Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Pobble.....

A couple of months ago I was asked to contribute a piece of work for a show at Imagine Gallery in Suffolk in the UK. The exhibition was to coincide with the release of Jackie Morris' new book "The Cat and the Fiddle" and in fact was also the book launch. As I love Imagine Gallery and the beautiful and unusual work they show there and I adore Jackie Morris' superb illustrations, I felt honoured to have been asked.
The theme of the exhibition was, of course, nursery rhymes. I have to confess that traditional nursery rhymes as such were not a huge part of my childhood. In fact, I have no memory of ever reading any or of having them read to me. For me it was always stories, some read from books, others made up on the spot by my mother or grandmother. But there were some funny and weird little things thrown in occasionally, little poems like;

"The night was dark and stormy,
the Billy goat was blind.
He ran into a barbed-wire fence
and tore his...never mind!"


"Adam and Eve and Pinch-me
went down to the river to bathe,
Adam and Eve fell in
but who do you think was saved?"

(Of course, as soon as I answered 'pinch-me' that's precisely what happened!)

or a very odd one about a bear being bulgy and the bulge being algae(!)

However, I did love the nonsense poems of Edward Lear. Most people are familiar with "The Owl and the Pussycat" but my absolute favourite was "The Pobble Who Has No Toes".

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said "Some day you may lose them all;"
He replied "Fish, fiddle-de-dee!"
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said "The World in general knows
There's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!"

The Pobble who has no toes
Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose
In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jobiska said "No harm
Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;
And it's perfectly known that a Pobble's toes
Are safe, -- provided he minds his nose!"

The Pobble swam fast and well,
And when boats or ships came near him,
He tinkledy-blinkledy-winkled a bell,
So that all the world could hear him.
And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side -
"He has gone to fish for his Aunt Jobiska's
Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!"

But before he touched the shore,
The shore of the Bristol Channel,
A sea-green porpoise carried away
His wrapper of scarlet flannel.
And when he came to observe his feet,
Formerly garnished with toes so neat,
His face at once became forlorn,
On perceiving that all his toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew,
From that dark day to the present,
Whoso had taken the Pobble's toes,
In a manner so far from pleasant.
Whether the shrimps, or crawfish grey,
Or crafty Mermaids stole them away -
Nobody knew: and nobody knows
How the Pobble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The Pobble who has no toes
Was placed in a friendly Bark,
And they rowed him back, and carried him up
To his Aunt Jobiska's Park.
And she made him a feast at his earnest wish
Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish, -
And she said "It's a fact the whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes!"

So that is the piece that I decided to make.

I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from John Foley the day after the exhibition opening, telling me that "The Pobble" was the first piece sold. Having just returned home from a pretty exhausting weekend away in Broken Hill (next blog post) it was wonderfully welcome news.

Till next time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who'd have thought ugly could be so dull?

Ok, here's the thing. I'm not a huge fan of ugly Art. I realise that is a very generalised, ambiguous statement and it comes from someone who intentionally creates 'ugly' little creatures often with 'ugly' little personalities to match. It's difficult to explain exactly what I mean by this. I'm certainly no Art critic and let's be very clear, I don't consider the work that I make to be 'capital A' Art. I'm not out to change the world, make political statements or comment on society. In my opinion there are more direct and effective ways to do all of those things if that's what you really care about. My 'small a' art is personal to me and my hope is that through shared human experience, it is personal to some other people....that they connect (another ambiguous word) with it on some level.

That said, the Saatchi exhibition 'British Art Now' is in Adelaide at the AGSA. I've been twice now. The first time I was very excited and filled with that delicious feeling of anticipation....this show is a big deal, a real coup for Adelaide and a chance to view cutting edge work by important contemporary artists. It's a massive exhibition taking up three quarters of the entire gallery space. The blurb on the AGSA website is as follows:

"Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now brings together the audacious best of contemporary art straight from London's internationally acclaimed Saatchi Gallery - arguably the biggest influence on contemporary British art over the past 25 years. It features groundbreaking works that challenge conventional artistic sensibilities, created by more than forty of the new generation of daring British contemporary artists."

It's not that I didn't know what to expect. This was not going to be like a visit to The Jam Factory Gallery....no art made for the love of the process here. What I didn't expect was that by the end of making my way through rooms filled with scrunched up plastic, white-washed cardboard, inflated garbage bags, and (deliberately, I assume) poorly constructed 'sculpture' with bits of fabric hanging off it, I was pretty much over it all and my over-whelming feeling was one of disappointment bordering on boredom. That, and the fact that I had never seen so much 'ugly' Art in one place at one time.

This isn't to suggest that there weren't points of interest along the way. I really enjoyed the room of work by Juliana Cerqueira Leite (pics above) but it was actually more the process she used to make the work rather than the finished objects that I found fascinating.
Tessa Farmer filled a large glass case with tiny (and I mean tiny) faeries made from thread-like plant matter and riding on desiccated insects.....that was right up my alley for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the almost 'OCD-like' dedication of the artist.

But it was still ugly.

So I went back a second time. I did enjoy myself more, having no expectations whatsoever but I just couldn't shake the feeling that this type of Art is a joke at everyone but the Artists' expense...'expense' being the operative word here. This is an exhibition about the business of 'capital A' Art and also the weird irony of Art that claims to be "subversive and avant-garde" while being sponsored by Saatchi. It does raise a lot of questions and it certainly makes for interesting and spirited conversation, but does the Art itself inspire me, excite me, engage me or provoke me in any way that isn't directly connected to it's financial 'worth'? The short answer is, no.
I love Art. I like to think I have an open mind and that my tastes are diverse, but I need a little more than someones unmade bed even if it is a "confessional revelation of the artists sexual exploits and self-destructive lifestyle". Yes, I found the piece disturbing but it would be just as disturbing if I saw a bedroom like this in someone's actual home....I'm not entirely sure what emotion the bed being displayed in a gallery is supposed to elicit. We all know, or know of, people who have these kinds of experiences in their lives. Does being confronted with it in a gallery make us care more? Are we even supposed to care and if not, then what's the point? Of course, there's the price ticket. Saatchi purchased the piece for 150,000 pounds.....can anyone say 'KA-CHING'!

Anyway, I could go on and on but really I don't want to. Like I said, I'm no Art critic, certainly no expert. I do like to be challenged, engaged and inspired....and I do like beauty. True, beauty is different things to different people and if bad papier mache floats your boat, then I say trot along to the Saatchi and buy a season ticket.

For me, I'd rather visit this, or look at this, or this....there are countless others.
So now I'm on a quest...a quest to see more work containing beauty, talent, insight, love and joy.

I may not know Art, but I know what I like.

Oh, and before I go, one more thing I'm liking very much...The Stuckist Manifesto. Not convinced of point #4, but I can't argue with the rest of it.

Till next time.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Let me start by saying that when I think of all the privilege and blessings that I have in my life, I actually feel pretty guilty complaining about anything.
That said, I've been feeling pretty crappy lately. I've dealt with depression in one form or another for most of my life, but it's not been an issue for me for several years now.
Back in March of this year I completed my five years taking Tamoxifen (post breast cancer medication) and since going off it have been caught in a hormonal nightmare; everything from hot flushes, racing heart beat, insomnia and "fuzzy brain" to mood swings and depression. It looks and feels like menopause, but I'm not menopausal and it's like my body is desperately trying to re-balance itself after five years of medical hormone suppression.
Of course, when I asked my surgeon (who, let's be clear, has my eternal gratitude and admiration for saving my life) about possible side effects associated with stopping Tamoxifen 'cold-turkey', he told me there would be no problems with it apart from possibly a little 'anxiety'.
It's a frustrating situation to be in. As most of the physical symptoms have now passed or are passing, I'm hopeful that this black cloud too will lift. Work is definitely helping. I've cut back all of my extraneous activities (including my beloved zoo work) to focus solely on my artwork, which was in danger of being crowded out entirely by everything else that's been going on.
And so to Burdy.....my melancholy blackbird of sorts. I was especially pleased with the shadows in these photos...I like the way they loom....it's very much how I've been feeling, trying to 'take off' with a black shadow hanging over my head. He's been constructed in my usual manner and his costume is black felt with pearl beads and silk thread. His wings are individually hand cut and wired 'feathers' made from stiffened and painted cotton. His stand is also hand-painted.
At the moment I'm working on a new piece to be sent over to the UK for an exhibition in October. The exhibition has a Nursery Rhyme theme, so I'm pretty excited....but more of that later.
I want to thank all of my friends who read this (far too infrequent, despite my best efforts) blog and who keep in touch via Facebook and e-mail, for your concern and support over the past few months.....I really do appreciate it so much, it's always amazing to me how many of us share similar experiences under different circumstances. Much love to all of you.
Till next time.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mama JuJu

How strange these past couple of months have been.
For one (thankfully brief) moment, I thought perhaps I'd had enough of "art" and slumped into an unmotivated, non-creative phase that was filled up with some personal and health related issues and (even more distractingly) enormous volumes of information about animals and volunteering at Adelaide Zoo. Although I consider myself an accomplished multi-tasker (this is not bragging...it is actually quite often a curse), I was finding it almost impossible to diss-asociate myself from a new and deeper understanding of the plight of the earths wildlife, enough to even concentrate on, let alone produce, any new artwork. I have to tell you, this stuff is consuming.
So, a couple of weeks ago I made a decision to take a conscious, forced break from animal related matters so that I could (hopefully) gain a little perspective. So that is what I've done.....and it seems to be working. The funny thing is, now that I've (temporarily) cut off the supply of wildlife information (books, documentaries, internet etc.) the mountain of facts that have been jumbled and crammed into my brain are sorting themselves out very nicely in a calm, non-invasive way. I'm still passionate about animals (probably even more so), but things are starting to balance themselves now.
So, to Mama JuJu.
This is a piece that I started sculpting two years ago, but abandoned at an early stage in favour of other more pressing pieces. I still wasn't sure what she was going to be, even after painting her but, my kids were re-watching "The Office" episodes and in one of them Michael gives Angela the character of "Mama JuJu" during a How to Host a Murder game (brilliant episode, by the way).
I loved that name, so decided to make her into a kind of voodoo witch-doctor complete with all the stereotypical paraphernalia. She is holding a little doll that I sewed up by hand and has pouches and shrunken heads (which were huge fun to sculpt!) hanging off her costume. All of the fabrics used are hand-dyed and she has human hair adorned with feathers and combed out hessian. Her necklace incorporates real bird bones which I've meticulously bleached and cleaned.
I'm happy with how she's turned out and it's very satisfying to finally complete a character that has been sitting around staring at me accusingly every time I walk past her. She kind of reminds me of those wonderfully overblown Disney villain(esses) like Ursula from 'The Little Mermaid'.....all smiles and enticement one minute and sticking a pin in your eye the next. Lovely!
Till next time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Exhibition in Burra

We have just returned from holidaying along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Guy has had a month of very well-deserved holidays after a stressful and exhausting job that had pretty much governed his life for the past year. It is wonderful to see him happy and relaxed and I think the break has done us both a world of good.
So now it's back to business. I'm heading off to Burra this week to deliver three pieces for their "Real/Unreal" exhibition. I'm excited and nervous because they have asked me to open the exhibition as well.....something I've not done before. I'm also looking forward to the trip (about three hours from home) as I've never been to the town and I'm told it's an area rich in dinosaur fossils etc. Should be interesting.
Till next time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grandmother Bone.....

I started sculpting this piece early last year, but stopped before the head was completed....can't remember exactly why, must have been distracted by other projects. I went back to it in January after watching 'Young Frankenstein' (a favourite!) and being inspired by Marty Feldman's 'Igor' ("it's pronounced eye-gor") and his wonderful hump and popping eyes. After I had re-worked her left eye, the rest of the piece just fell into place. I also had in my mind the old junk-yard woman from 'Labyrinth'.....I wanted Grandmother Bone to be a collector as well and to have her clothes made up of bits and pieces.
The fabric part of her costume is linen, which I have distressed and 'rusted'.....the rest of it is made up of silk cocoons, mulberry bark, feathers, beads and dozens of individually sculpted little bones which are tied all through her costume. There is a real part of a bird skull on the top of her staff. I'm pleased with how her clothes look 'nest-like' and the fact that she reminded a dear friend of mine of a vulture sits really well with me. She actually makes me think of a bantam chook that's been in one too many scuffles.
The wip photos at the bottom show the head as it was before I 'popped' the left eye.
That sounded really gross.....sorry.
Here's the little poem I wrote for her:

"Grandmother Bone,
face like a crone.
fearsome to all
as she wanders alone.
Indeed she's a sight
with her hair all a-fright
but, she's lost all her teeth
so she really can't bite!"

Till next time.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Last week I completed one of the individual projects I have going at the same time as working on the "deadly sins" project. It was a lovely feeling to finally complete a piece after so much preliminary work on a range of other things. This little guy is Wilbur, and I like to think of him as a gentle soul, contemplating one of the tiniest miracles of life.
He has been sculpted in polymer clay on a wire armature and painted in my usual way with acrylic paints. The photo at the bottom with magenta skin is the undercoat color I use for almost all of my skin tones.
The tree-trunk base that he is sitting on is also sculpted from polymer clay, as are the 'fly agaric' toadstools. The dried fungus and snail shells are real. All of the fabrics and fibers used for Wilbur's costume have been hand-dyed and are completely hand-sewn. His shoes and his back-pack are sculpted and painted by hand.
So, now it's on to the next one....quite different in theme, but should also be challenging and fun. WIP pictures as soon as I can.
Till next time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Head designs for the last three 'sins' complete.

Over the past two days I've managed to complete the head studies for all seven 'sins'. Now that I have an idea of how I want them to look, I can work on body construction, pose and costuming and also decide on a size for each piece. While the temptation to make them big and imposing is very strong, I don't think it will be practical given that I need to complete them all before August. Still, it's early days and I'm sure it will all work out as I go along.
Till next time.