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The Geelong Gallery is the Victorian host for the 2017 Archibald Portrait Prize travelling exhibition. It was very busy on the Sunday I visited, after attending the Geelong Quilt Exhibition.

Portraiture is a fairly boring art form as it is about making a recognisable image of someone. It is often a commissioned work, so I assume the subject has to be happy with the work. The challenge for the artist is to make an interesting painting as well, and photorealism misses the point I think. It should  tell the viewer a bit more about the subject than what they look like.

I was really drawn to this strong painting by Andrew Tonneau of the sculptor Ayako Saito. It was painted from life in ten four-hour sittings. The landscape background and pose show the influence of the Italian Renaissance.

Proving that age is no bar to entering the competition, the Boys of Sydney Grammar Edgecliff Preparatory School entered their second version of a farewell gift to their retiring head, Dr John Vallance. It consists of 11,000 little wood blocks, sanded and painted by 301 boys aged five to 12.

The winner is awarded a $100,000 making it a very popular competition. This year Mitch Cairns won with a portrait of his partner, multi-media artist Agatha Gothe-Snape. The influence of Matisse is very strong, I really liked the repeated shapes and dimension given to the flat shapes with careful shading. Her yoga like pose is both contemplative and full of potential energy at the same time.

My favourite work is of 102 year old Eileen Kramer. She is the world’s oldest working dancer/choreographer as well as a poet, artist and costume designer. The painter, Andrew Lloyd Greensmith is a plastic surgeon who has only recently pursued painting seriously. He says of his subject ‘Eileen embodies beauty as that intangible thing which cannot be fixed on the surface nor defeated by the wear and tear of age.’

A parallel exhibition is the Who’s who portrait prize, an annual exhibition of the work of local students that honours Jules Francois Archibald who was born in Geelong, and went on to found the Bulletin Magazine and become a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW. He left money for the annual portrait prize which bears his name.

The student work lines the corridor and the walls of the pop-up cafe.

At Lara Lake primary they painted one of their classmates.

The exhibitions at the Geelong Gallery continue until 10 December.


SAQA at Stitches and Craft

Saturday was hot and humid, not typical November weather in Melbourne. The Exhibition Building is beautiful but not at all comfortable in the impossible weather. Nevertheless I took a train and two trams to do a two hour stint on the Studio Art Quilt Associates stand. I am not a member but was helping out by monitoring their My Corner of the World exhibition.

This travelling exhibition started in Canada in May 2016 and is currently touring around Australia. Artists were invited to examine a world, real or imagined, that represented what is important in life. The resulting textile pieces are amazingly diverse in concept, technique and design.

The use of colour stood out for me in these three. Sunset over Lake Ontario, the elevated park in the city, succulents in the back yard.

Details from two quilts that showed great restraint in colour and evoked a nurturing softness.

Quilting lines are often critical. The black panel in Afternoon is only attached at the top, adding to the sense of gentle movement of the grasses.

This very balanced quilt uses a host of techniques to explore birdlife.

The Stitches and Craft Show itself had a little bit of a lot.

A creative use of treadle drawers at Hat Creek Quilts of Tasmania. The designer has published a book on wool felt appliqué on pieced blocks. Tempting but I don’t need a new project.

I was fascinated by the work of Effie Dee an artist from Canberra who works with plasticine and petrie dishes among other things. She has a range of clear block stamps that I couldn’t resist.

Also picked up some very fine luminous cotton from Lola Lovegrove, a fairly new yarn supplier based in Ormond. If I am quick this will be woven into something special for a Kris Kringle.

One and a half years on

The bathtub garden I created following my bathroom renovations is hard to recognise. Nearly all the succulents have done really well, only the flap-jacks succumbed to snail attack. The white Mesembryanthemum is trailing everywhere with its pretty white flowers popping up between the other plants. Pig face is such an unattractive name, it doesn’t deserve it at all.

I gave the mini fountain a clean out, not too much muck had accumulated in the bottom of the sump and with the sun out it bubbles away beautifully. All this low maintenance bed needed was a top up of soil where it had compacted and a quick wash of the pebbles.

Just as expected, after the drastic lopping of all the trunks of the bay tree in February, it is putting out lots of new growth. I plan to keep it clipped from now on to give the quince tree some room.

Another tree doing exceptionally well this spring is the mulberry. It is Hick’s Fancy and has a bumper crop. I picked 200g yesterday just for starters, so I have been searching for mulberry recipes. I’m also picking lots of parsley, all these flat leaf parsley plants have grown from seed I saved last summer and scattered after ridding the bed of oxalis.


A new quilt shop

After months of rumours and false leads, Clair’s Fabrics has opened at Warran Glen Garden Centre, Ringwood-Warrandyte Road, Warrandyte.

Once inside the doors there is plenty of fabric in the bright modern style and Clair ready to provide friendly advice. After so many shops closing it is good news that one has opened close to home.

Another horse chestnut tree in full flower spotted over the fence at the nursery. This one has flowers that are much darker than the ones I saw at Banksia Park.

Quilting lines

When I arrived at the NGV on Thursday it was overcast and a bit drizzly. For a short amount of time, just as I was leaving the Dior exhibition, the sun came out…


making a grid of quilting lines on Federation the floor painting by Taiwanese artist Michael Lin. The painting incorporates designs from an 1800s coverlet recently on display as part of the Making of the Australian Quilt exhibition.


I wonder if gallery visitors were aware they were walking over a giant patchwork.

Haute Couture

I think I first became aware that there was an extreme style of garment making when I read Paul Gallico’s Flowers for Mrs Harris as a young teenager. I knew rich people had very fancy clothes but had no idea of the artistry and technical skill behind these custom made garments made by hand from start to finish.

The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture at NGV International gives a fantastic overview of the designs from this notable house. Unfortunately only one small area is given over to the atelier which I think is the most interesting aspect. I have seen quite a few documentaries and these will have to be enough to satisfy my curiosity.

The exhibition is huge, and very popular. Some visitors even dress up for the occasion. As expected it is wonderfully staged, with salons and catwalks with video backdrops. I was most interested in the designs of Dior himself and the embroidery and other embellishments. Garments are organised by design themes rather than chronologically but of course it begins with the ‘New Look’. The Bar Suit was the most discussed and photographed work from Dior’s debut collection in 1947.

This amazing dress was almost impossible to photograph being in a dark area and behind glass. It is described as layers of plush black velvet with a bodice of heavy wool lozenges and dozens of handmade tassels. Those lozenges look like EPP with a textual stripe in the fabric going in all directions on the bodice and then making a net  hanging over the skirt. I can imagine it having quite a sway when moving down the catwalk.

The toile is a Raf Simons design obviously paying homage to early Dior work. The toile, a prototype of the finished garment in unbleached cotton, is an essential part of the couture process. It left the atelier as the very essence of a design, showing only line, fabric bias, principal seams, balance and volume, and returned cross-examined and corrected, marked up by the designer for further adjustments.

Two silk organza dresses to satisfy any little girl’s dreams of a party frock in the 1950s.

Dior hit Paris in 1947 with an extravagant use of fabric. The skirt alone of this stunning deep blue taffeta dress uses 23 metres of silk. Displayed behind this is the pleated look reimagined by Raf Simons in 2015 in silk organza and tulle and colour.

The celestial blue ball gown of 1953 has swathes of taffeta draped in cloud like puffs. John Galliano took the idea of volume to new extremes in 2003 in this coat inspired by the kimono.

Recently designers have embraced the art of embroidery and embellishment again, but using non traditional materials. This beautiful dress is covered in split raffia stitching and has trails of branches with silk cherry blossom.

Another design by Maria Grazia Chiuri the current designer for The House of Dior. The dress features three-dimensional raffia and skill thread embroidery.

Her evening coat from the same collection has densely embroidered panels of flowers and branches.

Two Raf Simons designs appear at first to be quite simple. The sheath dress however is covered in tassels made from pressed droplets of paint and attached in strands to the surface of the fabric. The second dress required really close inspection to understand how the graduated colour was achieved. Hundreds of chiffon petals have been attached to the surface, looking much like a pointillist painting.

Sometimes just a gorgeous fabric is needed such as this one successfully evoking the deep sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The epitome of Dior design, highlighting the skills of the atelier with the layers of tulle and the graduated embroidered crescent moons. This is haute couture.



I need to carve a stamp for a printing class tomorrow night. These pictures taken on my weekend away will hopefully provide enough textural material.