The dizzying weight of art

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” ― Twyla Tharp

It was a cool, slightly greying afternoon. Yellowing leaves from the ageing Jacarandas dropped in our hair as bird song and wind filled our ears.  High on the hill, overlooking the city, my friend and I, the only visitors, descended the scaffold stairs into the brick architectural space of a former water storage unit and the weight of the day vanished.

The historic Spring Hill reservoir has been transformed again.  I wrote previously about this public space hosting the Underground Opera and the transcendent experience sound, in the gothic space, has on a listener.  I returned this week to be mesmerised by light.

Open mouthed we stared from on high at the magic woven beneath us. Arriving on solid ground we felt like kids in a mirror maze, removed from the world above.  Daylight from the door overhead  and a small table lamp provided enough light by which to tentatively navigate our way.  At first, without the path lit to discern our course, we gingerly inched along feeling as though we might come to a mirrored dead-end.  Becoming marginally more emboldened we picked our way through the suspended electroluminescent wire framing, that mimicked the shapes of the architecture, and felt a renewed sense of arrival in each segment of the space.

I could not explain how I felt at the time.  Several days hence the best way to describe it is —dislocated.  I felt dislocated and disoriented.  I felt not quite myself.  There was a sense of it at the edges of my consciousness that only now I can liken to  Alice swirling down the rabbit hole.

This free installation continues until the September 23rd and is well worth the visit. I have since discovered the Brisbane City Council has commissioned three artists to present another installation in the Reservoirs that will use sound, film and kinetic sculpture. No doubt, they too will cause visitors to reposition themselves in a familiar historical space.

Brisbane artist, Meagan Streader’s work is exhibited nationally and internationally. It  reflects the minimalist art of the Light and Space movement and reveals the pervasive role of light in governing physical and social navigations of fabricated spaces. Pushing the limits of light within sculpture and installation, she manipulates, reinterprets and extends upon the boundaries of constructed spaces. Through site-specific interventions, her multidimensional use of light re-orientates the viewer’s relationship to the existing architecture and scale of space.

 

Advertisements

The wonderful art of learning

Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.   Anon

As an educator I love learning. Not all lessons are learnt in a classroom nor taught by teachers. Life has a wonderful way of teaching us new things. Today I was pleasantly surprised, through a small detour in my routine, to learn about a type of printmaking called collagraphy.

Collagraphy is a form of printmaking where the artist creates prints from ‘plates’ upon which they have adhered textured materials in the form of an image. Lithography, in contrast, begins with the artist chiseling the image out of the plate from which they wish to create prints.

Ink or paint is added to the plates. Once printed colour can be added to emphasise details at the artist’s discretion.

Artist Jacky Lowry is currently showing an exhibition, Western Wonders, of her collagraph prints at the Caboolture Regional Art Gallery.

I am soaring after this quick lesson and immersion in her work.
Who will educate me next?

Redefining preconceptions about art

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” ~ Degas

In retrospect, it was public art. It had an energy to it. It brought life to the places around me. I thought I had an open mind when it came to art. It didn’t take long to realise my beliefs were outdated as I scrambled to adjust a decades old perception of public art.

The genre of public art for me had included sculpture, murals and I threw in street art, which I know is not strictly public art, but I was challenged to rethink my view-point recently when I hit the streets of Brisbane to follow a contemporary public art trail.

Armed with a downloaded PDF my partner in art and I headed off for a morning of joy and immersion in creativity. The very first piece we came across was not included on the list.  A week later I discovered it was the city’s newest piece of public art (below).  It was obviously art to me, as to the other pieces on the list, to be honest, we were stumped.  I had excepted the art to be easy to find and literally hit us in the face.  We stood on street corners searching.  We wandered up and down pavements looking.  Checking the ‘map’ and descriptions we soon discovered some of the art was what I might have mistaken for building decoration and architectural flourishes rather than commissioned work from the public purse.

Now I know all art does not appeal to all people – I get that. But I was perplexed by the painted ceilinged walkway, the coloured tiled wall and the barely perceptible swirls on the glass facade of a building.  Had I not been searching for these pieces they would have caught my eye and I would have admired the beauty, the departure from the norm in each of them.  On this occasion, I was expecting something different. Something more immediately recognisable. Something I could ‘label’ with an existing language to say – hey, that’s a piece of art.

I came away slightly disconcerted and just a little baffled but keen to redefine an obviously outdated and incorrect viewpoint.  What I have discovered, thanks to the Association of Public Art, is that “public art is not an art ‘form’.  Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.”

According to this comprehensive definition and with a new understanding, each piece of art I discovered was appropriately classified as public art and I am keen to discover more. Have you had a similar experience where you have had to adjust your thinking to align with  a more widely held view?

 

 

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

20170126_131216.jpg

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.

20170126_100705

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

image

“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?