Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Tao of Carole Bann

It’s hot. The rain has dissipated for the moment and left behind the stifling humidity, heat and a swarm of mosquitoes that is all part of The Build-Up we almost didn’t get. I’m blaming it on Global Warming only because it seems topical. I’m also lost. I should not rely on old maps. This road didn’t exist last week. Whoops! There it is. Number 98. ‘BANN’, the sign says. How did I miss that? I can’t see the trees for the forest. The gate is open. No dogs? All is quiet and seemingly deserted. And new. I step from the car and wait. Still nothing. Should I call? I don’t want to disturb the …….


Carole’s voice surprises me. Firstly, it’s distinctly Midlands; Leicester to be precise. And after more than 30 years in Australia her inflection is still pronounced; as true as a builder’s plumb line, somewhere between Brummie and a BMW owner from Audley Edge. I could well be listening to an episode of The Bill. In addition to the brogue, her greeting rings like a bell bird in the bush or a single drop of rain falling onto a tin roof. I am immediately at ease. The heat has gone. The mozzies have taken refuge in the forest. The humidity has dropped. I search for inner angst and it’s vanished. How did she do that?

She reminds me of someone but I’m not sure who. She has the presence of possibly reminding everyone she meets of someone’s sister. I’d like to guess at Carole’s age but I won’t. Not only would it be indiscrete but downright impossible. I have a feeling that sometime during the afternoon I will calculate it from the chronology she reveals and I will be surprised, in much the same way one would be surprised at the age of a Wollemi Pine after counting the growth rings.

We sit under the pergola and chat. We leave the art alone and cover exploits not conceived, children, childhood, houses and family. The two Russells (husband and dog) have disappeared into the shed. There is an attitude perceived during this conversation that reveals an almost complacent approach to life and Carole’s journey through it. It is as though life just ‘is’ and Carole is simply part of it, moving along with it like a stick in a stream. There is a timeless approach to events. ‘When’ seems almost irrelevant. The fact that it ‘is’ seems enough. During our conversation she, not once, mentioned what might happen. As Pooh Bear would suggest, the most exciting thing that will happen all day is happening right now.

It’s time to discuss art. Carole doesn’t recall a time when she couldn’t draw or didn’t draw. She does admit there was a time when she believed everyone did what she did and was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. She is self-taught but it is more (or less) than that. Her development has been at her own discretion, discovery and determination, barely influenced by the actions and ideas of others. Some things work; others don’t. Carole admits to some improvement along the way but is not sure how it comes about. It is as though I have just asked a fish how it learnt to swim.

‘I went to Jasmine’s class once. I sat in the corner and sketched. She liked my work. We chatted.’ I can only wonder where that conversation might have led. What does an orchid say to a rose? ‘Like your work.’

‘I just know where the lines go’ she discloses, as if I can comprehend that. I can grasp the concept of breathing and even walking but a pencil and I have an understanding that doesn’t include the sort of acumen shown in Carole’s illustrations.
She opens a sketch book at a kookaburra that almost leaps from the page. I move closer, and with each millimetre, become aware that these minute lines, the shading, the shape and texture created by her hand, every mark has purpose and place. I recall seeing da Vinci’s sketches in the Queen’s Gallery many years ago and thinking the same thing. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing Leonardo’s drawings with Carole’s. I wouldn’t dare. It’s the process that demonstrates a parallel. The pencil and the paper are there and it is Carole’s task to ‘be’ Carole: guide the graphite in its journey. As Pooh also says: ‘I eat honey because that’s what it is for’. Michelangelo was reputed to have suggested that his task was to find the figure that already exists in the marble. Maybe that is what Carole does. Why can’t we all see the kookaburra in the sketch pad?

Carole has an observant eye for detail (apparently to the chagrin of her husband, Russell).

‘I like drawing and painting trees. They are all different.’ She reflects. There is evidence of her observational prowess scattered throughout her studio. But the detail is not something you or I would notice. If I were to see naked women in a tree trunk or only 3 emu’s in a painting clearly marked ‘5 Emus’, others might deem me a little strange and possibly dangerous. For Carole, it all seems quite fitting.

‘Not everyone notices,’ I add, enjoying the image of a rather appealing and well endowed gum tree.

‘I don’t hear accents and I frighten the children when I sing,’ Carole admits, as if to diminish the skills she has. And once again I hear Pooh Bear admitting he can only be what he is. For any of us, that should be enough.

I’m curious to know if Carole experiences the inner space other artists talk about; that personal cosmos when the art is the thing and nothing else matters. She does, but seemingly for different reasons. Hers may well be a remnant of an escape mechanism learnt early in her life, as we do when, as a child, we hide under the blankets late at night and engross ourselves in a good book to shield us from the Boogie Man. We all have our own ‘Boogie Men’ and sometimes they can seem ever so distant yet none-the-less eminent in their influence. As with other artists, the idea of complete control in the process of art, as sub-conscious as it is, can keep us in the present, far out of harm’s way and hidden from view by the ‘blanket’ with which we cover our world. As a psychologist once said to me: ‘No harm in that’.

But none of this is really that important to Carole.

‘I don’t ask myself questions like that because I don’t have any answers.’ And it may well be that the answers are irrelevant or unnecessary. Honey tastes good even when you don’t know where it comes from.

Carole admits also that her business side is lacking somewhat. This may be an artefact of her capacity to stay in the present. We discuss some options for expansion such as a web site or blog but, although she shows interest, there is a distinct impression that drawing and painting is a lot more fun and the ‘other stuff’ is best left to someone else. To paraphrase the story of someone much more profound than I: ‘Russell builds, Tom takes pictures, Carole just is.’

As I leave this peaceful place, I can see the evening storms building in the South, pushing tempered air ahead of the deep bank of cumulo-nimbus. The trees bend against the breeze and a cloud of dust lifts from the verge outside Number 98. I hesitate for a moment to observe. All seems a little clearer. There are textures I haven’t notices before. Colours seem available with a little more clarity. Shapes fit with silhouettes. I feel like I need to draw….. something.

‘Anyone can draw,’ I hear Carole say. ‘I can teach you’.

Maybe one day, I suppose. Just at the moment I’m happy being ……

Thanks Carole.

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