Monday, July 19, 2010


In spite of my ability to get in touch with my feminine side when the need arises, I do admire a man with a shed. This admiration doesn’t, in any way, deny the existence or diminish the importance of a woman and her shed. But there is, in my mind, a special relationship that exists between a man, his tools and the place he keeps them.

So, as I head towards Eric Nunn’s shed, buried deep in the heart of Darwin suburbia, my heart races in anticipation. This is a place where stone is cut and silver is ‘smithed’ to produce outstanding contemporary jewellery. I can only imagine it’s presence. Turning into the required street as directed, I wonder how a shed of the dimensions I have envisaged for Eric’s craft, can fit among the blocks of freshly painted units that fill the court. Maybe he has a space in the basement, I ponder hopefully. The sounds of grinders and polishers ring in my memory. My recall of working with gemstones is warmly accompanied with images of my father filling his shed with the paraphernalia of lapidary.

As I step from the elevator I desperately grasp for some sign of shed detritus; dust, shards of rock, grinding tools and cutting implements, a bar fridge and a scratchy radio tuned to the footy. Nothing. Eric ushers me in and all hopes are dashed. Once again my preconceived ideas of what an artist does and how they might work are shattered.

We sit on the balcony overlooking the harbor and discuss Eric’s background. His quiet and friendly manner bespoke my disappointment. He reassures me that he does have a ‘shed’ but it is someone else’s. A large part of his ‘heavy work’, stone cutting and the like, is done at ‘the club’. I envisage large quarry stones milled with blades of diamond imbedded steel.

Eric’s interest in creating jewellery from stone and metal has been with him for many years. He is self taught. In fact, I detect a reluctance to be influenced by someone else’s knowledge. He’s not clear on where his ideas for design come from. Rarely is he influenced by the usual suspects; nature, romance, and a resolve to rid the world of its woes. He looks over to the ocean and I expect an idea to formulate. He’s happy to sip his coffee.

Eric ushers me into his shed. The bottom literally falls from my world.
There is a small side table nestled in the corner of the room. It has a vise clamped to one edge. A devise looking somewhat similar to a dentist's drill is clamped in position. That’s it? Eric opens a small cardboard box and spreads the contents before me; a collection of plastic bags containing chips of brilliantly coloured rock. Blues and greens that mirror the depths of the Earth from which they came.
He pulls from one bag, a necklace with pieces of Lapis Lazuli (don’t you just love that name – something from Merlin’s caldron maybe) imbedded in silver. ‘I had this idea many years back and sketched it’ He opens an old exercise book and shows me the original concept, drawn with precision on yellowing pages. ‘It’s evolved a bit since I re-visited it’. I envisage this exquisite piece against a slender young neck. Eric seems not to care too much about who would wear it.
After admiring the necklace I browse through the sketches. ‘The book is about 4o years old’ he adds casually. I feel like I am reading Eric’s thoughts from the past decades. How does all this happen? Where does it come from?

I grab my camera and stare through the viewfinder. Nothing fits. Eric seemed enigmatic against the backdrop of his craft. His jewellery seems so distant from what he appears to be; like a radio announcer we might meet and be surprised because our perceptions don't fit with the reality.  I am reminded of what Lyn Temby had described so well in one of her works. There are many parts to what we are. There is the part we know of ourselves, first and foremost. Then there is the lesser part others see of us, mixed with perceptions, fragmented but ordered. Next is the part we expose to others; the bits we are content with others knowing, clearly defined and controlled. And finally, there is the part of us that even we have difficulty coming to grips with, a jumble of thoughts and processes we are constantly making sense of. I sense that art is a way of exposing part of ourself to the world in a different way. 'You can't see it in me, so here it is in another form. There's more to me than you know and I'll try and describe it the best way I can'. It may well be the reason why we are often surprised by what we see. Its more than we expect. And surprisingly, it's the bit we often value above all things - of ourselves and of others.

Today I got more than I expected. If that’s the sort of thing Eric can produce there is one hell of a bloke in there (in spite of the size of his shed) and my camera could never do it justice.
But I do try!

Eric has an exhibition opening at Territory Craft Gallery on the 23rd of July. I’ll be more than interested in looking for the human responses.

Thanks Eric.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


If I appear to have my mouth agape with amazement it’s because I do. Never again will I commit myself to believing someone else’s preconceived ideas about an art form. Mosaics have, I had been told, a somewhat diminished position on the art scale; something akin to flower arranging and macramé. But from the moment I entered Lyn’s home I knew I was in for a quick rethink.

Lyn had already begun the guided tour, possibly even before I had arrived. ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ she explained, as she began describing every detail and meaning behind the strikingly vivid mosaic murals covering most of the interior walls of this neat and welcoming home. My brain was unable to maintain the same pace as the commentary, so I managed to keep my ears peeled to Lyn’s expose of one representation while my eyes scanned another, three places back.

I became decidedly conscious of my face being permanently fixed in a broad grin. There is a cathedral sense about the way one views Lyn’s work. You keep looking up and there is more to be seen at every glance. This place had a good feeling. Yet the stories behind each mosaic were somewhat gloomy; a pictorial interpretation of less pleasant parts of Lyn’s life. She spoke of depression, medication and a lack of control of a part of her life that, in her words, transformed her into another person. It would seem that Lyn has taken those anxious bits of her melancholic mind and displayed them for the world to see; but with a difference. She has transformed them into something quite beautiful. Mirrors predominate. The fact that these works reflect one’ self has not gone unnoticed. I find myself becoming part of the art as I stand before it; a broken and fragmented reflection of what I appear to be. Yet, strangely enough, I don’t notice. Not once did I have the very human urge to check my appearance. How out of character.

Lyn began her journey into the world of mosaics as therapy for a significant brain injury, the result of a car accident some years back. Oliver Sacks would love to talk to Lyn. Somewhere within her battered brain was an ability to create beautiful works of art; it just needed a place, some tools, a medium and time (and apparently a good shake). After 4 years Lyn is just as amazed at what she can do as I am. She calls it art but with some reservation. ‘It must be. I’ve exhibited’ she says excitedly. She has needed to learn a great deal, and not just about the craft. Recognition of her own ability has been an ordeal. Her bravado, audacity and cavalier attitude to what ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be done in the art world have been her comrades. She is ‘out there’ in every sense of the phrase.

Beyond the art and introspection Lyn makes sense of her world. ‘I get it’ her partner, John, replies when questioned on his opinion. Lyn shares with me the meaning behind a ‘work in progress’. I get it too, but you don’t have to get it to appreciate her work. If nothing else, she has amazing endurance and patience. ‘Shopping is hell’, John quips. Maybe Lyn’s endurance is matched by John’s tolerance.

We chat in the cool and comforting oasis of her garden. John has been with us through the tour. He is a quite man and admits to knowing little about what Lyn does as an art form. ‘I know what I like’ he retorts after some teasing from Lyn. He wriggles uncomfortably when I question him on his relationship with Lyn. But I have all the answers I need. The only other man I know who looks at a woman like that is me when I look at Christine. He’s in the right place.

Lyn is at ease in front of the lens. She has glossed up the lips in anticipation. ‘Make me look thinner’ she jokes. I look through the viewfinder and wonder what the ‘other’ Lyn was like. Somehow it is not longer relevant. This one is doing just fine. I am reminded once again of that concept of the art and the person being inseparable. This is proof positive.

As I leave I find myself still smiling. I have a feeling it won’t wear off for a while.

Thanks Lyn

Thursday, July 8, 2010


It’s not an easy thing to talk to this man. Tom has little time for discussing himself. His head is usually full of other people’s stuff. Still, there is a moments grace when his wife, Christine, calls and tells me his diary is free. ‘Tell him you were just passing. Feed his ego. He likes people to show interest in what he is doing.’
We all have egos, none bigger than my own. What’s his button to press? I ask myself. It seems like he’s been in everything but a bath. I found a reference in my research to a comment from his report card back in ’62. ‘Not real bright. Would make a good tradesman – a plumber perhaps’. ‘Artistically incompetent’ was his art teachers summation back in ’65. Ken Reinhardt; that name rings a bell. Pop-artist from the ‘60’s. He ought to know.
Still, my instincts have to be played out. I gingerly knock on the door. I don’t like appearing unannounced. I have had the dogs set to me more than once. A shortish, rough shaven man wearing a Billabong T-shirt and baggy shorts partly covering the hairiest legs I have seen for some time confronts me. I get straight to the point: ‘I’m here to interview you for …’ ‘Well, don’t just stand there. Where do you want me to start?’ I don’t recall reading anything about modesty in his old school reports.
There is evidence of some artistic activity. Some photographs on the walls, a few nice pieces of woodwork, and some stunning watercolours. ‘They’re Christine’s. She’s the arty one’. I question him on his current endeavours but he avoids the topic. He speaks of history and the complexity of the human psych. He seems to have an opinion on everything. I push a little further on the photography. ‘I have pictures in my head and I need to see them hanging on a wall. Photography is the fastest way of getting them there.’ I glance more than once at a framed photograph above his head. There is a haunting, almost surreal view of a billabong from a seemingly dangerous angle. Strange pictures inside his head, I think. Tom flicks the screen on the computer into action and a series of slides come and go. I wonder if I am safe with a man who has this sort of stuff going through his brain.

‘Photography is not the thing’ he says. I think he’s speaking to me but he appears to speak to something or someone else; to himself maybe. ‘Art is not the thing either’ he adds. I’m listening. His voice is directed elsewhere but I listen. ‘Don't get me wrong. I like shiny new cameras. The man with the most toys wins. Right?' A rhetorical question no doubt, judging from the array of lenses on display in his study. 'It’s about people and who they are. We do stuff. We think about it and then we do stuff. We think funny and we laugh. We think sad and we cry. We think angry and we strike out; sometimes. What if others could see, touch, hear, smell, and taste how we feel? What if they could take it home and hang it on the wall or wear it or eat it? If we think that then we ‘do’. That’s art. Simple. We all connect our feelings to what we do. If we make something from that we can let others see our feelings. My old man made furniture. We slept in it, ate off it, kept our belongings in it; we loved his furniture. He loved us. He made that stuff for us. That’s art.
I take pictures. I want people to know I have feelings just like them. I want them to see it. I don’t always succeed. My old man didn’t always succeed either. But he gave it his best shot in the only way he knew. I put him up there with Monet and Da Vinci. Not for the quality of the product but for the feelings that went into it. All these people I talk to are ‘doing’; making things from their feelings so that we can share. Some are really good at it; they have great skills. Others are learning but the effort is still there. The feelings are just as strong and that’s what counts. We put a price on a painting or a vase. That’s a good thing because it enables and encourages. But what price do we put on someone’s feelings? You tell me’.

Me? Was he asking me? He surely goes on when he starts. There’s a picture of two young children, possibly  grand-children, on the table beside me. I see what Tom means. You don’t need a book to tell you what feelings Tom was experiencing when this shot was taken.

I shuffle for my camera, remembering what Tom had just said. Capture my feelings. Click! Is that all there is to it? I look at the display panel on the back of the camera. Mmm. I see what Tom means by ‘some are good at it …. some are learning’. Not art yet. Just a picture.

 I want to ask a question but Tom is looking at his watch and gesturing to the front door. Just one question; make it a good one. ‘Can people learn to be an artist or is it innate for some?’ Tom hesitates, then looks at his watch again. ‘I’m not sure. Ask me just before I die. But we are not born plumbers either.’ His hand guides me through the door and back to the heat of the tropical Sun. I’m not sure what I have achieved here; something to think about, maybe. I make a note on my iPod to call again. There is more to be unearthed but I’m not quite ready for more of the same. My head is spinning. After that I need to see my therapist – or do lunch.

Kate Fernyhough and Jim Schofield

Artists who carry out their craft do so in idealic circumstances. They have the peace and tranquility they need to be at their creative best. There is ample time and space for them to practice their skills. Nothing can distract them from their task. Life is bliss.
Kate Fernyhough and Jim Schofield live with their three children in suburban Darwin. They are as far from the ideal of the artist’s life as one could get. Yet, within their suburban space is a naturally creative flow that works. Kate shares her painting space with the children. Jim shares his guitar making space with …. well, no-one actually. How does that work? Admittedly Jim has room for no more than a cockroach in his four-by-four shed; the outflow from his work spilling haphazardly into the garden beyond. Kate’s space is larger but trebles as a play and meeting place.

Kate and I chat about her art in her shared space. There is the occasional interruption from the demands of her twins. They, too show signs of following in their parent’s footsteps.
The table before me is scattered with cards printed by the children, ready for the next craft show.
A few of Kate’s paintings adorn one wall; small portrait-like images in strikingly bold colours in a style I have seen on numerous occasions. I ask Kate about the ‘style’ concept, hoping the conversation will lead me somewhere. What I know about art could fit on the tip of an oily brush. A cold look from disapproving eyes leaves me searching for a new conversational path. So much for my artistic perception.

She describes her rejection of the formal education in art she received in the UK for her personal philosophy: ‘art for real people’. She is almost apologetic in her efforts to praise or sell her work. My crass commercial thoughts are hard to hold back. We joke about the life of the artist. The phone rings and a child’s voice calls for immediate attention. I make my way to the shed thinking Kate could alter her phrasing to ‘real art from real people’.

Jim is self taught. He had been imbedded in wood since his youth. There is mahogany in his muscles and hot horse glue in his veins. He is firm in his beliefs and confident with his knowledge and skills. From the depths of timber and chisels he draws out a mandolin. He is critical of his own work. Second best is not an option here. He provides a rendition of an unfamiliar tune on the mandolin. This is where his craft is complete; hearing the sound this instrument makes is the gift he gives us. It’s a bonus. Few crafts go beyond the visual. Jim covers all the bases.

We talk of wood and glues and what works for his craft. He lets me inspect the surface of a guitar neck for flaws. If I were one of the children, I would be playing in this shed, I thought to myself. Best not to express that out loud I also think, least it be taken in the wrong vein.

Unseasonal rain brings me back to the here and now. As I leave this family of artists I contemplate their separate and collective futures. Living the artist’s life is real enough for them. It’s much like yours and mine. Idealism doesn’t raise children in the suburbs of Darwin but these kids are in good hands.

Thanks Kate and Jim.

Carolyn Bursa

I often measure my driving distance by the number of tracks I listen to on the CD player in the car. As I pull into Carolyn’s driveway I notice I have been through seven tracks of Dave Brubeck; more than most journeys this week. I should have packed lunch.

After coming to some mutual understanding with the dogs I am ushered to the kitchen of this very welcoming home. Carolyn prepares tea and, without hesitation, launches into a reprimand on the value of higher education for artists. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s reflection: ‘I never let a good education get in the way of my thirst for knowledge’.

Before I go any further, please let me digress.

Blend or mash dates, walnuts and raw beetroot. Form a small ball with the mix and embed a chocolate chip in the centre of the ball. Roll the ball in sesame seeds. Eat the entirety. Then have a second while no-one is looking. You may have tyo fight the dogs off as well.

Carolyn is a teacher. She may lead you to believe she has retired from teaching. She may believe it herself but there is still a great deal of ‘teacher’ to come out in the wash. I listen attentively, as one should. She is well versed in her arguments and delivers them with pinpoint accuracy. I am enthralled and captivated. We wander through the house filled with her art (and others). A haphazard orderliness is evident. She displays her work with a strong sense of pride. I’m content to look and absorb both her knowledge and her skill as an artist. Telling Carolyn that I think her paintings are good seems a bit patronizing from one so ignorant. But they are good!

We cross the lawn to a cluster of trees beside a pond. The dogs move in for the kill on the left-over’s of morning tea. Have you ever noticed how Blue Healers smile when they get their own way? We pass through the overhanging folage and aother world is revealed. Carolyn’s studio is purpose built. Carolyn needs to keep this place a secret. She could lose friends if the word got out.

There is more evidence in the ‘teacher’ in her.
Small sketches and successions of drawings; signs of a plan. I am getting an inkling of how she works and how she conseptualises her paintings. There is a strong feeling of the ‘artists eye’: a combination of vision, creativity, skill, knowledge and endeavour, built around a good plan.

I am amazed at the number of paintings she has ‘on the go’ but for someone who works in this manner, I can see how it might be done; something like juggling the activities of twenty-five kids in a language class.

 I remind myself that there is another life beyond paradise.

Carolyn sits comfortably for the photographs. As I focus on her with the backdrop of one of her unfinished works, I begin to see where all this is leading me. I have puzzled with the idea all my working life with the dogma that we should separate what we do from what we are and the notion of finding within us the ‘real’ self. Seeing Carolyn (and all the artists I have spoken to) against the backdrop of her work affirms my conviction that what we do is what we are. Artists often claim they give of themselves when they work. They know what they are. With art it’s re-assuring because it’s valued. Too bad not all of what we do is as good as what I have seen today?

I wish I could paint!!

Now look what you’ve done.

Thanks Carolyn.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Have you ever passes someone in the street and wonder what they 'do'. Paul Theroux spoke of his compulsion for giving strangers a 'life' beyond that fleeting moment when he crossed their path. To his knowledge, of all the thousands of people he met in his journeys he only once got it right.
Some years back I had the good fortune to meet, in person, such a 'stranger'. We had crossed paths many times in our walks along the foreshore at Nightcliff and only ever made brief eye contact as we pushed our bodies to a thinner place. I had received a request by phone to design a box for a piece of kiln-fired glass. 'Yes' was my prompt reply, knowing full-well I would be Googling before the night was over to find out 'what' and 'how'. 'I'll bring it around tonight'. There was an accent among the eloquent voice that refused to be identified.
'Oh, it's you', we stated in unison as we faced one another. And there began a collaborative and personal friendship with Andrea I will take to my grave.
Over the next 5 years we designed over one hundred boxes utilising kiln-fired glass and Australian timbers. The boxes have been put aside and yet we still find ourselves working together.

I now have the pleasure of photographing her beautiful and very useable glass art. Oh, and one other thing. This project is as a result of Andrea's bright ideas. Thanks Andrea. Yeah, right!
Andrea fills every crook and cranny of her life with her craft. Surprisingly, her workspace occupies a small corner under her house (kiln excluded). There is nothing superfluous about the space she uses. It is filled with the tools of the trade and no more.
Andrea also lives her art. She wears it, eats from it, hangs it on the wall and leaves it seemingly discarded in the most unlikely places. It colours her life as the blue sky colours the day. It shines from her as the Moon on a darkened sea. This is not the person I gave a life to all those years back when we passed as strangers. The reality is far more gracious than any story I could dream up. This is a person who gives life to all those who secure her glass as their own.

Andrea is somewhat of a ferocious worker. She seems to exhibit at a moments notice and she is a regular at the craft shows. At this very moment she is trapsing the world on a Churchill Fellowship seeking new ways to work with glass. Let me assure those who come across her as strangers: take heed; Andrea can teach you many things. So, pay attention.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Stalking exhibitions has become a compulsion of late. In this instance I have been asked to ‘open’ the exhibition; a focus on glass by eight artists. Not that I hold any position of importance in the eyes of the art/craft fraternity (or any other fraternity, for that matter); far from it. I can only see this as ‘payback’ of some type. Never-the-less I take my task seriously and say very little. After all, the patrons attendee's are here to view things of beauty; and that definitely leaves me out.

Glass has a fluid beauty that distinguishes it from other media. As if in chorus, glass has a sense of cold and heat at the same time. It appears delicate, yet exhibits considerable strength. In the hands of an artist, glass can become almost anything we desire. It can be utilitarian or aesthetic or both. We can drink from it, eat off it, see the world through it, reflect on it, wear it, and above all, admire its beauty as a result of manipulation in the hands of a fine artist.
Darwin has its fair share of glass artisans. Natalie Jenkins, in the brief time since she has taken up this craft, has shown herself to be as skilled and imaginative as any. I can only describe her recent work as hypnotic.
Natalie and I chat loosely on her background (NT through and through, I might add) and other relevant subjects as I wrestle with the lights and backdrop. I need to capture the singular beauty of her work in isolation to do it any justice at all. Then, unexpectedly, I find myself alone (as I often do when indulging in conversation).

I use my time wisely with the ‘jellyfish twins’. Already I am in a state of severe anxiety for fear of snapping off a tentacle. My relationship with such fragile objects is usually short-lived.
Natalie returns. People never cease to surprise me and Natalie has not been a disappointment. She is able to transform the most mundane into a thing of beauty with her bare hands yet the mention of a camera sends her running for a mirror. She flusters over the condition of her T-shirt and apologizes profusely for not having been more prepared.
Is the nature of us humans to believe that we can separate what we do from what we are? I could say to Natalie that she could wear a potato sack and groom herself with the left-overs from last night’s meal and I wouldn’t notice. Anyone who can produce this kind of stuff doesn’t need me, my camera or any mirror to tell them how much beauty they possess.

And now I am once more stunned by another human reaction. Natalie forgets about me and the camera and plays with her ‘jellyfish’.
For a full ten minutes I stop breathing and click away as she juggles glass tentacles. She demonstrates what we all do when we ‘know’ our craft; the object becomes part of her; another appendage, as it were. I confidently make a few adjustments to the camera as Natalie continues her dance with her transparent Scychozoa. Once again I am hypnotized by the scene through the viewfinder.
We discuss mutual friends, mentors and the meaning of life. Natalie talks confidently of her future. I have no doubt we will be seeing a lot more of Natalie and her glass.

Thanks Natalie.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I enter Kit's home with a modicum of trepidation and it's not because of the less than warm welcome from her dog. As I pass through the entry all I can see ahead is blue sky and the turquoise expanse of Darwin Harbour. Once I establish my land legs, so to speak, and realize I am seeing Cullen Bay from a less than emblematical perspective, it occurs to me that this is the ideal place for an artist to work; under the expanse of the clear tropical skies. How romantic, I think.
Unfortunately any sign of romantic parady is soon divorced from my thoughts as I am escorted away from this picturesque scene. Kit's studio is a pokey and congested room at the back of her home where the view offers a glimpse of the passing traffic below and little else. Nudging elbows with books and brushes allows for sitting space - just.
There is an almost overpowering smell of turpentine flavoured with linseed. Nothing in this well used space has escaped the splattering of a burnt umbra or ultramarine. I have the claustrophobic feeling of being completely engulfed by Kit’s ‘shed’.
All this may seem a little strange from a photographer’s point of view where light and panoramic inspiration is a 'tool of the trade' so to speak. But Kit takes her work seriously and the distractions of jostling yachts and colourful bunting in the marina are only to be appreciated outside working hours.
Kit is a painter. It's her chosen profession. Let me make it quite clear. Kit is not retired. She has a real job - she is an artist. Anyone who takes her lightly will find themselves on the receiving end of a more than brutal look of disapproval and contempt; something akin to what a nurse might give to a lingering relative at the bedside of a patient. A possible relic of a past life, perhaps.
Some eight or so years back Kit was given a box of charcoals and some drawing paper. It would be hard to imagine that such a gesture would be so decisive in the formulation of Kit’s future path.

Now, as Kit explains the process that brings one of her works of art (one of a series of ten paintings on historic sites in and around Darwin) to its conclusion, I listen attentively to a person who has come to terms with who she is and what she will do with her life. In our short time together I learnt of texture and technique, palettes and paint, brushes, board and what Kit calls ‘The Artist’s Eye’. This is common ground and, without further discussion we can comprehend the commonality of all artists.
Beyond the technique there is, within us all, an ability to find the ‘art’ in our line of sight. This ability goes by many names: talent, creativity, vision, but I especially like Kit’s terminology: ‘The Artist’s Eye’.
Kit describes how she is able to use it in a discriminatory manner to select what is needed of a landscape to ‘make’ the picture. I recall Gary Collins and Serena Kuhl both implying this way of seeing was innately necessary for the artist to achieve his/her goal. Worth investigating further? I think so.

Kit displays a genuineness in front of the camera that encourages me to find the person inside. I find it hard to separate her from her work so I allow the backdrop of paintings to engulf her. My concern as I leave, encouraged by a growl from her dog, is that I have done Kit justice. Has my ‘photographer’s eye’ mirrored what I have found in this unlikely place? If I haven’t it will give me a good reason to return. There is more to learn here as Kit merges her life with her art.

Thanks Kit