Sunday, June 27, 2010


If there is a better way to spend a morning besides having a chat and a cup of tea with artist Gary Collins then you had best keep it to yourself. I wasn't offering much in return but the bonus for Gary was that it kept him from his beloved housework. Still, it beats working for a living.

Gary lives beneath the undergrowth of suburbia with his wife, Jeanette, and two dogs of which one is fostered (and may well become croc fodder if Gary had his way). For the most part Gary spends his time painting landscapes and loading palm fronds onto the trailer. His landscapes have a touch of the surreal about them. Mystical creatures (female mostly, I am lead to believe) dance in and out of the canvas with such subtlty that it's hard to distinguish where the trees and rivers start and the kianpraty-like damsels end.

The studio is unusually poorly lit for what I would have expected. There is little room to move and there is a sense that this man's 'shed' is his own domain. He moves though the thicket of paintings and brushes without effort as he willingly shares his craft with me. You don't need a close inspection to realise the detail Gary includes in his work. His brushes are fine and delicate which is reflected in the brushstrokes that make up his art work.

He works close to his canvas. He knows where everything is. He is well versed in navigating his visual world.

One might be inspired by his abilities as I certainly am. There is also considerable admiration for a person who has had Macular Degeneration since his teens. What inspires me most from my observations is not so much the fact that Gary can produce such beautiful art with or without such restricted vision but his dogged determination to do so. This is clearly a person driven by his own resolve to achieve the extra-ordinary under extra-ordinary conditions. It seems what us mere mortals might consider impossible is simply a task worth conquering.

He's a bit camera shy so we joke through a few frames. He seems pained by the idea of having his photograph taken so I remind him of the times when he painted portraits. He smiles knowingly and for an instant there is the essence of what I want. CLICK!

We throw around some ideas on solving the problems of the world and I leave him to his house cleaning. I've got what I came for. I have a feeling I got a bit more than I bargained for; an old maxim about a man with no shoes comes to mind.

Thanks Gary.


pottery workshop, Territory Craft, 2010.
One feature of the artist's life is the workshop.
Among other things, it enables the artist to teach their craft; to pass on their skills or draw out the skills of others.
Workshops can take many forms. Probably the most common is the hands-on class where students will follow a set of instructions from the artist and make something.
Oh, if it was as simple as that!
Then there is the 'watch me do it' class where the artist will demonstrate their skills and we will all rush home to our shed, kitchen, laundary, back yard, living room floor and make something.
If it was that easy!

Then there is the outing. 'Follow me and I will show you how easy it is to do'.
So, how come mine doesn't turn out like yours?
And so on.

Then there are those who can mould their students as they would a fine piece of
pottery or a delicate piece of jewellery. The artist who is also a teacher uses the same skills to extract the best from their students as they use to extract the best from their clay, camera or canvas. Watching an artist teach is akin to watching them create. It's a beautiful thing to behold.
I've seen a few in my time. None is better than Cecily. But she does have an advantage over some. As a teacher of many years before she became a 'potter?' she had already honed her teaching skills. Taking on pottery in her 'later' years seemed to come naturally but for those who have followed her work we know it's been a hard, persistant, frustrating but satisfying journey that, for her, doesn't have an end; just a never ending path of discovery.

And that is how she approaches her students.
Watching the students draw on her knowledge as they teach their own eyes and hands to do what they need to do is quite hypnotic.

I wonder what goes through their heads as they see changes in their own skills and feel the change withing themselves that grabs all of us at some point. Then they, too, become the teacher and the artist becomes the student.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I have just returned from an exhibition opening at Territory Craft Gallery. Jasmin Jan, Andrea McKey and Cecily Willis are as inspiring as ever.

As I watched the crowds of well wishers and potential purchasers milling around the paintings, pottery and glass (and a few around the olives and cheese) I wondered what this was all about.

Where does the 'exhibition' sit with the ethics and ethos of the artist? Is it a commercial venture to help pay the bills and feed the starving children? Is it that the artist needs the public acclaim for their craft to be validated? Or is this mearly a social event where we can enjoy the pleasures of the company of others in an atmosphere of creativity?

As an artist who has exhibited from time to time in different media, I see exhibitions as hard work, setting me to a deadline I don't like to adhere to and generating a mental state of anguish that I could have well done without. Yet I continue to exhibit. So much for my masochistic tendencies.

But what of Jasmin, Andrea and Cecily. These artists are well known and respected members of the art community in Darwin (and elsewhere). Why do they and others like them exhibit? I can find any number of places where their art is presented and for sale. Do they really need to put themselves through the paces an exhibition demands.
There are some artists who choose never to exhibit in this sense. I'm reminded of the stories around Picasso who refused to even exhibit one of his paintings while he was alive. His sister used to sneak into his studio and steal the paintings for galleries to exhibit. Yet his own house was filled with his own piantings. It seems as if Pablo was content with his own appraisel and beconned input from no-one. There are a number of photographers who have resisted the path to 'exhibitionism' as well.
But many do. Hopefully, over the next 12 months I can get an incling of why.

Don't get me wrong: I love exhibitions. Other peoples. Maybe you can share with me, your thoughts on exhibitions and their function for you as an artist.

I’m about to say something that will surely create some debate.
For the sake of brevity I will, from this point on, refer to all those people who become part of this project because of their skills in the field of choise as ‘artists’. What they produce will be referred to as ‘art’. The skills they have and the processes they use is their ‘craft’.
I am not endeavouring to re-define these terms, only to use them in a consistent and well defined manner. My usage may not fit with everyone, but as this project unfolds it will become more evident and apparent as to my reasoning and motives.
Please bear with me.