Friday, 29 January 2010

Dexter Dalwood at Tate St Ives

The Spring exhibition of work by Dexter Dalwood at Tate St Ives opened last Saturday. As a volunteer I can attend the staff ‘Walk and Talk’ which is held a couple of days earlier. Generally there are one or two items still to be placed or labels missing from the exhibits but this is a minor problem and it is very valuable to see the exhibition and learn about it from either a senior curator or the artists themselves. This time we were really lucky as the artist himself led the session assisted by Martin Clark, the Artistic Director at Tate St Ives and Curator of this exhibition.

I found the exhibition really interesting and full of ideas that I will think about in relation to textiles. It is mostly paintings which makes quite a change as recent Tate exhibitions have included a lot of installations. In addition to Dalwood’s own paintings from the last twelve years he was asked to make a personal selection from the Tate Collection so Lower Gallery Two (the one that has the wonderful view over Porthmeor Beach) contains works that were made in 1971. Dalwood chose 1971 because he was eleven years old and living in Penzance. Sam Peckinpah was making Straw Dogs in the area and Dalwood says that this was the point at which he became conscious of the larger world outside. He chose painters of very different backgrounds and generations ranging from Picasso and Oscar Kokoshka to Penwith based painters Roger Hilton and Bryan Winter.

As a quilter who uses a lot of collage I was particularly interested in Dalwood’s use of collage as his ‘sketchbook’. He begins by collaging pages from magazines and art history books to make small collages which are works of art in themselves. Upper Gallery Two has a selection of these but they are not the collages of the paintings in the exhibition. The individual pieces in the collage are frequently figurative. I suspect I am not the only person who tends to tear or cut pieces for shape and/or colour rather than the actual object depicted so that is the first thing for me to think about.

In answer to a question Dalwood said he then scales the paintings up in traditional ways. The final paintings are large and painted in a style that is quite flat but retains the boundaries and edges of the collage. He was asked to make one painting especially for this exhibition and the result is Mandalay based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel Rebecca. His technique is very evident here particularly in the white shape on the ground that I took to be the ghost of the first Mrs de Winter but others have interpreted differently.

There are a number of paintings of imaginary rooms and landscapes. These are chosen to represent moments in history or in memory of people or places, so we have Sharon Tate’s House 1998, Greenham Common 2008 and The Death of David Kelly 2008 (this has been used for the main exhibition poster). In his commentary on these Dalwood said the selection of objects in the rooms might be like those ‘My Space’ columns in the weekend colour supplements. Now there’s an idea for working in a series. It occurred to me that being of a certain age I probably own enough ‘significant’ objects for this even if many of them point to traditional techniques such as applique. I need to have a look at The Embroiderers’ Guild book Embroidery Studio (1993) and The Quilter’ Guild Collection, Contemporary Quilts, Heritage Inspiration (2005) as both of these books are about inspiration from traditional pieces.

There is a lot more I could say about this exhibition. The way Dalwood weaves together different types of history, references to the genre of history painting, popular culture and biography is complex and thought provoking. I need to go back to the exhibition with my sketchbook and look at it in more detail. On Saturday there was an Open Day for teachers. There are Teachers Notes for Key Stages 1 and 2 and for Key Stages 3 and 4 which you can find on the Tate website at. I know St Ives is at the end of the country but the exhibition is on until 3 May so if you are down this way it is well worth a visit.

Finally, the Tate Education department has produced some very good notes for teachers. There are two sets, one for Key Stages 1 and 2 and the other for Key Stages 3 and 4. Again some of the suggestions in them would work well in textiles. You can access these direct

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Zelah's quilt

I never make bed quilts these days except for cot quilts.  My cot quilts are always simple.  I have a collection of New Zealand fabrics and a collection of children's fabrics.  The quilts are made of squares, often patterned alternating with plain and the fabrics reappear in quilt after quilt as I use them up.  I think this is rather nice, making a link between children who do not know each other and will probably never meet.

But with Zelah I am committed to something a bit more complicated.  Before she was born I said I would make her a quilt suitable for her first bed and I gave her my City and Guilds pram quilt which is a very traditional wholecloth quilt of convulvulus made in pink sateen.  As my family only produce boys it needed a good home.  Now I have begun on the bed quilt which is a Katherine Guerrier design that appeared in Patchwork and Quilting during 2009.

Zelah and her mother Esther
The first problem was that I did not have enough commercial fabrics as I have allowed my stash to run down over the years, and of course the colours and patterns of what I had did not all go together so I have had to invest in various half metres in order to have enough sky.  Then I noticed that in the final part of the pattern, there was a photograph of a doll's version of the quilt which Katherine had made for her grand-daughter to match the big quilt.  This was obviously the ideal Christmas present for Zelah who would be celebrating her second Christmas.

Here it is.  Of course I cannot guarantee that the houses will be the same on the full-sized quilt but the blocks do include some of the New Zealand fabrics.  It was a great success.  As Zelah is in daycare she knows what you do with quilts and blankets and immediately started putting her teddy to bed in it.  Let's hope the big quilt is equally successful.  I am making it for a cabin bed which I now know means that it should be narrower than a normal 3 foot sized bed because you cannot tuck things in easily.  I started the houses before Christmas and I really must get out the box where it is kept safe from the cats and get working on it again.  I also have to admit that for the first time in my life I am considering having it long-arm quilted commercially, mainly because the design is pretty complex and working out the best way to machine quilt it myself would be difficult.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

The knitting revival

Although we are now well into January I seem to have done no textile work at all since New Year. I am still considering whether I am going to do the CQGB Journal Quilts this year. I have done them every year since the project began (three years ago) and it has been great fun but a bit of me feels it would be nice to have a rest from deadlines. On the other hand deadlines are also spurs to action. I know I am not the only person who spends hours deciding on the subject and techniques. Actually making the quilt is often comparatively easy! So I am thinking that if I could come up with titles for all twelve quilts and an overall theme that I will stick to, life might be easier. I still have a couple of weeks in which to make up my mind and a couple of themes in mind so wait and see. Instead, what I have done this month is knit myself a thick pullover.

I haven't done any knitting for some years and I didn't even own any needles. I couldn't find a pullover to buy so in December I decided I would have to knit something. Knitting with three cats, two of whom are not quite a year old, is something of a challenge, however, and in the first three weeks I did about ten rows. I found a large zip up bag in which to keep it all but one of the cats is a wool 'thief' so when I left the bag open for a couple of minutes I came back to find my work in progress dragged halfway along the landing. Another day she got hold of one of the very large balls of wool and dragged it so that it all unravelled but suddenly the cats tired of eating the wool poking out of the bag and I managed to make the whole pullover in three weeks, aided by Aran weight wool and large needles not to mention six hour train journeys to London and back.

Yesterday afternoon I was in St Ives doing my monthly volunteering slot at Tate St Ives. It was a beautifully sunny afternoon and when I arrived the light was wonderful. By four o'clock when I finished the sun was rapidly sinking behind the hills at the top of the town. I walked down to the harbour. St Ives in January is wonderful because it is so empty as you can see from this photo of the harbour beach.

The boats that carry holiday makers round the bay in summer are pulled up on the pier for the winter. You would probably not normally notice the name on this one.

The town looks grey and cold at this time of year but this is part of its charm.

And there were more interesting photos of details that I could use for design.

The new exhibition at Tate St Ives is very good so I will do a separate posting on it during the coming week.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Images for design

Welcome to the first posting on my new blog. On Sunday I decided it was time I tried out the new camera I received for Christmas. I decided to go to Hayle as there are lots of industrial ruins: old boats, ruined buildings, machinery etc. which provide good images. In the nineteenth century Hayle was an important port with two famous foundries, the Cornish Copper Company where some of my ancestors worked, and Harveys. Both firms made heavy engineering equipment including mine machinery and beam engines. Copper and tin were exported and before the arrival of the railway in the 1840s the main route out of West Cornwall was by sea from Hayle. During the twentieth century the town gradually lost its industrial base and in all the time I have known it it has been quite poor. There have been many proposals for redevelopment but nothing has yet got beyond the planning state.

I began my walk at the open air swimming pool which is next to various derelict factory buildings that I have photographed before. I walked along a very muddy unpaved road towards the mouth of the river. This photo is looking back to the Foundry Square end of Hayle and you can see the railway viaduct in the background.

Almost immediately I came across a builders' yard with gates and fences that said 'line' while on the other side of the road was an old concrete building with very interesting patterns where the original steel rods holding it together had been exposed to the elements.

As I approached the mouth of the river, I was surprised to find a small group of houses built of wood and looking exactly like the holiday baches I remember from my New Zealand childhood. Outside one of them was this sculpture made from fishermen's floats.

I also found these tracks in the road surface: nice quilting patterns.

Having walked to the end of the road, I found myself above the mouth of the river. There were wonderful views across the estuary to St Ives and lots of people taking advantage of one of the few sunny days we have had this month.
Working my way past the baches I found a great view in the other direction. This is Godrevy Lighthouse, on which Virginia Woolf based her novel To the Lighthouse, (I know she set the story in Scotland but she spent all her childhood summers in St Ives and this is what she knew!)

I continued my walk in a circle past many holiday chalets and then back over the hill to the town and the car. I had quite a collection of photos so let's hope they inspire me.