty dolls’ house furniture from match boxes covered in gift wrapping paper, but I was warned off with a sermon about gender roles.

Given the shapes in my recent tapestry, one wonders, has there been a bit of gender translation resulting in accumulations of butch shapes?

marks on a landscape


Land 1

Land 1, 11 cms H X 16 cms W, 8 pi, cotton warp, wool cotton linen synthetic wefts.

My intention is to create a series of windows into landscape. This is my insight into an indigenous world; I was born on this continent but unlike the original inhabitants and their descendants am merely a guest.

Three aspects concern me resulting from a recent encounter with the work of Jackson Pollock. Firstly, there is the meditation on hierarchy of media with which all artist/craftspersons must engage. Painting has an acknowledged supremacy, although within the recent history of representation there is much evidence of insecurity and oscillation between forms. When hierarchy condemns crafts or the use of certain materials to a secondary status there is an urgent need for revision of placements in the artistic pantheon.

When it comes down to hierarchy, a certain challenge sets in. Shapes or materials that otherwise might seem intractable, such as buttons or buckles, or in terms of woven tapestry, a series of cubes that need to lead, one into another, become the esthetic problem to be resolved. These promise an entree to new realms that painting does not necessarily provide.

Jackson spoke about incorporating the unexpected but in a controlled way; I understand that concern: the need for that as part of the creative process. He went on to accept that abstraction nevertheless allowed for shapes to emerge. I would refer to the middle period of Kandinsky and Jawlensky, where they painted landscapes in a geometric style that allowed shapes to emerge. My work attempts a style of representation beginning with abstract gestural movements but allows shapes to emerge.

As a Buddhist artist meditating in my garden, I see these miniature images of the boundless universe, occasionally traversed by birds, as the potential topic of a series of works. Please enjoy.

Jackson Pollock says: there is no accident

Working Title/Artist: Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)Department: Modern and Contemporary ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 11Working Date: 1950 Digital Photo File Name: DT1407.tif Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 2/13/14 Image blurry especially along left edge

Pollock had created his first “drip” painting in 1947, the product of a radical new approach to paint handling. With Autumn Rhythm, made in October of 1950, the artist is at the height of his powers. In this nonrepresentational picture, thinned paint was applied to unprimed, unstretched canvas that lay flat on the floor rather than propped on an easel. Poured, dripped, dribbled, scumbled, flicked, and splattered, the pigment was applied in the most unorthodox means. The artist also used sticks, trowels, knives—in short, anything but the traditional painter’s implements—to build up dense, lyrical compositions comprised of intricate skeins of line. There’s no central point of focus, no hierarchy of elements in this allover composition in which every bit of the surface is equally significant. The artist worked with the canvas flat on the floor, constantly moving all around it while applying the paint and working from all four sides.

Size is significant: Autumn Rhythm is 207 inches wide. It assumes the scale of an environment, enveloping both for the artist as he created it and for viewers who confront it. The work is a record of its process of coming-into-being. Its dynamic visual rhythms and sensations—buoyant, heavy, graceful, arcing, swirling, pooling lines of color—are direct evidence of the very physical choreography of applying the paint with the artist’s new methods. Spontaneity was a critical element. But lack of premeditation should not be confused with ceding control; as Pollock stated, “I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident.”

For Pollock, as for the Abstract Expressionists in general, art had to convey significant or revelatory content. He had arrived at abstraction having studied with Thomas Hart Benton, worked briefly with the Mexican muralists, confronted the methods and philosophy of the Surrealists, and immersed himself in a study of myth, archetype, and ancient and “primitive” art. And the divide between abstraction and figuration was more nuanced—there was a back-and-forth at various moments in his career. Toward the end of his life (he died in a car accident in 1956), he said, “I’m very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you’re working out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge. … Painting is a state of being. … Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”

Homage to the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art.

Plastic deception


Atoll, collage of sea life, tells the story of the insidious deception of bio-degraded plastics, looking like small sea life, deceiving sea birds so that they swallow a gut full of bits & pieces and soon choke. The ocean pollution scenario was previously described as a floating continent of rubbish, a more passive version than the truth.

Atoll, collage, 64 cms H X W, combines fragments of woven tapestry and another less reputable medium, that of buckles wrapped with electronic wire, to act as both foil for and commentary on the main prouncement of the pieces of tapestry. Rather than buttons, I chose buckles, keeping in mind the paradox made use of by Victorian “outsider” poet Gerard Manly Hopkins that the word “buckle” can simultaneously express the act of forcibly combining as well as forcibly disrupting. My intention was to use an element within the scheme of things, an item that quietly becomes part of the scheme of things, but in doing so acts as a danger to a species of living thing. This emphasises the ubiquity of plastic rubbish; and stresses the need to assess all human interventions in the biosphere. The buckles are posed to imitate both the structure and image of the woven fragments; in wrapping the rudimentary frame of the buckle it becomes a pulsating sea creature, a diatom, a floating scrap of food sought by sea birds.

The fragments behave like branching vegetation, fitting into an overall scenario; top centre is intended to suggest the presence of a scientific observer; an indicator that, even though immense distances are involved, the effects of human pollution are to be found everywhere, and need to be studied most in unpopulated areas.

It is reassuring to hear from my readers that a symbol like the buckle had such resonance for them, that aspects of their lifestyle was in need of review. I do believe in my world, my little place in the biosphere, but also my ability to help improve things and help get things on an upward incline towards improvement.

A wordplay similar to that of “buckle” is the dyslectic “warp/wrap”. My use of buckles to hang various wires/threads is meant to suggest the mono-cellular structures and reef encrustations of the atoll environment.

Prokovief Peter & the Wolf


Exif_JPEG_PICTUREExif_JPEG_PICTUREI wanted to suggest a dialogue between two images, two creatures whose melodies as Prokovief wrote them might be asserted by the marks & gestures.

White cheeked honeyeater

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe white cheeked honeyeater is a bird of eastern Australia; it is a frequent visitor to my garden because I have taken pains to grow as many indigenous flowering shrubs as possible. The pink, five petalled leptospermum is its favourite.

A recent addition to my garden’s flora was a pink grevillea, a flower that is almost impossible to convey in art. An early work focussed on the red loop and yellow underside. However, hidden in amongst its intricacy is the nectar that the honeyeater feeds on.

A more vigorous (i.e., 3D) rendering of its curly bits was the one that accompanied the possum: I used some kumihimo braid, a complex Japanese weaving medium recently revived by world acclaimed practitioner Makiko Tada, in this instance some work woven by a gifted student of hers, Rod Byatt.

27.5 cms H X 24 cms W, cotton warp, cotton, wool, linen, synthetic weft.

I am loth to provide to detailed an explication; why should anyone be told what to feel? But, there is much about the shifting shapes of branch and leaf, and the way birds hide quietly in amongst all that. I have always enjoyed weaving successions of shapes that seem to be communicating together, as a student of mine one said: “that motion thing.

When I visited the island of Delos there was the site of a temple of Apollo; as you stepped off the ferry, there were steps at the top of which were winged phalloi, in fealty to Apollo.This photo was scanned by Remba Imaging.

Australian art

Someone recently remarked on the thoroughly female qualities of the town of Alice Springs. I don’t know about that. However, this afternoon I was watching Edmond Capon talk about Australian art. While blokes were off fighting in WW1 women were honing their modernist skills. Grace Cossington Smith’s superb post impressionist rendering of the unfinished harbour bridge lingers in the memory. What is biographically consoling to any artist who has received their share of rejection slips, is that some of her work was rejected by the Royal Art Society of her day. In Sydney there was also my favourite water colourist Elsie Dangerfield; I regularly enjoy her sketch of the Wollstonecraft rail cutting.

Photography came into its own at this time; a unique vision whose architecture and grace is yet to be fully acknowledged is the photography of Jill Crossley, a pupil of the illustrious Max Dupain.

Sydney is graced by two architectural marvels: at this time the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a single monster span in the Art Deco style, and later the Opera House. Both have pronounced feminine qualities: on the first the stringed lyre, on the latter the shells of the sea shore. Sydney is, after all, often referred to by a female pronoun.

As for Melbourne, there is Clarice Beckett who possessed an original vision, enabling her to combine atmospherics and abstraction in a completely unique, antipodean way. Some of the highlights of my viewing adulthood were rooms filled with Morandi, all the London bridges by Derain, in Ljubljana, Slovenian post impressionist painters like Jakopic. But some of these artists have had to achieve an intense noisiness to be effective. It’s the equivalent of strobe/flashing lights which suggest the possibility of provoking an epileptic incident.

Beckett, by contrast, is intensely calm, but non the less powerful for all that. Dangerfield, Crossley and Beckett were not in Capon’s doco; he was on a mission, with a wide field to cover.

Performance with Mick Jagger

The controversial movie Performance directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, written by Cammell and starring James Fox and Mick Jagger, makes a splendid statement about the underbellies (plural) of England, both the gangsters and the hippies, while the forces of law & order seem not to have an effect. Jagger, dressed as a spiv, sings Memo to Turner: “when the old men do the fighting & the young men all look on”.

The recent movie Rockandrolla is similar in theme and scope.

An interesting theme for a future work might well be titled “Never mind the planet, let’s play money-power”.This photo was scanned by Remba Imaging.

Requiem & plastics

Scientists have studied Pacific atolls; seabirds have died, and their decaying remains show intestines clogged with indigestible fragments of plastic.

I intend to create a statement about the detritus of civilization that so thoroughly affects even birds, far away from our inhabited areas.

The centre of my work is to be the Australian shearwater.Exif_JPEG_PICTUREdiatom Opposite the seabird is an image of minute marine life; clearly the bird  mistakes translucent fragments of plastic for food.

This is all a far cry from my previous idea of pollution as a floating continent of rubbish in the Pacific ocean, relatively inert. Likewise, the issue of acidification of the oceans has to be presented to the world’s politicians & business leaders; currently they are an infantile breed content with fouling their own landscapes.
We have to accelerate the consciousness of these issues, solar, waste recycling, water recycling: in fact negative eco footprints. Currently, our regrettably greedy behaviour has not earned us continuity on this planet.

If my juxtaposition is not zoologically accurate, I must plead artistic licence.

The diatomic shapes above have a parallel with textile patterns, and this intentionally emphasises that human culture, no matter how beautiful and high-minded nevertheless dominates the planet. It is no longer enough to abstain from being a predator of other forms of life; too often vegetarians and vegans live by abstention; we however are all responsible for the human domination and degradation of the ecosystem; we must all work to minimise our impact.

As UK philosopher John Gray says, humans cannot destroy the planet; we may however ruin our place in it. A Saudi gentleman once said: my grandfather rode on a camel; my father has a car; I travel in a jet; but my grandchildren will return to the horse and camel. The first nation peoples of Australia must be viewing the ludicrous “lifestyle choices” of business persons and politicians, knowing that in a couple of centuries the land may through ridiculous mismanagement be emptied of human life and returned to its original owners.


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