I am preparing for my classes in Australia. Several students have contacted me with questions about ideas that might squeeze into our time together. I hate to say no to anything they come up with. There is always a chance we can fit it all in. And right now I am trying to fit my own ideas and theirs into bundles for the ever-filling suitcase. We will make watercolors together with their precious soils and I will bring them earth pigments from here to share. We will work together on portfolios and journals for the studio and in the field. At the basket conference we set to the task of making small memory vessels of spun threads holding stories. Then I have planned to do some wood block carving using more gathered pigments for printing and finally altering books into cabinets to hold mementos and more stories. It is going to be a splendid trip and I am going to learn so much.
It is the journal that is indispensable when traveling. Not the camera or even the companions. The camera gives too much information and the companions will not see nor remember it the way I do. But the journal with quick marks of local color, wines, foods, and notes bring the entire trip back each time I refer to it. I see the place and smell the food. I taste the wine again and hear those sounds of being in the country, in the hotel, at an art opening, alone in an unfinished building with the soft sound of cane toad feet dragging across the floor toward my bed. My journals are filled with a shorthand and economy of marks that preserve it all, and I can return anytime I want to.
Young Patrick is waiting in the pub somewhere in New South Wales to shout me another beer while I wait to be found. The Poets in Pubs group that meets monthly in Broken Hill are still seated around the table in the back room listening to me read their favorite American poet in an appropriate accent. I can smell the worn leather case belonging to an elderly former boxer as he removes an old black and white photo of his self “in the day” and the poem he wrote earlier that week.
There are travel journals from Japan, China, Bali, France and Italy but the outback towns of Australia is where I prefer to spend most of my return voyages. Our shoulders touch, our eyes meet and we raise our Toohey’s Old and Stone’s Ginger Wine in remembrance.
In less than two months I will be going back to Australia for the tenth time. I have found a way to take some of what came from there back home. They are a combination of old and new technology. The impetus for the work is an old technique of white line printmaking.
These wood block prints I have carved in Australia and sometimes printed with the soils of that country. I reproduced them with an archival printer and altered the images to look more like colored etchings. Some of the printed images will be enhanced using watercolors I made from the soils of Australia. Onto the prints I am stitching with threads bought in Australia, purchased in sewing shops at the end of train travels as a way of recording all the colors I saw along the way. Bits of silks bought in a Japanese shop near Hobart, Tasmania are selected from precious bundles along with samples from Beautiful Silks in Melbourne and stitched onto the paper as well. And finally a tiny envelope is tied in place holding small parts of prints I have made here in my own studio. They are full of memories.
As an artist who is creating something, it must start with an idea, an idea that I feel strongly about fixing into a visual form. It must be something that matters to me and worth the expenditure of time and materials to resolve. The choices made along the way to completion are continually in service to that idea. There is no deviation through the seduction of materials and I will keep the processes of making within my own range of learned and practiced techniques.
I am not interested in making someone else’s art. I don’t have time for that. Nor am I interested in simply “playing” in the studio. The work that happens in my studio is exactly that, work.
It is an unwavering commitment to an idea that requires continual choices in a particular order of selection, combination, completion and assessment.