notes on creative ideas and personal studio practice

Studio Journal

Ring Story: part 1

ring story preservation of beautiful meaningful things

For some time I’ve been making work that looks at memory and treasured objects. The preservation of beautiful, meaningful things isn’t necessarily a sentimental act – it can also be one of strengthening or consolidation.

These engagement, wedding and eternity rings belonged to my late mother and grandmother. The word ‘eternity’ in relation to these precious pieces resonates strongly with me. None of the rings fit me properly (I lost one for a couple of weeks because it slipped off), and I prefer not to have beautiful things hidden away unused or unseen.

ring story preservation of beautiful meaningful things

The main photograph, and the one below, are from a series I made about a decade ago using my grandmother’s jewellery. For these photographs I used her beautiful antique rose gold watch and her rings, as well as some of her embroidered table linens. I suppose it was a way of honouring her, but also an exploration of beauty for its own sake.

ring story preservation of beautiful meaningful things

Now, the rings are about to undergo the ultimate transformation, into another art form, in order to continue matrilineal meaning into another generation.

I’ve been working with an artisan jeweller to remodel these heirloom rings into two contemporary rings for myself and my daughter. The diamonds will be mixed so both rings represent the links between each of us.

I’m excited to see the final results of this project. Keep an eye out for Ring Story: part 2 in a couple of months, where I’ll share the, no doubt unique and striking, outcome.

Water Colours

Water Colours: a few thoughts on Calm

An oceanic mosaic of the Coral Sea in autumn.

Having just returned from a tranquil stretch of time resetting myself in a semi-secluded coastal haven, I’m back to the real world of dealing with the onslaught of the imminent federal election, the war in Europe, and the horrendous implications of climate change inaction – just like everyone else.  Not to mention trying to keep upbeat in the studio again.

While coastally languishing I was treated to the visual spectacle of a fine assortment of ocean colours and textures influenced by the, mostly uppity, weather. It was completely absorbing, and something I’m never bored with.

I think that when your senses are engaged in a calming way you can cope with anything.

If the election, world news, climate calamity, or anything else for that matter, has you reaching for the doona or the bottle, consider taking time out to rebalance yourself with some sensory tonics.

Tonic 1 – Sight

Observe the changing moods of the ocean. Photograph them. Paint them. Sketch them.

Stare at a calming piece of art (even if its in a book). My new screensaver is a photograph I took of a building in Naoshima in 2016 (see below) – and instantly soothes me both physically and mentally.

Water Colours: a few thoughts on Calm

An exhibition space on Naoshima Island.

Tonic 2 – Sound

Park yourself within hearing distance of the ocean. Sit and listen to it. Daydream and think.

Do the same with birdsong, the wind, some particularly moody music.

Tonic 3 – Space

Get yourself out into the open: the mountains, the ocean, a walk in nature, even a pleasing architectural space (a particularly beautiful library or church perhaps?). Or somewhere that’s just your own, personal space.

Daydream. Think of everything and nothing.

Tonic 4 – Time

Give yourself permission to take a designated amount of time for yourself, to do something important (or silly) that you want to do.

Tonic 5 – Touch

Touch, squeeze, hold, stroke something comforting for a few minutes. Walk barefoot on grass or sand. Cuddle an accommodating animal.

Tonic 6 – Smell

Sniff some salt air, natural bushland, a beguiling perfume.

 

Don’t look for meaning or answers. Just let your mind wander/wonder/imagine for a bit. Sense everything.

Then see what happens when you go back to what you were doing.

Decency, Common Sense, Fairness, Vision

One of my most favourite Australian painters, Clarice Beckett. Just being herself: real.
Passing Trams, c. 1931, oil on board

 

Words – and stories – have always influenced me as a visual artist. Words are but one of the things that produce images in the mind along with odours, colours and sounds. Images, shapes, ideas start to float around, generating vortexes of possibility. Having attended Adelaide’s Writers’ Week last month, and having reflected further on the topics discussed, it’s clear the strongest themes floating around the ether were Common Decency, Common Sense, Fairness, and Vision.

You might think these topics are rarely discussed with authenticity in the public sphere, and I certainly can’t blame you. Because they aren’t. Political party agendas; fossil fuel, mining and gambling lobbying; to name but a few culprits, have entrenched slippery weasel-word ‘explanations’ for diabolically irresponsible actions (and inactions).

And I think we’ve had enough.

It was so refreshing to hear impassioned, clear, reasoned discussion about the nonsense we’ve accepted from our leaders. And doable steps that, should we choose to take them, will change things for the better. It never seems to be a case of “Great idea – how can we make it happen?”, but “We’re already doing our fair share” or “We’ve already spent blah dollars on this” or “I reject that assumption”, and on and on ad nauseum.

So, if words work for you – and I’m assuming they do as you’re reading this now – following is a rundown of the some of the discussions (and related books) that resonated with me.

 

Words from the Wise

A discussion with Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty and Barry Jones about the role of science in informing responsible policy to appropriately address the challenges of the future.

Books:            What is to be Done?, Barry Jones

                        An Insider’s Plague Year, Peter Doherty

 

The Big Switch

Saul Griffith on electrifying (cleanly) everything that needs powering up. With a detailed plan on how to do it. A brilliant, logical and practical discussion.

Book:             The Big Switch, Saul Griffith

 

Holding the Hose

Interviewed by journalist Kerry O’Brien, Richard Flanagan gave brilliantly gentle, thoughtful and authentic insights into his views on inequality, freedom and the dangers of conformity. And was given a well-deserved standing ovation in return.

Books:            Toxic, Richard Flanagan

                        The Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-Freedom, (essay), Richard Flanagan

 

Australia’s War on Whistleblowers

Lawyers Bernard Collaery, David McBride and lawyer for Julian Assange Jennifer Robinson discussing justice, transparency, and decency. The punitive punishments doled out to those who buck the system, and thereby embarrass the powerful, is not only disgraceful but applied opaquely and ruthlessly. Insightful and passionate.

Book:             Oil Under Troubled Water: Australia’s Timor Sea Intrigue, Bernard Collaery

 

Bad Energy

Ian Lowe and Jeremy Moss, in conversation with Natasha Mitchell, explaining the moral questions underlying energy policy, how nuclear energy is not the answer, and highlighting the moral harm done by industrial energy production. Clear, informative and persuasive.

Books:            Carbon Justice, Jeremy Moss

                        Long Half-Life, Ian Lowe

 

Good International Citizenship: the Case for Decency

Gareth Evans (former foreign minister) talking with Kerry O’Brien about the imperative for good international citizenship, generosity of foreign aid, responses to human rights violations and a call for decency in the way we engage with the world. A fabulous discussion.

Book:             Good International Citizenship: The Case for Decency, (essay), Gareth Evans

 

Policy Drift

John Daley (CEO of the Grattan Institute) and Martin Parkinson (served in policy development under six prime ministers) in conversation with Paul Barclay about the need for courage, vision and commitment from our nation’s leaders.

Book:             A Decade of Drift, Martin Parkinson

 

Full Circle: a Search for the World that Comes Next

Scott Ludlam putting the case for a new form of ecological politics in order to handle the challenges all global citizens face.

Book:             Full Circle, Scott Ludlam

 

Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America

Journalist Alec MacGillis outlined his fascinating investigation of the labour practices of Amazon in the US, and how these practices have eroded communities, some cities, and American life generally. All for the sake of consumer convenience. If you thought the film Nomadland was eye opening…

Book:             Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, Alec MacGillis

 

Grift, Lies and Influence

Fiona McLeod (Chair of the Accountability Round Table) and Michael West discuss the lack of accountability in public life, and the ways in which community interests have been undermined by some corporations and leaders.

Book:             Easy Lies and Influence, Fiona McLeod

 

The Reckoning

Journalist and author Jess Hill and Grace Tame (former Australian of the Year) in conversation with Jo Dyer (Director of Adelaide Writers’ Week).

Book:             Quarterly Essay #84: The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing Australia, Jess Hill

                       Look what you Made Me Do, Jess Hill

 

And I can’t but end with something a bit lighter, but something that equally touched on all those values mentioned at the start of this piece:

Love Stories

Trent Dalton gave the most delightful spiel on how he came to write his latest book. The whole story of how he came to be in possession of The Blue Olivetti Typewriter is, in itself, worth buying the book for. A heart-warming, uplifting testament to what really makes the world go around. And don’t we all need that now?

Book:             Love Stories, Trent Dalton

 

And something to leave you with:

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.
― George Bernard Shaw

So true George, so true.

 

Simple, honest, unpretentious observation: William Scott, Frying Pan and Eggs, 1949, oil on canvas

Thoughts on Aesthetics and Influences

Rosalie Gascoigne, painted plywood work in Found and Gathered, National Gallery of Victoria.

 

Aesthetic values and influences continually occupy my thoughts. My recent viewing of Rosalie Gascoigne’s exhibition (Found and Gathered, with Lorraine Connelly Northey) at Melbourne’s NGV, and comments by a couple of friends that they saw elements of her impact in some of my own work, have prompted the idea to write a little about some of the influences that have run through my practice over the past decade or more.

I’ve always admired Rosalie Gascoigne’s decisive simplicity, her use of old, weathered, found materials, and the graphic nature of her work (afforded by that very simplicity). With her background in Ikebana artistry it’s not surprising her eye was sharp while sensitive to the progressions of nature and time. Her aesthetic embraces that of Japanese wabi sabi but with a convincingly Australian edge.

Abstract shapes evoke imaginative associations, memories. They let the mind wander, offer permission to freely interpret meaning.

On that line of thought, other Japanese influences on my practice include Hiroshi Sugimoto and Ishiuchi Miyako. There is a stillness and poignancy to their work that stands powerfully and compellingly amid the fractious attention-diverting reality of contemporary life.

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1993

 

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Pine Trees, 2001.

Sugimoto’s ocean and pine tree series’ (that I was lucky enough to see in person on a visit to Naoshima in 2016) are beautifully realised ruminations on time, endurance and connection between generations. Their simplicity allows for a quietness, permits something else to speak, be known, understood. His underlying understandings of time are a continual stimulus for me, and something I constantly strive to interpret in my own way through my practice.

 

Ishiuchi Miyako, Mother’s #49

 

Ishiuchi Miyako, Hiroshima #9 (Ogawa Ritsu), 2007.

Miyako’s photographs of her late mother’s clothing, and those of Hiroshima bombing victims, are intimate tributes to lives that might otherwise be regarded as just another elapsed life, or perhaps a nameless statistic.  Carefully arranged old things that show evidence of use – whether wrinkling, patina, fading, cracking – indicate value, care for something, and meaning generated by that care. Her work honours the value of objects that could be considered merely mundane or utilitarian, and for this reason has had a profound impact on my thinking.

 

Minnie Stewart, 1920s.

To make meaning out of something is a natural human impulse and, no less, a valuable and worthy pursuit. This brings me to another example of endurance, value and frank ingenuity. I first saw this photograph of a quilt made with woollen serge tailor’s samples in Jennifer Isaacs 1987 book The Gentle Arts. I was captivated. So much care had been taken to design and construct this functional piece of art (in this case by Minnie Stewart from NSW in the 1920s). Pieces such as these were often filled with flattened, worn woollen clothing: a sort of Japanese boro, Australian style. No doubt this quilt has been treasured for generations.

 

Hand woven bed cover by Fiona Pryor, early 1980s.

 

Bed cover, detail.

Pictured above is one of my own heirlooms, made by my late mother, when she was going through her weaving phase. She had a small loom and used it to weave panels in differing patterns, joining them together to make a bedcover for me. It must be almost forty years old now, and still a beautiful thing, used every spring/summer/autumn, and is the perfect weight for our climate. While it has been repaired multiple times, mucked up by a dry cleaner who refused to compensate for the damage, soaked, and been in constant use since it was made, it is full of its own stories and is something I’d never part with.

 

Life in itself has no meaning. Life is an opportunity to create meaning.

                                        Osho, Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within

Hope N’ Roses

red and cream roses

Source: https://www.thetutuguru.com.au

Does anyone else feel like this? Caught between an optimism for a new year, a newish start after two Covid-riddled years and generally being just plain tired of negativity, and a realisation the 21st century is shaping up to be one of enormous upheaval in world affairs and possibly in the way we live as a culture (let alone as a species)? It seems to be getting harder to maintain a timely knowledge of world affairs while not losing a sense of hope for the future.

At least I know Rebecca Solnit has grasped this. The American writer and researcher, with a seemingly unending curiosity about everything, recently published a book titled Orwell’s Roses. It only came to my attention last week after reading an article on Radio National: How George Orwell’s love of roses can help you lead a happier life.

My groaning bedside table

I’ll leave it to you to read up on the details, and I haven’t read the book myself yet (I mean, just look at what’s waiting on my bedside table at any one time), but essentially it talks about how Orwell balanced the gravity of his work with the ostensibly incongruous practice of gardening: vegetables and roses (while also investigating the similar acts of others).

Her theory maintains that far from being a dour, pessimistic individual, Orwell’s enjoyment of rose husbandry actually got him through the ghastliness of his subject matter. He used it as a way of steadying himself, refilling his cup if you will, so he could complete the work he believed in.

In a quote from the interview Rebecca Solnit is Not Giving Up Hope in The Nation, Solnit points out:

I learned a lot from writing the book. I didn’t understand—few of us do—what “bread and roses” really means, and that has been such a wonderful piece of equipment for my thinking and arguing.

We all know what “bread” is: food, clothing, shelter, the bodily necessities, which can be more or less homogenized and administered from above. But “roses” was this radical cry, in a way, for individualism, for private life, for freedom of choice—because my roses and your roses won’t be the same roses, you know? It’s saying that people are subtle, complex, subjective creatures who need culture, need nature, need beauty, need leisure.

This is not something the left has always been good at defending or even recognizing. We’re also in a really difficult time, and it’s not going to stop being difficult for the foreseeable future, with the climate chaos and the new authoritarianism, etc. We all have a lot of work to do.

The bit that really stands out for me from this passage is:

…“roses” was this radical cry, in a way, for individualism, for private life, for freedom of choice—because my roses and your roses won’t be the same roses, you know? It’s saying that people are subtle, complex, subjective creatures who need culture, need nature, need beauty, need leisure.

This just screams to me that art has more relevance in our lives than ever. To escape into. To hide in. To think about. To question. To unravel. To obtain perspective. To marvel at. To lose ourselves.

While I can’t claim to be much of a gardener I do love being in the bush and in beautiful, wild gardens. Finding respite in an absorbing book, a peaceful walk, filling my head with the works of an amazing artist, getting sucked into my own work, special times with loved ones, cooking something new, exploring new ideas – these are things that keep hope alive, make life worth living.

Just as Orwell maintained hope, worldly things to brighten us up when we need them are there for the finding. We are creative, intelligent, adaptable beings. And these imaginative, beautiful, inquisitive acts are our forms of resistance. Indeed, smelling the roses has never been more essential.

Dying rose

This beautifully melancholic image of a dead rose was taken by the late Lawrence Carroll, an exquisite painter and feeler of everything. Source: https://galerie-karsten-greve.com

 

Quotes for a New Year

While everyone’s on a well-earned break I thought I’d drop a little food for thought into your inbox. Some thoughtful, pertinent, insightful quotes to ponder over the summer.

See if you agree…

 

Stella Adler: thoughtful pertinent insightful quotes on art and creativity

Stella Adler, photographer unknown, c. 1937

 

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

                                             Stella Adler

 

 

William S. Burroughs: : thoughtful pertinent insightful quotes on art and creativity

William S Burroughs, Evening Standard/Getty Images

 

You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and I knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I’m creating an imaginary — it’s always imaginary — world in which I would like to live.

 (Interview, The Paris Review)
William S. Burroughs

 

 

George Bernard Shaw: thoughtful pertinent insightful quotes on art and creativity

George Bernard Shaw, Yousuf Karsh, 1943

 

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.

                                                   George Bernard Shaw

 

 

Aristotle: thoughtful pertinent insightful quotes on art and creativity

Aristotle, Getty Images

 

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

                            Aristotle

 

rhondapryor.com

 

 

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.