Underground arias

“The aria, after all, is the soul of opera.”
— Richard Strauss

A phone call from my son sent me on a fact-finding expedition. We had spoken about an upcoming event in the limestone caves of Rockhampton, a north Queensland regional town. It was opera, a form of entertainment neither of us have fully explored before but one that intrigued us given the venue.

Keen to know more I headed to Google and discovered Brisbane Underground Opera. The company began in 2007 and perform not only in the caves but in abandoned buildings, mines, tunnels and airport hangers. An event was scheduled in my city in a heritage listed water reservoir. A place I had passed a week or so before on my Churches and Shrines walk. I bought a ticket.

The Springhill reservoirs, there were two I learnt, were not always covered by the odd-looking orange hut like structures that are there now. Built in the late 1800’s the set in-ground reservoirs provided water for the city of Brisbane  until 1962. Abandoned for nearly 50 years by almost everyone expect the homeless, misguided teenagers and possums, the site was reopened in 2014 by the Brisbane Underground Opera.  A most unlikely and extraordinary venue —once filled with water it is now filled with song and sound and joy. The space has been transformed and the experience is transformative.

One enters the chamber from above, down a rigged scaffold staircase. My first impression on entering this historical site was of wonder for the marvelous structure and architecture. The interior features columns and brick arches. A small stage in the centre provides a focal point. Clever lighting cast blue hues creating an interesting mood. Projected images of water bubbles cast upon the walls provided a reference to the history of the venue.

It’s an intimate setting, which allows the audience close access to the performers. I was the second row from the front, in the north wing, and could have reached out and touched the performers, so close was my seat. It is a theatre in the round design that works well. Performers adeptly played to the four sides and filled the space with their voices, sans microphones. As you’ve guessed there are no full-blown operas performed here with staging and sets, rather various arias. Let me not diminish the entertainment value and the clever use of minimal props to create stories for the audience. The cast had not only wonderful voices but also a keen sense of humour and delightful stage presence.

The performance I attended was a compilation of arias from a range of Operas and stage shows. Those featured included La Traviatta, Sweeny Todd, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, The Mikado, Phantom of the Opera and The Gondoliers. A good first time introduction I think. The surrounding brick walls, arches and tunnels provided arresting acoustics. A number of times I closed my eyes to shut out the visual input and absorb the elegance of being wrapped in sound.

This experience has not a convert to Opera made, though I would be keen to attend another event in the caves and an abandoned castle a short drive away. Carols in the reservoir sounds like something I’d like on my bucket list for this year too. The ambiance of a place adds much to the experience. The outstanding talent of the performers is something I can definitely appreciate.

Have you attended an event in an unlikely venue that has left a lingering memory?

Making Modernism and me

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate. Harvey Fierstein

I have to confess, the majority of my favourite artists are men. Is it because there are fewer female artists or is it, as is the case with sport, that female artist have not enjoyed the same exposure as male artists or is it simply a gross carelessness on my part not to delve deeper and wider? Perhaps a combination of all three. The work of performance artist Marina Abramović, painter Margaret Ollie, sculptor Louise Joséphine Bourgeois move me. I am surrounded by female artists, many colleagues and friends are fine artists, sculptors, glass blowers, performers and I own art work by female artists. Yet, male artists seem to gain much space on gallery walls, in print and media. So I was excited, though unsure of what I would see, when I went along to the most recent exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Making Modernism is a combined exhibit of works by three female artists – Margaret Preston, Georgia O’Keeffe and Grace Cossington Smith.

Preston and Cossington Smith are Australian and O’Keeffe, American. The gallery space was intimate yet displayed a generous number of works by each artist making for a unique and pleasing experience.

I felt an immediate affinity with Preston and a familiarity with her work that I realised came from having explored the same places, tended the same flowers and photographed the same bush flora she depicts in her art. I was propelled back to a childhood home that had tongue in groove walls when admiring a still life, I knew the texture of the wild flowers and banksias, and I was surprised to see a painting titled White and Red Hibiscus dated 1925. I recently discovered a white hibiscus plant, a colour so rare, even my grandmother, an avid gardener had never seen.

I felt a comfort in viewing her work.  It is immediately very Australian, not only in the subject matter but the restricted colour palette which closely resembles the colours chosen by indigenous Australian artists. Her woodcuts are absorbing, her still lifes strong and potent.

Moving into the space reserved for Cossington Smith’s work I was taken from a tryst in nature to a celebration of the urban environment. Her work is post impressionistic. Her use of colour is energetic and elicits emotion. On seeing The Curve of the Bridge and The Bridge in Building I recalled Ashley Hay’s The Body in the Clouds, a novel that explores three intertwined stories from different times on the site where the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built.

Standing back and surveying the works there are a strong reflections of Van Gogh and Cezanne in a distinctly Australian setting. The effect was transformative and surreal.

The landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona fascinate me. I wish to explore and roam those places. A short time with Georgia O’Keeffe’s work strengthened that desire. I felt a strong connection with her,  not through a familiarity of setting as it was with Preston but sensing a shared love of and affinity with nature. O’Keeffe, like me, was pulled by nature. Her landscapes are expansive, luminous and evocative of place. Her flowers bring us in intimate closeness with nature. Having a habit of narrowing in with the camera I enjoyed Canna Leaves and Corn No 2 for the detail. I responded quite emotionally to many of her works. The flowers were pleasing, Pelvis a stark, compelling portal and Black Place, Grey and Pink caused a fleeting, wrenching despair, I felt drawn into the void.

Three distinctive styles, three incredible women, three strong artists.  This was an enriching exhibition, well worth a visit.

Celebrating art

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It has been said that art is a tryst, for in the joy of it maker and beholder meet. ~Kojiro Tomita

Art can be celebrated any day of the week but this year my home town of Brisbane is celebrating the 10th birthday of our very own Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art – GOMA with a summer long exhibition and series of activities. I popped along to join in the fun on another day of celebration, for some, – Australia Day. 

The 10th birthday celebrations feature a whopping 250 contemporary artworks that are a true feast for the senses. There are some newly commissioned works as well as a lovely smattering of old favourites.  The intention of the exhibition is to reflect our complex connections to the natural world through the senses. My senses were pleasantly engaged and enchanted by the multi dimensional and interactive landscape artfully curated for art lovers of all ages.

Visitors are greeted by two spiralling slides that rocket the brave and childlike from the top floor to the bottom. Around the corner vivid colour strikes the eye as a landscape of synthetic hair that appears to grow from the ground reaches toward the ceiling. A sudden change of sensory input occurs when you step from the bright, well light open space of the gallery into a softly dimmed cavern containing a Heard of sculptural horses that I believe can be brought to life by dancers.

I was pleasantly surprised and no less intrigued to see Ron Mueck’s massive and life-like sculpture In bed on display again. The detail and the intimacy of the work is mesmerizing. This is one work I long to reach out and touch.

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The hugely popular installation of thousands and thousands of white Lego pieces was back.  The joy of this piece is in watching young and old sit and build fantastic structures.  It was slightly disconcerting for me to have it placed in a different spot to the first time it appeared. It was deja vu gone wrong.

Pinaree Sanpitak’s Noon-nom installation drew me. I wanted to sink into it, lounge atop the soft sculptures and enjoy the view of the river.  Having commented to the gallery staffer that it was tempting to do just that, she informed me the work was designed for relaxing on. At first glance the installation appears to be a lovely compilation of multi coloured bean bags.  The many soft sculptures actually represent breast stupas; a lovely bringing together of the human form and the spiritual. I had to giggle at myself for lounging on large breasts but marvel too at the artist’s ingenuity in capturing the nurturing form so well.

So many of the exhibits and installations provoked a mindful consideration of our being and our interactions with others and the world. Standing beneath a gigantic aluminium snake skeleton that spirals 53 metres gave me pause to reflect on how tiny we humans are yet how bold our ideas, traditions and stories can be. Tomás Saraceno’s Biospheres bought to mind soap bubbles, jelly fish, a fragile globe all at once. Another delightful yet fragile landscape was constructed by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s in his musical installation of live finches. I felt a world away from the hustle and bustle and was lucky enough to be the sole visitor for a while in this soothing space. Lee Mingwei’s Writing the Unspoken was a change of pace. In an intimate room with subdued lighting three small asian inspired booths offer visitors the opportunity to exchange ideas, communicate gratitude, insights and forgiveness. Visitors can write unspoken messages to be sent by the gallery, if sealed and addressed or leave a message for others to read and enjoy.  I was moved by the strength and beauty of the words people chose to leave for strangers. 

Congratulations GOMA on your 10th birthday. Congratulations to the curators for bringing together seemingly disparate pieces and creating a world of joy, contemplation and reverence.  Well done. Thank you to artists everywhere who through great talent, sacrifice and struggle bring us these works that move us, shape us and create something that lingers long after we’ve taken in the work itself.

 

Interviewing David

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“I’m a little bit naked, but that’s okay.”
― Lady Gaga

If you could interview a work of art, what would it be and what would you ask?  This sounds like a pretty random idea, I know, but it came from listening to a radio interview by Richard Fidler, on Conversations. He was talking with a gentleman who had a very unique, full body tattoo and at one point Richard commented that he’d never interviewed a work of art before.  It got me thinking, what a neat idea.

The hardest part of this scenario, once you’ve taken the leap into the quirky world of oddity and imagination, is selecting just one artwork to interview.  How do you choose one piece that you’d love an audience with to get to know better from a world full of magnificent works? I’ve visited some of the most magnificent galleries in the world and enjoyed the talent of local artists as well as great masters. I appreciate and am enthralled by a variety of mediums, subjects and artistic styles. Yes, choosing just one is tricky. So I simply shut my eyes and decided on the first image that came to mind. It was a close tie between Michelangelo’s David and the Venus de Milo.

In the end, I thought David might be fun. Now, I’m never going to be an award-winning journalist and I’m sure, once I post this piece I will think of a trillion other questions but here were my initial thoughts, interests, curiosities.

David, I imagine it gets pretty tiring having droves of people comment on how large and out of proportion your hands are each day. What other unique challenges do you face?

Do you suffer from body image issues?

What do you feel is your most endearing feature?

If you could swathe yourself in a single outfit, what fabric would you choose?

You have one day to do anything you like. Where would you go and what would you do?

How do you feel about Michelangelo after all this time? If you were to meet now, what would you share with him?

Your surroundings are pretty stark. What’s your favourite colour?

Can you account for your continued celebrity?

Tell me about your earliest memory.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

What did I miss? What would you have asked in addition? Like I said, no Pulitzer Prizes for award-winning journalism for me but this exercise, as well as being a bit of quirky fun, challenged me to think in different and creative ways and that’s a good thing to do occasionally. I also found I was anticipating the responses and I now have a different viewpoint from which to think. Pretty neat.

How could you challenge yourself to think outside the realms of  the everyday?

Spellbound by Mr Blackman

Image from QAGOMA

The Family by Charles Blackman                                                        Image from QAGOMA

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

The best word to describe the rising emotion, the tearing of my eyes, the heightened senses, as I walked into the room, is ‘spellbound’.  I was simply spellbound, surrounded by paintings and drawings of one of my favourite Australian artists, Charles Blackman.

My weekly ‘date with myself’ was to the Queensland Art Gallery to see ‘Lure of the Sun: Charles Blackman in Queensland’. The room was appropriately intimate, sectioned off from other exhibits, thus giving the feeling of isolation from the world, allowing the viewer to explore, engage with and delve into each work unimpeded, at leisure and with a sense of timelessness.

The exhibition features paintings, drawings and other works of this noted Australian artist, some I had not studied in art class and found to be hugely satisfying.  The exhibit is beautifully curated and tells a story, some of which, I, who prided myself on art history as a student, had not known.  It’s the story of the many connections and friendships Charles Blackman and his wife Barbara made here in Queensland. It’s a story of a man and his craft and his thoughtful portrayal of human emotion and relationships. We get a glimpse of the man behind the art. The works feature landmarks I am familiar with as they exist in my city.  The shared stories of friendships and life events as well as many quotes, from family and friends and the artist himself, add to the connection with each work.

A lovely inclusion was a poem written by the artist’s son, Auguste Blackman, which beautifully tied the whole exhibition together.

Lure of the Sun


Whispering shadowed dawn arise
See the world through Alice eyes
Kettle sings to brush in hand
Descending dappled Wonderland
Beneath the faithful Queensland house
Blue Alice, rabbit and dormouse
Gilded by a Gertrude flower
Amidst the splendid perfumed hour
Gerbera Roses Daisy Lily
Earthen breezeway Indooroopilly
Expounding wild magenta dream
Away to Barjai Tamborine
Pandanus palms Maroochydore
Blackman paints our fatal shore
A tea pot tips inspiring brew
Alice grows a foot or two
‘Drink Me’ now and you can be
A golden girl kissed by the sea
Through The Looking Glass we leap
Falling down in jumbled heap
And here at last we’re joined as one
Spellbound by a Lure of Sun

I was transfixed and fulfilled by this visit that I could not bear to erode the precious moments by visiting other collections.  I walked away in solitary contemplation with the sense of reverence one feels when brought face to face with works of greatness, with a champion from one’s childhood. It was a pretty special moment. 

Have you been spellbound by something lately?

 

 

 

 

Down the rabbit hole with David Lynch

I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper. I knew it as a kid, but I couldn’t find the proof. It was just a kind of feeling. There is goodness in blue skies and flowers, but another force–a wild pain and decay–also accompanies everything.”― David Lynch

I feel woozy and disoriented. No, I haven’t been drinking, nor have I over indulged in Easter chocolate. I’ve just visited the Gallery of Modern Art here in Brisbane.

For weeks now I’ve heard and read about the David Lynch exhibition at GOMA. I didn’t realise he was an artist as well as a film maker so I was keen to see what all the hype was about.

Now, call me naive but I had no idea how dark his work would be. The Elephant Man was one of my favourite films as an adolescent and I saw Mullholand Drive and an episode or two of Twin Peaks. The later were quite surreal and art house-ish but my goodness I was in for a shock. I simply wasn’t prepared for the mind twisting, emotional roller coaster I would experience.

The moment one enters the lofty space of the gallery, a dire, dread invoking sound invades the psyche. The lights are dimmed and the work, mixed media, pen and ink, video and photography are dark. Literally devoid of colour. Oh, there are small hints of yellow and red here and there but the predominant colours are black, earthy tones and interesting uses of void.

The work is noir. It is provocative and unsettling. There are strong links to industry and industrial waste, disease and corrosion. Much of the work was described as subconscious musings. I feel like I met a tortured mind and was tortured by the depths of depravity, bleakness and despair I found there. Don’t get me wrong. It was a thoughtfully put together exhibition. The dim lighting, the haunting, grating sound track and the sheer volume of pieces was collectively engaging and it evoked a strong response in me, which I will continue to reflect on over time.

Between Two Worlds. An apt title, I certainly felt like I’d stepped into another world and that I’d lost my footing and attachment to the one I left behind when I entered the building.

 

 

How to frame your masterpiece.

Image by Houzz

Image by Houzz

In the Jeffery rush film, The Best Offer, in which Rush plays an antique and art dealer, there is a magnificent room full, floor to ceiling, of paintings.  Scenes of this room transported me back to the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, where there is a similar room, a replica of a room in a villa of the Grand Prince Ferdanando. The movie and my memory of the Uffizi had me considering the way we present and frame our lives.

If life were a canvas, or a tapestry, how would you frame yours?  Would your emphasis be on the sections you didn’t favour? Would you frame to highlight the wonderful bits? Would you set your frame off centre and capture a small section of life that stood out for you?

Would you, perhaps, capture different aspects of your life in a variety of frames – small, large, in between, gilt, matt, oval, square, round and place them all on a wall for perusal, review, consideration; each picture telling a part of the story?

Or would you set out to encapsulate the entirety of it, choosing to include all parts- good, bad, indifferent, significant, seemingly insignificant?

Often we zoom in with a telescopic lens on sections of our life. I expressly remember learning about Michalangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings when in school. Particular panels were bought to our attention to engage us, excite us, to make us question – the skin of Michalangelo in the Last Judgement, the fingers of God and Adam and that extruciating gap between them. While they are intriguing and significant, they are but details that make up the whole and neither of these details tell the story of the whole work on their own.  Nor would the work be the same without them.

Coming back to my musings on life as a work of art. I began reflecting on how often people I meet frame themselves by their past or by the dreams they have for the future. So many times I’ve heard people say things such as “I had a difficult childhood therefore …” or “One day I’m going to …”  This type of focus serves only to capture in minute detail the intricacies of the one part, excluding all others. It’s like looking only at Mona Lisa’s smile and not recognising the depth in her eyes or the world outside her window. It isn’t you. It’s part of you but it isn’t the entirely of you.

As humans we use photos to caputre significant moments in time, and that’s fantastic. Memories are treasures but let us be aware this year as we go forth to enjoy new adventures, to live and learn and grow that we are more than a moment captured in time, we are the length, breadth and depth of our experiences here on this earth and all of them, the good, the bad, the ugly make up the rich tapestry of our lives.

Enjoy the whole of you. Celebrate your uniqueness and the small things that make you you but always see them as a part of a grand masterpiece. Do you need to reframe your masterpiece?

Room for art

Wandering around Venice and drinking in the art on display as part of the Art and Architecture Biennale I recalled my year 10 Art teacher telling us about concern, criticism and doubts that arose when the Guggenheim Museum was built. People did not understand how square and rectangular paintings could be hung and enjoyed on curved walls. I guess in the end the ingenuity and uniqueness of the space quelled any concerns.

During this biennale I have come to realise anew that the space in which an artwork is displayed can contribute as much to the enjoyment of the work as the actual piece itself. The Louvre and the Uffizi Gallery are beautiful spaces and magnificent works of art in themselves but I’ve marvelled at the unique selection of space by artists to display their work here in Venice. Part of the fun is also wandering the narrow laneways to find the various pavilions and exhibits.

Fun in the streets of Venice

Fun in the streets of Venice

One work in particular by Bill Culbert held me captive. Ordinarily this type of work would not interest me for long but the construction in the space were fascinating partners. Empty laundry bottles and bright fluorescent lights scattered on the floor were bought to life by the space in which they were displayed. The room, complete with brick arches, ancient stairwells and old wooden doors opening onto the canal married with the sound of water lapping on the outside of the building and the passing boats added tremendously to this work.

Space contributes to Art

Space contributes to Art

In another room, pieces of furniture with florescent lights attached were arranged in an oval formation. Viewed from one angle, looking into the room and the white space behind, the work was interesting if not a little peculiar but viewed from the other end of the room with the canal in the background seen through rotting doors and wood panelled windows, it was something else all together. The wooden furniture and the wooden door and window frames drew the eye and competed the work.

Similarly, there were equally magnificent pieces to view in the two main galleries the Guardini and Accademia. The Gallerie dell Accadamia held the most magnificent body of work by Pawel Althamer in what I can only imagine was a very purposefully selected room. The sculptures, of which there were close to a hundred, were themselves truly something to behold but the space selected also contributed to the eerieness of their form.

Creative work fulfilling space

Creative work fulfilling space

The mind of an artist is a place I’d like to go. Not only do they have the talent to create but the foresight to compose in and utilise the very space itself is a potent form of creation.

I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I am so fortunate to have witnessed this great event.