It often happened during the years when I was teaching art at Brockwood Park School in Hampshire, England, that my own artwork had its origin in classroom activities.
My keen group of students were learning how to paint on silk and other fibers as part of a fiber art program. They also wanted to explore off-loom weaving processes.
I had a wonderful stash of painted silk color samples from studio experiments in earlier days, and laminated them onto canvas to make ribbon strips. In the attic I found a discarded window blind made of narrow pieces of wood – these were painted using light-reflective acrylics.
The wooden sticks and the silk ribbons came together in a pattern discovered in one of the texts we studied – it’s a very old Chinese pattern symbolizing the ebb and flow of the Tao.
A closer look.
The weaving was eventually mounted on a length of painted bamboo matting.
1780 x 650
painting on silk, off-loom weaving
silk Habotai, canvas, wooden sticks,
acrylic paints, fiber-reactive dyes
nomad collection: England
Silk Habotai, card, textured wood panel, mosquito netting, woven metal fragment, acrylic paints, fiber-reactive dyes
Painting on silk, assemblage
643 x 312
This piece illustrates a poem:
mountains of green
mountains of blue arise:
gratitude wells up
and fills my eyes
When I moved from Europe to tropical Queensland to care for my frail aged parents in their last chapter, I would sometimes take respite time at Ankida, a rainforest sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. I felt like a Zen hermit tucked away in a grass hut amongst mountains that rolled westward for ever. It was a good place for poetic ramblings and painting; I felt blessed beyond words.
Today I remember the birthday of my late father. And although I wasn’t yet two years of age when it occurred, I bow my head in remembrance of Hiroshima Day today.
Once, on Dad’s birthday, I asked him how it felt to have his birthday fall on the same date as the bombing of Hiroshima (he was a soldier in the Second World War) and he took a long time to say anything. Eventually he sighed and said, “It was the war, dear.”
Oh, the sorrow in that little sentence!
Rather than a ‘detail’, today I’m posting a work called triptych 06.08.45. It was made in 1988; I have no high resolution file for it, and I apologize for the poor quality of the image.
dip-dyeing, painting, stitching, wrapping, binding, assemblage
silk Dupion, silk thread, card, direct dyes
1500 x 800, private collection, Nelson, Aotearoa New Zealand
offering to aizen-myoo
460 x 460
dip-dyeing, braiding, painting, stitching, assemblage
Japanese washi, indigo dye, cotton threads, bamboo stick, cardboard box
Hiroyuki Shindo’s indigo vats are set into the ground in groups of four in the traditional manner, with a small hibachi at the center of each group to keep the earth warm in the freezing winter months. [See song for Shindo-sensei]
The organic vats are fed with saki, rice bran and honey. Indigo dye-baths are similar to a yoghurt culture – they are alive and they must be fed. They are sensitive; kept happy they will produce a range of blues from soft turquoise to the deepest tones of a moonless night. Eventually they will become exhausted, the quality of hue they produce will deteriorate and they will die. Then the residue will go on the garden.
High up on the studio wall sits a little altar with a dip-dyed washi kimono and other offerings. I ask Shindo-sensei about this small shrine.
“The first dip in the fresh vats at New Year is always offered to Aizen-Myoo, the protector of the vats,” he explains. The small dip-dyed kimono was Shindo-sensei’s first dip for that year, and the other offerings of riceballs and saki are replaced daily. This very contemporary Japanese artisan takes no chances …
This is my small offering to Aizen-Myoo, tucked up in a wonderbox*. The washi was dyed in Shindo-sensei’s vat, and the background cloth is a fragment from a Kyoto market. The cotton threads braided to make the ‘rope’ were also dyed with organic indigo.
* My wonderboxes are little altars where the small and often overlooked miracles of life get to find a home. I’ve been making them for as long as I remember – the earliest ones were hidden inside shoe boxes and you had to peek through a tiny hole to view them.
song for Shindo-sensei
550 x 920
ai-zome (indigo) and shibori dyeing
hand-woven ramie, bamboo, cotton cord,
Hiroyuki Shindo is internationally famous for the indescribable indigo hue he achieves from his fully organic vats. (So organic that when they are exhausted, he uses the residue to fertilize his organic vegie patch.)
During my sojourn in Japan on a Study Fellowship from the NZ Arts Council I joined him for a workshop at his home in Miyama, three hours from Kyoto, learning some of the idiosyncrasies of biodynamic ai-zome dyeing: feeding the smelly green vats with honey, rice bran and sake, offering prayers to the deities that watch over the vats, wallowing in wonder at the quality of the color that appeared on the cloth as the air reduced the dyestuff…
In the work shown above, the background fabric is hand woven ramie, dip-dyed in one of Shindo-sensei’s vats. I worked a shibori border on the piece of cloth that would become the panel. The small red object is a silk-wrapped prayer votive from a temple shrine.
Shindo-sensei’s ai-zome vats
Ai can mean indigo blue or it can mean love. Watching Shindo-sensei at work and seeing the results of his patient labors, one has the sense that, in his life, the two meanings merge into one.
Shindigo Space 07
Hiroyuki Shindo – aizome and shibori
Shindo-sensei’s home in Miyama
offering to aizen-myoo
nomad collection: Japan
Painting on silk, laminating, collage, assemblage
Silk Habotai, canvas, card, fishing net, fiber-reactive dyes
305 x 610
An ema is a votive or prayer tablet commonly found hanging at monasteries and temples in Japan.
The central motif was inspired by an exhibition of Maori cloaks, or kahu; the cowries and fishing net speak of the sea and its generosity. The fiery background refers to the volcanic undercurrents that create such havoc in these ‘shaky isles’.
This is a simple prayer for protection from nature’s excesses.
misfits & memories
aroha awaroa aotearoa
Nelson, Aotearoa-New Zealand
1000 x 900
painting and dyeing on silk, laminating,
shirring, hand and machine stitching
silk Habotai, card, recycled cardboard,
laminated papers, sea shells, acrylic paints,
England was home-base for the 90’s – a wonderful period of educational work and travel. There were several visits back to New Zealand to visit my family, but only one that was long enough to complete a work. The long grayness of the English winter had deepened my appreciation of one of my favorite places in New Zealand – Awaroa Inlet on Golden Bay. When I returned to the area to spend some months in Nelson, a profusion of joyful memories of sun-drenched childhood holidays spent beach-combing in my shirred ‘cozzie’ all came together in this piece.
My version of the via creativa isn’t a paved path. It’s a journey. The path opens up beneath one’s feet as one wonders about and explores the possibilities presented by life. Life as-it-is, here and now, in this very moment.
I’m in awe of the movement of the via creativa in my life. If I’m open and my mind isn’t yapping away telling me what I should do and how it should look, amazing ideas and possibilities arise. Connections happen. Questions form themselves. Wonderingmind flowers.
Many years ago I studied traditional and contemporary textile surface design in Japan. I often used shibori dyeing techniques in my work – both in wearable art and wall pieces. Here’s an example of an early work:
ebbing : Leigh
900 x 550
arashi shibori, stitching, canvas, washi, silk cords, found object
In my notes for this piece I wrote:
I spent the winter of 1987 in a sleepy village called Leigh on the Pacific Coast. The cottage overlooked the harbour where small fishing boats and yachts would anchor, and the water view reached over to Little Barrier Island. The pattern produced by the arashi process brings to mind the ripples on the tide as well as the patterns left in the sand by the ebbing tide.
Years later I was fossicking through fabric scraps and came upon some more bits of the arashi shibori cloth I’d dyed during those years.
Hmmmm. Wonderingmind liked the patterns; the way the indigo dye flowed in softly graduated tones from dark to light. I’d been painting with acrylics more recently, layering them on textured canvas in a technique I call making love with light (thank you Daido Loori, Roshi). Wonderingmind asked: what if the arashi patterns were transferred to canvas and I played with light upon them?