Tag Archives: painting

Graffifi Tunnel, Sydney University: Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

Antonymns Rowena

Me on the campaign trail outside the Holme Building in 1990.

This week we’ve entering in a time tunnel and heading back to 1990 when I was running for election to edit Sydney University’s student newspaper: Honi Soit. Our team was called the Antonymns and the ant as our logo. Indeed, our intrepid leader was a massive 6ft black papier mache ant, which was hoisted up on top of a car and driven around campus. In retrospect, although we didn’t win, our campaign was actually pretty good and devising slogans, posters, t-shirts, stickers, cars mascots and then trying to convince the masses to vote for us was a massive undertaking. While some more astute politicians ingratiate themselves with key interest groups and hope the mob of sheep follow the leader, I went round speaking personally to masses of students. This included  interviewing students about the New Age Sensitive Guy or SNAG around campus and producing my findings in the university magazine: The Union Recorder.

antonyms in tunnel

As you can see, Graffiti Tunnel is a brutal, temporal place a lot like building a sandcastle on the beach, which is washed away before you’ve even stuck a feather in the top. I gather the Newshounds were either short or didn’t bring a ladder and that black ant does seem to be peering down and poking out it’s tongue at its miraculous survival.

Although election day probably should’ve been the pinnacle of our campaign, for me it was actually painting the tunnel. A friend of mine picked me up in his Dad’s station wagon and we must’ve got in there about 4.00-5.00am. It was pitch black, Winter and freezing. That’s what I remember…the cold. Yet, strangely I have absolutely no memory of any safety concerns. Seriously, who was going to knock a pair of mad students over the head during the middle of the night and run off with their tin of brown paint? Well, you can’t be too careful because our rivals, the Newshounds, had started sticking their posters up at the other end of the tunnel and they certainly were out to get us (and the feeling was mutual. The campaign had become rather heated.)

Anyway, getting back to our mission, we’d decided to turn Graffiti Tunnel into an ant tunnel. The plan was to paint the tunnel brown for that authentic look and then we stenciled Antonymns and blank ants over the top. In hindsight, I’d probably go for something more stylised using lurid colours to make more of a shocking impact. However, you live and learn.

Anyway, as I mentioned, while we were risking frost bite painting down one end of the tunnel, our rivals the Newshounds were sticking posters up at the other end of the tunnel and sometime long before dark, we met up. I don’t think the Newshounds thought too highly of the poo brown paint and the Antonyms really weren’t too sure that their intensely bright orange chalk quite conformed to election guidelines. From memory, their compliance with budget restrictions also seemed questionable. Minor things like this can flare up like a gangrenous wound during an election campaign and I lost a few friends during the course of this campaign, which I’ve regretted.

Anyway, as you may be aware, I revisited Sydney University last week and thoroughly inspected and analyzed my old haunts through the lens. This included returning to Graffiti Tunnel and feeling quite a sense of accomplishment that I’d actually painted that thing in my youth. That I was really living life to the fullest and seizing the day.

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However, while I was photographing Graffiti Tunnel this time, I was surprised to find many doors inside. As I photographed them for Thursday Doors, it never crossed my mind that they might actually lead somewhere. That there could indeed be a secret world behind those doors. I’d only ever seen it as a tunnel and never delved any further. However, that all changed on this visit and some of the doors were open, revealing corridors, labs and lecture rooms. It all felt rather macabre.

I guess places are very much like people. You can think you know someone rather well but then you see them in a different light and figuratively speaking a door either opens or closes and they’re not who you thought they were.

By the way, there’s a very strong part of me which longs to return to Graffiti Tunnel and paint it again. Update it all. I’d like to paint something which really gets the students thinking about what they’re doing. Where they’re going and finding more connection and a more optimistic outlook. I have a few ideas but I fully intend to express them in paint before I confess. Intentions don’t count. This will be my Nike moment…Just do it!

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena

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.

DSC_9957

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.

DSC_9938

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

DSC_9550

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.

W- Andrew Newell Wyeth: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to my series of Letters to a Dead Artists, which I’ve put together for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. For the past month, I’ve been steadily moving through the alphabet and after writing to Leonardo Da Vinci yesterday, today I’ll be writing to Andrew Newell Wyeth, an American realist painter.The music I have chosen to accompany Andrew Wyeth is Celtic Woman singing You Raise Me Up

Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and passed away at the age of 91 on January 16, 2009…a very long way from Sydney, Australia.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Newell Wyeth

Prior to setting out on this challenge, I had never heard of Andrew Newell Wyeth, and to be perfectly honest, I only found out about him on a Google search trying to fill up the vacant letters. It’s a problem I face every year, where I’m forced to leave something out because certain letters are bombarded with choice, and I’m left desperately scrambling to find anything for others. However, my criterion for choosing every single one of these artists, whether I knew them before, or whether  they popped up in the Great Google Lucky Dip, was that I needed to experience some kind of emotional, psychological and even spiritual connection. It couldn’t just be a case of: “She’ll be right mate”, or any artist will do.

As it turned out, Andrew Newell Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World (1948), grabbed me by the throat and almost stopped me dead. This artist I had never ever heard of before, had never met, and lived on the other side of the world, had miraculously captured my suppressed, desperate, clawing frustration of battling against the muscle weakness brought on by dermatomyositis.

“To be interested solely in technique would be a very superficial thing to me. If I have an emotion, before I die, that’s deeper than any emotion that I’ve ever had, then I will paint a more powerful picture that will have nothing to do with just technique, but will go beyond it.”

Andrew Wyeth

When I first saw the house on top of the hill, and Christina groping her way up through the grass, I could feel her struggle in my own body. Yet, it didn’t occur to me straight away that Christina also had some form of muscle loss. Rather, I thought the painting simply portrayed human struggle, and that clawing desperation to make it up the top of the hill. Indeed, I felt a sort of chill or goose bumps, as soon as I saw the painting. There was that instant recognition of myself, and of course, it helped that I also have long dark hair and there could well have been quite a likeness once upon a time. Of course, it helps that he painted her with her back to the world and we can’t see her face.

Christina Olsen 1947.jpg

Andrew Wyeth, Christina Olden 1947

Indeed, seeing Christina’s World, I was swept into a horrific vortex of memory, reliving when I simply tripped over a broom at home.  Much to my surprise, I was literally swept into a blood-chilling nightmare, when I couldn’t get myself up again.

Rowena with kids Mt Wilga 2007.JPG

How the camera lies. An everyday photo of Mum and kids, except I was in Mt Wilga Rehbilitation Hospital and could barely walk or get myself up off the ground. That was just over ten years ago.

There I was a 36 year old Mum home alone with my two young kids. Mister was about three and a half and at an age where, like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he’d climb up onto our back shed to get a better look at the “mountains”. He was somewhere when I fell, which usually meant mischief, danger or a combination of the two. Meanwhile, Miss was only 16 months old, and Mummy’s little shadow. However, that also meant that when I fell, I knocked her over on the way down. She was crying and this was no ordinary cry either but had that same chilling sensation of fingernails scraping down a chalkboard, which travels right under your skin. Of course, I’d normally pick her straight up. Comfort her. Kiss it better. However, I was weighed down like a sack of lead potatoes, and couldn’t move at all to reach her and just had her cry in my ear.

Instead, there I was lying face down on the tiles and couldn’t get up. Moreover, at this point of time, I didn’t have a name for the horrific monster which had invaded my body and my bloodstream. Not having a diagnosis, in a way, meant that it didn’t exist and that I was just “tired”. It was just part of being a Mum with very young kids… having a baby. Sleep deprivation and utter exhaustion are par for the course, aren’t they? However, this was different…something nasty, sinister, a monster.  While I hurt my knee in the fall, why couldn’t I get up? For somebody with normal mobility, this was so surreal and strange. Quite unlike the sort of panic that comes, when you can’t feel your legs. As far as I was concerned, there was no reason I couldn’t get up. I was just tired, rundown although there was something funny going on with my blood tests. Eventually, I was able to lift myself onto my bottom and I shuffled into the kitchen. For once, the cordless phone was there when I needed it and I rang my husband who was at work a two hour train trip away. Clearly, he couldn’t just pop home and magically save the day. Meanwhile, my call filled him with a sense of dread, absolute powerlessness and horror. Clearly I was very unwell and needed immediate help, and he couldn’t do a thing. In fact, I don’t think either of us even considered calling an ambulance. That was for emergencies and I’d just simply fallen over…

All he could suggest was levering myself up with a chair and that worked. It took a further six weeks for me to finally receive a diagnosis and then I was in a combination of hospital and rehab for about 8 weeks.

“There’s a quote from Hamlet that is my guide… He tells the players not to exaggerate but to hold a mirror up to nature. Don’t overdo it, don’t underdo it. Do it just on the line.”

Andrew Wyeth

So, while it was sensational to find Christina’s World and to see my struggles depicted and represented on canvas, there was also an enormous sense of sadness. You see, like Christina, despite pushing myself beyond breaking point so many, many times, I still haven’t made it to the top of the hill. I haven’t made it home. Not only am I adrift, but there’s also that intense frustration better known as angst where I can see where I want to go. Where I’m meant to be. Yet, I’m constantly clawing through the mud and getting nowhere.

“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future-the timelessness of the rocks and the hills-all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape-the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Wyeth

Yet, ironically there is also great strength in persevering through weakness. Indeed, there’s that old adage: “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger”. That’s so true and these days they’ve even called this fighting comeback…resilience. Indeed, resilience is now considered one of the key ingredients for getting through life. So, for those of us who received more than their allocated glass and a half, we must be powering all the way to the moon. Well, if only we could make up that darn hill.

By the way, after spilling my guts about how Christina’s World touched me so personally, I had to laugh as these prophetic words of Andrew Wyeth’s:

“I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don’t talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died.”

Andrew Wyeth

I guess it’s not surprising that Wyatt knew and had experience intensive suffering and loss himself. In 1945, Wyeth’s father and his three-year-old nephew were killed near their home, when his car stalled on railroad tracks and was struck by a train. Wyeth has often referred to his father’s death as a formative emotional event in his artistic career. Shortly following the tragedy, Wyeth’s art consolidated into his mature and enduring style, characterized by a subdued colour palette, highly realistic renderings, and the depiction of emotionally charged symbolic objects[1].

Christina’s World was painted a year after his father’s death.

Although this introduction is very rushed and feeling incomplete and inadequate, I’m going to get moving and start writing my letter to Andrew Wyeth.

A Letter to Andrew Wyeth

Dear Andrew,

For the last month, I’ve been trying on the shoes of so many artists and tried to see the world through their eyes, before I take a huge, audacious step and actually write them a letter. As much as it’s been a lot of fun in a heavy research searching for the meaning of life kind of way, it’s also been very challenging, especially as it seems that almost every artist without exception, has experience incredible suffering. I don’t know whether it’s this understanding and empathy with suffering, which has given their paintings added depth and emotional insight, but there’s definitely that common thread.

Do you think artists suffer more than others, and their grief inspires their art? Or, does their art become more of an antidote, a way of releasing the anguish trapped inside?

I have asked God myself why there’s so much suffering, especially at one point where I felt he’d channelled centuries of wrath in my direction and afflicted me with the dermatomyositis. However, ever faithful, he replied and said: “if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” I didn’t challenge him on that front again. He’d made his point.

Anyway, I’d like to thank you for giving us Christina’s World. While everybody who sees the painting could well have their own interpretation, her story obviously has a very personal connection for me. Trying to get up hills is particularly hard for me these days. Not so much due to the muscle weakness but due to the associated problems I have with my lungs, which are currently not much over 50% capacity. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, but you seem like the sort of people I could simply talk to. That you care. That no one’s experiences or struggles are too small or insignificant. Each of us matters.

Before I head off, I’ve enclosed some leftover egg yolks, which I thought you could use to make up your tempura paint. I made a pavlova yesterday and I hate wasting the left over yolks. By the way, I’ve attached my recipe for Betsy. I understand she made a lot of meringues in her time.

Best wishes,

Rowena

wind-from-the-sea

Andrew Wyeth: Wind From the Sea.

A Letter From Andrew Wyeth

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter and the egg yolks. I’ve already started on a painting. This one depicts Andy Warhol’s reaction when I received your letter and he missed out. Dad, ever out to compete and do things bigger, bolder, brighter has splashed oils all over the biggest canvas in stock. Mine is more subdued, but you’ll have to wait.

I was rather taken aback to read that you have lung troubles, my friend. You see, I had lung troubles from a very young age and even had one of my lungs removed and the other one wasn’t that good either. So, I was living on less than half a tank never expecting to grow up, make it through middle age and it was the most confusing things after being so terribly ill, to actually see most of my friends pass away before me like Autumn leaves.

So, my friend, there is hope for you yet.

Sorry, I forgot to thank you for the Pavlova recipe. Betsy loved it and everyone’s grateful for a change to meringues!

Best wishes,

Andrew.

By the way, I highly recommend Dan Schneider’s Video interview with three experts on Andrew Wyeth:

 

[1] http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3707.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374451/

https://curiator.com/art/andrew-wyeth/trodden-weed

 

S- Salvador Dali- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Today, I’ll be writing to creative powerhouse, Salvador Dali (1904 -1989) and focusing on his most recognizable work: The Persistence of Memory, which will be accompanied by the theme song from Ghostbusters. While on first impressions, this would seem an unlikely combination, Salvador Dali or indeed the manifestations of any of his works, would definitely be classed as “something strange in your neighbourhood”!!

“One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams.”

-Salvador Dali

To provide a brief biographical sketch, Salvador Dali was born in 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. When he was 16, he lost his mother to breast cancer, which was according to him: “the greatest blow I had experienced in my life”. In 1922, Dalí moved into the Residencia de Estudiantes (Students’ Residence) in Madrid and studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. Dalí already drew attention as an eccentric and dandy. He had long hair and sideburns, coat, stockings, and knee-breeches in the style of English aesthetes of the late 19th century.  In 1924, French writer, Andre Breton, published his Manifesto of Surrealism, which influenced artists and writers alike. In 1926, Dali visited Pablo Picasso in Paris and found inspiration in what the cubists were doing. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dalí from Joan Miró, a fellow Catalan who introduced him to many Surrealist friends. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dalí made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró. Consequently, Dali was influenced by Freudian theory and began studying the psychoanalytical concepts of Freud and metaphysical painters like Giorgio Chrico and surrealists like Miro, and using psychoanalytic methods to generate imagery. Indeed, Salvador Dalí frequently described his paintings as “hand painted dream photographs.” In 1929, Dalí collaborated with surrealist film director Luis Buñuel on the short film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). His main contribution was to help Buñuel write the script for the film. Dalí later claimed to have also played a significant role in the filming of the project, but this is not substantiated by contemporary accounts.] Also, in August 1929, Dalí met his lifelong and primary muse, inspiration, and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. His work had already been heavily influenced by surrealism for two years. The Surrealists hailed what Dalí called his paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity. 2.

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”

Salvador Dali.

However, in the 1930s Dali transformed from a key figure in the Surrealist movement, into its enemy when he was nearly expelled after a “trial” in 1934. His dismissal was due to his apolitical stance, his personal feud with leader Andre Breton, and his public antics. In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War started and Dali and his wife remained in Paris, where he continued evolving his artistic style. He was heavily influenced by the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, whom Dali met in 1938. In 1939 Andre Breton definitively expelled Dali from Surrealism.3.

“Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.”

Salvador Dali

In 1980, Dalí was forced to retire from painting due to a motor disorder that caused permanent trembling and weakness in his hands. No longer able to hold a paint brush, he’d lost the ability to express himself the way he knew best. More tragedy struck in 1982, when Dalí’s beloved wife and friend, Gala, died. The two events sent him into a deep depression. He moved to Pubol, in a castle that he had purchased and remodeled for Gala, possibly to hide from the public or, as some speculate, to die. In 1984, Dalí was severely burned in a fire. Due to his injuries, he was confined to wheelchair. Friends, patrons and fellow artists rescued him from the castle and returned him to Figueres, making him comfortable at the Teatro-Museo.

In November 1988, Salvador Dalí entered a hospital in Figueres with a failing heart. After a brief convalescence, he returned to the Teatro-Museo. On January 23, 1989, in the city of his birth, Dalí died of heart failure at the age of 84. His funeral was held at the Teatro-Museo, where he was buried in a crypt.4.

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak…”

Andre Breton: The Manifesto of Surrealism 1924.

After dipping only the very tip of my little toe into Salvadore Dali tonight, I’m already overwhelmed by my ignorance. Am feeling quite the simpleton for loving his: The Persistence of Memory simply because of the melting clocks.

I’m an Australian and we get very, very hot Summers here, which do very nasty things to chocolate. Indeed, I’ve even seen candles bend over and do a complete U-turn in the heat. So when I see the melting clocks, I am reminded of chocolate coins melting in the heat.You know where the chocolate coin is housed in thick gold foil. You don’t have to be a child to fall under their spell.

Of course, when it comes to time itself melting away and evaporating completely, I’m no stranger to that either. Indeed, time seems to run out faster than my bank account. I know what it’s like to live on a tidal plain, and have to return home before the tide comes in. Or, to head out in the kayak, before you have to drag the beast home. In other words, you don’t need to remind me that “time and tide wait for no one.”

Of course, there’s that other aspect of time. How long is our personal piece of string and how much time do we have left?

For me, this question isn’t theoretical. Indeed, it’s breathing down my neck all the time. However, I’m now so used to it’s omnipresence, that I ignore it. Carpe Diem seize the day. Well, at least, I try to. That said, The Cough often has other ideas. Indeed, I think that cough thinks it’s Salvadore Dali himself craving attention and believing it’s the Lord of Heaven and Earth. However,  just as Dali’s been cut down to size, I’m determined to deflate The Cough its all its dreams to extend my existence well past its expiry date, even if I have to climb an Everest of hurdles to get there.

While many view Dali as a genius, not everyone sees him that way. Writing in The Guardian, Australian art critic Robert Hughes, dismissed Dalí’s later works as “kitschy repetition of old motifs or vulgarly pompous piety on a Cinemascope scale.” Moreover, when Dawn Ades of England’s University of Essex, a leading Dalí scholar, began specializing in his work 30 years ago, her colleagues were aghast. “They thought I was wasting my time,” she says. “He had a reputation that was hard to salvage. I have had to work very hard to make it clear how serious he really was.” 1.

 The Persistence of Memory

Returning to The Persistence of Memory, he based this seaside landscape on the cliffs in his home region of Catalonia, Spain. The ants and melting clocks are recognizable images that Dalí placed in an unfamiliar context or rendered in an unfamiliar way. The large central creature comprised of a deformed nose and eye was drawn from Dalí’s imagination, although it has frequently been interpreted as a self-portrait. Its long eyelashes seem insect-like; what may or may not be a tongue oozes from its nose like a fat snail from its shell.

Time is the theme here, from the melting watches to the decay implied by the swarming ants. Mastering what he called “the usual paralyzing tricks of eye-fooling,” Dalí painted this work with “the most imperialist fury of precision,” but only, he said, “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.” There is, however, a nod to the real: the distant golden cliffs are those on the coast of Catalonia, Dalí’s home.https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/1168-2

Venus with Drawers.jpg

Salvadore Dali, Venus de Milo With Drawers

Venus With Drawers (1936)

Given that I’ve already touched on the Venus de Milo and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, I thought I should also touch on Salvador Dali’s Venus With Drawers (1936):

Among Salvador Dali’s many memorable works, perhaps none is more deeply embedded in the popular imagination than Venus de Milo with Drawers, a half-size plaster reproduction of the famous marble (130-120 B.C.; Musée de Louvre, Paris), altered with pompom-decorated drawers in the figure’s forehead, breasts, stomach, abdomen, and left knee. The provoking combination of cool painted plaster and silky mink tufts illustrates the Surrealist interest in uniting different elements to spark a new reality. For the Surrealists the best means of provoking this revolution of consciousness was a special kind of sculpture that, as Dali explained in a 1931 essay, was “absolutely useless … and created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character.” Dali’s article, which drew upon the ideas of Marcel Duchamp‘s Readymades, inaugurated object making as an integral part of Surrealist activity.

Dali was deeply influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, contending “The only difference between immortal Greece and contemporary times is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, purely platonic in the Greek epoch, is nowadays full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable to open.” The artist was especially interested in Freud’s interpretation of William Jensen’s Gradiva, a 1903 novel about an archaeologist’s obsession with an ancient relief; this curiosity coincided with his first explorations on the theme of cabinets—works such as the intimately scaled Atmospheric Chair (1933), in which a small cabinet seems to give birth to a maelstrom of vaguely human body parts. In other works, like City of Drawers (1936), Dali transformed the cabinet into a female figure, or, as he put it, an “anthropomorphic cabinet.” Venus de Milo with Drawers is the three-dimensional culmination of Dali’s explorations into the deep, psychological mysteries of sexual desire symbolized in the figure of the ancient goddess of love.http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/185184

Dali Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War).jpg

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), c. 1936.

While I was devouring Dali tonight like a voracious glutton, I came across another work which I wanted to add to the mix. That is Dali’s  Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), c. 1936. This anti-war piece was brushed just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The painting depicts a tormented figure tearing itself apart in what Dalí called “a delirium of autostrangulation.5” Australian art critic, Robert Hughes commented:

“Despite all bombast of the later work, Dalí’s greatest and most frightening painting is probably the Soft Construction with Boiled Beans – Premonition of Civil War (1936). With this single painting, Dalí moved into the territory of Goya. This monstrous Titan – its body is part-based on that of stringy Saturn, seen in the act of eating his child, in one of Goya’s Black Paintings in the Prado – is the most powerful image of a country’s anguish and dismemberment to issue from Spain (or anywhere else) since Los Desastres de la Guerra. And every inch of it, from the sinister greenish clouds and electric-blue sky to the gnarled bone and putrescent flesh of the monster, is exquisitely painted. This, not Picasso’s Guernica, is modern art’s strongest testimony on the civil war, and on war in general. Not even the failures of Dalí’s later work can blur that fact.6″

……

When it comes to trying to understand Dali’s works, I am very grateful to art critics like Robert Hughes, who can translate the many mysteries of the visual into something tangible. Of course, we can always have our own interpretations, but quite often a more detailed knowledge of the artist sheds some light. I also think that while many of us love art, we’re more of the dabbling kind and don’t have the time to develop the expertise required to become a walking art encyclopaedia.

That said, even in the brief weeks I’ve been hunkering down, I feel like I’ve devoured the golden calf. I’m just amazed at how much you can learn from your chair at home these days through the Internet. You just have to switch off the TV. Put Facebook on hold and you too could become a genius. There’s nothing stopping you.

Lastly, I should mention that Dali was also a writer and wrote several autobiographies. While I haven’t had a chance to read these, I really liked this little story, which he claimed to write as an 8 year old:

“Una noche a finales de junio, un niño se pasea con su madre. Llueven estrellas fugaces. El niño recoge una y la lleva en las palmas de las manos. Llega a casa, la deposita sobre la mesa y la aprisiona dentro de un vaso puesto al revés. Por la mañana, al levantarse, deja escapar un grito de horror: ¡un gusano, durante la noche, ha roído su estrella!“
(Translation: “A night at the end of June, a child takes a walk with his mother. It’s raining falling stars. The child picks up one and carries it in the palms of his hands. At home he deposits it on the table and locks it in a reversed glass. The next morning, getting up, he lets escape a scream of terror: A worm, during the night, has nibbled his star!“) 7.
So, after that grand introduction, here is my letter to Salvadore Dali…

Letter to Salvadore Dali

Dear Salvadore,

Did your moustache keep growing after you died?

Curiously yours,

Rowena

A Letter From Salvador Dali

 Dear Rowena,

Thank you for your letter. Eileen Agar passed it on. It was rather mean of you to string me along like this, almost to the very end. Of course, you were playing with me because I knew you would write to me.
As for my moustache, I’ve been in discussions with Shakespeare about purchasing the plaque from his grave:
“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
As you may be aware, I was my comfy crypt was opened up recently. Talk about an invasion of privacy and not respecting the eternal sleep of the dead. It’s the thing  nightmares are made of, having your lid opened up like that and the light pouring in. As for being pocked and prodded, the was the last straw. Well, at least no one took my photo. That was the one salvation. I just hope they’re not going to try and clone me…especially with Woolly Mammoth or even the Tasmania Tiger. I know I had some mixed-up crazy images in my paintings, but it’s quite another to do that with my DNA, especially without my consent!
Anyway, you don’t need to take my word for it. They checked out my mo and it’s still in fine form. The rest of me is also is well preserved. Almost good enough to stage a return.
Well on that note, Gala and I are off for dinner with Eileen Agar. No doubt she’ll be wearing her Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse, so I’d better find myself  something unique. Can’t have someone else stealing my limelight!
Yours sincerely,

Salvadore Dali.

………..

Are you doing the A-Z Challenge this year? How are you finding it? Are you keeping up? I fell a day behind due to my trip to Sydney yesterday but managed to catch up and even get a bit ahead today. Can you believe it!!! I know I’ve bitten off way to much with this theme, but it’s coming together well and I’m learning so much. I hope you are too.
Best wishes,

Rowena

 

References

1.https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-surreal-world-of-

2 Wikipaedia – Salvadore Dali

3, http://thedali.org/timeline/

4. https://www.biography.com/people/salvador-dal-40389

5. https://camdencivilrightsproject.com/d76c7649335a276498962a6ad00428a3/

6. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/mar/13/art

7. https://figueras.weebly.com/literary-work.html

Salvador Manifesto of Surrealism 1924.

Dali’s Remains Exhumed for Paternity Test

Q- Queenie McKenzie – Letters to Dead Artists, A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian Aboriginal artist, Queenie McKenzie (circa 1915-1998) from Warnum in the Kimberly region of Western Australia, where there is a thriving Aboriginal Arts Centre.

The music I’ve chosen to accompany Queenie McKenzie is Yothu Yindi’s – Timeless Land

 

Kimberley Map

Map of  Australia Showing the Kimberleys: By User:Brisbane, User:Martyman –

Queenie McKenzie was one of the most prominent painters of the Warmun (Turkey Creek) community, and was born at Texas Downs Station on the Ord River. The daughter of an Aboriginal woman and a gardiya (white-fella) father, in her youth McKenzie was at the centre of a series of tense encounters between her mother and local government authorities, who sought to take her from her family, in line with assimilation policies of the time. On each occasion, McKenzie’s mother strongly resisted, even rubbing charcoal on the young girl in an attempt to conceal her lighter skin. As a young woman, McKenzie worked as a goatherd and later as a cook in the cattle mustering camps of Texas Downs. In her later years she moved to Warmun, where she became one of the most senior figures in Gija women’s law and ceremony. After witnessing the success of the male Warmun artists, and with the encouragement of Rover Thomas, in 1987 McKenzie was the first woman to begin painting in her community.

In little more than a decade of active painting, Queenie McKenzie emerged as a prominent and compelling commentator on the Aboriginal experience. Participating in numerous solo and group exhibitions, she created works that range in scope from the creation of the world, through the violent encounters of the colonial era, to the present day. Many of McKenzie’s paintings are autobiographical: depicting episodes from her life with her own people and with gardiya, on the remote cattle stations of the East Kimberley. McKenzie created a remarkable visual history of a life spent in two worlds: the sacred landscape of the Ngarrangkarni, and her working life on Texas Downs Station 1.

“Every rock, every hill, every water, I know that place backwards and forwards, up and down, inside out. It’s my country and I got names for every place.”

-Queenie McKenzie

Her painting followed Rover Thomas’ style, mapping country in natural ochers, blending landscape with witnessed or remembered events, family anecdotes and mythological information. Her landscapes are very distinctive, particularly her rendition of the Kimberleys. She used dots to delineate her simple forms, not as a form of intuitive primitivism, but as a link to the traditional work of the Turkey Creek movement. She became an active printmaker after producing her first prints in 1995 in collaboration with printmaker, Theo Tremblay. Her work has been widely exhibited since 1991. It was included in the exhibitions ‘Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art’ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1992, and she also had a solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1997. 2.

 

I wanted to incorporate an Aboriginal artist in this series, because Australians owe such much to the rich, Aboriginal heritage we have inherited as the Australian nation. I’m not sure that “inherited” is quite the world. Indeed, I’m struggling to find the right words for any of this and feel quite intimated as a white woman discussing the works of an Aborigingal woman. I shouldn’t because I should just be able to discuss the works of any artist and how they have impacted on me without judgement. Sure, people might say I’ve omitted some of the facts, or got my facts wrong, but you can’t stop anyone from looking at a painting and having an emotional response.

However, when it came to approaching Queenie McKenzie’s work, I had two hands tied behind my back and couldn’t get close enough to form my own assessment. I was shut out.

Jesus-Over-Texas1

Queenie McKenzie: Jesus Over Texas, (Western Australia).

When I was able to find some of her works online, I couldn’t understand what I saw. You see, despite being a middle-aged Australian, I virtually have no understanding of Aboriginal art. This is hardly surprising because we didn’t learn anything about Aboriginal culture at school, although Aboriginal dancers did come to our school when I was about seven years old. That was it. By the time I was at university, Aboriginal History was an option, although I pursued Australian Women’s History instead. My uncle is an Aboriginal man and my aunt has written the national history of the stolen generation so I’ve had more exposure to Aboriginal culture than most Australians of my generation. Fortunately, my kids have been more fortunate and Aboriginal culture and history is much more part of the curriculum now, than it used to be.

God sending the Holy Spirit Queenie McKenzie

Queenie McKenzie: God Sending the Holy Spirit

So, I pretty much have to approach Aboriginal Art the same way I would a very abstract piece with no overt meaning. That’s a real headache for me. I feel I should be seeing something that I can see, and it’s very intimidating, even humiliating. It doesn’t encourage me to spend more time there, get to know it better, unless there are more obvious features like the use of animal totems like the kangaroo, dolphin etc. This is possibly because I have a real respect for this culture, as I do for every culture, and I don’t want to get it wrong. It’s a bit like not talking to a friend who is dying or has been diagnosed with cancer, because you don’t know what to say.

Of course, I could find out more about Aboriginal Art and by this I mean the real traditional Aboriginal art. Indeed, to this end, I actually tried to find Queenie McKenzie’s works at the Art Gallery of NSW yesterday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any. I had intended to spent the afternoon there. However, I ended up having lunch with my mother and daughter at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour, which only left me a few hours. Once I arrived at the gallery, I must admit I became rather distracted by both old friends and new. I also did a fleeting run through The Lady & the Unicorn Exhibition.

However, I did come across works by Munggurrawuy Yunapingu (1907-79).

DSC_9555

Munggurrawuy Yunapingu (1907-79): Lany’tjung-Barama & Gulparemun (c1960) Art Gallery of NSW.

However, perseverance and persistence paid off and I managed to find this online:

Queen of the Desert - Australian War Memorial AWM2017_665_1--1-.JPG

The Horso Creek Massacre has been described as one of the most horrific and defining events in Aboriginal/White relations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The story of how a group of Gija people were shot and killed by white men for driving off bullocks has been passed down through the generations by word of mouth and Queenie learned of the story from her grandfather, Paddy Rattigan. Paddy’s father had killed a bullock and the white men were brutal in seeking their retribution. One old woman, not understanding what they were, is said to have given the men a bullet she found, which they then shot her with. The victims’ bodies were later burnt to hide the evidence. One boy managed to escape by hiding in the dead body of the animal and was later found by his mother. He was the sole survivor of the massacre 3.

When I was a kid, we learned nothing at all about such massacres. We were taught that Captain Cook “discovered” Australia in 1770. The trouble was that Australia was never lost, at least not to its own people and surrounding regions. It had its own people with their own history, culture and laws which was all written off when the country was described as “Terra nullus” and was in effect seen as a blank slate. A blank piece of white paper where the English could write their own story and do whatever they wanted…and they did. When the First Fleet arrived on January 26th, 1788 they began what is now considered an “invasion”. That is what’s now being taught in our schools. That is what my children are learning and I am also being educated along the way.

Anyway, unfortunately I don’t have the time at the moment to really do Queenie McKenzie or her people justice. So, now I’ll get moving a write my letter to Queenie McKenzie.

A Letter to Queen McKenzie

Dear Queenie

My name’s Rowena and I live way over the other side of Australia on the New South Central Coast, just North of Sydney. It’s such a long way from Warmun and your way of life…your art. I know the sea, and although I’ve been across the Nullarbor several times travelling between Sydney and Perth, I know nothing about the desert and its way. However, perhaps being aware of this ignorance and reaching out across the geographical and experiential gap, is the beginning of something new. We’ll have to wait and see.

I guess that’s what they call reconciliation, but it seems like such a big word for just getting on with the job. Why is acceptance and mutual respect such a big deal? Isn’t that just how you’re meant to treat people…the Golden Rule?

As a person living with a disability, I have seen that you can’t take these values for granted. That even when a parking spot is designated for disabled people, they’ll still think it’s their ordained right to park there. Or’ they expect people with disabilities to fly to gain access to a building, because they can’t make it up the stairs. We live in a world with warped values. What more can I say?

Anyway, I’m making a commitment to come back for a longer visit after this A-Z Challenge is over. I certainly couldn’t hope to get to know you in only one day.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Queenie McKenzie

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter and your efforts to try to understand my people, my country, our history and our art.

While much is said about getting to know someone by climbing into their skin or walking in their shoes, this is not so easy. You can not be me. I can not be you. I am a Gija woman.  I spent my entire life in the Kimberleys, a place you have never been, and I have never walked along your beach. Yet, for me, it all boils down to how you treat somebody. When you take the time to listen to someone’s stories and show respect for their ways, that is what matters.

Family is very important to me and love. When the Police were coming around and stealing our children, my mother painted me with charcoal so they wouldn’t take me away. Don’t ever take your family for granted and defend your people to the death, if that’s what it takes. Nothing is more important than your people.

Finally, what’s all this business of technology and screens. I knew my country like the back of my hands.

These children don’t even know their hands, let alone what’s going on around them. They need to wake up and get back down to earth. Feel the earth under foot at at the heart of their being for now they are floating like kites who have broken free from the earth and have no home. They have not only lost any sense of community. They have also lost themselves.

Best wishes,

Queenie.

References

1.Art Gallery of NSW- Queenie McKenzie

Map: Derivative of File:Northern Territory locator-MJC.png based on File:Kimberley_region_of_western_australia.JPG and File:Regions_of_western_australia_nine_plus_perth.png., CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14102655

https://www.facebook.com/warmunartcentre/

2. https://www.portrait.gov.au/people/queenie-mckenzie-nakara-1930

3. https://www.awm.gov.au/index.php/articles/blog/queen-of-the-desert

A-Z Weekly Round up…Letters to Dead Artists.

Welcome to Sunday, which is a day of rest in A-Z realms. Well, that is, if you’re not like me and somehow managed to mix N up with M and I ended up posting a letter to Sidney Nolan two days early, and to Edvard Munch, a day late. I think this is an alarm bell telling me I’ve taken on too much again this year and that I should heed some of the examples of my artists and not push myself too far. After all, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Munch shot off a finger, and I’m sure these two are just the tip of an expansive iceberg of troubled artists.
Thank fully, I have nothing to worry about. I’m a writer, not an artist.

Here’s a link to last week’s letters:

H- Hans Heysen

I- Isabel Bishop

J- Jackson Pollock

K- Wassily Kandinsky

L: Norman Lindsay

M- Edvard Munch

By the way, in case you missed any of the first week’s letters, here they are:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

Are you taking part in the A-Z Challenge this year? If so, please leave a link in the comments below and good luck. I think we’ve just passed half way, but I had prepared much of these before the challenge started, so I’m really needing to pump up the volume of research and writing, when it feels like I’ve blown up quite a few brain cells in the first two weeks. My kids also start two weeks of school holidays tomorrow. While they’re now 14 and 12 and more independent, I know I won’t be able to lock myself away for the next two weeks. I wouldn’t want to either. So, instead, I’ll be splitting the atom (or should I say myself) for the next two weeks.

I think I’m hearing something about fools step in where angels fear to thread…Rome wasn’t built in a day…and yet we have to try it, have a go, don’t we!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

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.