Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Much to contemplate

I've been to Brisbane for several days. Don't ask about the weather - unbearably humid one day, torrential downpour the next.

Brisbane airport

I made my usual visit - this time, visits - to the art museums on the south bank. The Asia-Pacific Art Triennial is showing, but more of that in another post. What I most wanted to see was the exhibition of late works (1953 to 1974) by Ian Fairweather. I've written before of my visits to the Fairweather paintings in the Queensland Art Gallery whenever I visit, so this retrospective of paintings drawn from other Australian galleries and private collections was a great treat for me. A large roomful of beautiful works to contemplate. Born in the 1890s, Fairweather grew up in England in the early twentieth century and led an individualistic and peripatetic life, serving in the army in both world wars and travelling, living and painting in China, Bali, India and the Philippines. He settled on the then sparsely inhabited Bribie Island in Queensland in the early 1950s and spent the last 20 years of his life working most productively. He lived very simply in Polynesian-style thatched huts with none of the conveniences of modern life - to the great disapproval of the local authorities and some of the neighbours. But he was also a scholar who spoke and read Mandarin well enough to translate Chinese poetry and who read widely and frequently corresponded with and was visited by friends and other artists.

Fairweather 'Farm Yard'

I've been trying to work out why I like Fairweather's paintings so much. Some of them, such as the 'Farm Yard' (1965) painting above, are broadly representational. It reminds me of small-scale Chinese farms, divided into neat squares and compartments. I like the way it's sectioned almost into a grid, but also has echoes of Chinese calligraphy.

Fairweather 'War and Peace'

Others of Fairweather's paintings are completely abstract - even though the title of the painting above, 'War and Peace' (1959), suggests it had some meaning for the artist. I love the dusty colours and the way some of the semi-transparent strokes overlay and intersect with others. It's not-quite-geometric, and I'm always delighted when an artist plays with and subverts notions of neatness and regularity. These characteristics are especially present in 'Painting III' (1960) below - probably my favourite in the exhibition:

Fairweather 'Painting III'

It's reminiscent of weaving, with shadowed horizontal and vertical lines intersecting like warp and weft. It has an almost regularity. And I particularly like the top and bottom framing with heavy grey bands - busyness confined within firm calmness.

Much to contemplate.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A welcome blanket

Most of the time knitting is a solitary occupation. My friends and I often knit in company with one another, but it's not often that we are able to collaborate on a joint project. However, over the last few years there have been a number of babies born to this group of friends and we've developed a tradition of knitting blankets to welcome the new arrivals. This is the latest:

Al's blanket

Kylie has written a great account of the project and the occasion on which it was given to Alison. As usual, the blanket involved numerous email discussions to decide on the project and organise the logistics of its making. I think this time we actually produced a 79 email thread! The yarn needed to be passed among the participants, and the finishing was done by several different people. My contribution, as well as knitting one of the colourful squares, was to knit the i-cord edging.

Al's blanket close-up

I think we are all very happy with the outcome. The pattern is the mitred crosses blanket from mason dixon knitting. The coloured parts are knitted in noro taiyo and the cream background is (the sadly discontinued) noro shirikaba. Both the taiyo and the shirikaba are mixtures of silk, cotton and wool and are an ideal texture and softness for a blanket.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Marking Chinese New Year in Young

I guess most countries have events in their history which are shameful by modern standards. In Australia we certainly have such incidents in the story of European settlement and its impact on Aboriginal Australians. More generally, the history of race relations in Australia since European settlement can unsettle and challenge many of today's more liberally-minded inhabitants. It's hard to know how to mark these events for modern-day Australians. You can't 'celebrate' actions that deny people equality on the basis of their race, but I think it is important to mark them and to acknowledge that these events have been part of our past and have shaped our present society.

I've been thinking about these matters because I visited the south-west NSW town of Young again to help my cousin sort and distribute the possessions of another cousin who died recently. We had some time to spare and decided to follow the sign to the Chinese Tribute Gardens that we'd passed many times on our way to and from our cousin's residence. I'd expected that the Gardens would in some way mark the 'riots' between Chinese and European goldminers in the mid-nineteenth century. Young began its history with the name 'Lambing Flat' and is infamous in modern Australian history for the 1861 conflict between Chinese and European miners who flocked to work the recently discovered gold deposits. There was a history of tension between Chinese and European miners in many goldfields across the 1850s and it is generally agreed that the conflict at Lambing Flat was the most violent and presented the greatest threat of civil unrest. The riot was in fact a number of attacks by European miners on the Chinese in the early part of 1861 that resulted in a police and military presence in Lambing Flat for a large part of 1861 and an uneasy truce with Chinese and European miners in segregated areas of the goldfields.

These events reflected many of the debates and tensions within parliament and the wider society and resulted in the passage in the NSW parliament of the Chinese Immigration Regulation and Restriction Act 1861 - a precursor of the infamous White Australia Policy.

Anyway, back to our visit to the Chinese Tribute Garden:

Chinese Tribute Garden, Young

It was a lovely place to visit on a hot inland day - coincidentally at the time of Chinese New Year. There are some of the required elements of a Chinese garden - plants, water and rocks, though the garden misses the element of a pavilion or contemplative room. There's an arched bridge, a gateway, ducks and swans, and meandering walkways that frame the views. However, there's a spaciousness that I don't remember in any of the Chinese gardens I visited in China, and the bright blue sky and surrounding gum trees are of course very foreign to traditional Chinese gardens. But all in all, it's a real pleasure garden.

Chinese Tribute Garden, Young 2
What surprised me was the information plaque at the entrance to the garden. No mention of the Lambing Flat riots. The plaque tells the history of the garden site. The small lake around which the garden is based is called 'Chinaman's Dam'. A creek was originally dammed by some European miners to facilitate alluvial mining and was later sold to a group of Chinese miners - hence the dam's name. Even this is a story of loss and dispossession for the Chinese miners. The sale was never formally registered and the land was resumed as Crown Land which it remains until today. The plaque goes on to say (without evident irony) that the garden is a tribute to the contributions over many generations that Chinese Australians have made to our history.

We also had time to visit the Lambing Flat Folk Museum in town and amid all the random elements of small-town historical museums (which in this particular case included my Auntie Mollie's exquisite cream-coloured satin wedding dress from the late 1930s) we found a detailed and dispassionate retelling of the story of the goldfields' conflict and the original roll-up banner under which European miners had marched on the Chinese miners.

I'm really not much further ahead with knowing how to mark such events in our history. But I do know we must continue to tell the stories, and we must realise that some of the vaunted events of our past - such as the Eureka Stockade or the events leading to Federation - were near neighbours and sometimes bedfellows of racist and unjust actions and laws.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Acts of knitterly kindness

When I returned to knitting about six years ago - anticipating the birth of my grand-daughter - I expected the pleasure I have always had in making something that I consider aesthetically pleasing with my hands. What I never expected to gain were the friendships and sociability that knitting has given to my life. Most weeks I meet at least once, and often more frequently, with knitting friends. These groups are informal, and people join and leave them. Some people I see frequently; others, because of work or family commitments, or travel, I see less frequently. But there's a core group of people who have been constant across the six years. Without particular effort we know about one anothers' lives and interests. What I particularly like is that these are people I might never have met, if it weren't for knitting. Most of them are much younger than I am and I'm constantly surprised and delighted by how much I've been welcomed by them. They keep me up to date with what's happening in the world - particularly its technological advances - and enable me to pretend I've at least heard about events in popular culture.

I've written before that what I particularly appreciate is the ease of these gatherings. I can chat, or hold forth (I hope not too often) or just sit and knit. They are companionable gatherings.

Recently, when I was incapacitated with my broken hip, a group of them also undertook an act of knitterly kindness. They gave me a beautifully packaged kit of yarn and pattern to make Brooklyn Tweed's Sempervivum shawl. I think you imagine that when you are recovering from something like a hip operation, which seems to bear no relation whatsoever to your hands and brain, that you will have lots of time for knitting. I discovered that I had the time, but not the inclination. It seems to take a lot of energy just to recover. But my friends are also deviously insightful when it comes to knitting. Several of them also decided we should have a knit-along (KAL) to encourage one another to finish the shawl.

Somewhat reluctantly, I cast on for the shawl when I came home from the rehabilitation hospital and knitted, with increasing pleasure, as the shawl grew and was finally finished.

Green shawl

This is a most ingenious pattern. The same lace motif continues across three different sizes, from the outer to inner edges of the shawl. However, there are some knitting challenges within this ingenious pattern. You cast on at the outer edge and so begin with more than 350 stitches. For a considerable time you knit and knit and seem to make little progress as the rows are so long. Then the middle-sized motifs involve knitting lace variations on every row - much more challenging than having a purl row 'rest' between rows of yarn overs and knitted togethers. By the time you get to the final section you've been through all the complicated stuff and there's a wonderful rush to finish.

Green shawl 6

The yarn is Brooklyn Tweed's Loft - a rather 'catchy' tweedy fingering weight yarn that I think results in a modern take on traditional lace shawl patterns. The colour is Button Jar. I gather there was a great deal of discussion among my friends about the most suitable colour. They certainly chose well. Such kind friends.

Green shawl 5

And a final thanks to Margarita for the great photos.