The past two chapters establish my base in woven tapestry specifically and textiles generally. I was attending an end of year camp with my fellow Teachers’ College students on the bank of the Hawkesbury River. Follow upriver to Pitt Town Scheyville and you would reach the first house my parents lived in, after being released from the Migrant camp. The garden in front of this house is the setting of two recent button works: Blond Boy With Bike and Sailor Boy.
At the summer camp a primary school teacher was demonstrating tablet weaving: take a sheet of stiff cardboard, wrap warps of jute string vertically around it then begin to weave wefts into the warps. After a bogus attempt at textured weaving [having recently seen Jutta Federson’s textured large scale work at the Art Gallery of NSW] I completed a series of small stripes, dull looking but satisfying for me. Described as NEAT.
I went home to start my new hobby. I constructed a wooden frame; the cartoon I had in mind was based on Will Blake’s Auguries of Innocence: “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand.” The palm of an outstretched hand contained an all-seeing eye; the head behind the hand was shaped with waves of blue and white stripes. I felt strongly, intuitively that I had found a link to my cultural past. Remember I lived in an Anglo-Saxon colonising, frontier culture. The indigenous peoples’ self expression was not much encouraged. Non Anglos were also unrecognised. This was the time of modernism, a so-called universalism ruled the horizon. Critics and teachers insisted that you express experience in universal not subjective terms.
Based on a dream I had the previous night, I felt that this craft was a vehicle for narrative. I already wrote poetry, but was losing confidence that it could convey experience. The typical poetry then was obscure, concrete, puzzling, pattern-based. As a child in a central Qld town I came across platypus, possums, bandicoots, kangaroos, kookaburras, eagles, magpies. Somehow I rarely mentioned them in my poetry, but when I came to weave images of them the experience was memorable and satisfying.
Beast, 1983. 40 cms H X 40 cms W. Woven tapestry, cotton warp, cotton wefts. Inspired by the addition to my household of a beautiful bronze prince, my Tonkinese cat Chook.
Sea-scrim, 1983. 50 cms H X 70 cms W. Woven tapestry, cotton warp, wool, cotton wefts. Begun on a visit to my sister’s new house on the Sunshine Coast, I collected a small bottle of sand & shell debris. That night I slept in a pristine environment. The most bizarre insects seemed attracted to my window screen. I connected these sticklike movements to the staccato gestures in Fred William’s paintings.
Glory Lily, 1983. 90 cms H X 130 cms W. Woven tapestry, cotton warp, wool, cotton wefts. This plant, a luxurious creeper from Thailand has medicinal properties. But its tangling forms reminded me of Asian textiles: batiks, ikats. I sought to express complexity of local detail linked periodically with variations, line alternating with mass.