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.

Jasmine Jan

If Jasmine Jan could sing (and there is no indication that she can’t) she would be a rising rock star. She has all the attributes that are required to aspire to such heights. She is young (ish), energetic, and enthusiastic about her craft. Her oriental ancestry adds to the mystery and exotic nature of her persona. She lives in a castle (some poetic licence taken here) surrounded (almost) by a moat in tropical Paradise among the flora and fauna of the NT. Even her name has the three syllabic rhyme and rhythm of a teenage chant that could well be heard chorused at Woodstock or Wembley Stadium.

We can be eternally grateful that Jasmine doesn’t sing for her supper. She paints and draws instead. But she does this with the finesse, deftness and dexterity of an Eric Clapton or Biance. And her work has the same public appeal as a Michael Buble ballad. Darwin’s music world may have its Jessica but the art world has its Jasmine.

I’ve packed my lunch and set the GPS for the drive to Jasmine’s sub-continent somewhere on the outskirts of Darwin. I know Jasmine’s work. Who doesn’t? If this is the first time you have heard of Jasmine Jan, I understand. You have probably been held captive in a prison in Iran for the past ten years. Welcome home.

I should state quite clearly at this point that I like Jasmine’s paintings. Unlike other artists I have visited over the past months, I don’t have to pre-empt my partiality to the artists work. I’m already committed. In some ways I am at an advantage because I can concentrate more on the artist although I’m still looking forward to the visual pleasure her work provides.

The GPS is indicating proximity to my destination, although I am discovering that highly sophisticated electronic devices are being surpassed by something a little more whimsical: a Wallaby greets me with a polite salute as I approach the driveway, a Frilled Neck Lizard directs me down the appropriate track, two horses are strategically placed to add artistic interest to the enveloping forest and the road ends abruptly at the edge of a billabong on which Egrets and Ibis poise for a photo opportunity. If I didn’t know better, I could suggest this was a set-up. Knowing Jasmine, I believe this just ‘happens’.

Jasmine and the dog greet me. The dog barks and I pat it hesitantly. I’m not yet convinced dogs have the intellect to know me as the friendly and harmless person I am. Jasmine and I manoeuvre through the cordialities required for the interview to begin. I have a list of questions I want to ask and I dig deep into my pockets in search of the scrap of paper on which they are written. But Jasmine has started talking already. Her garrulous and articulate nature resolves all issues around extracting information from what I have been led to believe is a shy and reserved person. I’m not convinced and Jasmine volunteers the information freely. I look for a pause to direct the conversation but decide to allow her a free reign. I’m sure we will get to cover everything before the morning is out. Any sign of reservedness is veiled with an apparent gregarious nature as she talks freely about her work and her background.

A mixture of science, drawing, the love of birds and conservation mingle with her expressions of art. As a scientific illustrator and zookeeper, Jasmine finds art a way of expressing her feelings for the wildlife she cares for and loves so much. There is accuracy and beauty in her work that is apparent but there is a strong motivation to ensure that correctness and composition blend aesthetically. She emphasises that her animals must reflect their very essence but still look good. The backdrop to her wildlife is equally truthful, if not in detail, certainly in colour.

I see Jasmine as a ‘commercial’ artist in the sense she produces a very likable product that has broad appeal. She agrees. She considers that facet of her work fortunate but not purposeful. Jasmine relates a story that confirmed with her, some time back, that her artistic integrity is firmly intact and cannot be jeopardised. In discussing the possibilities for a commission with a client, she was taken down a path that went against the grain just a bit. Content, colour and composition didn’t meet Jasmine’s criteria but for the sake of a sale, she agreed, until dragon flies where mentioned, at which point, the line in the sand was drawn. Jasmine completed the painting (without dragon flies) but reflected the anger with herself for having completed it against her own better judgement. She immediately returned home and painted the whole thing again; the way she would want it. Some weeks later the original client saw the second painting and bought it anyway. This is the point at which all artists would give rise to a resounding and supportive: ‘So, there!!’

Our conversation wanders through her history as a painter and illustrator until I ask her why she paints. There is a moment of silence and I lose eye contact for the first time in well over an hour. What I discover in the conversation that followed, is an aspect of Jasmine’s art that is far more than a superficial expression or even a deeper manifestation of her feeling for the organisms she paints. This is as much a part of her as her right arm. There is no separating Jasmine from what she does. She cannot comprehend the possibility of not painting. She reveals that painting may be the very reason why she continues to draw breath. I’m not familiar with that level of tenacity and I wonder if there has been a tenancy in the past that has brought Jasmine to this resolve.

Jasmine has ambition. Painting and an involvement in conservation is a significant part of her future. For those ambitions to be fulfilled she needs to ‘sell’ her product and, to a large extent, herself. As I have already indicated, selling herself is less of a task than she might imagine. Selling her work is even less so. Jasmine draws a crowd. Admittedly, it’s the supportive family which leads the pack. She has incredible respect for her followers and suggests that the support provided by her family is largely responsible for her popularity. I think her talent may play a prominent role but I’m also thinking I might hire the family for my next gig.

Jasmine works at her exposure. She admits that about seventy percent of her time is devoted to the commercial aspects of her work. She understands that being a fine artist isn’t necessarily enough. You can’t eat your own paintings. Exhibitions, galleries, publications and postcards are all part of the sell. This is not an ethical question to be responded to. Jasmine knows what she wants and is driven. I listen with intent. I can learn a lot here. We all could.

At the end of the discussion I wonder the ‘palace’, enjoying the paintings on the wall accompanied by a living commentary. I can’t help noticing how appealing the composition of each piece is. It is as though, along with the accuracy of representation, everything seems in the ‘right’ place. There is a dynamic about each image that enables me to linger and enjoy. A fleeting glance doesn’t seem possible. I also notice a sense of well-being coming over me. It’s the same sensation I get when I read a book with a nice ending or have just completed a good meal. No wonder Jasmine’s work has such public appeal. It makes you feel good.

I want to hold onto that feeling for a while. I take a last, long look at the egrets and cockatoos and head back home. The subjects for Jasmine’s palette watch me from the paperbarks lining the billabong at the edge of the forest. There’s enough inspiration to keep Jasmine busy for some time. Foundations for a gallery are in progress, inspired by the view and a competitive streak. There are many reasons for me to return. And I still have my list. The Wallaby sees me through the forest and I give a nod to the Frilled Neck to close the gate behind me. The GPS screams into action and I’m on my way, wondering if a shower of tourists will disturb the tranquillity too much.

Thanks Jasmine

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lyn Temby Revisited

‘Change is constant: improvement is optional’

As I head towards my next destination and continuing interviews with Lyn Temby I am reminded of the changes we experience in our lives and the effect those changes have on who we are,what we do, our self-perception and how others perceive us. I often wonder if I could identify a point in time and an event that led me to the place I am right now, feeling pretty damn good about life in general and heading for an exhibition of Lyn’s work in the Supreme Court Foyer in Darwin. Can I identify a single decision that took me on a collision course with destiny, as it were? Is life that structured? Do we have ‘9/11’ events in our lives that alters the very essence of who we are and what we do? Up to now I thought not. It’s not that simple. Like grass growing, life is subtle. It moves upon us and with us as slowly as the warming of a winter’s day. We change with the coming and going of the day like the sand beneath a shifting tide. We expect it but we don’t heed to it. We open one door and step through, knowing that what waits for us on the other side is as we expect. And if it’s not, we move on, knowing the next door will take us to where we are heading; wherever that is.

But, what if, one day you opened the door and there was nothing there. What if the world as you knew it or wanted it to be, was gone. What if the event you have just experienced created so much change that what followed was totally unrecognisable, not only in the physical sense but in the understanding and belief of your own self. The very essence of what you are has dissipated into the wind like smoke from a campfire. Before you lies something that is totally unrecognisable, beyond your control and your life as you want it to be is no longer within your grasp.

For most of us, such a change might seem unlikely. We are believers in our own invulnerability. We deem that we are in control and such an event is beyond us. That’s something that happens to someone else; front line news, script material for a drama, a plot for a novel, a story one might tell about some else.

Yet every minute of every day such things happen. We turn a corner with purpose and life greets us with indifference. In most cases there are small things that annoy us enough to notice but we carry on blissfully unaware. You forget an appointment or someone forgets one with you. Your credit card doesn’t read in the EFPOS machine at the checkout. You miss the bus. Not life changing? Maybe; maybe not.

Occasionally there are big events that shake us to the very core. For a moment we get lost in our way through life. You lose your job or someone in the family dies. Life changing? Most of us would say yes. Yet these things happen to people and they still have a ‘life’ after wards. Maybe the life is not quite what you expected but most of us would, standing on the outside, recognise it as such, none-the-less.

Is that new life different to what it might have been? Only if we knew what the ‘old’ life was going to be like. And we don’t. It’s only what we want it to have been. We want to stay in the job we like. We want to continue living with our loved ones. We want continued good health. We certainly don’t want some yobbo running up our rear end at speed and shaking our brain to bits. We take faith in believing that nothing will change; the Sun will rise tomorrow, I will be the same person I was yesterday and so will you. Our circumstances may alter but we are still the same person. Everything changes but nothing changes.

But, as they say, shit happens. As a result of Lyn’s ‘shit’ happening, her life changed considerably and along with that, so did she. Then we might say: ‘What now?’

Some of us might question our own input into such events. Blame and guilt seem to come hand in hand with catastrophic events. Peculiarly, if the event is beneficial, or seen in a favourable light, we often take credit for it or bless the Gods for its arrival. A small win on the horses is always seen as a good thing although it is arguably life changing. Re-uniting with a long lost sister, in my case, was certainly an event I cherish. I’m still waiting for the Lotto win. But just as I would need to buy a ticket before that can happen, events in our lives do require some input from each of us. My sister found my phone number on a web site but it was my actions (unintentional to that outcome) of putting my phone number there which enabled the event to occur. And it was my actions that created the web site in the first place.

On the other hand, if the event produces unpleasant results, we seek to find a perpetrator ouside our own persona in the hope we can place blame. Even in the simplest of actions we can hear someone say: ’I bought the winning ticket’ but ‘they sold me a dud ticket’. How peculiar is that?

So, how far back do we go before we identify the ‘beginning’; the first action that brings us to this point? And is there any value in doing that?

When Lyn talks of her accident, she often refers to her action of deciding to stop as the light turned amber. If the light had been green, would her life be different now, and how different? And what other actions preceded this point in time that might have changed things – or prevented the change that was about to occur. Or was that out of her control? And above all, what would Lyn’s life be like if she had decided to keep moving back then on the 19th of December 2000?

As I get closer to my destination, a voice on the radio comes to my consciousness. There is a strong Scottish accent telling me about some new ideas in Brain Theory; appropriate under the circumstances. There is evidence, he says, that the reason we have a brain in the first place is to enable us to move. How ironic, I think. It might seem that all our brain functions; thinking, feeling, cognition, is all part of a plan to keep us moving. That movement, or kinethetics, is the reason why we are and why we do what we do.

Now, I don’t know if this is the case but there might well be something in it. Watching Lyn’s development and transformation over the past months and listening to her tell her story many times may well put some credence to the idea that ‘we are because we move’, as the Scotsman says. She has certainly done that. The very idea that her therapy, the movement of mosaic creation, has brought her to this point, may be proof enough for any theory. It's certainly strong anecdotal evidence in my book. It seems that her brain needed a reason for its very existence. Battered and bruised as it was, it had lost its ability to recognise its own purpose for existing. As a result of this oblivion, Lyn fell into deep depression. And when this happens, the body doesn’t want to move. There is little or no motivation to do anything. Often sleep is the solution. The brain turns off and the body accompanies it. Kinethetics comes to a halt.

Lyn often expresses some of those thought that dominated her thinking while she rehabilitated. Getting out of bed had been a struggle. Movement was often clumsy and uncoordinated. She speaks of staring at the labels in the Supermarket as if her brain couldn't quite find a reason to move on. But in the process of her mosaics, came a reason for moving: she found it in cutting and grouting. Now that may seem a bit bizarre for most of us to get our head around. But for Lyn and her brain, there was value in this repetitive, painstaking, ritualistic, almost obsessive action. It was as though Lyn had found a pathway among those damaged neurones and synapses to find a reason to move. With that movement came a new learning. And along with the new learning, came an expression of what her new life could be and would be. She could communicate her very existence through her movement and the results of that movement; her mosaics. In addition to that, there was a reward. People communicated back. She could, once more, share her very existence with the world around her. Before her brain injury, people knew Lyn. She was a normal, predictable, human being. It's what we like in people. After the injury, she became unpredictable; not only for herself but for others. To some extent, Lyn became someone else and the battle between old and new began.

But as the therapy set in and she learnt to deal with new pathways and new skills, a ‘new’ Lyn emerged. Sure, it looks the same and still has some of the old characteristics, but there is some new stuff. People started to notice. They liked what they saw. Lyn started to like what she saw. Her unpredictable life was once again taking on a normalsy that she possessed once before and so much desired again. It’s what we all strive for: love for our self and love from others. There are also times when her brain hasn’t quite figured out the right pathway. She forgets a word or says something that doesn’t quite fit. There might also be moments when she falls back into that darker time when the brain loses its motivation to move her. I haven’t witnessed any of that but she reassures me it’s there. So does Johnno.

And speaking of John, her partner. He fell in love with the new Lyn, not the old one. He’s got a rather interesting package, where fragments of the old Lyn persist and a flood of new Lyn is continuously washing over him. Lucky bugger! He may well be part of the therapy and part of the outcome. Lyn mentions from time to time that her beloved Johnno didn’t know the ‘old’ Lyn. That doesn’t seem to be important to John. He’s OK with the current one.

There is no doubt that Lyn’s life was changed by that moment ten years ago as she watched the lights turn amber and she decided to stop. It was such a simple action; something that we all do every day. But in addition to that, someone else’s decision not to stop resulted in a conflict of actions. In our efforts to prevent such a conflict of actions we take precautions; traffic lights, laws, education, even the odd prayer if you are so inclined. In spite of our attempts to alleviate the foreseeable, such things do happen. We step in puddles, forget our wallet, miss the bus, get sick, lose our jobs, relatives and friends, get old and die. Just as one breathe follows another, we are not always ‘in control’ and if believe we are, the outcome isn’t always the one we desire or expect.

Stepping into Lyn’s limelight is easy. There is a soft glow that follows her. Sometimes it’s the bright incandescence of a TV spotlight, other times it’s the warm hue of the reflections from her mosaics. Tonight its brightened just a bit by some severe bling Lyn has chosen to wear at her exhibition opening. John is looking well scrubbed also. Her work looks different to the cramped spaces it occupied in her own home and the orderliness of the presentation provides a different perspective to the outdoor arrangement held at the recent Open Garden display.

As I watch her move from person to person I wonder who she might have been in the past. She greets old friends and new with her champagne presence and killer smile. Hendo is fully impressed. She reflects in her own work and each reflection is different. Her reflection blends with other reflections. It is as though the story is being completed and the final touches are being put in place.

Maybe the new Lyn is the old Lyn but with a few modifications. The change that has been bought about may not have been so subtle and it may have been a tough one (it hurt all the way, Lyn says) but maybe this was always going to be. If life’s prescription was already written for Lyn and she knew what the future would bring, she may have been in a hurry to get here. What we see before us and the person I have got to know over the past months is worth knowing. And I think Lyn would agree, right now.

Once again, Thanks Lyn