Category Archives: Rambling thoughts

Fifteen Seconds of Fame at Woopi…

MR-2

Woolgoolga (known to all on the North coast as Woopi) is a town on the coast just 15 minutes north of Coffs Harbour.  It has a long standing community of Punjabi Sikhs, and has Australia’s oldest Sikh temple.  It is also the home of the Woolgoolga Art Gallery, a vibrant community run gallery between the highway and the beach.  The gallery is also home to the annual Lillipilli Exhibition.

I entered a piece in the Sculpture section – when we arrived at the opening, I took a look at the works on display, and decided that I was not going to win a prize – there were plenty of outstanding pieces on display, including one by John Van Der Kolk.  I’ve followed John’s work for years – his work is outstanding.  His entry was stunning –  whimsical assembly that defies simple description.  And I don’t have a photo – his work deserves more than I can achieve with a mobile phone…

When the prize winners were announced, I was surprised to find I was awarded Second Prize.  Predictably, John’s piece took the main Prize.  As Ross Annels commented – ‘second to John Van der Kolk – we all aspire to that!’  I got to meet John, and spoke with him briefly.  Delighted with that!  My 15 seconds of fame…

I guess there are lots of reasons why people enter public art exhibitions like the Lillipilli show or the Clarence River Arts Festival – but I doubt that any enter with any expectation of winning a prize, or selling a piece…  Some may believe that art exhibitions help get their name out there.  Some folks might like to compare their work with others.  But for me, it is more about supporting the events and the people who organise and sponsor them, and supporting those artists who have the talent and perseverance to produce a prize winning piece.  If folks don’t support these events, they will just go away…

I’m just an amateur – a hobby woodworker who likes to make (hopefully) tactile and intriguing curved shapes.  My pieces have no ‘message’, no real narrative.  If people want to feel the shape, to run their hands over them, and it makes them smile, I’m happy.  I can’t claim to be a ‘serious’ artist. But I will keep supporting these events, and perhaps I will get an occasional mention in the results…

A couple more photos – Su’s entry in the show, and the view from the deck of Coffs Harbour Yacht Club (excellent food!)

 

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Rabbit holes and Country

 

That’s the thing about a good rabbit hole – you never know when you might get drawn into it, or just where it might lead…

This adventure started with the story in Australian Wood Review about Melbourne based woodworker Damien Wright (I wrote about it earlier here).  Still curious, I googled ‘Damien Wright woodwork’ and found Gideon Haigh’s story (essay) in The Monthly magazine.  While the AWR article touched on Wright’s collaboration with Gumatj Corporation from Nhulunbuy, Gideon Haigh’s article discusses the nature of the collaboration in depth.

In the same issue of AWR, there was a story on Manapan furniture, a different kind of collaboration between Millingimbi based Yolgnu people and Melbourne based university trained designers.

These stories resonated and rattled around in my brain for the past few months.  They lead me to wonder about ‘connection with the land’, what it might mean,  and how that connection might relate to Australian art and design, and even what that might mean for any furniture or sculpture I might make…

Shortly after that, a friend of Su’s recommended a book – Kim Mahood’s ‘Position Doubtful’.  I checked it out on line – and found that ‘Position Doubtful’ was Mahood’s second book.  Curious, I ordered both ‘Craft for a Dry Lake’ and ‘Position Doubtful’.  A good thing I did, because the first book was a great read, and the second book draws heavily on her first.

Google Kim Mahood and you might find:

Kim Mahood is an award-winning Australian writer and artist. Her 2000 memoir, Craft for a Dry Lake, won the NSW Premier’s Award for non-fiction and the Age Book of the Year for non-fiction. Her artwork is held in state, territory, and regional collections. Position Doubtful was shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Award for non-fiction and the 2017 Australian Book Industry Award for the Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year.

‘Craft for a Dry Lake’ was a beautifully written memoir, a story of revisiting the Tanami area where she had grown up on a cattle station, and the need to understand more of her father’s story.  But the book has more layers than that – there is her father’s story, the white history of the land, her connection to the land, her connection to the desert aboriginal people, and their connection to the land.  Mapmaking is a cohesive theme in the book, the threads that draw it all together.  Mahood is a writer and artist, importantly for the books, Mahood is a mapmaker.

In the second book, Mahood explores the nature of connection to country through projects to build multi-layered maps of the land of desert aboriginal groups.  She also maps out, in words, some of the issues arising from the relationship between white and aboriginal, and the impact of the cattle industry on aboriginal life and culture.  The book’s title ‘Position Doubtful’ is drawn from maps of the Tanimi region where the locations of landmarks were uncertain, and also calls to uncertain and fluid boundaries of aboriginal culture and politics, and uncertain times ahead as a generation of knowledge holders and story tellers passes.

In her second book, Kim Mahood devotes a part of a chapter to placing this sense of place on a theoretical footing.  She pointed to the 2014 Nobel Prize award to neuroscientists who showed a physiological connection within the brain between emotion, memories and spatial location.  When these parts of the brain work together, we get an emotional connection to the space in which we move, and when the connections are lacking, we feel out of place.

Maybe all that goes to explain why, on the few occasions I get to visit, I feel ‘at home’ in Western Victoria.  Maybe why I feel at home on the flat plains country that others find boring or even terrifying.  I find mountains and hills and trees to be a little claustrophobic.  That may explain why I feel out of place in cities, especially big cities.  It may explain why, when I visit towns where I grew up, I keep looking for faces I recognise – but expecting them to look like they did 45 years ago… But then I wonder what a ‘sense of place’ means to a modern young urban Australian, bombarded with global media and stories not bound to place?

What does it all mean for me?  I have always felt a connection to the wind and sun and rain of the basalt plains or Western Victoria, and the farm I grew up on and knew.  Connection to country is real.  How that connection matters to involuntary wanderers like Su and I is still not clear.  The other questions relating to the impact of a sense of country on Australian artists and designers are also not clear.  (If art and design flow from four emotions memories and sense of place, from our culture and environment, we could expect a design style that is identifiably Australian.  What might look like?

For now, I’ll settle into this one acre block in the Clarence Valley, and build another set of memories and emotions and build a sense of place until we face the next round of dislocation and renewal.  I might think some more, read more, and maybe write about Australian art and design.  Or maybe just make something…

Damien Wright – On Country…

Wright Studios | Damien Wright

Brief Desk

Damien Wright is a Melbourne based furniture designer and maker.  (Click here to view his website…)  He was the subject of an Australian Wood Review profile, in which he discussed the relationship between ‘country’ and his work.  I get the feeling that he uses the term ‘country’ more the way that aboriginals will talk about their country, rather than the ultra-patriot loonies from the far right, because he is more interested in the relation ship between land and location and his work.  He takes issue with the reliance on European timbers for Australian furniture.

Damien’s work isn’t easily pigeon-holed – it could be described as Ultra-modern, because of the use of clean crisp lines to make functional and beautiful furniture.  But some of his pieces show case beautiful and unusual Australian timbers with rich veneers featuring unusual timbers – most un-modern…

He is a solo studio woodworker, largely self taught, with a practice that avoids depending on galleries and retail outlets for his work, or teaching to add to the income stream – instead he chooses to focus on commissions to support his practice.  Check him out on his website here…

 

 

Happy with that!

Banksia table #1

Hall table from Banksia

I finally finished this hall table.  The table has been an exercise in procrastination – but then it has been a fairly high risk project.  With just enough timber – maybe not quite enough – there was no room for error.  And the table incorporated a bunch of new techniques and joinery.  David Pye’s ‘workmanship of risk’ and Murphy’s Law both apply!

The table started with a slab of Banksia that I bought from the local slab shop (Australian Timber Slab Creations in Townsend).  A few days later, Dean and Pauline opened their shed to the local Woodies for a sale – and I found the matching consecutive slab.  Each end was a bit wild, but there was about 1.5 metres of clear straight timber in each.

Banksia is a very showy timber – it has a quiet grain pattern, but a glorious lacy figure similar to Silky Oak.  The colour is a deep golden brown, with pink tones.  The timber isn’t hard, but it is light.  I’d never worked with it before, but I just loved that figure and colour.

A live edged hall table started to take shape – a slender, light and elegant table that showed off the very flashy timber.

With all the uncertainty, I postponed a start several times – I even made another small table, just to check on the design.  The design required a good deal of hand work – legs splayed outwards just slightly, the legs had a curved taper, and through mortises in the apron.  I fussed over those tenons in the apron – I worried that they would distract from the clean lines, but in the end, I think they made a nice highlight.

By the time the table was finally sanded, assembled and ready for the finish, there was a good deal of physical and mental energy invested.  The process of applying the finish is just another opportunity to stuff it all up.

I tested four different finishes before deciding to go with my favourite Feast & Watsons Floor Seal Oil – a polyurethane and tung oil blend for hardwood floors.  It doesn’t affect the colour much, and it is fairly forgiving in application – I brushed it on, and wiped it off with a pad, taking care not to overwork the finish.  Four coats on the top, three on the undercarriage, then some Gilly Stephenson Carnuba wax.

Happy with that!

 

 

 

Finding the Rhythm…

“The man nowadays who is able to do a job at his own pace is one of the fortunate ones. Then to one he’ll either be a craftsman with a small workshop of his own or a man working at a hobby. A feeling of enjoyment so much more often accompanies work that is freed from outside control, when that control takes the shape of a nagging foreman or an impatient boss. The queer thing is that when these no longer have to be encountered, our own moods and temperaments want to take charge, as variable as the weather and just about as dependable. It is then that the craftsman has to assert himself and put the mood in its place, knowing very well that it will play high jinks with his work if he isn’t careful. Once he has really started, no matter how lazy or disinclined he may have felt, the odds are that the mood will recede, the work will catch hold of him and bring an enjoyment of its own.”

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1947

This extract was published on the Lost Arts Press blog page.  The text is a delightful window into another world.  To most of us, England in 1947 is as incomprehensible as Xanadu or Timbuktu.  The phrasing, the choice of words, the tempo of the text are quaint, but the underlying sentiment is absolutely accurate.  For me, ‘shed time’ is another time zone entirely.  Outside, hours and days fly past, but inside, if I let it, time is suspended, absorbed in the process of making.

For more of this extract, and more of Lost Arts Press, click here.