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Review of 'Rock Pool Rhythms' by Jan Altman

There was a time when it was thought that objects made from materials such as fabrics, clay, metal, wood or stone were to be described as craft and that objects made with paint and canvas were entitled to be described as art. There was also an attitude that objects from the former category must comply with particular rules and traditions or they would be seen as not maintaining faith with their own kind. These attitudes were based on a general assumption that craft production followed formulae and directions in order to achieve predictable outcomes. There was creativity, but little room for innovation or variation. Works of art, on the other hand, transcended their materials and techniques to create original expressions in meaningful and enduring ways. Of course crafts could transcend their humble materials and established techniques to become art but it took an experienced and determined effort to bring this about. When this did happen the results were, and still are, inspiring, even magical. It created the type of magic that happens when a humble lamp-maker becomes Louis Comfort Tiffany or a simple jeweler turns into Rene Lalique or Carl Fabergé.

During the late nineteenth century such magic was practised, promoted and finally became accepted through the efforts of gifted people such as William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and others of the Art Craft Movement. In Europe Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner and others formed the Vienna Secession Movement. The aim of both of these groups was to establish the idea that ornamentation, skill, design and functionality could and should all work together to produce beautiful objects. As the Secessionists put it, ‘would you not care to drink your wine from an artistically fashioned glass?’

Design, skill, delicacy, attention to detail and ornamentation, as well as variety, imagination, and even magic, are all present in Tineke Van de Eecken’s jewellery and Lyn Franke’s fabric paintings. Designs are mainly organic and irregular, although some pieces such as Tineke’s neckpiece with a Tahitian black pearl set in gold with an organic cast seedpod is refined, elegant and classical. Here the pearl appears to fall naturally and gracefully, like a full, ripe grape from the vine. Her mabe pearl ring in silver is also classical, elegant and sophisticated. Another neckpiece made from silver, fossilised coral with quartz beads and blue agate, is irregular and organic in design. Such combinations of materials and design give a sense of freedom and spontaneity, but there is no lack of purpose or control. The centre stone is ‘embroidered’ with an edging in crocheted silver. Producing crochet with such material must have been far more challenging than crochet with silk thread.

Into the Deep is a neckpiece designed around a cross section of a Madagascan agate slice, with pyrite, rutile quartz and plain quartz beads with silver and gold dust. This piece combines organic and geometric shapes in a well designed balance. The beads are mostly oval shaped, but the feature is a ‘square’ set with a beautifully contrasted circular shape. The earth colours bring the whole piece together.

Tineke is not afraid to put together a variety of materials. Pieces of glass or pebbles sit comfortably with semi-precious stones and silver. These pieces are as original and expressive as any painting. They certainly do not follow any formulae or pre-established directions. They are ‘wearable art’ at its best, making ‘fashion statements’ wherever and whenever they are seen. Materials and techniques come together in unexpected and delightful ways to create artforms which are often whimsical and playful, but at all times quite beautiful.

Lyn’s textile compositions also confirm the idea that there is no real difference between art and craft. They may be made from fabric, and they may use the techniques of felting, dying and stitching, but they are worked on canvas and paper, and the only way to ‘read’ them is as abstract and expressionist paintings. They combine materials and techniques to create effects which are as imaginative and evocative as those achieved by any artform. The Rockpool Series of works consists of textile on paper. These combine inks and fabrics which are embroidered by machine and then attached to the paper together with found pieces of seagrass and seaweed. This creates colourful patterns and lace motifs. The rich colours and the dynamic movements of these works give a strong feeling of looking through the water and into the life forms of a rock pool.

Rockpool Infusion and Undercurrent, as well as other works on canvas, combine acrylic paint or ink with material such as sand, crushed shells and seagrass. In terms of composition these works use swirling dynamic forces to spiral the eye downwards into deeper levels. The magical thing about spirals is that they never end. They sweep downwards and then upwards again, often at the same time, and often creating mesmerising effects. That is exactly what is achieved in these two works. The light and the dark tones eddy and swirl as if to take the viewer downwards and upwards at the same time. Rockpool Infusion has a structure that takes the imagination of the viewer deep into the pure, blue water, so that the experience is indeed to ‘fuse’ with it. It swirls downwards and inwards towards a white focal point which suggests something even deeper – ‘a still point in a turning world’.

Symbolically, water is the source of all existence. It represents the continual flux and movement of the physical world, and also what lies beyond the physical. Flux and movement can suggest chaos, but also regeneration, life and creativity. Imaginatively, it can bring the mind and cosmos into mysterious relationships with each other – what is within is also beyond.

Ocean Nebular does not use spirals, but it does encapsulate much of the ‘meaning’ in these works. A nebular is a cloudlike cluster of distant stars which lies beyond the limits of our solar system. Such a formation is sometimes thought to contain the secrets of how life began. Suggesting such a concept by means of what might be seen in a rock pool invokes ideas of macrocosm and microcosm. In other words, the microcosm of the human mind and the macrocosm of the universe are brought into a functioning, harmonious whole.

Artists such as Tineke and Lyn use techniques and materials to create aesthetic and symbolic meanings in ways which remind us that there are no longer any tensions between art and craft. Such words can now be used as simple descriptions instead of implying value judgements. After all, the creativity that produces both art and craft comes from the same source.