fashion victims

11 Dec

It has been a very slow posting year although I have had plenty of conversations (with myself) that were worthy of sharing. Sometimes I have even gone so far as to assemble and sculpt words – to free me from the hampster wheel of repetitive thoughts. Alas there has been little progression from the scatter of thoughts into those contained.

Making lucid/public writing a priority has invariably failed this year simply because there were always higher priority uses of my time than self-reflection via the keyboard.

Yet, as I sit minding The December Gallery 2018, amongst the products of my year of art-making, a new post seemed appropriate.  Be warned though, this is to be a story of daring do, accepted failure, then resurrection and redemption!
The subtitle for this post should read something beautiful like this…’Sometimes letting things fester is the best enabler’.

Fashion Victim#1 by Jan Mullen 2018

It has been a busy year with a BIG deadline of making enough artwork to fill my side of the gallery. The work had to be new and we, my much-loved friend and accomplice Helen Millar and I, were working to the theme ‘History Herstory – new life in a harsh foreign land‘.

Much research was needed to find a way to work to my narrowed/honed view of this theme via the Swan River Colony in the early 19th century. Slow but elucidating research.

Fashion Victim#2 by Jan Mullen 2018

A memorable post – though likely only for me – was two posts ago, way back in September… 
Gambling with my time? was written about a project that was underway, and which, from the start, seemed rather tenuous.
I felt the likelihood of this particular series getting finished was fifty/fifty. Rather like courting failure from the get-go?

I had already prepped some birds as backgrounds which helped; I have stacks of books with out-of-copyright imagery.
I photographed some, honing in on those that announced their northern european ‘foreign-ness’.
I tweaked them very lightly in Lightroom.
And then I stopped before printing them.
I really truly wasn’t sure that I could pull it off.

Fashion Victim#3 by Jan Mullen 2018

‘It’ was to be a process of interpreting/reworking each bird using those feathers that I had made with loose abandon. I had hoped to lightly glue the feathers to a bird silhouette cut straight out of the background. Then to glue and machine stitch the feathers to the silhouette when appropriate. A colourful, pattern filled textural delight!

I bided my time but in the end I became less and less sure about ‘it’.
I had the collage pieces – the feathers – painted and decorated and cut and sprayed with fixative. The next stage was comparatively simple but doubt eroded my trust that it would work, and most importantly, my confidence in being able to speak truthfully and without hesitation about the work was likely going to be quite problematic.
One should never apologise for one’s artwork.

Fashion Victim#4 by Jan Mullen 2018

What stopped me?
It wasn’t fear of failure but a growing realisation that I did not think that with these rough and ready feathers I had the correct aesthetic.

I loved the delicacy of the print but the feathers I had produced simply seemed too crass – even though ‘mismatched’ and provincal was look I was chasing.

In deciding to accept defeat I boxed and filed it all away.

Fashion Victim#5 by Jan Mullen 2018

The year sped by and these birds were destined to stay still and silent.
Or were they?
The second week in November was when I reviewed the works needed to finish in time for the December 1 opening of The December Gallery.
There was a gap. The gap was large.
My intended gap fill (those printed and prepped birds), were reviewed.
The time spent apart gifted me immediate clarity and I was off and running hard.

Collage, yes, but viewing all my other works together was the gift given.
I now sought a cleaner more restrained and elegant aesthetic to tie back to the other series.  
I also quickly found a much more exciting play space…the ‘ribbon & trinkets’ boxes that rarely get looked at. 
Sparks of bejewelled excitement lit up my days.

Fashion Victim#6 by Jan Mullen 2018

Fashion Victim’s, #1 through #9, tell a convoluted/fantastic story set in both late 18th Century England and the early 19th Century days of The Swan River Colony (now known as Perth/Western Australia).
Fashion back then had been getting ‘quite loud’ with the size and the ‘bling quota’ quite excessive.
Birds and their body parts were regularly placed at daring angles on hats and collars.
Beaks and heads and wings were appliqued in jaunty positions.
Birds of the exotic kind were, as a result, hunted for their fashion ‘suitability’.

In the Swan River Colony birds were also hunted, just as sadly, but sadly quite justly –  they saved the colony from starvation when the early crops failed. My quick brain flip was simple. These works were about real ‘birds’ – not women – as fashion victims.
The bling that a real bird would look inappropriate in, albeit elegantly, equaled the reverse – the women wearing the ‘glorious bounty’ of bird carcasses.

Fashion Victims both.

Fashion Victim#7 by Jan Mullen 2018

Process. If you are interested? 
I finally printed the birds onto A3 matte photo paper.
I made a neckpiece for each bird from a stiffened, stitch-able product.
Each neckpiece was covered with various ribbons, old hankies and offcuts of vintage clothing stitched on.
Dangles of ‘bling’ – buttons, beads, chains, brooches, earrings and tassels – were variously glued and stitched.
I had all nine birds laid out with possible ‘jewellery’ from the start.
I finalised a few birds at a time so that I could tweak and re-tweak with concentrated intent. 

Fashion Victim#8 by Jan Mullen 2018

Then off to a great framer who beautifully controlled the spare aesthetic needed. He had to build a big layer, (five layers of foam core board), between the work and the mount board. All done in time for our photoshoot and before he went on a well deserved Christmas break!

Fashion Victim#9 by Jan Mullen 2018

In the end these nine works were done in an energetic creative flurry over about two and a half weeks. The reality though, was that it took doubt and failure and self trust honed over a lifetime to get to the self acceptance of failure and the wonderful glorious feeling of pride in recognising and turning failure into success.

Jan Mullen

B. Ed. Art/Craft (Textiles/Sculpture) Living in Perth, Western Australia Artist, Fabric Designer, Author, Teacher, Mentor.