Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pascale Zufferey

It’s not easy to step out of the car at Nightcliff foreshore and turn your back on it. The tide is well on its way out, exposing the ancient sea beds to the clear blue sky. A gentle breeze encourages the coconut palms to wave to a distant storm as if to beckon it to set a cooling shower onto the baking sands. I’ve photographed this scene many times and it always presents a different set of hues and tones; a perfect place for an artist to live and work.

Which is the very reason I am here. Just for the record, I raise the Nikon for a couple of shots, as a salutation more than for artistic grounds and head for the sanctuary that is Pascale’s studio. As I look up, Pascale appears on the balcony and calls; a warning I think. I have the distinct feeling of looking down the bow of the Titanic as it blunders towards me with Kate Winslet (Pascale) facing into the icy wind. Any minute Leonardo de Caprio (aka Bruce, Pascale’s partner) will appear with a reassuring smile, just before they run me (the iceberg) down. I really must do something about this vivid imagination.

As I enter Pascale and Bruce’s home my eyes scan the premises for signs of artistic life. As usual, there is little evidence of such, bar one seemingly incomplete work resting on an easel adjacent to the window leading to the balcony. Pascale must have sensed my prying and questioning eyes.

‘I’m still working on that’ she states. She expresses her frustrations at not getting it ‘right’. This is promptly followed by a discourse in procrastination seemingly brought about by a recent trip to Italy and resulting in a creative urge flooded by too many good ideas.

‘I don’t really know where to start. And the colours are amazing. It’s hard to get it just right’. I question her on knowing when she knows its done. She skirts around an answer I one day hope to understand.

We move to the balcony and I prompt for some background material. I had always thought Pascale’s name would look good at the bottom of a masterpiece. It’s European origin may well fit with that. The urge to paint seemed to have appeared at an early age. Some refinement of her skills during school in the NT brought her to make the choice to become an art teacher. But as fate, and the NT Department of Education would have it, Pascale began a teaching career prematurely and in an area deemed more fitting by the administrators. Art teaching would need to go on the backburner for a while. After all, who can argue with fate or the beaurocrats?

But art has always been an important part of Pascale’s life and a translation of her dreams wasn’t going to restrict her. She has continued to hone her skills and express herself with a brush and canvas. In the typical manner of the suburban artist, Pascale directed me to ‘The Gallery’. On our way to what I expected would be a well lit expanse of white walls covered with illuminating images of a creative life, Pascale points out a few ‘tasters’. A portrait of a young indigenous child stares at me with disturbing intuitiveness. I hesitate and feel an urge to move to see if the stare follows me. I can look at those eyes and know this child. It is a very realistic portrait but built into it is another layer of intimacy that bares the hallmark of a strong relationship between the subject and the artist. This is something many artists strive for. Pascale has certainly achieved it here.

‘The rest are in here’ she calls, and I follow eagerly.

As usual, my hopes are dashed. There is no vast expanse of light and space to flaunt her work. Typically, labours of love and devotion are stacked against the wall, piled on desks and buried in cupboards. Her working studio is also typically the ‘spare room’ overlooking the car park of an adjacent block of flats. With the wonders of the Arafura Sea at her doorstep I wonder why she chooses to work under such conditions.

‘I do paint out there,’ she replies to my concerned inquiry. ‘I don’t paint on location though’ and I can understand why. ‘Getting it right’ under a tropical sun could prove to be an onerous task.

Pascale shuffles through her canvasses like a deck of cards and I catch a glimpse of portraits and landscapes that beckon more than a cursory glance. She has exhibited and commissioned works but her efforts have far outweighed her sales. This is not a critique of her work but an appraisal of her industry. There is enough work here to keep a gallery stocked for some time.

‘I do give a lot of my work away’, and I wonder what room would be left if she hadn’t.

Many of her portraits have a personal history attached. Bringing up her children in remote communities gives her a connection to the subjects that is reflected in her style and composition. Her emotional connection becomes the viewer’s link to another place through her paintings. It’s worth the time to stare.

There’s not a strong motivation to market her work but Pascale does see painting as an important part of who she is.

‘I get a bit prickly if I haven’t painted for a few days. It has a very calming effect on me’ she reflects. Bruce has moved into view and I note a look of discerning agreement on his face.

‘Bruce is incredibly supportive with what I do,’ she adds. Stroking Bruce’s ego is well placed and he accords a Cheshire grin. Us blokes need that from time to time.

‘I have my toys,’ Bruce declares while fondling what appears to be a depth finder from a boat. I have a feeling there is a good deal of sharing of time and space in this relationship.

Pascale, in spite of her lack of experience and nervousness in talking about herself and her art, has expressed quite clearly how her skills and talent as an artist are entwined in her life. She has articulated in a wordless way, a love of her children, Bruce, her community and the landscape in the same way she blends her art, actions and words; as if they were all part of the same. There is no separation of one from the other. The very fact that she presents her work in the same way she would show an album of family photo’s or talk of her experiences demonstrates the ‘wholeness’ of Pascale.

To some extent this is what I have been looking for, I think. My search hasn’t been about the art or the artist; its been about the people. The art is just one way people, like Pascale, express who they are. It’s the bonus people get when they have learnt the skills and find the next level that art can offer. In addition, its the bonus we as observers acquire when we view such work. Incorporated into the pigments and canvas is a life of experiences honed by feelings and thoughts. If we could all have the skills of expression Pascale has we would probably be better for it. But for the time being I can just bathe in the light of her work and hope that some of this talent will rub off.

Thanks Pascale

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A'Mhara Russell

It’s not every day I get the chance to eat art.

When I received the call from a friend to interview A’Mhara and taste her cupcakes, I was somewhat skeptical. After all, although my understanding of art and its genres is limited, few references indicated ‘cupcakes’ as a possible means of creative expression.

But who am I to say? After all, there is not rule that says you can’t eat your art. Why, there have been many times when I’ve had to eat my words, and I do use those verbal ingredients as a means of releasing my creative spirit from time to time. Apparently their bitterness isn’t always to everyone’s liking, as I have discovered.

So, I ignored the possible bias of my informative friend towards this seemingly loose connection between cooking and creativity and headed once more into the inner reaches of Darwin suburbia.

I have known A’Mhara for some time but only on a second level of acquaintance, sufficient for me to nod in passing but not one that would give me any essence of who she is. So I found myself approaching our time together with eagerness and anticipation. What struck me immediately upon our meeting was her strong presence and a command of the situation at hand. There was a directness about her manner and movement that put me immediately at ease. It is as though all has been taken care of and all I need do is to sit back and enjoy the ride. Combined with this was a voice and manner of conversation that did not falter. I was reminded of a news reader on SBS or a damn fine teacher bringing eager young minded to order. A well places smile sprung to life and I swear the room got a whole lot lighter.

And she began.

I watched and listened as the attentive child. A’Mhara seemed less conscious of her actions than I did. The kitchen is was organized, with everything within easy reach. She moved effortlessly between utensils hanging like tendrils from the ceiling to bowls and ingredients placed along the work bench. At the same time, AMhara provided me with a running commentary on the contents, actions and a bit of history thrown in. I couldn’t see her feet from where I was sitting but I imagined them dancing across the tiles as dexterously and efficiently as Ginger Rogers in the arms of Fred Astaire. She spoke of an interest in cooking that went back a long time. There was a strong suggestion of the influences of her mother, but in an energetic sense more than a creative one. Standing still isn’t an option in this household. Engagement is the lifestyle. Connection with the world is strongly inked with what one does and how much effort is put into it: a ‘Rest when you’re dead’ philosophy.

At twenty-something A’Mhara is well defined. She is in a career of choice working in a place of choice and doing what she chooses. It shows. She spoke as affectionately of her work as a librarian as she does of her passion for cooking. I wondered if there is a similarity, a transfer of skill set than links the two occupations. Is a recipe akin to a reference? Is baking synonymous to cataloguing books?

As the conversation continued I became aware of changes. The flurry of activity had waned momentarily and an irresistable odour eminated from the kitchen. I checked to see if I’m not salivating in any obvious way. After all, I didn’t want to seem too eager for this session to finish. One might think I only came here for the food. Before I could say ‘pass the plate,’ a tray of hot cupcakes appeared before me, perfectly rounded and browned; just as they would be in a Nigela Lawson cook book. For a moment I was taken back to the Saturday afternoons in the inner city suburbs when, as a young boy, I would be the first to feel the heat from a freshly baked cake as my mother drew it from the oven. Then juggle that first piece of steaming sponge on my tongue until it was cool enough to consume. So this is art, is it not? Emotions like this are not evoked by ordinary things. It requires a very special talent to get it right.

A’Mhara has been making cupcakes for a year or so in any serious nature. She expressed some surprise that others would value her skills and want to buy her art. Personally, I thought she underestimated her skills, but don’t most artists? Her web site was established during the year to get her message out there and even without the necessary olfactory stimulation, she has had a good response. Orders are coming in and her repertoire is expanding. She sees the future need to move from her mother’s kitchen but at the moment she is content to allow the magnitude of her industry to be guided by her current time and space.

The cupcakes had cooled sufficiently for the icing, a masterpiece in itself that was prepared beforehand, just as they do in the TV programs. This magic of marsh mellow and colour sat delicately on top and the object become a sculpture, only to be surpassed in beauty by the very next move.

‘Try one’ A’Mhara beckonned, as if I needed any prompting. As my teeth sunk into the freshness and my lips became covered with the sweetness I wondered how Rembrandt felt when someone took a bite out of ‘Nightwatch’. If A’Mhara had any attachment to her work she had better get over it real quick because I’m going in for a second dip.

‘Take one home for Christine’ she offered.

‘Sure, she’d love one’ I lied. This is one piece of art Christine will never lay her eyes on. ‘Only one?’ I thought. I wouldn’t like the rest to get stale. Still, I didn’t want to appear greedy and I could always buy some.

As I left A’Mhara to the remaining dozen, I reminded myself of my own prejudices and how they have changed. My narrow view of art with it’s traditional limitations is slowly being demolished. No longer is art perceived as an object produced by aging artisans in airy attics to be sold at high prices or grace the walls of our galleries. A’Mhara has pointed out quite clearly that art can be expressed in the most edible forms, prepared with precision for even the most ordinary sole like mine and express the artists feelings and passion about the seemingly mundane parts of every day life.

Thanks for that, A’Mhara.


A’Mhara managed to feed the soles of quite a few people at the Christmas Craft Extravaganza in December. There are about three hundred art lovers out there who couldn’t possibly look at a cupcake in the same old way again. Two gentlemen passed me on one occasion, artwork in mouth, drawing straws on who would return to A'Mhara's stall to make the first marriage proposal.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Tracey Polglase

Tracey greeted me at the gate of her Nightcliff apartment. I know this area well. I worked across the road for nearly ten years. A tall person could probably get a glimpse of the ocean from here. The demography is that of young couples with no children and good jobs: DINK’s. Tracey’s appearance and my diminutive knowledge of her history seem to fit the demographic. She’s certainly young, by my standards at least. There is no evidence of children (she looks far too calm and relaxed). My records indicate nursing as the chosen profession, and, I should add, a disturbingly attractive one at that, with a penetrating stare and reassuring smile that, I can only imagine, would place the patients at Recovery somewhat at ease knowing Tracey would be the first person they saw after awakening from some troublesome surgery.

She ushered me through the door into a neatly arranged apartment (more evidence of no children). Something recognisable was emanating from the stereo across from a smartly furnished living area. There seemed little evidence of any artwork but I wasn’t concerned. My experience with artists over the months prepared me for the most imaginative ways of hiding the consequences of their talent.

We chatted for a while on matters Polglase. The faint Kiwi accent gave rise to some conversational geography and the nursing background presented itself with talk around hospitals and careers. Tracey has some academic training to accompany her art as well. Unlike most, she enjoyed and values her formal art training. It seems to sit well with her orderly nature, perhaps.

It was time for the tour. We started in the hallway. I’m not sure how I missed them, but directly opposite the entry door hung two significant works of art that, from a distance, looked very much like something you would find splattered on the tiled wall of the local abattoir. What I realised, on closer inspection, is that you don’t actually notice the big picture; something akin to losing sight of the forest because of the trees. Tracey noticed my curiosity as I step in for a closer look and began her explanation of these curious works.

‘The red represents blood and the words are meds used at the hospital’. One word triggers a memory of another place and the image is immediately intensified.

I was tempted to step back to get it all in context but remained transfixed on the detail. Some of the words I could identify with; others were a complete mystery but each had the effect of knitting the image together as an orb spider gives strength and structure to its web. A cold shiver ran across the back of my neck.

‘This one is about my mother when she was ill’, Tracey explained, as only she could understand. The prevalence of blue left no doubt about the impact of her mother’s illness. I am always moved by the strength of imagery when a personal, emotional factor is involved. I am getting the impression that this is what art is meant to do and Tracey has certainly succeeded with this powerful piece.

‘The rest are back here’ and Tracey ushered me into ‘The Gallery’. If artists working from home had the luxury of endless, well lit walls I’m sure they would display their work in the best possible light. Unfortunately, Tracey falls into the same caste as the rest of us. This leaves the scrutiny of her work to looking over the spare bed at a dozen or so canvases stacked against a wall or rifling through a wardrobe in an attempt to get a glimpse of an alluring sketch. There is an advantage to this method of display, of course. One can view a great deal without having to walk very far.

Tracey’s style is varied. I’m no expert, as you have all gathered, so don’t assume I know what I am talking about, but it seems the difference between groups of canvasses is quite significant. Those hanging in the hall have a structure I can identify with. The story is evident in the content and context. The swirls of colour I see before me n another place are as different as I can imagine. As I scan the room I am aware of being watched. Sir Edmund Hillary peers out from a corner of the room, cold and grey as I’m sure he was on numerous occasions. The likeness is striking.

I wonder if Tracey is still finding her way, her artistic voice, as she stretches her imagination and skills into these different genres. Then again, she may have found her voice; she just sings in different keys.

Tracey takes me through a number of albums displaying photographs of her work. There are many examples of the hospital environment in an almost monochrome style that would be more to a photographer’s compositional approach than a painter’s. Tracey divulges that she uses the camera to record much of what she wants to paint. Her skills as a photographer would do her in good stead in my world. I am reminded of Diane Arbus’s reflection on her need to photograph ordinary things as if we were seeing them for the first time. The paraphernalia of hospital life is certainly ordinary. Yet these images are giving me an extra-ordinary view of a very mundane world.

As I move back into the intense, mid-afternoon, tropical sunlight I remind myself of what it is I’m looking for. There is a reason why Tracey expresses herself in her art. At one level it is to find a way of expressing the feelings and emotions she has about her experiences. At another level there is the need for verification from herself and others that what she paints is how it is for her. Reality is everywhere but interpretation and insight are personal and often abstract. Tracey has learnt the skills to show us her interpretation and insight of a very real world in a very real way. And I’m grateful for that.

Thanks Tracey

.....and just two more things.......

Tracey entered a painting in the Senior Territorial Portrait competition. In keeping with her medical background, she has chosen to portray the very anaesthetist who rendered me unconscious before I succumbed to the surgeon’s apparatus. Since my recollection of the event was somewhat clouded, I can appreciate the lifelike figure on canvas – just in case I meet him in the street. Tracey’s painting didn’t win any awards but the subject purchased the portrait. I assume it was because he liked the painting, not because he didn’t want any of his victims to recognise him.


Tracey and her close friend, Tash Willmett dusted off their canvases for a showing at the Craft Extravaganza held at Marrara Stadium in December. I do believe that for sixteen hours over that weekend, the Centre of the Universe was shifted to the four-by-four metre space these two artists occupied.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Anna Reynolds

I’m exhausted.

I’m trying to convince myself that it has nothing to do with my age and everything to do with the heat, the drive to Batchelor and back, the abuse I have received from a foul mouthed parrot, the unpleasant growling from a dog of unknown breed and the rapid-fire conversation from Anna Reynolds. Let’s just say it’s not the sort of pace I could maintain for any length of time. I’m looking forward to a granny nap.

I enjoyed the drive to Batchelor although I did wonder, once I had arrived, why anyone would go there unless they had a specific reason. It never strikes me to be the sort of place you would go just because it’s there.

Directions to Anna’s place were somewhat convoluted. I had written them down hurriedly and somewhere between passing the speed sign and locating Anna there was a comment about finding the town centre. This was a challenge in itself since the conception of a town centre is yet to be achieved in this small community. It seems a garage, three public phones, and a general store suffice. I know Batchelor has a history but I wonder if that is all it has. A group of school children wandered aimlessly across the road, paying no heed to my presence and looking as though they had lost something. Civilisation, I suspect.

I approached Anna’s house with caution. I had been warned of wild animals lurking. The gate was secured and unwelcoming. The fence was high enough to contain most animals that had come to mind. I called into the wilderness beyond. Someone or something called back with a scratchy ‘hello’ as if they were clearing their throat from a bad case of bronchitis. I called again. The scratchy voice told me to bugger off or some such. I was about to do just that when a more serene voice called from within the house.

‘Come in. My dog won’t bite’ and I am immediately reminded of a scene from The Pink Panther. I entered cautiously; the dog and I keeping a respectful distance.

Anna lives in her art. Literally. Her small piece of suburbia in this less than vast metropolis is a creative work in progress. As we meandered through the undergrowth Anna acknowledged each crevice, construction and cranny as a curator might when explaining an exhibition. Although there are a number of distinct areas with specific purpose such as the chook yard, the shed, the outdoor shower and the ‘guest room’, each place migrates into the next as paints of different colours unite to form a single image on a canvas. It is as though the space is growing from the inside and the parameters are providing infinite room to move.

Anna demonstrated great pride in her outdoor achievements. It’s a welcoming place where people can wander, sit for a while, or stay forever. We chose a loose plank in a shady spot to chat. Anna had recently received news of an Artist’s in Residency in New York for which she had applied. This seems part of a plan which will hopefully establish Anna as a legitimate, full-time, working artist. Her family history is a strong basis for her ambitions. There is a long line of artists that have provided Anna with an ancestry to link with. I gather a sense of self-recognition in her conversation as she relates her plans to me. It is as though, in the process of identifying her own ambitions as an artist, she has recognised in herself the ability to do this. She shakes off credibility as if it was raindrops in a passing shower yet recognises the importance of being ‘known’ as an artist. The accolades, awards and rewards are part of that, and so is the paperwork. Yet, either may not have seemed that important in the past. At 41 Anna now knows what she wants to be when she grows up and the time seems appropriate to do something about it. After all, artists need to eat.

Anna’ preferred working medium is her surroundings and all that encompasses. Nothing is safe. Everything has a place in her extra-ordinary mind. It is as though she is rearranging the planet to her own liking. There are boxes of trinkets and trivia scattered everywhere but Anna isn’t collecting or hoarding. She is simply waiting for an idea to formulate which will place the items in their rightful aesthetic position. It’s not good enough that a stone might be guided by gravity or a leave by the wind. Some minor adjustments from Anna will make it just that much better. I am reminded of Ansell Adams comments about photography when he suggested that ‘dodging and burning was the photographer’s way of improving on God’s work’. I get the impression the same philosophy may play a significant part in Anna’s actions. And when you look at her work you get the feeling she is probably right.

I am most familiar with Anna’s digital work. Her manipulation of photographic images is profound. From a distance they hardly appear as what we usually understand as photography. But a close inspection reveals a dimension that is mesmerising. Again, it is the essence of ‘gather and re-arrange’, evident in her garden, that predominates in her images. Fragments of images digitally stuck together and arranged to form images from images. Every detail relates to every other detail. The anatomy of the final product is what makes the whole work so well. Yet you don’t notice the detail until you take a very close look.

But that’s not all. Anna showed me a ‘book’ she had created. If there was another word for it I would use it but for the time being it’s a book in the sense it has pages – of a sort. And once again there is the ‘many parts make the whole’ philosophy. To appreciate what Anna creates in all her work there are two perspectives you must take. The first is to get back far enough to view the whole thing. Here you can appreciate the form as you might when wondering through a gallery. Then you need to get close because it is here the art reveals itself. If the object in question was a living thing we would be witnessing the environmental dependency and relationships between cells. Anna’s work reveals a beauty that is very much dependent on how the individual parts relate to one another. Photographs, cloth, beads, lace, fur, paint, ink, words, are arranged in the Anna Reynolds manner.

And where does this all come from? Well, let me reveal the real reason why I am so tired. I simply could not keep up with the thought processes Anna revealed in her conversation. If you adhere to the idea that the brain has a creative side (the right side, so it seems) then Anna’s right side took over the left side some time back. She operates on the creative level with both hemispheres blazing. I’m even convinced she uses a lot more than the 20% the rest of us are supposedly using. Is it any wonder the dog growls and the parrot swear? It is their way of avoiding being swept up in the artistic process and incorporated into a mural or mosaic.

At this point I recorded a few images. Anna ignored the click of the shutter. She had progressed to a new level. There was no room for an intruder. For a moment I watched in amazement. Her hands move from object to object as she spoke to ..... herself, maybe, about her art and it’s ‘function’. For Anna her art appears to be an opportunity to give physical structure to her ideas. Her words describe what she sees but not what I see. I see a person with incredible creative energy. The greatest expression of Anna’s art is herself. The rest is a bonus.

At that point I became aware of my own vulnerability. Would I become a decoration for the balcony or a component in the next sculpture if I lingered? The dog growled suspiciously and the parrot wished me a less than fond farewell. Anna was anxious to get back to her garden.

I’m looking forward to a good lie down.

Thanks Anna.

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.

David Silva

At last. Someone I can understand. Besides being a bloke, which does help somewhat in our empathy for what we are, David is a photographer. I must admit there is some nervousness and apprehension in my steps as I head towards his gallery in the old Chinatown building in Cavanagh Street. If I were honest with myself I would freely state that my uneasiness is all to do with being a bloke, a troublesome task at the best of times. Our instinct is to see all other blokes as potential threats to our ego, which, if measured in degree, would be only marginally smaller than the volume of the known universe. Burdened with this incredible handicap and about to meet someone who has the potential to know more than I do, is it any wonder I’m feeling the heat. Or maybe it’s just the weather. It is October, after all.

It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust as I enter the well worn building. Little has changed here since it received a shaking during the war, then a thumping during Cyclone Tracey. A coat of paint doesn’t hide the scars. Determination keeps the bricks together, I’m sure. There is an ancestral sense of the air and light belonging to a forgotten time, when the only protection from the harshness of the tropics was not to mention it in conversation.

As I walk towards the two figures at the far end of the space, I become distinctly aware of the images on the walls around me. There is something vaguely familiar and mysteriously alien about the expansive, panoramic images. I have the nebulous sensation that I should be walking through them to get a better view.

I stop before a broad seascape. I can’t quite work out what it is I’m seeing. It’s as though the world has been run over by a large truck and I’m looking at the road-kill spread across the wall; everything is in the right place but it shouldn’t be this flat. I allow my visual cortex time to adjust. It’s not often one can witness the field of view turned inside out.

David and his wife, Sue, greet me warmly. They have set up ‘office’ at the far end of the gallery. These days a photographer’s space fits more or less into a suitcase. I feel a loss with that but one must move with the times. The contrast between the old and the new has not escaped me and I wonder if David’s choice of venue for such high tech art is not as a consequence of lessons learnt in photographic composition.

David’s background as a photographer goes back a long way. He reminisces fondly on his father’s abilities as a keen and competent amateur photographer whose images he still treasures. There are many accurate recollections of learning the processes as a teenager, sweating away over the laundry sink or converted closet. David hands me a camera, a Kodak Brownie Starlight, the first he could call his own, and still in working order, I might add. We share some common ground here and David produces a string of old cameras, all in perfect condition, that bring the hairs on my arms to attention. These are items he obviously treasures but for what reason I am unsure. Sentiment, I assume. Sue, his wife, reveals later, that David doesn’t dispose of much. Maybe these relics are his snapshots of the past just like the images from his father’s well preserved negatives.

There is a sense, in listening to David talk of his career in photography that the camera and the image are of less importance than the need to earn a living. As a young man, trained as a teacher, and finding himself in the far reaches of the Top End, the option for earning a living in a career of choice that tasted worse than it looked, needed to be addressed. Using his already established skills as a processor and printer of photographs, he slowly transformed his passtime into something that has done him well for the past twenty five years.

He admits that, in the early days he was more of a processor and printer than a taker of pictures. Opportunity and timing allowed him the grace to move with the times as technology steamrolled its way into the twenty-first century. A good business gene, of dubious origin, has been dominant in many of the decisions he has made. As David talks of many of his ventures into the commerce of photography, I have a sense of a man willing to learn. This accessing of knowledge is as much of an acceptance of a challenge as it might be of necessity. And once acquired, this newfound expertise will be neatly filed away until the time for its recall will present itself. He talks of his experiences as a labourer on the building site of the old Beauforte Hotel in the ‘80s where every day was a learning experience and he was the eager student sponging up the skills and knowledge that he knew innately would ‘come in handy’ somewhere down the track. Maybe that trait is also revealed in his inability to dispose of an old camera. I wonder if he is tempted to take photographs with them. I certainly am.

But all this has been business. David enjoys his work, but it is work, after all. A client gives him a brief, he determines how the brief will be fulfilled, he carries out the shoot, then ends the process with the images and the invoice. Even in his description of the work flow he refers to the photographs as the ‘CD with the files’, hardly the sign of a person who has an attachment to the finished product. David enjoys his work and the challenge it brings, but it is work, and over the last 25 years he admits there has been little or no time to do otherwise.

So where is the ‘art’ I am looking for? David could be the plumber who has just fixed my leaking sink or the painter who has just given my living room two coats of Dulux Wash and Wear in Polar White. There are no signs of ‘the other place’ artists talk of, or the need for expression, or seeking answers to the unresolved, or even to find a better life or any life or the meaning of life. We even joke momentarily of his propensity to hang onto both his ears.

As in all of us, it seems, and David no less, there is the germ that lurks; the beginnings of the creative process that, I am beginning to realize, is waiting patiently for the nutrients that will enable it to multiply and take on a life of its own. Somewhere, that bug lay sulking beneath a pool of human endeavor that can devour us if we allow it: enterprise, commerce, business and a mortgage, raise the kids and invest for the future; the need to succeed in a world that allows us to meet and greet then ask the question: ‘and what do you do?’, then measuring the answer against the dimensions of accomplishment that we believe are productive and useful – for others.

But what of the need to satisfy ourselves? Is it OK to do something that feels good and makes others feel good just by the mere existence of a creative process? David has tested that. He had an idea. Initially it may have had a business aspect to it but that was not clear. As the process unfolded it provided food for the creative bug to grow. The embryo is nourished and the concepts develop. At the end is what I see before me: images of Darwin that I can only suggest you view for yourself. I’m scrambling through the Thesaurus to find appropriate adjectives. ‘Wow’ isn’t listed but it will do for the time being.

David describes, briefly and loosely, the scenario from scene to canvas and beyond. Every step is, to a lay person, a technical nightmare; sophisticated cameras and equipment, complex software, hours of manipulation of often hundreds of images to achieve his vision. I pretend to understand it all with a less than confident nod of the head. An analogy comes to mind: I drive my Corolla with confidence; David drives F1’s for McLaren.

Some might consider that all this technology detracts from the art. I think not. David has significant technical expertise and some impressive hardware at his disposal; that is unmistakable. But as I watch David move from image to image while talking to a prospective buyer I see the sparkle in his eye that I have seen before. This is not ‘work’. There is no ‘contract’ involved apart from the one David has with himself. There is a relationship quite unique that exists between David and these images. It’s about achievement, satisfaction in a task completed, praise from others, the development of an idea into something physical.

Then there is the other thing: the indescribable entity that brings us to do this intangible concept in a tangible way. It’s the soft grey line that blurs the reality of ‘this is mine’ and ‘this is me’. As a result of this body of work I am persuaded to believe David thinks differently of himself. It is yet another aspect of the ‘art of art’ that can go unnoticed by the viewer. Who of you would know what went before as you view these spectacular landscapes? Who of you would lay claim to knowing David from his images?

Then again, it may not be necessary. David’s images give immense pleasure to those who view them. There may even be an added bonus for those who purchase a canvas and hang it in their own space. I have had the additional pleasure of watching and listening to David talk about his work. There is a sense of pride and achievement that can only be understood when you see the glint in the photographer’s eye.

I hope David doesn’t take so long for his next artistic venture. I want to be around to enjoy it.

Thanks David

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ken Burridge

Before the Camera.

They have said it before while looking through the lens; Avedon and Karsch.

It’s in the light, to capture the heart of the subject.

Know the person and the truth. Reflect opinion, frame the soul.

Let the photograph speak both ways: for the subject and his artist.

‘I’m Ken. Come in.’ Unpretentious appearance, bare feet, shirtless, baggy shorts,

Aging, drawing deeply on a cigarette.

Surrounded by the past with artefacts arranged like a young man’s hair.

Telling Ken’s story. Cues and clues to landscapes eroded by time.

Wearing it all like well worn slippers.

What can I gather through this window? Let the light reveal

The tangerine and magenta glow of pre-dawn flows close behind.

Revealing detail in the deep blue shadow of the evening.

A God of some sort uncovered. Religion deeply imbedded with family and culture

Then ravaged by pompous bigotry. Spoilt like milk in the Sun.

His language says it all. Cursing the cursed. Scowling at the Bishops and Popes

Hypocrites, one and all. Less said; more meant.

‘I’m Gay, you know. It’s in my work’

As if preparing me for something or testing me.

The path for lack of deference clearly marked.

Can I see that far? Or want to? My camera is insensitive to that.

No setting for gender preference. Just ISO and white balance.

But his art isn’t! I’m yet to see.

Now I see. A gentle approach with affection I cannot understand but can perceive.

It’s in the subjects and the diligence of care for their humanness.

Remnants of the Old World. Youthful figures doing their dues

While the artist watches and places the lines where he cares.

Strength in single colour, black line, defined by the space they fill.

Understanding what the artist wants me to see. Then seeing more of him.

We move through distance and occasion

When teaching was the thing that guided and gilded.

‘A good life’ he shares, with some excess in waste and want.

Now gentler with his approach, watched by cancer’s gaze

Sharing between a lover’s heart and the practitioner’s part.

Gaining strength from friends who know and understand.

The art is just that: art and nothing more. A way of doing.

Not seeing beneath the surface but see the fa├žade

On which a life well lived is drawn.

Procrastinate on superficial insight.

Leave behind the dimensions created from the assembly of thought and action.

The sculptures eye has more than one dimension.

He knows what stands behind the brilliance of the Moon.

Drawing heavily once more on another cigarette.


One photograph complete which tells the story

Of a moment that took a lifetime to prepare.

Thanks Ken.