Monday, December 31, 2007

Sea Circles

I thought you might like to see what I'm doing with all the circles being die cut on the C&P press. They are watercoloured in shades of blue and green and then sewn together with tiny beads. It will eventually be a square metre or bigger (depending on how many circles are usable in the end), with a lovely drape to it. So far I've sewn about 100 circles, only 700 or so to go...

The piece is called New Shroud for King Tutankhamen and will involve hieroglyphics and a John Donne quote.

Thanks Louise for cutting most of these for me, you're a letterpress natural!

Two Presses

I've printed my first wedding invitations, as a gift for Jo and Cam who will marry in March. They are pretty austere invites by today's fashions, just text (Outline Shadow and Verona faces) printed in blue ink on some old creamy embossed cards that I was given a while ago. The only reason I know anything about fashion in wedding invitations is because when one is looking for letterpress links on the internet, inevitably wedding invitations come to light as the bread and butter of many (most?) printers trying to make a living from letterpress. I don't get invited to many weddings myself, and the few I've been to lately have used homemade laser printed invitations. But out there in the world of aspirational wedding fashion deep impression letterpress invites are apparently the thing to have.

One of the entertaining letterpress blogs* I've discovered recently is Poppy Letterpress, in which a young Canberra graphic designer gets engaged, decided to make her own wedding invitations and takes up letterpress printing with great gusto. She has also very recently bought a Chandler and Price Old Style press, which from the photos, is very much like mine. I hope she is enjoying her C&P more than I am my one, I suspect so since until now she has been working on an Adana table press with much frustration.

Unfortunately the more I work with the C&P the more I appreciate the Arab. Yesterday I was die cutting circles on the C&P and printing invitations on the Arab and the opportunity for comparison did no favours to the new press. The C&P is so big and heavy that it is difficult to maintain momentum at the slow pace I like to print. In contrast, the Arab is little and lithe, and I know it so well that I can be very agile with it. I now realise how lucky I was to get my start in letterpress on this sweet beauty.

I don't regret buying the C&P but I'm not sure I want to keep it either. If someone made me an offer for it (and it would be a perfect press for a taller, stronger, faster printer) I could probably say goodbye without tears. Parting from the Arab, on the other hand, would break my heart.

*I finally got round to updating my links section down on the right there, scroll down and you'll find it. As well as old favourites you'll find lots of lovely letterpress websites and blogs. Enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Messing about in boats

A few years ago, when my friend Sarah started whole-heartedly following her passion for kayaking, I could only summon the most abstract of support and interest for this enthusiasm. I am not sporty and do not feel a great affinity for watery environments. For some reason too murky to delve into I felt particularly averse to trying kayaking.

But I overcame all sorts of fears and aversions to take up swimming this year, and have enjoyed gaining confidence and competence in the water. I learned that I could take on a physical challenge in the same way I take on other kinds of challenges.

Sarah often bemoans her friend's lack of interest in kayaking, and frustration with finding people to go paddling with. So, mostly because I love her dearly rather than any great desire to kayak, I organised a trip for us when she came to stay last weekend. I contacted a new friend, who with her partner, run Pacific Coast Kayaks and booked us on a guided kayaking trip.

In a party of 8, mostly women, we took a leisurely paddle up the Patua Estuary last Sunday. I was in a double kayak with Sarah, and she kept us afloat, going in (more or less) the right direction, and paddled alone when my shoulders packed in.

I discovered I really like kayaking- at least at a gentle pace on calm waters (I can't imagine ever wanting to try white water). I like the sensation of gliding across the silky surface of the sea. I like the gentle splish splosh dripping sounds of the paddling. I like the rhythm. I really liked seeing bush and birds from the water.

Despite my extreme nervousness on my way to the water, once I was on it I felt completely safe. It was nice to be a paying customer and be so well cared for by Mark whose calm competence was utterly reassuring. It was very very nice to be with Sarah and share in her greatest passion. And it was delightful to paddle in and out of the company the friends and family who made up the rest of the party and stop for lunch and coffee on a ribbon of muddy bank among the mangroves.

Despite getting so sore that I couldn't paddle the last stretch home against the wind (luckily Sarah is so strong and enthusiastic that I believe her reassurances that it didn't matter that I became a dead weight), I loved the whole experience and can't wait to go on another (shorter) trip. When I look back at this year of taking on so many new challenges (learning letterpress, taking up swimming, making a career change, putting on a solo exhibition) kayaking will stand out as a sweet surprise for its ease.

Photos thanks to Sharon Ketko (that's me in the blue hat and Sarah in the white cap).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gifts from de Nile

It's been a week of denial, or rather the gradual erosion of denial. Most startling was the realisation that a whole week has passed since my last post. Really, it felt like only yesterday...

Most famously I was in total denial about the need to do any shopping for the upcoming orgy of gift giving that I feel obliged to participate in. (I bought the most important gift online a few weeks ago and the ensuing smugness obliterated any perspective regarding the other near and dears).

Surrounded by office-mates covering their desks in wrapping paper and filling the air with the farting sounds of cellotape as it is wrenched from the roll still didn't make much of an impression. Until a colleague asked how my Christmas shopping was going. To which I blithely replied that "I'll just stop at a service station on Christmas Eve and pick up a few things on my way to Hamilton".

Goodness! I might as well have announced that I would be convening a devil worshipping ritual in the middle of the Christmas feast. Such outrage! Such incredulity! Such public shaming! Um, guys, I was sort of only joking. But at lunchtime I slunk out, blitzed two of my favourite shops and managed to purchase pleasing gifts for almost all the important folk in less than half an hour, while sticking (more or less) to my budget and my loosely applied purchasing policy of hand made/ NZ-made/fair trade/organic/good cause. And then I forgot all that self-righteous consumer- activism when I was suckered into a bookshop on the way back to work.

Rest assured, friends and family, no service station/liquor store/supermarket gifts will be inflicted by me! I'm afraid though, that on the whole I will be introducing more pretty yet useless objects into your life and so you will have to find somewhere to put them, and probably spend an extra few seconds a year dusting them or find a discreet opportunity for regifting (perfectly acceptable after you've read the books). Oh, and because I left it so late, anything arriving in the USA by post will be, um, more of a Purim gift in timing. Sorry.

I do wish I had been as organised as some of my workmates who are giving dolphins, goats and chickens away (as certificates of sponsorship for various worthy causes). If only I hadn't been in denial, I too would have had enough time to buy on line, and next Tuesday my family members would be trying to look thrilled with a card announcing that someone in the developing world has got a new goat thanks to my anti-consumerism. And so there's one less goat bringing prosperity to a dirt-floored hut somewhere. Sorry about that too.

Anyway, getting into the spirit at this 11th hour I am pleasantly surprised to find myself feeling more enthusiastic about Christmas than I have for a long time. I hope, dear readers, that you all enjoy the time off, the company, the gift giving and receiving, and the special foods as much as I intend to.

Chag sameach!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How it is going

There has been no sun seen in Whangarei for eight days (although it did stop raining for a few thrilling hours in the middle of Monday). I spent the first five of those wet, grey days pretty much confined to my 'bed' with an unpleasant and exhausting stomach virus, while my flatmates filled the house with paint fumes and chainsawed down trees in the garden. On day 4 I was extra sorry for myself because it was my birthday and I could still only eat plain white rice and tinned fruit, and not even those with impunity.

There was one glorious highlight in the middle of that almost relentlessly miserable period: my exhibition received an astute, positive, full page review in the Northern Advocate, Whangarei's local daily newspaper on 6 December.

Many people over the past few weeks have asked me, 'How's the exhibition going?', a question that puzzled me when I took it literally: the exhibition is pretty static, it doesn't really go anywhere, it just is. 'It's going fine, thanks. Nothing's fallen apart or been broken'*.

But my naive responses generally lead them to unpack the question and reveal it as a delicate probe into the economics of the exhibition, specifically 'have you sold much?' And when I answer that questions with 'Zero, zip, zilch', there is an almost embarrassed sidestep into 'but have many people come through?' (I don't really know because no one keeps track of the numbers) and 'have you had good feedback?'

At last, a question that I can say an emphatic 'YES' to. The visitor's book is full with comments that move me with the heartfelt appreciations expressed. Most people who talk to me about the show are overwhelmingly enthusiastic. A sister artist wrote me a beautiful, bilingual poem about it. A busy working mother told me about the effort it took to find the time to attend, the calm that descended on her as she walked through, and the cleansing tears that overcame her inside the privacy of You are Beautiful. People seem to enjoy trying to decide which is their favourite piece, and often fail to choose only one. Several visitors have returned more than once, either to bring friends through or to have time there alone. It is lovely to read and hear this kind of feedback, especially as it greatly outweighs the ambivalent, 'I don't get it', minority.

I didn't really expect to sell much, if anything, and my low expectation no doubt helped create that reality. But, I consider Whangarei simply too small, too poor and too far from an urban sophisticated art market where my work might attract buyers -although enormous, fragile, installation pieces must be hard to sell anywhere. I would have been thrilled to make a sale or even sell out, but I didn't do it to make money.

For me, it was almost enough to simply succeed in putting on a well conceived and well executed exhibition and have plenty of people come through and be moved and stimulated by it. The one other thing that I really wanted was a substantive, thoughtful review: as an external record and, especially, as an objective critique.

Lawrence Clark's review made some gentle, pertinent, criticism of a couple of pieces that I am least satisfied with. He 'got' the pilgrimage narrative. His responses to each book suggested that he found them thought-provoking, and in general, satisfying. Reading his write-up felt like getting a pretty solid 'A' for my work.


*Unlike my friend, Kim Cohen, whose beautiful, eerie installation at the Old Library last month had to be closed after one day because of vandalism.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Canyon of Your Heart

I have three potential books mulling in my imagination and my planning at the moment. All three are, in my mind at least, saturated in rich colours, in contrast to the work I am exhibiting at the moment.

One work is in response to the criteria of the NZAG Art Awards - to reference somehow the following four themes: circle, stamp, equality and cool blue. One book is an extension of my love affair with the Mobius strip - which will not let me go until I have created a completely satisfactory Mobius book structure. And one is being driven by a poem I wrote a little while ago, which starred in the Saturday edition of Love Letters at Your Feet, but is now demanding a more tangible, sustainable, manifestation.

The canyon of your heart

Here we are
on top of a cliff
looking across a vast canyon
towards the rising sun.

While you double check the weather forecast
and unpack your bags looking for the matches,
I put my toes to the very edge of the earth
spread my arms

and imagine the warm breeze collecting me
in its sure embrace, imagine
soaring across tender tree tops
following the glitter of a river swollen with spring.

When you are ready
I lift my own pack to my shoulders
and follow you over the precipice
down a narrow, crumbling trail.

We descend slowly and carefully,
into a sandstone bowl
every colour of rust and sunlight,
all the maroons of a veteran’s faded ribbons.

On the canyon floor
we walk hand in hand
through gnarled ancient tree trunks
and tumbled boulders as big as houses.

Midday, we rest in the dapple of the willows
so still and quiet together
that one by one
deer and coyote come to drink upwind.

We walk on through lengthening shadows
until we pull off our packs
and make camp by a round
pool of deep, glassy water.

Dark falls through mauve, cobalt, navy
and the sky becomes a spangled curtain
draped over the canyon’s mouth,
our small fire a flickering tongue of light.

An egg-shaped moon rises late
and rouses us to watch
its reflection pass slowly
across the pool’s surface.

Leaning together for warmth
you tell me stories
about the night animals we hear
until I fall asleep in your arms

in the canyon of your heart.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dirty work but someone's got to do it

I spent many happy hours with my new Chandler and Price (C&P) press this weekend. I managed to remove the electric motor and belt arrangement, all but two stubborn brackets with phillips screws that won't budge- someone stronger than me will have to extract those.

As I anticipated, the C&P is much more sleek and handsome without all those cumbersome, ugly, accouterments of the mid twentieth century. It was a simple matter to hook the treadle back into place and start the clickety clack of its manual operation.

Beginning to remove the decades of accumulated filth was my next task, and lubricating its joints, which I suspect had been overpowered by electricity rather than regularly oiled. The cleaning job will take a few more sessions of transferring thick layers of greasy dust (or is that dusty grease?) from machine parts to a new permanent residence under my fingernails, but already the C&P is taking on a proud sheen.

I will have to have a part machined before I can reattach the rollers and print ink, but fortuitously I have a forthcoming project involving screeds of die cutting, which the C&P is already in good shape for. I put a fresh tympan on, locked a die form into the chase and fiddled about with make ready until I could cut little circles with ease. I remember from my last die cutting adventure with Jim, that the make ready succumbs to pressure more quickly from die cutting than from printing and seems to need regular reinforcement in order to keep cutting well.

Now I have a little stack of perfect 5.5cm circles in cream card with which to experiment. Very satisfactory.