Anton Veenstra's Textile Blog

my textile career from 1975


I just watched James Blunt’s video: You’re Beautiful; he has such a delightfully high voice.

But it put me in mind of how people consider art these days. Some foolish person decided everyone can be an artist, over the weekend. It becomes part of a Big Bro TV immediate spectacle; an interior gets a makeover, and the requisite wall pieces have to be constructed. Alternatively, the big names of the art world, they know who they are, assemble a workshop of helpers, not just personal assistants but actual art makers. The big name’s talents are glad handing, interacting over a drink, getting the work commissioned. Someone calculated that to keep a half dozen international art galleries stocked, the big name needs to complete work at the rate of one a week at the very least.

Then the intense pressure of the art media industry demands that the process gets explained. There gets to be a well articulated production line of steps towards the completion of a work.

All I can say to these features of art today, is that pressure is inimical to successful completion. As for articulating the stages of completion, in a work that is currently on my landscape, an idea came into my mind today; it eliminated some aspects of ideas previously entertained & refined other aspects. One aspect accompanying this mysterious process is that during my recovery from a knee injury, my impulse to go shopping, that previously would have been instantly obeyed, now gets second guessed. Again, another idea under pressure to be resisted & revised. You’re Beautiful, it’s true.smurf 3

submerged rock garden

Further to the abstract work I completed on a train from up north, this is called “Submerged Rock Garden”, woven tapestry,  15 cms H X 16.5 cms W, 8 epi, cotton warp, wool, cotton, linen, silk, synthetic wefts. The motivation was a memory of Sydney Harbour rockpools, especially seen from below the surface, a brown overall glow, with glints of light and seaweed floating in vertical strands & threads. Depicting the latter created one of the components of the rhetoric of the work, over under over in a hound’s tooth pattern; other shapes balanced with these verticals to create space and volume.REFLECTIONsubmerged rock garden

smurf series

140213125644-gaza-statue-2-story-topA while ago, I chanced upon the story of a Palestinian fisherman who had caught in his net a bronze sculpture of Apollo, clearly a temple format, the right hand forward offering blessings to worshippers. The archaeological find was photographed on a smurf coverlet in the fisherman’s house in Gaza. I proposed the subject to my Tapestry [Fb] group. My start was in fixing the smurf image as a subject of woven tapestry; it would logically follow the image of Snoop dog as street graffiti I created earlier and exhibited in the Ukraine in 2013 as part of the Fibermen exhibition.

My Apollo in Gaza is quite focussed on the eyes of the subjects; Greek sculpture had inlaid eyes; this particular Apollo has one eye missing; my decision was to replace the eye in my forthcoming portrait. In 2 of the smurf images I use, as it were, “inlaid” button eyes, that give greater emphasis to the visual. I am still fixed on the relationship between Apollo and smurf; between Lear & fool, between Prospero & Ariel or Caliban; it is a standard Shakesperean relationship, one of lord or hero and lowly helper or commentator.

Smurf 1-3, woven tapestry, 2014, 8 epi, 15 cms H X 18.5 cms W, cotton, wool, linen, silk, synthetic wefts.smurf 1 smurf 2smurf 3

response to country

Yesterday’s ABC TV gardening show delivered an amazing story about a Victorian home with an extraordinary garden. This unique feature was  was so well planned that heritage architects demolished the original house, [2 storey, red brick] & built a low, 1 storey glass and metal framed house. It inspired me to see it as a precedent of a Victorian scenario, where a family built its residence, only to have a successive generation decide that the garden had greater merit that the domestic architecture it surrounded.

I feel sure it could be the template of many artistic situations; in fact the history of art has run along exactly such lines.

Today, ABC TV ran a story about an Alice Springs indigenous collective having a beanie knitting exhibition; okay, it’s second nature for indigenous people to express their response to country; they are certainly showing the way for the rest of us to do likewise. We’ve begun by filling our gardens with amazing indigenous flora. In mine is to be found:leptospermum, dianella, cycads, lilly pilly, banksia, grevillea,and several ground covers: hardenbergera,etc. A rather dogmatic friend challenged me on the presence of exotics; but roses,  magnolia and japanese maples chart the course of recent interaction between the Satanic Magesties’ Empire and the rest of the universe: Iran, Japan, China.

If I may be permitted to offer the above as an example of art that is constructed in a vacuum of freedom, separated by an absence of dogmatic direction; it complements earlier chapters about forgery as a situation that allows art to be constructed, free of constraint. Another such example recently came to mind, in the Ern Malley poems, where 2 Australian poets together decided to spoof the “pretentions” as they saw the situation of contemporary poetry. Instead, their imagination was liberated in the ambiguous situation, and magnificent lines came to the surface. The black swan of trespass.

originality & forgery

Take a successful artist today; he has negotiated with potential buyers & eager curators. He is in fact often described as a salesman. His public persona is carefully calculated; he creates events & newsworthy moments; he makes things happen, that always get reported.

Back where things are made, he has a studio of helpers; they don’t just buy necessary materials; they are impoverished art students, nameless & unknown. On the conveyor belt of the master’s objects, they contribute the painterly effects & the crafty finishes that are admired by the gallery viewer & required for a successful sale.

How then does the pre-modernist concept of forgery come into play? Is it relevant still? Perhaps the master’s studio has a symbol identifying his oeuvre? Perhaps, the workshop supervisor carefully numbers and annotates each object as it nears completion.

Invoking a brand symbol is deeply ironic, given the tendency by Pop artists to re-create objects of mass consumption; perhaps it is now appropriate to copy objects of fringe consumption? Curiously, though perhaps in keeping with the ethos of our capitalist culture, the ultimate purpose of object making is still the earning of money. Instead of being a bright young thing, “appropriating” an object of art history and ironically displacing its context, the “forger” hides his identity & copies another artist’s work with a fraudulent sale in mind.

One must remember that great artists of the past, like Rembrandt, ran workshops and teaching situations, where students were encouraged to copy the master’s work. Some greats cultivated followers who were brush perfect in the master’s style; he only had to finish the commissioned portrait by painting the face & hands. In the Netherlands for the last half century academics have striven to assess which paintings are by the master, and which by followers. De-attribution followed their assessment. It seems to me however, practically impossible to guarantee 100% work by the master, given the above conditions. Is this even the desired verdict; or, is it enough to determine that the master has merely corrected his student’s work with a masterly re-touching, to provide the ethereal atmosphere, the master’s magic?

Leger Contraste des Formes series forgery

Peggy Guggenheim purchased a purported Leger painting, supposedly of the Contraste des Formes series. Recently, the Daily Mail took great pride in revealing that radioactive tests were performed that showed the painting’s true age and identity.

I would propose an entirely different attitude to the painting. Yes, the recent Modernist attitude assumed by all is the privileging of the innovation that such works as the Leger paintings comprise. However, take up any volume on art, especially any of the sub schools of modernism; once the major works of the period have been illustrated the volume falls to including the lesser works of the period. These are inevitably accumulations of quotations of the masters of the age.

If quotation or as it would be phrased today, “referencing” or “appropriation” is acceptable, surely the forgery of a work that is practically indistinguishable from the master’s work needs to be re-appraised. Take as a placebo the attitude of an earlier age. Late medieval poetry recognised the axiom by Aristotle that there was nothing new under the sun. Rhetoric or the codification of forms of speech was a well structured area of study. Poets acknowledged that there was a limited number of themes that their verse could express; they overcame this limitation by agreeing that the best effort would be to develop minor variations on already composed poetry. The differences comprised the artistry; clever variation of detail, or tone were admired by their audience.

I would assert that for an artist to study Leger’s oeuvre, then to compose a work similar to previous examples, so close as to be indistinguishable, is no mean feat. However, the artistry of the work has been completely de-valued once the inauthenticity has been demonstrated. Never mind that artists acting more as entrepreneurs than creatives, since Andy Warhol, have made use of the talent of nameless helpers in their studio to provide the craft-expertise of expressing a design that the name artist has perhaps decided on.

We have arrived at a point in art history where the name is the selling feature; there is no guarantee that the artist has completed the work or even done any of the craft work at all. On that basis, one might as well go back to the nameless forger of Leger’s style and exalt him to a new position. In Rembrandt’s time, “school of” was a recognised descriptor of certain works which might not have been completed entirely by the master. Indeed, in certain studios, the helpers completed most of the work, after which the master would finish the work by painting face & hands.

The unknown painter of the Leger concept is an important contributor to art history; he clearly understood the mind of the master, but was also able to perform the next, difficult feat, of extrapolating the concept. We need this facility in recent art history; modernism has been so riddled with innovation but not by evaluation & extrapolation.

 My meaning was: in the late medieval, poet 2 might write a poem that was so like one by poet 1; their closeness would be similar to that of Leger’s series and the forger’s “POSTSCRIPT”.

leger fake

3 steps to gay heaven

3 steps 2 heaven


A 1950’s [?] song has the lyrics:

“Step 1: you find a guy to love,

Step 2, he falls in love with you.

Step 3, you squeeze & hold him tightly.

Sure feels like heaven to me”.

Combine that lyrical structure with the visual ending of the movie Bro Sun, Sis Moon, the steps of a church, pic below:

The variegation of pattern was splendidly influential. As usual, I merely wanted to complete a keyhole image. At the time I was bed-ridden with an injured knee. The pain was ferocious, and leads one to the conclusion that suffering for one’s art is unavoidable. Fellow Geminian WB Yeats wrote poems with images to that effect.

I was pleased that the buttons could evoke the vertical of each step; the lover meanwhile climbs by means of the symbols, the male symbol, the holocaust gay symbol, then finally the rainbow, GLBTQ communities.

3 steps to gay heaven, woven tapestry 8 epi, cotton warps, silk, linen, cotton, wool, synthetic wefts, 14 cms H X 16 cms W.


design work

I spent this afternoon painting two fibro side walls on my back garden studio, the paint was called “lotus petal”, it wa a pale mauve, that rolled off the brush white and dried a dusty mauve. I’ve never done much wall painting; yes, there’s the joke from the Producers movie: painting one apartment 2 coats, one afternoon. It was a learning experience; someone once told me you dip the brush  little n often, not just spread the stuff around. My Ipod gave me music by Chrissie Amphlett, the Clouds, David Bowie et al; surprisingly, the process cleared away cobwebs & I was soon covered in splashes of water based stuff  that quickly scrubbed off in a shower.

But that’s what work is about, the doing stuff.

Admittedly, when you get an idea & transmit it to yr loom, sometimes the idea fails; the process of inspiration has bypassed the mental phase of adequate planning. A FB friend reposted a tapestry of mine featuring the ibis, lately it has become quite the streetperson bird of Sydney’s inner west; but I had managed to get a simple but effective balance of vertical & horizontal gestures in black/white/grey, against a mottled vegetable background. That’s all you can ask for, really, from the muse.8 ibis

Surrealism in Parma Italy

Vi presentiamo gli artisti iscritti alla 11a edizione del Concorso di Arazzo e Fiber art
a Parma 4 -10 maggio 2014

Bartosz Ewa – Zakopane – Polonia
Battoia Simonetta – Genova
Bidinosta Mariana- Buenos Aires – Argentina
Carpov Aliona – Rabat – Marocco
Ciotti Anna – Roma
Coruzzi Maria – Parma
Evangelisti Daniela – Aosta
Felderweiss Magdalene -Weimar – Germania
Ferreri Annalia – Roma
Fuller Jill- Roma
Li Volsi Cinzia – Sacile PN.
Lofrano Patrizia – Roma
Mossa Matteo – San Sperate – CA.
Nini Anna- Ago e fantasia- PG
Pistilli Magda – Roma
Puppi Adriana – Modena
Rais Giuliana – Bonorva – SS.
Salari Cristina – Trieste
Sorsoli Antonia -Parma
Tebaldi M. Cristina – Milano
Valentini Angela – Civitanova Marche
Veenstra Anton – Sidney – Australia
Verna Sofia – Perugia
Peccato, questa volta ci è sfuggito…sarà per la prossima!!! Ciao Antoniaaa!!!!
See Translation
April 18 at 5:30am · Like

Antonia Sorsoli ci mancherete ” ragazze del Nord” !!
See Translation
April 18 at 5:35am · Like

Federica Luzzi salve Antonia!!! e in bocca al lupo alle mie allieve da Roma!!! che hanno frequentato il mio corso di Arazzo con Telaio Verticale (Scuola Arti Ornamentali “San Giacomo” del Comune di Roma): Anna Ciotti, Patrizia Lofrano, Magda Pistillli, Maria Letizia Volpicelli.
See Translation
April 28 at 3:17am · Like · 1

Blue Marine Se siamo qui è anche merito tuo Federica Luzzi…..grazie
Volpicelli M. Letizia – Roma
Whiteall Lorraine– Montreal – Canada
Wittock Katia – Anversa – Belgio
The municipality of Parma – Assessorato alla Cultura the cultural association Arcadia present “PLOTS” at Court 11° Concorso Internazionale di Tapestry loom and Fiber Art Parma 4-10 may 2014 Palazzetto Eucherius Sanvitale-everyday 10 h-18 theme: “Surrealism by Miró, Dalí” until we got to the eleventh edition of this competition which leads to Parma textile artists from many Italian cities as well as from Australia-United States-Canada-Belgium France-Germany-Greece-Norway-Poland-Argen8tina-South Africa.
“Textiles that tell of a kaleidoscopic world related to the slowness of manual labor but also the border area of research between craft and design.”
Weaving has always been linked “double-edged” humans from prehistoric times.
canvas canvas up to Matisse, Picasso, Depero, and Butters at the Bauhaus.

On display also the 80 tapestries from previous years.

1st Price Trame a Corte 2014 to Magda Pistilli- Rome
2ns Price trame a Corte 2014 to Mariana Bidinost- Buenos Aires
3rd Price Trame a Corte 2014 to Maria Cristina Tebaldi- Milano
Price given from visitors to Anton Veenstra- Sidney
Design Price to Aliona Carpov- Rabat
Compliments to everybody 


what is painterly

In response to my last chapter a friend wrote: “This is really very delicately done, Anton. And of course I am amazed that you did it on a train – plein air weaving as it were… I have been getting quite confused when considering whether a subject is too ‘painterly’ in concept to make for a succesful tapestry – however, looking at this piece of yours it is very obvious that it would have a completely different effect (and affect!) if painted – i.e. it stands on its own as a statement. As for tidiness at the back – if it is stable at the back why do more? Tucking in would not enhance the viewer’s pleasure. Tucking in surely is only useful if the piece is intended to be viewed from both sides – and how many of us try to achieve that? Kibbitzing is something one has to accept when working in public. While sketching recently in a public place I too was subjected to a stream of comments… It’s been suggested that my sketches could become tapestries – this where the confusion of mediums comes in. A sketch is a sketch and not a drawing. And a drawing is not a tapestry. Yet I have seen tapestries that clearly derive from sketches, yet stand as tapestry in their own right. I suppose the skill is in abstracting what of the drawing could form part of the theme of the tapestry. I know that in my still very beginner’s efforts, the way I approach the first design attempts for a tapestry is very different to the way I would do a sketch or drawing. The actual drawing process is different – slower, more measured (literally) and often combines computer graphics techniques with the drawing – ie drawing, scanning into the computer, manipulation, printing, more drawing, etc. As for the slowness you comment on – yes, I find I sink into a different state of mind while concentrating very hard on working warp by warp. Again – I like your piece!”

Misha is a student of tapestry in Melbourne, which is the site of the Victorian Tapestry workshop, where tapestries are commissioned, based on paintings. What could be more painterly than this co-operation, as the ABC once carelessly described it, between “art & craft”. A number of teachers who were employed as weavers at the VTW have been vigorous critics of the painterly effect in tapestry. To take a contrary position, a Barbican exhibition of tapestry described in its catalogue a number of pieces on show as “painterly”. Here, the adjective was wielded as high praise.

I am aware that the concept of art is up for grabs: what has currency is what impresses in international art shows; however, here the house style is conceptual; something that can be constructed onsite, with what seems a minimum of craft, or engagement with technique and materials. I have quoted elsewhere, a serious young art insect describing painting as craft, and asserting that only photography, video, installation had contemporary credibility as ART. To me, the work exudes an international neutral aura, something from a high end of town department store. That makes such artists window dressers or entrepreneurs or both.

Meanwhile some tapestry practising academics place themselves in a liminal zone between fine art, craft, commission and installation.

Why then the fear and loathing attached to the concept “painterly”? During my train trip home last week, I was completing my piece of tapestry & unusually immune to the experience of being observed as I worked & having people comment freely on my progress. Normally, I have an inhibition about such interaction, fearing that such exposure leaches away the energy of the project. I found myself explaining tapestry as woven as opposed to stitched canvas embroidery. One person actually thought the popular form preceded the woven genre. My friend’s cousin, I found, had stitched an intense double portrait, copied from a photo, of her mum & dad. She persisted in disbelieving my genuine admiration for it. Nor would my friend photograph it, otherwise I would have posted it online. Carol told me the trauma during the project was getting the skin tones right; it was an old photo after all, from a box brownie. It made me think of the number of images I had woven, based on photos.  To take one example, by the crudest of methods I managed to take two photos from the Bronski Beat rock clip of Small Town Boy, featuring the gay singer Jimmy Sommerville.small town boy

Was I trying to imitate a painting? I collaged the images: that of observer and the swimmer, incidentally referencing a beautiful Cook Island prince in my social group. The chief effect striven for was an audacity, an imperative to make apparent my admiration for the first rock clip that depicted the coming out of a young gay man, his expulsion from his rural upbringing, homophobic harassment, just your everyday experience of a gay man in the big city. Somehow, it managed to store & then express electricity. I knew as much when I exhibited it in a Craft Australia Expo at Centrepoint, Sydney in approx. 1983, and two young women came up to the work. One of them said she was repelled by the baldness of the observer because it reminded her of Lenin. Every exhibiting artist has been exposed to such internal monologue by a viewer; its intensity is testament to the success of the work.

I keep trying to develop formulae for the work: ignore obsessions with mistakes? A friend advised me: most artists strive for a smooth finish; always go for the rougher. Kay Lawrence described a photo-based, woven portrait of her daughter. She became obsessed with a fault which she corrected but then decided to ignore such scruples until the work was completed.

I think the journey of a work’s completion is made up of such events, some are relevant, others prove in retrospect to be mere chimera. There is simply no recipe for a successful work; nor is there a graph in any artist’s career whereby the quality of works keeps improving; I think that we compose unexpectedly at different points in our careers. It is wonderful to be able to learn & to improve. Earlier, my images were clashes of shapes & colours; their auras consisted of these collisions. These days, I use cotton, silk, linen and synthetic wefts as well as wool; I am transfixed by the ability of yarns to exude light, but I am not necessarily successful, every time I weave an image.

The truest idiom of creativity for me is that of the “beginner’s mind”. Every act of creation is a leap into the unknown; you may have learned things from past experience, but each newly empty loom inspires terror. Why would you have it any other way? An episode of Midsummer Murder had a young woman complain that she was capable of nothing. Her companion said: Look at these designs, they are marvellous. Your achievement is the highest act of civilisation.


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