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.