Tuesday, 25 June 2013

One of My Best creations

It is 2 years since I moved into the house that I now live in. My husband and I have renovated 4 other houses over many years and seen nearly all the mistakes that can be made, and the money that can be drained into making dreams based on chasing desires dictated by clever marketing.
This house is different. It was a house planned for an unpredictable future while at the same time trying to make the most of everything that was available to it. We combined all of the aspects of our lives together that we have most cherished, and incorporated them with scientific data about future climate as best we could envisage, to make something that is uniquely us. We trimmed and compromised our wishes, and while the building work went on with all its hassles I dreamed of the places I would sit and wonder in the garden.

It was at worst a terrifying experience, after the initial euphoria of committing to it and there were many dark moments when our control of the project was in the hands of a Dr Jekyll builder, who at times broke our hearts with his callous and shoddy interpretations of our design.
When the builders left 2 years ago our house was sitting in this.

Our excitement about moving into our new home and starting a new chapter in our lives was being shattered on a daily basis and the builder's parting gesture of leaving us with 2 tonnes of rubble and a skip full of building junk was nearly the last straw. We had lived in a dodgy brothers rental that we had had to sandbag for 2 years, put our beloved dog
 into an adoption program and then had to move one more time for 8 weeks into my old childhood home which had been empty and decaying for a year. To add insult to injury when we finally moved, the heating and stove were not connected for another 3 weeks in the middle of winter. Our bodies sucked up all the stress and continued to feed it back to us for the next few months.
The garden saved me.
Having a project that was big and unbelievably physical and so exposed to passing public, was a catharsis. After lugging and digging and bending for 8 hours a day for 3 solid weeks of freezing weather in order to create the skeleton framework for the garden, I had no choice but to sleep at night.
I met passersby who were cynical about our strange new building. I met xenophobes who couldn't bear to see their neighbourhood changing. I met endless dogwalkers and encouraging gardeners, and I gradually insinuated myself into my new space. As much as possible of the building rubbish and packaging has been built into shaping garden edges and mounds and I am constantly finding new ways to rehabilitate another part of the garden. The previous garden was loved and owned by one owner and I promised her when we bought the block that I would try to preserve as much as possible or to plant another garden of beauty. Many of the first plants came from her plants which I rescued before building began. We have kept the 60 year old fig tree, a flowering gum, a callistemon plus a Tangelo and Valencia orange tree as well as smaller old fashioned shrubs.  Other plants came from my childhood home along with hundreds of tiny tubes of plantlets which looked painfully insignificant to begin with.
2 years on I have lived off food from 52 different plants in my garden. I have rehabilitated a filthy abused building site into a sanctuary for birds, frogs and small critters, and I always have something in my garden to offer to visitors which is something I really love to share.

I love listening to passing children on their way to school or the park, wishing they could live at my place and explore it. It freaked me out at one time to have people stop and photograph the house and garden (even at midnight), but now I get a bit of a giggle to see aspects of our house copied around the place and I can happily suck up the compliments from  passing admirers. 
The best part of creating a garden is that it is an evolving and interactive work of art. You can predict sizes of plants and recognise the conditions which will help them to thrive but they will change and respond to one another and the climate in ways that we humans are too fallible to predict. If I have estimated correctly many of these plants will continue to contribute benefits to the heating and cooling of our home in years to come. I have played computer games like Sim City and other simulated organic developmental programs but no digital experience is a substitute for this real life. 
A garden responds to love, but also offers surprises and delights when you least expect them. It is the ultimate science laboratory, pantry, teacher and healer. I have relearned hope with grace from nature. I have more confidence about who I am because I have made a big thing that I know is going to become more beautiful with age and with any luck might last as long as the garden before it.
An encouraging neighbour at this time last year quoted me an old adage about gardens. "In the first year they sleep. In the second year they creep and in the third year they leap."
She was right about these first two years so next year might be astounding. Happy anniversary House!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Gaudi and Carbon Sequestration

In 2006 on the way back from a  trip to the US visiting family, I stopped off in Barcelona for a once in a lifetime visit. We had 3 days and a camera. I knew it was unlikely that I would ever be coming back this way again and so even though I was unwell at the time, it was  all senses switched on to gobble up as much as I could to fuel me for years of memories.
I had read obsessively about Antoni Gaudi and his extraordinary creations before we headed there but I don't think I was really prepared for the reality of his vision and ambition.

I know a lot more about ambition now...
While I was there I was greedy for as many images of his project Parc Guell as I could capture. It is impossible to describe the size of this huge mosaiced serpentine seat which surrounds the high plateau of the Park. It was January and  quite warm and I was distressed to see so many people sitting on this seat that I had only a couple of hours to photograph. How dare they escape from a dismal winter across the Mediterranean on the one day I had to visit Barcelona and Parc Guell and loll about in the sun on the very thing I wanted to photograph!

So I just had to be content with the 100 or so photos I took... yes really! I just wanted to own the thing.

Of course despite my best efforts you cannot grasp the size of this endeavour on a few small images. This seat overlooks the city of Barcelona and all its smog which I reckon is because everyone in Barcelona smokes. Talk about global warming! First breath of the day for millions of them is a cancer stick and you can watch the smoke rising over the morning to obliterate the view. Sad! How much could we do to abate global warming by just banning cigarettes. There is no part of the process which is good for the planet or anyone on it.
Well back to ambition and thoughts of saving the world from carbon. I felt guilty at having travelled so many kilometres purely for pleasure and I wanted to do as many things as I could to atone for my sins.
I was building a new garden so that seemed a good place to start and with the help of the local supermarket skip we buried hundreds of cardboard boxes under a thick mulch of gravel to try to control kikuyu grass until new plants could compete. It looked spectacular for a long while and the plants have grown well.
But that didn't seem enough and I had ideas about building a Gaudi style bench on a more modest scale. Friends nearby had built a brand new home and no matter how green you try to be there is just wrapping on everything which has to be carted away. I decided I was going to start with junk that would have ended in landfill to begin my dream.
I took all of their junk and filled up as many of the packing boxes as possible as tight as drums. These were the building blocks.
Next we stacked the boxes side by side and held them down with chicken wire and placed another upright wall of wire mesh behind it.
Then bit by bit we smothered it in concrete. On the curving parts and upright back I had no idea how to make it stick but I had plenty of hay so mixed that into the concrete and it worked wonders. You can also see the lovely gravel courtyard we made underneath with all those hidden boxes.
Well the main structure of the seat has been complete for several years now and the garden has grown wild around it so the next part of the job has to start.
The mosaic. EEh gads! It is so big!
I have made a mosaic before which now adorns a tabletop. I made it at a Deborah Halpern workshop at the National Gallery of Victoria. She did advise me that I had maybe bitten off a bit too much for the period of the workshop which was of course red rag to a bull! Here it is.
So now with many broken failed pieces of ceramic work and test tiles and maybe donations from other ceramic artists I can cobble together a fitting tribute to Gaudi.
If you stand on the seat this is the great view. And the insides of the seat have been providing food for wood bugs (slaters) for years which in turn have fed the local birds. That's what Carbon Sequestration is really about.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Archibalds at Mornington

On Saturday I went to the Mornington Gallery to see the travelling Archibald Exhibition. Last year I missed out at Tarra Warra because we hadn’t booked and turned up on the last weekend and couldn't get within spit of the place.
This time we booked the first session of Saturday morning and arrived in sunny but chilly conditions. We were marshalled to our parking spot by the fine Rotary volunteers whose blood is worth bottling. If you are going there anytime soon, please thank them for their work. They stand there cheerfully through all weather just so that you can have a streamlined experience.

The exhibition was in a spacious gallery with great lighting and even though we were there before the crowds (highly recommended that!) there was plenty of room for viewing and some seating to sit and admire paintings from a distance. I always like to get up close and read the artist information but it is important to stand back and view as well as scan the display to help to anticipate those paintings which really grab your attention.

Kathryn Del Barton’s painting of Hugo Weaving won the Archibald and it is so obviously a painting by her hand.

It is not a style I particularly like though that is just personal opinion. I bristled a little at the appropriation of aboriginal dot painting which makes up about one third of the image simply because I do not understand its purpose or whether it adds real meaning to the painting.
I loved Joshua McPherson’s portrait of Ella ( a child actress) for its straightforward beauty.
Abdul Abdullah’s portrait of Tony Mundine called The Man shines in the space and I believe it will go onto become an iconic image in Archibald history.

Sally Ryan’s classical portraiture of Dr Catherine Hamlin is a fitting and dignified portrait of such a wonderful and wise woman and shows warmth and respect.

I would love to know more about Pilbara Land Council Representative, Wilfrid Hicks portrayed by Julie Dowling. His eyes are engaging warm and full of humanity.

Michael Stavros Painting Bad Dad evoked images of the TV series The Slap (just in my weird head) and was fascinating and beautiful.
I was intrigued and moved by Guy Morgan’s self portrait with Peter Pan after Retinal Detachment. It is strongly coloured like a print but up close the whole background is dotted with fine splattered ground which is apparently applied with an eye dropper. He described the moment of his retinal detachment as a sensation of light popping and sparking and I could identify with it intensely having ruptured my eardrum on a number of occasions and if I could have painted the experience, that was true for me, like a blown fuse misfiring. The sensation of the experience while viewing the image was strong and appalling as my sight is something I would miss so much.
Mertim Gokalp’s painting of Billie Brown is powerful and conveys a lot about the calibre of a man who has come here as a very recent immigrant and in a short time made a connection with an Australian actor at the end of his life and revealed him to us in such a new and profound way.

Jules Francois Archibald set up the trust in 1920 which enables The Archibald to be awarded each year.
The conditions of the Trust read
‘I direct my Trustees... to provide an annual prize to be styled “The Archibald Prize” for the best portrait preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Arts Letters Science or Politics painted by any artist resident in Australasia during the twelve months preceding the date fixed by the Trustees...’
So it is very loose interpretation of the rules to allow Carlos Pagoda’s painting of his father a 97 year old uneducated self sufficient gardener to be a part of the exhibiton.
 It is a fantastic and unique painting of a no doubt unique man but in my mind does not qualify for entry. If his father were famous for disseminating his garden styles I believe it would be a different matter. But then again the Archibalds have always been full of controversy.
Maybe one year I will have a go. Here's one of my son of many persuasive words and if I had had my say he would be a garrulous lawyer!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Vibrant Matter

Last weekend I visited Tarra Warra Museum in the Yarra Valley to attend an artists talk on the current exhibition Vibrant Matter.

After the earlier artist talk by Heather Ellyard at Fehily Gallery, I thought it would be good to branch out and exercise my artistic vocabulary and listen to some intellectualising about art.
The program promised 3 artists John Cattapan, Robert Owen and Yvonne Audette  in a discussion about their abstract pieces which have been acquired by Tarra Warra over the years. Unfortunately Yvonne Audette was too unwell to speak although was present as an audience member and instead the curator of the exhibition spoke on her behalf.
The talk was on at 4pm and the slowly dying light on the hills could be viewed through the beautiful window beckoning at the end of the gallery. It was a church like atmosphere and reminded me of childhood late evening masses at the end of a busy or unmotivated weekend when we felt we really must fulfil our  religious obligation. There was a similarity in the low murmuring voices of males, dim lighting and nervous energy expended in trying to attend to the words against a backdrop of nodding heads and constantly shifting bodies obscuring the faces of the speakers. All the while my eyes were flitting between the works of Emily Kame Kngwarrey and the Aida Tomescu yellow field painting that seem to respond to the dying light and then as if lit from within by another energy, re emerged to hold my gaze. Kngwarrey's work it was pointed out(like many aboriginal paintings) starts with a black background and slowly the light emerges form the background. It was more captivating when I had this pointed out.

And just like my experiences of church as a child I cannot tell you the details of the lesson!
I am extremely grateful to have had the experience of sitting for one hour in front of Tomescu's work because no other gallery experience really offers one such an opportunity, and I am never likely to own that piece, although it is a piece that I could wake up to opposite my bed every day and happily die to. And that is the nature of abstract art.

John Cattapan (his painting is in the above invitation)spoke of intuition in dealing with colour, and while having lectured for many years in colour theory and understanding the rules behind colour theory, and  not necessarily being a synaesthete did think in colour with regards to emotions or states of being.  I get that.
 It is also interesting to see the rise in thinking circles around the world at the moment about trusting intuition in a world full of information and disinformation.
Robert Owen's sculpture in ultramarine was magical because of its strange matt surface which took on an ethereal glow.

 He said that the vibration of ultramarine is halfway between black and white and so it has an important role to play in making the visible become invisible or invisible to become visible, both spiritual concepts. Unfortunately I didn't have time to sit and absorb this piece as it was in the adjoining room and the hundred or so audience were being funnelled through the show to snatch a glimpse of everything in the context of what we had just heard before grabbing a glass of wine and being deftly manoeuvred off the property after a polite interval. 
I am not critical of Tarra Warra for its presentation method. It was a lecture style presentation which is one way of addressing a large group of people and I went along not knowing what to expect. I felt distant from the presentation, which seemed to be attended by many older more knowledgeable individuals and there were signs of a membership and camaraderie to which I  did not belong, so I was disappointed at question time when there were no engaging questions to throw any more light on the subject. From that point of view I was disappointed that the talk left me feeling less invigorated and excited than the art did.

And on a completely different note, on Thursday night I attended a tutor's exhibition at Wyreena gallery in Croydon, where my friend Marlize Myburgh is a tutor. It  was a warm and cheerful gathering in a tiny gallery chock full of goodies made by many talented local artists and crafters and Marlize's  plates were selling like hotcakes. I bought one too!

You can see more of Marlize's work here