Posts Tagged ‘artist’

Shona writing her blog outside on the balcony of her hut

We left Australia two days ago.  Today we are sitting on the verandah of a little bamboo hut, wind sifting through the leaves of the giant banyan tree in whose elegant web of roots we nestle.  The waves are lapping insistently on the sand and children are running and laughing, in the distance some awful tune is playing from gigantic speakers at a local children’s fun sports day on the beach.  We are on Koh Pu, an island off southern Thailand, staying at Luboa Hut for one precious week.

In the roots of the Banyan tree

Australia is huge.  We had the good fortune to take a day flight whose path took us over the Simpson desert and Cooper Pedy, Uluru and the Olgas and on through to Derby before the red earth bled into the turquoise waters of the Timor Sea.  Peering down onto this great lonely desert we were reminded of aboriginal paintings, paintings like maps defining water holes and stretches of land in varying red and ochre, of the great salt lakes, their white fat fingers stretching greedily, around them circles of ghostly white rising, of the lines of rivers dotted with trees and their tributaries and distributaries fanning in and out, full of water and glistening in the sun, life veins in this country now in wet season.

Hills of Durham, Rover Country by Rover Thomas (Art Gallery, NSW)

Rover Thomas in the dust under a boab tree in the Kimberlies.  I have an image of him there in his own quiet, earthy space, painting his land, a little away from the rest of the community, but part of them all nonetheless, every so often getting up to go walk-about, feeling the land, being the land, honouring the waterholes and their great spirits, throwing a stone in the water when he arrives to let them know he had arrived and washing his hands when he leaves so not to take their spirits with him.  His paintings, the land, beautiful empty canvases of burnt siena and ochre, defined and pure, is-ness, being.

Ngarin Janu Country by Rover Thomas (Art Gallery NSW)

Artists need to be a little separate from their communities.  They need to stand outside and look in, perceiving the inner-ness of their people, breaking the ground that needs to be broken, not for fashion’s sake, but because things are old and stale and life needs to be looked at anew.  The artist as a commodity.  These are todays trends.  Artists engaged in making themselves a public entity, marketing and selling out.  Feeding the galleries and the public what they want.  Their spiritual role broken.  They could be designers in any field where once they stood alone, a store house of ideas for all the design fields, now just a celebrity, a fashion icon, here and gone in a minute, no longer timeless.

The dilemma of the artist.  Here we are, on this little island in the Andaman Sea, a space between lives, a space to think about ourselves and our work.  Nothing to do for a week.  We walk on the sand and swim in the sea, all day.  We wonder at the emptiness of our thoughts.  Nothing to complain about but a hard bed.  We wake in the morning a bit cricked.  But then we eat a luscious breakfast reclining on pillows at a low table and then we walk along the sandy bay dipping in the water and lying in the hot sand and walking and dipping in again.  Any attempt at serious talk leaves the other looking dazed.  Maybe it just has to be till we have emptied out the old and ready soon for the new.

Koh Pu
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Peter and Margaret in the studio

Melbourne has become such a hip city.  It makes one of the best coffees in the world.  It has great social areas, tons of cool cafes, fantastic restaurants with really on the edge cuisine, music everywhere, lots of city squares and nature throughout, in the grand old parklands.  It has its share of violence on the street and heaps of frustrated road rage, but even so, I can understand why they call it one of the most livable cities in the world.

Shelley beach

We visited only briefly this time.  Here to see Pete and Marg, Mike’s parents living on the bay in peaceful Blackrock.  Pete has been unwell with leukaemia and now his old polio aliments have caught up with him, slowing him down, which seems amazing when one remembers his inexhaustible energy and devil may care approach to life. He is a painter and can spend, even now, six hours of uninterrupted time in his other world, disappearing in reflections of water on sand, or the grey greens of the Australian bushland against clear blue skies.  He is highly influenced by the Impressionists and his small delicate seascapes accomplished by the hugest hands, have always been in high demand.  When Mike was a young boy in his teens, home, sick for months with glandular fever, his father plonked him in his studio and taught him colour and play on canvas, as well as introducing him to Utrillo and Monet.  For Michael who had had no art in his secondary school, a passion was ignited that never abated.  Before long, Peter had emptied his garage to make a studio for his son.  It was this support alongside Pete’s irrepressible hunger for life and all its adventures that Mike has taken with him on his life with me.

Shelley beach

Mike’s mum is a very pretty woman, elegant and small featured, she is dainty next to the long rangy length of her husband.  Together they modelled for years, supplementing their income, and we often saw their huge faces beaming down at us on freeways or from posters in banks.  Marg is one of those provocative people who love to instigate an argument and often the Cartwright house is filled with impassioned heated debate on anything.  It is one thing about the Cartwright’s that I love, that I have learnt to love, they are irreverent to any held Idea.  They will always look at the common sense of a thought, or the grander ideal, they will always try to make mountains move and they will never be with the common denominator of people if they don’t agree. Mike and I laugh and we say, just like doing art for art’s sake, the Cartwrights will argue for argument’s sake.

Shelley Beach

Australia is a really different place to the rest of the world.  A spade is really a spade.  I like that about Aussies.  We have just met one here in Beijing, the principal of Beijing Yew Chung School.  A thoughtful character who thinks outside of the box, but who also calls it as it is.  There is no hierarchy in Australia, you earn your respect and you don’t get it because you went to the right school.  I guess that is the essence that Pete and Marg epitomise.  The Australian lack of apology for being here and the ability to make anything happen.

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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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Life is a cool thing. Its funny, not everything is meant to be known to you as you go about life’s lessons, maybe if they were, we would be too cerebral about learning, maybe you have to take things in through the osmosis of the emotions, the brain, the body, so that you really know and evolve fully.

The last year has been a truly great year for me in my studio. It has been a bit like a year off to totally indulge in myself as an artist. No exhibitions to look forward to, no projects (promises, but nothing on the table), just me everyday in my studio pushing my boundaries. This year Mike got the projects and at the beginning of the year, he gave me a hug and said, go for it Shona, this year is mine for projects, get into your studio and stretch yourself. So I did what I have never really done before, consciously sought the inspiration that spoke to me most. I dug out books and photos of Cycladic art, visited museums and allowed the work to directly affect me, working directly in the style of its art forms. The work is very simple and plain, oddly proportioned and broad open surfaces. I love these works because they are deeply spiritual and related to the deepest emotions of human beings, the desires for longevity, fertility, protection, abundance. Cycladic works in their utter simplicity, speak to the spirit of mankind through the essence of the art form, not distracted by the beauty of physical reality, not clever or cerebral, but rustic, always speaking to the unformed world of the soul. This work has always attracted me, but I did not know why, until I allowed myself the time to work in it. At first my whole attention was not to copy, but to be influenced by it so that I could reinvent the work. But you can’t do this work in an objective way. It is not form for form’s sake. You have to partake and my woman vessel forms, became not just beautiful forms, but forms that embody abundance, fertility, the cycle of life. They carry the true wisdom of life. And my sculptures are heavily reflective of the Cycladic works, not reinvented at all, because they didn’t need to be, it was more important for me to be true to the spirit in the works, invest them with the essence of life’s desires.

This period of my work has made me understand more fully, what I am searching for in art and it’s why I have also always been attracted to Etruscan art, and some African art. It’s seeking the essence and embodying it in form. I have always been able to see very well, and it is a distraction, as the human form is beautiful, and it constantly calls me back to itself, the unconscious regard for proportion and visual beauty always wanting to take over from the essence of the work. When you look at early Etruscan art, you get work that has complete disregard for proportion, sometimes a deliberate decision to make the body very long, the arms and legs very short and the head a square, even the surfaces are uneven and roughly hewn, but it is a devotional piece, so the work is not about human beauty but about human essence. The work can be really austere, but the work haunts you, disturbing you and attracting you. You need that in art because it is not satisfactory to be beautiful alone, or to play a clever mind trick with you, or tell you a story. You need the recognition of yourself as a spiritual being.

Throughout history there have been the great masters who bring their art alive and somehow embody the spirit, the physical and the mind into a whole. That, for me is the ultimate in art; to capture it all without rules, to maintain the freedom of the artist to create, but to give it all to us, so that we resonate with the whole truth.

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Overhead, on the verandah, Sollai is cementing the patch work of canals made for recent wires and plumbing, cheerful and gung ho, cement is flying from his flailing spatula. The garden is water ridden and the river is swollen and brown, but today the sun is shining and we pull the geraniums back out onto the walls – they had become so water logged we thought they’d drown. Glorious to see the swallows swoop and glide over the river, gobbling insects in the fresh glowing light.

Michael is standing back absorbing the triptych he has just completed for Morgon Stanley in Hong Kong. Its beautiful. A river scene. The bank full and pulsating with wildflowers and lush green herbs. The river gushing past, and on the canvas it looks fast, the colours almost tripping over themselves, glinting and dashing with that special light at sunset. The energy of the paint is fantastic and you feel part of early summer and its bountiful delights. He’s a mad man in the studio. How can he work so fast? At the end of every session he’s exhausted but emerges victorious, eyes shining, and then dumps on the couch and naps as quickly and intensely as he works. He says he doesn’t think about it – just does – complete trust.

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