my textile career from 1975
This is Park Guell, completed by Antoni Gaudi between 1900 & 1914. The tilework especially intrigues me. Firstly, please excuse my not acknowledging the photographer, the labourer being worthy of their hire.
The trial of Paul Yore occurred recently in Melbourne for producing & displaying allegedly “pedophilic” imagery; a member of the police force collecting evidence, felt emboldened to cut out examples for the benefit of the court, an all time low in my book for barbarian vandalism. A defense witness from the NGV, produced a definition of contextualisation, whereby the artist changed the frame of reference, certainly the intention of the work, by decoupage. It seems extraordinary that anyone could find the resulting artwork in any way successfully lascivious, enough to feel the situation warranted a complaint. How true it is that evil is in the eye of the beholder; likewise extremes of sexual deprivation. I once wrote a letter that was published by the SMH; it resulted in a sex phone call from someone outback, who rang to talk dirty; it had been provoked by my using the phrase “gangbang” in my letter. There is perspective & intention that need to be considered in evaluating art.
My attention in the Paul Yore matter was drawn to the profusion & accumulation of his art practice. Similarly, Gaudi makes use of several differently patterned ceramic tiles. In a process similar to fabric applique, he fractures then re-assembles them; the only structural principle employed is that he creates pattern columns from the same tile, a vertical visual unifying element. I found it intriguing to ruminate how it was possible to fracture a visual pattern, then create further interest by re-assembling the pieces in new ways. Gaudi was nodding to certain Mediterranean traditions, from Roman mosaic work, to the Renaissance work of della Robbia. He resolves artistic issues of supporting the weight & sharp edges of broken tiles by making them an intrinsic part of his architecture; in fact his use went beyond mere decoration.
In the age of modernist art there are few predecessors & mentors; I feel I have discovered mine in Gaudi’s decorative practice, for my own button & object assemblage.
One of my fave Patrick White’s novels is the Vivisector, not least because it depicts the bitchy dinner parties of Sydney’s eastern suburbs arts community.
There are numerous meditations on the process of painting, a method of representation someone once described as a series of accidents, or was about AFL?
Tapestry weavers talk about that crucial moment when what the artist has achieved on the loom JUST LOOKS WRONG. What do you do then? Abandon the project? Cut out the offending wefts? It’s heart-wrenching.
Docos about UK painter Francis Bacon noted that his method was to destroy works that ALMOST achieved what he wanted, but never quite got there. Friends who had watched the build up towards a ferociously intense image would return to his hovel, next day, horrified to find that yesterday’s work had been scraped away. One wonders how many canvases which survived were things Bacon was too dis-spirited even to destroy, that they survived out of apathy?
Sydney has a dubious backstory of its artists having their rubbish bins raided for artwork the painter discarded out of disgust. The auction catalogues bear witness to this phenomenon. A work with impeccable provenance will be listed with the artist’s full name, which is abbreviated in direct proportion to doubt as to the work’s origin, until only the artist’s initials are quoted; the most dubious offerings, for instance the garbage bin pieces, are listed as Attrib.
Trust those pesky Scandinavians to do this. A Tom of Finland stamp with the command: LICK ME. It’s instructional, pleasure & function combined.
& if my dubious use/ possible invention of instructional is to be questioned, let’s put it on the record: during reporting at the NSW ICAC, instead of “donor” an eager young reporter created “donator”. It’s Marvel zine language.
Recently. a Public Broadcaster program commented on the increasingly religious content of cosmic superhero comic media, cosplay & so forth. The outward forms may have changed with a few generations, but I grew up with Superman & Batman comics. I also felt the benefit of re-interpreting some of the mythic dimensions of the religion I was raised in, namely eastern European Catholicism.
I went travelling & experienced the sites of many cosmic events: Delos, for instance, an island that seemed particularly involved in the veneration of Apollo, with its large open reception/celebration area, decorated with sculptures of winged phalloi/birds; the Parthenon in Athens, then Cairo & Luxor. There were the great museum collections: Athens, Cairo, Rome, London.
Having transmuted traditional spiritual experiences into the multi-cultural ones of hippy-dom, I became conversant with yin/yang, the principle that all creatures/experiences own a trace of their opposite. Having endured the polarity explored in literature of Apollo/Dionysus, I also found solace in the archaeological acecdote: that the temples devoted to the worship of these very different deities would be inhabited by both; in other words, one god would go wandering, and his opposite number would take up residence, so as not to disappoint the worshippers.
But like any other lustful young man, I keenly looked out for signs that my fave super heroes took note of my existence & my special needs. I relished the fact that at the last supper, Jesus allowed his favourite disciple John (the beloved) to rest his head against the Master’s torso, BLISS.
Buddha had a similarly favoured follower. Meanwhile, Krishna (HARE) looked kindly on his sub cult of followers; (he was known as “the flute player). Their museum relics exuded such strong traces of compassion & awe: Apollo, Buddha, Krishna. One has to wonder, since statues of Apollo were found in Piraeus harbour & off the coast near Gaza, perhaps he was placed there as a way of placating the uncontrollable mysteries of the watery depths. The Balinese, for instance, consider their offshore dimension to be the home of implacable demons.
I also found copies of that personification of 1950’s existentialist angst, the Silver Surfer, kitted out in 1980’s re-interpreted, revivalist gym-silver lycra.
My superhero became a composite of all of the above; I am not that blindly devotional to ignore the limitations of each: Apollo had an unfortunate case history after all, of neglecting his lovers at some point in their involvement & allowing them to come to a bad end. Apollo, Krishna, the Buddha, Silver Surfer, MY HERO. Action, Time, Vision.
Vienna’s Ethnological Museum managed to change my perspective of the home planet in so many ways; for instance, there was a map of the Arctic ice masses from a North Pole viewpoint, which showed a possible ease of indigenous migration around the Circle, east to west, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland. It was an entirely new perspective.
The knockout textile experience was a darkened room showing a single item: floating somehow magically was a green orange red & blue Aztec feathered headdress of Quetzal feathers, believed to have belonged to Montezuma. It was the most magical spectacle, a transcendent object. I believe, since that visit in 2003, it was a challenge for my button assemblages. Even were such birds available in sufficient numbers, and exquisitely blue fairy wrens & multi-hued rainbow lorikeets do visit my garden of Australian trees & plants, who could cull such creatures? At dawn, & it’s that time right now, my street becomes a sound tapestry of bird music.
As a child raised in central Qld I helped my mom prepare poultry for cooking; we raised the chooks in the back yard. It’s a sound & a tactile experience best locked in the distant past.
A cloud of improbably exquisite, coloured feathers was however an aesthetic highpoint, at which to aim my button work; there is the overlap of shapes common to both media; since buttons are usually made of a tough material, the compensation is luminosity, perhaps unconsciously used to counterbalance their materiality: floating fields of fierce, luminescent colour are able to create portraits, situations, landscapes, transcendentally.
The Western reference points are probably the Post-Impressionists meeting Rothko.
I’ve been thinking lately about the power of the inarticulate visual statement; that it is able to draw out a response from the viewer, even from someone unacquainted with the matter in question. In the great Renaissance battle of wits between Michelangelo & Leonardo, the crafts had been the apprenticeship, drawing or design was the plan for new projects, painting the proof of mastery, but it culminated in architecture, the medium that exalted all the skills of one’s learning, that incorporated many of them : paintings on the walls, mosaic on the floors, sculptures in alcoves like that of della Robbia. This was the wordless side of the Renaissance artist. As for intellect, the inspiration & musings were imbued with sexual tension, their expression took the shape of poetry. Together, word & image proved the worth of the Renaissance artist.
Later in time, is to be found an artist of multi-dimensional prowess, living in the Balkans. Joze Plecnik was a Slovenian craftsman & architect who managed to bridge east & west, the opulence of the Ottoman empire & the formal statements of Austro-Germanic imperialism. His lived in Ljubljana the capitol of Slovenia, where I visited his home that he built from scratch, his kitchen containing an elaborately tiled heater, his study which he built himself from fragrant panels of cedar wood.
I stayed in a boarding house out of town, & daily had to pass the Olympic stadium where soccer matches were regularly held. Plecnik had built the structure, designing a series of Egyptian pillars to hold up the outer walls. Once, a soccer match between Lubljana’s green dragon team [symbol of the city] competed with Belgrade’s red coloured team; everyone was getting putridly drunk for the event, they were rowdy but amiable, no violence was discernible at all.
He built structures in Belgrade, Hungary and Vienna; most fascinating for me were the chalices and church furniture he designed, worthy of a local exhibition, on a par with his peers Frank Lloyd Wright, Antoni Gaudi & William Morris [no scoldings, I beg, if my timelines don't exactly tally]. His work contains such a strong resonance of that love of abstract pattern taken to excess, to be enjoyed in Islamic buildings; & especially in Mughal culture, my current love.
Every time I crossed the bridge in the old quarter there were the metal dragons he designed which I copied & added to a tapestry I wove during my stay in Ljubljana, a detail from El Greco’s Laocoon.
I don’t know if Plecnik wrote poetry, but his buildings & objects certainly speak in iambic pentameter. Photo: courtesy Dragica Wedam.
The 1989 movie Trust Me, starring [dark star] Adam Ant as a UK art dealer on La Brea Ave [probably got that wrong, no scoldings please] LA. His flash of inspiration is that a dead artist would sell better. The movie is unpleasant in so many ways. The young artist and the people of his age are clumsy & inexperienced, that goes without saying or criticism.
What helpfully distracted me from James Callander’s unashamed nastiness was firstly recognising the art on his walls: Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Where is Wojnarowicz these days? Then the romance develops between the artist and the receptionist to an extraordinary backdrop of yellow haze, streets bathed in a golden glow; I gather this is typically LA. Sam Brown lives above a funeral parlour, goth chic ahead of his time, but he gets clean in a Japanese bath house next door; that becomes quite amusing.
What shocked me about again watching a movie that had been a 1990’s regular for me over a herbal puff was that I was weaving sports images at that time, mostly soccer & AFL for the vigorous movement. Sam Brown’s flying putti [described as neo-baroque] seem to have been an unconscious influence for a large tapestry I wove of an angelic figure negotiating the relative celestial positions of two luminous spheres. Worth a re-visit.
What do you reckon: it even has the LA golden haze.