World of more craft

TREELIKE: Meredith Woolnough’s red coral branch at Timeless Textiles, exploring the world of nature.
Nanjing Night Net

TWO new exhibitions suggest that Newcastle fibre artists are creating something unique. Or is this part of a universal trend to bring traditional female textile processes into an avant-garde gallery setting and inevitably blur forever the boundaries between art and craft?

Newcastle has what is still the sole professional specialist textile gallery in Australia. Meredith Woolnough has exhibited at Timeless Textiles virtually since its inception, though she is now widely celebrated for her innovative labour-intensive image making with thread. Did she discover for herself that her sewing machine could be used to make lyrical linear structures? They increasingly contrast delicate tracery with dense sculptural patterning, built up in countless layers of stitching.

Her present exhibition at Timeless Textiles until May 15 is based on details from the world of nature. There are closely observed leaves of begonias, waterlilies and eucalypts, whose veined growth patterns are clearly defined. Corals also make ideal subjects, both as treelike forms and dense colonies.A new development translates the spiral of a tiny seaweedy marine creature into a vibrant freestanding sculpture. The piecesmust have taken many weeks of concentrated stitching, of meditative dedication.

Meredith Woolnough is now one of the Hunter’s most exhibited professional artists, with work in up to eight shows a year in the few years since she graduated from COFA.

FANTASTIC FABRICFORTUITOUSLY, another textile artist is brilliantly represented across the road at Curve Gallery until April 30 in a joint exhibition with photomedia artist Clare Weeks, based on the manipulated figure.

There are about 50of Gillian Bencke’s fabric creatures on the walls or suspended, gently rotating, from the ceiling. They come in many humanoid variations, having evolved from two legs to three, four or even more, all individually hand sewn, using a wealth of patterned fabrics and the contents of several family button bags, with much of the fabric recycled. They display a rich preloved life and inexhaustible variety and vitality.

Many of us who made and loved golliwogs before they became politically insensitive will recall how they came to amazing individual life once their button eyes were attached. But Gillian Bencke takes this minor miracle well beyond family fun. Hers is genuine artmaking, requiring fertile imagination and much time in the studio.

Such intimations of an alternative creation are subliminally enhanced by the disturbing photo collages of Clare Weeks.This is a new form of image making for a widely respected teacher whose work has been exhibited in many places over the years. Autobiography becomes surreal in these prints of disembodied limbs, strangely interactive. Without the connecting body, arms and legs become odd, unexpected living entities. It’s an apparently simple idea that reverberates into metaphysics. Like the fabric menagerie, these photographs take the imagination into some curiously provocative places.

WATER CYCLETHE exhibition at the Lovett Gallery until May 14 is both book launch and school holiday activity, as well as a chance to see Liz Anelli’s sketches and finished illustrations for Desert Lake: the story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.The cycle of events from salty desert to flood-fuelled burst of life and back to desert makes a powerful story. Despite the infrequent inundation, frogs and other life forms survive for years in the mud under the salt, waiting for the lake to reappear as storm waters drain into it from an area the sixth of Australia.This must be an amazing spectacle, loud with birds, leaping with fish, producing instant ecosystems and, here on the gallery walls, illustrations rich in detail.

OPEN TO ALLAT Newcastle Art Space until May 1 is a show open to all comers, with works by a new generation of artists, plus such stalwarts as Leslie Duffin, Peter Lankas and Gwendolin Lewis.Particularly notable are Jane Blackall’s meticulously collaged Customs House made of paper and card, Alison Pateman’s reduction linocuts and the balletic bonsai melaleuca by Hugh Grant and Andrew Fitzgerald.

Not to forget the dishevelled clay skeleton by James E. McFarland, cynically titled Waiting for the train.

CONNECTIVITY: Clare Weeks explores the human form in ‘trace #10’.

IMAGINATION: Detail of Gillian Bencke’s ‘No such thing as a fish’ at Curve Gallery.