Welcome to Not a Fashionista where I share random thoughts about all the various aspects of being a woman in the 21st century. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, please leave a comment.
A few years back I experienced an extraordinary sensation. I was in a yoga class and at some stage I had a powerful feeling of joy leaving me. I could feel it and almost see it, watch it leaving the room. I felt bereft. It’s not unusual to have strong emotional experiences in yoga; some poses, especially deep back bends, open the heart, others open the hips, where lots of emotions are stored. In ancient Indian philosophy (especially Kundalini and Ayurveda) there is a belief that there are energy centers within the human body – chakras – that help to regulate all its processes, from organ function to the immune system and emotions. There are yoga poses associated with these chakras and many yoga teachers use these poses to work with chakras: to balance and align.
I haven’t been a believer in chakras. I’m not a spiritual person. Yoga was for me a form of physical exercise which eventually became something more powerful; I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was spiritual, but it certainly made me feel much better – less anxious, calmer, happier, better. I always marvelled (and still do) that no matter how I felt and what my intention was for going to a yoga class, somehow I always came out feeling like I got exactly what I needed – and this is contrary to what I thought I was after. I would always walk out more energised, smiling, grateful for the class.
So having this experience of being abandoned by joy has felt devastating. This was some 2 years ago and I still have this sensation that joy got up and left and hasn’t yet returned. I miss joy.
A note on chakras:
There are 7 chakras positioned throughout the body, from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Each chakra has its own vibrational frequency, that is depicted through a specific chakra color, and governs specific functions:
- Red is the color of the root chakra (first chakra); it’s located at the perineum, the base of your spine. It symbolises safety, survival, grounding, nourishment from the Earth energy. Its function is concerned with earthly grounding and physical survival.
- Orange is the color of the sacral chakra (second chakra); it carries meanings associated with emotions, creativity, sexuality, and is associated with water, flow.
- Yellow is the color of the solar plexus chakra (third chakra) and symbolises mental activities, intellect, personal power, will.
- Green is the color of the heart chakra (fourth chakra) which is connected with love, relating, integration, compassion.
- Blue is the color of the throat chakra (fifth chakra); it symbolises self expression, expression of truth, creative expression, communication, perfect form and patterns.
- Purple (or deep indigo blue) is the color of the third eye chakra (sixth chakra) which evokes intuition, extrasensory perception, inner wisdom.
- White is the color of the crown chakra (seventh chakra) and is associated with the universal, connection with spirituality, consciousness.
If you don’t know who Gerhard Richter is, you’re probably not alone. He is considered to be one of the greatest artists of out time, having had extensive exhibitions at both the Tate and the Pompidou yet he has been glaringly absent from any collections in Australia. This exhibition at QAGOMA is a first for Australia, and a real coup.
Richters oeuvre is prolific and stylistically varied: “I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings,” he says. His artwork references other historical images and he often makes use of photographs, distorting them to create something entirely new. Birkenau (2014) consists of 4 large panels which seem to be completely abstract – black, white, green and red paint over a grey background. But in fact these are based on photographs taken in secret by a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in August 1944. Richter took copies of the photos, blew them up and painted over them again and again until they appeared to be monumental abstracts.
Elsewhere, Richter creates works of art using the twin mediums of photograph and paint to present the viewer with a conundrum: deliberate defacing of photographs or a merging of visual forms to create a new way image? In the “Overpainted Photographs”, Richter smears oil paint over commercially printed post-card sized photographs. The paint is then pressed or scraped or lifted to give various effects. The photographs are just legible beyond the paint. You can just make out the scene below the paint: a beach, a new mother, a familiar landmark or monument. It’s an interesting artistic device: we peer to identify what’s below the paint and once having identified the image we return to regard the paint and the image as a whole. An entirely other work of art.
His work is both illusory and painterly. Richter is a master painter – his still-life paintings are almost photographic – photo-realist – but what I found more interesting are the photographic-like portraits that he then blurrs, sometimes only slightly, other times more severely. He uses a kitchen squeegee to move the paint over the canvas once its almost dry, thereby keeping the image intact.
Among the artworks on show at QAGOMA are the iconic portraits Reader (804) 1994 and Ella (903-1) 2007, still-life paintings including Two candles (499-4) 1982 and Orchid (848-9) 1997, and the evocative landscapes such as Meadowland (572-4) 1985 that evokes German Romantic painting.
There is also a long gallery devoted to ATLAS Overview, an extensive 400-panel extract from Richter’s encyclopaedic archival project ATLAS 1962 – an ongoing collection of photographs, sketches, collages and cuttings that he has drawn on for his paintings throughout his career. Richter personally nominated and arranged the selection of these images on display at GOMA.
It is a show that needs multiple viewings. Fortunately it runs through till 4 February 2018. I highly recommend spending some hours with these incredibly fascinating works.
The current trend of tidying up and throwing away is all about creating order and simplifying your life. De-clutter and your life will be happy. Japanese writer Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (the KonMari method – only keep things that give you joy and fold your underwear origami-style) and more recently “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Swedish grandmother, Margareta Magnusson, have been trying to impress on us the need to pare back to make life easier for ourselves and for others.
While I acknowledge that I need to de-clutter – I have a garage full of boxes of things and stuff that are no longer used but perhaps one day will be and often feel a stifling sense of being hemmed in; I have way too many clothes and shoes that I no longer wear and a study full of books, some of which are re-read or picked up or used as reference material; shelves of beautiful art books and art magazines and boxes full of work/teaching material. Then there are storage boxes full of art-making material: oil paints and mediums, acrylic paints and mediums, gouaches, brushes for all the different types of paints, pastels, charcoals, a printing press, paper (drawing paper, watercolour paper, printmaking paper), printing inks, copper plates, etching tools. And then there are many small boxes full of bits and pieces, mostly paper, that I have collected and used in my collages including Japanese Chiyogami paper, old letraset sheets (typeface transfers), images cut from magazines, gold leaf, stick-on dots and stars, old rubber stamps. A wondrous mix of odds and ends.
I’m sure if I had a proper studio things would be better organised and arranged for easy access. As it is, I rely on having to put things away into large plastic tubs and a variety of boxes once I’m done with a project which does make finding things difficult. A short while back I spent days looking everywhere for my gouaches and then thinking I must have thrown them out in the last move, went and bought some more only to find my box of gouaches the very next day.
Sometimes though in my searches for things I find visual art pads and sketch pads with collages I’d completely forgotten about, or partly-finished. They often inspire me to do something else. For collage work it’s often a case of coming across random items and thinking they might work well. It’s whatever catches your eye and your fancy. Making a collage is all about putting together a range of disparate elements on a page. There is often no plan, it simply evolves. It’s what I love about working in collage.
American collage artist, Lance Letscher avoids organising his boxes of source material so that he can find unexpected things when he starts searching; he depends on the chaos of stuff, of things lying around. Irving Welsh is also in favour of chaos and deliberately doesn’t organise his music collection:
“I don’t organise my CDs and vinyl by genre or alphabet anymore …. Having it all haphazard means I can never find what I want, but the benefit is that I always find something else, which is cool. I believe that art is as much about diversion as focus and planning”. In her autobiography Agatha Christie talks about the importance of messiness when re-visiting her chaotic notebooks:
“ [If] I had kept all these things neatly sorted and filed and labelled, it would save me a lot of trouble. However, it is a pleasure sometimes, when looking vaguely through a pile of old notebooks to find something scribbled down, as Possible plot… with a kind of sketch of a plot. What it’s all about I can’t remember now; but it often stimulates me, if not to write that identical plot, at least to write something else.”
So by all means, de-clutter and organise, but let’s not forget about the value of creative serendipity.
With acknowledgement to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter – a perfect example of randomness and coming across things you didn’t know you were looking for or were interested in.
I’m in the process of re-doing my website and need to find some new banner images. Seems straight forward enough. But I’ve spent hours looking through so many photos that my head starts to spin and my eyes glaze over. And I still can’t find the right ones.
My problem is that while I have an idea of what the photos should look like (colours, format, style) I don’t really have anything specific in mind. And none of the photos that I’ve looked at have made me go “Eureka”. Instead, I’m being like Goldilocks – this one’s too dark, this colour palette’s not quite right, that image isn’t really what I’m after etc.
This, coupled with the fact that I’m also looking for specific images for a new website at work means that I am feeling visually overloaded. Sadly too, when I search through images on Google/Safari, they’re either too small or belong to other people’s websites or they’re they’re the wrong orientation or simply just don’t fit the bill. Searching through stock photos can be more fruitful but again its so time-consuming: one category can give you options of looking at photos in up to 100 pages. Who has the patience? Especially when there are so many other things I need to be doing. I start to scream and reach desperately for the wine bottle.
Every Sunday morning we get up and get ready to head down south where I work two days a week. It’s a tedium we try and mitigate by doing nice thing for ourselves, like either going to yoga or having an indulgent breakfast. And then into a quick clean and pack before heading out. We generally leave at 2pm with a view of arriving somewhere around 5pm.
The drive should only take 2.5 hours. But Ms Google has informed us today that there is a long delay – 30 mins of red highway and so our arrival is timed for after 5.30pm. Why? Who knows. Ms Google doesn’t seem to know. All she knows is that there’s congestion. At the moment we’re stopped. Traffic isn’t moving. All seems to be going well the other way – cars moving fast with no congestion. On this side of the road: nada. No movement. It’s an exercise in frustration. It seems to happen a lot. And it doesn’t seem to matter what time or day we leave. Heading back to the sunny coast we leave after 4pm on either Tuesday or Wednesday and same thing: delays and congestion. The supposed 2.5 hour journey generally takes 3hours+. Its tedious but also gruelling. But the most frustrating part of it is not knowing the cause of the congestion. Too may cars? Or is it just the roadworks (that have been going on for over 10 years – without sight of person or vehicle making any progress)? Or something else.
I had considered public transport. But the logistics are impossible Queensland is just not commuter friendly.
And now Ms Google has revised her calculations: delay = 1+ hr. Grrrrr………
When I first started practising yoga in Sydney it was usual to start and end the class with a collective ‘Om’ which is sounded out as A-U-M – three different sounds with a vibration felt in your throat and then your lips (although in the Hindu tradition its just a very nasal reverberating Oh sound). It’s a sacred sound and mantra in Hundiusm, Buddhism, Jainism and Skikhism and is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions.
It’s a weird thing to do at first – the expelling of breath whilst projecting the sound – you never know how your voice is going to sound out loud and there are always concerns of self-consciousness: “will I sound off-key?” etc. But it’s a powerful way to connect and at the end of a class its always interesting to experience how much more energy and freedom that mantra emits. It’s a great way to open and close the practise and gives a tangible sense of connectivity. Rolling Oms are my favourite: it’s where you just keep chanting Om in your own breath cycle and it creates a beautiful mellifluous sound because everyone’s breath cycle is different. It also removes the fear that you will start before anyone else.
Having moved to the Sunshine Coast I’ve discovered two lovely yoga studios – one of which incorporated a more elaborate mantra (Shanti Om) which took me a while to figure out (and therefore left me sitting with my discomfort). But the other studio I joined doesn’t Om. It struck me one day that there was this sense of incompletion at the end of each session and I realised that what I was missing was chanting this mantra Om. I asked the yoga teacher who informed me that it was part of studio’s policy (part of their ‘brand’) to not Om. Why? Because it might put people who are new to yoga off – make them feel uncomfortable . She suggested that I could always chant inside my own head. But that defeats the purpose. Two things struck me as being really strange:
- that the yoga studio considered itself a brand; and
- the assumption that people couldn’t cope with having to make the Om sound. Conversely it was considered OK to sit with hands in a prayer mudra and all say ‘namaste’ at the end of class.
It led me to think about the business of yoga: what yoga has become/morphed into and how muddle-headed it all is. On the one hand it’s promoted as the contemporary panacea to all the world’s (individual’s) ills, yet on the other hand it distances itself from the root of its origins as a spiritual practice.
I have to say, I have had the privilege to be part of what I consider a truly authentic yoga studio and have come across many wonderful yoga teachers , and it is thanks to them that I have been able to develop and deepen my understanding of yoga – physically and beyond.
But I’m not at all certain about the business of yoga. The yoga studios who set up chains and become a ‘brand’. What does that mean? My experience is that they train their staff in a certain way and present their classes in a certain way (despite each yoga teacher having their own personal style, it remains very formulaic) and are not really interested in their community unless it benefits them. That sounds cynical doesn’t it? It is. And I hate that I’ve become cynical. But I also hate the imposition of a certain way of being that is purported to be either ‘zen’ or ‘yoga’ that really has nothing to do with what yoga is about. A lack of authenticity.
So I’m curious: to Om or not to Om?
I first came across David Hockney’s work through the lithographs of Celia Birtwell, wy back in the 70s when I was an art student studying printmaking. I loved these images, the simplicity of the line work with its subtle wash – stylised but capturing a moment.
On exploring Hockney’s work further I saw an exhibition of his LA Swimming Pool series and again I was struck, not just by the naturalness of the image/subject matter but at the complexity of the structure and composition that made these images so alluring; they were so quintessentially modern.
Many decades later I was fortunate to see a wonderful exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia which showcased the work of Dale Chihuly as well as featuring Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon. For me it was one of those ‘wow’ moments. Coming out of the wonderfully curated Chihuly show – which was akin to walking through Aladdin’s Cave – to see this incredibly strange painting consisting of many small canvas boards in the strangest colours was one of the highlights of my art viewing.
What made it so special was a short film that accompanied the work: David Hockney talking about his process in constructing this amazing piece. Not just the footage of him driving his convertible along mountain rides listening to Bach, but also his using photographs of multiple viewpoints and then the process of colour selection. I finally sat down right in front of that painting and it took my breath away. I was able to experience it from so many different point of views (perspectives) that it wasn’t a static image, it was an alive and deeply moving colourful experience. Sadly, the NGA has now hung this masterpiece on a wall over the escalators so that it’s impossible for anyone to really see/view/experience it, or indeed understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t understand why this decision was made as I think it remains of the true great works in the collection.
One of Hockney’s ‘tricks’ is to eschew traditional perspective – a fifteenth century construct which is fixed – and opt for a more subjective view. He sees his objects from multiple perspectives, from many views and many sides and angles and manages to capture the visual experience of being in the presence of the depicted image. Masterful.
So it was with great anticipation that I wanted to see the NGV’s exhibition of Hockney’s new works: Current. And yet, when I expressed my interest and asked if people wanted to go see it with me, the response was lukewarm: ‘nah’, not really interested.
I had talked to a friend who had seen it and she related how impressive the digital/iPhone images were and Hockney’s discussion of his art making on video. I definitely wanted to see this. I had also seen a very short interview with Hockney on SBS about this show and the glimpse of the images impressed me with their bright colour and sheer joyfulness. I was going to see this show.
And so I did. I managed to convince a friend to see it with me – he and I went to uni together to study Art History and although he was sceptical about the show, he was gracious enough to come. I’m extremely pleased to say that he was blown away and thought it one of the best shows he’d seen. Hockney is not just a master of colour he is a master of invention.
Hockney’s use of the iPhone (and then the iPad) to create ‘pictures’ is mesmerising. His use of colour is breathtaking and his skill, well, I think he is one of the greats. And at age 90 he is making inroads and creating works that not only astound but delight. If ‘joy’ was something I had expected to experience, I found it to be so much more than I could ever have contemplated. There were so many ‘wow’ moments in viewing those works; so many mouth-gaping ‘how is that possible?’ that I came away convinced that I had seen one of the greatest shows of the 21st century (second only to an exhibition of Anselm Kieffer that I saw at the Royal Academy of Arts in London).
I drove to Queensland Uni the other day to meet with a potential supervisor (for my PhD). I dropped my husband off at the airport as he was going away to a conference interstate and continued on my way, paying attention to the Google Maps lady to ensure that I was in the correct lane for the right exit out of the tunnel etc. It’s been a while since I lived in Brisbane and I find driving around the place very confusing. Once upon a time I used to drive everywhere without the aid of an electronic device – there were road maps which you would consult and then try to memorise. Seemed so straight forward that I’m not sure why I have a sense of panic about driving without the aid of Ms Google.
Finding a parking spot at the Uni was quite an exercise but I finally managed to and it was right opposite the pay station. Handy. And then I realised I didn’t have my wallet with me. I hadn’t bothered to put it into the bag I’d taken. There was no money in the car – not even coins – and I didn’t have a credit card. I had planned to get a cup of coffee and perhaps a bite to eat before my meeting. Now I couldn’t even get a bottle of water. Or pay for the parking. But even worse – and this is where my panic hit crisis – I couldn’t get fuel for the return journey.
I don’t know anyone in Brisbane so there wasn’t anyone I could ring to come rescue me (bring money). And I didn’t have one of those banking accounts that let’s you use ATMs without a card. I also had no identification which made it hard to try and get fuel without paying for it (I would of course have paid later, if that transpired to be at all possible). Finally I decided that all I could do was find someone to give me some money. Worse case scenario I would ask my new supervisor (embarrassing). I could transfer money into her account immediately. As for the parking ticket, I left a note saying that I didn’t have my wallet and I had gone to find some money. Nothing more I could do on that front.
Eventually I found an angel of mercy who helped me out. I think she just took pity on me when I told her my plight and although she wasn’t able to do anything in her capacity as an employee of the university, she offered to do so personally, an act of human kindness. So I transferred money into her account and we went to the ATM and she withdrew some money for me – enough so that I could get a bottle of water and put enough fuel in my car to get me home.
My meeting went well and I got good news about my PhD propsoal and supervision and was thrilled with the outcome. But I was so thrown by the experience that I’m still unable to process my thoughts and feelings about the outcome. It required quite a bit of wine that evening, but even after a long, deep sleep and a morning yoga session, I’m still feeing a sense of discombobulation. Hopefully in a week or so I will be able to laugh at my stupidity. But I will remain forever grateful for the kindness of strangers. And I will also put some money in the car for any such future emergencies.
… and wet.
The Queensland version of cold has hit. It’s 18 degrees and I have the heating on. I’m still in my yoga clothes (crop leggings, top, zip-up jacket and I’m wearing my TOMs). So it’s not that it’s cold enough to be rugged up and I haven’t yet pulled out all my winter woolies or even my long-sleeved T’s, but there’s a definite chill in the air.
Usually I wouldn’t really notice. The car is in the garage and leads directly into the house and there’s an automatic door opening the garage so there’s really no need to experience the elements – just go from one car park to another. Except that I no longer have a car to drive. I’m getting around on my pushbike. My pushbike is one of those electric ones that has a motor to assist in getting up those hills that seem to be everywhere, so riding my bike isn’t really an effort. Until it’s wet and windy. That’s an altogether different kind of experience.
Yesterday the wind blew my bike helmet back off my head, almost garrotting me (I definitely need to get a new helmet that fits better) and the the rain, though light, kept hitting my face and making my glasses wet and impossible to see out of. Today I was prepared and wore my goretex coat over my hoodie to protect me from the rain and wind. But what I didn’t factor in was that despite leaving my bike under an awning it was wet when I came back to it and I ended up with a wet bum.
The other problem is that if it’s raining, my yoga mat, which I have on the back of the bike, gets wet.
And then there’s the problem of shopping. The basket on the front of my bike isn’t designed to hold much weight so I can’t put any shopping there – just my little bag with wallet and keys etc. So I have to try and secure my shopping on the rail on the back of the bike. Which means that I have to be very mindful of what I can buy. One day I got carried away and when I went to secure my shopping found it wasn’t going work – there was just too much.
I like getting around on a bike when it’s a nice day and I don’t really have much to do. It’s certainly a great way to get to the beach and Hastings St here in Noosa where it’s impossible to find a park when the tourists hit town, but as for using it as my main form of transport in this cold wet weather? It sucks.
In a post-post-modernist world, how many people are familiar with the amazing accomplishments of the modernists? They were the pioneers of colour, form, daring simple styles and subject matter previously deemed unworthy of artistic endeavour.
I was a bit sceptical about going to see Modernism at Queensland Art Gallery, an exhibition showcasing the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, Grace Cossington-Smith and Margaret Preston. Putting those three women’s work together seemed a bit like an afterthought – we’ve managed to secure paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe but not enough for a stand-alone show, or curating a show out of whatever’s not recently been seen from the stockroom. Certainly it seemed odd to show O’Keeffe with the other two Australians – Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington-Smith.
But each artist has transformed traditional still-life into a more vibrant and modern aesthetic. Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings fill the canvas with close-ups of magnificent blooms, their bright colours and abstract quality conveying a distinct sensuality. Margaret Preston’s graphic paintings focus on design and pattern and remind me of the early Russian modernists with their focus on constructivism and utilitarian design as well as the still-life paintings of Giorgio Morandi. One of my favourites is a very minimalist painting of a tray of cups Implement Blue (1927), highly stylised and beautiful in its minimalist, industrial design. I love the play of light and use of geometric pattern and colour. I’m not a fan of Preston’s later work where she appropriates colour and design from a quasi-Aboriginal aesthetic – all these strike me as being works of design rather than landscape painting.
In a way, Grace Cossington-Smith is the odd one out; her paintings seem more post-impressionist rather than modernist – apart from The sock knitter (1915) – and her subject matter less interesting. The sock knitter is a portrait of her sister knitting socks for soldiers fighting in France. The interesting thing about this painting is it’s emphasis on compositional structure: the play of horizontals and verticals through the misalignment of the cushions on the back of the sofa which sit at odds with the intimate and commonplace subject matter. It’s one of Cossington-Smith’s best (if not the best) paintings). A tension between subject matter and surface, which reminds me of Matisse.
Christopher Allen in his review of the exhibition (when it showed originally at Heide) wrote: The exhibition includes a number of abstract or semi-abstract works from O’Keeffe’s earlier period, including the years when she shared a home with Stieglitz at Lake George. These are finely painted with a sensuous pleasure in surface texture and a love of seductive, even sexual forms, even if the notoriously vulval flowers are barely present here. And it is this erotic vitality that separates her so starkly from the rather spinsterly sensibility of the two Australians.” And it is indeed this aspect that made me sceptical of seeing this show.
I first came across Georgia O’Keeffe when I was a young art student in the 70’s. Back then she was very much a feminist icon – her bright paintings of canna lillies and other exotic flowers were often described as images of vulvas, though O’Keeffe always denied this. In some way O’Keeffe’s work became conflated with that of Judy Chicago’s (one of the “first-generation feminist artists,” who was part of the Feminist art movement in Europe and the United States in the early 1970s to develop feminist writing and art and at the time and who were heroes to many young women seeking to advance their own artistic practices).
Chicago’s famous installation The Dinner Party was a collaborative piece that made no hierarchical distinction between art and craft, indeed it was the very inclusion on some of these crafts (hand women settings, pottery, embroidery etc) that made the installation so significant. I was lucky enough to see it in the 80’s at the Melbourne Exhibition Building, which was still functioning back then. The Dinner Party is considered as one of the first epic feminist artworks, serving as a symbolic history of women in Western civilisation. It consisted of three large tables put together to form a triangle, covered in white tablecloths on which were 39 elaborate place settings, each representing a significant mythical or historical woman of whom O’Keeffe was one. Each of the plates was beautifully hand painted depicting a flower or butterfly image evoking a vulva.
The works on display at QAG are actually well curated and worth the visit. Depending on your individual taste you’ll find one artist’s work more interesting than others. For all my misgivings about a show on modernism that consisted of these three seemingly disparate female artists, I think it’s interesting to re-visit this long-forgotten aspect of early twentieth century art making and remind ourselves of the trajectory. Certainly some of O’Keefffe’s beautiful pastel works seem like a precursor to colour-field painting, especially the paintings of Helen Frakenthaller and I loved some of her dark almost abstract landscapes. I also found resonance with Tim Maguire’s beautiful close-up paintings of flowers, especially tulips. Whatever the connections, whatever the inspirations, it’s always good to see some art and be reminded of how it’s an ever changing landscape (pardon the pun).