This is a rare post that in part I would rather keep to myself ... but then it signifies so much about the long. slow process of what I think of as learning to paint that has extended close on fifty years for me.
I took to brushes with a hunger when just about ready for school. As luck would have it my mother had been a teacher of 5 to 7or 8 year olds, in what was then known as an Infant school, before leaving to bring up four of her own.
Used to mixing up flour and water colour pastes and glues and other (dirt) cheap materials for school art sessions I was treated to my own mixes at home when the mood took hold of her or probably I badgered her enough. But she soon got the message that slightly more sophisticated materials would be appreciated... like a box of small cheap watercolours tablets from, perhaps, Japan.
I certainly never had Lakeland colour pencils nor did most at my school. Yet, despite all that I remember doing something in class so tonally sophisticated with paint when I was 9 that my teacher ran around the room showing others... i'd painted this cave-like space as if looking into an endless void. The others had painted swiss mountains and trees etc and I had painted this moody interior nebulous space in tertiary colours of incredibly unusual hues.
At the time I do remember suddenly becoming conscious that I'd had a kind of out-of-body experience in a way. The person who painted that cave had not been the 9 yr old me. Around the same time I'd has a similar experience of playing the piano in an Eistedfodd competition ( my poor mothers idea... I was ever reluctant). I was so nervous I recalled later that I had lost consciousness and could not remember past putting my fingers up to the piano. Later I was told I'd been given third prize for my efforts and I puzzled over that for years... how I'd left the room and someone moved my fingers along!
I lived in a small country town 400 miles to the city, and we had little artistic influence apart from what my lone high school art teacher could share. Holidays weren't spent in the city and certainly didnt involve plane trips anywhere. I did have a brief family trip to Sydney when I was14 and later when I was 16 over summer when I stayed for a week perhaps. You dont think of these things when you live away from the centre of things. In the early 70's when in High School there were two TV channels and really the environment around me was what I noticed.
Books obviously became important and were the critical conduit to a wider world. An aunty who loved art shared some things with me. Otherwise there was the Public Town Library, School library and slides of European art from my art teacher's lessons. Indigenous Art was not to be seen, nor was education on the extraordinary cultural heritage of Australia's First peoples.
My art teacher encouraged and liked my more graphic work.... same teacher from when I was 13 to 18. I remember going n to my last two years of high school and wanting to spread my wings in art classes and delve into the abstract realm. Basically I felt driven to abstraction as a language. My father died suddenly when I was 14, and oldest of four, so I lived in a home where I suspect silent night-time tears were falling onto the pillows of all of us... but we never talked of that. We all played piano, guitar and sang. That was our language for speaking the unspeakable. And I painted, often... filled paper, didn't try to make paintings of things... as finished rt objects. that made no sense to me. I need a visual language and so I painted and made things and tried many materials and ideas out.
So when this new branching out in the second last year brought admonishment over the abstractions I was playing with from my teacher, with the comment one day that I used to be good at art, I was beyond speech, beyond any response other than silent tears which I remember embarrassingly tipped out of my eyes... not many... just a few... but they seemed huge. I felt there was nothing more to be learnt there ... not because he had no knowledge but because the lack of insight or engagement from him simply didn't work for me. I needed to be and to go somewhere. Simply! I didn't know where... but I had to go!
Then in my last year of high school when I had to produce a 3 x 4 ft painting on masonite for an all-important mark towards my Higher School Certificate it was quite shocking in a way. Out of nothing I had to have an idea and make a huge and serious painting. I'd never really tried to do that... and it seemed that this was before the era that is common now of visual diaries and process, process, process. Perhaps my art teacher was trying to prompt that but it felt I was staring into the void and trying to sniff something trying to come to me.
I must have hit the library art books. I somehow faltered on an idea that grew, an idea so inarticulate and undiscussed. So big and vague and nebulous I cant remember what told people I was painting.
I struggled with this painting over months and was delirious the night I stayed up so late to finish it to hand in. I never knew how it was perceived but the markers. I dont think feedback was given at that time. The paintings had to be sent to Sydney on the train for marking... so it was an ordeal without an proper end really. The mark i got for art was also for the academic paper..several essays... and I never knew what had worked or not... the mark I got was so middling.
I think this left me very ambivalent about art at that time. A neighbour whose children I had babysat became my godsend... not knowledgeable nor interested in Art she still knew I was so passionate about it that she encouraged me over the summer, when everyone was deciding which direction to head, to take a place at art school in Newcastle and become an art teacher. .. a good solid job she encouraged.
My mother was terribly concerned about those city Art Schools so went quiet on the subject. The neighbour was the only person on my landscape who came forward with feedback and was willing to nudge me into Art. It seriously was not seen as a thing you did by most around me.
Well.. why this story... why now?
I was so ambivalent about the painting I did back then aged17 turning 18 (it took months) that I left it to fall apart at my family home. over the years it was relegated to a workshop, then later under the house. It became layered with dust and grime and I heard complaints about that painting when visiting home. I could never take it to the tip... nor could I take it to live with me.... partly the logistics of moving 36 times since I was 18 and to different cities, regions and states.
And .... on'e mother should not have to mind one's things after all. Against expectation I moved to her present home a few years ago when I became ill... so the painting was in front of me when I went under the house. I still had no plan for it. Still ambivalent... plus it was so covered in surface grime or dust that I was horrified each time I looked at it.
A few days ago I brought it to my studio over in Paddington. I got a soft cloth and began sponge-bathing it. I thought it would fall apart and had to go carefully. I uncovered it as best i could and today took photos. I thought about it over the weekend and realised I had always loved it... but just didn't like it.
There is a vast difference. It was filled with passion, tears and sweat... how could I knot love it.. I'd given birth to it. Bit like... not really. Like all tose years ago it sat uneasily before my eyes. It was testament to the fact i was learning how to handle point... learning how to compose a picture, learning how to work with abstract forms and how to use tertiary colours...
To me it is a painting of lessons... and completely unresolved because there are so many attempts to handle so many things in the one picture. It seriously doesn't work... but in another way one can say it does. I was young. It is what it is. It was born of passion and it is powerfully telling of future themes and ideas. Everything is present in it in a way that speaks of where I am now.
Its just that for many years it bared no resemblance to anything I could articulate.
I think you will understand my utter ambivalence when you take a look.
BUT ... there is a lesson for me in this work. I have many ties discarded what i didn't understand before it was ready or I was ready for it. I have also had to allow myself to work with the unbeautiful ... to be an artist who didn't produce easily likeable or understood work although I can sometimes manage that too.
I dont like easy answers or ideas without a hint of the complex. Life has always been very layered and various for me. My strong interest now in Bio-cultural-diversity satisfies a deep need to live from a place of co-exitisting realities, contradictions and room for the whole lot to be recognised in some way.
Art must make space for complexity in my sense of the cosmos... no apologies. It just must. This painting perhaps points to a preparedness for difficulty to be part of the experience of living and breathing... not difficulty for the sake of it...but difficulty for the sake of truth. Allowing tensions ... not seeking to make art that gets rid of all tensions.
Must think on this a bit more.
I'm now rushing as I am sitting in a cafe which is closing and I need to get back to the studio.
Oh well... Ive brought this out of hiding... painting flaking off and all... cracked and still dusty.
ps back later to edit out the spelling mistakes!