Silk has always been my favourite material, sensuous to wear yet so practical and comfortable in all weathers. It is always beautiful, whether patterned, plain, embroidered or subtly woven with textures in it. Even its names - shantung, habutai, tussore, chiffon, taffeta, dupioni, tussah - sound exotic and alluring. One of my earliest connections with silk was the realisation that mulberry leaves, from a tree that I loved and knew well at my home in East Africa, were what feed the silk worms for 35 days, before they are ready to spin a cocoon with their continuous fine silken thread that eventually measures over a mile when it is carefully unwound, prior to being woven into cloth.Read More
The law of delicious coincidences is again in force for me – coincidences of artistry that span many centuries and in a totally unexpected way.
Caixa Forum Palma has a most interesting and rather unusual exhibition at present - Another Egypt. Coptic collections from the Louvre. It is a nicely displayed selection of Coptic art, with one section showing artifacts mainly from two very early Coptic Christian churches, with selections of carved stonework capitals and friezes, lights and other religious items. Since Christianity arrived in Egypt very early on, probably about AD 33 via Mark the Evangelist, there was a slow increase in Coptic adherents, until Alexandria became an important centre of Christianity. Influences from Greek, Roman, Pharonic and Byzantine civilisations melded with the natural world familiar to the Egyptians along the banks of the Nile; the resultant Coptic culture produced elegantly simple, yet sophisticated designs of pomegrantes, palms, vines in the stone carvings. Woods used for carved doors and other church furnishings were those of the desert - tamarisk and fig, unusual woods to see carved.
The second section was the source of my delicious coincidences... amongst a wide selection of artifacts that the Copts used in their daily life, including examples of the Greek alphabet being introduced to enrich the written word, was a wonderful collection of textiles from the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Both secular and religious pieces were displayed, with a marvellous melding of cultures again and all of a freshness, delicacy and brilliance of colour that astonished. Linen and wool, used with great finesse, and all of a quality that belie their great age.
These wonderful works of fabric art were still vivid in my mind's eye when, a couple of days later, I walked into a gem of an exhibition at Espai H.C., the Lluc Fluxa elegant gallery in Palma de Mallorca. Thread by Thread is a selection of embroidered works of art done by Mallorcan ladies for the Palma establishment, Casa Bonet, that sold embroidered goods from 1862 to 2007. The work ranges from the most elaborate and exquisite of ladies' hankerchiefs to tablecloths, via marvellous pieces that won prizes in international competitions all over Europe. White silhouettes on black of Greek inspiration, figures that could have almost come from the Coptic fabrics, were created one thread at a time of the finest silk thread. Even a link to the Copts came with written pieces of poetry or enthusiastic and lyrical testimonials that were then so exactly reproduced in embroidery that it was virtually impossible to tell which was on paper and which was on fabric. This is art in its most wonderful form, art created with a silk-threaded needle and frame on sheer fabric.
Between the Coptic and Mallorcan textile artists, it was hard to choose which I preferred. I just delighted in the juxtaposition and coincidence of seeing wondrous creativity in an artform I seldom see.
Today, when the art materials industry and art instruction world have hugely increased in size, everyone can easily turn to art, either to create or to support its creation. The statistics abound to show what a beneficial multiplier factor the arts are to an area's economy, and the arts are viewed very positively.
It is, however, still, a rather solitary occupation to be an artist. No matter what the discipline, it remains a discipline requiring a person ultimately to produce something. In painting or drawing, for instance, it is mostly the artist's passion which will keep the creation going. In that dedication to creating a work, there is a lot that goes on "behind the scenes". When I conceive of a drawing or painting, there are initially decisions as to the medium (silverpoint drawing or graphite, for instance, or watercolours or acrylics), the format (horizontal or vertical, large or small), or is it going to be one piece or one in a series. Once those basic choices are made, there are then the decisions as to how to convey the concept, what to say, how to say it, why is it important?
Studies and exploratory drawings help the preparation. And it is at that stage, often, that the essence of the idea - the essence of a person's character for a portrait, or the spirit of the land in a landscape, for example - becomes paramount. What is "hidden from our sense of sight", as art consultant and author Roger H. Boulet wrote on draughtswoman Ann Kipling of British Columbia, is something that each artist needs to tap into, albeit often unconsciously. Paula Rego (see my blog entry of April 1st) was talking of tapping into this when she talked of the excitement of a voyage into the unknown each time she starts drawing. Intensity of observation, vitality of expression, a willingness to push through to evoke life itself - those are pathways to creation that each artist travels willingly, knowing they are important. And each of us, as artists, recognises that those journeys are lonely but rewarding.