Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the highway poem

Overland travels one January - the highway poem

In the previous post on this year's Victoria University Artist-in-Residency a somewhat autobiographical work was included. It featured addresses of places lived in since since birth to date. This act of painting lists of places has been something I have returned to over 3 decades of moving house and relocating across distances at times to live interstate, overseas at one point, moves prompted by work and other opportunities.
In this work posted here the list is of highways travelled on from a trip taken 4 years ago in January with Sydney as the starting point. Its was a memorable trip that took in as many alternative main roads as possible to avoid the Hume Hwy and to experience places of geographic diversity between Sydney and Melbourne, including the Snowy Mountains and venturing also across to the Grampians of Western Victoria.
Rather than name places, towns and villages passed through or stayed at, it seemed fitting to commemorate the roads travelled as it was the road trip itself that was so unique about this holiday. A camera was rarely used, several drawings done, but much of it was an experience committed to memory and the reading of each road's name serves as a remarkable prompt for those memories to come flooding back. 
Whilst at the wheel of the car colours and shapes and details were captured... 18 days of shifting landscapes, climate and terrain. Below is the painting after being photo-shopped last year on completion of the work, painted almost 3 years after taking the trip.
Perhaps many would prefer a photo collection, postcards and souvineers. For me this painting holds the feelings of places, of movement, of approaching and leaving...memories so much more vast and complex than a photo could represent.
The totality of the experience is there and the parts. It is my poem for the way through many places.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

artist-in-residency, Victoria University, Melbourne 2009

January 5th - 31st 2009 Artist-In-Residency : Victoria University, 300 Flinders St, Melbourne. The School of Creative Industries 17th floor studios was the location for the residency, with views across the city in all directions. The space was flexible due to partitioned walls which could be moved - thus the studio expanded over the 4 week residency as the work developed and ideas came to life on paper, cardboard and canvas. 
The series of images below is a reflection of the various directions the work took. The first week was by far the most challenging for several reasons - dramatically different climate, accomodation and work areas to become familiar with, and 3 days bed-ridden with illness (a planned operation occured 5 weeks later!)That aside, the 4 weeks were an extraordinarily productive period - after a slow start. Initially the environment was something of a shock. As shown in the images below being 17 floors up in the midst of city buildings was in stark contrast to the lush green subtropical  outlook and domesticity of my home studio in Brisbane. I had gone from responding visually to the vegetation around my Queenslander home to needing to interact with stark geometric lines in profusion everywhere I looked.I was reminded that when I left Melbourne In 2000 to relocate to Newcastle, NSW it had taken quite a long time to loosen up and move on from the geometrical forms that seemed to follow me from Melbourne and to find my way into a preoccupation with water and ocean and swimming had brought a flowing element into the work. The fresh bombardment of City shapes and colours and lines...everywhere lines...were what started my hand moving and filling pages with spare elements at first and then gradually filled in forms. After a week geometry made sense. And the jazz-tinged rhthym of life in inner Melbourne was having its effect on me.

Reconnections with friends and places long familiar to me in the past began to thread old stories and new together. I then found myself turning to an autobiographical series of simple works on cardboard that involved listing in chronological all the addresses I had lived at from the time i was born 50 years before. I had come to melbourne and lived for 5 months aged 23, loved it, but been too unsettled to stay where it was all so new! I returned to live in melbourne in 1988, aged 30 - just arrived home from 2 years in London. This time I was truly enamored with this city. I stayed till 1998 when at the close of my business - Themata Studio - I spent 4 months in Brisbane with family considering relocating  to there. But no, back I came for a new start in Melbourne - my third effectively. I commenced a Diploma of painting at Victoria University in 2000 and 4 months into the course  a house-fire  led to the huge decision to leave this place I had been so attached to and move back to NSW.
Hence the autobiographical work in the second week of the old steps were being retraced and connections remade. Very much a processing of the different eras in my life and the associations with place - geography, experiences, people and ideas. This actually wasn't a new idea for me. Iin my 20's i had moved quite often for various reasons - often work related - and mapping or listing them addresses had been a way of making sense of change. In the photo of myself midway through the images I'm standing next to a tall list of locations I'd lived at... a list which never fails to be a catalyst for musing on so many different experiences ...and considering the impact this can have on shaping one's life. Being at the 17th floor studio added a particular perspective to this recounting of biography.
A curious discovery was how this open-ended 4 weeks allowed one the freedom to explore a number of quite different ideas simultaneously. Not needing to produce a tight body of work for a set goal I felt free to allow room for threads of ideas to lead of in different directions. And so -  I did some work with the seedpod form, the bio work, city geometry inspired explorations,  light-hearted, quirky works on brown paper and  finally several large works on unstretched canvas starting out with a palette knife - something not common for me to do. I was resistant - however much I referred to the lines of the city in these large works - to get too focused on hard lines and tight geometry.
The final work 'City Rhythm'  was completed using ink and acrylic on a clear ground on linen. This was given as a gift to the University. A rather more precise and tightly constructed work than others done over the previous 4 weeks,  it did rely heavily on layering to convey the density of city buildings and transparency to add to this energy.
Nine months later it is interesting to reflect on this 4 week residency. Illness and daily challenge to keep on top of that did not stop me from relishing the sense of expansiveness and pushing through that this time allowed. Long hours painting, by day and by night, weekends even, sustained by naps if necessary in bean bags found in storage, access to a library and reading in breaks, running out for coffee and sushi, late night tram trips home on days when temperatures climbed well into the 40's...and the studio was the coolest place to be!
Perhaps the best learning was being reminded that out of stillness and then letting the hand find its way on the page all else follows. I loved emptying out all the "shoulds" and letting what needed to enter the space enter!

NB:  The formatting on this post has not been remotely co-operative... items therefore are placed randomly... not by design! 

The 4 weeks of the residency combined with the freedom of the huge and expandable studio space allowed for the pursuit of various different lines of exploration at the same time. The organic pod forms and the geometric had long vied for equal attention - sometimes seeming like a clear split and other times overlapping.

The work below 'City Rhythms' is now in the collection of Victoria University, Flinders S, Melbourne


Friday, October 16, 2009

children's pool at the Newcastle Ocean Baths beside the Pacific Ocean

Working on A4 sized journal pages - prep work carried out in september this year for a commissioned painting of the Children's Pool at Newcastle Ocean Baths. A trip in July this year provided an opportunity to spend time in this location and record images on camera for use in the studio. Revisiting a place of reverie and considerable inspiration refreshed ideas for the painting and the memory of the mood and feel of the place! The last 2 ink drawings show sections of the neighbouring ocean baths. Colour, light, time of day, the ocean's rhythms and shifting weather conditions make this place so atmospheric and affecting. The fact one can immerse oneself completely in the water of both pools and ocean seem only to add to the drama and sense of belonging to be found here. Time is ever present through the wearing away of paint and concrete and wood and rock platform between pool and sea. Sounds, voices and words linger on from times past - evocative of a mood the speaks of the eternal.

exploring local environment

Work from 2009 exploring forms found in local natural environment

Blue quandongs -  photograph from Botanic gardens at Mt Coo-Tha 
  below: painted in ink on canvas 50 cm wide

Black bean seedpod from locally growing tree, 
ink on paper with mono-printed background

'Coastal Reverie' - acrylic and oil pastel 
on canvas, 120 x 40 cm

'sub-tropical totem'  acrylic and ink on canvas,
80 cm x 60 cm


abstracted seedpods, ink on board

pod forms, ink on canvas 50 cm wide

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Field to Lab to Studio...

From out in the field to the Lab to the Studio

... these images are from July when I was volunteering at the Seeds for Life project at the Mt Coo-Tha Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately funding was expiring at the time so there has been 4 months off till the Lab could be back in operation for the seed sorting and storing processes.
Below are 2 sample plants brought in from the region around Mt Isa, in Queensland. Jason Halford was person in charge of the project when I came on board, and most informative about all aspects of the venture from the Millenium Seed bank's role in setting up this Lab - one of a number in Australian Botanical Gardens - to detailed methods for collecting out in the field and things to take care of back in the lab in order to have the optimum possible results to pass on at the end of the day!

Patience is a necessary part of separating seeds from capsules - each species requiring a different approach and precise knowledge. Above is a job in several stages whilst below you can click on the sheet to enlarge it and view the details that are required to be filled out for each different species.

The pages of a book on Australian native seeds above provided excellent close ups for my drawing exercise below. After a day in the lab working with, at times, minute seeds that were quite difficult to handle and count I appreciated the work of the scientists who put this book together excellent compendium for study. In the white ink drawing on dark ink background you can observe the kind of variations in shapes that made the task of sorting and observing so fascinating. What I so loved hearing about was the acutely distinguishing features of the ways the seeds are formed, come to maturity, show signs of being ready to disperse and the factors that can interfere with this life cycle of a plant. It was compelling stuff. At this layer of life in close up I am reminded  of that potent sense of wonder to be found in all living things.

Jason holding a particularly spiky, troublesome seedpod to handle! No one was fighting to get onto this job! Below is the further results of time in the lab and with the library books - more native Australian seeds.

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Blogging for me is an extension of keeping a journal which I have done in various forms over the decades. The difference being this is not a closed book! I like that it offers an opportunity to explore that which concerns me as an artist and as an individual about living and participating in this vastly complex, unquestionably exciting yet unnerving time in human history. Through the blog I hope to increase the possibilties for cross-pollination which I believe can strengthen the sense of being part of something both personal and universal that is vital, expansive and refreshing.