Work in progress

I am settling in for some long stitching sessions over the coming months. In September this year I will be having a solo exhibition at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in Manuka.

The show is inspired by ideas that were developed and photographs that were taken during my Asialink Arts Residency at Youkobo Art Space in Tokyo in 2016.

Today I have a bit of a teaser for you from the piece I am currently working on. I am focussed on framing those in-between moments of our daily life.

After Japan 

I didn’t realise how coming back home from my art residency only a few weeks before Christmas would impact on my work flow. At the time there was a real lag in my energy levels, not surprising given that day to day life and concerns were back in my face again. 

With the new year comes the need to get moving on making new work. I aim to pick up some of those ideas that came, as always, in the final days of my residency. In particular I am working on having a more direct interaction between the photographs I have taken, or have found in old books and my stitching. 

Stitch experiments on old photographs

This process has been assisted by another activity I am currently participating in, the 365 day handstitch challenge (on Facebook and Instagram), where participants undertake to stitch one thread every day of 2017. I’ve chosen to work with fabric and thread that I took to Japan,  but didn’t use. To make sure that my work stays loose I’m working with a favourite technique ‘stitching with my eyes closed‘. As you can see the challenge is having an impact on my other work.

Drawing the exhibition – Venetian Renaissance Paintings 

OK I haven’t tallied up just how many exhibitions I saw in my two months in Tokyo, but it was quite a lot. I did try and sketch, where possible, various bits and pieces of works that caught my attention.  

The first exhibition I saw was of Venetian Renaissance paintings from the Gallerie Dell’Accademia in Venice. If nothing else visiting this exhibition made me realise that there is much to learn from any period, and it can be relevant to a contemporary art practice. I suppose the most important thing is to have an open mind. 

The first thing that struck me was realising just how I often make ‘realism’ the compositional basis of my work. In the early rooms I encountered Bellini’s Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Red Cherubs) a piece of Surrealism if ever there was one! What was this man doing? Chanelling more of the medieval approach to compositio than I anticipated, yet painting with a Renaissance appreciation for portraying realistic people and a depth of field.

Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Red Cherubs), 1485-90, oil on panel

Want to get more of the story into your picture, but don’t have enough space on the canvas? Easy stick God and the Holy Spirit framed in a window. Well that what Giovanni Savoldo did with his Annunciation. 

Giovanni Savoldo, Annunciation, c. 1538, oil on canvas

Detail of Savoldo’s Annunciation, c.1538. Pencil sketch in the gallery, with watercolour added later.

This approach might seem a bit old-fashioned, then what did I see today, at The National  Portrait  Gallery (Canberra), but William Robinson’s double self portrait, Town and Country, 1990, where he uses the just the same device to portray different aspects of his life.

In contrast to the dramatic gestures of many works, intended to evoke and reflect religious devotion, one of the strongest works I saw was a painting based on the simplest formats. Attributed to  Francesco Bissolo, The Redeemer’s Head, 1500-10, is a symetrical, frontal portrait painted in an very limited palette.

The Redeemer’s Head, 1500-10, attributed to Francesco Bissolo, original tempera on panel. My version pencil with added watercolour.

The highlight of the exhibition was Titian’s Annunciation, from the Church of San Salvador,  1563-65. The large 4 metre plus high oil on canvas was full of interesting details, sure to keep the easily distracted occupied during mass. I sketched two details, firstly the key subject the painting, the angel visiting the Virgin Mary (who has coyly raised her veil to hide herself).

Detail, The Annunciation, 1563-65, Titian, original oil on canvas. My sketch a ‘blind’ drawing in pencil trying to capture the dramatic posture of the angel’s wing.

But I  couldn’t resist the  cherubs skittering around in the upper portion of the painting. 

Detail, The Annunciation, Titian, 1563-65, cherubs. My sketch pencil

Imay have seen just one too many Virgin and Child’s in this exhibition, but I did learn a thing or two.


There has been a distinct absence of posts lately as I have been caught up in all sorts of artistic goings on.

Just after my last post we headed off to Setouchi, or the Japanese Inland Sea, to experience some of the Setouchi Triennial.  A truly amazing collection of art installations, performances and exhibitions held across the small islands and nearby port cities of central Japan.​

Sea Vine, Haruki Takehashi, porcelain vines suspended by fine threads, installation on Ogijima

Like the local fishermen we set out from the port of Takamatsu each day to catch the art.

Straw baboons made by the Straw Art Team of Musashino University

The Triennial is an amazing experience, due in no small part to the army of staff who manage the sites across the islands. I would highly recommend this experience to any art lover. Apart from which we saw beautiful scenery every day. 

Sunset over Ozuchi island, with the Great Seto Bridge in the background

We dragged ourselves away after four and a half days, but decided to stop in Kyoto on the way back, in order to visit the nearby Miho Museum. ​The Miho is a private museum that presents it’s own collection of ancient artefacts as well as special exhibitions.

The entrance to the Miho Museum. The museum was designed by I M Pei

At the Miho we saw an awesome display of the wealth of the Mughal emperors and various Indian royal families since that time. These now form part of The Al Thani collection


Also on display were the  Miho’s own collection of ceramics  by Ogata Kenzan, beauties of an entirely different order. 

Side dishes with Tatsuta River design, from the Miho collection

After a very relaxing week away it was time to get back to the studio and turning some my ideas into reality. 

The dreaded lurgy

There are rhythms to all residences, but what I wasn’t expecting was to get laid low by food poisoning! It’s certainly put a damper on the past couple of days. Just when I thought I was improving my body decided otherwise. It has been difficult to accept that I can’t do the things I want to, however as we are travelling to see some of the Setouchi Triennial so getting better is the priority. 

Work has been moving along steadily with new ideas developing as I stitch away. In the lead up to the open studio I have also been working on a catalogue to accompany my pieces of work.

Work in progress, sitich on photographic prints

We have also been out with the Tokyo Sketchers again. It’s great to catch up with them although our plan to sketch the Harajuku Station turned out to be somewhat of a challenge.  There was nowhere to sit and sketch so after our scheduled hour of drawing everyone’s feet were really aching. Luckily we retreated to a nearby cafe where we continued to draw, with the added bonus of good coffee to go with it.

Harajuku Station tower against a backdrop of apartments

I also managed to tick off one of my ‘must dos’ for this trip – a visit to the art store (that seems a pale description), called Pigment. It is located in a rather barren commercial part of the city, well away from the glitzy parts of the city which would seem to be the obvious place for it to be located.

The exterior of Pigment, a hint of the style of this amazing store

Inside are so many pigments, a whole wall of them, not to mention the odd brush of several hundred! 

Would you like another brush to go with that one?

Not only are the displays works of art in themselves, but so are the individual tools. 

Exquisite agate topped tools for burnishing gold and other metal leaf

It will surprise no one that I left this store with a significantly lowered bank account. 

PS We have made it to the Setouchi Triennial. There is an overwhelming amount to see and do but we will try.