Well, dear Reader, I apologize for having been silent for so long. It has been a busy summer and fall, and because of the new heart condition that I now live with, some things have been harder to do than they used to be. Check out my website, www.strachanjohnson.com, which has just been updated.
It's been a good summer, with lots of new work and lots of things on the horizon. Not the least of which, I am going to be a grandmother, sometime around the middle of June next year!
There has been one sadness as well. In October, Ragtime, my dear companion of sixteen years, fell asleep for the last time. Though always bossy and still keenly interested in what was going on, she had begun to show signs of dementia, and was clearly distressed when she got lost. So we decided to help her on her way. I still miss her dreadfully.
This week I went to see The Many Faces of Chris Kummer, at the Joshua Creek Art Gallery in Oakville. Chris' work is full of whimsy and humour, but she also tells you the truth. I love her work, and this piece was one of my favourites, called "A Day at the Zoo". Unfortunately, it was sold when I got there.
Here's another pic from my visit, Chris with some of her "family". It's not very flattering of Chris, but she wouldn't stop talking! Don't you just love the ageing hippies? It's called The Long and Winding Road.
Chris helped me when I was planning my "totem" in the last module of my City & Guilds Diploma. I had been given this amazing bit of driftwood, and I knew I had to make it into a Mother Earth figure. This is what it looked like after I had polished it with some floor wax and wired on two pork rib bones. How could one not make a figure out of this?
Chris suggested that I not add too much to it, and to be very careful what kind of "head" I put on it. She also saw the hollow in the chest as a kind of womb, and I searched for a pearl type bead to place there. In the end, my Mother Earth totem was given her own totem, a staff with symbols of her power and identity (which also helped her stand up, as the third leg of the tripod! All of the elements were developed from Maori shapes and designs, from my trip to New Zealand in January. Here's what the finished piece looked like:
I went to the UK to see my mother in October, and met up with my husband Quentin at the gorgeous newly renovated St. Pancras station in London (don't you just love jetsetters!) Then we flew to Berlin for the weekend. The most amazing art installation I saw was this Jewish Memorial called the Field of Stelae, which lies in a large park between the Brandenburg Gate and the American Embassy.
Designed by a New York architect, Peter Eisenman, the memorial is made up of 1862 "stelae". Imagine filling an empty grave with concrete, let it set, and then lift out the concrete and put it on some uneven ground. They are all different heights and sizes, and are faced with an amazing compound than cannot be scratched or defaced with any kind of paint. Many of them lean slightly, and the ground on which they rest undulates, which is most disconcerting. Here's what it looks like when you stare down one of the avenues. It was the most powerful and moving piece of art I have ever seen.
I was a participant in an amazing workshop with India Flint in the late summer. The venue, Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre, just north of Oakville, was perfect, and we had five days of sunshine where we could wander the beautiful grounds for inspiration and fallen treasures for our dye baths and designs. Here is a photo of India pointing out a weeping cherry tree, which makes a beautiful resist pattern. I won't describe what we did - just google India Flint and you will be amazed by her work!
Here is the largest piece I produced - it is "landskin feltwrap", hand stitched and handfelted; it is so soft and luxurious to the touch - and there is a little of Ragtime's fur in it.
I have decided that I am going to sew on a digital print of my son rock-climbing. We found this amazing cliff in the scout camp opposite our house in Everton, and I took this photograph of him - he is actually about 10ft up the cliff! I'll publish the piece when it's finished.
After my piece for "Pentimento", our Connections Fibre Artists show in Salmon Arm BC, was safely shipped off, I began work on a "portiere", or door curtain. This was a commission from a friend who lives in a beautiful stone century home with a warm cosy modern extension. The extension is where the kitchen, study, family room with wood stove and TV are, so guess where they spend most of their time in the winter! My portiere now proudly sits in one of the openings that separates the new part of the house from the old, (where the thermostat is turned down to about 50 degrees. Brrr!)
I had a lot of fun designing this: I used a cropping from a watermedia collage work I did in 1998, (above) called "Cottage Patio". And then I "pixelated" it, sewed all the squares together and quilted it. Just to make things interesting, and in keeping with my environmental/recycling theme, I used only used clothing, most from the client's wardrobe, and from that of her late mother. Sometimes the colour matching wasn't perfect, but it made for a very interesting design. The back (which is seen from the other part of the house) was made up of larger "pixel" squares and covered with the labels from the clothing.
Just for fun, here's a blurred version of the original inspiration, and if you screw up your eyes when you look at the quilt, you can see the similarity.
Since I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I have been reading everything I can lay my hands on about it - how it happened and wondering if I can heal it.
The heart is the place where love resides, if you believe the poets. I do know what it is like to be sick at heart, (when I have had to move from a happy home, or have lost a beloved pet). I do know what a broken heart feels like – it actually hurts physically. I do know what it feels like when my heart jumps for joy at receiving ecstatically good news. So I want to explore some of these ideas through my art, and maybe I will come close to understanding why my heart isn’t working as well as it used to, and what I can do about it.
Extract from a poem by Rumi …
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for
another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
And a song of praise upon your lips.
Affairs of the Heart – a Journey is the working title of this show, and I intend to complete 30 or 40 works in 2012 or 2013. The first in the series is currently on show in Pentimento, a show by Connections Fibre Artists in Salmon Arm Public Art Gallery in BC. I wrote the text myself: If you double click on the image you may be able to read it - it says "when the roses have faded and the heart is troubled, look for angels in the seed pods - for a heart that does not love the divine in all things will fail the test." How about that? The angels are made from wild cucumber seed pods, there are actually rose petals stitched into the piece, and the EKG print is my own.
One of the commissions I had to produce before the summer was another altar frontal for the chapel of Bethany School in Cincinatti. All of these frontals have been fun to do - like finding a soft velvet for the dove. I hope the children get to stroke it - I deliberately put in some shading of the feathers it so any "dirt" won't show.
Once my jobs were done, and after teaching a great weekend workshop with Fibreworks Kingston (Translucence in Fibre Art), I celebrated with a trip to Cuba to visit my brother Charlie, who lives in Havana. Also joining me were my two sisters Fiona and Sarah. It was the first time we all four had got together without spouses or children since we were children ourselves! Here we are enjoying the evening light on the Malacon, the main waterfront road in Havana. We are waiting for the sunset which happens over the water just behind where we are sitting.
But unfortunately all the sun and lazing by the swimming pool didn't prevent a startling diagnosis of congestive heart failure on my return! Treatment since then (beginning of May) has been well managed, and my poor heart is showing signs of improvement. Apparently this is caused by something I likely inherited from my dad.
This piece is now hanging with another Connections show, in the Orillia Museum of Art & History, until the first week of January. This is a great little museum in the old post office - I hope you get to catch it.