Saturday, September 26, 2015

Who's this?

This strange blue-headed character is a June Black ceramic 'Longbod' (1958), and he has just taken up residence on the dining room wall where he gazes serenely at the passing scene.

He's a seven piece figure, although the numbers written in felt on the back of each piece indicate that he used to be a twelve piece 'Bod' so there must have been some mishaps over the years. June Black (1910-2009) was a little known New Zealand artist who had the most extraordinary imagination. She invented a huge cast of painted and ceramic characters, led by the enigmatic Dr Endedus, who once mounted a valiant expedition to climb to the summit of Mt Eyedull Chatta and rescue the 20th century. This Longbod is one of the members of the expedition party but his identity has been lost over the decades.

I fell in love with him (who could resist that smile) when I saw a survey exhibition of June Black's work at Blikfang Art & Antiques at Northcote Point a few months ago. The show was curated by writer and artist Sheridan Keith, who is June Black's daughter, and Janie Van Woerden, who manages Blikfang and is currently completing an MA thesis on Black's work. You can read more about the exhibition here and I've also written a review of the show, which will be available in the forthcoming issue of Art New Zealand (no.156). If you're keen to know more, you'll be able to read a creative text I've written in response to another of June Black's fabulous Longbods (below) for the exhibition Empire of Dirt curated by Doris de Pont at Objectspace, which opens in early November and runs until Christmas.

Anyway, I'm loving the new addition to our increasingly weird art collection, and a certain living art work (of the furry variety), is pretty chuffed about it all too.

Enjoy your weekend. Isn't the sunshine glorious!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

a simple shift

A relaxing day of sewing resulted in a simple pull-over shift dress made out of the sketchy Nani Iro hillside print. Accessorize it with my Rachel Bell Willow Spoon pendant and voila - I have a chic new summer look.
I used the Butterick pattern below for this dress. It has a clever horizontal dart at the bustline, which gives the dress some shape. I modified the pattern slightly by doubling the width of the sleeve bands to give the dress a more Japanese flavour to go with the fabric. The sleeves on my dress are elbow length. The total cost of this dress was $90 for three metres of fabric. I think it's worth paying a bit more for quality fabric that will last a number of years.

Up next, a bulb shaped skirt and a simple top. That's the incentive I need to burn through a pile of essay marking!

Friday, September 11, 2015

blossoms, sewing (and a snoozing cat)

The blossoms on the old plum trees in the backyard tell me that Spring is here, even though it's still mighty chilly, and Zero (below) doesn't seem ready to shed her winter coat, or dispense with her woolly blanket (or Jack's prewarmed legs for that matter).

Still, Spring brings with it the promise that warmer weather is on its way and that always gets me thinking about sewing. So I gave myself a fixed budget of $400 for my summer wardrobe, and then spent a large chunk of it buying gorgeous Japanese fabric from Miss Matatabi. She has a huge range of designs to choose from and the fabric only took three days to reach me from Tokyo, which was very impressive.

 I love this sketchy hill print by Nani Iro

I was obviously in a geometric frame of mind when I chose these fabrics! Now I'll need to give some thought to what I plan to sew with them. I'm thinking skirts and dresses in simple shapes and lines, and I've bought a big roll of brown paper so that I can design my own patterns and see what happens. Exciting!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Au Revoir Minnie Cooper

In case you haven't heard, Minnie Cooper's iconic Ponsonby Road shop is closing on 19 September, so if you want to buy a pair of beautiful New Zealand made shoes, now is the moment.

As a tribute to business owner Sandy Cooper, I polished my first pair of brown lace-up Minnie Coopers when I went to Ponsonby last weekend to buy my final pair. Would you believe these lovelies are still going strong after 22 years! I've had them resoled twice along the way, but there is still plenty of wear left in them, so it was well worth the investment all those years ago. I haven't looked back since then and I've received a pair of Minnie Cooper shoes for my birthday nearly every year.

These charcoal coloured buckled shoes are my latest buy. Super comfortable and elegant, they make you feel a million bucks, as Minnie Cooper shoes always do.

Go on, treat yourself!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Completed Prototype

Well, I think I've finalised the design for Michele Leggott's 'Matapouri' poem. I hope to make a start producing the edition over Easter. 

I've hung this one in the stairwell so that I can think about it as I walk up and down the stairs over the next couple of weeks. 

I've added an account of the design concepts to the end of my previous post in case you're interested to read more about it.

Friday, February 20, 2015


In the exhibition associated with the Art + Book Symposium that I took part in at the Dunedin School of Art last October I displayed the prototype textile poem of Michele Leggott's poem 'Matapouri'. 'Matapouri' is the final piece in Michele's latest collection Heartland, which was published by AUP in 2014.  Here's the poem:

the magpies come to the corner of the house 

and talk all morning to the figure on the flag that hangs
on the orange wall    my fingers trace the sewn words
COME WIRELESS    a voice fills in the rest and flashes
from my good right eye    ALALU    give back the black and white
but it’s the orange I want    morning sunlight on the wall
the birds and their qwardle    the bells in the painting
of KARANGAHAPE ROAD in a shed on the side of the hill

nothing more joyous than a dog in water    except two dogs
paddling along beside us in the waist-deep water    so clear
the estuary at full tide    feet sinking through sandy crusts
WHOA    the dogs turn back and we drift with the current    WHOA
to where waves are coming over the bar    WH-OA    soft landing
against the side of a sand bank    as in the dream one moment
out of my depth one moment a toe on the bottom    I open my eyes
underwater    so clear    everything as it should be    kicking along

post MERIDIAN the wall of sound is cicadas    the shade sail
flaps one manta wing on the hot concrete and I’m off    barefoot
to find the London planes whose whitewashed trunks
will lead me    step by step    out to the point    an ALLÉE
a path to walk ALONE    counting and listening    marking off
each tree there and back    the dog running free with her nose in
RABBITS    sharp gravel springy kikuyu    ALONE and seeing
the same pathway in moonlight under the morepork’s loony call

I've been working with the idea of turning the text into a limited edition Pania Press textile poem, and I began by having the poem printed on 30 unbleached cotton tea towels. 

The reason for designing the piece as a wall-mounted textile was inspired by the content of the poem itself. The first stanza of ‘Matapouri’ describes the poet’s experience of tracing the sewn words on a flag hanging on an orange wall. The flag she is referring to is the textile poem 'Macoute' by fellow poet Leigh Davis (1955-2009), which is the middle flag in the image below from Davis's 1998 exhibition Station of Earthbound Ghosts at the Auckland Central Railway Station.

Image credit: Leigh Davis te Tangi a te Matuhi (Auckland: Jack Books) 1999, p.58

The Macoute flag is the piece that Michele was engaging with in the poem while she was staying at Leigh and Susan Davis’s home in Matapouri.

When Michele sent me the poem I seized upon the idea of making a wall-mounted piece in response to her poetic response to Davis’s flag, and serendipitously, I happened to come across a box of vintage flags in my father-in law’s basement to work with.

I also fixed on the idea of sewn words, picking out three of the capitalised words in Michele’s poem: Allee, Alalu, and Alone. The latter preoccupation is because Michele is now almost blind, so I wanted her to be able to feel the sewn words of her own poem.

I used an existing pennant flag with a red cross at the top, which formed a nice link to the red fabric cross in Davis's poem and I embroidered the words Allee and Alalu in a cross formation.

I made a second pennant flag from the blue section of an old New Zealand Flag and sewed the word 'Alone' to a representation of the whitewashed trunk of a London Plane tree that the poet describes in the final stanza of the poem.

I positioned the two pennant flags alongside the printed text and attached a cord to the top to mount the piece on the wall.

I gave the prototype to Michele as a birthday gift where it now hangs on the wall of her library (above).


Now that the weather is beginning to cool, and I can spend a decent amount of time in the studio again, I'm about to begin the process of developing the 'Matapouri' edition. The design will still feature the textile poem flanked by two pennants, but I won't be using the vintage flags for the edition because I don't have enough of them to make 30 pieces. 

Instead, there will be three narrative panels that trace the movement of the poem from morning to noon to night and three text panels with the embroidered words Allee, Alalu, and Alone. 

What I really want is to create a piece where the text and image work together harmoniously, like the Holloway Press book Journey to Portugal (2007) where a series of beautiful chine collé images, designed by Gretchen Albrecht, and made by Elizabeth Steiner, illuminate Michele’s lyrical poem.

 I'll give you a progress update on the 'Matapouri' edition in my next post.

12 March

Here's the completed 'matapouri' prototype.

The poem is flanked by two cotton pennant flags.


The left hand flag has a felt magpie feather separating two of the capitalised words from Michele's poem, which have been hand-stitched in black wool.

The right panel features two graphic elements. The top image is a female figure against an orange ground. In the poem, Michele is looking at a flag hanging on an orange wall, and she writes about how much she misses being able to see the colour orange. I've represented this by extracting the figure from the orange ground.

The second image also plays with perception. The poet writes about the way that her partial vision means that her mind has to fill in the blanks, so I've made a cropped dog swimming in the sea and the viewer has to fill in the absent part of the animal.

I'm pleased with the prototype and I think an edition of 20 will be achievable. I hope to get some made during the break from teaching over Easter, so I'll let you know when the edition will be available for sale.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Vanessa or Don...

 Vanessa Bell Oranges and Lemons (1914)

We were playing that game over Christmas where people match you with a famous historical figure. Jack picked English artist Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) for me, which I was pretty pleased about. I do love a nice Bloomsbury Still Life, like the ones above and below.

Vanessa Bell, Still Life with Milk Jug and Eggs, Asheham (1917)

The two images come from The Bloomsbury Cookbook (2014), which was a birthday present last year. The book is full of reproductions of paintings and drawings by members of the Bloomsbury set, along with recipes (including a menu plan for Mrs Dalloway's famous dinner party), oodles of food-related anecdotes, and information about the daily lives of the Bloomsbury-ites. Here's a charming hand-painted menu attributed to either Vanessa Bell or Duncan Grant to celebrate the opening event of the Omega Workshops in 1913.

The book is a lovely artefact and all royalties from sales go to the Charleston Trust to pay for upkeep on Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell's former home. The recipes themselves are a little on the ho-hum side, but that's not surprising really, given that English cooking is not known for being particularly flavoursome or adventurous (apologies to any English readers!). 

 Mark Gertler, Still Life with Apples and a Mixing Bowl (1913)

While the match with Vanessa Bell is very flattering, I think that if I was an artist, I would probably be an abstract painter. Shape, texture, and colour combinations are more my style than representations from life. Besides which, I can't draw!

Last weekend I stayed with my sister Therese (pictured above) in her cottage in Paekakariki. We gave the lounge a fresh coat of paint and had a lovely time rearranging the art and objects. I especially admire the abstract work on the wall behind her. It's a wooden relief by NZ artist Don Peebles (1922-2010), which he produced in the late 1960s after seeing the work of English artist Victor Pasmore (1908-98) when he visited London. There's something really serene about the two little raised wooden bars on the three unevenly proportioned planes of wood, adorned with nothing but a few spare lines here and there.

For some reason that Don Peebles Relief stays in my mind every time I see it, and it made me want to have a little play around with shapes and planes when I arrived home. So I dug into my wallpaper stash and started putting together some colour and texture combinations, which I glued onto sheets of card and flattened overnight.

Then I made a few little configurations by cutting out shapes and gluing them together, with strips of foam board to raise each layer, and glued a foam board triangle onto the back so that they can stand unsupported.

I like the idea that they could stand alone or be arranged in duos or groups.

This is what they look like from behind. I quite like the white on white of the back-view, so I might just try all-white reliefs next...