Monthly Archives: May 2015

CSM 2015 Degree Show one

The long run of graduate summer shows begin….this was the smaller of the two CSM shows, but still interesting to visit. I gathered a few points of thought for our own show and some interesting artists whose work impressed me.

My main takeaway was on hanging methods – not to be dictated by tradition or the limitations of the frame. Even some of the more traditionally hung art work had canvases which were draped over the stretchers or nailed to the outside of the frame. The second thought was on notecards/business cards – where someone I liked had left one, I took one away and looked them up afterwards – so much easier than having to hope google can come up with something. Curious how many of the cards I took home didn’t have active websites or anything uploaded. Moral? Be Prepared! Be ready once the show comes around!

Stand-out work for me was that of Tess Williams, who was exploring painting. The first photo below was her main piece in the show, the rest are from her website.


836d6e_fe3aa61c1e9840beb88ca6d52ce23a8e.jpg_srb_p_923_644_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb 836d6e_cc8ea918de234f95aa2b2f2e074e6d06.jpg_srb_p_955_644_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb 836d6e_214c5d25f3d54d1fb68c88efc6c3cb7a.jpg_srb_p_916_644_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb  I found some extracts from an interview she gave which described the process behind her work.

At the moment my work exists within the boundaries of traditional / deconstructed painting, installation and large-scale collage; exploring where one discipline ends and the next begins.

I am first and foremost concerned with the sensual immediacy of paint and its interaction with the porous materials that I chose to apply it to. My work explores the unprimed materiality of these textiles and how they can be enhanced, altered or adapted by paint. I never prime my materials in order to leave as much amount of absorption as possible. Meaning that the material and the paint become one, rather than the paint just lying on top of a surface, as with many primed paintings. The materiality of the work as a whole is important to me, allowing its evocative power to resonate.

I am also engaging with how folds, creases and movement within the materials can act as a form of mark making, creating shadows, lines and shapes, whilst adding new tones to the colours of the paint. I also explore the way folds introduce both inside and outside, in front and behind, what this evokes, compared with the emphasis on surface alone of traditional painting.

This spoke to me of the sort of feeling I want to capture in my own fabric drawings, not specifically about the use of paint – but the integration of materials, colour and process into one textural surface. I also like to use unprimed canvas to paint on, but never really thought deeply of why. I need to understand fully the material narrative my work offers as part of the overall message it is portraying.

Wordless words

I have been thinking more about how to take forward my hedgerow library idea, and whether to leave the pages blank (similar in spirit to the River Library work of Racquel Rabonovich which inspired it), or whether to inscribe more knowledge upon them. I quite like the idea of capturing some sort of hedgerow folk knowledge – old wisdom, recipe, herblore or the like – using the paper which embodies directly the plant being discussed. I realise this leans slightly back towards the ritual magic of my old project proposal – well, some interests are ingrained I guess!

As a way forward, I have been looking into historical written languages as well as the asemic, content-less forms. I started with the two scripts I know from Northumbrian folklore – namely Runes and Ogham, both native and isolated to Northern Europe. During my exploration, I discovered some very interesting facts about Ogham script. Used as an alphabet (not a language), it was used around the 4th century AD to write old Irish (mainly) as well as old Welsh and Pictish, through carvings on wood and stone monuments across the British Isles. It is thought that the script was designed as a code to write secret messages between people (some sources claim it was reserved for use by senior members of the Druids, so ordinary folk would not understand).

The Ogham alphabet (vertical)*

The pronunciation of the letters shown is for Primitive Irish the language used in the majority of Ogham inscriptions. The names and sounds represented by of the letters uath and straif are uncertain. There are many different version of the letter names – the standard ones are used here [with the Primitive Irish ones, where known, in brackets]

The Ogham alphabet (vertical)


I discovered an exquisite book in the library special collection which used the basis of Ogham as a code to create a limited edition artists book.

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Here are a few photos of the pages themselves – so beautifully done.

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Much inspiration which can be gleamed from this. I started off by thinking of using stitch to directly copy some Ogham letters onto paper, however once I started stitching I ended up creating something different – and more uniquely my own “language”. Unexpected and quite pleasing, I let the stitches follow the curve of the thread and lie where they wanted to lie. This was my first samples using paper yarn:

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the second was using some of my hand-dyed papers

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I quite like how these have come out, and although still just tests, this could be a valuable strand of work to follow up. An outstanding question springs to mind though: do I want these stitched messages to be pure expression? or do I want to create some deep and involved cryptographic stitched script? I want to beware crossing the line into over-literal and over-baked ideas.

…and where to go next?

New dyeing experiments

I’m taking my natural dyeing experiments up a level with some long term projects, using more radical transformation processes. Exciting!

Today’s experiment was with using managed decay to mark and texture a sheet of fabric – still using my unbleached calico. The fabric was wrapped into a little bundle with a series of natural dyestuffs from a local herbalist, the buried into the soil for at least a month, possibly two. I think this may need a while to react to the dampness and minerals in the soil – I wonder how much patience I have to wait!

This was the digging of the hole and the little bundle being abandoned to the ravages of a Surrey summer!




Hedgerow library

I am having a lot of fun with the paper making experiments – it is such a lovely process to explore. I am continuing on with cotton as the base, and have started looking at expanding my natural dyeing techniques to the handmade paper. My intention is to create a sort of “hedgerow library” from the paper and fabric pages I am creating.

I have started with some traditional English hedgerow plans and trees, most with old local associations (hidden knowledge?), using materials gathered from a local herbalist.


2015-05-20 14.52.31Elderberry paper

  • Elder (sambucus nigra), native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia has been in continuous use since the time of the Egyptians and probably before.
  • Ever very part of the elder tree has some herbal use, and the plant has long been attributed with many magical virtues. Spirits were thought to inhabit the Elder which is why it is thought to be unlucky to burn Elder as firewood.
  • Elderberries when carried are said to protect against negativity; when placed under the pillow they are supposed to help you slumber peacefully.


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Ivy paper

  • Ivy (hedera helix), native to Europe, was one famed for its magical associations in protecting against evil spirits or negativity and in symbolising fidelity.
  • It was dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman God of agriculture and wine, as an infusion of the leaves was considered an effective treatment for drunkedness. For the same reason, an ivy bush painted above tavern doors symbolised the good quality of wine within!
  • Ivy carried by women is said to bring good luck.

The results, although pretty cool, aren’t yet capturing the vibrancy of colour from the plants that I was hoping for. These were both using cotton which had been soaked in the plant dyestuffs overnight without a mordant. I wonder if it would be better to pre-mordant the cotton in the same way you would prepare sheets of fabric for dyeing?

A combination of library books and internet have suggested a few methods for pre-mordanting cotton which have differing effects on the resulting colour of the fibres. My first set of natural dyeing experiments were just using tannin & iron mordant, which is excellent for a light-fast permanent colour, but they did have a particular way of driving the colour towards beige/grey.

This website has some useful suggestions for a mixture of tannin and alum (copied below),

Mordant for Cotton and all Cellulose Fibers:

General Recipe: for cotton, rayon (all cellulose fibers). Cellulose fibers are chemically neutral, therefore the mordant process is more difficult to achieve for effective, saturated color. The recommended approach to mordant cellulose is a 3-step process based upon the procedures developed by James Liles. It is crucial to follow the steps, in their suggested order, for best results.

Weigh your fiber to establish the dry WOG (weight of the goods) before you begin this process. Pre-treat your cellulose fibers by machine washing in hot water with a moderate amount of detergent and washing soda. You may dry your fiber after this, or proceed with mordanting. Vegetable rinses (found in grocery stores) intended to remove waxes work well to clean cellulose.

Step 1: Scour 

  1. Fill your pot with water, based on the following general guide: 2 quarts (2 liters) for every 1 ounce (28 grams) of fabric used. OR: 1 quart (liter) for every ounce (28 grams) of yarn to be mordanted.
  2. To this pot of water, add in 1 tsp. Synthropol for every gallon of water in the pot. Add in 2 teaspoons washing soda (soda ash) for every gallon of water in the pot. Dissolve the washing soda in boiling water before adding it to the pot.
  3. Wet your fiber for one hour. Add your fiber to the pot, bring to the boil and hold a simmering boil for 4 hours, covered. Stir occasionally.
  4. Rinse fiber in warm water, squeeze and set aside.

Step 2: Tannin Soak 

  1. To a fresh pot of water, adequate to cover the fiber, add in 6% tannin, on the WOG. Dissolve the tannin in boiling water and add to the pot. Bring pot temperature up to 130 F.
  2. Add scoured fiber to pot, stir well, cover and let stand to steep for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Do not add more heat.
  3. Rinse fiber in water, squeeze and set aside.

Step 3: Alum Mordant 

  1. Dissolve alum sulfate in boiling water, at 50% WOG.
  2. Dissolve washing soda in boiling water at 6% WOG.
  3. Fill fresh pot with water to cover fiber. Add alum and washing soda to this pot of water. Stir.
  4. Add scoured, tannin soaked fiber to this pot. Bring pot up to 170 F, stirring occasionally.
  5. Cover and let stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Do not add more heat. Stir once or twice during this time period.
  6. Remove fiber and rinse well.
  7. Let dry and air cure for 1-3 days.
  8. Wet material for one hour, and proceed with dyeing.

The other suggestion is to use an alternating mixture of alum mordant and protein soaking of the fibres – this is apparently based on a traditional Japanese mordanting technique. I quite like the idea of trying this, as it is at the other end of the pH scale from the tannin dyeing I tried before.

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Summer term stock-takeI’m

As the final term of this academic year rolled into action, I had a tutorial with the lovely Bridget, who I was pleased seemed excited about my change in direction. This is the first tutorial I have had since the MYR – I’ve actually made quite a lot of progress over the holidays. Following on from our chat, I thought it would be useful to get my thoughts in order on where I am and where I can go next. I need to keep developing my idea and experimenting with new processes – not get stuck on resolving one idea (although I want to do this too). I also want to draft an artist’s statement of sorts – after being posed the question by one of the class – I think it is about time for us to be able to answer this, even as a first draft.

My research question as it stands, is “how can we use the boundaries between material, place and time to explore our sense of place?”. All the research I have done so far into place, identify and psychogeography has lead me to my own hypothesis that I want to explore through my MA project. That is – that our connection to place is defined by knowledge: be that specific local knowledge related to the nature or culture of the place, or knowledge from mind or memory which is overlayed onto place creating a unique experience in space-time.

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) had a complementary view on our relationship with knowledge. He wrote on the fundamental role that sensory perception plays in how we understand the world. He argued that “knowledge is ‘felt’…consciousness, the human body and the phenomenal world are therefore inextricable intertwined…and the material world itself is therefore not the unchanging object presented by the natural sciences, but instead endlessly relational“.

If place is defined by knowledge, then I believe knowledge is defined by language. It is the ability to articulate our experiences which allow us to fully understand them. Spoken, written or visual….readable or codified, the purpose is the same, the communication of ideas. Roger Macfarlane in his book Landmarks [1], comments that “the contours and colours of words are inseparable from the feelings we create in relation to situations, to others and to places“. However as knowledge of places are lost, so is something of the experience of those places. Macfarlane goes on to discuss the words for our natural phenomenon and entities, that “there are fewer people able to name them and once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen”. Leading geographer Yi Fu Tuan [2] also supported this view; he proposed that “it is precisely what is invisible in the land that makes what is merely empty space to one person, a place to another”. 

So with all of this said, where do I position my work? Currently, my intention is to create a language which allows us to experience a sense of place, capturing unspoken or unknown/unknowable meanings. A wordless language that is before and beyond the specificity of naming, embedding meaning through local knowledge: the wisdom of the cunning man, the path of the flâneur.

Practically, I am still looking at processes which embed elements of wildness into my materials – wildness through releasing energy, free-will, serendipity. This will bring in the natural dyeing I have been exploring and the transformation of materials with factors not all under my control. I want to expand this from just the material to look into the language of mark-making as well. I have a few ideas of where to explore this term, using handmade pigments and paints as well as more of the asemic calligraphy work which has been bubbling away in the background.

Overall, I’m excited about what’s ahead.

Whatever we remember, and the manner in which we remember, we get a different past, a different sense of place, and a different landscape every time“.³

[1] Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (2015)
[2] Space and Place, Yi Fu Tuan (1977)
[3] Christopher Tilley, IntroductionIdentity, Place, Landscape and Heritage Journal of Material Culture July 2006 11732

Art on the High Line

I have heard the High Line described as the Central Park of the new generation. It is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.

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Converting each section of the High Line from an out-of-use railroad trestle to a public landscape entailed more than two years of construction per section in a multi-step process. The movement to save the High Line was catalyzed by iconic photographs of the self-seeded landscape that grew up when the trains stopped running that were captured by Joel Sternfeld in 2000, nine years before the park would open to the public. Joel’s photos showed the innate beauty of the High Line and inspired the local community to dream about what was possible. The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. The species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and colour variation, with a focus on native species.

Definitely worth a visit if you are in town. We happened upon it when there was a range of site-specific work on display from a range of international artists. Very interesting to see how the different works resonated with the mix of urban and natural landscape.

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Our summer holiday, due to various random things needed to be taken early, so HB and I jetted off across the Atlantic for my first visit to New York City. I surprised myself by how much I liked it, granted we were lucky to see it in warm (but not hot), beautifully sunny spring weather, but it has such a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere. And very tasty food.

Serendipity found us arriving in the midst of the NYCXDesign festival; we managed to get to a few events – hot off the heals of Collect 2015 at the Saachi Gallery, this was a good chance to compare it with a US design show. We visited Collective Design 2015, with a lot of exhibitors fresh from the Milan Fair. Very much a high-end design show, this had a mixture of furniture, interior design objects and a lot of ceramics. There was a few interesting textile-based products, but much less “art objects” than at Collect. Highlight for me was a small sculpture from a Norwegian designer, using patina on copper discs.

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A few other interesting works here:

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We also managed to run across a very small but exquisite exhibition of Japanese boxes, in a small gallery in a trendy part of town (after we had some very trendy gourmet pizza from one of New York’s coal-fired pizza ovens). This was all products for sale, but was curated beautifully. A great example of how I find simplicity and elegant lines enhance the look of an object.

My favourite was a well-done mix of strong geometric and organic lines. Slightly too pricey to bring home, but I would have these in my house!

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Collect 2015

Great day out at Collect on at the Saachi Gallery – well worth a visit, both me and HB were very impressed by the range of objects and quality of craftsmanship on display. Plus my trusty art card got me 50% off entry, cheaper than being a student!!

A few project thoughts coming out:

  • Where would my work fit into an exhibition like this? There were a few conceptual art pieces in the show, but they were certainly a smaller proportion.
  • Such a great use of materials, and I was pleased to see some in line with my thinking of using materials of place within a work – found materials, clay, soils, sands.
  • Love the pieces also where serendipity plays a part – using gravity as part of the making process, random mark making
  • Textiles bit mixed – some were not that well done, but very much liked the Shibori artist in particular

My highlights:

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Raquel Rabinovich: River Library

The work of Raquel Rabinovich – an Argentinian artist based in the US – has been described as occupying “a radically organic territory of abstract art”. Her work is a mixture of sculpture, drawing and works on paper, using a visual language that evaluates the essence of meaning itself. Rabinovich explores what she calls “the dark” – “that which is concealed beneath the surface of objects, words, thoughts, and the world.”

Her statement from her website describes what drives her interest. “I have been fascinated for a very long time by that which is behind the appearance of things, objects, words, thoughts, and the world. My art has always been informed by an underlying fascination with the concealed aspects of reality, by that which we don’t see or seems to be invisible. Equally, I have been captivated by the process of how something which is concealed emerges into view. Working across mediums, this is the essence of my artwork, now, and for the last 50 years.”

One of her earliest works were a series of paintings looking at the ‘invisible’, The Dark Is Light Enough (1963). “When I say “invisible” I mean to look at something and see what’s behind it and behind it and behind it. Not to stay with the appearance of things but investigate and explore everything that is not visible or apparent seems to me to be a search that is very meaningful


The most relevant of her pieces to my own current work is her ongoing work River Library, a series of hundreds of drawings made on paper with sediment from some of the Earth’s major rivers. “Rivers are repositories of history, the history of the planet, the history of people, the history of culture. Mud embodies the earth’s history, functioning like text to provide a trace, a memory of its existence…The layering of paper and mud onto pages parallels the formation of sediment in the depths of the rivers. Mud embodies the history of the Earth and humankind – it contains life, death, and layers of accumulation. Mud, like the alphabet of a language yet to be deciphered, like a yet unwritten history of nature and culture, functions like a text, providing a trace, a memory of our existence…These drawings are like pages of books from an infinite library.”




The Gateless Gates painting series emphasises the search for signs of meaning, which may be partially concealed even in direct view. The concepts behind her work are directly intertwined with and inspired by the processes of nature. “Gateless gates is one of those paradoxes used in the teachings of Zen in order to help the students realize the nature of things.  It is not about a gate, but about the mind being transformed by confronting the paradox.  For me, making art is also a transformative confrontation.  It leads me to experience no gate or barrier, the work and I become one, there is no more inside and outside.  My process of working -layer upon layer of lines, marks, paint, glass or stones – seems to conceal what is not and reveal what it is, what I call ‘essence.’  To apprehend this essence, which is beyond thought and has no boundaries, the viewer too needs to go through a gateless gate”


I am interested in the process she used for the River Library series, and the thought behind it meshes with my own ideas about marking the essence of place and knowledge through mark making.

*Quotes from artist website and an interesting interview here