Category Archives: Violin

Weekend Coffee Share – 21st May, 2018.

 “It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.”

Alice in Wonderland.

 

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share on Yet Another Monday Night.

Well, my excuse is that I had to get all dolled-up and formal on Saturday, and it was such a shock to the system, that I had to retire to my bed for all of Sunday and even much of today. While I did have a bit of a joke about having a Front Row Seat at the Royal Wedding, the truth is almost as inconceivable. I was playing my violin at Gig Night at the music studio and being a violinist to the very core, I had to wear my blacks. Indeed, I dug the Winter-weight Calvin Klein number out of hibernation, and strutted my stuff. Well, I wasn’t strutting because my shoes were too tight, I can’t strut at the best of times and inspite of myself I was more than a tad nervous. Not because I’m scared of performing. I knew I hadn’t really done enough practice and that there would be mistakes, but I didn’t want too many mistakes. Moreover, I didn’t want to stuff up the bits I always get right. I did that at the end of year concert and actually pulled off the tricky bits. After much philosophical reflection, I’ve decided that the violin is a bit of a temperamental character, who is insanely jealous and refuses to cooperate when ignored and like to stuff things up for you just for the hell of it. Yet, for some strange reason, I’ve remained faithful and haven’t packed up my bags and returned to the piano. Not yet, anyway.

 

You can read more about my performance in A Legend In My Own Hair Follicles

 

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Alice in Wonderland

So how was your week?

Did you watch the Royal Wedding? What did you think of it? What were the standouts? While I didn’t have the opportunity to conduct a representative survey, from what I’ve heard, the Address seems to be the most talked about aspect of the wedding. It seems some people loved it, others thought it went on too long, and I’ve downloaded the transcript to fully get my head around it, although I’m yet to read it fully. In terms of the Address being too long, if I was the Most Reverend Curry, I would’ve made the most of having my one chance in life to speak to the world. While he might not have been Dr Martin Luther King, he had a beautiful and very powerful message about love and acceptance and with all the awful things happening in our world in both public and private arenas, we need a good dose of what he had to say. Indeed, we each need to wake up and start trying to make a difference in the same way that Harry and Meghan are already doing, and it will be exciting to see what kind of impact they’ll have, now that they’ve become a team.

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with my lung specialist. He’s usually happy to see me twice, or even once a year.However, after my lung function tests two weeks ago, it was “I’ll see you in two weeks”. They showed that my lung capacity has dropped 20% in six months. Mind you, I’ve had a lot of lung and even a severe sinus infection, and so the big hope was the the drop was due to infection. So, he whacked me on more “horse pills” and I tried to exercise more and do what I could to save me from more intervention. Of course, I’m “feeling better”. No, I truly am and I’m not coughing anywhere near as much. Indeed, a week ago when I was talking to my mother on the phone, she noted that I hadn’t coughed. Hopefully, her observations will be supported by tomorrow’s results.

By the way, I should’ve mentioned this earlier, but Masterchef Australia has started up again for 2018. I’m an absolute diehard fan of the show, and while I might not make the recipes they create, I do add little bits and pieces to my own cooking, to add a bit of pizazz. I’ve even cooked with fennel, which felt far more alien to me than a thing called a “custard apple” (thanks to my mother being a Queenslander).

Anyway, it’s Nigella Week on Masterchef and tonight, there was a an eleimination pressure test… Nigella’s Chocolate Feast. It was a hard show for a chocoholic like me to sit through. However, I’m already planning to make her fudgy brownies. They were so gooey and sensational.

Nigella Nutella Cake

Nigella’s Nightmare…The Avalanche.

I must admit I sympathized with Nigella’s Victims tonight, as they were making her Chocolate Olive Oil Mouse. Two years ago, I also came a cropped making Nigella’s Nutella Cake. Like one of the contestants, I also over-beat the egg whites, and it ended in disaster, which I dubbed:  Nigella’s Heartache. After all, it’s all well and good when people post beautiful recreations of your recipes, but it’s not so good when they flaunt their disasters all over the World Wide Web.

Before I head off, I just wanted to mention my latest contribution to Friday Fictioneers…A Special Child. This is written about a young girl on the Autism Spectrum who goes missing in the bush.

Zac running at Ocean beach May 18

Zac running along the beach.

Oops, I almost forgot. The dogs received a bit of an update this week…Pup Psychologist, Anyone? Since I posted this, we went on a disastrous trip with the three dogs to the beach yesterday when all three refused to come when called and Zac and Rosie were sprinting up and down the beach and Lady was wondering off on her own. There were a few fishermen along the beach and we could see the dogs stealing their bait, their and getting tangled in the lines. Time to go home. That is, if you can catch them. Training will now be intensifying for both dogs and humans.

Well, it’s getting late and I have a long and big day ahead tomorrow.

I hope you had a great week and I look forward to catching up on your news.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Royal Wedding…A Front Row View.

Sorry you couldn’t join me for a front row sear for last night’s royal nuptials. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, it was a rather exclusive event and since Dame Edna was unable to make it, I went in her place along her my possum handbag. Unfortunately, the pups got out and followed me. Perhaps, you missed the TV coverage, but they had a great time chasing the corgis around Windsor Castle. So, I can assure you that everything you saw on tele last night was something they’d prepared earlier and went through multiple takes and extensive editing. After all, how did you think Meghan’s dress stayed Omo white with all those grubby little page boys and flower girls wiping their fingers all over it. I was aghast. Some idiot had fed the kids chocolate crackles to keep them smiling in the royal automobile, and in the true blue wedding footage, you’ll see chocolate finger painting all over that dress and a huge tear in that precious train from when they were playing tug of way. Just as well Meghan had plenty of acting training and knows how to keep smiling under circumstances that would make an a saint hopping mad. Now, you’ll also understand why Harry was looking so nervous and shedding more than the occasional tear.

Queen

Anyway, we had our own little running commentary as the full Royal cast passed us by. Upon the arrival of the Queen, my son pointed out that she was wearing “Hi Viz”. A friend also pointed out that she won’t get lost in the crowd. Anyway, she always looks delightful and I’m serious impressed at how the Queen and Prince Phillip keep going. They both walked into the Chapel unassisted from what I recall, which is a real commendation to them as well as a bit of good luck no doubt.

Rowena Zac Rosie

Watching the Royal Wedding from my front row seat.

The second thing I really appreciated about the wedding, was how Prince Charles was there to support Meghan Markle and her Mum, through what was quite an emotional thing of walking up and down the aisle. He was the consummate Gentleman and he was just like how I’d expect my Dad to be in that circumstance. He was just beautiful and I felt very compassionate. As Meghan’s Mum left the chapel, the only member of Meghan’s family to attend the wedding, Prince Charles against stepped up and walked her out. While Meghan’s Mum was rather regal herself through proceedings, it must have been a terrifying prospect. Yet, she handled herself with what is described as “aplomb”. I literally took my hat off for her and my high heels and put on my cosy ugg boots.

 

DSC_9754

By the way, my Ugg Boots were a real hit at Windsor Castle, and the envy of most of their guests. Of course, most of them were wearing what I call toe-crunchers and didn’t have the nous to put comfort before style. Indeed, Camilla even tried to snatch them off my very feet. Indeed, I had to threaten to tell the Queen, and it was only then that she let go.

This brings me to the address. Well, to be honest, I’d like to give the Most Reverend Michael Curry my address.In case you missed it or had continuous interruptions like yours truly, here’s a link: Link and here’s a link to the  Full Transcript , which is truly worth an indepth study more than a glossing over. This man not only wore his heart on his sleeve, her radiated love like the sun. Not just any ordinary love either. God’s love. I have a feeling. Indeed, I know, that if there were more people like him in this world, it would be a better place. Moreover, I think we’ll be saying the same about Harry and Meghan before too long. Indeed, they’ve each made a significant contribution to their chosen spheres.

So, to finish off the big day, I pulled out a couple of trays of my world famous lamingtons and shared them with the crowds. I made quite an impression and you might even see me on the next season of Masterchef. That’s if I’m not playing my violin at the Sydney Opera House. My calendar is clearly starting to fill up.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

A Legend in My Own Hair Follicles.

Before the magic of the Royal Wedding and seeing Harry and Meaghan tie the knot in spectacular fashion, I hung up my pink washing up gloves and metamorphosed into a star. I, the greatest unknown violinist, legend in her own hair follicles, performed Minuet by Beethoven with my violin teacher at Gig Night. That’s the modern equivalent of what was known as a “Soiree” back in the day. Indeed, it might have been more like my grandparents’ day, but there we were performing in the studio with real performance lights and sound equipment and our very own stage. It was personal, intimate and my husband and kids were all lined up in a row in the audience…my support crew.

Well, behind every star performer, there’s also their teacher. When it comes to my teacher, however, she had special duties. She was not only accompanying me in our duet in the kind of way that compensates for what I’ll call my “idiosyncrasies”, she had to help me on and off stage. Indeed, we made a decision that I would enter from backstage to prevent me from having a spectacular trip and fall getting up on the stage. I’m pretty good at reconnaissance these days, and I needed to hold onto the wall climbing up the step and was rather concerned that I could fall into the amp. The good thing is that the team at the music school is well versed in my idiosyncrasies and were only too willing to help. Moreover, I’m also one to speak up.

I should also point out that the staff at the music school have experienced these idiosyncracies before. A few years ago when we were performing at the school Christmas Carols, I stepped on the edge of the where the asphalt meets the grass and my ankle flipped over (not uncommon) and then I heard this crunch and fell. The pain was excruciating. Blood was dripping down my knee, but did I pike out? Does a violinist ever give up, even when the ship is sinking? Of course not. I played on and was helped on and off the stage that night too.

My performance tonight wasn’t perfect. I knew it wasn’t going to be. Yet, I was hopeful. Moreover, despite my nerves, I really love performing and being a part of a performance. I like getting out of my cramped quarters in our corridor of a dining room where I usually have to hold my breath as husband, kids, dogs, tennis balls squeeze or fly past and put my feet on that stage, dress up in my blacks and even put on come makeup and lipstick and be a violinist on the outside too. A musician. Knowing I belong here. That this stage is mine, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I own this space (something I picked up from dancing btw).

It’s a space I usually have to grow into, because it’s all too easy to put my playing down. I’m not in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. So, how could I ever consider myself a violinist? I haven’t even tried to learn vibrato, because I really don’t believe in myself. Don’t believe it’s possible. Of course, as I said, I have a decent list of “idiosyncracies”, which let me off the hook. Moreover, be honest, it hasn’t felt that important. It’s been more important to simply be able to play without making mistakes. However, it’s something I come back to once in a while, and learning vibrato is a natural progression for a violinist. Just like my daughter will soon be getting her first pair of pointe shoes for ballet, I should be equally enthusiastic and bursting out of my skin to learn vibrato. Take the next step. I should be wanting to grow, even though it usually means a phase of going backwards as we tackle the new skill.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is twofold.

Firstly, I wanted to share my violin world with you. I don’t write about it all that often, but I actually have a lesson each week. I am quite a fan of Suzuki method, although I use the music and don’t play by ear. For those who know Suzuki, I recently moved onto Book Three. I was so proud. It’s been a long journey. I have hydrocephalus and dermatomyositis.  So, I never thought I’d be able to play the violin at all and only took it up again when my daughter insisted on learning, and she needed some assistance. I sat in on her lessons and while she has a rather on and off again relationship with her violin, I’ve stuck with it. She’d probably get to my level after a few weeks’ steady practice, but I’d only be delighted to see her overtake me. Well, she already has. She performed at the Sydney Opera House with her school two years ago at the tender age of 10. Clearly, you’re much better off trying to play at the Opera House as a young beginner than a geriatric.

The other reason I wanted to share my violin journey with you, is to encourage you to consider taking up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. To go back to the piano you played at a kid, which could well be used for displaying family photos and ornaments than it’s intended purpose. Have a go.

I never considered myself a real music lover or expert of any sort. However, I can sense this is changing. That something new is awakening within. Actually, it’s not something new. It’s like when you’re doing a big clean-up and you find something you haven’t seen for a good 10-20 years and you taken right back to that forgotten time and place and all the emotions come flooding back as there’s that sense of coming home. I have always loved to sing and was good enough, but my voice is rusty and my violin’s become my voice, and to turn to the words of Johnny Farnham’s The Voice I need to

You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear

Do you have any musical dreams? If you could be any musician, who would you be? I’ll have to give it some thought.

Best wishes,

Rowena

K-Kandinsky- Letters to Dead Arts…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome Back to my A-Z Series: Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ve written to Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, one of the driving forces behind German Expressionism. Kandinsky will be accompanied by Arnold Schoenberg’s  Transfigured Night for String Quartet. Schoenberg and Kandinsky worked closely together and were very like-minded.

When I very first saw Kandinsky’s paintings in a German Expressionist Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1990, all I saw was COLOUR!!! Bright colours and expressive forms. They were such a break from all the paintings I’d known growing up, with the dull greens and browns of the Australian landscape populated, as it were, by swagmen and sheep.

However, Kandinsky wasn’t just a man of bright, alluring colours and interior design. Rather through his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he expounded an entire theory about the emotions and spirituality of colour and devised a complex code of colours and symbols, which were also closely intertwined with music.

Wassily_Kandinsky,_1911,_Reiter_(Lyrishes),_oil_on_canvas,_94_x_130_cm,_Museum_Boijmans_Van_Beuningen

 

When I saw the German Expressionist Exhibition, I was a 20 year old university student living in a crumbling terrace house in urban Glebe. Caught in all the lurid emotions of semi-requited love and paralyzing self-doubt, I was a living, breathing powder keg of angst. Indeed, I went to the exhibition with the source… someone I’ll simply call “Sunflower”.

As that paralyzed, love struck young woman, these paintings weren’t just something on the wall. They were ME spurting through the canvas wrestling with love, rejection and hope against all hope. I guess you could say this was a “turbulent period” for me, where I gouged my torment out with my pen, scrawling ink across the page. I then released my inner demons at poetry readings at Chippendale’s Reasonably Good Cafe, which I now consider fun.

As it turns out, there would’ve been better artists for a young woman struggling with semi-requited love to turn to, such as Gabriele Münter. She would’ve been very sympathetic, and could well have made me chicken soup. Indeed, I can even hear her reflecting on her relationship with Kandinsky…“He’s not the Messiah. He’s just a very naughty boy.” (Life of Brian).

Munter_SelfPortrait1909

Gabriele Munter – Self Portrait in front of an Easel, 1909 at Princeton Art Museum, Princeton NJ

Kandinsky’s personal life was rather complicated. In 1892, he married his cousin, Anna Chemyakina. She took care of her husband and moved with him to Germany. However, in 1903 Kandinsky met and began a relationship with Gabriele Münter, one of his students at the Phalanx School. The two became inseparable. Kandinsky kept promising to divorce his wife and marry her, stringing love struck Münter along. Finally, in 1911, Kandinsky returned to Russia, and divorced his wife.

Yet, he still didn’t marry Gabriele Münter. Rather, he continued living with her as his lover. Unfortunately, when Germany declared war on Russia in August 1914, their relationship received a jolt. Kandinsky was considered an enemy alien and only had three days to get out. Since he couldn’t take much with him, he left the bulk of his paintings and possessions with Münter. The couple rushed to Switzerland and while in Zurich, Kandinsky broke up with her. For two years she urged a reunion. It took place in neutral Scandinavia in 1916, but failed. Well, that’s according to some of the sources I’ve read. Others are less clear about the breakup, suggesting he was still stringing her along.

Well, Kandinsky did get married, but it wasn’t to Gabriele Münter. Rather, he married 18 year old, Nina Andreievskaya, and he didn’t tell Münter. Indeed, he only came clean four years later when she received a letter from his lawyer demanding she return his personal effects and artworks. Not unsurprisingly, Gabriele didn’t return all his paintings, and kept these as “moral compensation”. While I’m very surprised Gabriel didn’t burn the lot, she actually kept them safe behind a secret wall in her basement during successive raids by the Nazis and Russians. Kandinsky never saw his paintings again. However, in 1957, Münter gave the stash to Munich, Stadtische Galerie in Lenbach. At least, the survival of this collection was a positive outcome of Gabriele’s grief.

Perhaps, there’s nothing about Kandinsky which is easy to understand. Indeed, for me, he’s an iceberg with only his head peering out above the waves. I even wonder whether he remains a mystery to experts who have studied him all their working lives, and know each and every millimetre of each work. I don’t know. Yet, despite the difficulties and also thanks to a sense of madness, I am still trying to fathom the unfathomable. Trying to unravel Kandinsky and his art.

POrtrait Kandinsky

So Who Was Wassily Kandinsky?

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born in Moscow on the 4th December, 1866, the son of a wealthy tea merchant. He spent his childhood in Odessa, where he graduated from the Grekov Odessa Art school and enrolled at the University of Moscow, where he studied law and economics and was offered a professorship.

However, in 1896 at the age of thirty, Kandinsky and his trajectory permanently  changed.  Struck in a sense by lightning, he threw in his day job to become a professional    artist.

This was fueled by two events:

Firstly,he attended an Exhibition of French Impressionists in St Petersberg in 1896, where he was spellbound by Claude Monet’s painting: Haystacks in the Sunlight:

“So, I saw a painting for the first time. That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour”.

Also in 1896, he attended Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin at the court (Bolshoi) Theatre in Moscow, which seemingly unleashed a moment of synesthetic apotheosis “which appeared to be the materialization of my fairytale Moscow. Violins, deep basses and wind instruments in the first place materialized my impression of evening hours in Moscow, I saw all the colours before my eyes – crazy, almost insane lines. I just could not admit that Wagner musically drew “my hour”. But I realized that art has much more power than I used to think about it and painting can have the same powers, as music”.

Music influenced Kandinsky’s art profoundly: he admired the way it could elicit an emotional response, without being tied to a recognisable subject matter. Painting, he believed, should aspire to be as abstract as music, with groups of colour in a picture relating to one another in a manner analogous to sequences of chords in music.

Kandinsky moved to Munich with his wife and studied at Anton Ažbe‘s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts.  It was here, that Kandinsky formed some artistic associations, which were to change the face of modern art. At Azbe’s school he met co-conspirators such as Alexei Jawlensky, who introduced Kandinsky to Munich’s artistic avant-garde. In 1901, along with three other young artists, Kandinsky co-founded “Phalanx” – an artist’s association opposed to the conservative views of the traditional art institutions. Phalanx expanded to include an art school, in which Kandinsky taught, and an exhibitions group.

In 1909, he was one of the founding members of Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen (NKVM, or New Artists Association of Munich), a group that sought to accommodate the avant-garde artists whose practices were too radical for the traditional organizations and academies. In 1911, after one of Kandinsky’s paintings was rejected from the annual NKVM exhibition, he and Franz Marc organized a rival exhibition and co-founded “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider).

“Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider) initiated and deeply inspired the highly influential German Expressionist style. It was a loose association of nine Expressionist artists that included August Macke, Münter, and Jawlensky. As a group, they believed in the promotion of modern art and the possibility for spiritual experience through the symbolic associations of sound and colour – two issues very near and dear to Kandinsky’s heart. Despite the similarities between the group’s moniker and the title of Kandinsky’s 1903 painting, the artists actually arrived at the name “Der Blaue Reiter” as a result of the combination of Marc’s love of horses and Kandinsky’s interest in the symbolism of the rider, coupled with both artists’ passion for the colour blue. During their short existence, the group published an anthology (The Blue Rider Almanac) and held three exhibitions. Kandinsky also published Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911), his first theoretical treatise on abstraction. It expounded that his theory that the artist was a spiritual being who communicated through and was affected by line, colour, and composition. He produced both abstract and figurative works, but expanded his interest in non-objective painting. Composition VII (1913) was an early example of his synthesis of spiritual, emotional, and non-referential form through complex patterns and brilliant colors. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 led to the dissolution of the group.

Kandinsky returned to Moscow in 1914. Following the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky “became an insider in the cultural administration of Anatoly Lunacharsky”and helped establish the Museum of the Culture of Painting.However, by then “his spiritual outlook… was foreign to the argumentative materialism of Soviet society”[4], and opportunities beckoned in Germany, to which he returned in 1920. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art.

He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.

So, without further ado, I’m off to write to Kandinsky and I promised myself that I wouldn’t mention his love life. Instead, I’m going to play it safe and stick to art and music.

A Letter to Kandinsky

Dear Kandinsky,

I’m burning the midnight oil trying to find the right words and my pen is stuttering away like the love struck uni student of days gone by. I’ve gone through sheet after sheet of paper, trying to find the right words and finally put together some kind of meaningful question to ask.

So, I’ll cut to the chase.

Could you please paint me playing my violin?

I know that’s a big ask when you’re world famous, and I pass right under all forms of radar. However, the world also needs to acknowledge the full scope of musicians, and not only honour those at the very pinnacle of success. Kandinsky, people forget that music doesn’t just refer to the maestros playing million dollar instruments. It also includes the beginners…the scratchy violinists, the annoying recorder players, the tone deaf, as well as the rhythmically challenged. Someone needs to represent the musical battler, and it might as well be me.

Of course, I can’t help wondering how my playing would affect your vision, and the corresponding relationship between colour and sound. Would you still paint my violin a relaxing tone of green? Or, would it all be reds, oranges, yellows? Maybe, somewhere in between?

Speaking about musical battlers, last weekend, I spotted this decrepit, dilapidated piano at the Scout Hall and I just had to play Moonlight Sonata on it. Moreover, I even asked my husband to record it. It sounded so bad, that it hurt your ears and we dubbed it: “The Sorry Sonata”…even “The Suicide Sonata”. Ironically, I usually play Moonlight Sonata on a Steinway Grand, but who hasn’t experienced the horrific twang of an old hall piano?  Well, I guess that’s changing because the piano is dying and you might be shocked to know that you can’t even give one away.

Anyway, why am I talking to you about pianos, when I wanted to talk about painting violins?

Getting back to my question, could please paint me playing my violin. It would really make me smile.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Kandinsky

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. Jackson Pollock had insisted I’d be next, but you never can be sure. There must be plenty of other artists who you admire starting with K.

Nothing would delight me more than painting you playing your violin. However, I should warn you that I’ve developed a new minimalist style where nothing actually goes on the page. I know that sounds very much like Hans Christian Andersen’s classic: The Emperor’s New Clothes. However, please trust me. It’s been liberating…just like painting nude. John Lennon got me into that.

Let’s make a time.

Best wishes,

Kandinsky

Featured Image: Composition VII 1913– The State Tretyakov Gallery

References & Further Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wassily_Kandinsky

http://www.artcenterinformation.com/2012/08/who-and-what-inspired-wassily-kandinsky/

http://viola.bz/wassily-kandinsky-and-his-women/

https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_448_300063127.pdf

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/kandinsky-path-abstraction/kandinsky-path-abstraction-room-guide

Kandinsky,  “Steps”  an autobiographic novella

 

 

Flying with the Green Fairy…Friday Fictioneers.

We call her “Le Petite Danseuse“, after that sculpture by Degas. The story goes that she wears a long white tutu, and pirouettes round and round like a music box dancer. As yet, I’ve never seen her. Not that I haven’t looked. Waited. Even played my violin hoping she’d come. Nothing.

Pierre from accounts captured a blurry, white image on his phone. Reckons this was a dance studio, and a young ballerina died when the Brits bombed Paris.

Bet it’s only steam from the kettle. Or, that he’s drunk too much Absinthe, and gone flying with the “green fairy”.

99 Words

……..

This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s photo image was provided by Yarnspinner.

I also wanted to let you know that I’ve been participating in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme this year is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Here’s a link to my  Weekly Round up

If you are participating in the challenge, please leave a link to your blog and a brief intro in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

J – Jackson Pollock…Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I will be writing to American Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). He will be accompanied by Elvis singing: I Did It My Way

In 1973 the National Gallery of Australia purchased Jackson Pollock’s masterpiece, Blue Poles, for a staggering $1.3 million…the highest amount ever paid for an American painting at the time. Perhaps, not unsurprisingly, the purchase was highly controversial, triggering a wave of debate across the country.

Blue Poles newspaper article 1974

Opinions came in thick and fast. Indeed, I even saw him described as “Jack the Dripper”:

“I THINK the money spent on Jackson Pollock’s painting “Blue Poles” would have been better spent on building a four-lane highway linking the capital cities of the Eastern States. The Hume and Pacific Highways are not fit for the traffic they carry these days, and many lives, as well as time and money, would be saved by their improvement.$2 to A. W. (name supplied), Gladstone, N.S.W.[1]

“Mr Daniel Thomas, senior curator of the Art Gallery of NSW and Sydney Morning Herald art critic, described the purchase as “the greatest thing that has happened to art in Australia”.

Artist Sali Herman said, “The whole thing just stinks. I am all in favour of the National Gallery buying good paintings . . . It seems that they have money to give away. I don’t think Pollock is worth two million”.

nla.news-page000024737719-nla.news-article230427808-L3-bb769ed0b291bf41444a6578460e5a05-0001

Mr Henry Hanke, a winner of the Archibald and Sulman art prizes, said he had not seen ‘Blue Poles’ but he “did not think much of paintings created by dribbling paint”.

Another Australian artist, Russell Drysdale, was in favour of the purchase. He said, “The whole art world was affected by Pollock and this was one of his masterpieces. If you have a masterpiece then it is priceless[2]“.

After arriving in Australia in 1974, Blue Poles was first exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney and our family joined the throngs of Sydneysiders to just to see it. I was almost 5 years old at the time and had just started school. Indeed, I hadn’t even had the suggestion of a wobbly tooth.

This is where our visit starts getting personal, because when I saw Blue Poles up on the wall, it reminded me of the painting my father had done blowing swirls of colourful paint across a dark blue background through a straw. So, what does this one in a million, little kid do? She walks straight up to Blue Poles with all the confidence of the Director of the Art Gallery himself and points a finger right on the painting: “My Daddy painted that!” My 2 year old younger brother also touched it, at least as far as our memories are concerned. Humph! I also remember just as clearly being told off by a very austere Guide of Gestapo proportions, who snapped: “Don’t touch the painting!!” Clearly, I’m lucky I kept my fingers. But, isn’t that what every little kid wants to do, especially with all that thick, oozy paint splashed all over the canvas? It was just begging for sensory-seeking little fingers to touch it, especially back in the olden days when we didn’t have fidget spinners to keep them occupied.

Dads Painting

Dad’s painting 1974. This now reminds me of fireworks over Sydney Harbour, which weren’t a thing back then.

I was quite excited to find this film footage from 1974 showing Blue Poles on display.

After such an experience, how could I not write to Jackson Pollock in this series? Blue Poles could well have been the very first painting I ever saw in an art gallery, and that scolding “Do not touch the paintings” hasn’t left me either. Of course, we can’t have such masterpieces destroyed by grotty fingerprints, but surely art can also be tactile, a complete sensory experience? Indeed, couldn’t art also be an active thing for the viewer, as much as the artist themselves, the creator? Why should they have all the fun?

I was reminded of this hands-off rule of art, when my husband and I took our then four year old son to the Art Gallery of NSW (returning to the scene of my crime as a parent this time, not the child). He was very well-behaved, but he was active. Indeed, I remember feeling very nervous as he started looking at some thousand year old sculptures, wondering if he’d accidentally knock of a head. He wasn’t always looking where he was going.  Could you imagine the guilt of that as a parent? The headlines! No, thanks.

Then, taking after his mother, he walked up to a painting, and said he’d painted one like that at school and I photographed him standing beside it.

Next, after leaving the gallery, we were walking through the park across the road when he found a large autumn leaf on the footpath. He was so excited and he wanted to take it back to the art gallery so someone could make a painting. You should’ve seen his eyes light up with childish enthusiasm and he was so sweet. Meanwhile, I was lost for words. How could I explain that they didn’t want a leaf? Or, for that matter, a pressing of a leaf like he’d made at pre-school? How could I throw cold water on his flame?

IMG_6646

Who’d refuse a leaf from this little rock star…

Perhaps, we should’ve taken him back. I’m sure the gallery staff would’ve thanked him for it and been considerate. She wouldn’t have laughed in his face and told him how much the paintings in the gallery are worth, and how they’re only done by real artists. In other words, that they don’t have leaf prints hanging in the gallery. Instead, I just told him that they don’t make the paintings there. That they’re only on display.

….

Who Was Jackson Pollock?

Jackson Pollock Life Magazine

Beyond all these family anecdotes, there was an artist…Jackson Pollock.

In terms of his bio, he was born on the 28th January, 1912 in Wyoming and grew up in Arizona and California. In 1930, he moved to New York with his brother. 1938 – 1942 he underwent Jungian therapy to treat his alcoholism . October, 1945 he married fellow abstract artist, Lee Krasner and in November, they moved to Long Island. On August 11, 1956 Jackson Pollock died aged 44 when he crashed his car within a mile of his house under the influence of alcohol. Jackson Pollock was an Abstract expressionist.

Pollock provided a solid account of his artistic processes in an interview with Life Magazine in 1949, which was headed: “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?”

“Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyo. He studied in New York under Realist Thomas Benton but soon gave this up in utter frustration and turned to his present style. When Pollock decides to start a painting, the first thing he does is to tack a large piece of canvas on the floor of his barn. “My painting does not come from the easel,” he explains, writing in a small magazine called Possibilities 1. “I need the resistance of a hard surface.” Working on the floor gives him room to scramble around the canvas, attacking it from the top, the bottom or the side (if his pictures can be said to have a top, a bottom or a side) as the mood suits him. In this way, “I can… literally be in the painting.” He surrounds himself with quart cans of aluminum paint and many hues of ordinary household enamel. Then, starting anywhere on the canvas, he goes to work. Sometimes he dribbles the paint on with a brush (above). Sometimes he scrawls it on with a stick, scoops it with a trowel or even pours it on straight out of the can. In with it all he deliberately mixes sand (below), broken glass, nails, screws or other foreign matter lying around. Cigarette ashes and an occasional dead bee sometimes get in the picture inadvertently. “When I am in my painting,” says Pollock, “I‘m not aware of what I’m doing.” To find out what he has been doing he stops and contemplate the picture during what he calls his “get acquainted” period. Once in a while a life-like image appears in the painting by mistake. But Pollock cheerfully rubs it out because the picture must retain “a life of its own.” Finally, after days of brooding and doodling, Pollock decides the painting is finished, a deduction few others are equipped to make. [3]

Of course, so much more could be said, but I guess it already has been. So, that leaves me with a letter to write.

A Letter to Jackson Pollock:

Dear Jackson,

There’s so much I could ask you, but I couldn’t resist this simple question:

Are you the greatest dead painter in the United States?

That’s all.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Jackson Pollock

Dear Rowena,

Am I the greatest dead painter in the United States?

I’m still not saying.

Heard you playing the violin(4) last night. Smashed mine as a kid, after it refused to cooperate.

Left you one of my signature apples pies (5) in the fridge, but I ate your pavlova. Would love the recipe. Could you please send it in your next letter. Promise not to get paint all over it.

Keep up these letters. We’ve been passing them round so much, they’re about to fall apart. Looking forward to “K”.

Yours,

Jackson

References

[1] Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 6 March 1974, page 43

[2] Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Tuesday 25 September 1973, page 7

[3] http://www.theslideprojector.com/pdffiles/art1/pollockarticle.pdf

(4) Bruce Claser “Jackson Pollock: An Interview with Lee Krasner” Arts Magazine 41, No. 6 (April 1967) pp 36-39.  Reprinted in Jackson Pollock: Interviews, Articles & Reviews edited by Pepe Karmel, 1999, The Museum of Modern Art. Distributed by HN Abrams. p 34. Link.

(5) Jackson Pollock loved baking and also made a great spaghetti sauce Ibid p 33.

 

 

I Isabel Bishop…Letters to Dead Artists, A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to the Letter I! As you may be aware, my theme for the 2018 Blogging A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with an artist starting with “I”. So, I had to hit the pavement. Go out on the prowl and pick one up. Since no one was throwing a party, I was back to my old friend Google, who never fails to deliver “something”.

Initially, I was going to write to Australian artist,  Jean Isherwood, who painted a series honouring Dorothea McKellar’s iconic poem My Country. However, since most of my readers are from overseas, I decided to look further afield. Finally, I stumbled across American artist, Isabel Bishop, and let’s just say there was a spark across a crowded room. She’ll be accompanied by Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5

What initially attracted me to Isabel Bishop’s works, was her paintings of young office women in New York’s Union Square. Although they’re clearly from a different era, they reminded me of myself as a young woman working as a marketing professional in Sydney’s CBD. When I look at her Young Woman 1937, there’s real determination in her eyes. She’s heading somewhere. I also felt myself drawn into Tidying Up and could well imagine myself looking in a mirror and touching up my lipstick on my way to a meeting, or heading out for Friday night drinks. Yes, these people were very familiar.

Isobel Bishop Tidying Up Indianapolis Museum of Art

Isabel Bishop, Tidying Up, Indianapolis Museum of Art Collection

Moreover, I’ve also walked through crowded city streets. Squeezed onto over-crowded trains. While I’ve never been to New York, in so many ways, these scenes are even more familiar to me and my world than scenes of the Australian outback. I know what it is to be caught up in the rush of a thousand feet. Indeed, when I was in Sydney with my daughter the other day, I was taking photos as we walked through Central Station Tunnel. It’s a very long pedestrian tunnel and like Union Square, hosts such a menagerie of life…buskers, beggars, the homeless, vendors selling The Big Issue… There’s also that same sense of movement, which preoccupied her work. It’s a movement which I find a little scary, because it seemingly has a life of its own. You’re being pulled along or sucked through this tunnel, and there’s this suction you can’t escape. That if you fell, which for me is quite a possibility and indeed, I was using my walking stick, I’d be trampled underfoot and  disappear…a modern casualty.

Not that Isobel Bishop, portrays the subway in this way. That’s just the horrors of my own over-anxious, catastrophizing imagination and I won’t even blame the movies.

Anyway, I wasn’t satisfied with a fleeting superficial introduction. I had to delve deeper. Find out what made her tick…and tock. What was she thinking? What was important to her?

I read a few bios, but there were no quotes and no real sense of the woman behind the canvas. Then, I fortunately stumbled across an aural history interview from 1959. Yet, although this interview spanned 25 pages, there was only one anecdote which stood out:

ISABEL BISHOP: Well, for an anecdote — this is a silly thing that happened a long time ago. It hasn’t great significance, but it was rather shocking to me. I had gone to Union Square where I had been for years of making little pen drawings because I found them so refreshing to me, and I was doing this and a drunk who was next to me said something which I didn’t answer. I simply went on drawing, whereupon he got up and collected a mob, and this was a most appalling thing because I had been drawing over there and he went and got this man and others and they surrounded me like this and he said, “What do you mean by drawing my picture?” And I and he pulled my book, and his hostile crowd gathered around me, and he said, “She sells them to ‘Life’ magazine.” And I told them no, and there was no use arguing with them. They really were very hostile. So I tore the page out and gave it to him and rescued the book just simply for the sake of my own sense of things and progressed slowly toward the edge of the park. I posted myself by the side of a bench where a neat-looking man was sitting, and I began sketching again because I felt that this is my square, and if I simply shrivel — I mean I’d be routed and it would be no longer my square. This is an issue of the greatest importance. So I drew again with these people hovering around and saying , . Whereupon this man I was counting on, you know, to stand by me, got up and joined them, and “What does she mean? Let’s run her out of the square. What is she? Is she the capitalist or something equally obnoxious?” So I did leave the square and approached a policeman nearby and said, “These people have prevented me from drawing in the square.” And he said, “Do you have to draw in the square?” And he wouldn’t come back with me or do anything about it. So I felt deeply hurt and, though I still live there, I don’t draw as much in the square for it just simply hurt my feelings.

HENRIETTA MOORE: That’s why you went underground?

ISABEL BISHOP: That’s right. I was driven underground. I find no one watches me at all. I draw down there and nobody notices me. 1″

I’m not sure how much this reveals about Isobel Bishop the person, but it was a good story. It provides something of her, the artist behind, or perhaps I should say, in front of the canvas.

One last thing I wanted to mention, is that Isabel Bishop was married to a neurologist. That was quite a red flag to me. If you’ve been reading through this series or following Beyond the Flow, you might recall that I live with the neurological condition, hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. It was only diagnosed when I was around 27 and despite having an Honours degree from the University of Sydney, my mental capacity plummeted on just about every front…memory, movement, personality the works. The ambitious, career-focused young woman was dead in the water and I never really came back. Sure, I had surgery and they put in a shunt to drain away the fluid and reduce the pressure (my head must’ve been something of a pressure cooker with stew spitting out my ears beforehand.) However, I was different. As soon as I woke up, I knew someone had turned down the volume. I don’t think about this very often. The wound is still so raw, that if I even touched it with my pinky, I’m know there’d be a never-ending scream. Yet, life goes on. I became someone else. Paradoxically, in many ways, I was allowed to become myself. After all,  I really am more of a writer and creative than a business soul. Pursuing that almighty career, had cut me off from all of that.

Anyway, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Isabel Bishop…

Letter to Isabel Bishop

Dear Isabel,

A few nights ago, I stumbled across your work online, and was touched by your portrayals of young office girls and how you brought them to life. Indeed, you took women out of the home and opened their horizons back at time when the world was just opening up.

Thanks to these trailblazers, women like myself could launch themselves into the business world without a second thought. Well, as it turned out, there was a second thought further down the track, as we tried to launch through that invisible glass ceiling. Important principles of gender equality, like Equal Pay are still a dream.

What is wrong with the place? How can what’s between your legs determine your pay packet and your trajectory up the corporate ladder, instead of what’s between your ears and how hard you work? You don’t hear much about this anymore but occasionally the ripples rise up into a wave, and actually make it onto the news.

However, this is not my battle anymore. I’m just trying to make it out the front door. Have a coffee with a friend. Actually, seeing my friends has also become something of a pipe dream. We bump into each other somewhere for a passing chat, but who has time? Who can find a mutually vacant hole in the uber-busy schedule? How I’d love to stand around and chat to my friends like the young women in your paintings, especially without someone telling me to hurry up and putting me down for talking too much. Is it asking too much to borrow ten minutes from “mother time” to be myself?

Humph. I had no idea I was going to share all that with you. It just came out…an impromptu rant. I’m sorry, but I won’t delete it. Cover up my longings like you might paint over a mistake. I wrote it. It’s out. Let those thoughts have their own life, and see what comes back. Not everything is meant to be covered up or painted over.

By the way, I’d love to spend a week sitting with you in Union Square. I’ve never been there, or even to America but I’d love to see it through your eyes and hear more stories. Not just about what it was to paint, but also to be there. Absorb it all like breathing…in through your eyes, and out through your pen and brush. How incredible!

Warm regards,

Rowena

PS Thought you might like to hear this again: Frank Sinatra: New York!

Letter From Isabel Bishop

Dear Rowena,

Each person has their own patch of ground…their own road to walk. Not that I’m suggesting that we’re islands, but you can only ever be yourself. That’s like a symphony with so many different notes and instruments coming together, that often it becomes a cacophony, and not a song. That’s okay. We often make noise, before we find our song.

Don’t be so hard on yourself! It just takes some of us longer than others. You’ve had some pretty monstrous challenges, and yet you minimise how far you’ve come. Try to be the violinist or the dancer who has conquered the odds. Yet your capacity to write and express the challenges of the human soul, didn’t pop out of a box of Cornflakes. You made that happen. No one else.

Just because you haven’t finished that book yet, don’t put yourself down. You’re still finding your words, and getting closer every day. Your time is just around the corner. I can sense it. Indeed, you should go and get one of your notebooks and etch your name on the spine. Feel what it is to have your very own book. Feel it in your gut, your soul, in every part of your being. Only then, will you have enough faith to make it happen.

Good luck.

Best wishes,

Isabel.

PS Stick this photo montage up on your wall. Have faith!

Sources

1 https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-isabel-bishop-12431

http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/bios/bishop-bio.htm