Tag Archives: Art Gallery of NSW

Weekend Coffee Share…3rd March, 2019.

Rowena in art galleryWelcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I thought we’d backpedal a little and have coffee at the Pavilion Kiosk in Sydney’s Domain, across the road from the Art Gallery of NSW. I’ve chosen a table a bit out the back, which is under the shade of a Morton Bay Fig tree and for that rustic touch, we’re perching on leaf litter. Hard to believe this place is only a stone’s throw from the busy CBD.

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Brett Whiteley: Self-Portrait in the Studio at 36

I’ve brought you here, because I was here on Friday as I headed into the Art Gallery to see the Masters of Modern Art from  St Petersberg’s Hermitage Museum. I also wanted to squeeze in Brett Whiteley’s Exhibition:  Drawing Is Everything. Fortunately for you, I have my camera with me. So, as a whirled through these exhibitions like a cyclone, I committed what I could to “memory” and also bought the catalogue.

 

However, if you love and appreciate architecture, you might just want to rewind a little further and do a bit of a tour with me from St James’s Station on the edge of Hyde Park across the road to St James Banco Court and St James Church and then across the road to the Hyde Park Barracks, The Mint and Sydney Hospital.

I must admit that I was interested to note the statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on opposite sides of Macquarie Street. They reminded me of John Keat’s: Ode to A Grecian Urn where the lovers are destined to spend eternity apart. I felt like giving Queen Victoria a bit of a shove across the road to be with Albert but then I saw what looked like a magic wand in her hand, which looked rather sinister and I decided to leave her alone. If she wants to be with Albert, she’ll have to find her own way there.

These buildings along Macquarie Street are among the very oldest public buildings in Australia and are well revered and loved. However, although I’ve admired them walking past, I had not been inside The Mint or Sydney Hospital and was gobsmacked by their stunning interiors with all their ornate design features. Naturally, they don’t make buildings like they used to and I love the high, lofty ceilings, incredible staircases and detailed touches like pressed tin and plaster ceilings etc. I could quite easily call one of these places “home”, even though you’d need an army to keep them clean.

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The other thing I’d like to share with you about my trip to the Art Gallery, is that I ran into an old uni friend I haven’t seen for over 20-25 years. I was absolutely stoked, because I’ve lost track of quite a few really close friends from uni and most of them haven’t gone onto Facebook and I haven’t been able to track them down. While many people have come and gone throughout my life, there’s something special about my school and uni friends which is different to the rest. I also feel they know the person I’d describe as the “real me” a lot better, as I feel that this person is often swamped by responsibilities and chronic health issues and can be in absentia. My friend and I had a coffee together at the art gallery cafe and went through the exhibition together. It felt so good to see her. Moreover, after all my walking around, I was getting quite tired and just like she used to do, she took me under her wing. I do have a bit of a Paddington “Please take care of this bear” aura about me.

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Above: Brett Whiteley: Head Studies 1971

It was good to get away, even just for the day, as I’ve been trying to get the house sorted. I have started out in the kitchen with what I’ve called: “The kitchen Revolution”. However,  my plans backfired. I might be wrong here, but it seems like order requires space. So, when you decompress everything in your cupboard and create space for what you put back, its a very clear case of: “Houston, we have a problem”. Just like many a backyard mechanic has found left over bit reassembling an engine, I have stacks and stacks of left over “crap” after I’ve removed the “really crappy crap”. While many might advise me to consult Marie Kondo on how to resolve my dilemma, I’m staying well away. Rather, I’m  secretly hoping that someone will accidentally knock the piles of leftover plates, bowls and what not, off the bench so I don’t have to make any more decisions. Yet, even then, I’d still need to find space in the bin. So, my troubles still wouldn’t be over. Indeed, it almost makes me wonder whether it would’ve been better to have left “well enough alone”.

As if I hadn’t done enough damage, I also made the mistake of buying two hibiscus plants at our local Bunnings Hardware store to add a splash of colour and Hawaiian delight to our decrepit front yard. However, given how many plants I’ve murdered, Geoff insisted that I plant them straight away. This meant that the kids and I were out under floodlights ripping out the long grass the mower had missed by the handful, while our resident orb spider was rebuilding its expansive network of web on the left of our letterbox and our daughter was trying to keep out. Not one to even do spontaneous gardening by halves, I trudged out to the worm farm and carried through buckets of squishy compost and a gazillion worms to give the hibiscus a fighting chance. This, of course, reminds me that it’s now Monday and I haven’t watered them since. Somehow, I’ve become a very bad and neglectful plant parent!

This coming week is going to be quite busy. Our son turns 15 on Friday and will be getting baptised on Sunday at Church. I’m quite stoked that our teenage son is choosing to get baptised rather than all the other things he could be getting up to. I take nothing for granted and parenting is a bit like going to the beach where “you never turn your back on the sea”. Yet, just as easily as one can be shocked, you can  also be pleasantly surprised. Not that his decision is a big surprise. He’s had his own faith for a long time and goes to youth every Friday night. This is something that I’ve felt has been between him and God and not just something thrust on him from Mum and Dad. I’ve decided to keep the celebrations fairly simple, because otherwise, I’ll get overwhelmed and fall in a screaming heap.

Well, after spending a lot of time turning around and editing photos, I’d better head back to the kitchen and see if I can knock off another pile. Oh yes…and water the plants on the way!

Hope you’ve had a great week.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Ali.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Belated Weekend Coffee Share 29th May, 2018.

Welcome to a coffee share that is so late, that I’ve even missed the online deadline. The shop is shut, and for the first time ever, I’ve been left outside pounding on the door: “Let me in ! Let me in!”

Well, it’s my own fault. Even the extended weekend opening hours have to come to an end, and given that it’s now Tuesday afternoon, I am actually wondering whether I should be hosting a weekend coffee share after all. Isn’t it just a bit too late? Why don’t I save it up for next weekend?

 

Above: I am enjoying Autumn.

You see, the thing is that I actually had a very busy and exciting week last week and it’s actually too much to even condense into one week let alone spread it over two, even if the next week is looking rather empty after doing so much. Indeed, I’m currently needing rest and recover.

However, I also figured that some of us need that daily coffee hit, and perhaps a few caffeine addicts might be needing a mid-week hit.

So, given that I’m so far behind, I’m just going to take you through the highlights.

Last Tuesday, which is now exactly a week ago, I have a fairly important meeting with my lung specialist. My lung volumes have dropped by 20% in the last six months and instead of his usual: “I’ll see you in six months”, it was I’ll see you in two weeks and you need to have a lung scan and also handed me a swag of other tests. Well, I didn’t pass them all in flying colours. That goes with the territory. However, my lungs haven’t changed and that’s what really matters. So, from where I was coming from, I consider that good news.

 

After the lung specialist, I caught the train into the Art Gallery of NSW and saw the Archibald Exhibition. This is Australia’s most prized portrait competition, and it’s also been prone to quite a bit of controversy over the years. I am rediscovering my passion for art atm, and just even the sensation of looking at deep brush strokes carved through thick, luscious paint. I can’t explain what it does to me, but it like walking into a dark house at night and all the lights suddenly switching on at once. Wow! I wasn’t necessarily conscious of it at the time. However, I found myself drawn into the eyes and even zooming in and photographing just the eyes on quite a number of portraits. They seems to be telling me something, although in typical fashion, I can’t quite decipher the words and the messages is quite nebulous and difficult to untangle. Anyway, it’s left me wanting  to learn how to draw eyes. Humph..I ‘d probably be better off trying to trace around my hand. Art is an intimidating thing to step into. I was even anxious and crippled with self-doubt as a kid, and when my teacher picked me up on it, I wasn’t bad. Indeed, I got an A.

Anyway, I ended up writing two posts about my trip to the Art Gallery and this included a look at the importance of eye contact.

 

Moving right along, on Friday I caught the train down to Parramatta where Geoff and I went staying for a Couples’ Retreat with Muscular Dystrophy NSW. I am a member of MDNSW because my auto-immune disease is considered a neuro-muscular condition. The Muscular Dystrophy Association actually has quite a broad scope helping people with quite a range of very rare conditions under that one umbrella, which can ideally get the lot of us more acknowledgement and assistance. By bringing us all together, I wouldn’t call it a self-help group. I just see it as being like any networking meeting with colleagues. We encourage and understand each other and while most of us straggle to walk or are in scooters, wheelchairs etc, we still seem to “stand on our own two feet”. We’re a fairly independent bunch. Staff are there to facilitate the get togethers, provide additional information and are sort of like the backbone, which holds us together. I find it very important to mix with “my people” because I get sick of trying to explain myself everywhere else and it becomes a place of psychological, mental and physical rest. That said, I did become pretty animated meeting up with my own and I was exhausted at the end of the weekend, also because we pushed ourselves to see as much of Parramatta as we could. I could recover when I got home.

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Writing with a real quill…Or, at least, being a poseur.

I’ve written a few extensive posts about our trip to Parramatta, and haven’t caught up yet. However, there was walking around the streets of Parramatta and talking in the historic St John’s Church and Town Hall while stopping off at cafes and being quite mesmerized photographing the fountain in Centenary Square. My husband and I are both photographers and see the world better through the lens. We also toured historic Elizabeth Farm, where you could interact with the exhibits and really get a feel for the place and Government House which had real artifacts and was much more stuffy.

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I haven’t quite had time to write up about visiting Parramatta Park, which runs along side the Parramatta River. However, in addition to falling in love with the oaks trees in their glorious Autumn finery, we couldn’t but spot a huge tree where hundreds of cockatoos (Corellas) had found a home. They were making an awful din, if that’s how you interpret the screech of the cockatoo. Anyway, something scared them and all of a sudden the sky was filled with birds in a way I have never quite seen before. It was amazing and fortunately the camera cooperated and we managed to seize the moment. Yippee! Photography is so much like fishing and so often I’m left talking about the one  that got away. However, this time, I actually caught it.

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Since returning home, I’ve had a big sleep. Actually, a number of big sleeps in addition to trying to share our wonderful adventures on the blog.

Here are some links to posts from my travels:

What Are Museums For?

A Weekend In Parramatta, Sydney

An Autumn Stroll in Sydney

Making Eye Contact At the Art Gallery of NSW

The Artists Behind the Eyes

We hope you and yours had a great week and that you enjoyed catching up with me for coffee and enjoying a little piece of Australia.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Ecclectic Ali

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

An Autumn Stroll in Sydney…

For those of you who don’t live in Sydney, I apologise in advance that there are no photos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House on this walk. That’s because this walk isn’t about Sydney. Rather, it’s more about immersing yourself in the golden yellows of Autumn and appreciating nature in all her finery.

If you live in many parts of the world, you might take such Autumn colours for granted. However, I live close to the beach and there aren’t many English style gardens around here. With our sandy soil and low rainfall, they just don’t grow or are extremely high maintenance. Our Australian natives are evergreen and so we just don’t have those forests of Autumn colours you see elsewhere. This all means that I get quite dazzled by Autumn colours and that despite being forty something, I’m still prone to collecting Autumn leaves.

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So, now that I’ve started painting this story from my perspective, perhaps you’ll better understand my excitement when I emerged from the underground tunnels of St James train station, and saw Macquarie Street all lit up with glowing, golden leaves back lit by a bright, blue sky. It was glorious!

So, I wanted to invite you to join me for a bit of a stroll today, which starts out in Hyde Park and goes along Macquarie Street, through the Domain and finishes on the Art Gallery Steps.

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As I walked along Macquarie Street, the photographic focus became historic Sydney Hospital, which was opened in 1811 and is Australia’s oldest running hospital. While in other parts of the word such a building would be relatively “modern”, by Australian standards it’s “old”, but not quite ancient.

You can take a short cut through Sydney Hospital to get to the Art Gallery. The short cut has a lot of rustic charm and you really feel like you’re stepping back in time, and yet you’re not if that makes any sense.

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A rear view of Sydney Hospital with modern skyscrapers peering over her shoulders.

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I thought this sign was rather funny. Hospital Road runs in between Sydney Hospital and The Domain (park). I am a bit concerned about where a trip down Hospital Road might take you…a one way trip with no return.

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Playing sport in The Domain under the shadow of high rise.

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Lunch time joggers running through The Domain. Note the huge fig trees, which are very popular.

And finally we arrive at the Art Gallery of NSW.

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Hope you enjoyed the walk.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Artists Behind the Eyes…(Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, we went on a bit of a tour through the Archibald Prize Finalists for 2018 zooming in on the eyes, while expressing concern about the lack of eye-contact in our screen-based world.

Since I wanted to stitch the eyes together in what might be called a collage, I wasn’t able to attribute the eyes to the artist or their subject. Since this was going to be quite an extensive process, I decided to do it here in a separate post.

I should also point out that some of the eyes I photographed were not part of the Archibald, and were in the general admission part of the gallery. So, don’t be surprised to see Picasso on the list.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of the eyes, and if you’ve visited the Archibald, which were your favourites. Did you concur with this year’s winner? Or, even the Packer’s Prize? My personal favourite has to be Amber Boardman, Self-care exhaustion. Personally, I haven’t experienced self-care exhaustion of late, and like most of us, are experiencing more of a self-care deficit. I found this funny, a bit unnerving. I also wonder what might happen if you mix a glass of red with your green smoothie…especially if the blender falls into the bath while it’s running.  It could be deadly. I’d like to encourage you to check out her website. There are some interesting interviews.

Before I leave you to it, I just want to let you know that the featured image is Robert Hannaford’s Robert Hannaford self portrait.

Best wishes,

Rowena

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Amber Boardman, Self-care exhaustion

The figure in the portrait is Jade, who is a fictitious character and alter ego of Boardman’s.

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Pablo Picasso, Femme allongee sur un canape (Dora Maar) 1939.

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Amber Boardman, Self-care exhaustion

 

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Anne Midleton. Guy (actor Guy Pearce)

 

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Nicholas Harding, Treatment, day 49 (sorbolene soak)

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Oliver Freeman, The Legendary Tina Bursill, Young Archie 13-15 Year Olds

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Del Kathryn Barton, Self-Portrait with studio wife.

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Harvey Heazlewood, The Dreamer, Young Archie 5-8 year olds.

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Maya Butler de Castro, Self-Portrait with animals, Young Archie Finalist 5-8 year olds.

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Angela Tiatia, Study for a Self-Portrait.

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Tom Polo, I once thought I’d do anything for you (Joan).

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William Mackinnon, The Long Apprenticeship.

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Paul Jackson, Alison Whyte, a mother of the renaissance

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Yvette Coppersmith: Self-Portrait, after George Lambert – Winner Archibald Prize 2018.

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Mirra Whale, Don

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Kirsty Neilson, Anxiety Still at 30.

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Robert Malherbe, Michael Reid

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Euan Macleod, Guy at Jamberoo

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Benjamin Aitken, Natasha

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Loribelle Spirovski, Villains Always Get the Best Lines.  Subject: Actor, Nicholas Hope.

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Noel Thurgate: Elizabeth Cummings in her studio at Wedderburn, 1974 and 2018.

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John Hoppner, Madame Hilligsberg c 1790 – 95.

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Hayley Steel, Sempre, Age 17 Young Archie Finalist.

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Jessica Thompson, Claire, Young Archie Finalist aged 17.

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Guy Maestri, The fourth week of parenthood (self-portrait)

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Francis Odlum, Finley Making Funny Faces, Young Archie 13-15 years

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Meii You, Daddy With His Chicken, Age 6 Honourable Mention.

 

 

Making Eye Contact at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.

“The eye, the window of the soul, is the chief means whereby the understanding can most fully and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of Nature; and the ear is second.”

Leonardo da Vinci

After spending April cavorting round the world with a ramshackle gang of dead artists, yesterday I was stealing the eyes out of the living. Well, not exactly the living artists themselves, but rather their portraits. Or, to be exact the portraits they’d submitted for the Archibald Portrait Competition, Australia’s Premier Portrait Prize.

I’m not sure exactly what drew me towards zooming in and photographing the eyes on a number of portraits. However, as a person who wears glasses and is considered “high myopic”, I am perhaps more conscious of sight. As a creative, I’m also aware of this intangible thing called vision, which seems to involve seeing the unseen. Or, even having magical x-ray eyes, where you can somehow perceive the hidden bones of things.  As a photographer, I also became aware that I see so much better through my camera lens, than my own eyes. That I’m seeing with a conscious gaze, instead of being on auto-pilot.It makes such a huge difference to my powers of observation. Have you found that?

“Now do you not see that the eye embraces the beauty of the whole world? It counsels and corrects all the arts of mankind… it is the prince of mathematics, and the sciences founded on it are absolutely certain. It has measured the distances and sizes of the stars it has discovered the elements and their location… it has given birth to architecture and to perspective and to the divine art of painting.”

Leonardo da Vinci

 

Recently, my awareness of sight and the eye was expanded further, while researching Leonardo Da Vinci. Once again, I was reminded of the special and very intensely detailed way he saw, analyzed and even dissected the minutae around him. Indeed, fueled by his insatiable curiosity, he also studied and dissected the eye itself. Clearly, you don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that Leonardo Da Vinci was an inspirational role model. Someone we should at least consider worthy of emulation, or in my case, it would be thrilling just to touch the hem of his garment.

However, what particularly concerns me is the impact that screens are having on our vision in the contemporary world. Eye contact is being superseded by people staring deep into their screens, as though they contained the meaning of life. So often, I see people who can’t get through a conversation without checking their messages. Indeed, they react with all the excitement of Pavlov’s dog when their phone beeps, rings or tap dances (if they have a smart phone), and place any face-to-face interaction on hold while they jump for the phone. There are people walking their dogs along the beach while on their phone. People walking through the park glued to their phones sending text messages. Cafes full of people sitting alone nattering away with their fingers, instead of doing what we always loved to do…people watching. Or, heaven forbid, actually having coffee with a friend.

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision”

Helen Keller

What is the meaning of this loss of eye contact? What are the ramifications for our communities when our eyes are glued to our screens, instead of observing and even absorbing the world around us through our own eyes? Is humanity, and not just those with a diagnosis, losing our people skills? Will we soon reach the point where robots could replace humans, not only because the technology’s there, but also because our quintessential humanity has been switched off?

I write these warnings as though I’m immune from the screen. Yet, I’m frantically typing these words into a screen myself. However, it is a conversation I’ve had in person many times, which might’ve first started five years ago when we were my grandfather’s home town of Hahndorf, in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills. It’s a very picturesque, historic village with original German Fachwerk cottages dating back to the 1850s or so. Of course, locals live there who are caught up in the normal day to day and aren’t going to gawk at the historic features everyday like someone whose just seen them for the first time. However, I think it was while we were sitting in a cafe in Hahndorf, that I heard my very first warning about mobile phones replacing human interaction. Indeed, the proprietor pointed out this Mum who was talking on her phone while out walking with her child in the pram. From an older generation, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t talking to her child instead.

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I see oceans and wondrous lands looking in these incredible eyes.

Of course, mother’s are an easy target. I’m one myself, and I can appreciate the serious difficulty of trying to get any time to yourself. Moreover, I’ve also know the difficulties of trying to run a business and work from home while juggling a baby and seemingly dropping each and every ball. Yet, as much as we might need to make a dollar and have some intellectual and social stimulation, perhaps we could also pay more attention to where we are, even if it’s purely from a safety point of view.

Anyway, I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you, that the screen invasion isn’t just about mothers. It’s everywhere.

Fortunately, I’m not dependent on my mobile phone for work, and am one of those non-conformists who can be difficult to reach. Moreover, somewhere along the way, the phone went from being a source of connection, to becoming an irritation. I’ve rushed to the phone too many times, only to be greeted by a telemarketer. Or, it’s just getting to the climax of a show or I’m in the flow writing, and the phone rings. Indeed, it’s becoming increasingly rare that my phone rings and I’m excited when I answered it. Of course, for me, actually getting to the phone can be quite difficult, as can talking with my lung issues. So, I’ve reached a bit of a stand off with the phone. “Leave me alone”, and now we’re getting along just fine.

That said, I do have a mobile phone and when I haven’t left it at home, it’s very helpful for touching base with the family when we’re out. We can each go our own way and meet up again quite easily and there’s always that backstop. On any family outing, there’s usually somebody who wanders off.

Anyway, getting back to the Archibald Exhibition, my interest in photographing the eyes of paintings was piqued a few weeks ago on my last visit to the Art Gallery of NSW. I zoomed into one of Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly portraits, and photographed Ned Kelly’s almost googly eyes inside his helmet. They were rather freaky to be honest. My son had posed next to this painting as a five year old, and instinctively mimicked Ned’s gaze and it made for a funny portrait of our then “Little Man”. I might be his Mum, but he was just gorgeous, especially when he wasn’t walking into ancient statues, threatening to decapitate them.

“A painter may be looking at the world in a way which is very different from everyone else. If he’s a craftsman, he can get other people to see the world through his eyes, and so he enlarges our vision, perception, and there’s great value in that.”

Edward de Bono

Yesterday, I just found myself drawn into the eyes of many of the portraits, and zooming in and photographing just the eyes seemed like a natural next step. Indeed, it’s actually inspiring me to try to draw eyes myself. Seeing them all zoomed in like that, has actually made it easier to see how i could be done.

I don’t know whether anyone else has gone through a gallery picking the eyes out of the paintings before. However, that’s where I finished up yesterday and I’d like to go back and take it further.

How do artists recreate the eyes of their subject, especially when the eyes are the window to the soul and should be reflecting more than the reflection of a photographer’s flash?

Well, I have no idea. I can’t even pull of my doodle of a cube and get the perspective right. Indeed, after seeing the Young Archibald collection, I thought I’d better give up an an amateur doodler as well. “I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I’m hopeless.”

Yet, I’m not.

Art is intimidating, and doubt that artists even feel they’re good enough.

That they’ve arrived.

Anyway, I found myself drawn into the amazing eyes of so many portraits.

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So, after viewing the Archibald finalists, I wandered through the older portraits looking for eyes to photograph there, and didn’t find much to inspire. Many of the subjects weren’t looking out at the viewer and were turning away. Few, if any, of these eyes captured me in quite the same way as the modern portraits. Indeed, I know they didn’t. I pondered that a little, and would’ve liked to speak with someone more knowledgeable about art and get their opinion. It’s not that I don’t value my own opinion and observations, but there are no embellished gold frames around my opinion, only my glasses.

I guess when it comes to appreciating your sight and not just taking everything around you for granted, that losing your sight would add an intensity, an urgency that most of us lack. The same could be said for myself. I’m already living on borrowed time, and I know what it means to carpe diem seize the day, and not let it fly off into the ether…get lost into the screen of a mobile phone.

Best wishes,

Rowena

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Ned Kelly’s eyes clearly popped out. However, he looks like he could be watching TV.

PS For those of you who might be somewhat artistically inclined, I found it interesting cropping the eyes out of the faces. While I’d zoomed into quite a few faces while I was at the exhibition, there were others which I cropped tonight at home and I was having to decided whether to include or exclude noses with each set of eyes. The whole process did seem rather strange, as is my current desire to try to draw/paint the eye, when the eye kind of needs a face to nestle into.

That brings me to another question. In preparing yourself to tackle something like the Archibald and pull off a portrait which gets hung, do you practice drawing all the bits of the anatomy on their own first and then try to amalgamate it all as a whole. Or, do you just go for it and hope to pull of something vaguely human which might, if you’re lucky, capture the essence of the person?

What I can tell you, is that I could really feel myself being drawn into the eyes of some of these portraits and that they truly were leading me beyond the face, the canvas and a journey deeper into their soul, or goodness knows what or even during a bit of a U-turn and heading inward. After all, there’s some sort of energy or connection bouncing back between the artist, the subject, the canvas and the viewer, although I have no idea how you’d plot that out diagrammatically, or even if you could.

I’ll be coming back tomorrow to add references to all the artworks and the artists tomorrow. It will be quite a job in itself.

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.

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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).

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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

 

 

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.