Last week, I took inordinate pleasure in a solitary drive down the coast from Bermagui, through rain spatters into bright sunshine, savouring silence in a way new to me since my birthday retreat. Part of the delight was the fact that nobody knew where I was. I felt relaxed and still, as I headed towards two galleries which exactly match my attention span. I can enjoy about thirty pieces at a time: any more and my gallery stamina is severely challenged.
At Narek Galleries, the artist was Julie Ryder, whose textiles and works on paper were tied to two places, Piallago and Black Mountain, the sources of all her dyes for fabric and thread. As always at Narek, the notes were detailed and provided a satisfying framework for viewing the pieces, explaining how they reflect the way maps and paddocks have been superimposed on the natural landscape. I was taken by the incorporation of embroidery into the textile works, tiny stitches reminding one of the skills of grandmothers and hinting at the artist's autobiography.
This was particularly so in the table installation (Molonglo: domestic blueprint). The tablecloth was one containing memories of many family dinners, and the damask was embroidered with the contours of an early map by Charles Scrivener, the embroidery frame still in place. The edges were deliberately muddied by immersion in Lake Burleigh Griffin and the wonderful naturalistic photo with the surreal presence of the table was taken in Yarramundi Reach.
Four large panels (Seasonal variations: summer, autumn, winter, spring) were a patchwork of silk, wool and cotton fabrics in the colours of the landscape, overlaid with the lines from a contour map, expressing the artist's preoccupation with the takeover of the country from its indigenous inhabitants.
Smaller pieces, the Variations series, acquired some of their beauty from simple needlework: seed stitch, running sitch and horizontal cross-stitch, in thread coloured with natural dyes. The artist's notes say “Stitching is meditative, for me much like walking in the bush, and serves to remind us of the passing of time.” I was reminded of the calming effect of patchwork for me when I was waiting for the birth of my fourth child. The spool of embroidered material (No man's land) challenges the idea of terra nullius, the embroidery echoing the patterning of Victorian fabric, over the natural materials coloured by the land.
The patterns of the six works on paper (the Terrain series) were inspired by plant and wood cells seen through the microscope, moving from the historical to the botanical and still anchored firmly to place.
At Ivy Hill, I found two artists, very different from each other and from Julie Ryder. Tim Morehead's work was vivid and geometrical. He mixes his own pigment, making a kind of crayon and then building up layers, interleaving fixative, especially with unstable yellow. The result had the bright texture of tapestry. The subject matter was domestic, with hints of Van Gogh and Grace Cossington-Smith.
Peter Tucker uses a very different medium, one familiar to me from my childhood. I didn't deserve to own a set of Derwent pencils: they were wasted on my puny scribblings. In Tucker's hands they performed miracles of depth and detail, and served his fantasy imagination well. I was too preoccupied with my awe at what a coloured pencil can do to take photos. You can see what he achieves in the catalogue of his paintings at
After spending time with three very different artists, I drove back up the coast feeling visually replete.