Tag Archives: Australian art

T – Albert Tucker- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome Back to the A-Z Challenge, where I am writing Letters to Dead Artists through the month of April. Today’s artist, is Australian expressionist Albert Tucker (1914-1999). He is being accompanied by INXS – The Devil Inside.

While it is difficult for me to work out the exact sequence of events, I saw a Retrospective of Albert Tucker’s works in 1990, and I think it was held at the same time as an exhibition of the German Expressionists, who heavily influenced Albert Tucker’s work. I can’t be sure of the exact sequence of events. HOwever, what I do recall, is what it meant for me as a young university student, to stumble across these vivid, emotionally demonstrative paintings when I felt locked inside an inner labyrinth with so much built up angst I could barely breathe. As an extroverted poet who grew up in Volvoland, I found Albert Tucker’s works so liberating. While I might not have been able to show how I was really feeling, he had done it for me, and I particularly felt drawn towards his with its terrifying image of the speeding tram with its glowing headlight staring straight at you. Indeed, I am very, very careful whenever I go to Melbourne around those trams. It wouldn’t take much for one of them to sneak up behind you and flatten you.

The Torment of Love Unsatisfied

Albert Tucker, The Torment of Love Unsatisfied

Well, Albert Tucker was almost over by a tram at night, and so you could say his fear and animosity towards trams is well placed.

However, the tram was just one character which appeared in his famous Images of Modern Evil series, painted between 1943 and 1948.

This series offers a probing and powerful insight into the schismatic socio-political climate of World War II and its aftermath. Moreover, it proved formative in Tucker’s practice as a distillation of humanist, psychological and mythological ideas and as a vehicle for specific motifs and narratives that have endured within his art.

Victory Girls

Albert Tucker, Victory Girls, National Gallery of Australia.

N- Sidney Nolan: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for this year’s A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian artist, Sir Sidney Nolan and will be focusing on his iconic Ned Kelly Series 1946-47. The series is held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Sidney Nolan will be accompanied by the great Peter Allen singing: I Still Call Australia Home

Sidney Nolan was born on the 22nd April, 1917 in Carlton, a working-class suburb of Melbourne and always saw himself as a member of the proletariat…a Working Class Man. In 1938, he married Elizabeth Paterson, but he started having an affair with Sunday Reed. In 1948, he married Cynthia Reed. In 1976, Cynthia Nolan took her life. In 1978, Nolan married Mary née Boyd (1926-2016),youngest daughter within the artistic Boyd family and previously married to artist, John Perceval. Nolan died in London on 28 November, 1992 at the age of 75, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London.

Ned Kelly was a notorious Australian bushranger who has become something of a folk hero inspiring poets, musicians and artists alike. Sidney Nolan has said that the main ingredients of his “Kelly” series of paintings were “Kelly’s own words, and Rousseau, and sunlight”. Kelly’s words, including the Jerilderie Letter, “fascinated Nolan with their blend of poetry and political engagement”.Speaking of inspiration, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series has also inspired other works, including Tin Symphony, which was composed and performed by Ian Cooper at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

When I was growing up, my parents had a print of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon, which was wedded to the walls of three different houses. Indeed, by the time I left home, it had become a much loved member of the family. I’m not sure where it is now. Perhaps, it was buried in the family plot. However, it’s much more likely, that my father dumped it at the tip. He’s not what you’d call “a sentimental bloke”, and more of a “minimalist extremist”. Either way, the painting’s staying power, had me question how often other families change their artworks over, and rotate what’s on display? Or, do their paintings also become married to their walls… “til death do us part”?

Who Was Ned Kelly?

 “…some say that Ned Kelly was a courageous and fundamentally decent young man who was wronged by social conditions that he could not challenge except by violence; while others maintain that he was a common thief and a murderer who deserved only to hang and be forgotten. There is no simple truth of the matter[2]”.

Edward Kelly (December 1854 – 11 November 1880) was an Australian bushranger, outlaw, leader of the Kelly Gang and convicted police murderer. He was born in Victoria, Australia, around 1855. As a teenager he was in trouble with the police and was arrested several times and served time in prison. In mid-1878, following his mother’s imprisonment on perjured police evidence and feeling that the police were harassing him, Kelly took to bushranging with his brother, Dan, Joe Byrne, and Steve Hart. They became known as the Kelly Gang.[3][4] After they shot dead three policemen at Stringybark Creek in Victoria in October 1878, they were declared outlaws. Reacting to the killings, the Victorian Government enacted the Felons’ Apprehension Act 1878 which authorised any citizen to shoot a declared outlaw on sight. A substantial reward was offered for each member of the Kelly Gang, ‘dead or alive’. Ned Kelly is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police at Glenrowan. This armour was made from stolen plough mouldboards. Kelly, the only survivor, was severely wounded by police fire and captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, Kelly was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out at the Old Melbourne Gaol. His last words were famously reported to have been, “such is life”.

Nolan has depicted bushranger Ned Kelly with a square, black box on his head with a rectangle cut out so he can see out and we can see his eyes, which are particularly graphic and expressive.

Kelly has been described as a metaphor for Nolan himself in this series. Nolan, like the bushranger, was a fugitive from the law. In July 1944, facing the possibility that he would be sent to Papua New Guinea on front-line duty, Nolan went absent without leave. He adopted the alias Robin Murray, a name suggested by Sunday Reed, whose affectionate nickname for him was “Robin Redbreast”. So when he created this series he viewed himself as the misunderstood hero/artist like the protagonist, Kelly. “Nolan like this Kelly figure has also been a hero, a victim, a man who armoured himself against Australia and who faced it, conquered it, lost it…. ambiguity personified.[3]

Kelly with clouds

My Favourite

Although Ned Kelly & Constable Scanlon brings back precious childhood memories, my favourite is the one simply called Ned Kelly.What resonates with me about this painting, is that when you peer through the eye-slot in his helmet instead of seeing his eyes, there’s blue sky and clouds. This is me. I always have my head in the clouds. At least, I would if I could. I’m proud to be a dreamer.

That’s no doubt a very personal view of the painting, but isn’t that the point of art in the first place? That we develop a personal attachment and relationship with it and it’s not all about head knowledge and gobbledygook.

Sidney Nolan’s Approach to Art & Painting

During my travels today, I came across an interview with Sidney Nolan in the Australian Women’s Weekly, which provides some helpful insights into his thought processes as an artist:

“Like all the projects he discusses, it sounds as if it’s planned within an inch of its life. “I do that with all my paintings, sometimes years ahead, because I feel all the brainwork, so to speak, should be done by the artist, and should not show in the work. Painting is a celebratory process and an emotional one not quite suited to the conveyance of ideas.”

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about painting, says Nolan, and it tends to alienate some people.

“The average person, so to speak, shouldn’t have to be put through an intellectual process in order to understand paintings. The appeal should be immediate, like people one to the other.”

As far as he’s concerned, “it’s the same thing for all of us – an emotional response. You stand in front of a painting and the first thing you get is a wobbly sort of feeling in your stomach.”

To get his own paintings to that point of impact, he “rehearses” them in his head. “I’m always doing it, in a taxi, over break-fast. It’s like moving furniture – it’s so much easier if you’ve done it in your head beforehand, otherwise it’s heavy going.”

“….Yes, I do have rather a lot planned. And of course apart from the painting I have a lot more travelling I want to do. It’s not so much looking for themes – more just soaking things up, images, feelings, perhaps they’ll come together into some good ideas one day, perhaps not, but I doubt that I’ll ever stop doing it.[4]

A Letter To Sidney Nolan

Dear Sidney,

Our time together today was so rushed, but I wanted to thank you for help out with us on the Scout Sausage Sizzle and providing the kids with a few drawings. They will treasure them always. I also wanted to thank you for lending me your pen and your sketchbook during my daughter’s dance Eisteddfod and helping me alleviate my stress. Thank you very much, also for not laughing when we found out we’d left the tutu at home and I’d failed to sew on the last of the ribbons on top my daughter’s ballet shoe, forcing her to dance with a pin jabbing her in the foot. I really wish we could’ve spent the day at the art gallery. Or, perhaps you prefer being out amongst the people, and feast on the inspiration of the everyday. Personally, I’d rather load up a kombi and had up to Byron Bay and park illegally beside the beach. I think you’d be joining me in that, but you’d need to bring your own Kombi.

I know this is probably being rather forward of me, but I wanted to ask you how you managed to keep going after you lost your beloved wife Cynthia, in such tragic circumstances. I thought you might be able to offer some coping strategies and encouragement to those who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances.

Many thanks & best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Sidney Nolan

Dear Rowena,

I had a delightful day with you today. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and expect perfection all the time. Everyone makes mistakes, but most of them aren’t fatal and we can recover ourselves in some way. Indeed, I’ve found a bit of paint can cover up a multitude of sins.

Anyway, you asked me about those terrible years after I lost my beloved Cynthia with her famous kingfisher spirit.

For awhile there, it was very hard for me to go on. I wasn’t a young man and wondered whether  “my life had gone as far as it could go.”

“But you see I have some friends who have looked after me very well. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve been helped to survive, because I have been.”

“Lonely? Oh yes. Lonely. But alone? Well, you see, because of those friends I wasn’t really on my own, except with respect to that relationship which, anyway, I’ll have with me for the rest of my life.”

In a way there was a choice, recalls Nolan. “Either you went down, you went under – which in a way would have been all right, because I’d seen a lot of life – or you just came through it and painted harder than before.

“What I think now is that if you remain alive and you’re a painter, your responsibility is to become a better painter. What 1 have to do now is paint more into the paintings – which I’ve tried to do this time.”

I hope that helps. Anyway, I’ve been keeping you up and it’s well after your bed time.

Best wishes,

Sidney.

These quotes were taken from Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6.

Sources & References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[2] Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Saturday 3 April 1965, page 9

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Nolan

[4] Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), Wednesday 8 June 1977, page 6

 

 

L – Norman Lindsay: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for the 2018 A-Z April Blogging Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today,  I’ll be writing to Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969). He was a famous Australian artist, sculptor, writer, editorial cartoonist, scale modeler, and an accomplished amateur boxer. Today, we’ll be entertained by Australian Jazz band Galapagos Duck performing I Feel Good at Norman Lindsay’s home at Springwood in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

By the way, it is almost comical that Norman Lindsay follows on directly after Abstract Expressionist, Wassily Kandinsky. While Kandinsky lauded modern art as a founder of the Blaue Reiter and later at the Bauhaus, Norman Linsday, like Hans Heysen , seemed oblivious to various new ways of painting and steadfastly continued along the same path. Both Norman Lindsay and his brother and fellow artist, Lionel, resisted modernism. Indeed, Lionel Lindsay called modernism : “The Cult of Ugliness” and they distinctly saw it as a threat to the Australian national identity and civilization itself.

Magic Pudding

Warning…Pudding with Attitude.

However, my introduction to Norman Lindsay pre-dates my awareness of all these “isms”. When I was a little girl. My mother gave me a book for Christmas… The Magic Pudding , which was written & illustrated by Norman Lindsay. For some reason, I didn’t read the book at the time, just as both my kids have managed to ignore the beautiful, hardcover edition I bought for them at around the same age. Surely, I must’ve read it at some point. The illustrations are very familiar and the story line more or less came back to me tonight, as I powered through it online.

The Magic Pudding was published in 1918 and tells the story of a magic pudding, which grows back after a slice is eaten. Moreover, you just have to whistle and the pudding changes flavour. Clearly, such a pudding was worth a fortune, and the plot centres around the battles between the pudding owners and the conniving pudding thieves. While I’m focusing on the illustration side of the book, the creative use of language throughout reminds me of Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) in Fawlty Towers (who I just found out played Alfred the Pudding in the movie based on the book). How about you try reading this out after a few drinks:

Of all the swivel-eyed, up-jumped, cross-grained, sons of a cock-eyed tinker,’ exclaimed Bill, boiling with rage. ‘If punching parrots on the beak wasn’t too painful for pleasure, I’d land you a sockdolager on the muzzle that ‘ud lay you out till Christmas. Come on, mates,’ he added, ‘it’s no use wastin’ time over this low-down, hook-nosed tobacco-grabber.’ And leaving the evil-minded Parrot to pursue his evil-minded way, they hurried off in search of information. [1]

Pudding characters

Yet, while the language is comical and entertaining, Lindsay’s illustrations bring the story to life with his incredible drawings. These include: Albert the Pudding, Bunyip Bluegum, the Koala; Sam Sawnoff, the penguin; Watkin Wombat and the Possum.

However, there was a lot more to Norman Lindsay than the Magic Pudding. However, to get to know that side of Norman Lindsay, I had to grow up. I can’t remember which came first…the movie Sirens starring Elle McPherson, or visiting his former home at Falconbridge in the Blue Mountains and seeing his obsession with the nude in its unrestrained splendour. He didn’t hold a lot back. Indeed, some of his works were very controversial.

The first major controversy of Norman Lindsay’s career erupted in Sydney in 1904 when the pen and ink drawing, Pollice verso, 1904, was displayed in the twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. A huge debate erupted over the painting, which was seen as “blasphemous”and debauched by its detractors. Indeed, it landed Lindsay in a lot of hot water, which carried over into the pages of The Bulletin, where Lindsay worked as an illustrator. Three years later, Lindsay sent it to Melbourne for display in the Sydney Society of Artists’ First Melbourne Exhibition, which opened at the Guild Hall in Swanston Street on 25 October 1907. Most astounding for Lindsay,  Pollice verso was purchased from the exhibition by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria for the extraordinary sum of 157 guineas and 10 shillings[2].

While Lindsay might condemn me as a “wowser”, I am much more comfortable with his Magic Pudding sketches, than his more “interesting” nudes.

Meanwhile, today I uncovered another Norman Lindsay gem: Creative Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, which was published in 1924, which covers the meaning of life and art, drawing on philosophical concepts and is heavily influenced by the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. It was mind-boggling reading, especially as I was really zooming through it. However, I’ve jotted down a few quotes, which I intend to follow up later…

“One thing alone in existence is manifest, permanent, indestructible, and that is the individual effort to create through thought and beauty. This passion to create something finer than the creator himself is the one, permanent and enduring element in man, and since creative effort is the rarest, most difficult achievement, it remains the greatest stimulus to high development- and this development is life”[3].

 “But evil must be measured by its reach, its aim, its capacity to destroy the highest. Therefore, its attack must be in an effort to pervert, mislead and destroy the creative impulse[4]

“Pain and exultation, Beauty and Ugliness, Good and Evil, these are all part of the Test. Without them there is no development – no leap upwards into the gigantic problems of Futurity.[5]

“But the problem of Common man is not effort, it is the desire to escape effort.[6]

So, after cramming my head full of all of this today, I am somewhat prepared to start writing to Norman Lindsay…

Letter to Norman Lindsay

Dear Norman,

I don’t know whether you ever felt torn between your creative drive and inspiration and the realities of family life. However, I’m burning the midnight oil and it’s getting far too late to wax lyrically about anything. I have an early start and need to get my daughter ready for a dance Eisteddfod. Clearly, it doesn’t take much for my mind to fill up with research and I should be thinking about tutus instead of the meaning of life.

However, after reading snatches of your Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, I thought you might be a good one to direct this rather weighty question to:

What is the meaning of life? Has it become any clearer for you since you crossed over to the other side?

I’d appreciate your help.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Letter from Norman Lindsay

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. It’s forced me into conversing with that Kandinsky chap, although I did enjoy sharing letters with Hans Heysen.

All I’ll simply say is not to be afraid of death. Indeed, death is birth. After all, “why should the change in this life to the next be anymore stupendous than the arrival of Life on Earth?[7]

I hope that helps.

Best wishes,

Norman Lindsay.

Further Reading

https://www.salon.com/2004/07/28/pudding

Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort.

References

[1] The Magic Pudding: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23625/23625-h/23625-h.htm pg 53

[2] https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down-the-trials-and-tribulations-of-norman-lindsays-pollice-verso-2/

[3] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort pp 20-21.

[4] Ibid p 45.

[5] Ibid p 48.

[6] Ibid p 59

[7] Ibid pg 52.

H- Hans Heysen…A-Z Challenge.

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today we’re heading off to Hahndorf in South Australia to drop off a letter to German-Australian artist, Sir Hans Heysen (1877–1968). Hans Heysen will be entertained by his good friend, Dame Nellie Melba singing Voi che sapete (1910) Nellie Melba and Hans Heysen were personal friends.

Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen was born 8 October 1877 in Hamburg, Germany. He migrated to Adelaide in South Australia with his family in 1884 at the age of 7. As a young boy Heysen showed an early interest in art and in 1897, aged 20, he was sponsored by a group of wealthy Adelaide art enthusiasts to study art for four years in France[1] In Paris, he studied at the Académie Julian and Colarossi’s Academy under various masters including Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant and at the Académie des Beaux Arts and he later studied in Italy. There were also summer painting excursions to Holland and Scotland, and a hasty visit to Germany. In 1903, he returned to Adelaide in 1903. He later reported that the impact of Australian light as he sailed up St Vincent’s Gulf was like a slap in the face, profoundly affecting his attitude and vision. Almost at once he turned his back on Europe and concentrated on Australian landscape[2].

Soon Heysen was attracted by one of his pupils, Selma Bartels, known as “Sallie”. They were married on 15 December 1904.

“Its (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy – mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the colouring of its covering. Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful.”

SIR HANS HEYSEN

To the unappreciative eye, Heysen’s works could be dismissed as “yet another gum tree”. Indeed, the artist himself became somewhat of an anachronism as he remained stuck in his ways. Ignoring artistic trends, he remained true to himself, right down to wearing his knee-length knickerbockers and long socks (a rather peculiar sight even in Hahndorf). Yet, when you take the time to appreciate the detail in Heysen’s paintings, the gum trees come alive. Each has its own endearing personality, and his use of light creates a sense of awe and majesty. You feel drawn into the painting, as if into a dream. Indeed, these Arcadian scenes emit a real joie de vivre, happiness, contentment and quite frankly, I’m inspired to pack up my swag to have a long afternoon snooze on the shaded grass beneath their branches.

Heysen White Gums

Hans Heysen, “White Gums”.

Yet, Heysen was more than just gum trees. Influenced by French artist Millett who inspired a generation of artists with his famous depictions of peasants working in the fields, Heysen painted Hahndorf locals, capturing a passing era.

Haebich's Cottage Postcard

Haebich’s Cottage, Hahndorf where Heinrich Haebich and family lived.

This is what drew Hans Heysen into my orbit. He sketched my Great Great Grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich, who owned Haebich’s smithy in Main Street. With the coming of the motor car, clearly the blacksmith was going the way of the slate. Yet, the Haebichs were also progressing with the times, a fact not reflected in Heysen’s work. Indeed, Heysen as well as the artists he brought to Haebich’s, zoomed into a narrow perspective of the place and turned a bustling and often dramatic hive of industry, into a still life.

Lionel Lindsay The Smith Window, Ambleside 1924

Lionel Lindsay: “The Smithy Window, Ambleside” (1924).

While Heysen sketched Heinrich August in 1912, he later brought his friends into the smithy at a time when the car was replacing the horse. Sir Lionel Lindsay’s: The Smithy Window, Ambleside was completed in 1924 and Sydney Ure Smith’s: The Blacksmith’s Shop, Ambleside was painted in1925. (Hahndorf was known as Ambleside for a time due to anti-German sentiment). Sydney Ure Smith even included his sketch in his book, Old Colonial By-Ways, which largely comprised on historic Sydney buildings, but also had a handful of sketches of Hahndorf thrown in and seemed a little out of place.

Frankly, you have to ask why these three artists drew the blacksmith’s shop. Moreover, having heard my grandfather’s descriptions, their still life perspective doesn’t sit right. After all, a blacksmith’s shop was a hive of industry. Even as an old man, my grandfather’s face would light up when he talked about watching them make cart wheels. He and his sisters would walk past the smithy after school. They loved watching the water whoosh up when the red hot, steel rim for the wheel was dunked in water, producing an incredible gush of steam. There was so much theatre and it was a pretty dangerous place too. They had to stand back. So, clearly this wasn’t a place of still life.

Amelia with Hans Heysen smithy.JPG

Our daughter posing with Haebich’s Smithy 1912, 101 years after it was sketched.

I have visited Hahndorf a few times over the years, and on our last visit we toured Hans Heysen’s home, The Cedars. Visiting an artist’s home always changes your relationship. While you never become “friends” as such, with a good guide loaded with stories and an eye for detail, you can feel like you’ve at least taken a short walk in their shoes. Or, in my case, peering through the lens and seeing things through his eyes. Indeed, his house reminded me of my grandparents’ homes with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and was a real delight.

Hans Heysens house

Path leading to Hans Heysen’s House: The Cedars. Couldn’t help wondering whether a Haebich forged his gate.

A Letter to Sir Hans Heysen

Dear Hans,

I wonder what it would be like like for you to walk through that rusty gate again and come back home? A few of your old gum trees are still around, and thankfully they managed to save the historic German houses from the bulldozer. Destroying all that heritage would’ve been a crime. Indeed, I am rather grateful for the watercolour and sketches you did of Haebich’s Smithy, which was owned by my Great Great Grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich. Along with the parallel works undertaken by your friends Lionel Lindsay and Sydney Ure Smith, they provide a detailed study of the workshop and his tools of trade.

My grandfather has spoken to me about the intense anti-German sentiment associated with WWI and WWII, and I wonder if you were ever tempted to change your name? From 1914-1935 Hahndorf was just one of many German towns in the Adelaide Hills whose names were changed to English alternatives. Hahndorf became known as Ambleside and many German families changed their names. Indeed, my grandfather attended Ambleside Public School and during his time there, the Principal changed his name. Families who didn’t change their names, often lost jobs, despite the high percentage of German descendants in South Australia. My grandfather was thrown into a blackberry bush when he started high school due to his German heritage.

These problems have resurfaced recent years, although this time it’s Muslims and people of “Middle-Eastern appearance” who are being targeted due to the perceived terrorism threat. Women wearing the hijab have been particularly targeted, and many women felt unsafe leaving their homes and catching public transport. This led to the #ridewithme campaign, which has at least raised more awareness.

I feel I live in a bubble much of the time, and don’t get exposed to these troubles. However, I think we each have an obligation to be as inclusive as possible and to challenge our own beliefs and behavior. Try to knock down walls of prejudice and hate and build bridges of understanding, acceptance and compassion in their place. Indeed, we need to do this each and every day with everyone we meet, because no one is the same. We’re all different.

Anyway, I’m sorry I’ve got back up on my soapbox again. I should’ve joined you out in your studio instead. I could use a few lessons on how to paint a gum tree, and you seem to be the artist who knew them best…the Gum Tree Whisperer.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I hope you like the photo. It was taken by my grandfather at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938. I spotted you in the foreground.

3-Hahndorf Celebrations2

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

A Letter From Sir Hans Heysen.

Dear Rowena,

We had a saying in Hahndorf back in my day: “The Geese go barefoot everywhere”. It is a good thing to keep in mind, as you journey through life. While we humans focus on our differences, we really do have more in common once you scratch beneath the surface. We just need to get to know each other better.

You have a good head on your shoulders, just like all the Haebichs I knew. Keep watching, analyzing what’s going on around you and feeling with your heart, instead of getting swept up in the momentary impulses of the crowd, which have caused unfathomable destruction throughout our human history. It’s little wonder that I loved the gum tree. What have they ever done to hurt anyone?

Thank you very much for the photograph, although I’m not so keen on seeing my derriere on centre stage.

Next time you’re in Hahndorf, please pop round to my studio for a portrait. I might paint you writing in your notebook under a gum tree.

Greetings to the rest of your family.

Yours,

Hans Heysen.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Heysen

[2] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heysen-sir-wilhelm-ernst-hans-6657.

F- Frederick McCubbin- A-Z Challenge

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists.

Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917) was an Australian Impressionist and a member of the famed Heidelberg School of artists, which played a critical role in the development of a distinctive Australian art. Moreover, through his position as an instructor and master of the School of Design at the National Gallery (1888 to his death in 1917) he taught a number of students who became prominent Australian artists, including Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton. Indeed, when I read artist Jo Sweatman’s reflection on the man, it’s clear both he and his wife Annie, did a lot to foster Australian art and artists:

“It is impossible to think of the Old Gallery days apart from Fred McCubbin, that dearly loved man. In both Mr. and Mrs. Mac students found inspiring and sympathetic friends, who kept open house on Sundays to painters, musicians, and senior students at their home in Brighton. Mr. Mac had a fine tenor voice, and, singing “The Erl King,” hands clenched, hair more than ever on end, and voice almost hoarse with horror, he thrilled one to the marrow. Mrs. Mac was full of energy and enterprise. She first discovered the Athenaeum Hall and helped to make it the present home of painters[1].

220px-Frederick_McCubbin_-_Self-portrait,_1886

Self-Portrait 1886 Art Gallery of NSW

His obituary also provides a helpful snapshot of the man:

“Mr. McCubbin was essentially a landscape painter, and showed remarkable skill in dealing with and realizing the intricacies, colour, and atmosphere of the Australian bush. Especially could he suggest the great spaces of the forest, the artistic tangle of the undergrowth, and the charm of solitude and silence. In 1906 he visited England, and the influence of Turner was apparent in all he did subsequent to his return, which added considerably to the charm of his landscapes.[2]

When you think about Australia back to McCubbin’s early days, European Australia was barely 100 years old and still an infant. News from Europe arrived by ship and was 3 months out-of-date by the time it arrived. So, it was very difficult for Australian artists to keep up with overseas trends, although our artists travelled overseas and brought ideas back with them and new immigrants did likewise. Moreover, vast distances and poor transport within the colonies compounded this global isolation. While most Australians lived in cities, in more rural areas, you couldn’t just  pop next door for a cup of tea, let alone chat about your latest painting.

So, any movement which could draw fledgling Australian artists together, was critical for the creation of a uniquely Australian art. By the way, I don’t just see that as a political or nationalist urge, but the need for the person on the street to find their own reflection in art and literature. To see our trees, our birds, skies and beaches populated by characters like ourselves, and not simply having someone else’s world thrust upon us.

Personally, I mainly know McCubbin through his work: On the Wallaby Track (1896. For me the first thing you notice, is that it’s distinctly Australian. I can smell the scent of eucalyptus wafting through the bush, and hear the dried up gum trees crunch and crackle under foot. You’re definitely not in England with “her pleasant pastures green”.

By the way, “On the Wallaby”, refers to going bush looking for work. There was a serious  economic recession in the 1890s, and this battling swagman doesn’t only have himself to worry about, but also a wife and baby to feed. It can therefore be taken as a comment on the harsh economic times. By the way, McCubbin’s wife, Annie, and son modelled for the painting along with his brother-in-law. So it was a staged, constructed scene and not something he stumbled across.

On the Wallaby Track remains a fairly well-known work. In 1981, it came to life in a Kit Kat commercial:

In 1981, it also appeared on the $2.00 Christmas stamp. Indeed, I remember tearing it off a Christmas parcel from my grandparents, soaking it off and adding it to my stamp collection.  I was 12 years old.

However, once you put On the Wallaby onto a Christmas stamp, the scene takes on a different story. Indeed, the mother becomes Mary, the baby is Jesus and the swagman becomes Joseph.

Well, at least that’s what I used to see when the stamp first came out. The last thing on my mind back then, was being a Mum and having children. Indeed, I wasn’t too keen on all the trappings of womanhood back then, and this could well have been around the time that I threw in my angel wings to become a shepherd in the Church Christmas Eve Service. That had nothing to do with cross-dressing or wanting to be a man. Rather, it acknowledged dissatisfaction with the limitations of being “a young lady” i.e. being imprisoned in fancy dresses and patent leather shoes, which couldn’t get dirty. I wanted to have fun, and having fun should never be political.

However, I look at that painting through different eyes now that I’m a mother of two children. Now, I not only know what it is to have a babe on your lap, but also to see them grow up and almost disappear within their adolescent features.  So, now, I look at that painting and think of me out in the bush with my husband and our first born.

Jonathon &Rowena Coles Bay

 

Oh how times have changed!

So, I thought Slim Dusty singing Waltzing Matilda would be a suitable musical accompaniment to On The Wallaby Track.

That reminds me, family and being a family man are integral to reaching any kind of understanding of Frederick McCubbin and his work. He was the third of eight children himself and he and his wife Annie, had seven children. He worked in his parents’ bakery in the early days as a cart driver, and various family members posed for his works. Moreover, with the weekend open houses, it seems that both Fred and Annie McCubbin extended their notion of “family” to include his family of fellow artists. They fostered young talent and their home was a fertile breeding ground for Australian artists, where they could collaborate and exchange ideas. Indeed, their son, Louis and a grandson, Charles, both became artists.

So, now without further ado, he’s my letter to Frederick McCubbin…

Letter to Frederick McCubbin

Dear Frederick,

You passed away just over a hundred years ago, and I assume you’ve been resting in peace ever since.

Well, I’m sorry to disturb you, although I can see you being quite enthusiastic to jump out of your box, and find fresh inspiration to paint. I wonder how you would depict Australia today? What stands out and gives us a unique sense of identity? Or, does that still exist? Has Australian culture been diluted so much, that there isn’t anything left? I cringe whenever my kids refer to tomato sauce as “ketchup”. What’s the world coming to? I sometimes wonder whether we’ve given away our souls, without even questioning how precious they are. Mind you, trying to define an Australian has never been easy. However, while I struggle to pinpoint what it is, I have a sense of what it’s not.

By the way, I hope you noticed the stamp on the envelope. Does it look familiar? How does it feel to have one of your paintings on an Australian stamp? You must be pretty stoked. I really love: On the Wallaby Track. It feels so real. Like I could just walk into the canvas, pick up your baby boy, and hold him in my arms. Indeed, I could even switch places and slip into position with my own son.However, that could also have something to do with this painting appearing in a Kit Kat commercial.

Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you!

Warm regards,

Rowena

A Letter From Frederick McCubbin

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. I showed Annie and the rest of the family the stamp, and we popped the champagne. It was such an honour.

As much as I was consumed with creating an Australian art back in the day, I’ve been away too long to have a finger on the pulse these days. What I did notice, was that no one talks to each other anymore. You’re all hiding behind those silly screens. Indeed, after awhile, I started to wonder if anyone has any personality or character at all. Is this what your generation calls “the zombie apocalypse”?

Anyway, I have a very important question for you, Rowena…What happened to your painting? Why did you stop?

Last night, I snuck into your house and your pieces weren’t even signed.

Are you ashamed of them?

What are you hiding behind?

It’s time for you to come out, my dear.

Don’t be so afraid.

You have your own way of seeing. Your own unique vision. Seize it with both hands and ooze it into your words and onto the canvas. Your time will come.

Warm regards,

Fred.

References

[1] Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Saturday 5 April 1941, page 4

[2] Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), Saturday 29 December 1917, page 12

Further Reading

Frederick McCubbin – Australian Dictionary of Biography

http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_intro.html

https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/the-art-of-frederick-mccubbin-a-view-of-his-materials-and-technique/

https://www.artistsfootsteps.com/html/McCubbin_Interior.htm

 

Parking Lot Near Bologna, 1992…Flash Fiction.

As part of an inter-agency operation, the Guardia di Finanza was staking out the notorious Bologna car park. It was said to be the change over point, for trucks trafficking young women from Croatia to the UK.

“Ze cargo good. Very good,” said the guy in the green pants, reportedly  Sergei Demodenko. The other man, known as the Kissing Assassin, was Luigi Pepperoni.

“Disgusting!” a female officer spat. “They can roast in hell.”

“But they are just the little fish. Talk is, this goes high up.”

Suddenly, the men peered up, and sped from the scene. Evidently, a tip off.


This afternoon, I intrepidly advanced into my teenage son’s bedroom and took off with his school folder to dig out the art assignment he had due, and evaluate the carnage. As you could perhaps appreciate, I need to be in the right frame of mind to take on his messy folder, but desperation called.

His assignment was on Australian Artist, Jeffery Smart . I’d heard the name, but despite having somewhat studied Australian art in the context of social history at university, I couldn’t place him. So, before I even chased up the questions for the assignment, I did the usual Google search and caught up.

What followed was several hours working through the painting with our son and also for myself. I don’t know whether you’ve seen what homework’s like these days in the post-Google Internet era. However, our son does his homework online and submits it to his teacher via Google classroom. This is very much “Beam me up, Scotty” territory to me. He still has exercise books, yet his learning is so interactive, and light years ahead of what we were doing. I left school in 1987 and I remember studying art history from a black & white text book, which hardly did anything justice. I don’t remember studying Australian art at all and discovering the likes of Australian Women artists like Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor, had to wait until university.

Art appreciation, also meant a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW in the city, not a Google search from your lounge chair.

We really were deprived.

Anyway, as we went through the questions, I found out that he had to write a 100 story about the painting. I was initially a bit baffled about what he should write, but then it suddenly dawned on this bear of little brain, that they were just asking him to write what I write all the time…a 100 word piece of flash fiction.

He hasn’t done something like this before to my knowledge. So, I thought I’d write an example to show him to help him formulate his own ideas.

This was much harder than expected. While Jeffrey Smart is an Australian artist, he lived in Italy most of his life and the painting is set in a car park in Bologna. After spending so much time researching, staring at and pulling this painting apart, I decided there was something like a people smuggling ring involved and these men were dealing in human cargo. So, i found myself needing to pick up a few words of Italian, find out a bit about their Police force and think up some kind of interesting twist for the end.

I do this every week for Friday Fictioneers. However, it’s never easy and there’s a huge part of me, which almost capitulates every week, when seeing the photo prompt produces a nasty case of writer’s block. I really do freeze and the words stop dead in their tracks.

Anyway, there’s a bit of a back story to this. I hope you enjoyed it and might I also encourage you to write something about this intriguing painting prompt and put a link to your effort in the comments below. I’d love to read it.

xx Rowena

PS I just put 1 + 1 together and realized that 1992 was the year I was in Europe and that I actually went to Florence the year this was painted. That wasn’t long after The Wall had come down and Germany had been reunified. The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995 between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia—which had declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I remember that you couldn’t send mail to Croatia at the time…just the tip of a dreadful iceberg.