notes on creative ideas and personal studio practice

Studio Journal

The List

 

Already at year’s end, thoughts are turning to get-togethers, much-anticipated family time, gifting and reflecting. On reflecting – I’ve churned through a few books during the year and I want to share with you some of the ones that have stayed with me – and why. You never know: there might be a gift idea or two among them. Here’s the reading list and a few other thoughts.

 

THE LIST

All Our Shimmering Skies: Trent Dalton

I so loved this book. A wonderful, sometimes dream-like, story about the intersections between a complex bunch of individuals in World War 2 Darwin. The characters have enough unfolding mystery to be intriguing, with some really moving and unexpected acts of empathy. A few far-fetched bits, but don’t let those stand in the way of a good story.

Second Place: Rachel Cusk

Very internal, this one. An interesting if not actually gripping read (is it just me or is that woman neurotic?). Some very relatable observations of place and emotional attachments to it though.

The Midnight Library: Matt Haig

This book is just a glorious, wondrous, imaginative and profound contemplation of life. The first few pages left me thinking it would be a depressing read, but not for long! The magic picks up and just keeps going. I loved the whole thing, and the ending is fabulous too (no cliched happy endings here). It just might change your views on the whole why-we-humans-are-alive-at-all thing. You’ll feel uplifted after this.

Reasons for Staying Alive: Matt Haig

So good to realise you’re not as weird as you think. A raw, sometimes comical, self-effacing account of anxiety and depression that gave me real insight into, and some understanding of, the experiences of some of my own family members. Uplifting and positive.

The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini

I’ve wanted to read this book for years and finally did it. I’m so glad I did. I saw the movie and was gobsmacked by everything about it. The book is just heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. A gripping story about honour and integrity, and the profound will to rectify past wrongs and be a decent human being.

The Silence of the Girls: Pat Barker

I heard an interview with Pat Barker about this book and was so intrigued I had to get a copy. I never thought I’d be absorbed in the fictional history of the lives of women during the Trojan War but this is simply Not. Put. Downable. It made me think of The Handmaid’s Tale, and the amount of research Margaret Atwood must have buried herself in. Can’t wait to read the sequel The Women of Troy (which is waiting for me on the bedside table as I write). A gruelling tale of day-to-day life for women living through a history traditionally told by men.

Consumed: Aja Barber

This is an insightful treatise of how the legacies of colonialism and racism have fed into the exploitation of our planet, and the human beings who keep everything running. A justifiably angry assessment of the wilfully blind trashing of Earth for the sake of our manipulated first world wants (mostly clothing-wise). And privileged greed. A quick read with lots of resources in the back, it must be said, unfortunately, it is not well written. Frankly, I don’t even think it’s been edited. There is plenty of repetition and ranting and sloppy writing, but the message is loud and clear and worthwhile. We all need to THINK before purchasing. Can’t be that hard, can it?

How to be an Artist: Jerry Saltz

A pertinent collection of tough love tips for practicing artists. And some humour, of course. Essential reading for people like me.

Year of the Monkey: Patti Smith

As yet unfinished, but a wonderful insight into the mind of an artist who seems to have been around forever. Both rambling and liberating in its observations, feelings and situations – like a stream of consciousness tirade that feels like your own mind talking. A readable ramble of thoughts that’s somehow soothing.

The Year of Magical Thinking:  Joan Didion

Likewise, just started… but so far – what a book. A beautifully rendered portrait of grief and the other worldliness of loss, sudden or not. Very honest and relatable.

 

If you haven’t been tempted by any of the above, here are some other ideas off the top of my head.

 

BESIDES BOOKS

-Buy something unique from an artist – perhaps something no one else will ever have, and that can be treasured for many years to come. Online (start with mine for some ideas), in-person or from a gallery.

-Something useful, quirky, beautiful from an artisan market (and there’s no expensive, extended, unreliable delivery involved).

-Something useful, not designed for obsolescence, and most important of all – durable from somewhere like Buy Me Once. They have everything from homewares to clothes to luggage to electronics.

-For tricky types (teens/Gen Zs/anyone in need of some tough love) try GFDA’s site for inspired ideas.

-If clothes are on the agenda, scout around the Good on You website or their app for plenty of ethical alternatives to fast fashion that will only quickly becomes waste. Kowtow are also a good choice for organically produced fabrics and ethical production standards. Likewise, Bianca Spender if you’re more cashed up and looking for something really special.

-If ethical and super gorgeous homewares are required take a look at Stitch by Stitch. They stock exquisite artisan textiles and homeware products from India, the Himalayas and the UK. Also worth checking out: Sally Campbell’s beautiful textiles and the Selvedge online store.

-Gift yourself some warm and fuzzy feelings and send off some cash to a charity. They can sure use it.

-Time, AKA no gifts – just a relaxed, fabulous meal/day/holiday with loved ones. That’s special enough.

 

 

FOCUS SWITCHING

Blank hand-made paper and pencil, ready for ideas to be applied. Maybe some focus switching can help fill the page?

Drawing blanks?

 

How many times have you told yourself you’re:

  • Not artistic?
  • Not artistic enough?
  • Not the creative type?
  • Unable to draw anything?
  • No good at making things?
  • No good at coming up with ideas?

God, we’ve all done this to ourselves from time to time. All of us. Here’s where the link between focus switching and creativity is so important.

Look, that flat feeling when things aren’t going as well as we’d like – in any area really – can be given a good kick along when we change something so we look at the world a little differently. Sometimes a sideways push into another perspective is all we need to get going again.

When I feel stuck in the studio, or neck-deep in self-doubt, I can be a classic procrastinator. But if I play around with a new material, or bake a cake or go for a walk instead, thoughts usually turn to solutions – or at least ideas of where to go next. Doing something left-of-field is just what you need.

A beautiful bush walk can refocus your attention.

Self-explanatory

 

WHY FOCUS SWITCHING IS GOOD FOR CREATIVITY

It makes you NOTICE OTHER THINGS.

It helps you KNOW WHAT YOU REALLY THINK.

It allows you to ACCUMULATE VALUABLE MATERIAL FOR LATER USE.

I’m amazed at the amount of times I hear people say they’re not creative. When teaching a class I’ll often hear a grumble here and there from students about being ‘not very good’ or wishing they’d learned to draw earlier, etc. etc. But switching focus has so many benefits – and not just for the problem we might be facing at the time. Getting out of a rut or feeling blocked, or feeling that what you have is never going to be enough, can be turned around by little shifts in perspective over time.

I know that in my own practice, I love to latch onto the threads that continue from one batch of work to the next, the ideas that get generated, the possibilities that evolve. Sure, that thread will loop and knot and sometimes break altogether – but those events will always lead to another way, another attitude, or another opportunity. Curiosity is everything.

 

A FEW REMEDY SUGGESTIONS

If anything, uplifting our mental states is a damned good reason to try another way. Here are some tactics I’ve tried that have worked for me in the past:

  • Try out a new material
  • Read something I normally wouldn’t
  • Travel a different route to somewhere you go often
  • Use a recipe but substitute all the ingredients
  • Declutter the house
  • Go through my wardrobe and sort the wheat from the chaff
  • Get a journal and actually write in it – about anything (stream of consciousness stuff, what irritates you, what shapes the clouds are in today). I find a boring old exercise book -rather than a beautiful journal – to be helpfully un-inhibiting for this.
  • Get yourself a copy of Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. It has wonderful advice for thinking outside the norms.

And for God’s sake – stop comparing yourself to others. It’s an absolute creativity killer.

 

AND SOME GREAT IDEAS FROM OTHER PEOPLE (FAMOUS ONES)

Students (and everyone else) often forget to use what’s already inside them. But what they might feel they lack in one area will be amply available to them in another. It’s all in the seeing.

With the help of little perspective shifts you’re more likely to come back to the task feeling refreshed/relieved/lighter/happier/more focused/more curious/more open to possibility than before.

The author Ann Patchett illustrates the usefulness of accumulating random life experience over time, writing in her memoir The Getaway Car:

I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I’ve had, gets shoveled

onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots.

It’s from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know and

what you’ve forgotten, that ideas start to grow.

 

And in his blog article Validation is for Parking, Austin Kleon writes reassuringly about individual vision:

Nobody’s gonna give you permission.

Nobody’s gonna welcome you into the club.

Nobody’s gonna pat you on the back and say “well done.”

All you can do is keep making the work you want to see in the world.

 

Probably my favourite advice quote of all time, one that I keep coming back to, is Sol LeWitt’s counsel to Eva Hesse when she was going through a massive creative block in the early 1960s. This is an extract from a lengthy letter he wrote to her (you can read an article on the letter in The Marginalian here) that I think you’ll find useful:

Part of Sol LeWitt's famous encouragement letter to Eva Hesse when she was going through a creative block. He was an advocate for switching focus to get through blocks in creativity..

Page 1 of the letter. Image: themarginalian.com

 

Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just

DO

Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to

DO

Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working — then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to

DO

 

SO….

Sounds like sage advice to me.

It just might lead you to a different way of seeing things – and proliferation of manuscripts… paintings… [insert art form here].

 

Audrey Hepburn portrait by Lawrence Fried 1952
I blame it all on the likes of her (well, some of it)

SELF-DOUBT, GROWTH AND ART MAKING

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve blogged, and I (like many of you, I’m sure) admit to being prone to such writing lapses, but the mercurial nature of Covid-19 hasn’t really helped the situation. So, to counter the time lapse I thought I’d go back to my roots, so to speak, and talk about how I wound up where I am now: the whys and hows of becoming an artist. In actual fact, it’s about self-doubt, personal growth and making art.

As an often shy, timid and perhaps introverted child, Mum introduced me to the old movies she so loved. We were always watching glamour-era black and white films with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the Marx Brothers, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, et. al. Clothes, fabrics and their embellishments became a source of amazement. So, it made perfect sense that my creative career began by studying Dress Design at East Sydney Technical College. I remember travelling to take the course entrance test and feeling so nervously nauseous I thought I’d throw up. I was so excited to be given the chance to sit the test, but thankfully my stomach held and I was accepted, which led to a little over a decade working in the fashion industry as a designer.

 

Image of two clothing designs by the artist from the 1980s

A couple of pieces from the 80s. Photograph: Geoff Hirst

 

Disillusionment, however, set in. Suffering from the long hours and the fact most clothing production was occurring overseas, making local manufacturing uncompetitive, fashion became a grind. I felt I had two choices: do something in the business world, or study fine art.

I loved art and design, keeping my own timetable, not being told what to do, and basically doing my own thing.

So, art won. And then began a different kind of anguish!

 

Crawling

Learning classical drawing and painting at the Julian Ashton Art School was my starting point. It was traditional in every sense, and focused on the fundamentals of observation and hand-eye coordination, for which I’m very grateful. It has proved to be a solid foundation for me.

But all that tradition wasn’t enough to express what I was trying to say. Not that I actually knew what I was trying to say – I just knew I had something inside me to express, and that needed exploring.

I was completely thrilled and terrified to then be accepted into the Bachelor of Fine Art degree at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts. Of course, the inner voice of doom kept asking me: What if I’m a dud? What if I’m a disappointment? What if I have nothing to say? The inner voice of self-doubt again.

I thoroughly loved it. Painting was my major but I loved photography also. It was an eye-opening, life-affirming, all-consuming and wondrous experience that allowed me to develop both my painting and photographic work in ways I hadn’t foreseen.

 

Artwork - Image of the artist beside a painting of a landscape

1995 – I won a prize for this one! Getting ready for the grad show at the College of Fine Arts. Photographer: unknown

 

Life and other stuff

Two years after graduating, after only beginning my exhibiting career, I met my husband, fell in love, and suddenly had an amazing new life. Painting, trying to find my voice, became sporadic during the course of trying to have children. Despite several miscarriages, which led me to abandon work for a time due to fears of chemical-related causes, ultimately the birth of two beautiful, happy kids made it all worthwhile.

The all-consuming nature of raising two children (with ADHD), and motherhood in general for that matter, led to sporadic studio work that I found difficult to maintain. I remember having master’s degree information posted to me every year (this was before the online-everything revolution, obviously), opening it, and thinking ‘it’s all too hard’ before putting it away again.

I was also losing my confidence (no surprises there). Back in self-doubt mode, with a bit of personal growth thrown in by this time.

 

Images of the artist's children

Proud mum moment. Before and after… Photographs: Rhonda Pryor; Jon Johannsen

 

Walking

When the kids were in primary school one of my cousins died of cancer. She was a couple of years older than me, and was someone I looked up to, although we weren’t in contact very often (some people just have that effect on you). I thought she was a bit of a trailblazer: a beautiful woman and a brave soul who wasn’t afraid to tread her own path (although, like most of us, she probably was). I just couldn’t believe she’d die – at least not then, in that way.

That entire event ultimately pushed me into undertaking a master’s degree, which I commenced the following year. Her death really made me realise I was as ready as I’d ever be. I had to overcome my self-doubt and push myself to continue the search for what I was trying to express – despite my anxiety about criticism and judgment.

Two master’s degrees (from Sydney College of the Arts) later– I can tell you it was worth it. The push, finding out what you can do, going places you never thought you’d go – always is. And it never stops.

 

Artwork - Image of a detail of an art installation with backlighting

Graduation day; Detail of installation Frayed, 2012, from the graduating exhibition.
Photographs: Jon Johannsen; Marty Lochmann

 

The occasional run

Right now my world revolves around studio practice using a variety of media, artist residencies, teaching and exhibiting. I love it. Several trips to Japan, including a textile residency, have influenced my work and sensibilities immensely, and travel to many other parts of the world have been mind-opening experiences that accumulate over time and inform the work I make in subtle ways.

The self-doubt still rears its unwanted head on occasion, but I think I manage it much better now (often by just covering it up and getting on with it).

 

Example of recent art-making - Image of a landscape photograph on silk, assembled with a panel of used floor boards and draped indigo silk

2021 – Hot off the press…
Photograph: John McRae

 

What I’ve learned so far

So where is all this going?

In the desire to make my mark, find out who I am, gain something of an understanding of the world around me, and express my inner thoughts and sensibilities, here are the things I’ve twigged so far:

1.Accept and be guided by mistakes, let them sit and then revisit – or reject, work with them, extend them, allow them to lead you somewhere else entirely;

2.Trust your inner voice. There comes a time when everything you need is already inside you and you have to trust that;

3.Look elsewhere, including to your peers, but return to your Self. The instinct you build is your unique vision – your contribution to the world – however large or small that may be.

 

Just some self-acceptance really (but I would have preferred to get there quicker!).

 

Image of the Inland Sea in Japan. View from Naoshima Island looking out on the water.

View from Naoshima
Photograph: Rhonda Pryor

The 3-gen blanket

Mum used to knit like a madwoman. Everyone in the family had hand knitted jumpers that must have taken her forever to make. Just a normal part of life really. Then she stopped knitting, probably because we didn’t want hand knitted jumpers anymore, and started crocheting rugs. She crocheted so many she began making them expressly to donate to charities.

Eventually she stopped. Her arthritis slowed her down. She lost the motivation. About three years back she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

She was an introvert but loved to be included in social things. She’d never invite herself anywhere though, and was mostly content with her own company, but her lack of social contact and stimulation worried me. She needed more activities to occupy her mind and feel she was making a contribution.

While she was still living independently in her retirement unit I sourced some job lot wool (she’d only use 100% wool) in colours she liked and presented it to her with some new knitting needles. She said she’d forgotten how to knit.

Undeterred I started knitting with her and then for a while we’d have knitting sessions together. She hadn’t forgotten at all. That memory was still there.

I suggested she just knit whatever sizes she wanted, of squares and rectangles, and then I’d piece them together to make a blanket. She thought I was nuts but was happy to oblige for a while. I was just happy she was making again. I didn’t care what she knitted – I’d sort it all out later.

Then she stopped.

She had a few health emergencies that saw several bouts of hospital admissions followed by convalescent care. Things were going a bit south.

She never did take it up again. She had to move into an aged care facility and managed a bit of colouring in and the odd puzzle but really just began to fade away.

When she died in the latter half of last year, on cleaning out her room I found piles of knitted rectangles in bags. Much more than I’d thought she’d made. They were duly stashed in my studio to be dealt with sometime whenever.

 

 

Then lockdown hit. Perfect time to haul out the woolly shapes and block them. After laying the pieces out to get a feel for what might need to be filled in, my teenaged daughter wanted to be involved in what has become ‘the 3-gen blanket’ idea.

 

 

While I’ve no idea how big this blanket will eventually wind up to be (due mostly to amateurish knitting by mother and daughter) I’m pretty sure it will be sizeable. I’ve sourced more wool in harmonious colours to complete the piece.

While there’s still a way to go we’re hopeful we’re making an heirloom of sorts (rather than a Thneed). And of course we’ll always feel a bit closer to her when we’re working on and using it.

 

 

Time will tell.

 

 

Being calm, creative and productive during Covid-19 lockdown

Raindrops on railing close up

Photograph: Jon Johannsen

You don’t need me to reiterate the dangers we face as a community, as well as globally right now. But, what I can do is give you some suggestions for how to cope while you’re socially isolating home. Focusing on being calm, creative and productive during Covid-19 lockdown will go a long way to making the time pass as positively as possible.

So here we all are, cooped up at home, adjusting to our new realities. At least we’re all in it together, I hear you say, but the anxiety can still get to us. To keep that anxiety under control it often helps to focus on the small, ordinary things. Things that can give us a bit of respite from the upheavals swirling around us. So why not indulge in an experiment? Make calm your project for the next little while.

I’ve found the past few days pretty therapeutic because I’ve done some savage cupboard reorganising (kitchen, bathrooms, laundry). The chemist got two full shopping bags of outdated medicines, I threw out old junk and recycled loads of unwanted packaging. But if Marie Kondo-ing is an alien concept, you have a ship-shape household already, or if cancelling 2020 altogether isn’t an option for you, here are some suggestions:

 

Huge pile of old, colourful, hard cover books neatly stacked. Sources of consolation and diversion. Calming, creative activities during Covid-19 lockdown.

Image courtesy Ed Robertson

Curl up and chill out with some good, thought provoking reads

Consider scrolling through the offerings on The School of Life website.  On Confinement (The Book of Life / Chapter 3. Self-Knowledge: Behaviours) and The Importance of Staring Out the Window (The Book of Life / Chapter 5. Calm: Perspective) are perfectly appropriate for our time. Make use of this time to discover and appreciate the rewards of self-reflection.

Then there’s always that pile of unread books on your bedside table…

 

Two vintage style notebooks stacked with a wood grained pen on top.

Image courtesy The Vintage Note (thevintagenote.com)

Indulge in some introspection and reflective writing

You could put all that reading to good use by writing your thoughts and observations in a beautiful journal (aided by an equally beautiful pen). Have a look at the websites of LarryPOST or Milligram for some ideas. Everything will be delivered to your door. Milligram even have jigsaw puzzles designed by female artists to while away those pensive hours.

But if all that introspection is driving you crazy you might like to mix it up with some more active, tactile strategies.

 

Creative art materials: watercolour brushes and French hand made paper. Calming, creative activities during Covid-19 lockdown.

Image courtesy Parkers Art Supplies (parkersartsupplies.com)

Make some art and see where it leads…

Why not use your time to play with some new materials and discover a talent you didn’t know you had? Parkers Art Supplies stock an enormous array of premier, quality art materials. They even offer home delivery and a click-and-collect service. Enjoy browsing their website for inspiration.

 

Indigo dyed paper fibre

Image courtesy Habu Textiles (habutextiles.com)

Busy yourself with tactile textile activities

Knitting, weaving, basket-making and general textile bliss is at your fingertips when you browse the heavenly Habu Textiles website. This site is so dreamy-beautiful it is an inspiration in itself. Also consider the Australian site String Harvest for inspiring, beautiful fibre and tools.

And if textile isn’t your thing why not try:

 

Hand made soap stacked on a rustic ceramic dish. Calming, creative activities during Covid-19 lockdown.

Image courtesy Tribe Castlemaine (tribecastlemaine.com.au)

Making soap for pleasure and necessity

We’re going to go through a lot of it so why not make your own! Have a look at All Australian Candle Supplies and Kits. They have comprehensive resources and supplies for both soap and candle making. You can even get the kids involved if you can stand the mess.

Please check my website shortly for upcoming online art and textile workshop events you can participate in at home. All you’ll need is a computer and a few materials you might have on hand or can order online.

In the meantime please look after yourselves, your loved ones and the wider community by staying home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out. And please follow all government safety instructions until this crisis lifts. It will, and we’ll be the stronger for it.

Take care, stay occupied, and take this opportunity to enjoy some reflection time. Stay calm, stay creative and be productive during Covid-19 lockdown. And don’t forget…even the darkest cloud is lined with silver (somewhere).

 

Sun behind clouds. Calm skyscape image.

Entering the experiences of others

Imagine walking into a room where masses of cloth that appear to be stained with something like soot or even dirt are arranged over almost the entire floor. Huge paper panels hang from the walls, smeared with dull-coloured stains. Are these marks made by nature or the human hand? Are the surfaces weathered? Accidental? Angry? This was my response on entering the work of Carmen Argote, a Mexican artist living in the US, whose practice focuses strongly on her immediate environment, and her personal responses to it.

This exhibition, As Above, So Below, curated by Margot Norton at New York’s New Museum, is the result of two artist residencies the artist has undertaken in Guadalajara where she delved deeply into the rural and agricultural environments she encountered.

Responding to her surroundings through observation, bodily awareness, local architecture and agricultural activity, she has used materials from those environments directly in the works themselves. Organic substances like coffee, pine needles, avocado and cochineal are embedded into cloth and smudged onto paper through a process of dyeing, or applied to a support like paint. Reflecting an amalgamation of the corporeal and the spiritual in Argote’s practice, her exhibition’s title speaks to a belief in sacred geometry that sees Earth as a reflection of the heavens.

The scale of the installation seems to suck you in to taste the atmosphere she herself experienced. Argote’s work is a deeply felt response to her culture, new environments, and the political and economic relationship we all have with the land.

It was one of the memorable textile-based exhibitions I encountered on my recent trip to the US.

I loved the cluster of beautiful little textile collages I found by German artist Hannelore Baron at the Guggenheim‘s Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection exhibition. Small, thoughtful and quite pained, they are exquisite little assemblages of life experience.

Born in Dillingen, Germany, in 1926, Baron and her family fled to New York in 1941 to escape the escalating Nazi hold over Europe. Sadly the trauma inflicted on her led to mental breakdowns and claustrophobia as an adult and she lived out her troubled life in an insular and solitary way.

Her work embodies a deep sadness, interwoven with the fragile specialness of life and the uncertainties inherent in the human condition. It’s as though she has caught fragments of things while they were falling around her and cobbled them together in a way that both reveals and conceals her personal experiences and her inner turmoil of depression, claustrophobia and life-long breakdowns.

Beautiful little works in every way.

While in San Francisco it was a treat to accidentally stumble upon a beautiful, intimately scaled exhibition of lovingly mended central Asian storage bags at the de Young Museum. The Turkmen Storage Bag exhibition highlighted not only the different designs of cultural groups but the amazing mending evident on most of the pieces. I’m always drawn to mending for a variety of reasons so I was a sucker for this one. These pieces were lush and richly coloured. So important, so useful, and so laden with meaning, that the wear and tear, as well as the repair stitching, was simply and artfully magic.

Small and thoughtfully put together, this was another textile highlight of the trip.

I love the feeling of excitement that goes with chance discovery. Seeing how others respond to life experience is always an education in itself. What better way to do this than through engaging with art?

rhondapryor.com

Processing thoughts, thinking through processes

I’ve been doing some research in the studio. Mind-wandering. Taking time. Considering how things will move forward.

Although I mostly work with textiles and photography, I think my creative practice reflects my painting background in many ways. I find both these media useful and evocative tools to work with, that invite interpretation of memory, feeling and sense of place. 

Digital print on silk, silk thread

I love the process of creation. I love the sense of wonder at what might happen, in spite of the fact there are roadblocks along the way. You have an idea you want to explore and at times it just seems to go nowhere, until one little thing looks promising. Pursuing that one little thing can lead to another promising lead – or nothing worthwhile at all. That’s the territory. Still, curiosity tends to win out.

I’m inclined to spend lots of time tinkering, thinking and accumulating, before taking concrete action. Internal worlds have always occupied my interest.

Digital print on canvas, embroidery thread

These works are in-progress pieces that I hope illustrate a little of my present process. I’ve been looking at pinhole photography, printed onto cloth, in combination with stitching. Still investigating memory responses, the stitching is a nod to the human element in the images – not literal, but evocative of human presence.

Digital print on Belgian linen, embroidery thread

Over the next few months these pieces will evolve into a direction for an upcoming solo exhibition early next year. 

Check in occasionally to see how it all progresses…

All the best,

rhondapryor.com

rhondapryor10@gmail.com

Meditating on the simple (?) art of introversion

IMG_2274

Studio detail, 2019

Yes, apologies are in order for yet another late blog post (a significantly late one at that). I’m still guilty of letting life get in the way, and sometimes run off with itself entirely. Life, family, discouragement, health – so many roadblocks on the highway to creative outcomes.

I’ve been struggling lately to put into words what I’ve been experiencing and feeling, and how it’s affecting my work. A lot of self-reflection, drilling down, streamlining, has been happening. I can see new perspectives on the horizon, new methods of working, and more clarity in vision.

My own natural introversion has been overtaking. I’m in a hibernating, ruminating, self-examining, wintry kind of space. Long range studio experimentation is on the agenda. A desire for simplification, quiet, and depth of meaning is humming away in the background.

Fortunately for me the The School of Life blog landed in my inbox recently with a beautifully worded piece that perfectly explains my present mindset. The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’ examines, and indeed justifies, the need for withdrawal into the self in order to reflect and process experience so that productive progress can be achieved. I encourage you to read the entire thing (click on the link above and you’ll see what I mean in a couple of minutes).

Here is a passage worth noting:

“Our minds are in general a great deal readier to execute than to reflect. They can be rendered deeply uncomfortable by so-called large questions: What am I really trying to do? What do I actually enjoy and who am I trying to please? How would I feel if what I’m currently doing comes right? What will I regret in a decade’s time? By contrast, the easy bit can be the running around, the never pausing to ask why, the repeatedly ensuring that there isn’t a moment to have doubts or feel sad or searching. Business can mask a vicious form of laziness.”

And this:

“The point of ‘doing nothing’ is to clean up our inner lives. There is so much that happens to us every day, so many excitements, regrets, suggestions and emotions that we should – if we are living consciously – spend at least an hour a day processing events. Most of us manage – at best – a few minutes – and thereby let the marrow of life escape us. We do so not because we are forgetful or bad, but because our societies protect us from our responsibilities to ourselves through their cult of activity. We are granted every excuse not to undertake the truly difficult labour of leading more conscious, more searching and more intensely felt lives.”

(Owned by, and reproduced from, The Book of Life under Creative Commons License)

I’m tempted to recommend this as a useful passage for artists of any persuasion, but really it’s a permission note for human beings to recalibrate without feeling guilt at not producing tangible outcomes 24/7. How do you feel about this deep-thinking kind of readjustment in your own life? Do you allow yourself the time for this kind of examination?

Exhibitions that have left an impression me, and that have fed into this thinking include Chris Capper’s work at Sheffer Gallery (part of  Damien Minton’s 583 Elizabeth St Projects) in Sydney earlier this year, the Asia Pacific Triennial at QAGOMA in Brisbane, and Akira Isogawa’s show at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Being unfamiliar with Chris Capper’s paintings I was impressed by their charming simplicity. I say charming because at first glance they appear a little naive but on closer inspection they reveal texture and a layering of colour that is both subtle and somehow poignant in their softness. A beautiful combination of still life and abstraction, their buttery paint strokes and soft edges are just quietly, intimately dreamy.

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Chris Capper paintings, Sheffer Gallery, 2019

Mongolian artist Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s work at this year’s Asia Pacific Triennial struck me with its beauty and strength (and apparent simplicity) amidst a lot of detail in a beautifully put together collection of work from the Asia Pacific region. His embedding of memory into his work is achieved through incorporating animal dung, mushroom dust, ash, rust and various cloths – elements of the land and culture where he was raised. Locally dyed blue silk panels, known as khadag, representing benevolence (in this case inherited from his parents), cover a canvas in abstract, ethereal gradations of blue. Likewise, the adjacent piece reveals its own abstract shapes beneath the clouds of rust. Quiet, strong and beautiful.

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Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s large scale work, Benevolence, 2013, silk, cotton thread, rust and gel medium on canvas.

Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, Without Form, 2014, horse dung, mushroom dust, gel medium, cotton and wax on canvas, and Coming Season, 2015, horse dung, gel medium, cotton, wax and hessian sack on canvas

Shilpa Gupta’s mesmerising sound installation piece For, in Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, situated in a dark, cavernous space lit with a few light bulbs, poignantly reveals politically silenced readings from various activists, politicians and influencers through history – in multiple languages – from 100 suspended microphones. The written texts are impaled onto metal rods beneath the microphones. A compelling installation with intense human feeling and truth at its core.

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Shilpa Gupta’s For, in Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, 2017-18, 100 speakers, microphones, printed text, metal stands.

Indigenous artists Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy’s black baskets (bathi mul) are extraordinary. Using strands of pandanus leaf that has been steeped in a rare black (and secretly processed) dye, the baskets are woven in such a way that, on close inspection, the surfaces gradate between black and charcoal, matte and metallic. Beautiful simple shapes, beautiful surfaces, they are objects infused with cultural meaning and earthiness.

Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Mindirr, 2012, pandanus palm and natural dyes.

The Powerhouse Museum’s Akira Isogawa exhibition, while undeniably expressing exquisite embellishment, the underlying shapes are simple, pared back, and economical. His approach, while honoring the cultural significance of the kimono and Japanese cultural practice generally, utilises all of the fabric, either into the garment itself or in accessories. How’s that for virtuosic sustainability! And incredibly striking, inventive clothing that pays no heed to prevailing trends of commercial fashion.

These are works that have left an imprint on me in multiple ways that are augmenting my approach to my own practice.

Stay tuned.

All the best,

RP signature_tiny

rhondapryor.com

rhondapryor10@gmail.com

 

Best. Ever. Festive. Cheer.

Alas, my intention for regular blogging has been thwarted yet again this year, with distractions aplenty eating into my schedule and my concentration. While I endeavour to keep regular I hope you’ll forgive my sporadic bursts of activity. I suppose that’s the nature of the creative life (albeit one that needs more discipline with time).

As  2018 draws to a close I’d like to thank you for your support, encouragement and participation of/with my work this year.

2019 will bring some exciting things I’ll be telling you about in the new year but right now I’m sure you’re as keen as I am to wind down, breathe deeply and enjoy a bit of reflection time.

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I hope you spend the Christmas break doing something you love.

 

Recharge.

Enjoy yourself.

Be kind and curious.

Until 2019, cheers and very best wishes,

 

https://www.rhondapryor.com

Mid-show reminder: Stories We Tell Ourselves

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Hello again.

My exhibition Stories We Tell Ourselves is in the middle of its run at 541 Art Space (Level 1, 541 Kent Street, Sydney, www.541artspace.com.au). If you haven’t yet seen it, you’ll need to get a move on. It closes on Saturday September 22.

I’m running one more textile workshop on the final day. If you’re interested in coming along please contact the gallery: 541artspace_program@nanhaimedia.com (closing drinks are included!).

In the meantime here are some images from the opening night.



Much gratitude goes to Alison Clark, Team Leader Arts and Culture North Sydney Council, for her thoughtful and eloquent opening speech.

Below are a couple of images from the first workshop. Mounds of linen, textile scraps and yarn – a lovely way to spend a spring afternoon!


I hope you get to see the exhibition. I’d love to know what you think.

Warm wishes,

www.rhondapryor.com