Tuesday, August 24, 2010


What do a lawyer and an artist have in common?

This may sound like the opening line of a bad joke but in this particular case there is a more serious motive because that is the very question I ask myself as I head to inner city Darwin for an appointment with Deevya Desai.

Deevya is, in fact, both artist and lawyer and I am intrigued by the possibilities. Although my perception of artists has changed over the past months, my estimation of lawyers still wavers. Still, I approach my task with an open mind – almost.

A young woman answers to my knock and I am almost tempted to ask if her mother is home. But Deevya is expecting me and her greeting saves me from a forthcoming faux pas.

Deevya’s appearance is deceptive. Her slight stature may well be mistaken for something less that she is. But the instant she begins to speak you know you are dealing with a force to be reckoned with. There is a confidence and precision in her voice that, I thought, may serve her well at the bench. ‘I’m interested in business law, actually. I don’t have strong ambitions to ‘climb the ladder’ at the moment.’ My curiosity gets the better of me.

‘How do a lawyer and an artist occupy the same space?’ I ask.

‘Law is quite creative. There are many paths to follow.Fitting that to the needs of the client can be very creative.’ There is a note of jurisprudence in her manner that convinces me not to present an opposing argument.

For Deevya, the art came first. She has a head start on most, having first been introduced to drawing by her mother at the age of four. Her creativity was encouraged by her parents, her time in Venuatu and other exotic places and her ability to gain extra grades for well illustrated assignments at school. I wonder if her teachers realised they were being duped. Probably not.
Her approach to her art is quite rigorous. She considers herself self-taught although she has attended the odd workshop and her mother seemed to have influenced her considerably. Deevya practices. She sees developing her skills as a draughts-person is a pre-requisite to furthering her artistic ability and creativity. ‘I need to be able to control the strokes’ and she points to a Rodin portrait she is ‘copying’; for practice, I must add. ‘If you look here you can see I haven’t quite got the control I need to……’ and I agree for fear of showing my ignorance. The evidence is there, apparently, and I am not in a position to argue.

Her home is devoid of the usual clutter of the artist except for the easel in the corner of the room holding her ‘practice’.

‘I like things in their place, and I work alone. Peace and quiet is essential.' There are a few of her paintings hanging and we discuss each one as we pass. ‘I would much prefer to have other artists' work in my home’. William Turner and Sam Wade are mentioned. I hope lawyers are paid well. Maybe divorse law would be a better option. There is a strong emotional content in each of her pieces displayed. ‘I get my ideas from the things I see. As I paint I endeavour to present how I felt at the time I saw the subject.’ Her emotional content is somewhat esoteric but it seems unnecessary for the viewer to gain that perspective. Deevya neither cherishes her completed works  nor concerns herself with how others see it. She is content with the journey. As I have discovered, she is not alone in her thinking.

Her journey to this point has been short but rich. There is a youthfulness about her work and her subjects that is vibrant and unmistakable. Her strong use of warm colours emphasizes that vigour. Her search for precision in her craft and her career seem to go hand in hand. The lawyer and the artist can, in fact, occupy the same space at the same time without the need for a punch line.

I vaguely remember being twenty something and, realizing life was ahead of me, pondering the future. I ask the question of Deevya: ‘If all things were equal, what would you do now?’

‘Travel’. Of course.

‘And where would you go first?’ She ponders for a moment.

‘Melbourne’. And all my hopes for the future of humankind are dashed. Deevya sees my disappointment and tries a recovery gesture. ‘Then Europe,’ but it sounds more like a question than a destination. Still, she is young. She may know a great deal about art and law but a quick lesson in geography would not go astray.

It may seem a strong judgment to make, but as I leave Deevya to her craft, I feel like I have just viewed a painting that is ‘a work in progress’. There is a quality about her work that needs a softer edge; an aging process that comes with discovering and knowing oneself. It’s about the knowledge we look back with when we reach the other end of our life and say to ourselves: ‘I wish I knew then what I know now’. But that’s what it’s all about, after all. Doing what we love most and learning as we go.

Deevya has the enviable task of doing what I can’t do again: grow old. I have only had the good fortune of seeing what she can do now. I can only imagine what she is capable of doing in the next fifty years. Someone else will have that pleasure and I have no doubt it will be worth waiting for.

Thanks Deevya.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tom Dinning (revisited)

I usually hang up on anyone who calls me between 5 and 6 in the evening. I'm not driven to complete a 30 minute survey from a teenager named Amit calling from a Moombi call centre. It may have been fate that led me to ignore that urge when the mobile rattled in my pocket.
'Yes' I mumbled impatiently. The responding voice was vaguely familiar.
'It's me. We need to talk'. The screen on the mobile read 'Tom Dinning'. I thought of hanging up anyway but there was a sense of urgency about his voice that puzzled me. My curiosity was aroused and there was little chance of deflating it beyond believing this was a prank call. I checked my diary, hoping for the next vacancy to appear sometime toward the end of the next decade. Unfortunately I had a cancellation.
'Saturday at 2 OK?'
'Right' and the phone went dead.
Christine called from the living room. 'Who was that?'
'I'm not sure. I'll tell you on Sunday'.
The rest of the week isn't worth mentioning.

 Tom grabbed me by the shirt sleeve before I had finished ringing the doorbell and dragged me into the garage through the house entry.
'Take a look at this'. The pitch of his voice was two octaves higher than I recall from our last conversation. I wasn't sure if I should resist his prompting for fear of finding a corpse in the boot of the Corolla or rush to see oil gushing from a well he had drilled in his garage floor. There was neither the smell of rotting flesh nor bitumen. Instead, I found Tom standing beside what appeared to be a discarded door from a medicine cabinet, hinge still attached, and painted with a peculiar figure not dissimilar to an illustration from The Roswell Files.
Tom stood besides the object and smiled.
'Well, what do you think?'
I remained silent. I needed time to identify what I was looking at, clarify my thoughts and estimate what damage I would inflict if I got it wrong. Tom's demeanor seemed somewhat unstable and I was feeling trapped as a cat might feel caught between a savage dog and a swim.

'It's me!' Tom's voice went to the third octave. I looked hard. Was he referring to himself or something else. Then it became clear as he gestured towards the 'door'. The painted figure wasn't an extra-terrestrial but the slight and distorted figure of a man holding a camera; a Nikon, I assume. I leaned forward for a closer look. I was drawn to the eyes. They appeared sad.
Then I became aware that the image was split down the middle by a crack in the boards onto which the image had been painted. On one side of the division, the right side of the face appeared young and alert, with the eye wide open as if in amazement. The other side, the left side of the face, appeared drawn and tired but with an essence of aging wisdom. The entire face was green, yet, through this distortion of colour I could see a resemblance to  the man who stood before me.
'I've never had my portrait painted before', Tom quirped. I noted a quiver in his voice. I pretended not to notice as Tom wiped a tear from his cheek. He was struggling to compose himself so I focussed on the image before me, ignoring Tom's uncomfortableness with exposing his weaker side. This wasn't the man I met a month ago. Something had changed. Tom had changed. I plucked up the courage to pry.
'Who did this?' My question sounded somewhat inquisitional so I added: 'It's great'.
'Great. That's an understatement. It's bloody amazing'.
'So, why is it in the garage?' I asked.
'I can't have two of us in the same house'. With that, Tom walked back into the hallway and out of sight. I was left alone with the man with the green face. What did he mean - 'two of us'? It's just a painting. Then I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I was alone with this strange and haunting image in a dimly lit garage and I felt less than alone. A bead of sweat ran down my forehead and stung my eye. The image moved beyond my vision. I felt like a lone surfer in dark waters. It was time to seek safety in numbers. I hastened into the house, glancing momentarily behind to check their wasn't a fin following me.
'So how's the project going?' I asked. It seemed appropriate to leave the 'green man' in the garage for the time being, at least in the metaphoric sense, . A cold drink would ease the dryness in my throat but I knew I wouldn't be offered one. Irrespective of any superficial change I might have noticed with Tom, his all consuming self-centredness was still firmly intact.
'Not what I expected' was his somewhat distant reply. I was about to direct the conversation with some poignant questioning but Tom pre-empted my inquiry and launched into a dialogue that may well have been ruminating in his thoughts for some time.
'I started this [project] with the idea of finding a birthday present for Christine and look where it's got me; crying like a baby over a painted dunny door. How can anyone do that? How is it possible for someone to create something from nothing but their thoughts and a few boards nailed together? Not only that, [Larry] managed to take a part of me - more than a part of me -and rip it from me as a butcher cuts out a liver or a heart. Then he slaps it in front of me as if to say 'this is what you are really like'. And it's not just him. Those other artists out there; the one's I've met, and more. They all do the same thing. They have this strange and uncanny ability to take ordinary stuff; clay, paint, glass, even junk, and turn it into things that affect people like this. Look at me. I'm a f---ing  mess. I'll never recover from this. Never....'
 I detected a sense of desperation in his voice accompanied with a lingering sound of hope in  the word 'never', the word trailing off into transpareny.
For a moment Tom hesitated and drew a deep, soleful breathe. Then silence. There was something going on here and I was about to probe.
'So you don't like what you see?'
'Like? I'm like a kid in a lolly shop. Imagine eating a handful of chocolate frogs one day and a cluster of jelly snakes the next. Then, just when you think you've died and gone to Kid Heaven, someone gives you 3 Mars Bars and a Snickers. My sensations are saturated. I've seen mosaics that sing, paintings that stur the sole and glass that shines like the galaxies. And if that isn't enough it is fed to me by people as fascinating as any you would meet in a long march. This is sensational overdose. And I'm addicted.'
A calmness fell over Tom like a shroud at a funeral. He was still and thoughtful, with an expression on his face that would quell a riot. I sniffed the air for any aromatics.
He continued as if I wasn't there.
'How can I do that? How can I have that affect on people? What do I need? What is it they have that allows that to happen? These are the people we live next door to. They have jobs and families and gardens to attend and plumbing that leaks and washing that doesn't dry in the wet. They get headaches and sleep too much or too little and run out of money and 'retire' - from what, I do not know. Some of them even read the NT News. How ordinary can you get? Yet they extract something from their thinking and train their body to express those thoughts in some concrete way. But it's not like you are looking at a patch of lawn or a bucket of broth. This is stuff that stirs our sole. It moves us to smile or laugh out loud or cry or get angry or change our attitude. Get that? They can change the way we think. How cool is that? And I get to meet them and talk with them and write about them and photograph them. And I get my portrait painted. And I ask myself: what can I do in return.' Tom paused once more. He was shaking noticeably. I thought of asking for that drink but somehow it didn't seem timely.
'Then I get a phone call from one of these people and I am told that what I write makes her feel good when she's low. Me. My words and photo's. I'm not sure I want that much responsibility. That's a dangerous tool in the hands of a manic like me.'
'But your an artist, aren't you? Isn't that what artists do? Create things that affect people in some way?' I could see Tom was somewhat troubled by what he had discovered on his journey to find a gift for Christine. Simple actions sometimes have monumental consequences.
'I just take pictures and write about people. Not much in that. Anyone can do that. I leave it to others to determine what they will from it. I do it for myself. It keeps me busy so I don't have to think about the crap stuff. It's not rocket science. I could even teach you how to do it'
This conversation was leading no-where. The last time I used a camera I finished up with 3 pictures of my feet and a libel action from the subject.
'So, where to now?', pushing the conversation in another direction.
'I've started this and I'll finish it. The list is long and there is more to discover. There is a reason for all this and I'm determined to find it. The one thing I have discovered is that it's not about the art. A very famous photographer once said 'I'm not really interested in photography. Once the picture is taken I'm finished with it. I'm more interested in what goes before'. I've heard that from a number of artists. It seems like the old cliche of the journey being more important than the destination might hold some ground here.'
I'd heard this line of thought before as well. At last Tom had struck on something that interested me. Maybe it was fate that brought me to answer the phone. Maybe Tom wasn't that self-centred, arrogant no-it-all I believed him to be. Maybe there was a heart in there after all and this project of his was resusitating it. Well, maybe not.
'You can leave now. I have stuff to do' and he shuffled me out the door with the same determination with which I was welcomed.

I stood in the driveway and contemplated my next move. Through the glass pane on the front door I could see Tom enter the garage from the house. A moment later her re-surfaced, carrying his portrait. I watched his shadowy figure dissolve into the hallway. It was time to leave the two of them to get to know each other. Three can be a crowd at times.


Sunday, August 15, 2010


I’m greeted at the gate of Number 3 by a young, curly-headed boy, who looks me up and down with a measure of curiosity and contempt. Foolishly I start up a conversation which is brought to an abrupt end with a curt ‘She’s upstairs’. I am always amazed at the way children can sum up a situation so quickly and determine with such precision, their interest, or lack thereof, in the matters at hand.

Upstairs reveals more children, deeply engrossed in lunch and dialogue. I am once again ignored and begin to wonder if I haven’t stumbled upon a chapter from Harry Potter and the ……. Any moment I expect to be turned into an owl. I scan the horizon for signs of an adult. ‘Hello, you must be Tom’. At last, I thought, someone over 1.2 metres tall.

After the usual shuffle for familiar ground Daniela and I strike on our common interest: photography. The great thing about talking with another photographer is there is no necessity to talk about cameras. Daniela has had formal training in photography at Charles Darwin University as part of her Degree in Visual Arts. She talks fondly of her time in the darkroom and shows me the results of her labour. ‘The children became my subjects’ and that is a good choice. The images are warm and relaxed as only someone with an emotional attachment with the subject can demonstrate. Children, her children, dancing, running, playing on swings; stuff that memories are made of and worthy subjects for artistic expression. Each photograph requires more than a casual glance. Each tells a story of a family sharing in the process of learning a craft. I like that.

‘My other interest is in sewing, knitting and crocheting’ says Daniela. She pat’s her sewing machine as if to waken it, or comfort it like one would a pet. I expect it to greet me. ‘ Fibre art’ and we chuckle over the terminology. Daniela is ‘mature’ enough to remember when these skills were taught to daughters as a matter of course by their mothers. ‘It was even part of the curriculum at school’, she reflects. Not quite politically correct these days. ‘Nor is there much interest’ she adds, nodding towards the group at the table who had moved from food to cards. ‘Can I play with the X-Box, Mum?’ This is the Age of the New and knitting doesn’t seem that exciting any more.

But Daniela knits with a difference. Fishing nets, wire and discarded materials are her twine. We flick through pages of her work. I am struck by the connection she makes with the love of her children, her photography and her other art. Each photograph displays elaborate and stunning garments crafted by Daniela, elegantly modelled by her children and photographed with that same emotional connection. There is a new level of understanding about the purpose of art I am finding here. Daniela entwines her art, family and craft as intricately as she does her garment. It’s that ‘know the art: know the artist’ thing again.

‘I have a few things downstairs you might be interested in’. I follow cautiously, watching for more children to appear. Daniela has already informed me of the source of her materials. Working at the hospital as an anesthetist (which is a lot easier to write than say) she collects the detritus of the surgical ward. ‘Not body part?’ I inquire, seeking reassurance for my very weak stomach. ‘No, just anything that is usually thrown out. Scissors, tweezers, tubing, packaging. Everything is throw-away these days’. Daniela shows me a picture of a surgical ward with an operation in full swing. I feign interest for the sake of the conversation. My stomach does three turns to the left and stays there. Daniela also reveals she is a Tip Trojan. The things people do for art. I wonder if she knows Larry. Maybe they have fought over the same piece of refuse. Still, it’s better than road rage, I guess.

We enter a well secured room beneath the house. ‘This is my work room’. Daniela leaves me pondering the precision storage and disappears into the next room; the laundry, I assume. I’m left to investigate. There are body parts here. A plaster cast of a torso in the third trimester, a back possibly, and arm or a head. I look for an escape route. There is some evidence of another adult, her husband perhaps. I hope he is still intact. There is nothing to indicate otherwise.

There is a call from the next room. ‘I really should dust these off occasionally’ and from behind a collection of boxes and tools, comes a piece of Daniela’s artwork. It’s unmistakably a dress. The bodice is constructed of knitted wire with a string of surgical scissors decorating the neckline. The skirt is made from narrow plastic tubes. There are tweezers around the waist and a variety of other surgical gear interwoven into this piece of magic. Maybe I am at Azkaban. ‘Don’t look too closely at the pictures in the tubes. They are bits of photographs from …..’ but it’s all too late. I recognize something from an old biology text I used to avoid during my study. Lunch is not tasting all that well a second time around. I hide my anguish behind my camera and shoot off a few frames. Maybe it will all look better in the morning. I doubt it.

So what brings Daniela to create such magnificent and elaborate pieces of art from someone else’s flotsam and jetsom and then bury them behind the washing machine. Her house is full of ‘other people’s’ art. Only a single item of her own work sits inconspicuously in the corner of the living room. Daniela brushes a cobweb from a dress made from, what appears to be, discarded packaging. ‘I really must dust it more often’ she repeats. Daniela reveals she would much prefer to fill her home with other people’s art and has no place for her own once it is finished. The enjoyment is, it seems, in the process, not the product.

Daniela had dabbled in most media. Painting (‘not my thing’, apparently), glass (‘it has possibilities’), an unfinished doll (‘you’re not taking a picture of that?’. Too late). There is some experimenting so that one day it can all come together. I’d like to see that. I don’t doubt Daniela’s capacity to bring it off.

Once again I find that mystifying link between the art and the artist is eluding me. The thread (excuse the pun) that Daniela exposes and is common with others is the relationship between family and art. I wonder if this is through necessity or purpose. Daniela hints at the need for more time to create her art and how the family influences that. Although she suggests that there are occasions when she might, in the eyes of some, take just a little too long to complete the creative process she is immensly grateful for their unfailing support during her emergence as an artist. And there is the need for approval, not only for the product but for the effort, especially from those close at hand. But families are like that. Gratitude, acceptance and praise doesn't necessarily need to be said to be heard.
 It’s a complex business; family and art. And because art is such a subjective thing with little or no apparent intrinsic value to the observer unless they ‘like’ it, it is hard to justify the time and effort. As if one needs to.

What I see in Daniela as with all of the artists to this point in the project is the pleasure they get from doing what they do. And why would we deny that of anyone?

I wish I could wear dresses. Then again ……..

Thanks Daniela.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


When men meet for the first time there is a tendency to search for common ground; some action or event that will allow conversation to flow easily. Men do not generally converse comfortably with each other until some feathers have been fluffed or some provocative stance has been demonstrated.

Larry and I had already found that ground. We launch into a more than superficial discussion on surfing. There is an immediate and comfortable familiarity that surfers demonstrate when they share their experiences. It’s as though surfing allows one to know that the other understands: about everything. I know of no other recreational activity that does that.

Larry has a strong hand shake and an equally strong presence. There is a polished ruggedness that might, at first, be misleading. For when he speaks, Larry demonstrates a more calm, relaxed and softer persona that puts me at ease. He is thoughtful about the questions and responds with an openness that is refreshing and informative. Occasionally he hesitates. He reveals later that he is challenged by the questions. I can also reveal that I am equally challenged by the answers.

He confesses that he is somewhat nervous about revealing himself and expressed some initial concern about the questioning. ‘It’s not something I’ve done before’, which I find strange an alluring from a man who paints. After all, isn’t painting about self-expression?
Larry talks about his paintings. They are mostly portraits, self-portraits, family portraits, a landscape he is unhappy with, a politically satirical piece, all stacked roughly against the wall as one might store garden tools. ‘This is my mother, and my son. That’s Felicity (his partner). That’s me. I do a lot of self-portraits’.

Larry’s portraits do need some defining. One would be hard pressed to see any family resemblance. But that’s not his point. ‘I paint emotions’ he confers. ‘Dark emotions mostly’. Fear and disappointment are cited. ‘It’s my release’. He’s not sure where the images come from. He describes his technique: spontaneous and rapid, working the colours as if he is waiting and watching for something to appear. When a barely recognizable image or form does reveal itself he quickly identifies it with a few strong strokes of the brush. I have seen other contemporary artists work this way but it’s usually after many years of practice. It is as if Larry, at fifty nine has rediscovered the primitive and unrestricted style of a child. As an adult he uses it to express and reveal a part of him that he may very well feel uncomfortable about expressing in any other way.

‘I think I know too much’ I hear him say. He’s looking elsewhere and I feel like an observer, watching him have a conversation with himself; possibly asking more than stating. ‘The more I paint the better I get but it seems to take me away from that’, and he points towards his completed works. I‘ve witnessed this before. The phenomenon is hard to avoid in forty years of teaching. Learning something new and being a bit nervous about the effect that new knowledge or skill will have on the way one does things can be scary. ‘Where to from here?’ I provocated, wanting him to see that it’s OK to be irresolute about the future. He talks with himself for a moment. ‘All I know is I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life’ he says with a degree of confidence and determination. He looks away and once again speaks more to himself than me. ‘It defines who I am’ and he reflects on the past when that may not have been within his own comprehension. And there lies the essence of what we do and why we do it.

Larry’s art is as much a part of him as his skin. It moves with him, it sags when he sags, he scratches when it itches, he worries a bit when it’s not quite right. ‘It’s not perfect’ he admits ‘but it’s me’. Just as it is necessary to talk with Larry to know him, it is useful to talk with him about his work. There is always a part of the story you may miss if you don’t, like not reading the caption on a cartoon.

As I leave number 87 I feel like a salesman who has been sold his own goods. I came here to find out about Larry and I find I know just a little more of myself. I know I’ll be back. I want to see what Larry does with his newly acquired skills. I want to see the completed canvas of Larry Owens.

Thanks Larry.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Linda Codgen

My old man used to say: 'cutting a tree down and making something splendid from the wood is improving on the tree'. He wasn't much of a conservationist but he was a fine craftsman and although the tree has long gone, someone is still enjoying the beauty of his furniture.

As I drive along the dusty, guttered road to Gunbalanya, my notice is drawn to the clusters of Pandanas that tangle themselves along the escarpment. They're not much of a tree; a grass really, a poorly designed mop, but there are people here who turn these scraggling, prickly, twisted figures into things of beauty, form and function.

Linda is one of those people. In this community, its hard to find any female over the age of five who isn't involved in some way in the process of weaving. This is an art form that has a history, a social context and a function.

It's history dates back further than I care to contemplate. Linda says he family have always weaved. And when she says family you had better believe it goes back quite away in this country. The social context revolves around the way the weaving is done.

The whole family is involved. Linda, her sisters, cousins and nieces collect the leaves from the pandanas in what I can only describe as a 'family outing'. The stripping and shredding of the leaves is carried out by anyone who can manage. I've had a go. I'm sticking to photography for good reason. Linda's 6 year old niece does it with ease and finesse.
The dieing involves everyone (and a buchetful of soaking roots). I am amazed at the colours produced from what all starts off as a brown sludge in a bucket; yellow, red, brown, green and purple. They contrast beautifully against the natural earthy softness of the undied threads. My recall of natural, plant based indicators from an almost forgotten chemistry lesson is as cloudy as the concoction in the bucket.
Linda is responsible for the weaving and design.

From a skein of pandanas straw neatly held in a calico bag comes the magic. It all seems to start with a nucleus of nothing; as though a single thought is the point from which the strands and threads will glide and turn into a mat, then a cup, a bowl, handles will appear out of know-where and finally a piece of art, or a bag to carry the shopping.
She hands me a finished product. A small, soft carry which seems too delicate for any utilitarian purpose. But this panadas is tough; like the country from which it grows. All that has gone; caressed away by hands carrying a thousand lifetimes of skill.
'Give this to Christine' she tells me, her smile reveals more than her pearly white teeth. Giving is what Linda does. You only need to see her with her family to know that. She returns to her weaving. My mother used to knit like that; you know, do it without looking. As a kid I was amazed. I'm a kid again and I'm delighting in my amazement.

I'm asking myself how closely linked craft and art and the utilitarian necessity of objects can be. The lines between each are blurred. For all the intensely intellectual conversation we can have about art and its purpose, Linda is expressing herself in the simplest and most profound way. Her art is not just an expression of herself but an expression of her family and community. And her ownership of that art is as fragile as the time it takes to give it to me to pass onto someone I love. You can't get better than that.
Thanks Linda.
And from Christine as well.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Natasha Willmett

A few flights of stairs is always in order, especially when I'm carrying a kit of cameras. It reminds me of how fit I used to think I was. I play my usual mind game and imagine what sort of person will answer the door. I'm growing accustomed to my disappointments

Natasha greets me warmly and ushers me in.  I'm immediately flooded with a wash of brilliant colours. Once again I sense a strong connection between the artists and her work. Natasha wears her art like a debutante's bouquet. The walls are covered with images that have the same impact as a spring garden on a sunny day and Natasha moves through her garden with ease. There seems only just enough space for the conventional shackles of modern life.

 I find myself being once again reminded of those days long ago when my old man would drag me through the galleries. I would stare in amazement at the paintings on the wall. 'How do they do that?', I would ask. 'It's comes from inside their head' he would reply and we would move on to a Streeton or a Bunny. 'Close your mouth before you swallow a fly' he would add.
I check now to see if my mouth is open.

I literally trip over her studio. The moral here is that if you are distracted at eye level you had better know what's at your feet. Natasha's studio is now at my feet. 'I like sitting on the floor when I work' she comments after noticing my look of surprise. A work in progress rests on an easel. Tubes of paint and brushes are neatly arranged at the perimeter of a blue tarpaulin. 'I decided not to tidy up' she adds. Natasha's perception of 'untidy' is obviously far from mine.

Natasha (she signs her work 'Tash') makes no bones about being at the 'beginnings' of her craft. She always knew she had a creative side, that was somehow denied her by others. Only recently have all the factors come together to fully express that creativity; accepting a challenge and working under pressure has been among those factors.

She's an experimenter, a simple and important ingredient in the creative process. There is a character that runs through all her work; strong, vibrant, colourful, in spite of her experimenting with style and subject. She is her own worst critic, which is not unusual for any artist, but she is not afraid to display her work to herself. There is some nervousness about displaying work to others, but the idea of a complete stranger having one of her paintings in their house pleases her. 'They'll pass my painting every day, see it, and enjoy it' she says and she looks off into a distant place; possibly where we all live sometimes.
I take a stab at her age and miss by a few years. I find age targets are difficult to define. We agree on what is appropriate and move on. The only thing I can divulge here is that out birthdays are 4 days apart. The distance between our birth dates will be revealed only under threat of death.

We discuss the seedy side of art: selling one's work. Natasha is somewhat apologetic about asking for money. 'When I'm famous or dead' is her response when I suggest a higher price for a canvas just sold. Yet she dreams of a time when she can paint for a living. 'Just a dream' she ponders and looks to that distant place again.

She reveals the presence of the 'artists eye', a peculiar developmental obsession that takes possesion of an emerging artist whereby they see everything around them in a new artistic light, where form and colour become part of what they see; where they start to take notice of the world. They see instead of just look. 'How do you transfer that image you 'see' to the canvas?' I ask. 'I start with colours and shapes. I don't always know what the end product will look like. I find commissions difficult because I'm expected to paint towards a final product.'
As I leave I make a mental note to come back in a year or so. I'm interested in seeing where Natasha will take her art. One thing is for sure; her art is firmly imbedded in her persona. You can guarentee that if you have one of Natasha's paintings hanging in your home, she will be no further away than a pleasant thought.

Thanks Natasha.