Sunday, March 26, 2017

There's No Place Like Home

View with a room.
I try to be a low-maintenance sort of human being. I realize that I have won the jackpot already, being a white Canadian, and have privilege virtually oozing out of every pore. I don't mind living below the poverty line, I don't fantasize about marrying a rich man, I happily wear second or third hand clothes. I feel I have an extraordinary life: I live in a wonderful, enlightened community in a beautiful part of the world, I can grow my own food and share with others, I can express myself creatively, I have people to love and care about, not to mention the best doggies ever.

So when my mother arranged an all-expenses paid family vacation at a spa resort (Tigh-Na-Mara, in Parksville) I was willing to go along with it because it was a rare opportunity to be together with my brothers and sister, not because I felt the need to be pampered like the Queen of Sheba. It was nice to see my Mom so thrilled and excited - she usually runs at a pretty high level of joie de vivre anyway, so this was really something to behold.

So it was surprising to hear her be the first one to voice the feeling of being out of place as we arrived on a lovely sunny day last week, and were shown to our over-the-top-de-luxe rooms. "Do you feel that we might actually be inmates in an insane asylum?" she asked. Not that we suddenly were having delusions, but we were definitely in an alternate reality. My room alone could have housed a family of four - complete with kitchen, dining area, jacuzzi in the living room, king-sized bed, widescreen TV, fireplace and gob-smacking ocean view. It was bigger than my whole house!

Since the tide was out, I decided to go for a restorative walk on the magnificent beach, a true natural wonder. All was lovely and peaceful, until two young lads wearing matching red hoodies - all the better for the Coast Guard to find them when they get swept out to sea, I murderously thought -  proceeded to run screaming at the flock of migratory birds taking advantage of the herring run at the water's edge. "Huh", I mumbled to myself, "they don't allow dogs because they might bother the wildlife, but they let nasty, over-privileged brats run free."

In that disgruntled frame of mind I made my way to the mineral pool of the Grotto Spa, where I joined my family under an artificial waterfall of warm, soothing, lithium enhanced droplets. The pool was designed to look like something one might encounter in a remote tropical island and was truly lovely. After about ten minutes, I began to worry that my thickened layers of proletarian skin might start to slough off and create disgusting debris-ridden vortices in the pool, prompting a whistle to be blown and everyone ordered out. I wished that I had paid more attention to exfoliating during my twice weekly, Aussie-rules home showers.

From there we slipped into our identical, spa-mandatory robes and flip-flops and made our way to the lounge, where we sipped on cucumber, lemon, or plain spring waters and nibbled tropical fruit. A bell chimed melodiously and a bevy of beautiful young aestheticians glided in and escorted us to our various appointed spa treatments. I broke out laughing, it was just too surreal.

Mom and I had chosen to have pedicures. As I reclined in my massage-o-matic chair (an unnerving sensation) I chatted with Sarah, my aesthetician, about very little of importance, although I did manage to glean the interesting fact that the resort has a dedicated 24/7 laundry to handle the huge amount of linens and towels that are required to maintain the spa experience. I also found out she sometimes listens to heavy metal on her way home from work, to counteract the ethereal music of the pan-pipes that wafts like a perpetual mist through the resort.

It was only the second professional pedicure of my life. I chose sparkly blue nail varnish to commemorate this memorable event. It looked beautiful, and exotic. Mom and I were presented with special disposable flip-flops to keep our polish from smudging, and I asked if they were recyclable. Apparently such a prosaic question was rarely asked, since none of the aestheticians knew the answer.

They serenely led us up to a private room adjacent to the rooftop tapas lounge, where endless plates of elegantly drizzled bites of smoked salmon and miniature tartlets were served to us by a very patient and polite young man, Curtis. (Later, as it became apparent that the Camerons were going to take advantage of the term "endless", my talented actor brother and sister-in-law performed a choreographed version of  Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as a perk-up for the wearying Curtis. He appeared stunned and managed to say, without sounding sarcastic, "No one has ever done that here before.")

The dinner was lovely and it truly was nice to spend time with my whole family (nephew Andrew joined in via Snap Chat), although I did at one point have to go into the bathroom and rest my forehead against the glass, steeling myself against the overwhelming feeling that I didn't belong in such a place.

Eventually we all retired to our rooms, where I paced the unfamiliar spaciousness, fiddled with the fireplace, and found nothing to watch on the big-screen TV except for Rachel Maddow exhorting Trump to release his tax returns. I read a bit of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", couldn't focus, and left it in the bedside table for a future guest. I snuggled into a corner of the huge bed and tried to sleep, dreaming fitfully of the vintage British drama "The Prisoner", being surveilled by golf-cart driving housekeeping staff and pursued to my doom by a giant inflatable ball.

Next morning, we met for breakfast in the dining room. I ordered waffles, and was overwhelmed by the stack of beautifully grilled pastries that arrived, bedecked with candied pecans, out-of-season strawberries, whipped cream and a chocolate caramel drizzle. "Could I please have a bowl of thin gruel instead?" I whimpered to the waitress, who thought I was joking.

Thankfully, we checked out soon after. It felt like I had been away from home for a week, which is probably the intended effect of such a deluxe getaway, but maybe I'm just not cut out for the spa experience. If I ever have another vacation I want it to be spartan, maybe involving manual labour or community service. Just like being at home!




Sunday, March 12, 2017

Studio Tour of the Damned

I don't think I will ever be featured in the glossy pages of "Where Women Create". Welcome to my nightmare/kitchen corner studio. I willingly open myself to public humiliation in the hopes of empowering my fellow artists who don't have the perfect studio yet still manage to make amazing things!








The basement cavern where the totes of fabric are stored is not seen here, nor the living room which is stacked high with materials of all sorts. I don't want to scare you too much.

Well, There Ya Go

Upwards (2017). 21" (h) x 26" (w), linen and cotton, hand quilted
I hand quilted the thing, then bound it with ancient bias tape. (How ancient? The price tag on the package said 29 cents.) The tape was heavily starched, so I had no idea how it would end up after a trip through the washer and dryer, but it was the perfect peach-y orange colour so I barged ahead. I am delighted with the results - the binding is soft and the batting shrunk quite a bit so piece is very textured and three-dimensional.

Sometimes things turn out just fine, even if you don't know where you are going.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Doctor is In

Work in progress.
It's a veritable self-portrait. Two days ago, in the midst of finishing a commission, I was suddenly seized by the desire to play with colour. (There is a spring quilt show coming up on the island that I was asked to participate in, but it wasn't at the top of my "to do" list.)

The urge to create was so strong I didn't even bother to choose fabric. I grabbed the box of scraps left over from the round robin quilt workshop I did with Barb Mortell a couple of years ago (and untouched since then.) I pulled out two piece at random, cut them with a rotary cutter, stitched them together and then proceeded to ask "What does it need?" The result is pictured above.

It's a mess, right? But it contains a lot of energy, so I decided to treat it as a therapy cloth, and figure out what it might reveal of my inner psyche.

The first thing that catches my eye is the vertical red line that splits the work in two. Off setting the line would have given a more interesting composition, and I did try, but it kept wanting to be right in the centre. I also rotated the piece as I worked, so the line could have been horizontal, or at an angle. The red line was insistent. The questions are, "Do I feel split in two, or in conflict? Are there two sides to the story? Is there a before and after here?"

Lots to chew on there, but probably boring for anyone but me. I did feel whilst working that there was a strong vertical tendency, one of growth, which would be appropriate for spring, if that's what I was thinking of. The last piece I added was the bottom strip of red, to try and ground the vertical line. Red is a very energetic colour, particularly this one, which is a pure vermillion. Positioned at the bottom, it gives a sense of something roiling beneath the surface. The question is, "What lies beneath my surface?"

Hmmn. The career, having just had a shot in the arm with the show at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, is feeling the need to build on the momentum, such as it is. As I described in my post about the opening, I did feel very conflicted about my right to be there. It takes a tremendous amount of positive self-talk for me to put myself out into the public realm. I am torn between the need to protect myself and the desire for others to see my work.

Going back to the messy, chaotic quilt piece, is it possible to read it as dynamic? Can I pull the pieces together and move forward? The yellow and grey stripe-y pieces remind me of ladders, the middle one does go to the top. Is there some comfort or a safe space to be found? It's all grist for the mill.

There should be a photo of my workspace. It was like a fabric and colour bomb had gone off while I was putting this piece together. No surface was clear. There was a box of fabric stacked on top of something else so I had to do a John Cleese-style silly walk to get over it on my way to the ironing board. I really had no space to lay anything flat. Maybe this piece reflects something of that.

Which leads me to look around my house with a familiar sense of despair at the bags and boxes of fabric stacked everywhere, the skeins of yarn I spun over the winter that have no place to go, the rug hooking project blocking the doorway. The fear grips me that I have become a hoarder. And what is the psychology behind hoarding, that one will never have enough, or that all that stuff can insulate against the world?

Maybe I need to do some therapeutic cleaning and organising and weeding. Could taming the chaos around me control the chaos within?

Ahh, our time is up. See you next time.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Distorted Realities

Virginia Woolf's Tea Towel, 2016. 16"(w) x 24"(l) Hand embroidery on vintage linen.
Here's a little piece from last month. The Gabriola Arts Council was holding its annual fund raising gala, with the theme "Tempest In a Teacup". Artists are asked to donate a work incorporating the theme. I knew right away what I wanted to do, but getting there was a battle.

I had a vague recollection of a vintage tea towel in the stash that had tea cups embroidered on it. Following my usual strategy, I thought I would just embroider some pithy saying on it and voila! I found the Virginia Woolf quote quickly enough, but could I find that damn tea towel?

My stash is highly unorganised, to say the least. I burrowed through totes in the crawlspace, emptied trunks, upended my cedar chest, even checked the random plastic bags in odd corners. Finally, after days of searching, I found the piece I was looking for.

Only it wasn't what I remembered. It was more of a serviette than a towel, on thin cotton, and sloppily made. No way it would work.

So I found a plain linen tea towel that I had used last summer while making blackberry jam. Of course there were a number of purple stains on it, but after several soaks with lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide I managed to remove the worst of it. 

I redrew a vintage iron on embroidery transfer featuring teacups and traced it onto the cloth. The embroidery was a breeze, reminding me of how effective a few lazy daisy stitches and french knots can be. At last, my canvas was ready!

Embroidering the quote went fairly smoothly, after I realised the letters were too small on my first attempt. I picked out the threads, redrew it, and finished stitching during a slow shift at work.

A lot of effort for something that is basically a one-liner! I didn't attend the gala, but heard that there was a mad bidding war for the piece and it ended up going for $185!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Pussyhat Brigade

This is from last month, but the pussyhat knitting has been continuing apace. A few days before the Women's March on the 21st, James and I made a pop up photo booth at his studio, and put out a call on Facebook for Gabriolans to come on down and have their picture taken wearing a hat. It was very last minute, but twenty intrepid souls made their way over and we had a blast.

Who guessed that 100,000 pussyhats would show up in women's marches around the world? (That's the estimated number of hats, of course there were many more marchers.) Every single hat made by hand, with intention and care. Woe to the Trumpstiltskin lawyer who asked if they were made in China.

I made six hats before the march - one even went to Washington, DC. I have made several more since, and currently have orders for another four. At first I was just using yarn from the stash, but now I ask people to supply the yarn. Other than that, I am not asking for any compensation, financial or otherwise for the hats. They are my contribution to the resistance.

I was even commissioned by the Gabriola Institute for Contemporary Art to make a tiny hat for the hood ornament of its Mobile Response Unit. Yes, we have some serious fun here!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Opening

I think the opening of Landfall and Departure:Prologue at the Nanaimo Art Gallery was a great success. In spite of an attack of imposter syndrome, I got through the evening without apologizing for my presence. There is something about openings that brings out my neuroses full force.
I am in very good company. Curator Jesse Birch did a wonderful job putting together artists from the past and present working in diverse media. Great representation of gender and culture as well.
Although this photo doesn't really show it, the gallery was crowded and abuzz with lots of young people with stylish haircuts and groovy footwear. Thank heavens for art students!