Sister Mary Corita Kent: the Joyous Revolutionary

Okay, so I totally have a nun fetish. It started as a little girl with Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and was cemented with Sally Field as Sister Bertrille aka The Flying Nun. By the time I got to school and encountered real life nuns, I was convinced they were made of magic. That they regularly sat around playing guitars and singing songs about talking flowers only made them even more fascinating to me. As I got older, I began to understand that life in the convent wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, but that only made them more mysterious and alluring. Plus, let’s face it, there’s not much sexier than a good looking nun hidden under a habit. Don’t even pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Not that all the nuns from my childhood were nice, some of them could terrify Satan, but for the most they were dear old things who loved children and always had a smile and a pat on the head for everyone. When the sisters asked which of us wanted to be a nun when grew up, we all put our hands up.This was the time of Sister Smile, a Belgian known also as the Singing Nun, and Sister Janet Mead who was from Adelaide and had released a rock version of The Lord’s Prayer that we used to sing in school without any idea it had been a hit record, much less had won a Grammy. Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat…religious themes were everywhere and they were psychedelic and fun. Jesus was a hippy saviour who hung out with children and baby animals, and the nuns were his tambourine playing groupies. Even Andy Warhol thought they were cool enough to portray Ingrid Bergman as one in this 1983 print:

Ingrid Bergman, The Nun 1983

At least, that’s how I remember it. I may have romanticised it a bit, but my early memories of religious education are all happy ones and totally unlike the later tedium that led me to become the atheist I am today, albeit one who works part time in a museum devoted to the Sisters of Mercy here in Brisbane. But the era of the ‘modern nun’ that arose after Vatican Two and their struggle to adjust to new freedoms has never stopped being a story I enjoy revisiting – the human side of these strong and determined women (think Brides of Christ, but with a slightly less photogenic cast).

Anyway, this whole ramble is because the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is holding the first full scale survey of the work of Sister Mary Corita Kent, an American Catholic nun who was both a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (such a mouthful) and an artist and art educator. Though she ultimately left the order to focus on her art in 1968, she was probably the coolest nun to ever have existed.

Working almost exclusively with silkscreen, Kent was instrumental in establishing serigraphy as a fine art medium. Becoming one of the most popular graphic artists of the 1960s and 1970s, she was fascinated by words and wordplay. Heavily influenced by Andy Warhol and the pop art movement, her prints combined consumerist imagery with spiritual texts, quotes from literature, song lyrics, newspaper headlines, activist chants and pop culture sayings to become transformative works of love and positivity. In a career that spanned over 30 years, she influenced fellow creatives Charles & Ray Eames, Alfred Hitchcock and Saul Bass, and was even responsible for the most successfully issued stamp of the US Postal Service, the ‘Love Stamp’ in 1985.

Corita Kent died of cancer in 1986, aged just 67, but – and I know this sounds cheesy – her work is no less pertinent now as it was in her heyday. She encouraged her students to find the unusual in the everyday, and to seek out revelations wherever they may be found. Artist Ben Shahn referred to her as “the joyous revolutionary” and god knows there aren’t too many of those people around nowadays.

SisterCorita3

Sister Mary Corita

Art, words and nuns…what’s not to love?

For more information, check out the Andy Warhol Museum

Fashion as Art…so…FART?

Oh, blerg. It’s ‘fashion as art’ season again.

This happens every few years – the major public galleries around the country throw their doors and wallets open and devote their main exhibition spaces to blockbuster fashion shows. There was Vivienne Westwood at the National Gallery of Australia a decade ago, the Valentino retrospective at GoMA in 2010, and I vaguely recall an Yves Saint Laurent one happening during a Sydney trip in the heady 1980s (Pixie Skase and Eileen Bond must have been all over that). Right now, we have no less than three fashion exhibitions running concurrently across the country. Everywhere you look it’s corsets, collars and haute couture. There’s The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the National Gallery of Victoria, Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion at Brisbane’s QAGOMA, and the Art Gallery of South Australia has Fashion Icons: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Musee de Arts Decoratif in Paris. That’s a fair chunk of our major art institutions given over to the fashion industry.

FASHION ICONS: MASTERPIECES FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE MUSEE DES ARTS DECORATIFS, PARIS

I’ll be honest. I enjoy fashion about as much as a vegetarian enjoys a meat pie, so that’s my first disclaimer – I am naturally biased against fashion and the fashion industry. Clothes shopping makes me turn into my father. I’d rather be doing anything else, and if you’ve seen how I dress you’ll know that already. So when a gallery turns their much sought after space over to the fashion industry, I get a little shirty. I appreciate the artistry behind fashion design. The technical skill, the creativity and the various influences on the designers, many of which come directly from the pages of art history text books. I get all that. I can’t sew for shit and have no real desire to learn, but I have grown up with women who were and are great sewers and one of my best mates is a fashion designer. I recognise the work that goes into what they do and the talent behind it. Truly. I am constantly impressed by what appears once the buzzing of the Elna has ceased. But to put it in an art museum?

THE FASHION WORLD OF JEAN PAUL GAULTIER: FROM THE SIDEWALK TO THE CATWALK

It’s funny. If these were works hanging in a textile exhibition, I wouldn’t think twice about it. But they’re not. They’re clothing, and they’re being exhibited as such. These shows are governed by the money, the media, the trends and the celebrity that go along with it. And I guess I resent that an industry already so over hyped, over publicised and so over inflated with its own importance (think Meryl Streep’s cerulean rant in The Devil Wears Prada), is able to encroach on the already meagre slice of the culture pie given to the Australian art scene. Last count there were about 30,000 artists operating professionally in Australia; artists who are regularly creating and exhibiting work commercially. There are god knows how many more out there who don’t come close to making a living out of their art and are therefore excluded from that figure. That’s a lot of artists fighting for a share of the pie. Add a whole other industry into the mix and, well, the models might not be eating the pie but the designers sure are.

FUTURE BEAUTY: 30 YEARS OF JAPANESE FASHION

Chris Saines, director of QAGOMA, has been quoted as saying that much of the appeal of these exhibitions is that audiences don’t feel challenged by them, that their already familiar relationship with fashion makes them highly accessible shows for audiences to attend, but is that what we want from our art museums? Particularly our contemporary art museums? Isn’t that what we tell ourselves time and time again the whole point of art is? To challenge and make people think? Isn’t that how the art scene has validated their existence for years and years and years? So why take the lazy way out now?

I understand it’s a numbers game, and that these big exhibitions are no brainers for art museums. They’re guaranteed to be high traffic, widely publicised and in most cases profitable. They have significant cultural currency due to fashion’s central position in popular culture. I would just rather see that cultural currency being spent in social history museums where the patronage is desperately needed and where they’re infinitely better suited to conveying the historical relevance held within the layers of these exhibitions.

UNDRESSED: 350 YEARS OF UNDERWEAR IN FASHION

Two major exhibitions currently being staged at Brisbane museums, Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion at Queensland Museum, and Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood at Museum of Brisbane, are excellent examples of how well suited our museums are to this role (like I said before, clothing is everywhere at the moment). Both these exhibitions are beautifully staged, thorough, relevant and have queues longer than you’d normally see at a museum ticket counter.

COSTUMES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD

There’ll always be arguments for and against fashion in art galleries. There seems as much support for the continuation of this current trend as there are people like myself who scream “philistine” at the thought. But as we’ve heard cynics pointing out for years – just because it’s in a gallery, it doesn’t mean it’s art.

ART GALLERY OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA:
FASHION ICONS: MASTERPIECES FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE MUSEE DES ARTS DECORATIFS, PARIS
Until 15 February 2015

NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA:
THE FASHION WORLD OF JEAN PAUL GAULTIER: FROM THE SIDEWALK TO THE CATWALK
Until 8 February 2015

GALLERY OF MODERN ART, BRISBANE:
FUTURE BEAUTY: 30 YEARS OF JAPANESE FASHION
Until 15 February 2015

QUEENSLAND MUSEUM:
UNDRESSED: 350 YEARS OF UNDERWEAR IN FASHION
Until 1 February 2015

MUSEUM OF BRISBANE:
COSTUMES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD
Until 24 May 2015

Featured Image -- 2429

Discarded Books Transformed Into Exploding 3D Collages

Carrie McCarthy:

I adore this work by Kerry Miller. There’s life in the old book yet!

Originally posted on TwistedSifter:

Kerry Miller brings old and discarded books back to life, turning them into unique pieces of 3D artwork. The mixed media and collage artist carefully carves out illustrations found within the book, sometimes using inks and watercolours to enrich and enhance the final piece. As Miller explains on her website:

“My work is a means of distilling the essence of a book, whilst releasing the images and allowing them to reach a new audience. I view it as a collaboration, a partnership with the past, giving new purpose to old volumes that may otherwise never see the light of day or simply end up in recycling. As technology threatens to replace the printed word, there has never been a better time to reimagine the book.”

Miller’s works are available for purchase through Lawrence Cantor Fine Art. You can also find her latest pieces on her official website

View original 136 more words

Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on the Stage

Here’s an interesting one…

Today, 8 December, marks the 354th anniversary of women first appearing professionally on the English stage as actresses. Funny, isn’t it, that the theatre should ever have been so exclusory of women when I’ve always viewed it as a place of refuge, welcoming of practically anyone provided you could remember your lines and hit your mark. The suspended reality, the camaraderie when you and the rest of the cast are nervous and about to appear before an audience, the hiding behind another persona, the acclaim when it all goes well. I haven’t acted for what feels like a million years now, but I remember.

Theatre’s origins lie in ancient Greek religion, and the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and fertility. Once he also took over being the god of theatre, the men worried it might prove to be too heady a mix for the women, the earthly providers of Dionysus’ indulgences, so popped the girls back in the kitchen where they could be better trusted – which I suspect also meant they were out of the way when the men wanted to engage in toga-clad orgies. Who knew theatre was the original boys’ club, huh?

That it took so long to change seems even sillier given the only reason the ban on women was lifted was due to King Charles’ belief that the men taking on the women’s roles were at greater risk of developing ‘unnatural vices’ ie turning into big gays because wearing dresses and makeup made them that way. It’s laughable in today’s world, when the word ‘theatre’ is basically synonymous with gay culture, but back then the good god fearing people of England weren’t so knowledgeable about queer life (fast forward three hundred and a bit years and I’m not sure my Catholic high school was any better, given how the boys in my drama class would cop a ribbing for being ‘poofs’ and ‘faggots’ because they loved acting).

The men in 1660 can’t have been too happy about women taking away their chance to get their drag on, because there’s no definitive record of the identity of the first woman to take to the stage. Historical documents are contradictory, variously naming Margaret Hughes, Anne Marshall and Katherine Corey as she. It was certainly one of these three ladies, the great actresses of the Restoration era; the first generation of female performers to appear on the public stage. Whichever of them it was, the role she played was that of Desdemona in a King’s Company production of Shakespeare’s Othello. The director, courtesan Thomas Killigrew, would eventually restage and recast his own play, Parson’s Wedding, entirely with women.

Portrait of Margaret Hughes, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1670. Apparently female stars were having to get their norks out even then…

By the mid 1800s, the presence of women in the theatre was no longer exceptional. In fact it became common for women to appear as men in major roles, proving that what goes around really does come around. So much so that in 1904 a whole other scandal was brewing, with grown women being cast as the ever youthful boy in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. Poor Maude Adams, who played Peter Pan in the original Broadway production, had to travel to and from the theatre in full costume so as not to spoil the illusion for children coming to see the show. Weirdly, women continued to play male roles throughout the 19th century, particularly those of romantic leads. It’d have our right-wing politicians vomiting in the aisles these days, but back then it was considered far preferable for two women to kiss on stage than for a man and woman to get their pash on. Go figure!

Anyway, I’m not sure why I’m retelling all this, other than that it was of interest to me. Plus it’s pantomime season, so seeing as you’ve read this far here’s some other gender bending theatre moments for you to scroll through…

Irving Berlin’s ‘This is the Army, Mr Jones’

Arthur Finero’s The Amazons, Dickson House Play at Smith University, January 1986

Nina Boucicault as Peter Pan in the original London production of 1904, Duke’s Theatre

Anthony Sher in Torch Song Trilogy, Albery Theatre 1985

Julie Andrews, 1997 special performance of Victor Victoria

Vesta Tilley, male impersonator and highest paid female performer of the early 1900s

Theresa Berganza as Cherubino in a 1963 production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Maggi Hambling is okay by me

Wowsers, I’ve just read probably the most mean spirited review on an artist’s work ever, by Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones (you can read it here if you haven’t had your daily dose of bitterness yet).

Now, Jones unquestionably knows more of art’s historical movements and awkward stages than I do, but I’m not sure that necessarily qualifies him to go on the attack the way he did in reviewing Maggi Hambling’s new show at the National Gallery in London. I didn’t actually know who she was when I read his review (though her face was familiar to me once I googled her, so I’ve obviously come across her at some stage) and perhaps that shows me for the ignoramus I truly am, but something in the tone of his column made me want to seek her out.

This is some of what I found:

Portrait of Francis Bacon

Summer Wave Breaking

Portrait of Stephen Fry

Self Portrait

Honestly, I can’t see what the problem is. Aside from a slightly off-putting need to be photographed holding a cigarette and looking menacingly at the camera in every portrait of her, I don’t see much wrong with Maggi Hambling and her art. Does it sell for more than it’s worth? Probably. Doesn’t most art? Probably.

Jonathan Jones describes Hambling as being bereft of “a soul, a brain or a good eye” but I don’t see much evidence of that claim. He’s worried her work is a pastiche of everything that’s come before, but even Picasso acknowledged the role of other artists in influencing each other. “Good artists copy, but great artists steal” was a wisdom that dropped from the praised Spaniard’s lips, wasn’t it?

Jones is particularly bothered by Maggi Hambling’s celebrity status, and that is fair enough. I didn’t immediately recognise her name, but I’m apparently in the minority. Celebrity does cause tension in the art world – Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin, Andy Warhol…they’ve all played this game before. And yet they’re all still here and managing to remain not just relevant, but vital to the survival of galleries around the world. So who cares as long as they can sustain that level of exposure? You know what I think? I think that if your problem with artists is their celebrity, then you need to look more at the media circus which creates it – the same media circus that pays you a wage to write about them – and put your energy into critiquing that. A writer like Jones doesn’t really need to lower himself to using derisory language like “loathsome”, “hopeless”, “daft” or “nonsense” when critiquing an artist’s work. Not unless the artist in question once took to the newspapers describing his mother in equally derogatory terms, and this is just some tit for tat personal bitchfit being played out in public (which, as far as I can tell, is not the case). His line, the one I suspect he’s proudest of, “if she’s a painter, then I’m Rembrandt” is just schoolboy level stupid.

No, Jonathan, no. You don’t need to get yourself so wound up you come off sounding like Joan Crawford’s nasty little sister. Because if that makes you an art critic, then I’m Robert Hughes.

Sunday Sculpture – Cathy Rose: she’s an artist

I haven’t been this excited about stumbling across a new (to me) artist in ages. And by ages, I mean ages.

New Orleans sculptor Cathy Rose explores ideas of renewal and transformation, setting her delicate porcelain figures within landscapes of found objects and recycled timber. Long, floating limbs; stark imagery; a natural colour palette…en masse they are a family of enchanting, fragile and occasionally confronting characters. If I were a more romantic thinker than I am, I would say I find their simplicity almost heartbreakingly beautiful. Instead, I’ll let the artist herself do the talking:

“I’m an artist. I’ve been saying this since I was nine and now I’m 60 and I think I’m starting to believe it.

It’s been eighteen years since I left teaching to pursue my work full time. Eighteen years of sitting quietly each morning in my studio, molding literally thousands of small faces and figures out of porcelain, smoothing each crease and mark with the same clay tool in my hand I’ve used for all of those years. It’s a soothing and meditative process to feel the clay move, taking shape, slowly emerging from something so simple as a ball of powdered sand and water. Porcelain is the finest of clays, pure, smooth and white, you can stretch it as thin as paper or mold it into the most minute of shapes. Its fragile beauty belies its strength. Its temperamental character challenges me, torments, confounds and fascinates me. It’s an old friend which comforts me in difficult times, the familiarity of the routine, of hands working in simple repetitive gestures they’ve known for so long, my mind and breathing focused only on coaxing life from it. It’s magic, really, to change something primitive and simple into permanence.

Eighteen years of being taught by the same teacher and still more to learn. Every morning, the same lesson, every morning a new lesson.

I’m an artist. I think I’m starting to believe it.”

See more here: Cathy Rose

Hope & Love: through the eyes of refugees

You know what’s great about Australia’s handling of our refugee ‘crisis’? It’s that no matter how long you take to write about it, it never gets old. I’ve been faffing around since April last year trying to write about refugees and, rather than being out of date, it’s still current. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s even more current now than it was then. That never happens. It’s like journalistic manna from heaven!

The issue of asylum seekers is hard to write about without sounding like a massive bleeding heart. Thirteen years ago, with the images of September 11 so vivid in our minds, and the words Al-Qaeda, sleeper cell and Bin Laden having entered our daily vernacular, we were all too willing to believe that ‘boat person’ was code for ‘terrorist’ and that we were being invaded by boatloads of fundamentalists hell-bent on world domination. Of course they’d throw their kids overboard; they’d do anything in the name of Islam.

But that is changing, thank goodness. As a nation we’re becoming less fearful, and trying not to be so ignorant. If anything good came out of September 11, it was that it made many of us confront our prejudices and fear of ‘the other’. I like to think it has made a growing number of us wiser, less ignorant and more compassionate towards the plight of asylum seekers fleeing tyranny, war and famine. These are people as keen on living in a country at war as we are, and we want to see them treated with empathy and respect.

Unfortunately we’ve hit a frustrating era where Canberra’s policies are proving to be increasingly out of step with the thinking of the electorate. I think it’s fair to say the majority of voters are more compassionate on a whole range of human rights issues and keen to see an end to strong arm politics where a bit of humanity should prevail. I don’t want to go into the politics of it too much because that’s not what this blog is about, but I would like to show you work from a little art exhibition currently hanging at Mercy Heritage Centre that I think deserves a bit of attention.

Hope & Love: Through the Eyes of Refugees is a joint project between Mercy Heritage Centre and Romero Centre, an interfaith community drop-in centre committed to social justice that was set up by the Brisbane Sisters of Mercy in 2000. A place of welcome and support for displaced people suffering the legacy of mandatory, indefinite detention and Temporary Protection Visas, Romero Centre acts as both advocate for asylum seekers, and educator of the wider community about the experiences of refugees. It also, luckily for the rest of us, is committed to showcasing the culture, creativity and artistic practices that asylum seekers bring with them. They hold high profile events such as fashion shows, festivals and an annual Refugee Film Festival.

Hope & Love: Through the Eyes of Refugees is not a big exhibition, and not all of the work hanging in it is good, but the potential for shows such as this one to extend our understanding of the subject is great. The stories behind the artworks (which range from the very didactic, to ethereal and abstract) and the artists themselves are the potent force of Hope & Love. Some of the artists were well known painters before fleeing their homelands, others discovered their creativity through the art therapy provided by Romero Centre. Some of them exhibit under pseudonyms to protect themselves from retribution by their respective governments. In all cases they are showing how much beauty and soul they bring to any country willing to offer them protection.

I’ve written about Mercy Heritage and my issues with all things Sisters of Mercy before, but this time I have nothing but praise for them. Where the Oxford dictionary’s definition of ‘mercy’ may have escaped previous generations of the Sisters of Mercy in this country, the current sisters would appear to be very clear on its meaning. I never thought I’d say it, but we could all learn a great deal from the work they are doing.

 

The Little Things

“There’s a reason people build miniatures. Doesn’t matter if it’s guys laying out model railroads or women decorating dollhouses. It’s about control. It’s about reinventing reality. Some people get a lot of satisfaction in creating a little world they can escape to. In making things turn out the way they want, at least in their dreams.”
Jane Lotter, The Bette Davis Club

Christmas Day, 1983. There is an enormous box sitting to the left of the tree, wrapped in what must have been yards of pink tissue paper. Honestly, it’s so huge I could live inside it. I wonder briefly if it’s the horse I requested, though pressing my ear to the paper elicits no evidence of it. I know it’s for me, I’ve had a peek at the card. I also know I’m not allowed to touch it until the rest of the relatives arrive. I am six, and the suspense is more than I can handle.

This turns out to be a pretty amazing Christmas for everyone. My uncle gives my aunt an incredible dining setting which has been secretly set up in our garage awaiting its reveal, my grandparents are given airline tickets to New Zealand which makes them both cry, and Santa has already been unbelievably generous to my brother and I. Eventually, when I really am starting to feel like I might burst from self restraint, the enormous pink box is lifted up on the coffee table and I ready myself. I am surprised to find out it’s a gift from my grandparents. I’d assumed something this big must have come from mum and dad and I’m taken aback. I can’t stop staring at my grandmother as dad and my uncle pull the present apart for me. Under the paper is a timber crate. It takes three of them to lift the top off. And then I see it…my grandfather has made me a dollhouse.

IMG_2741

At the time, I’d never seen anything like it. None of us had. Though my grandad was always in his workshop hammering and turning timber, this was the first dollhouse he’d ever made and it was magic. Designed so that it opened like a book, it folded out to reveal a completely handmade Victorian home, with parquetry flooring, turned timber railings, tiny lighting that actually lit up, window boxes of little flowers, and a stained glass window. It even had a toilet. It was so beautiful I wasn’t sure I was allowed to touch it.

Making dollhouses would come to be his signature. After a lifetime as a master builder, he’d finally found his calling making miniature houses. Not one of the 50 dollhouses and countless smaller dioramas and toys he made were sold; all were given away. First to family and friends, then to hosptials, sick children and children whose mothers were battling cancer. He was a hell of a decent guy really. Like Santa, with less reindeer.

As a family, we learned to expect that time spent at my grandparents’ home meant being surrounded by not just dollhouses, but single room displays, tiny furniture and the porcelain dolls my grandmother made. Of course I was in heaven, though my two rough and tumble brothers were never quite as enamoured with the environment. I guess like most kids, the initial attraction of miniatures was in my ability to dominate them. When you’re small, you’re desperate to be in charge. Not only was I in charge, I was the overlord of an entire village. Eventually they morphed from tools for simple role play to become the world I preferred to inhabit.

Not that grandad’s dollhouses were my first introduction to miniatures. I had been escaping into tiny worlds and anthropomorphism ever since I was tiny myself. Brambly Hedge, The Borrowers, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, The Gnome Mobile, Thumbelina, Enid Blyton. Every garden had resident fairies. I was convinced little people existed in the cracks of our regular sized lives. I never did manage to catch grandma’s dolls moving when I wasn’t looking, but I knew they came to life as soon as the doors snapped shut. I’d read enough books to know that dolls were just scared little people, frozen with fear. I tried and tried to tell them they could trust me, that their secret was safe, but they never relaxed around me. A shame really; I could have done with their company in those days. I was a weird kid.

Anything made in miniature intrinsically fosters in me a desire to make believe. Curators in museums often talk about certain objects in their collections having an aura about them, an intangible energy that draws you to them. Miniature worlds are the same for me. Perhaps it’s the shadows within them, but I can always sense them breathing with the spirit of the person who spent so long crafting them. And yes I do know that sounds like horseshit, but it’s true. It’s a bit like the guy who went to the top of the Empire State Building after years of living in New York City because he wanted to actually see how the city moved, rather than just feel what it was like to live there. Life in miniature lets us observe the world with a bird’s eye view, clarifying as much as contracting our daily lives.

It’s no coincidence that contemporary miniaturists like Slinkachu, Steve Wheen, Joe Fig and Øystein Dypedal have such cult followings. By bringing to life these tiny people, they are highlighting just how small we all are in the general scheme of things and how inconsequential and fragile our existence. I guess it’s the ultimate irony that the best magnifier of the human condition is a miniature version of it.

Slinkachu

Steve Wheen aka The Pothole Gardener

Joe Fig

Øystein Dypedal

I suppose thirty years on from that Christmas with the massive box of miniature, I’m a bit old to play with dollhouses but I don’t care. Last year as I was going through some of my stored junk, I found the last dollhouse my grandad made. Significantly smaller than the others, with crooked windows and a staircase that didn’t align properly, it had been an alarming indicator to the family that all was not well with him. His work had always been so perfect. The badge on it read September, 2000. He died of brain cancer four months later. None of us knew what to do with this house, his last major creation. No one wanted to let it go, but neither did we want a distressing reminder of how much his illness had taken away.

It remained boxed up until my friend Linde mentioned an idea for a short film, the special connection she’d had to her grandfather, and the father who had made all his children except her, the youngest, a toy. I truly could feel my grandad listening in, telling me that I’d found the proper place for it to go.

A few weeks later, when the dollhouse had been shipped off, I got a message from its new owner. “I’m trying to imagine a man who spent his whole life making home.” I teared up, I think my mum and uncle did a little too when I told them. It was a profoundly perceptive statement about the man I’d known. We’d become a bit blase about grandad’s dollhouses over the years. I never considered that they signified anything other than his ability to use a lathe. But years of ill health had made my grandfather an anxious man who never felt secure outside of his own little castle. Perhaps in making these houses so continuously, he was trying to work out more than just a scale model. I’ll never really know for sure.

There is one thing I’m certain of though. In a world that had become too large for him to navigate safely, he found comfort within the Lilliputian walls he was constructing.

2015/01/img_5012.jpg

John Aslanidis – the art of science

It’s very hard to separate all the facets that make up the area collectively known as The Arts. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s impossible to. I don’t know anyone involved in any form of creative practice who operates within one area alone, devoid of inspiration and input from any other field. As a writer, I require art and theatre and music in order to remain engaged with my writing. I need my head full of historical references as much as I need it focused on the present. And I need to be around people with some form of creative energy in order to remain fully energised myself.

The most successful projects for me are the ones that acknowledge openly how all these areas feed off each other; how the graceful lines of a ballet’s choreography can be found in a Rodin sculpture, or the folds of a toga in a Greek tragedy. That sounds very windy and florid I think, but I do mean it. Nothing exists in isolation. Feelings and sensations are replicated and interpreted in ways that suit the medium in which the artist is working. An artist paints the vibrant colours of a butterfly’s wings; Marcel Marceau mimes the beauty in its final dying moments. Two different aspects of the same creature, both of which convey the rhythm and hum of life.

While I’ve never been able to say which of the arts I love the most, I have definitely always known that it was this area more than the sciences that I was most comfortable being a part of. And yet lately, some of the most exciting things I’ve stumbled across exist at the point where art and science converge – rogue taxidermy, video art, cyber poetry and projection mapping.  I felt this coming together in a show I saw last week in Brisbane, John Aslanidis’ Sonic Network No. 15 at Edwina Corlette Gallery. Struck by the mesmerising work in the front window, I entered the gallery proper to see the rest of the exhibition. The works felt to me like a hybrid of avante-garde, Cubism, the study of orbital mechanics in space theory and the designs I used to make with my spirograph kit as a kid. There’s also something of the SBS test pattern in them, which I mean in a good way. I always loved that thing. Not being familiar with Aslanidis’ work, I welcomed an explanation of his practice. Turns out he has a background in electronic music, so the test pattern analogy isn’t hugely far off. The man who paints these psychedelic, 3D illusory canvases obviously has a vast understanding of acoustics, optics theory and geometry, as well as an ability to put together colour in a way that is genuinely invigorating. Optical art. Op art. Turns out it’s a thing.

Now, all of this is far outside my comfort zone. I flicked anything scientific or mathematical as soon as I was able in high school, and am the first to admit that when it comes to these areas I am a total boffin, but I do find something intrinsically beautiful in the way art and science soften each other when combined. It’s a shame that in areas such as education and politics the two disciplines are kept quite separate, because there really is a lot of benefit to be found in their merging. In Aslanidis’ work I begin to understand how nerdy friends of mine can love things like mathematics. I can even see how they come to see elegance in their theorems and axioms. I’m not about to become a physicist, god help the universe if I did, but there is an epic grace in these paintings that transcends both the scientific and artistic worlds to become something else entirely, something otherworldly and hypnotic.

It makes both sides of my brain engage with the world around me, and that can’t possibly be a bad thing.

EDWINA CORLETTE GALLERY
555 Brunswick Street New Farm QLD 4005 Australia
Tel 07 3358 6555 Mob 0412 301 355
gallery@edwinacorlette.com
edwinacorlette.com
Until 18 October 2014

Pete Foley: The New Pantheon

Here’s something I never expected to find myself doing late on a Tuesday night – standing in a vacant, candlelit block high up on a hill in Brisbane’s West End, reading a book by torchlight with a bunch of strangers, while fruit bats circled above us and a cold breeze turned the trees in to scary dancing spirits. I quite sincerely thought I was going to die. But these are the things I am willing to do for my friends, particularly treasures like my mate Pete Foley.

When Pete first told me about his concept for The New Pantheon, I reacted as any good friend would by saying “that sounds awesome!” while secretly thinking ‘that is some super weird hipster shit right there, buddy.’ Good thing I didn’t actually blurt that out, because I would have looked a right dork about now. What Pete had conceived of turned out to be a stunning, sensual experience combining the best bits from performance art, literary events and indie art shows.

Central to the night was Pete’s artistry. A brilliant illustrator and animator, he has spun a hauntingly beautiful story of figures moving through an ambiguous, slightly nightmarish landscape – humans seeking connection and a sense of belonging. And sex (there’s always a bit of sex when Pete’s involved. Blokes, eh?). His writing is equally as sensitive and delicate as his drawings. I would kill to use language as simply and effectively as Pete does. I always seem to have too many words in me, whereas Pete is one of those people who can say twice as much with less than half,you know? Then again, his illustrations already say so much themselves. Sparse, monochrome sketches on brown paper, bound beautifully by our friend Linde, they make for one of the loveliest artist books I’ve ever run a cotton gloved hand across.

Of course, Pete’s ability to scout out the perfect location in which to hold his midnight reading was what made the spectacle of The New Pantheon truly thrilling. God knows how many creepy alleys he walked down looking for the right site. Even surrounded by people as I was, I half expected some vampirish freak to jump out of the shadows and attack me. Then again, I am occasionally given to episodes of melodrama and panic. I probably shouldn’t have gone there sober. With any luck he’ll stage another event and I can go there with a few fingers of whiskey under my belt.

I love my friends, my life treasures. I particularly love the ones who have wild imaginations and quirky outlooks, who challenge and inspire me to think beyond white walls, white pages and a beige life.

Mr Pete Foley is one of the best.

Photos from the Chippendale, Sydney, performance of The New Pantheon.
Images by Louis Dillon Savage