In the 70s and 80s I was working in textile surface design – at first creating one-off designer garments and ensembles, and later making pieces for walls to wear.
In 1987 I received a generous Arts Council study grant to work with master indigo dyers and shibori artisans in Japan.
It was in Kyoto that I learned about the ancient technique of tsujigahana, researched and redeveloped by Itchiku Kubota.
At an exhibition of his kimonos in Kyoto I was almost unable to stay on my feet in front of the beauty and power of the works. They were simply breathtaking. I came home with a treasure of a tome, resplendent with glorious photographs of these silk masterpieces.
Years later, when working with toxic dyestuffs was a thing of the past and I was delighting in the possibilities of tube colors, pastels and brushes, I decided to make a study of a panel from one of Kubota-san’s kimonos.
It was the beginning of a new series of paintings – the aquascapes.
360 x 820
acrylic paints on textured canvas
mounted on canvas covered panel (not shown)
Private collection, Hawaii
[Imagine my delight to be ‘Featured Artist’ in the new issue of ONE: the magazine.
Since the editor used a tiled version of this aquascape as the background to my page, it seemed timely to post it here, with a little background information.]
painting on textured card and watercolor paper, assemblage
cardboard box, Arches watercolor paper, shade cloth, threads, twig, watercolor and acrylic paints, canvas board
460 x 460
This piece began as a watercolor study in the upper garden (kami-no-chaya) of the Shugaku-in Rikyu Imperial Villa in Kyoto.
I loved the pond with its border of perfectly rounded stones, and the way their forms were echoed in the carefully clipped azalea bushes.
recycled cardboard boxes, acrylic paint, Japanese washi, found object, sealing wax, linen thread
Forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen
dip-dyed handmade washi, graphite, drawing, acrylic paint, stitching, textured card
Creativity is more than just being different.
Anybody can play weird – that’s easy.
What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach.
Making the simple complicated is commonplace – making the complicated simple,
awesomely simple – that’s creativity.
– Charles Mingus
shibori on hand-woven ramie cloth, organic indigo dye, bamboo, cotton cord
Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and the student
are located in the same individual.
– Arthur Koestler
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
Japanese washi, silver threads, cardboard stand
I find the fragile beauty of Japanese handmade washi irresistible and came home from Japan laden with sheets of all kinds. Actually it’s much sturdier than it appears. Not quite strong enough for bowl-making, however. How could it be stiffened, strengthened?
I decided to do some research and unearthed an old Chinese recipe used to stiffen silk for flower making. A few dozen experiments and many failures later I had devised a recipe that enabled me to make bowls using just one layer of washi. The diaphanous quality of the paper was preserved, and the bowls held their shape. Stitching sometimes appears, but seldom for construction purposes.
The bowls each have their own small base, and a storage box – just as do traditional tea ceremony bowls.
Why bowls? To spend time in Japan, to participate in the rituals of tea making, serving, and drinking, is to enter another entire mindscape. Coupling this with contemplation on the paradox of form and emptiness is a deep and profoundly awareness-enhancing practice. Bowls can be potent teachers.
Nomad Collection: Japan
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.