Sunday, September 12, 2010

spring cleaning..... (beginnings - part one)

Don't you just love spring!?

The days are getting longer, there's a decided 'something' in the air (my aching sinuses tell me it's probably pollen.....), and this year in particular I'm revving up to do a solid spring clean in view of the MASSIVE changes that I feel are about to overtake us (or rather - me... but more about that another time....).

As it's a season of new beginnings (and BOY this season is going to be one of BIG new beginnings..... oops I'm off topic again!) I thought it's the very best time for me to blog about my arrrrty beginnings..... so this week, in a series of posts I'm going to go back (waaaaay back) and share a little of where I come from (artistically speaking)......

'In the Beginning' by Rhonda (Davies) Ayliffe
gouache, watercolour, collage on TH Saunders

Can you remember the first moment you just KNEW what you were going to do with your life? Well I might not remember the exact moment, but I do know that when I was around 6 or 7 years old I knew that I was going to be An Artist. Now I couldn't tell you exactly what I thought An Artist did or was... (nothing much has changed!) only that I was going to Be One.

Fast forward to adult-hood (which is a good thing - as my childhood arrrrrty tendencies were not always appreciated by my peers, and I spent most of my youth painting and drawing and winning art prizes and being persecuted!) It's now 1988 - I've just moved back to my dear hometown with my new (now ex-) husband in tow to set up house and studio at Sams Creek. My ex-husband, Mark Davies, (a wonderful, talented, kind-hearted and lovely person) was a fantastic woodworker, and together we established a large studio/gallery in Cobargo (in the same building my grandparents once had a general store).... It was then that my enduring love affair with the craft of calligraphy began... and whilst running our busy craft business (7 days a week working in 'the shop'- ahhhhhh those were the days... no wonder our poor marriage couldn't survive!) I devoted myself to mastering the craft. Mark D and I eventually began making work that combined our skills....

like in these exhibition pieces from the woodworkers assoc of NSW large exhibition 'For Tomorrow' shown at the State Library of NSW in 1993...

'Forest' platter
redgum turned by Mark Davies,
hand forged iron stand by Peter Hillard, calligraphy by Rhonda Ayliffe

'Popul Vuh' - (sacred Mayan text)
Redgum turned platter by Mark Davies,
handforged iron stand by Peter Hillard, calligraphy by Rhonda Ayliffe

I think it's probably worth telling you about the unusual manner by which I learned calligraphy - Given that it was the very late 1980s, and I was living in the sticks (aka by the creek), I had to undertake my study by distance... and back then there was very little by way of quality distance calligraphy courses - so I undertook a certificate correspondence course with then THE place to study calligraphy - the Roehampton Institute in London.... and I also convinced Margaret Layson, esteemed calligraphy teacher and Guild Member of the ASC, to convert her certificate course (a 3 year TAFE course) into a distance offering.... which she did initially just for me (I was what you'd call very keen and rather persuasive!). I augmented this study with workshops in Sydney with any passing internationally renown calligraphic master (Thomas Ingmire, Ann Hechle, Susan Hufton are amongst the most memorable).... this culminated in study with Irish calligraphic phenomenon - Denis Brown - when he stopped by for an extended stay in 1995 (Denis was actually the very first calligrapher I met 'in-the-flesh' - in a Sydney workshop 1991)

1995 was a pivotal time in my calligraphic/arrrty journey....

'Cuyahoga' study.... 1995
gouache on Arches

(I still remember the afternoon that I worked on this piece... it was a light bulb moment...)

I must have absorbed something valuable in the few weeks I spent immersed in rigorous study with that Irish taskmaster (just kidding Denis! anyone who has ever attended a workshop with the Denis will attest he has a wicked sense of humour and generous teaching spirit)..... as a couple of months later I became a Guild Member of the ASC - (the highest form of peer-acknowledgment in Australian calligraphy). At that time I was the first Guild Member from a regional area, the first (and still the only one I think) to achieve Guild Member status whilst still in my twenties, and even now - 15 years after becoming a Guild Member, I'm still the youngest in the bunch..... scheeez......

Anyway - back in the mid-1990s I was on fire with all manner of calligraphic work - exploring a vast range of materials and techniques....

'Boxed' 1995
mixed media/ assemblage

'Mixed Emotions'

(selected for Letter Arts Review annual review 1996/97 and exhibited
at 'Confluence' international calligraphy exhibition - University of Illinois)

In 1996 I travelled weekly to Sydney to complete various units (like simple bookbinding) to acquire a Diploma of Western Calligraphy (I told you I was KEEEEEEN! - I would get up at 3am - set off for the 4.5 hr journey home and get to work at 8.30am back down the coast)
In November that year I held my first solo exhibition - 'Beyond Tilba' - where I played with ideas about land and identity (primarily using the words of my favourite aussie poet - Les Murray as a jumping off point) as well as ideas about what could be done with and to calligraphy!

'The Incendiary Method'
mixed media on TH Saunders

In 1996 I figured I was well on my way.....
little did I know that my arrrrty journey was only beginning.....

***more images of my past calligraphic works are on a gallery - at cecilia-letteringart***



  1. Just beautiful Ronnie, and a really interesting history! I'm looking forward to hearing more... I always was a bit nosey! Sara x

  2. Thanks for telling us about your journey. I'm looking forward to further episodes.(I think I first came across you at Cecelia's

  3. Amazing, Ronnie, and lovely to have this insight into what has made you the artist you are. And all those other things you manage to be so efficiently. I'm going on to the next episode now. Nosey? Yep!xx

  4. I've only just spotted this post - it is making me green with envy...aren't I horrible??!! The 'Cuyahoga' study is sublime!And your other explorations, dragging calligraphy with you where ever you go are wonderful to see.

  5. thanks for your constant support guys..... I'm thinking about these collection of 'beginnings' posts as a kind of spring cleaning..... a sorting out of all the old collections lying neglected in the attic.... putting the house in order ready for the next stage.....


thanks for all your lovely comments - your words are greatly appreciated xx