Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Rathfarnham Castle - nagOffsite installation

In June I had gone to a food festival in Rathfarnham and also to have a look at nearby Rathfarnham Castle - an Office of Public Works restored fortified house from the 16th century. While in the "castle" an art exhibition was being set up. I was able to see some of the works and my interest in the group exhibition was piqued enough to return recently, before the exhibition closed. The exhibition was curated by Mark St John Ellis of NAG Gallery, as one of nagOffsite installations, where the work complements and is complimentary to the historic space in which it is situated.

In the first room there is a curious archival box, by artist Kristina Huxley, which has tags and numbers and envelopes and poetry perhaps. I was told, on my June visit, that Huxley has catalogued dust from the building. This is a labour of love piece of work and I was able to extrapolate meanings from the process related to me as well as from the form of the work. On my return recent visit I was also glad that there was some information on the artists, the work, and the curator of the exhibition (Mark St John Ellis) and nagOffsite as a creative presentation entity. This room also included some ceramic ware and boxes by Masashi Suzuki that present the epitome of shibui aesthetic (modesty, naturalness, texture, spontaneity). The framed photographs displayed with Suzuki's work, show ceramics as items of contemplation.

Moving along into the larger "dining room" works by Kristina Huxley and Helena Gorey were placed on walls/faux walls and juxtaposed beautifully with the painterly deterioration of Rathfarnham Castle's actual walls.

There was also a table cabinet in this room which had Japanese Edo Period wrapping paper displayed next to one of Gorey's subtle watercolours. I do not agree with the assumption of worth by proximity, and I did not think Gorey's work fared well in this display, where the Japanese paper and calligraphy were far more interesting visually.

The next room had several table cabinets also, as well as an ambient sound piece by Elijah's Mantle and digital prints by Roseanne Lynch. I was most curious about Huxley's "Citizens of Dust" rolled paper drawings and balls that made me think of watching men in the south of France playing bowls on a hot day. I found out later that the spheres were made of wax and soot and were the same size as musket balls excavated from Rathfarnham Castle.

A nearby display table held more Japanese wrapping paper with calligraphy and a small sculpture of a Buddhist figure from the personal collection of John Hutchinson. The overall effect of these items within an exhibition of contemporary artists is to stress temporality - items of everyday use (wrapping paper) become items of art with time. There is an overall mood of contemplation and timelessness within the exhibition in its entirety.

In the last room encountered, the intimacy of the space is palpable. One is almost encircled by Jane Proctor's drawings (like being on a stage of an amphitheatre and being encircled by an audience) and their subtleties beg for closer inspection. The grid drawings resemble woven cloth, and one's eyes follow the meticulous warp and weft. This is contemplation at its finest, as one is virtually transported while looking at this work.

Also in this small room, is a table cabinet with another of Kristina Huxley's "Dustopia" boxes and a furoshiki package, the blue of its cloth highlighting the bit of colour in Huxley's box and
complementing the colour of Proctor's surrounding drawings.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

plattensbau studio - drawing workshop

At the end of July a friend and I had signed up for a drawing workshop given by the Berlin-based Irish artist/architect duo plattensbau studio (Jennifer O'Donnell & Jonathan Janssens). They had a short residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) to coincide with the group exhibition, A Vague Anxiety, of which they were a part. I hadn't seen the exhibition yet, so did not know what to expect, but they began the workshop with a presentation of their practice, which is arcitectural but always with a concern of the human presence.

The focus of the workshop was the fact that "IMMA Was A House", or rather, a home and hospital for veterans. The participants in the workshop would assist in the research of mapping signs of habitation at IMMA, specifically evidenced in the courtyard.

Each participant was provided with a clipboard containing an architectural drawing of the courtyard, markers, blank paper, and sticky dots. We were sent to the courtyard to observe... I was interested in the clock tower and sundial. Both used Roman numerals.

Details such as chimney pots (and a seagull preening beside a chimney pot), a window, curved features interested me.

My friend was walking around making her own observations. I wrote down a few words overheard...

I also marked the areas on the ground where there were circular and rectangular utility covers, on the provide architectural plan. I left this with plattensbau. There were large plans taking up several tables in the Project Space at IMMA, and it was here that after an hour or so the participants crowded around and added their observations. Afterwards there was a lively discussion about the evidence of habitation provided by observation. Before leaving IMMA, I and my friend made sure to have a look at the A Vague Anxiety exhibition, specifically because we wanted to have a closer look at the work of plattensbau in the context of the exhibition. Of most interest to me (though I could not find a proper picture of it - below. at the very bottom, only shows a partial image) was the to-size architectural drawing of O'Donnell's and Janssens' former flat in Dublin, but it included "things" in the flat (ie, the chopping board with carrots). It made me think of the archaeologically precise work that was done to bring the Francis Bacon studio from London and recreate it in Dublin some years ago.

The other work that plattensbau have in the exhibition is an architecturally rendered drawing of the apartment buildings, which are across from and identical to the apartment in which they live in Berlin. After seeing their presentation earlier, I was much more interested in taking a look at the signs of habitation in each apt - the differences between balcony furnishings, plants, etc. - rather than focusing on the bland buildings and the initial feeling of "sameness".  

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Bauhaus100 print portfolio exhibition at NGI

I was looking forward to seeing this exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland, and was not disappointed. In celebration of the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus school, the NGI borrowed four print portfolios from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. The portfolios were originally put together to raise funds for the Bauhaus art school (though because of German inflation at the time, this was impossible) and contained work by teachers at the Bauhaus and international artists who were petitioned to contribute. Wassily Kandinsky was one of the masters at the Bauhaus, and this colour lithograph, Composition, is from 1922.

This is a detail of Hoffmanesque Scene, 1921, also a colour lithograph, designed by Paul Klee, another master at Bauhaus. The Bauhaus students did the printing editions of the works for the portfolios in the school studio, giving them both printing experience and exposure to the work of international artists.

I particularly loved this linocut, Two Dancers, c1913, by Christian Rohlfs. It was exciting to see the works of so many artists who, for me, are like household names (Kandinsky, Schwitters, Kokoshka, Boccioni, Feininger, Albers, Goncharova, etc) but I was completely unfamiliar with Rohlfs. Now I am!

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Lucian Freud and Jack B Yeats

At the end of June I was at the launch of Life Above Everything: Lucian Freud & Jack B Yeats at the Irish Museum of Modern Art Freud Centre. A large amound of Freud's works are collected together in the Garden Galleries (a separate buillding) as The Freud Centre, for a period of five years. Different curators deal with the collection in different ways and I have seen several iterations of vision for this work. I was immensely curious how the work of two painters, who I think of as polar opposites, was going to be brought together coherently. Below is Girl with Roses by Lucian Freud (left) and Portrait Figure of an Irish Gentleman by Jack B Yeats (right). It was interesting to learn that the catalyst for the exhibition was the fact that Freud had a Yeats drawing by his bedside for 20 years and had advised a friend-collector on Yeats works to buy! I enjoyed seeing many Yeats works that I had never seen before, and to see the Freud works in a different context. The highlight of the night, for me, however, was the poetry reading by Freud's daughter, Annie, whose poetic works showed facility and humour.

I was pleased several weeks later, when meeting friends at the National Gallery of Ireland, to view works of Freud and Yeats amongst other modernist works. While I had seen all the Yeats works on display at NGI on previous visits, I had a fresher point of view after having seen the exhibition at IMMA's Freud Centre.

I had never seen, or noticed, this early Freud painting at the NGI before and was quite intrigued by its mystery and expressive painting style, which is so different from his later works.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Book for a friend, part 2 (of 2)

This post continues from last week's, which can be read here. I'm not sure why (may have something to do with handedness - I am right-handed) but it is good to begin with the last signature when beginning the binding. This signature includes the final endpaper, which, as you can see below, is wrapped around the signature, but it is only a partial wrap to facilitate the binding. I tied the end ot the thread that remains outside the book to a safety pin. This thread will be used to secure future threads, of future signatures, as they come its way. Always tie the threads at each end, for security, before starting to bind another signature. Glue is not necessary.

Since the very first thread journey takes the thread through the centre hole and back again into the book with nothing to stop it from unravelling, it is important to have a place holder to secure it. When I learned how to do this many years ago, another thread held the place and further binds did a chain stitch around it (then the holding thread could be removed). However, a bead works well, and I like the decorative effect.

The pins are, of course, removed as one is working. The post last week detailed the thread journey for binding. For this book, however, I made the executive decision to use the same binding journey as on the last page. I think the front endpaper prefers the security!

The leather straps are also a design feature as they are unnecessary to keep a soft leather book closed. They should be in place as one is binding, otherwise trying to push them through the spine's thread spaces at the end is difficult and painful! (though do-able) Also please note that the straps don't need to be untied each time the book is opened; they can just be slipped down over the corner ends to open the book, and then slipped back up to close the book.

As the yellow beads are larger than the beads I normally use, I decided to only use three. I still threaded through the previous bead when I was not using a bead, so the beads are all connected.

This is the finished book, showing the front endpaper.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Book for a friend, part 1 (of 2)

After many years, I have recently been back in touch with a dear friend and have been enjoying our regular email correspondence for several months. As a poet, whose work I admire, I wanted to make him a gift book. This has been on my mind for awhile and has all just come together in the past few weeks. The first thing when making a book, is to decide the purpose of the book, its size and materials. I had a notebook/journal in mind, so rooted around my supplies and found a nice piece of black leather for a soft cover and some extravagant yellow paper that would be perfect as endpapers in a variation of medieval tacket binding.

I also verified that I had yellow beads to embellish the spine and yellow cotton embroidery thread for the binding. The next step was to do some fiddly measuring and poking holes in the spine. The spine will be approximately 4.5 cm and 5 holes need to be punctured per vertical line and correspond to 5 holes on horizontal lines (some of these will be the same hole); these are binding holes. There will be 10 signatures (folios of paper) altogether in the book, and 2 signatures will be bound in the same holes. One set of 5 holes will be central, on a horizontal line. There will be 2 horizontal lines, each containing 5 holes, at either end of the book (top hole approximately 2 cm from the edge of the leather). This may sound complicated, but it makes sense when it is seen. I use safety pins to keep the holes open as they tend to close up in leather (they are small holes). The photos I took while making a vinyl book for another friend illustrate this point very well and may be found on this post.

A piece of graph paper as a template will help ensure that all the signatures have holes in the same place, corresponding with the holes made on the spine. In this post I did a few years ago, I include a picture of several of the supplies that I use regularly (mat cutter & mat, signature cradle, bone folder, etc.). I also have a FaceBook page, Bookbinding for Personal Use, and I know I have given details in the past of how to make a cardboard signature cradle, which is easy to make and very handy (you can of course use the design to make a sturdier, permanent cradle from wood).

Once you have the signatures (including the first and last wrapped with endpapers, such that the fancy paper wraps around the signature, but only partially).

Here is a diagram of the journey the thread will take binding the signatures to the leather. Note that the furthest holes on either end (where the thread journey begins!) do not correspond to holes in the leather, they are used to bind the signatures together at top and bottom. The purpose of the first bead is a placeholder as the thread must return through the same hole it came out of, and if there was no placeholder it would just come undone! You may deal with this by having a temporary thread holding the place instead of a bead and creating a chain stitch with future signatures (this was how I first learned to bind) but I like using beads for their decorative effect. With future signatures I continue to add beads even though they are unnecessary as placeholders. I will continue in the blog next week to show the book's development and the finished book.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

raku bowl decoration

The end of June raku event was a lot of fun and exciting. If you didn't see the post last week, you can check it out here. I focussed more on the process in that post, but now I will discuss the two bowls I made specifically with raku in mind. Both bowls are handbuilt in low-fire white clay. You can see the herringbone pattern left on the clay from the tea towel on which I rolled it. I like this effect (some tea towels have deeper patterns than others). On this, the larger bowl of my two, I pre-glazed areas in red and white and left other areas that I expected to go black in the "smoker". The black pattern on this was created with a feather, but I was disappointed that the "smoker" did not do its job - the lower area of the bowl should have been black.

On the inside of the bowl I threw large clumps of my offspring's thick, straight hair. I also threw sugar, which burned and created the black spots. There was some crackling in the glaze that allowed some dark lines from the bowl's time in the "smoker".

After a light scour with water and a scouring pad, the applied textures (sugar and hair) look more satisfying.

On the suggestion of another woman at the raku event, I painted on some India ink to areas that I wanted blacker. I was much happier with these results and it also made some of the crackling lines in the glazes more apparent.

The smaller bowl had been pre-glazed with red, white, yellow, and clear areas of glaze, again leaving large areas that I expected to turn black in the "smoker".

After I painted some India ink in areas that I wanted to be black, I was happier with the contrasts in the bowl's decoration.

I used hair that I had been collecting from my hairbrush before the event in order to get these fine and squiggly lines. I had tried a few other techniques on this bowl (a mini "smoker" using pine needles, dried lavender) but they did not produce any results. The point of raku is to be open to experimentation and chance, but if the results can be altered by India ink (or anything else!) I am quite open to that too!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Summer raku event!

In the ceramics workshop last week, I glazed two handbuilt bowls in preparation for the summer raku event that took place a few days ago. The patchwork design of the bowls simplified the glazing with several different colours (red, white, yellow, and clear) and leaving areas to go darker in the "smoker".

There was lots of excitement among the participants (there were five of us) on the day. We had lots of sunshine and prepared a delicious potluck lunch to coincide with the event while the first firing was on. When ready, the facilitator demonstrated decoration techniques. Water spritzed on the hot pot would cause more crackling in the glaze as it cooled.

Feathers and other dry materials could be carefully applied (don't touch the hot pot!) to glazed areas of the pots.

Even sugar could be randomly sprinkled on the pot. It would ignite and carmelise on contact with the pot, and leave dark brown or black flecks. Pots could either be decorated first and then put in the "smoker" or just simply put in the "smoker". The "smoker" is a bin full of shredded paper (or other flammable material) that ignites when the hot pots are put in it. The lid of the bin is put on immediately and the fire goes out, filling the bin with smoke. Unglazed areas of pots become black in the "smoker" and the crackling of glazes produces gorgeous black lines.

When pots are removed from the "smoker" they are dunked in water to cool off. It does not take long for them to cool enough to handle.

We were all delighted with the results of two raku firings at the afternoon event!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Tomnafinnoge Sculpture Symposium

I visited Tomnafinnoge Wood last week, on the last day of a sculpture symposium. Five sculptors had been working in the woods, in mostly fine weather, for the past ten days. From  left to right they are Con Gent, Niall O'Neill, Dave Kinane, Róisín Flood and James Hayes.

Niall O'Neill was busy at work on an enormous piece of fallen oak. The sculptors could only use hand tools in the forest, and could not damage living trees.

A local child enjoyed assisting Niall in brushing wood dust from the carving.

Con Gent carved an abstract face into one end of a large branching tree limb and the final touch was to stand it up as a tripod.

It appeared to be almost walking, spider-like through the woods.

Dave Kinane’s constructed sculpture was the culmination of ten days of measuring, hand-drilling holes, and carving custom dowels to put together numerous saplings into a curving, open-mesh structure.

Kinane's piece has an Irish title which tranlates to "The Sanctuary of the Hooded Crow". The sculpture is open-ended and may very well provide sanctuary to birds and other fauna in need.

Róisín Flood’s work also required calculated thought and meticulous awareness as she wove together branches into a curved structure, which will eventually disappear into the woods.

When I visited, Flood was applying finishing touches of ferns and moss in the hopes that animals may build comfortable homes within her piece.

In addition to O’Neill and Gent, James Hayes was also woodcarving. He carved two blocky caryatid figures into short columns and they seemed to provide a portal into a glade.

The figures. male and female, represent a duality within nature, both benign and malign in its disinterest.

 The carvings are roughly chiselled and appear both ancient and contemporary.

The concern for the environment and importance of craftsmanship was obvious in the work of the five artists on the symposium. Both local artists and the general community are hoping that this wood symposium will become a regular event.