Hong Kong Basel Art Fair opening on Wednesday 22nd May was an event heralding a lot of great art. We felt so happy to have seen so much work that was worthy of a museum, even though a lot of the art is no longer contemporary. The fair seemed to create a historical context for art today.
One of the first exhibitions we saw, and this is contemporary, was Kara Walker’s black cutout silhouettes spread out over the walls. She is known to explore race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work and this series is no different. You have a sense of the comical when you first see it before it reveals its dark underbelly, unemotionally rendered.
A lovely exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery. The colours drew us in, rich and earthy, the masters of India, most of them dead. Ganesh Pyne, his skeletal figure under a pyre in the moonlight, a feeling of alienation and mystery. Anjolie Ela Menon, her female figure in a brown world almost European medieval and mythical. Tyeb Mehta, a colorist, could be a cross influence of Matisse and Picasso. Jogen Chowdhury, his pen and ink and pastel drawing, intricately incised and veined, his reclining woman, tensely twisted on her coverlet.
Motherwell would have to be one our favourite artists. It is interesting that as an artist he was very influenced by his early studies of philosophy leaving him with the idea that abstraction was the process of pairing away all that was not essential and revealing only the necessary. Abstraction became his spiritual direction in his art and also in his own words, ”to end up with a canvas that is no less beautiful than the empty canvas to begin with.” ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Brush Elegy’ in the Bernard Jacobson Gallery booth, were two beautiful works, essential and with the artist’s complete integrity – he never succumbed to fame and potboiling. He was one of the lucky ones of the abstract expressionists who didn’t die young and in despair, and actually received the acclaim he deserved.
Atlas Gallery exhibited photography. Two iconic photos of elephants by Nick Brandt totally mesmerised us, making us believe heart and soul that we were right there before them. ‘Elephant Drinking, Amboseli’ was like a Lucien Freud portrait, only incredibly beautiful, all its deeply gouged weathered hide rising from the earth like an ancient tree. There is a feeling of the personality in the animal, and you have the feeling you are seeing something you will never tire from, it is the true expression of life. Research on Nick Brandt shows his love and idealism for the wilds of Africa. He goes out with a simple Pentax camera and gets really close to the animals so that he has their true story, not one taken from a long distance away through a zoom. This is probably why you ‘feel’ so close to the animal before you. Absolutely beautiful. He writes about some of the methods he uses in his book ‘On This Earth’: “I’m not interested in creating work that is simply documentary or filled with action and drama, which has been the norm in the photography of animals in the wild. What I am interested in is showing the animals simply in the state of Being. In the state of Being before they are no longer are. Before, in the wild at least, they cease to exist. This world is under terrible threat, all of it caused by us. To me, every creature, human or nonhuman, has an equal right to live, and this feeling, this belief that every animal and I are equal, affects me every time I frame an animal in my camera. The photos are my elegy to these beautiful creatures, to this wrenchingly beautiful world that is steadily, tragically vanishing before our eyes.”
Italian neo-expressionist, Mimmo Palladino, has several of his great works in the booth for Galleria d’Arte Maggiore. Lovely evocative works, rich in colour and texture, of figures imbued with symbology, religious and spiritual.
Lots and lots of ‘art’ leaves you exhausted but great art truly energizes you. I have to say that when we were walking out of the fair I felt ebullient with the works that stayed with me. I am truly grateful that there are artists ‘out there’ being true and real to their inner story – they are life givers and life reminders, and this is what great cultures are built on.
This is Art week in Hong Kong. It is huge and it is really wonderful. There is so much good art out there and I am happy to say, the La Rondine exhibition stands up to all of it, albeit a small show, in the confines of Gallery ZZHK in Wa Lane.
Monday night rocked off with a great exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Shi Jindian in Hollywood Rd at Angela Li Contemporary Gallery. Shi Jindian is a lovely shy artist whose work probably reflects well his introverted nature. With exquisite attention to detail he twists stainless steel wire around bicycles and a motor bike, before extracting them and leaving their outer wire shape. Hanging on the wall is the remnants of an old door that he wired up and then burnt, the remains of charcoal trapped in the outer wire frame. While I appreciated the work and craftsmanship of his sculptures, I was probably more taken with his paintings that were similar to his wire work through painstakingly etched biro into paint revealing beautiful abstract forms. The works were subtle and haunting.
Tuesday night held the openings of the big galleries, the Gagosian, White Cube, Ben Brown, Hanart, and Pearl Lam. We loved the Basquiat exhibition at Gagosian. How lucky are we to see it. There were huge crowds making their way up to the seventh floor exhibition in Pedder Building, but there was no alcohol so people didn’t stay to hang in their groups talking with their backs to the artwork and therefore obscuring the vision. A clever move, because truly this was worth seeing. Basquiat is such an explorative artist. The passion and volatility of his work, scratched and scribbled and stuck and slapped on any debris or available matter, made the work excitingly free, connected to the moment, unconcerned with outcome and anyone’s opinion. Sad he died, a bit of a Jimmy Hendrix, lost in the alienation of drugs and fame, yet so much more to give – or does everything become a rehash – how many artists can re-invent themselves, once they’ve ‘made it’.
Ben Brown had two artists showing. Sculptural landscapes by Swiss artist, Vital, and portraits by Frank Auerbach. It was a good show. The sculptural landscapes are marble images found in China. We often see these little marble images in the antique markets, as this is a recognized Chinese art form, the appreciation of a found piece of marble or stone that reflects the landscape. They are like beautiful little pen and ink washes and Vital mounted his finds on the wall in strong plaster sculpted reliefs. The Frank Auerbach portraits are great. They are rich in texture and honesty, and he is an artist who deserves to be recognized for his unrelenting dedication to his art and love for the human condition. The paint is tough and dirty and the portraits are essential rather than revealing.
We also went to Hanart on the 4th Level of Pedder Building and saw the installation paintings by Qiu Zhijie. They were a lovely exploration of Chinese landscape manifested in a contemporary context along with maps, historical and geographical.
I am afraid we didn’t get off much on Pearl Lam’s exhibition of ‘The Reality of Paint’ by Zhu Jinshi. Big slabs of thick textural colour paint on canvas. It felt contrived and without love for itself. hmmm. But it is a beautiful space and we have seen some great shows here.
In the meantime, we are sitting in our exhibition and we meet a spaniard who collects African art and Chinese ceramics. A quietly passionate man, after an hour perusing our work, proclaimed our exhibition as the best he had seen in HK. He said with sincerity that we were all ‘real’ artists not concerned with gimickry and slickness, but all of us were truly expressing our truths and he felt deeply moved by the show. He thanked us for giving so much. Lovely!! I wonder sometimes why any artist who chooses such a hard road in life would compromise their work to be ‘untrue’, to be fashionable, to care what anyone thinks, when what the world truly values is the artist’s freedom to create – and they pay a lot for it as seen in the Basel Art Fair in HK this year….
I am sitting in the corner looking over a beautiful exhibition of art work by the La Rondine artists in ZZHK Gallery in Hong Kong. We have secured this lovely space over an incredibly busy period in the art month of Hong Kong. Art Basel is next week and so are a number of subsidiary art fairs, all vying for attention, to say nothing of the many galleries, all with their openings every night of the week and even mornings of next week.
Our openings, (we had two, one was a special collector’s evening and the other was an open celebration), were in the lull before the storm. How lucky are we to have had such great attendance. Sandra Walters, art consultant and art dealer, hosted the collectors evening on Monday night. We were sponsored by Absolut vodka so Marc Danays, a master mixologist and partner to one of our artists, Sarah Danays, created the beautiful La Rondine cocktail, using vodka, lychee liqueur, curacao, guava juice, lemon juice and basil – yummo, it was much appreciated on a very warm evening.
As my eye roves the gallery space, I pick up on a powerful photograph by Jacob Cartwright, of a blue naked woman bowed under the chains of industry. Jacob’s technique is really interesting, using photography without computer manipulation, he takes photographs of environments, in this case, HK, and projects them onto his model, then photographs her under special lighting and the projection. The effect is an abstraction of form that creates his emotional connection to life without the seeming objectivity of photography. Jacob lives on the side of a sunny hill in Tuscany, overlooking the plains of Lucca. He tends an olive grove and imports its oil, one of the finest in the world, to America. He was born and bred in the arts and was a gifted child in music. Today he is a composer and photographer. His photography is a visual reflection of his lyrical soul. The story of his four photographs represent the earth mother. The mother reflecting life upon herself, as in ‘Flower’, where she rises like an innocent child from a garden, herself the garden. ‘Chained in Blue’ is industry, ‘Construct’ is the city, ‘Tape’ is man’s creativity. Much of Jacob’s work is about life reflecting on its essence. He loves the reflection.
Interspersed throughout the room are the small photographic portraits of people, many now gone from life, from the village of Montefegatesi. Candido Martinelli is an Italian New Yorker. He lives now, back in his beloved Tuscany, high in the mountains in a picturesque village that was witness to ancient battles between the Ligurians and Romans, and earlier still to the passage of Hannibal and his elephants… The stories in these tiny village top mountains abound and the early days of Candido, were the war years. He was shot through the leg as a young child by German SS hunting down the partisans in his village, Montefegatesi. The people he grew up with in these years are the people in these photographs, scarred and beaten and toughened, like the wild unpredictable mountains they inhabit. Candido’s photographic love is portraiture. He loves the stories of human beings and with great tenderness he expresses this in these works.
Kevan Halson is a meticulous man. Everything he does is with particular attention to detail and knowledge. He lives in an ancient villa in a little village, Granaiola, in the Tuscan Appenine mountains, overlooking Bagni di Lucca, with stupendous views of valleys and rivers and multitudinous layers of mountains on mountains. Despite the grandness of his vistas, he focuses on the intricate details of life and it is perhaps this insight that has inspired his ‘Atrophy’ series. In this area of great natural and manmade beauty, there is a sense of atrophy as the life cycle of the area depletes itself. The young people have left for the cities and the old people have died, leaving behind their old homes that slowly decay as the weather gets in and the floors rot away and the voracious forests eat away the walls. Kevan captures the decay of life with beauty and acceptance. It is simply the phase before new life.
Sarah Danays, mystical and beautiful, her photograph of her created sculpture and installation, is set in a box that makes the image feel like it is floating in the night. A lot of her work comes from specially found objects and antiquities that she amalgamates with her gentle carvings of limbs in alabaster. Her story of ‘The diviner’ has significance as it was created for a beloved friend and fellow artist who died. The sacred Taoist mid-nineteenth century Chinese divination rod was joined into a carved alabaster hand. “I chose to use it, with its dragon head and Yin and Yang symbol, as protection for Mei’s spirit.” The guest photographer for this sculpture is Sinisha Nisevic – a famous fashion photographer. He was personally invited by Donatella Versace to be her Director of Photography in Milan, and has worked for everyone from Prada to Gucci, to Dior…
On a low table beneath ‘Flower’ by Jacob Cartwright, are two abstract organic forms in marble and alabaster, sculptures, by Sollai Cartwright. ‘Snow’ and ‘Twirl’. People have loved them, coming regularly to touch and fondle them, also his ‘Black Bird’ sold to his best collector. Sollai is a young and impassioned carver who lives spasmodically in Tuscany, renting studios in Pietrasanta and sometimes working on the hillside of his friend, Kevan Halson’s land. Currently he is carving black marble imported from Italy on the land of one of his collector’s in Byron Bay, northern New South Wales. “I am an artist because I believe it is the purest form of evolution and, gifted with an eye for beauty, I feel it is my responsibility and my greatest joy to bring new visions of beauty to the universe…..I carve stone because I am a man of the earth. Marble resonates with my soul and I feel that while I carve, I am giving new life to the soul within the stone….” Lovely! We have a beautiful new artist on the earth giving art back to its people.
I have known Michael’s work for many years and always I am challenged with the language of his work and always I am delighted, though my understanding can sometimes take years in formation. Michael Cartwright’s creativity is spontaneous and draws inspiration from his free interpretation of life, he is free without compromise, and it is this freedom that is ultimately human though sometimes forgotten in the rules we place around ourselves. From freedom comes the Bird form. Michael loves the story and his work can be ‘read’ and it is perhaps the bird in his work, for there are many, that reflects the state his spirit is in. Some birds he has created have lain down, ‘Reclining bird’, and seem to have come from a period when he had to rest and wait. He likes contrast with his work, so you will often find the tough and the tender within the same work. Sometimes it is expressed through texture, soft and smooth and rough and lumpy. Sometimes it is through organized, beautifully finished forms and their adhoc arrangement, irreverent of proportion. This exhibition with his work has several beautiful bird forms, ‘Reclining Bird’, Portrait of a Bird’ and ‘Nest’. He also has a large night painting of ‘Whale’ and the ‘Net’, a little gold leaf on bronze sculpture from his fishing series and the woodcut print of the ‘Fish Trap’. Definitely a nature boy!
Finally there is me! I have loved putting together this series of work from the last 20 years of my ‘Woman’ series. The ‘Woman’ series slips in and out of my creative life as I seem to go through life’s different lessons and gifts. I associate the ‘Woman’ with life’s abundance and power, its cycles, its source of creativity. I have a couple of pieces that have just been cast that I am so happy to have in the show. ‘Dance’ and ‘Woman Form’. I love seeing them in bronze, they are finished! They have been in my studio for a couple of years now, adding to the influences of my latest work. I also had two of the three sculptures I created at the CIS Artist Residency this year in the show. They are in plaster, painted to resemble bronze and they will be cast when we get back to Italy. I love the strength of one and the joy in the other. What a great period of creativity and endeavour this has been. In the meantime, Italy is calling. It is late Spring and I can only imagine the untainted blue skies and swooping swallows in all that delicious new bright green…..And a whole season of new exhibitions on at our La Rondine Gallery in Bagni di Lucca…..
Here we are in Hong Kong again. We are up on the fourth floor in our little space in Hollywood Rd with the sounds of buses roaring by and children squealing in the gardens below, water always drip drip dripping from some overflowing pipe in the courtyard. A quiet moment actually, to reflect, as there is nothing to do just now.
So beautiful this life, touching the lives of people everywhere, led to where our work takes us. I guess that is true for most people considering work is such a big part of living. I love it though. Mike and I are naturally restless, so when an opportunity arises through our work, we take it, blown into the wind, unsure of where it will drop us. It always worried our poor parents because it seemed to them that we took life on like gamblers, risking everything for the dream; selling houses we had bought just to have an exhibition – its profits would pay for all the bronze founding that had to be done each time. When Jacob got into his school in Michigan we sold everything up, every possession we had to be near him, we got as far as Ireland, but it seemed only a hop and a jump compared to being back in Australia. Michigan didn’t suit him and soon we would be back together again, taking stock and then residing for months in the south of France, creating new work from all that bountiful colour that filled our souls to the brim. When we returned to Australia from that particular trip, we had nothing but four suitcases of clothes and more dreams and somehow we emerged from the dust again and built a beautiful glass house in the hills of central Victoria, a part of nature and the elements. But truly, the most wonderful dream has been Italy. How lucky are we to have been able to do it. It has settled us too, because I think it is here that our hearts lie, here and southern France, we never could agree, but both are kindred spirits.
As I am sitting here I am remembering our last glimpse of the Tuscan hills as we departed for the airport. Mists roiling in the valleys wrapping themselves around little hilltop villages, ethereally capturing renaissance cameos of bell towers and craggy pines. A far cry from China, one day later, in the back blocks of Pudong where we are casting some work at a foundry. Grey and tough, an almost colourless world, and yet the people are so lovely, so sweet and generous. China has really changed, especially in these big cities. The wealth is really apparent now, and you do not get the bargains you would expect, for instance the prices of foundry work is very similar to Italy and I know where I would prefer to be. A few days later we are in the south, checking out an art residency for next year at a university in Xiamen. More beautiful generous people and a leafy lovely city by the sea that we will enjoy staying in for a little while.
Now we are back in Hong Kong after setting up the Guardians in their new home in Australia and we suffer squiggles of excitement as we reach into the very near future and place ourselves by the kitchen fire in Pieve after we have walked miles in the cold wintry air, collecting pinecones and chestnuts from the forest floor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Wow! Time is racing away. The weather is warm and muggy and gone are the days when chilly winds raced through our studios and Mike would tie down his paintings so they wouldn’t be blown around. He would seek refuge in my space which is more closed off to the weather. The studios are located in temporary spots arranged for us while we are here, one near an open air stairwell and the other in an alcove accessing a lift well and maintenance rooms. Now Mike’s studio is gorgeous with the airflow and I am the one to take a breather there.
Its been a huge two months already. Mike has almost finished his mosaic for the school. It is 2 metres x 2.4 metres and represents one of the philosophies of the school as written in poetry by Professor Yip, a director of the Foundation for the school. “As we gaze at the enormous sky, we are enchanted by the immensity of Space, and we realize the fragility of human beings. This awareness humbles us to become thankful for everything.” I think the Chinese of this interpretation would be more exquisite, but still, we love the initiative the school has taken to really living and being aware of the Whole around them. China is so vast and the population, massive. It seems timely as they emerge into the 21st century that education in China is starting to take measures to express human awareness and collaboration, rather than its expendability and isolation against the whole.
I have completed a series of sculptures during my time here, influenced by our time in Thailand drawing the delicate beach flotsam I found each day on our explorations. Also, the Yew Chung Foundation asked me to create a sculpture based on my ‘Harvest’ series to represent another of its philosophies from the poetry of Professor Yip; “We touch the earth with our hands and appreciate Nature with our hearts”. The school will place two of the bronze editions at the Yew Chung international schools in Beijing and Hong Kong for its collection and the remainder of the 8 editions, I have donated to the Foundation’s ‘Seeds of Hope’ program to raise money to build schools for the underprivileged in China. Extraordinarily, the sale of the 6 editions is enough to build a school, so it feels like a wonderful opportunity if the school is able to take advantage of its extensive network and fund raising events to sell the works.
We’ve been in Hong Kong a month already. Everyday walking with thousands of people, stepping into the continuous stream of people walking the subways, onto trains, up escalators, down escalators, onto minibuses, endless endless people, keeping rhythmic pace, shoulder to shoulder. We have never done that before, been part of the workforce, everyday. We resisted for ages, trying to find a time with less people in transit, but it seems the work day starts and ends at any hour of the day, or does leisure just merge into work, whatever, the system is chokkers all the time and it is seamless and perfect and continuously in flow.
The school has been great. Yew Chung Secondary school in Kowloon Tong. Its leaders are visionary and poetic in their endeavors to find their mission in Education and somehow we have slipped into a system that we never thought would fit us. But here we are everyday doing our art work, undistracted by life, as the only thing to do when coming into the school is to do our art. We each have a project of an artwork to beautify the school and to allow the older students to come and talk with us if they want to learn something from us or to advise them on their art. Michael is starting a large mural in mosaic and I have started a ‘Harvest’ sculpture to be cast in bronze. We also will do a lecture in a couple of weeks to interested students and parents on the inspiration of art in life. It sounds wonderful and is wonderful, yet every night, after a full day of intense concentration, of doing our artwork and being part of the huge energy of Hong Kong, finds us almost pathetically bleating and limp with exhaustion. We love it.
We are staying out in Sai Kung in the New Territories. We were a little sorrowful at first, wanting to live in the mad mayhem of Mongkok or Kowloon or Jordon to get the true feel of Hong Kong, but now we are grateful for the space and to be in nature. We are on the sea with its myriad of little hilly islands and sampans and fishing boats. Sai Kung itself has a colourful waterfront, well touristed, with lots of fish restaurants featuring their catches in the big water tanks, awful really, (we are seriously vegetarian now), those poor old gropers, some of them 60 years or more old, stuck in tanks a little more than the size of their giant bodies waiting for the end to their misery. Last Saturday, we meandered through the old streets out the back of Sai Kung and found a bounty of interesting little hardware shops and massage places and small eateries that satisfied our yen for local life. The waterfront was packed
with local people too, buying fish directly from the fishermen in the boats below the pier, and on the promenade, people with their weird dogs decorated in ridiculous tutus and strange hairdos were being showcased with all their pretty little tricks for an avid audience. We have yet to discover the lovely beaches here and the great walks up into the hills surrounding the town and the boat trips out to the islands. So far, we have been busy! Hong Kong is very, very busy! We are always doing something, meeting someone for lunch or dinner or an exhibition opening. And everyone we have met is open and giving. No one is threatened by the newcomer, everyone wants your name and your card in case you are the opportunity they are looking for. Its an amazing place. It feels like the place of new beginnings, where everything is a possibility and anything can happen.
Every now and again, word comes to us from our friends in Bagni di Lucca that the whispers of spring are bringing glorious days and new growth and our hearts yearn for the colour and the richness of texture and age and art and eternal glorious vistas. We miss it enormously sometimes, but how lucky are we to have such a life, to be here in all this abundant energy and yet to also have Italy, and to come from Australia, the epitome of freedom. We have it all.