Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Making Paper Pods

Get in quickly  before these two art workshop sessions book out!!! 02 4974 5100 

Visit the Newcastle Art Gallery website for more info. 

Image: Anne Kempton, small delicacies held lightly 2016 (detail) 30 - 40 paper pods made with hand made, painted and dyedpaper, Chinese German English text, inspired by Ines Seidel, Artist collection Courtesy the artist

Friday, November 18, 2016


 Some days are just your lucky days - today I was very fortunate and privileged to open the first ever Australian exhibition "Fragments" by  UK  Fibre Artist Sue Hotchkis.  Here is a little about the techniques of this amazing textile artist from her own website ... 

Working intuitively with print and stitch, marks, textures and colours are exaggerated, intensified to reveal the detail and complexity within the images. Materials are deconstructed using modern methods, ripped, burnt and dyed. Time is invested in their reconstruction; pieces can take from a week to several months to create. Whilst being aesthetically pleasing the work can also act as a metaphor for deterioration and ruin, associated with urban decay and ultimately death and loss. They evolve organically, built up with layers of print, cloth, paper, and stitch into three-dimensional abstract forms that hover between object and image; to create a unique, visual and tactile landscape of form and texture. Challenging traditional understandings of the division between the visible and the unseen.

At the opening, I didn't  really need to say much as these art works  ”speak for themselves” but that is too much of cliché. When discussing what I intended to say tonight with the Timeless Textiles Wednesday group, I asked them to give me a few words. The superlatives flowed - superb, brilliant, impressive, engaging, amazing…. But I had my own description....   
Seductive - and I don’t mean that in any raunchy way, but in that fascinating magnetic attraction which is irresistible. With Sue’s work, you are first attracted by the form, shape, texture and colour and once engaged, you are tempted to look much more closely and then to contemplate.  At this stage, you are then challenged by the dichotomy of ideas and values - the natural vs man made; old vs new, the shiny vs the decaying while experiencing the beauty in the connection.  While you embrace the appeal of the bright and the clear, you appreciate the quieter, more tentative beauty which is present in this work.  Sue Hotchkis notices and appreciates   the wabi sabi sense of the beauty in the  imperfect, the decaying and evolving.
We in Newcastle are privileged to see this wonderful body of  work, but even more privileged because through her work, Sue gives us another ‘eye’ , or rather another ‘sense’ to experience another beauty , one which we would generally dismiss or overlook.
Sue Hotchkis at "Fragments" exhibition opening at Timeless Textiles Gallery
Photo by Maggie Hall 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Crazy for Cards

Sketch and completed ATC with a Christmas theme ( watercolour and ink)  - copyright Wilma Simmons 
The current craze of card collecting amongst the youngest members of the family  is the World Explorer cards from  a supermarket giant. I am not promoting this, but  there is little wonder that curious kids would want  to collect this series of cards. 
I was thinking about card collecting yesterday, when my doll making group, Gumnut Dollies Newcastle  made some Artist Trading Cards (ATC) for a Christmas swap with a group in Queensland.  If you haven't heard of an ATC before , here is a Wiki explanation:
Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) is a conceptual art project initiated by the Swiss artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann in 1997. He called it a Collaborative Cultural Performance. Artist Trading Cards are 2
 12 by 3 12 inches (64 mm × 89 mm) in size, the same format as modern trading cards (hockey cards or baseball cards). They are self-made unique works or small series, signed and dated on the reverse by the artist/producer, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist_trading_cards)
ATCs created by members of Gumnut Dollies Newcastle - 12 November 2016 
ATCs are not sold but are a free exchange between artist participants . A commercial offshoot began in 2004 on eBay to allow for  the selling and buying of artist cards. To avoid conflict with the original ATC concept , these cards were called Art Cards, Editions and Originals ( ACEO). ATC collections are often shown in  special exhibitions ( most often followed by a free trading session)  ACEOs are sold on auction sites, for private collections or for publication tutorials - same thing, different purpose!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fairies in Your Garden?

"She didn't claim to see the fairies or hear their music, but she did find the fairy rings of dark grass, sprinkled with toadstool left by their dancing feet. "  Having completed a small watercolour and ink sketch this week led me to thinking about  "fairies in the garden". I remembered a story of an amazing hoax  by two young girls in 1917.  Have you heard of the Cottingley Fairies? Much has been written about the five photographs produced by two cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in Yorkshire, England. I would love to show  here all  five photos but there is some controversy about the copyright of the photos and I would not like to be in any sort of dispute about the use of them. However, they are reproduced on these sites - click on the word link to see the photos  :
1. Wikipedia 
2. Museum of Hoaxes
3. The Telegraph - Five Famous Hoaxes  

Elsie and Frances took  photos with a quarter plate camera in their garden - images of the girls with fairies. Although Elsie's father dismissed the photos as trick photographic fakes,  Mrs Wright took  the first two photos (1917)  to have them examined  by the leader of the Theosophical movement who in turn had them checked by a photographic expert  who declared the two photos as "genuine unfaked photographs of single exposure, open-air work, show movement in all the fairy figures, and there is no trace whatever of studio work involving card or paper models, dark backgrounds, painted figures,"From http://hoaxes.org  

Having checked out the photos on the various websites, I  find it hard to believe that the photos were ever considered genuine. Today, admittedly with far better technology, it seems obvious that the fairies have been added to the scene. Other sceptics pointed out the paper like figures, their hairstyles were Parisian, and the fact that in most photos the girl was not looking at the fairy figures.   In spite of doubts raised by Kodak and Ilford companies and other assorted experts, the images were endorsed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a believer in spiritualism and convinced that the girls produced photographic proof of the existence of "supernatural" beings. He encouraged the girls to take more photos, providing them with more sophisticated cameras, and  so the three additional photos were produced and brought to public attention in 1920. 

It wasn't until 1968, when James Randi exposed the undeniable similarities between the fairies seen in the photos and the illustrations in a book titles "Princess Mary's Gift Book ", published in 1915, that the story began to unravel. This led to  Elsie's confession in 1981 that she had sketched the fairies using illustrations from the book, made paper cut outs and  placed them  in the garden using hat pins. (Ironically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had seem what appeared to be a hat pin in the middle of the gnome creature in photo 2, and explained it by believing that to be the gnome's belly button. He concluded that this proved that fairies and other supernatural beings gave birth just like humans.)   Both girls maintained that while they had staged photos 1-4, but Frances maintained that photo no 5 was genuine. Both Elsie and Frances claimed to have taken the last photo and while this appeared to be a discrepancy in their stories, photographic experts say that photo 5 is possibly an "unintended double exposure", so  it may be true  that each of the girls did take the photo. The photo itself appears to be as much of a fake as the others, although the creatures seem to have a more ethereal look. 
Frances died in 1986 and Elsie in 1988, seemingly still amazed that people believed that the photos were genuine. Frances  continued to maintain that photo 5 was not a fake and interestingly her daughter appeared on Antiques Roadshow in 2009, also strong in her belief that photo 5 was genuine. Fake or not, a camera and the original photos of this little deception were valued by the Roadshow expert at 25,000 -30,000 pounds! The following video is such a wonderful interview with Frances's daughter and granddaughter - obviously believers that there are fairies in their garden! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Trendsetter Fox

"As the sun sets" - charcoal,ink and watercolour sketch . Copyright Wilma Simmons  
The "woodland" creature  as a trend in  fashion and home decor and  bespoke design was (and in many places, still is) very popular. Dashing deer antlers, awesome owls, and then fantastic foxes.... I know I am often behind the times with trends, but I was surprised to hear that foxes have been "in" for well over 3 years! Perhaps a year I thought, but it seems that foxes have been on the rise as a popular design motif for some time. At the well known  international Renegade Craft Fairs  there were reports of items with "fox" images to be the best sellers as early as 2011 and then followed the predictions...
 "Trendspotters  called it  back in February. (2012) More and more, foxes are popping up on the radar as stylish elements in design, outfoxing the omnipresent owl as the It thing in woodland animals. Could foxes be the new owls in hipster home decor?...  Remember when every store you went into had some sort of Owl decor? Well bye-bye owls...Foxes are in! Amanda Etty was ahead of the game calling this trend out back in the January 2013 issue of Style At Home , and it's still going strong!   (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/trendspotting-are-foxes-the-new-owls-181403 and http://www.styleathome.com/shopping/buying-guides/article/foxes-are-the-new-owls)
Fox amigurumi - handmade purchase from Renegade Craft Shop, Townsville Queensland 2016 
How did the fox replace the owl as the "hipster" animal design star? 
I am not sure if anyone has written a PHD thesis on how trends are determined? 
However, some reasons for animal trends have been attributed to : 
- pop culture   The owl certainly didn't lose in the popularity stakes when Hedwig was featured in Harry Potter books and movies? Which animal has been featured in the latest Disney movie?
- current financial situation/lifestyle It has been said that we may have subconsciously turned to the owl, the symbol of wisdom during the Global Financial Crisis 
-adaptability of form, offering many  depictions and interpretation s appropriate to many different audiences. 

Art Tag "Kitsune" - Copyright Wilma Simmons 
I think foxes captured designers' imagination because of their multiple personalities - I am sure you have seen cute,  clever, mischievous, wily and wicked versions of foxes. The fox as a form can be adapted to many age groups and tastes across cultures.  For example, I think the fox can be a symbol for males or females and  stylised in a very contemporary minimalist way, traditionally depicted in a more English aristocratic "stately home" setting,  or even illustrated as a cute  child-friendly cartoon character. With so many stories about foxes, both folk tales and children's stories from so many different cultures, it would appear that the fox has a universal appeal. 

Is it now time for the fox to fade into oblivion too? From what I see, both the owl and fox seem to be still popular design choices and appear destined to be in favour for a lot longer  . However, here's a tip - one of  the style forecasts for 2017 by Home Beautiful  is  Botanica, with its rich ripe colours and textures from nature. Perhaps the plant world will take over from the animals as style trendsetters... What's your prediction?