Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New teapot

Dear Diane,
Look! I got a new teapot.

My Mum said she was scared of breaking my Portmerion Crazy Daisy teapot so Dennis suggested I had better buy one for her to use. I think she was thinking of a rather utilitarian teapot but I could not resist this Portmerion Dawn Chorus teapot. I think that even if you are making a cup of tea it is better to create it with a thing of beauty don't you? And it is actually a second so Mum can be reassured that it is already not perfect so a chip in her hands will not be the thing that spoils it. And I can't tell why it is a second, which reminds me not to stress about my art not being perfect, because this teapot might have been cast out of the John Lewis store for whom it was created and made to live in the discount mall, but it is still bringing beauty into my life. This will be my studio teapot I think. When I eventually get the studio finished.

In the meantime I continue to create on the dining room table. This is a better photo of the original fabric sketch

 and this is the one from this week. Showing some rather unsuccessful experimentation on the green ovals!

While I was making it I was pondering a question Erica has posed to me a couple of times now, namely, what draws me to African women? She pointed out that there are lots of social issues all over the world so why have I focused in on Africa? At first when I read those questions I interpreted them as a crticism; its not your culture, why are you doing it? Then after a period of consideration of, oh, about two seconds I decided that she did not mean a criticism at all and that was my internally resident Censor seizing on a non- existent reason not to follow the artistic path down which my heart was taking me.

So as I say, I pondered. And I came to the conclusion that travel plays a big part in my creatvity. I was wondering if the same is true for you as I know you associate tea with your English travels. Back when I was still at University, many, many years before I started to quilt or do any kind of art I spent a month in South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland. This was just months after Mr Mandela was released and as I was travelling with a friend who had previously lived in the country we stayed with South Africans and talked about how the country was transforming and how the way they lived their lives would change. I have very vivid memories of things I experienced there, from touring Soweto and being shown bullets on the road to browsing a bookshop which was open late on a sultry Jo'bug night and finding a book about Miriam Makeba which led to my love of South African music. When I got back to university, by entire coincidence, the student in the room opposite me was an exiled member of the ANC, lonely and homesick and happy to talk to someone who had been to his country. From Hull University I went to Cambridge and there I met Albie Sachs, a white South African who, as an advocate, defended those charged under the apartheid racial laws. He was forced ino exile in Mozambique and there he lost an arm and an eye when South African security forces put a bomb in his car.After I met him Nelson Mandela appointed him a Constitutional Law Judge. I began to collect books - lots of them!- about the apartheid era.

And I really think thats why the African thing comes out in my work because although I have no claim to African heritage, I was exposed to it in a very direct and effecting way. I have been back since and my second trip has influenced my work directly - the Community theme quilt was from that trip even though it was years before. I do love the vibrancy of African culture - I once had a memorable evening in sheffield when I got to dance on stage with male Zulu dancers but thats another story!

It works the other way too. My fabric sketches this week have made me think about mass graves and from there the Rwandan genocide. Thats not something I know much about so I had a quick look online and I discovered that they now have a system of courts called 'gacaca' in which the whole community particpiate in finding justice and reconcilaition between victims and perpetrators. Now you can imagine how that got my juices going! I don't know how this will come out visually yet, or when, but I have happily recognised that part of my working in this series is to read and learn about what I am lead to. So today on my commute I started to listen to the audio book As We Forgive.

I think the interest I developed in the art and stories of Australian Aboriginals while I was travelling may come out in my art later as well. But clearly my incubation period is very long! One thing I did do this weekend was start to design a quilt for the Beneath Southern Skies exhibit Brenda is curating and the time I spent learning about Maori Culture was working its way in there.

Erica also asked me was part of my fascination that the African culture was different to mine. That is definately a part of it. I don't have a strong sense of cultural belonging and I certainly do have a fascination with close communities. Look on my bookshelf and you see lots of things about orthodox judaism, mormon households and the like. But her question has planted a little seed in my mind. So far it is so deeply planted in a dark, but I hope fertile place, I am having trouble even articulating it. It is something to do with making art that uses elements of my society to recreate the kind of ritual or ceremonial life of other communities which I feel we lack or have lost. No real idea what that means but when I get to the Illumination stage you will be the first to know:). I have to say I am finding it very useful already to write to you like this and to really think about creativity and to observe what works and what does not work for me. Are you?

Oh and your question about thinking about ritual.... I have not really been thinking about it directly, but I think something is working away at the back of my mind. I can hear the creaking! See for me it is definately about ideas, concepts - for you more images would you say? Of course I never feel I actually have anywhere near the abilty to get out onto a quilt what is in my head. The art in my head is truly amazing :)

I had to smile at your categorising me as single minded and you as rambling down side paths. It made me think about Art Garfunkel who, I understand, set off to walk across America but did it on weekends. Doing a bit then going home doing other projects and picking up at the last spot later on. I think I am a bit like that - single minded but on several paths at once. And of course your side paths remind me of the poem by Robert Frost which is Dennis' favourite : " I took the path less travelled and it has made all the difference."

So anyhow, time to use the teapot I think.

 And the mugs and cake plates that I found I had to buy with it to prevent the horror of the teapot potentially being used with a non-matching mug. Do you think I should go back and buy the matching cake stand?


Erica Spinks said...

Aah, that was an interesting articulation of your attraction to Africa, Helen. Now I understand a little more of your motivation. Thank you.

One thing struck me, though. You say "I don't have a strong sense of cultural belonging and I certainly do have a fascination with close communities." Perhaps your work exhibits a longing to be part of a close community - something that you may secretly desire?

Besides that, your teapot is simply gorgeous.

Renate said...

Helen, Oh how I wish I could articulate and write the way you do. I found your conversation very very interesting.

Deborah Boschert said...

Wow. So many meaty good thoughts in this post. First: the tea pot, cups and saucers are gorgeous. I love every single detail. I hope you have already purchased the cake plate.

Now, you practically glossed over the new quilt, which I really like very very much. I'm not sure the green ovals are completely unsuccessful. They look more like pods or orbs. I suspect they are supposed to represent more of a skull shape and theme. I am totally getting bones from the one panel and I think they are both wonderfully shaped as bones, but still a bit abstracted. I am also seeing drips of blood, but only because you've directed me to the mass grave theme. Would I think of blood, skulls and bones if I didn't know you were working on that them? I'm not sure. That might be an area to explore as you sketch and further develop your ideas. Are you using your theme as only a jumping off point and willing to twist, alter, turn and manipulate the colors, shapes and images associated with the theme to served the design of the art quilt? Or do you want to use the shapes and themes more specifically but place them in a slightly modern or contemporary setting?

The quilting and the painting over the quilting are fantastic!