Archive for May, 2011

Arriving at Castlemaine railway station

We are back in Australia to see our families.  Arrival this time was spectacular, water in the dams and the grass green, an enormous blessing after so many years of drought and devastation.  The wonderful thing about arriving back here is the sky.  An enormous luminous sky that spans your vision two thirds, the earth low and old and gentle beneath it.  When I look at an Australian sky I am reminded of my freedom, that there is nothing much here to hold me down, force me to comply.  That to me is the Australian spirit, not caught in traditions or the ways you have to do things.  Strange that over recent years, Australian laws have become more and more stringent with cameras everywhere monitoring everything we do, the Australian world becoming safer and safer and less and less expressive.  But the spirit of freedom let Michael and I go from here and so we went to Italy where, had we been born there, we would not have valued the gifts of that country.  In Italy there is great concession to be human and it is not rigid and it is chaotic and our creativity flies here even though the sky is not so big.

Mum in the kitchen (Pat Nunan)

Lovely to see my Mum and Dad.  They truly express the old Australian spirit and I love it when I see them. Eccentric but enormously practical, inventive and intent on a wonderful life incorporating adventure, family and a spiritual connection to the earth.  We talked to them this time about starting a blog, sharing their adventures and tales from their youthful perspective.   Mum has always been the mainstay of our family, strong, solid, an iron grip holding us all together in really tough times when we were little.  Today she runs a big old house in country Victoria with a little weekend rental cottage, Rembrandt’s Retreat.  She cooks and sews and has lessons in Italian, plays tennis and dances every weekend, interspersed between trips into the outback to catch up with Dad on one of his many sabbaticals into the desert. I have never once thought of her as an old lady.  She feels just like she always did, my very capable Mum.

Dad painting (Brian Nunan)

Dad is our dreamer, an artist filling his life with his dreaming.  He has a great gallery of his work next to his studio, an old house that at one time had been a school, from here he meets wonderful people who pop up to see his latest works and to listen to one of his many tales of the desert over the eternal cup of tea.  Every year he takes off into the desert in his little four wheel drive and an old trailer with a single mattress and pop up canopy, simple and non fuss, he leaves his material world behind.  For him, to touch the earth again and look up into the great starry sky, the boabs stark in the light of  the moon, is the point of departure for his connection with the aboriginal spirit of the land.

When we were children, I was the eldest of four and 10 at the time, Dad gave up teaching for good to take on life as an artist.  The dividing point was a trip up to Darwin where we lived for a year in a deserted army concrete block house, across the bay from Darwin and near a small resort called Mandora and an aboriginal settlement called Delisaville.  To buy our groceries we would take the ferry from Mandora for the day to the city.  We did correspondence lessons under Mum’s tutelage and Dad spent his days at the resort painting portraits of tourists and taking commissions for his paintings.  My memories were powerful from this period and have affected lots of my life.  We were very close to nature and I associate the time with freedom and joy with all the cacophony of colour and animal intense experiences enriching my own new intense emotional world of a little girl growing up.

Dad's gallery of his paintings with one of Mike's old sculptures
Dad's gallery of his paintings with some of Shona's old sculptures
Mum's fruit cake ready to go into the oven

Recipe to come,……….. perhaps

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Guangzhou Foundry

It has been quite a challenge finding all our art materials while we have been here at the Yew Chung School.  The first two weeks of the residency were spent tromping the streets of Mongkok and Wanchai in diabolical human traffic, feeling flayed alive at the end of every day, too tired to cook and too tired to sleep.  But the wonderful thing about Hong Kong, is that if you are looking for tools, you will find street after street of tools and hardwares and if you are looking for art supplies, tiles, wood, marble, they too, are located in the same area, so once you find the street you then don’t have to go half way across town to find the competition.

Chasing the bronze

Recently we have been looking for foundries in Guangzhou to cast the ‘Harvest’ series sculpture for the school.  This time we had the school source the foundries from recommendations through some of our artist contacts and all we had to do was go to Guangzhou with a local interpreter and make an inspection to choose.  Mostly, the foundries cast in brass, (they call it yellow bronze), and the ‘green’ bronze, they make themselves so is a little unpredictable.  Nevertheless they are really experienced and do some massive artworks.  The foundry we chose is huge, professional, highly organized and very clean.  They cast a huge bronze sculpture of Bruce Lee by Cao Chong’en, 18 metres high for China.  A smaller version of about 2.7 metres went to Hong Kong.  We are definitely small fry here.

Clean as a whistle
Preparing for casting

On our second trip over, after much negotiation on price, which is still continuing even after they have started the mold making, we hand carried my very fragile, delicate sculpture in tons of bubble wrap and bamboo sticks to keep the sculpture rigid, through the chaotic train stations, in and out of taxis, and millions of helping, well meaning hands, to the foundry.  There we started the careful procedure of peeling and cutting through the layers of tape and plastic and attempting to control the eager help from the taxi driver, (who was very practical) and the foundry owner, (who couldn’t understand our fuss).  We had a few small breaks in the plaster, easily fixable, which was amazing after such a journey.

Patination of the bronze (or brass)

Guangzhou is a devastating place.  It is bleak.  So grey.  It kills our artist souls.  Of course we have seen very little other than the taxi ride through the city and into the back blocks of the industrial areas, but this is really tough and you pass endless enterprises on the great highways selling massive empty sculptures of flying horses and giraffes and gladiators, but also anything else you can think of.  Over it all is the dull leaden sky bruised by pollution, the trapped heat pulsating in a concrete desert below.  The train station is bedlam and this time on our return home, there are no tickets back to Hong Kong.  It is the time of the Guangzhou Trade Fair.  Millions of people everywhere and even a hotel for the night, not a hopeful prospect.  Our guide who had kindly stayed longer than he was paid for, gave us the helpful advice to take the local train to Shenzen, walk over the border and take the MTR home.  This we did, first crammed in a giant hall in the Guangzhou station with thousands of others trying to get back to HK, thirsty, sweaty, waiting for our train call from the trains ten minutes apart, at each call, a huge surge exploding through the gates as they opened.  Scary stuff.  After a long trip home standing face to face in the carriage on hot swollen legs, home and bed was a wonderful place that very late night.

Monumental castings

We are at the end of our stay, now, in Hong Kong and it is easier to move about as we know more. But perhaps it is knowing more that makes us reluctant to go out again into the mayhem to select the marble that needs to be selected, or the tiles, or the new tube of paint.  Even making the crossing to Hong Kong Island, makes us stop for a second as we realize the consequences, the sheer exhaustion at the end of a day, all that human being confrontation and stomping along for miles underground on hard surfaces.   It is perhaps what keeps the Kowloon side so separate to the Hong Kong island side – rarely the twain do meet.  We understand…

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