Louise Saxton

Louise Saxton is a Melbourne-based artist who trained in painting and printmaking at RMIT and holds a Post-graduate Diploma with the Victorian College of the Arts and a Masters Degree in Fine Arts with the University of Ballarat.

Since 2000, Louise’s practice has centred on the reconstruction of detritus from the home. This has included the re-use of her own paintings, collections of everyday business envelopes and vintage wallpapers and discarded needlework.

In 2006 she was awarded a Sir Ian Potter Cultural Trust travel grant to undertake an artist residency at Rimbun Dahan in Malaysia. In 2008, her joint exhibition dot-net-dot-au (with Tim Craker) toured to Malaysia and Singapore, including works she had conceived and created at Rimbun Dahan.

Artists’ Statement from the Travelling Exhibition dot-net-dot-au

Based on a collection of small henna-hand stencils (mehndi) I found in KL in 2006, I made (the linen coloured) Hand-work first. I chose the hornbill as the negative motif inside the hand because, being a vulnerable species in Malaysia, I wanted to create a connecting point between Malaysia, my time at Rimbun Dahan (the image was found in a Malaysian Nature Society magazine on the property) and our two very different cultures. I liked it so much that I made the blue one, mirroring the hand and repeating the hornbill negative within it. The Home-Tree was made next (based on an Indian Tree of Life image that I’ve been carrying around with me for the past 15 years) and the koala was chosen as the negative motif. Being a vulnerable species here at home, the koala acts for me, as an Australian counterpart to the Malaysian hornbill. The koala also has a deep connection, within Australia, to the decorative home-based traditions of the past (“Australiana” doilies etc) and as a national icon.

The use of the negative motif inside the highly decorative outer motif becomes a metaphor of vulnerability and potential loss (of species and also traditions) which is common to both our cultures. So, the choices I’ve made here are about my trying to find connecting points between my brief encounters with South East Asia and my ongoing life in Australia.

The majority of motifs I am choosing for dot-net-dot-au were “collected” in Asia and the majority of actual embroidered materials were collected here in Australia. These, largely Western motifs (dotted throughout with Asian inspired imagery) could be seen to represent colonisation, but hopefully, they can also create another link between cultures – that of the home and the garden.

In-filled with hundreds of, individually extracted, embroidered motifs, the Hand-work pieces create, because the palms are opened outwards, a gesture of welcome and offering (which links them to the original henna (mehndi) hands used for Indian weddings and other celebrations). In both Hand-works and Home-Tree there is also a sense of protection, by holding the vulnerable, absent image within their palm or branches. There is perhaps also, the possibility of loss and at the same time, the potential for ‘salvage’.

The other image I have chosen to work with is the Buddha head, also brought home with me from Malaysia as a simple pencil line-drawing. Traced from a book I found in my guest room at Rimbun Dahan, the original sculpture housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is a 7th Century Cambodian Buddha. Imitations of these ancient sculptures are found here in Australia, one being spotted recently sitting outside my local garden shop. The image represents my own fascination with the incredible beauty of Eastern arts traditions, but also the difficult arena of the displacement of traditions, of Colonisation and the plundering of other cultures. At the same time, there seems to exist in the image, an enduring sense of quiet, humility and peace, which allows the image to somehow transcend its appropriation – or does it? The Buddha’s cast-down eyes, in my re-appropriation, are made of pearl-drop lace, a feather and a blue flower. His ear and cheek are embellished with tiny blue birds and a miniature Chinese fishing boat, a delicate butterfly caresses his neck and in his hair knots, (made from over 100 circular crochet and embroidered motifs) ‘nest’ two running-stitched swallows. These embellishments on an image once cast in bronze, and now drawn by me in delicate reclaimed lace, could point to the Buddhist idea of transience? However, it also makes me feel uncomfortable – is it still a “stolen” image? This also causes me to wonder, about the nature of travel, of my residency and my return to Malaysia and Singapore to exhibit this year – while we try to grasp something of the wisdom and experience of other traditions, can we ever really hold on to it, or make it our own?

Louise Saxton
March 2008