THE LEARNING CONNEXION (TLC)
My Creative Studies in 2019–2020
When my Camino friend Angelynn came to this land to hike the Te Araroa trail, it was to prove life-changing for both of us. Walking from North Cape to our front door en route to Bluff, she asked what I had planned post-thesis. Mention of The Learning Connexion, School of Creativity and Art, evoked her suggestion, ‘Let’s go there now!’ A warm reception, guided tour, some courses that spoke to my heart … all held a space of possibility ... for it would be another two years before I was free to enrol.
Gratefully I received an Oriel Hoskin Scholarship, aspiring, as Oriel inspirationally showed, to live more courageously, wisely and creatively. I asked myself what it might mean to take the fruits of my thesis: The mindfulness of seminaria … uncovers a poetry path to wellbeing – to the next level of creativity?
In his Transferable Criteria of Creativity: A Universal Aesthetic, I had heard Prof. Arthur Cropley at TLC in 2015, give new insights into how creativity crosses boundaries. Recognising links with my own research findings for future-focused work, I wanted to enliven it visually and interactively for a wider population where it might resonate.
I glimpsed too, how the next phase of my work might be in-the-flow, a ‘Camino’ of personal learning, transformative, and socially of service. So far at TLC I have explored 3-D materiality, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, digital drawing, and photography. Learning new skills and remastering old ones, gives me a feeling of fulfilment, a coming ‘full circle’. After leaving school, I attended Ilam, Canterbury University, looking to become a teacher of art. Although I treasured my learning under the tutelage of Bill Sutton, Doris Lusk (we addressed as Mrs Holland), Don Peebles, Tom Taylor, and others, I soon recognised however, that what I was really seeking was an Art of Education.
Three years at Christchurch Teachers’ College followed where I was privileged to continue art selectively under John Coley while continuing education at Canterbury with Ivan Snook, Graham Nuttall and others later, like Geraldine McDonald who kindled my flame for research. Thus the tapestry of my working life has been formed and informed by three strong interweaving strands: teaching, research and the Arts.
As a young mother, printmaking workshops with John Drawbridge, sculpture at Inverlochy House with Heather Grouden, and charcoal drawing, water colour with a number of painters using Goethean as distinct from Newtonian theory, and latterly, pastel colour explorations with Alamandria — all have been a creatively nourishing balance for the head space of later academic life.
To complete Level 5, I’m planning an exhibition and writing a book to showcase the findings of the co-researchers and others who have embedded The mindfulness of seminaria into their various social enterprises.
Below you can view some of the themes that I have explored over the past months.
While creating an installation space in the garden, I chanced upon deposits of lacy skeleton leaves and loved their indomitable spirit! Stripped bare, devoid of chlorophyll, weathered to their essence, these mostly native mahoe, marvellously suggested the diamond form of seminaria poetry. Light and strong they had a shiny ‘less is more’ quality. I began exploring textural possibilities in Marci Tackett's and Basia Smolnicki’s printmaking classes and paradoxically, by building up layers, found a way to screen print poems onto them. In Perry Scott’s 3-D sculpture class I assembled the ‘poet tree’ with its leafy poems. Leaf skeletons, I’ve found, give delicacy to the seasonal cycle all year round.
Of skeleton leaves
Light cellulose filigree
Well chlorophyll leached
Having grown up on a flat and largely treeless plain, my childhood yearning for tree climbing and fort building had to be fulfilled elsewhere. What had felt like a lack in childhood though, became growing gratitude in later life, as subsequent homes backed onto bush. Mature trees that saw my children’s creativity burgeon, heightened my appreciation for their ecology.
An arrestingly symmetrical walnut tree stopped me in my tracks on the road to Akaroa. Stark in its mid-winter form, it became a photography subject, inspiring me later to learn the rudiments of digital art and design with Alan Poole. I used its essence to show how an archetypal tree grows, thickening the trunk for strength and substance, and using artistic license to add exposed roots. I then burned the design onto a screen for printing in tutor, Marci Tackett’s class. The resulting golden tree prints express the essence of a ‘clothed’ tree—like my ‘poet tree’ with its garment of seminaria leaves sprouted from the creative writing of my seminaria workshop participants.
I valued what Basia Smolnicki, my tutor for Endless Possibilities – An Introduction to Printmaking wrote: ‘I can see patterns in Gaylene’s work exploring qualities of what we know to be a tree. The tree can be read as a metaphor for knowledge or ancestral tracing of history and what will be in the future.’ It’s as though she sensed my evolving thoughts for the research Poster #3
During the Covid-19 lockdown our first two photography classes were held via Zoom. Through the brief set by our tutor, Leigh Mitchell-Anyon – setting up a home studio and working towards a triptych – I experienced the joy of rediscovery amid my familiar kitchen objects. To think through the lens of a triptych where three ‘found objects’ tell a new narrative of relationship was inspiring. Whilst none of us was at liberty to venture far into the physical world, it was as though a floodgate opened from new imaginary worlds into mine. One example was the juxtaposition of a hand carved Zimbabwean mother and child given to me by a former student who'd lived there, now a mother and teacher herself; a resin Madonna, legacy from my late friend Sally, perched on its inverted wineglass pedestal; and the organic milk bottle distorted from its boiling cleanse, ready for recycling – altogether these held a new-layered nurturing relationship.
As a child I saved my 6d a week pocket money for many months to buy my first Box Brownie camera. Its spool of film took days to get developed and printed. What a contrast to today’s instant digital colour images with editing to suit.
For some of the leaf explorations the flying-through-space effect is exactly what I wanted! But it took about 60 images to get half a dozen I was satisfied with. It was my first faltering experimentation in-studio after our lesson on shutter speed, aperture and ISO, with attention to three other variables: backdrop, light source and reflector. I used a tripod, the modelling light and the ‘soft box’ flash. In the end it took a collaborative effort to achieve the floating leaves with pleasing compositional shape and sharpness. (While Angie dropped a handful from above, I watched the lens and released the shutter as astutely as I could.) One of the learning themes has been, ‘How to put images together as a narrative’. Besides the triptych, my main source of narrative is the inspiration derived from seminaria poetry itself.
Little ‘worlds of colour’ as part of a printmaking series, or a colour graduation sequence, a seasonal cycle, mandala-making in nature, or simply random experimentation.
The shape of a circle speaks to me of unity, connection, a world of cohesion and societal cooperation. Or microcosmically, it might represent a nurturing nest, the geometry of a budding rose, or an ancient pebble of possibility dropped into a still pond, setting circles rippling out rhythmically to the periphery.
If you break the thread of a circle and wind one end into a spiral, it forms the model used by TLC founder Jonathan Milne as the five-process creative spiral. Starting with the idea in the middle, met by action (akin to the unfurling silver fern frond or koru), followed by feedback, review and the last phase, evolving the idea …
I love learning at The Learning Connexion. It makes me feel alive with ideas – is central to my creative identity and what it means to me to be human.