Tag Archives: painting

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.

Letters to Dead Artists Weekly Round-Up… A-Z Challenge.

Phew! I somehow made it through the first week of the A-Z Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is: Letters to Dead Artists. This is a sequel to my 2016 theme: Letters to Dead Poets. This was inspired by the tradition of leaving letters on the graves of dead writers, musicians, artists in Paris’s Pere La Chaisse Cemetery which I visited with a group of friends in 1992 as a 22 year old Australian backpacker. We’d all just finished university and I was taking a year off to meander around Europe.

Much of the time, I lived with a family in Heidelberg Germany  who literally took me in off the street. This time in Europe forms the backbone of this series as I did something of an art museum crawl from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to the Alte National Gallerie in Berlin; the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Musee Rodin in Paris, the Uffizi and Accadmia Gallerie in Florence and the British Museum in London. There might’ve been more but that was over 25 years ago.

By the way, I should also mention that my History Honours thesis looked at the arrival of modernist art and literature in Australia and how it clashed with the established cultural elites and efforts to establish and maintain a uniquely Australian culture, which was associated with the bush at the time.

We don’t often have the luxury of reflecting back on the great minds which have influenced us, and helped to make us who we are. In addition to the minds, are the compassionate hearts who’ve taken us in when we’ve been engulfed by the vortex or haunted by horrific memories and nightmares which we can’t really put into words to share with our nearest and dearest. We need a hand and I swear some of these artists, especially Van Gogh, have swept me up and carried me in their arms through hard times and cried my tears.

Another factor influencing this series, is my undiagnosed hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. I was 27 years old when my neurologist finally discovered the harbour in my head, which was putting incredible pressure on just about every part of my brain. Even my sight was affected, as the pressure built up behind my eyes causing nystagmus. Despite this harbour in my head, I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History. I spent nine months overseas, although I was very troubled much of the time. I also wrote well and used to do performance poetry. I read at a number of events in Sydney, but the climax was doing a solo reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin hung out in Paris. Indeed, its proprietor, George Whitman, was a character in his own right. However, by 1995, the hydrocephalus was starting to break its banks and a year later, the ground moved up and down as I walked, I was falling over a lot and my short term memory was shot. It was a huge descent straight into the abyss, especially for someone who’d always valued their brain. Was a thinker. It was a grief that had no sides, and yet my medical report promised a “full recovery”. It just took time.

In typical fashion, my thoughts have gone off on a bit of a wander. However, you stare deeply into Starry Night, Venus de Milo, the Little Dancer, On the Wallaby Track or The Harbour Bridge in Curve, and you’ll be seeing more than sunflowers.

Anyway, here’s a list of last week’s letters:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

When I spotted a world map printed on a cork board, a decided to plot where the artists were born and connect them with ythread of red wool, representing the Red Thread of Fate or Pinyan. Chinese mythology has it that the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. Often, in Japanese and Korean culture, it is thought to be tied around the little finger. According to Chinese legend, the deity in charge of “the red thread” is believed to be Yuè Xià Lǎorén (月下老人), often abbreviated to Yuè Lǎo (月老), the old lunar matchmaker god, who is in charge of marriages. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break. This myth is similar to the Western concept of soulmate or a destined flame.

So, this red thread is now drawing this disparate group of artists from across the world, through different times in history together and who knows what will emerge from that incredible crucible. I can’t wait to reach Z, let the dust settle and see what emerges.

I apologize in advance that these are length posts. However, as you could imagine, mowing down such Everists into a few paragraphs would be a daunting task for experts, let alone a minnow like myself. However, sometimes it takes a minnow to to go where big fish fear to tread.

I hope you enjoy this emerging series.

Here are a couple of links which stood out to me on my travels:

Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series

Movie: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh Visits the Gallery | Vincent And The Doctor – YouTube

Dear Vincent – a novel by Mandy Hager (loved it!!)

I hope you learn as much as I am from this series and perhaps consider some of the artists, great and small, who have inspired you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

C- Grace Cossington Smith (1892 – 1984): A-Z Challenge.

As you may recall,my theme for the 2018 A-Z April Challenge is writing Letters to Dead Artists. So far, we’ve had:

A: Alexandros of Antioch (sculpted the Venus de Milo)

B: Botticelli

Although Cezanne beckoned for Letter C, I have chosen Australian artist, Grace Cossington Smith, who virtually lived and painted in my own backyard in Sydney’s leafy North Shore. Moreover, while I’d previously dismissed her work as being too domestic, I’ve now gained a deeper appreciation of her ground-breaking use of modernist techniques and the full breadth of the subjects ranging from The Sock Knitter (1915), through to The Bridge in-Curve (1930). By the way, getting back to Cezanne, Cossington Smith was heavily influenced by the French modernist, so you could say he’s peering out through some of her brushstrokes.

Since I grew up right near Grace Cossington Smith, I’ve chosen Kookaburra Sits on the Old Gum Tree as her song.

Grace Cossington Smith lived at Cossington, 43 Ku-Ring-Gai Avenue, Turramurra five minutes drive away from where I grew up and where my parents still live. Yet, despite our geographical proximity, I have felt our views were worlds apart.

You see, as an independent, modern woman, her heavy use of domestic  subjects irked me. In particular, there was The Sock Knitter. While knitting might have made a comeback in recent years, in my youth, knitting was old-fashioned, domestic and something grandmothers or aunties did.

The Sock Knitter

The Sock Knitter 1915.

However, once I started researching Cossington Smith, I found out that The Sock Knitter was actually a ground breaking, modernist work. Moreover, the painting also contains a noble back story. You see, her sister, Madge, was actually knitting socks to assist Australian troops on the notorious Western Front, who were sinking through the mud and developing trench foot. She was performing a community service. Moreover, women weren’t the only ones knitting socks for the troops. Boys at Sydney’s Cranbrook College also knitted socks, which resulted in a saying which is still floating round: “If you can’t get a girl, get a Cranbrook boy.”

In addition to The Sock Knitter, Cossington Smith painted many scenes around the house and was always painting and drawing. This reflected the utmost importance of her family, and I guess also their availability. The apparent contentment of their family life also provides the modern family with a wake-up call…that the home doesn’t have to be a prison. That “home” is what we make it. After all, love, family, community, belonging…what’s so wrong with all of that? Why do we mock and persecute it all so much? We each need a refuge from life’s storms, and ideally that is a place called “home”. Of course, I know this isn’t always the case, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying, or that peace on the home front should be perceived as an unattainable ideal!

On that note, I get the feeling that we as a society have deified work, and for too many of us, work has become home. Worse still, that thanks to the mobile phone and laptop, work has even invaded the home front, which used to be our sacred haven.

However, Cossington Smith also painted a ground-breaking portrayal of the Sydney Harbour Bridge The Bridge in-Curve (1930). This dynamic work shows the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge at that very exciting and critical moment that the two arches were about to connect above the harbour in an incredible feat of engineering. I absolutely love this painting and had it was in my kitchen for many years. It has such energy and force.

Thanks to this painting, I developed more of a connection with Cossington Smith. You see, I absolutely love the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Every time I go over it or even catch a glimpse of it, I get a buzz. Moreover, it’s an amazing sensation when you fly back into Sydney, and see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House waiting for you as though you never left home. On a more personal note, when I used to have infusions of IVIG at Royal North Shore Hospital, I used to look out across the urban jungle and fixate on the pair of flags at the top of The Bridge. Needless to say, when you’re having a canula jabbed into dry veins, watching the Bridge made a huge difference

Speaking of illness, in later life Grace Cossington Smith became an invalid and couldn’t leave her home. However, that didn’t stop her from experimenting and looking for new ways of seeing and images to paint. Indeed, she’d angle the huge mirrors a on her gigantic bedroom wardrobe to catch a glimpse of blue sky[1]” That sounds quite sad, but also shows her resourcefulness and incredible strength of spirit.

So, without further ado, here’s my letter to Grace Cossington Smith.

Grace Cossington Smith Self Portrait 1948Letter to Grace Cossington Smith

Dear Grace,

How are you? I can hardly imagine that a little thing like dying has dampened your fervent love of painting. Indeed, you must have an unlimited range of captive subjects up there.

I thought you’d enjoy afternoon tea under The Bridge here at Kirribilli. So, I’ve set up a little table and chairs and brought my Shelley Sunlit under the Tall Trees tea set, which reminds me of the towering gum trees around Pymble and Turramurra.

By the way, how do you like your tea?

I guess you’d be surprised to hear there’s now a tunnel underneath Sydney Harbour, yet another engineering marvel we didn’t think could happen. I’m not sure that you really want to know about all the other changes that have taken place, although Australia has had its first female Prime Minister and we recently legalized same sex marriage. Sadly, we still haven’t had an Aboriginal Prime Minister. There are other changes too, and I felt quite sad when I saw your painting of Eastern Road, Turramurra. When you drive through the North Shore these days, huge blocks of apartments have risen out of the earth like alien invaders. I still remember when North Ryde was green pastures dotted with cows, and I am not that old.

However, for better or worse, I’ve since left the North Shore and live near the beach, where I can get where I want, and can be myself. The waves are so accepting.

Our next stop is going to be the Grace Cossington Smith Gallery at your former school, Abbotsleigh. They can’t wait to meet you and no doubt you’ll be excited to see so many of your works congregated together.

Time is slipping away, so let’s carpe diem seize the day before it’s gone.

Warm regards,

Rowena

Reply from Grace Cossington Smith

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for morning tea beneath The Bridge. Seeing The Bridge again, was like catching up with an old friend, and I’d also forgotten the refreshing salve of a good cup of tea.

However, I can’t tell you what it meant to visit the Grace Cossington Gallery. Naturally, one fears that our work will die with us, and we’ll both be forgotten. So, to finally see my work recognised and honoured in this way, brought such joy.

Of course, Abbotsleigh under Miss Clarke, always encouraged my talent and I was taught by professional artists.

I was also lucky that my parents were so supportive. As you may be aware, my father built a studio for me in the backyard at Cossington. They had such faith in me, and never suggested that just because I was a woman, that I couldn’t become a professional artist. No one forced me to get married either, and have a family. I could pursue my own path. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. There wasn’t a lot of choice for women back then.

Next time, could you please take me back to Cossington. I’d love to visit Cossie again and  float around her walls like a ghost.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Grace Cossington Smith

References

[1] https://www.smh.com.au/news/arts/grace-cossington-smith/2005/11/02/1130823276320.html

Further Research

Grace Cossington Smith – A Retrospective NGA

The Grace Cossington Smith Gallery

Do you have a favourite artist starting with C? Or, if you’re taking part in the A-Z Challenge, please leave a link through to your post.

xx Rowena

B: Botticelli…A-Z Challenge.

This year my theme for the A-Z Challenge is Letters to Dead Artists. Yesterday’s artist was A: Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly sculpted the famous Venus de Milo.

Today, I am writing to Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510), an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The piece of music I have chosen to represent Botticelli is: O Fortuna – Carmina Burana

I was introduced to Botticelli’s works in 1992 when I visited Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, as a 23 year old Australian backpacking through Europe. That was when I first saw The Birth of Venus. I was awestruck, and loved it enough to buy a print and cart it all the way back to Australia in my very overweight backpack. That says a lot!

In addition to admiring his achievements as an artist, this letter also addresses Botticelli’s role and possible participation in the Bonfire of the Vanities.  On the 7th February 1497, supporters of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy, on the Mardi Gras festival. It is believed that Botticelli may have added some of his works to the pyre. It is hard to comprehend what went up in those flames, but there’s no doubt that priceless works of art and other cultural treasures were destroyed.

Sandro_Botticelli_083

Probable self-portrait of Botticelli, in his Adoration of the Magi (1475)

Letter to Sandro Botticelli

Dear Botticelli,

How are you? I expect that’s a rather rhetorical question these days. I was only being polite, but if you feel like responding in some way, I’d only be too happy to hear from you. Sometimes, the walls between heaven and earth aren’t quite what they seem, and people might even wander in and out. I don’t know. They’ve never spoken to me.

Anyway, I am writing to you to ask you a question. While that might seem simple enough, it’s much easier to ask a lot of questions, than it is to narrow it down to one, especially when I’m writing to such a monumentally great artist like yourself.

Botticelli, I first came across your paintings in the Summer of 1992 when I spent three days in Florence. It was stinking hot and I still remember the relief of an icy cold, real Italian gelato. Although I’d already visited The Louvre in Paris which had blown my mind, going to the Uffizzi Gallery, also felt like all my senses were being energized at once. I still remember seeing The Birth of Venus on the wall with its fairytale beauty and Venus standing in the shell. It was mesmerizing. Yet, it didn’t end there. Like a glutton at a sumptuous feast, there was more, including Primavera (1470s or early 1480s) and Pallas and the Centaur (1482-1483). I had just had my heart broken and I knew that anguish screaming through the centaur’s eyes. I also remember being swept away by your more religious works, although I can’t remember them by name.I don’t know how to describe that enormity of feeling. The best I can do, is compare it to falling in love…all consuming, passionate, divine.

Primavera

Primavera, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery.

I don’t know whether it’s right to pull apart those feelings, or to try to work out why. Or, whether I should be pulling apart and analysing the life out of such a masterpiece. Or, whether it is better to simply leave it be as pure, unadulterated  awe and wonder.

One thing’s for sure. I didn’t want to hear this magnificent reflection of something in my soul denigrated by my future boyfriend as: “the naked woman standing in a shell”. What? How could he? Philistine! Despite being a Christian, I didn’t denigrate it because it was “pagan” either. How could I let ideology or doctrine come between me and something of such beauty and spirit?

This brings me to the Bonfire of the Vanities and my question.

How did you allow yourself to be swept away by Girolama Savonarola? How could you even be a bystander to the Bonfire of the Vanities on February 7, 1497 in Piazza del Signoria, Florence? Indeed, it’s even been suggested that you even added some of your own works to the pyre. I’m sorry if I’m coming on a bit too strong, but I can’t understand how an artist like you could stand by and do nothing. Let it happen. Or, even worse, join in and be a part of it.

That’s not to judge you, Sir. I didn’t mean to get so fired up. However, it terrifies me that The Birth of Venus and your other so-called “pagan works” could have been, in effect, burned at the stake, and humanity robbed. Indeed, I shudder at all the artworks and treasures that were lost. No doubt, you do too.

Strangely, I only found out about the Bonfire of the Vanities last night. Of course, you can’t know every piece of history. Yet, as a writer, a photographer, a creative who fears the mighty forces of fire and flood, I should have known about that. Marked it on my calendar every year to remember how doctrine and politics can destroy the creative spirit and its progeny.

I wonder how you feel about all that now. Is there regret? Perhaps, but I hope you’re primarily proud of how your works have been revered and considered among the greatest paintings of all time. You’re a genius!

Indeed, I wish I could meet you and not just sit down for a coffee, but to see you paint. Hear you speak. What inspired you? How can a 21st century woman on the other side of the world, possibly tap into whatever that was?

I hope. I dream. I write.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Rowena in Florence

Photographed at a monastry near Florence in 1992.

Letter From Botticelli

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter.

Now, what was your question? Please excuse me. I’m feeling a bit foggy today and haven’t had to bother myself with earthly matters for a very long time. Indeed, much of your memory gets deleted once you enter the pearly gates. After all, you’re not supposed to be spending eternity regretting things on Earth when you’re in heaven!

Yet, nothing could erase those flames, and seeing those precious masterpieces burning up. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, we followed him like lambs to the slaughter house. Florence was magnificent…the jewel of the Renaissance.  She wasn’t perfect but, it wasn’t Sodom and Gomorrah. It wasn’t hell on Earth. Well, that is until he stepped in.

In my defense, Rowena, I would like to suggest that you can’t always control of your own strings. Not that you’re a puppet, but even an artist has to eat and to some extent, each of us has had to sell our soul. Serve it up on a platter. That’s just the way it is…or how it was.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard that they now hide artworks away during times of war and keep the world’s great masterpieces away from the battlefield. Protect what is more than just a reflection of humanity, a mirror, but also radiates the human spirit. As you might appreciate, art crosses language and cultural barriers and draws humans closer together. Well, that’s if we allow ourselves to be moved.

Anyway, I haven’t asked you if you paint? I’ve always been a great teacher. If you feel like popping back, I’d be happy to teach you.

Best wishes,

Botticelli.

 

Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge 2018.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Every day except for Sunday during April, I’ll be writing a letter to a dead artist who has inspired me at some point throughout my life. There will also be a few “newbies” added to comply with the requirements of the challenge. I’ve also had to cut many artists out, because this year I decided there would only be one artist for each letter. So, choosing my 26 artists has been quite a process…a quest in itself.

The original inspiration for this theme came when I dug up a letter a friend sent me from Paris in August, 1992. Only a week or so before, a group of us had walked through Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery, where we had a particular interest in Jimmy Morrison’s grave. She’d returned a few weeks later and found a handwritten letter addressed to Oscar Wilde near his grave and transcribed it. It quoted excerpts from the preface of A Portrait of Dorien Gray:

The Preface

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris.

In August 1992, I’d given my own solo reading at the famed Shakespeare Bookshop, where the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin used to hang out. In hindsight, being granted my own solo performance at the Shakespeare as a 23 year old Australian, was a miracle. However, I didn’t know that at the time. George Whitman simply asked me if I’d been published (yes- self-published 90’s style on a photocopier) and told me to draw up a poster, which was displayed in the front window of the bookshop. That was “publicity”. George Whitman might’ve put me through the wringer, but he did give me a chance.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathan Swift

Revisiting these experiences in Paris, Letters to Dead Poets was my theme for the 2016 A-Z Challenge. I’d clearly bitten off too much for what’s intended to be a quick walk through the park, not a series of books. However, I loved researching and writing the series, which ended up taking on a creative force all of its own, and I was very pleased with the end result. Hence, I decided to follow it up with Letters to Dead Artists, which will be very much along much the same lines.

To maintain the suspense, I’ve decided not to provide an index of all the featured artists I’ll be covering. The plan is to focus on one particular work from each artist and to discuss how it’s touched me personally. Then, via the letter, I’ll ask each artist a question. There will be some bio information for each artist, but as I’m neither an artist nor a critic, there’ll be scant technical detail. Rather, this series will be about emotion, psychology, philosophy and history instead.

“The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

Pablo Picasso

Degas Letters

Naturally, I’m well into researching and preparing these letters. From the outset, I’ve been struck by how little I knew about each artist and their respective works. That I have known the painting well as an image, but often not the inspiration behind it, which in some instances has given the work an entirely different meaning. In a sense that doesn’t matter. However, for me, once you start seeing that painting as a reflection of your soul, it does. So, now I’m a bit unsure about all this deconstruction and analysis has been a good thing. Or, whether ignorance is bliss. After all, once you pull something apart, it’s very hard to get it back together again. Indeed, with all these intellectual twists and turns, I started to feel like I’d flown into a spider’s web. Hopefully, as the research settles, I’ll be able to clear a path. Find my way out. Yet, I have no doubt that I’ll be a very different me at the end of the month.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Henry David Thoreau

I hope you’ll join me for the journey. So please fire up the engine as we head to A…Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly created the Venus de Milo.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

William Blake On Joy & Suffering

Man was made for joy & woe;

And when this we rightly know,

Thro’ the world we safely go.

Joy & woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine.

William Blake From “Auguries of Innocence”.

Featured image:

“When the Morning Stars Sang Together”

[Book of Job, no. 14]

ca. 1804–7
Pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolor, over traces of graphite
11 x 7 1/16 inches (280 x 179 mm)

 

Drats! The Sunset Which Got Away!

Check out this breathtaking sunset!

It all but escaped my snap-happy finger, while we were driving down to Sydney. As much as we’re inclined to pull over to immediately capture that stunning sunset, we had the trailer on the back. Moreover, due to the an accident on the freeway, we’d opted for the “scenic route” along the rustic and rather windy Old Pacific Highway, and couldn’t stop. Out of sheer desperation, I managed to snatch this shot through the windscreen and you too can enjoy water droplets bouncing around like ping pong balls, wrecking what might have been a stunning shot.

Of course, I know I shouldn’t get upset about not being able to photograph a sunset. There are, after all, much more pressing issues in our world, and it wasn’t like I was trapped underground and couldn’t see it.

However, therein lies the problem. I could see that sunset in all its technicolour glory and felt the call of the wild. Such an incredible sunset isn’t something you just see through your eyes, but also through every part of your being…mind, body, spirit and it somehow becomes a part of your very being. So, to be able to capture that, it’s a bit like sticking your bubble gum to the bed post over night. You can come back and relive the experience later.

I also enjoy sharing a little taste of Australia with you. Through even this less than perfect photo, you can still appreciate an Australian bush sunset with those towering gum trees silhouetted against the setting sun. You can also sense the vibrant intensity of the colours…molten oranges and yellows slapped across the sky like generous coats of paint. It looks so good, I want to eat it! Yum!

However, as much as I’m disappointed about missing the sunset, I must admit that I think it’s good for me to just to stand back and appreciate the bigger picture now and then. Take in the vast enormity of an endless sky. Feel gobsmacked! Awe inspired! Instead of trying to work out how I’m going to frame it. Shove it inside a 6 x 4 box to contain it. By trying to constrain the heavens and stick boundaries around them, they lose some of their magic. Like wild animals caged at the zoo, they’re still great to look at, but it’s not the same as seeing them in the wild. Or, experiencing a sunset simply for its intrinsic beauty without trying to turn it into something it’s not…a photo!

These two opposing views, however, bring me into conflict with myself. How can someone whose love of photography could be described as a chronic twitch, ever happily let a brilliant sunset go and simply let it be?

I don’t know but every now and then it happens. I spot something and don’t have my SLR with or my phone and I have that experience, albeit reluctantly…a lesson in savouring the moment…!

Meanwhile, could you please pass me a Kleenex. I still have a bit of work ahead on acceptance! I’m still thinking about the sunset which got away!

What do you think about savouring the moment? Is it better with or without the camera?

xx Rowena

PS: By the way, if you like a good sunset photo, here’s one I prepared earlier.

sunset dove

Sunset Down the Road a few weeks ago.