Drawing the exhibition: Porosity Kabari

Porosity Kabari (Nishi Gallery, New Acton, Canberra) is a collaboration between Trent Jansen, Richard Goodwin and Ishan Khosla. The trio “investigates the cycle of use, re-use (and further re-use) – and how we can, simply, use one thing to make another thing.” Using only materials and skills sourced from the ‘Chor Bazaar’ (Thieves Market) and the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, the outcome is a series of objects that fascinated me with their detail and juxtapositions, and showed an enjoyable lack of concern for ‘perfect’ functionality.

My first sketch was of Trent Jansen’s ‘Dropping a Kumbhar Wala Matka Vessel’, 2016. This work is composed of three photographs of the potter Abbas Galwani dropping ones of his pots on the ground, along with a number dropped pots that have subsequently been fired with all their distortions and cracks. Jansen’s work is a riff on Ai Wei Wei’s 1995 work ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’. (Ai Wei Wei’s work gives me the same squirmy sensation as fingernails scraping on a blackboard). But Jansen is drawing a different observation on ‘value’. These pots are in widespread use but their makers gets little respect for their skills and only minimal financial returns for their labour.


Dropped Jugs, from Dropping a Kumbhar Wala Matka Vessel’, 2016. by Trent Jansen. My sketch, pen and ink, coloured pencil and watercolour

The second sketch is of one of Ishan Khosla’s ‘Constructed-Deconstructed-Constructed’ series, 2016. These works are made from scavenged wood and odd bits of old furniture. Either a stool or a table, take your pick, these pieces have their own aesthetic which Khosla calls “do first think later”‘


‘Constructed-Deconstructed-Constructed’ , 2016, by Ishan Khosla. My sketch pen and ink

Two sketches was as much as I could manage while standing up to draw, (no stools were available). So I will finish off with photos of two pieces that I really responded to by Richard Goodwin.Twin Charpai Exoskeleton for Mumbai, 2016, Richard Goodwin

This final piece really spoke to my own explorations of stitch, and I always enjoy a good wrapped object!

Klein Chair, 2016, Richard Goodwin

The exhibition finishes on 9 July, at the Nishi Gallery, New Acton, Canberra.


Drawing the exhibition -Robert Hannaford 

On a visit to  Adelaide a week ago we saw the retrospective of the work of Robert Hannaford, a South Australian portraitist, at the Art Gallery of South Australia. It was fascinating to see what 50 years of work looked like, particularly the many self portraits Hannaford has made over that time. I also enjoyed seeing that he made the type of quick sketches in coffee shops and bars that many of us make, which are worthwhile in themselves.  

What did surprise me were two sculptures that were included in the show. His understanding of the figure in space I found to be even more compelling than his painted portraits. As I was with other people opportunities for sketching were limited.  I  sketched two versions of his bronze sculpture ‘Handstand’.

Rather wonky, but I couldn’t resist the dramatic shadow being cast by the left leg over the torso of the sculpture

You can find more of his work at his website

Drawing the Exhibition – Encounters at the National Museum of Australia

I made my second visit to the Encounters exhibition this weekend past (click here for my previous post). Post knee surgery I was able to take advantage of the Museum’s free electric scooters to get around, rather than relying on my crutches for the duration. This also meant that I had a seat wherever I needed one to draw the various artefacts on display.

The day before I went to the Museum I heard a panel discussion about the exhibition on Radio National (click the link to hear the podcast). Towards the end of the discussion Richard West (Founding Director and Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indian and President and CEO of the Autry National Centre of the American West) discussed his interest in Cheyenne shields. The nub of his observation was that these shields – and probably those of other first nations people – were both intensely personal objects but also representative of their community. This reminded me of a shield in the exhibition that had a hand stenciled on the reverse side. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that this is almost certainly the hand print of the owner/maker. You can read more about this shield here.

Reverse of a shield with hand stencil, probably from the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales. Exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition, London. My sketch graphite and white chalk

Reverse of a shield with hand stencil, probably from the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales. Exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition, London. My sketch graphite and white chalk

I got quite waylaid by some other shields on show, stopping to draw two more. This one is a most elegant design. A slender 16 cms in width and just under a metre long, it is decorated with a series of carved grooves. The grooves change from the vertical to the diagonal, around the middle of the shield and then revert back to the vertical on the bottom section of the shield. As you might be able to make out from my scrawled notes I couldn’t decide whether the optical effect of the face of this shield was enhanced by the use of one or two coloured ochres or not. When I checked the notes it says that pigment was used but doesn’t go into further detail.

A shield collected from the hinterland near Derby in Western Australia, in late 1884. My sketch graphite on grey tone paper and coloured pencil

A shield collected from the hinterland near Derby in Western Australia, in late 1884. My sketch graphite on grey tone paper and coloured pencil

The other carved shield that caught my attention was covered in bands of diagonal grooves, which really made a dazzling optical effect. In my sketch I used  white chalk and graphite to highlight the way the light reflected off the carved grooves, but as far as I could tell there was no pigment on the face of this shield. The light reflections reminded me of the ‘dazzle’ camouflage patterns that were used to distract and obscure ships in WWI.

Wooden shield with pattern of grooves, collected from South eastern Australia (which covers quite a bit of land!) and acquired by the British Museum in 1921. My sketch graphite and white chalk on grey-toned paper

Wooden shield with pattern of grooves, collected from South eastern Australia (which covers quite a bit of land!) and acquired by the British Museum in 1921. My sketch graphite and white chalk on grey-toned paper

My final sketch of the morning was quite different. It is a marriage ornament owned by a woman which was collected from Mer (Murray Island, in the Torres Strait) by Alfred Cort Haddon in 1888-89. On a series of hand-spun string a series of objects including shells and a variety of other ornaments have been strung. It wasn’t explained whether these were purely ornamental or whether some had a practical purpose. In his catalogue of Haddon’s collections, David Moore (1984:72) noted that the pendants ‘Would have formed part of marriage ornaments worn by bride’. Haddon noted that the number and variety of the pendants was dependent on the wealth of the bride’s parents. ‘They were worn for one or two months before the wedding feast. The older married women also wore many of these objects on special occasions, but never during widowhood’.

Women's marriage ornaments, Mer, late 1880's. My sketch graphite, white chalk and coloured pencil on grey-toned paper

Women’s marriage ornaments, Mer, late 1880’s. My sketch graphite, white chalk and coloured pencil on grey-toned paper

I think that such an item has a similar symbolic function to the chatelaines, worn by wealthy European women.



Drawing the exhibition – Encounters

This past weekend I visited the National Museum of Australia to see the exhibition Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum. The exhibition also provides links to contemporary Aboriginal people and communities via a series of videos that give the visitor an insight into their view of these items. But is an exhibition that is based on a paradox. That is that many of the objects on display were taken (read stolen), without permission from individuals or communities. Yet these objects would almost certainly have not survived this long, due to the perishable nature of their construction, had they not been taken. In several of the videos I watched, people commented on how they had gained both practical knowledge and cultural strength from interacting with these objects.

Two spears, taken by Captain James Cook and his men on their first encounter with Dharawal/Eora people in Botany Bay in 1770, form the literal centre of the display. The rest of the exhibition turns around this focal point in Australian history. As a ‘maker’ I love looking at the details of these spears, the long flexible prongs still bound tightly to the hafts of the spears. At the same time I was horrified to know that these examples, out of some 40 spears collected at the same time,  were taken after the local people, who tried to stop Cook’s attempts to come ashore, had been shot at and driven away by the landing party. Sir Joseph Banks wrote in his diary:

“[We] threw into the house to them some beads, ribbands, cloths & c. as presents and went away. We however thought it no improper measure to take away with us all the lances which we could find around the houses.”

Gweagal spears

Gweagal fish spears collected by James Cook at Botany Bay (foreground), with contemporary fish spears (background)

Before I tie myself into a total knot about my feelings about how many objects in this exhibition were ‘collected’ I’d better show you some of the items I drew.

First up is a stone kodj, or axe from King George Sound, Albany in Western Australia, collected by Alexander Collie sometime between 1831-33. This kodj was one of the tools used for butchering animals.

Kodj, (axe), stone, resin and wood British Museum Oc. 4768

Kodj, (axe), stone, resin and wood British Museum Oc. 4768

Two large stone flakes have been hafted onto a wooden handle with resin (not sure what type, but possibly from a grass tree). The sharpened end was also used in the butchering process. The strange yellowish shapes I noticed on the handle turned out to be collection labels.

A more complex construction was that of a necklace made of swamp wallaby teeth, which was collected some ten years later on the eastern side of the continent. The root of each tooth was bound by fine string to a leather strap. The teeth are in excellent condition and appear quite white, with almost a blue or violet tint, hence the water colours I added when I got home.


Necklace of Swamp Wallaby teeth, Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong peoples. Collected by Augustus Strong, probably from St Mary’s, Warnambool in 1842-43. British Museum Oc. 1847, 0413.1

I also made two drawings of a Dangal, or dugong charm used for bringing good luck while on the hunt (well not to the dugong anyway).


Dangal (dugong) charm, collected by Alfred Court Haddon on Tudo in 1888

When I looked closely at this charm I could see what appears to be red ochre on it’s muzzle and also in a stripe along its back. The handle made of twine goes around the head and tail and a fine piece of twine is also threaded through the body of the animal via a small drilled out tube. This is such a refined a piece of work.


Per usual there’s so much more I wanted to draw, but there was more in store. Out the exit and into the next room is a second exhibition called Unsettled. This room showcases five contemporary Aboriginal artist’s response to the Encounters exhibition. I thought that this was one of the best small group shows I’ve seen in quite some time.

The work of Jonathan Jones is featured in a window that opens out into the main foyer. His work, Unitled (fort), reflects on a wooden fort built by surveyor and explorer Major Thomas Mitchell and his party of 21 men on 27 May 1835 . The stockade was built to protect against possible attacks by the local Kurnu Paakantji people. Fort Bourke was never attacked and no longer exists but Jones believes it remains a marker of still unresolved frontier relationships.


Jonathon Jones

Untitled (fort), Jonathan Jones , 2015, wood

I was also really impressed by the video work of Torres Strait Islander dancer/artist Elma Kris and the contemporary take on traditional burial poles by Yolŋu artist Wukun Wanambi.

I would highly recommend both exhibitions. On at the National Museum of Australia, until 28 March 2016. Entry to both exhibitions is free.

My Pretty Little Art Career

This is a ‘drawing the exhibition’ post but between my title and that of Grayson Perry’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney I thought you might lose interest before you even started.

We went to see My Pretty Little Art Career on the day it opened. This is the largest retrospective of Perry’s work which has been seen to date and it doesn’t disappoint. If Perry is unfamiliar to you then it’s probably easier to let him introduce himself. anybody can enjoy art and anybody can have a life in the arts – even me! For even I, an Essex transvestite potter, have been let in by the artworld mafia.”

Perry has a broad career spanning his initial work making ceramics and sculptural works up to his recent appearances on television where he has produced machine-woven ‘tapestries’ based on the English class system, and a series on the contemporary portrait. If you are a fan of the shows then the pieces you see on the TV are all here, as well as more recent works.

Map of truths

detail, Map of Truths and Beliefs, 2011, tapestry, 290 x 690 cm

What I really wanted to see are the pots that Perry makes. Subversive and sometimes shocking in their explicit language and images, they transcend the stereotype of a ‘decorative’ pottery and are a deliciously pointed response to people who look askance at the ‘minor’ arts. (Apologies for all the quotes, but this is a man / transvestite who likes to demolish art world stereotypes).

Precious Boys

detail, Precious Boys, glazed ceramic 53 x 53 cms

I was thrilled to see one of my all-time favourites,  Dolls at Dungerness in the room. There is also a place where you can watch a time-lapse sequence of Perry hand building and decorating a number of these pots. I liked that he had a small sign sitting next to his wheel reminding him to turn the camera on.

I was disappointed that there were no places to sit in the early rooms of Perry’s work, because I had to skip drawing those pots so artfully arranged in their individual display cases. There wasn’t enough room to move other than to circle around each cabinet to read all the details incised or printed on the pot’s surfaces.

The one place you can get a seat is in the large tapestry rooms. One of these rooms included a very large pot called What’s Not to Like, on which Perry’s teddy, Alan Measles, glazed in gold, surmounts a pot covered with a plethora of desirable consumer goods.

What's not

What’s Not to Like, glazed ceramic, 2007, pot 0 x 60 x 90 cms , lid 40 x 40 x 62 cms. My sketch Koh-i-noor Magic pencil on Leuchtturm 1917 Whitelines Link book

As always I really enjoy seeing an artist’s sketchbooks and process displayed. Perry’s notebooks were fascinating to look at. Here’s just one page.


Sketchbook, Grayson Perry

Perry says of his sketchbooks that “Drawing in my sketchbook is an almost daily activity …. When I put an idea down I take it very seriously. I don’t waste ideas and there will come a point when I will make a work from the drawing. I have a backlog of categories of objects I want to make.” I look at my own practice and think about this statement. I have many sketchbooks and rarely re-visit them. How many of my ideas are going to waste? All guilty parties please raise their hand.

Perry’s teddy, Alan Measles and his alter-ego Claire appear in many works. I was particularly taken by these two small sculptures.

Alan Gold

Prehistoric Gold Pubic Alan Dogu, 2007, glazed ceramic, two parts; left 12.5 x 10.5 x 5.5 cm and; right 12.8 x 10 x4 .8 cm

And just because I can here is the X-92 that Claire has been photographed with.


X-92, glazed ceramic, 1999, 84 x 58 x 18 cms

This exhibition is highly recommended as is the accompanying catalog . (Rest assured I’ve given up rote buying of exhibition catalogs).

If you would like to read some other views of the exhibition I can recommend Paint Later’s post. If you want to read some more you can read Jacky Klein’s 2009 monograph Grayson Perry, (Thames and Hudson).