Studio notes: New roof
I must have been one of the few people over the last while who has not been doing rain dances, begging the sky to send down some much needed water. In fact any sign of grey clouds has had me nervous and running around with plastic sheeting.
When I first considered moving into my old barn of a studio, and when it used to rain, the floor constantly had a layer of water over it rising up through the patchy concrete and the roof leaked like a sieve. I work with newspaper and thread. Water in this context is not my friend.
The floor was fixed some time ago but all through this winter the roof and its holes have remained and the fact that the rain did not come made me start believing in prayer, or angels, or just a cruel weather system.
This unsettling roof was finally replaced the day before “the storm” hit Cape Town. May there be a special place in heaven for generous, German, brother-in-law roofers. Now I will happily and with enthusiasm join the rest of the rain dancers and send my prayers up to the angels and the weather system that the dams fill before summer.
In the mean time please consider visiting the Riebeek Valley for Solo Studios 2017. I would love to share my new work and projects with interested viewers, and with any luck it will be raining!
Please note that you must pre-book to be able to attend the event: www.solostudios.co.za
Please also take a look at the Solo Studios "linocut project"
This project is an initiative of a select group of resident artists participating in the Solo Studios event in Riebeek Valley, and was conceptualised to ensure future sustainability of the event.
An edition of 15 box sets containing 7 linocut prints each are available to purchase.
“Women’s Work: Crafting Stories, Subverting Narratives” is an exhibition currently showing at the South African National Gallery. This exhibition, at which some of my newspaper tapestries are on loan from Spier, examines the nature of art and craft and the bluring of the boundaries between the two.
What has specifically drawn my attention to this show is how the labour intensive nature of the works, and the importance placed on materials, generally invokes the questions “how it is made?” and “what is it made of?” long before the question “what is being represented?” is asked.
How or why artists choose the mediums they do is often not straight forward. For some it might be the weight of tradition, for others the challenge of a demanding or unforgiving medium. Often it is, however, to convey a concept illustrated directly by the medium itself, beyond the need for imagery. The “how” or “what” becomes meaning in itself.
For many artists there is also a love affair or connection that resonates with something deeper that, through hours of repetitive labour, connects us to ourselves, to our communities and history.
This exhibition shows a wide range of materials and mediums manipulated in strange and wonderous ways and will hopefully inspire other artists to explore the art of making with patience and care, and quiet excitement..
Recently the notion of studio space has captured my attention.
Over the last few months I have had the opportunity to visit many artists in their studios. These are often private, intimate and highly personalised spaces and it has been a privilege to be invited in. Studios can be lavish or simple, quite and meditative. Some are simply corners of rooms and others are loud, energetic spaces, busy, sometimes cluttered with little attention to house keeping.
The focus always, of course, is on the making of art. And the space without exception reflects the personality and energy of the artist.
Originally my work space started out as a two meter square corner of my bedroom. Slowly the space has grown, though not extravagantly, and I have always worked from home encroaching more and more on family spaces as time goes by.
Though I have often envied artists who work in a large warehouse or shared studio space, in many ways working from home has enabled me to manage my various identities more easily, changing from artist, to mother, taxi driver to reluctant cook at the drop of a hat.
But now I have space! I received the keys for an old Victorian barn. It is 100 years old and grubby with car oil and neglect, but it is large and it is all mine. It is also only a 3min walk away. With lots of TLC and the help of contractors of all sorts the space is transforming into something magical and my life and work is about to undergo a seismic shift.
And all just in time. At the end of July the valley in which I live in will be celebrating these places of making through an event called Solo Studios: Intimate Art Encounters. Over a dozen artists in our quiet country villages will be opening their studios to visitors for a weekend. It is a rare opportunity to visit artists in their work spaces, to see how they engage with their art making practices and to talk to them personally.
For those that will be visiting during Solo Studios I look forward to welcoming you to my new space.
Please note that pre-booking is essential for Solo Studios: www.solostudios.co.za
Exhibitions come and go. There are spin offs, results and consequences but then life moves on. The limelight fades, the next project starts and the whirlpool pulls us back under to our private creative underworlds. It happens too quickly and we forget to tie up loose ends. And more often than not we forget to give grace, to say thanks.
We cannot do what we do alone. Yes we can, and often need to, create alone but getting the work "out there", turning the obsessive commitment into a career takes a whole menagerie of people. In the art world relationships of all kinds are notoriously rocky. Artists, art consultants, buyers, collectors, gallerists: we are all to some degree demanding, temperamental and self obsessed.
But we artists do find like minds to work with. I have found people who understand my work and put in the extra effort. Some patient souls have stood by me for years providing financial and professional support, as well as critical thinking. New contacts have also been made and with trust they support and encourage and buy.
This allows me to continue doing what I am doing, what I love. Art is my life's blood, sticky and messy but full of energy. It keeps me alive, awake and makes me smile and to all the people who help make this possible, thank you, I am truly grateful.
I have finished! What a relief. All the tapestries I need for my show at Circa are finally complete, framed and hanging in that large intimidating space ready for the opening of 'Revelation - Stories and Secrets Disclosed' onThursday night ... and they look incredible.
After completing the last tapestry some weeks ago I walked around on air wanting to sing out load, fully appreciating that musical with Julie Andrews and those long rolling hills. It is quite a heady feeling.
Then on Monday I hear that one of my tapestries has been sold before the official opening of the show. Amazing and thank you, yes, this is a large part of why I do what I do. But also, after having spent months working on each piece, I feel like I have lost a small piece of my soul and am a little in mourning.
So here I am in Johannesburg anticipating Thursday evening's event and while grateful, and finally feeling excited rather than simply terrified, I feel too like I am going to a wake. To qualify though, a wake is generally a festive occasion with singing, whisky drinking and fond remembrances of the dearly departed. With any luck, by the end of the evening I might have had too many glasses of wine and I might even attempt 'the hills are alive with the sound of music...'
I am up for the challenge!
If there has ever been incentive to complete an art work quickly, it is having one’s husband stare at one through binoculars for hours on end. It is of course, all self-inflicted as I decided to use him as a model for one of my tapestries. While I normally enjoy the challenge of working on portraits, observing and translating form and features, this time I felt like I was the one being observed and analysed. It has been very uncomfortable.
Incentive to finish is what it is about though as I am now in the last weeks of preparation for my exhibition at Circa in Johannesburg.
All the self-analyses and self-scrutiny, my head playing tricks on me, can wait till later. It’s the final stretch of a long project and there is at last a feeling of anticipation. Half of the tapestries are already on their way to Joburg.
So it is real, they have gone, next phase… bring on the show!
“Revelation” by Tamlin Blake
Opening 14 May 2015 at Circa (www.circagallery.co.za)
It is that time of year again: summer holidays, Christmas, New Years. It is interesting how many people are surprised at finding themselves at the end of another year, myself included. How do we live our lives that the first time we really notice what is happening is when Christmas tinsel blinds us in the hot summer sun?
I am guessing that the repetitive routines of our ordinary lives merge our days into one concept, one long day which we only wake up from when life around us demands a change in routine. I admit that the days in my year have been particularly repetitive. My focus has been more and more isolated to the amount of weaving I can manage each day and then fitting in my other lives (mother, wife and friend) as and when I can.
Things are shifting though. Deadlines are presenting themselves and I have to prepare all the written material that goes along with exhibiting at a gallery. I have to climb out of my almost permanent state of meditation and engage with the world, and my mind, differently. It is quite refreshing to remember that I can think and string sentences together, that actually my work does make sense and does have a narrative larger than the making of it.
Though I don't suppose this will really slow down the relentless approach of the end of 2014, there does suddenly seem to be a beginning and an end to individual days with particular achievements, or small completions.
Whether this time of year brings relaxation and family holidays, or a shift in one's working process, may it be a time of living and working more fully and being more present in our every day reality.
I came across a piece of ceramic in my garden, a broken piece of plate or vase, muddy and stained, probably once white with a blue pattern. I always find these little pieces intriguing and wonder at their previous lives, who made them, then used them, then threw them away.
In a way it reminds me of the Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers, my current obsession. It is a magnificent piece of Medieval art and as impressive as it is, it is incomplete. Over the years as its patterns and designs went out of favour or fashion pieces of it were used as cleaning cloths, in stables and as carpets. Many panels have been lost and of some only fragments survive.
These fragments though are enticing. Many have details, an angel's wing or a broken tree, that hint at a larger whole. Using old documents, written historical accounts, and of course the Book of Revelations on which the whole tapestry is based, researchers are able to guess at the themes and patterns on the panels but for the most part we are left to fill in the gaps with our own imaginations. I wonder at the story each fragment was a part of and what fate it suffered when its status changed from valued artwork to a piece of cloth.
In my own work, I now find myself exploring the notion of fragments, bits and pieces that are an enticing part of a bigger whole at which we can wonder. There are connections, and hints, and space to dig deep within those imaginative places to find or make meaning. The physical vulnerability of the tapestry medium also becomes more apparent as their fragmentary nature makes their woven structure more obvious. I have to hope they will also stir a little wonder in those that find them.
I have been thinking of the next phase of my project and after the initial overwhelming "what now?" I have been designing, playing, planing and feeling that creative flutter. I read a quote recently that goes "After the first brush stroke, the canvas assumes a life of its own; at this point you become both governor and spectator to your own event" (Quote from Robert & Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter).
The tapestries themselves are a bit like that. The decisions of what thread and what stitch to use is an ongoing process though it is more like watching, or directing, a dance in slow motion. If you take a coffee break you really aren't going to miss much.
Working on the tapestries has a few distinct phases however. The slow hour after hour dance might be the most time consuming and backbreaking, but before that there is the speedier and more spontaneous process of conceptualising each individual work.
This is a fun, exciting, even at times distressing phenomenon and I find myself in this interesting place of watching what develops, watching what I get up to. After weeks of obsessive weaving I can now wander off into another space, float away and loose track of conversations. I observe a process that seems only partly my own and which is entirely entertaining. What a thrill and what a privilege.
I find as I get older that I am becoming more aware of other peoples idiosyncrasies and find myself developing, or becoming more ware of, my own. By my husband's definition I am an extreme introvert. He is, in my opinion, the best corporate and life coach in the world so I guess he might be right.
Living and working in a small town amongst the vineyards and wheat fields suits me very well. Even for an introvert though, life in paradise can get somewhat lonely. This is not helped by the fact that I don't like reading the news, I am not mad about spending time in front of emails and I thoroughly dislike the phone. It's not the people on the other side, I love chatting with friends and family, I just don't like the intervening mediums. I put my head down, work all day and ignore all devices and as a result I tend to become, I suspect, a little out of touch.
Then suddenly a few small things happen and I realise it is time to pay attention. Recently, within the space of a morning, a stranger sent me an email, an old friend called and I received some news.
The stranger had been moved by what I had written in one of my earlier blog posts and thankfully felt strongly about sharing her thoughts. The friend who called is an engaging artist who always manages to leave me feeling inspired and wonderful and I often wonder why I don't get in touch more often. And after two years of waiting I received confirmation that funds will be found to include one of my artworks into a conveniently well known collection.
It was a good morning and a reminder that it can in fact be beneficial, and not so scary, to engage a little more with the world around me. But for now I am going to embrace my nature, do some work and I might phone the electrician / plumber / builder later.