No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

We could think it is the institutions that shape us: the particular school, art college, museum or gallery collaboration. But if I look back, it is specific individuals within those institutions who are the crux of the experience. Whom we meet (and whom we don’t meet) can turn out to have a profound impact on the course of our life. I have spoken of Unn Sonju many times, but not here. Time to redress this omission. At art school in Leeds in the mid 70’s, I followed a degree in Furniture Design. Unn was then a part-time tutor on the Fine Art course. She ran a textile studio which happened to be opposite our design studio. The room housed half a dozen vertical tapestry looms and a handful of students working away on various projects. One loom carried Unn’s current tapestry – a detailed semi abstract dreamlike composition in deep blues as I recall. This artist taught by example, and in so doing provided a very rich learning environment of sketchbooks, samples, personal art books and exhibition catalogues ‐ indeed an ‘artist in residence’ before the phrase ever became commonplace. The atmosphere in the room was one of very real creative charge. I was on the outside, looking in ‐ yearning to be involved in this world. An invitation from Unn to step inside, and my life changed (though I didn’t recognise it at the time). A visual melee of rich, enticing colour, earthy smells of strings and twines, intriguing posters and conversation – I soaked it all in. I could almost taste the excitement. And when a loom became free and I was to feel first hand the twangy, taught parallel lines of my own linen warp and hear the rhythmic thud thud of beating down of the weft ‐ I knew I had arrived. Halfway through my final year, whilst I still had use of the college workshops, Unn suggested I made a loom. This I did, copying the Scandinavian design. As a tutor, Unn posed questions rather than gave answers. This way of teaching, though sometimes frustrating to my young, student mentality, has held me in good stead. I graduated in 1976 armed with equipment but no certain knowledge – everything I have learnt; know (or think I know) subsequently, I have found out for myself. The door was ajar… Unn opened it… I could feel the breeze on my face…. she stood me on the threshold, but she didn’t push. I thank her for that. To give someone the opportunity to discover for themselves; to release in someone the power and desire to want to find out more, is a most potent thing. Unn left the UK to work and teach in her native Norway and I haven’t seen her since. She would be unaware of the impact she has had on my creative life. Her wisdom has always remained with me. Now, thirty years on I have tracked down her address. We have exchanged letters, photographs, philosophies. Our growing dialogue is stimulating. I look forward to the day when we might meet so that I can say face to face how much I appreciate her not being my teacher but being my unwitting mentor. Sjøen Vinker, Unn Sønju 1989 - Click to enlarge Lost and Found (detail), Unn Sønju 2005 - Click to enlarge Lost and Found (detail), Unn Sønju 2005 - Click to enlarge Sea of Tranquillity Variation V, Unn Sønju 2000‐2005 - Click to enlarge Sea of Tranquillity Variations VI & IV, Unn Sønju 2000 ‐ 2005   - Click to enlarge Air Pockets Variations I & II, Unn Sønju 1998 - Click to enlarge