I promised myself not to pick things up, not to bring more bits of Australia home – and mostly it worked. All the watercolors I made from soils of Australia in the workshops really could not be left behind so I boxed them up with gifts, mementos, books, baskets, scraps of papers that seemed important for some reason. The tipping point for sending a parcel home was the purchase of the John Wolesley book on his exhibition I would be missing at the National Gallery Victoria in Melbourne. He is an artist who has continually worked with the land in a collaboration to give it a visual voice through marks made by them both. It is a large and heavy book that needs to opened slowly over a long period of time. This book is not to be rushed.
Now I need to send something in the other direction. In all the shuffling of papers and pieces I have lost the card of a young woman I met in Halls Gap at Grampians Texture. We were having a bit of wine at the petanque game when she told me that she grew up in front of this fireplace. It is an egg tempera painting I made a few years ago from a photograph I took at a shearers kitchen.
It takes a long time to do an egg tempera painting. There is the making of a gesso from scratch using calcium carbonate and rabbit skin glue – cooking it just so. Then coating the board several times and sanding even more until it is like polished milk glass. Then you begin making the tiniest marks with pigment mixed with thinned egg yolk to eventually layer into the luminous rendering of something that mattered enough to bother. I think that really does sum up egg tempera painting. And I would like this piece to go back to Australia to the woman who had a childhood in front of this fireplace. I am hoping she will see this and contact me. As an artist it is important that I do the work – not necessarily sell or own it.
I start teaching again next week. A class called Marking Places and Making Pages. It is actually a time of experimentation with materials. It is a way of showing students everything I know how to do that may be useful to their art practice. Then at the end of the week it is all assembled into a big book of ideas, notes and samples. Bound in such a way that hopefully they find it irresistible and pick it up over and over again looking for just the right way to say what they have to say.
I am home from Australia and well into planning another trip next February. My New Zealand flax basket is now hung with the others and in time like them will turn a pale straw color. When I am with the basket makers of Australia I sit and quietly weave these pieces. It only takes two long flax leaves and a needle to strip them into course hair-like strands. Then cross several at right angles over several more near their centers. And with one folded strand begin the twining action that will hold them all in place. Flair and separate the bundles until there is only one to twine around each time. Add more if you want the basket bigger, Keep the open spacing as even as possible and enjoy the rhythm of the weave.
I am cherishing the time alone at a friends home in Medlow Bath, a town west of Sydney and perched in the Blue Mountains. The yard is full of gum trees, vegetable gardens, black cockatoos, sunshine and a bower bird with the most amazing collection of bright blue plastic clothes pins. My laundry is finishing up in the washer and ready to be dried. The watercolors made of Australian soils are laying next to the sketchbooks, carved wood blocks and torn sheets of printmaking papers. It is time to record more of Australia, try to get down on paper what makes this country so magic for me.
Tomorrow I am moved closer to the location of my last two workshops here in the Blue Mountains and just like last time, I miss the country before I have even left it.