my textile career from 1975
I was sitting in a Sydney train, having visited a friend in hospital, when a young man sat down next to me and in a notebook started sketching a woman seated opposite. She incidentally was studying the scores of Bach cantatas. I noted how talented his work was and asked whether he worked the sketches into paintings. He said he no longer did so; eventually I was able to make out that the pressure of earning a living had forced him to give up his creativity except as a part-time, fringe activity.
I urged him not to abandon his talent, but he said he did not believe in talent, which was repetition. He did talk about the joy he experienced from his work; I thought that there were Buddhist dimensions to the activity; sometimes an idea led you in unexpected directions.
At best, I could only offer the idea that our society undervalues art making; for instance in Sydney’s major art event the Archibald Prize, people bet on various artists winning, like thoroughbreds; then it sees its art makers as the deliciously wounded: Amy Winehouse, Tim Buckley’s early demise. the live hard, die young. All of these led to a greater appreciation of the artist concerned, in the case of the artists still alive well earned. I told the guy I hoped one day some artist would come along and create a monumental social realist work: like Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe, or Seurat’s Bathing at Asnieres.
We can but hope. Meanwhile, I told the guy he had to believe in himself; ok somehow making a living, but that’s the tightrope act we all perform.
I know both Jung and Freud held dreams as important in their scheme of things. Yesterday, on ABC TV Compass the Swahili Lutheran community at Shepparton in Victoria got an airing; back home their diamond mines are important: large pools of muddy water and rubble are sifted through for the sparkling pebbles worth a fortune.
Dreams are like that: fragments from previous days are thrown together. For me, a wonderful moment out of Friends when Ross holds a dianosaur egg became an image of a bird that dug tunnels into which it laid its eggs. There are other fragments that relate to my lived life, including a poignant sense of broken narrative, fragments that refuse to allow themselves to be re-attached.
I suppose the re-working of the image, its re-positioning makes it available for interpretation. The classic poetic example is Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan, where he begins with a narrative that he loses track of, then there is a commentary, from the sidelines as it were. The best he can manage is to evoke the sense of loss.
Mid-winter and the heavens opened a lot; it inspired my small tapestry: Rainfall, 13 cms H X 15 cms W, 8 pi, cotton warp, cotton, wool, linen, synthetic wefts.
Like a number of other works before it, Rainfall is about flow: one idea merging with another, one colour supporting another; both opposites meeting and near likes, always the hounds tooth meeting of edges enabling it to happen.
The Art Gallery of NSW is currently running a show of the works of Frida Kahlo along with those of her husband Diego Ribera, while in another section the Archibald Prize for portraiture is about to be judged. This has become a locally identified event, with curators offering odds for betting on possible winners. A Packers’ and a People’s Awards are also given out.
This weekend the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article on whether Kahlo’s work would even have been accepted for the Archibald. Presumably this is based on the fact that her works are not large; that same argument has run in the woven tapestry community, with someone quoting the phenomenon that in French weaving ateliers small tapestries were described with that well pronounced Gallic sneer as “dishcloths”.
It is interesting to deliberate on Kahlo’s status in contemporary art; while she and Ribera were alive his was the more forceful presence. Now, Kahlo has a global reputation; yes there is a strong feminist component. There is also the gothic romanticism attached to someone who lived a life of intense pain. There are comparisons that could be made with Amy Winehouse amongst many others.
But the assertion that her work would not fit in an atmosphere of portraiture surprises me. Her self portraits contain a component of surrealism and “primitivism”, not to mention references to her ethnicity. Her depictions of self are adept; all in all the roles have been reversed: she attracts adulation while Ribera is covered in the dust of obscurity.
This week SBS showed an amazing doco about the distribution of Picasso’s works among his wife, mistresses, children and grandchildren. His career was clearly a number of different phases, the last one being a conscious re-working of previous images. The doco also showed the narrative of the great painting of Guernica, the town bombed by Franco during World War Two. It travelled to many cities, staying in MOMA, New York but has now been transported to the Prado in Spain, Picasso’s homeland.
The government of France appropriated 3,000 works in lieu of death duties, on view in the Picasso Museum. The magnificent image, the Demoiselles d’Avignon is also in Paris; it is notable as being the work that began the cubist movement. Several recent travelling Picasso shows have included a number of sketches for the Demoiselles, enthralling for the influence of African sculpture that they show.
The doco gave an insight into the facility Picasso possessed; painting on glass or the sand of the beach was a process that took place with the greatest fluidity. To my mind, this has both positive and negative aspects; other artists, for instance Cezanne, have worked at images with a greater, more stolid deliberation. Perhaps one might argue that personality determines the speed of working.
Another program on SBS is Rockwiz, a Saturday night event; its most enjoyable feature is the remembering of recent music, the re-interpreting of songs. My thought is why cannot this cultural process take place in the field of painting and textile, with as much verve and passion? I know legal implications apply when one musician appropriates another’s melody; is there a similar minefield with visual or textile artists?
I think I’ve been under the spell of this type of ethnic craft for much of my career. Firstly, I grew up in the tropics and understand living under torrid conditions. You see African news items: especially from Nigeria; the colours worn are extraordinarily vivid. I’m three days into a bout of flu, so I’m a tad feverish, but some of the colour combinations evoke the extreme temperature in the most efficient way. In spite of my recent and unsuccessful comparison of music and textile in my blog, here the cloth, woven on a four inch loom, lays down large motifs that you could consider horizontals, contrasted with which are motifs running the same direction as the warps.
The pattern resulting:A1, a1, B1, a2, A1, C1, c1, C1, c1, C1,b2, C1, C1, b2, C1, b2, c1, A1, a1, B1, b2, a1, A1. Without getting too musicological, that could read as an operatic aria?
James Valentine of the ABC Arts show The Mix interviewed two classical music presenters, Martin Buzzacott and Geneveive Laing, both of whom rejected the abstract, percussive trend of classical music from the 1950’s onwards, pejoratively as “pots & pans”. Instead they chose Nigel Westlake’s film score for “Paper Planes” and Ross Edwards’ Symphony #1; both of which they described as “sweet & appealing”. They said art need not only be great, it had to reach out to its audience. There had for too long been a type of blackmail in contemporary music: if you rejected it you were lacking culture. You needed to persevere with the extreme expressions of music lest you missed out on the emergence of a modern Bach or Beethoven.
I see the co-relation between that and what has happened in fibre arts. Making music that relates to contemporary cinema has given it a mainstream relevance; we need to find similar expressions of fibre: woven tapestry and all its associated genres for today’s society.
These days there is a lot of talk about inequality between men and women; an Australian arts review show called The Mix talked about the movie and CD Lemonade by Beyonce, a soul stirring account of a career changing event, a “tapestry” that will get unpicked for a long time to come, an unfortunate metaphor as it describes the object being destroyed in the process.
As a gay man I feel a lot in common with women, even though during my work life I earned a lot more. The younger generation of gay men is only now discovering the concept of “internalised homophobia”. I always found unpleasant the use by my fellow gays of words like “cunt” to righteously abuse people online. They imply a derogatory attitude towards women; in fact the depth of homophobia by bigots was always against gays assuming a female position in sexual behaviour; by behaving like women we were giving up our positions of privilege.
When I first left Australia and travelled overseas I spent 6 weeks in Egypt, and found the locals in love with their national singers Om Kalsoom and Fareed El Attrache. As I learned to speak a bit of touristy Arabic I realised that Om Kalsoom sang operatic love songs using the male pronoun. I did not explore the dynamic further to find out whether she was singing overtly to a woman lover. However, it seemed widely known that she was lesbian. When I returned to Australia a cosmopolitan hippy described to me Om Kalsoom’s hareem of girls.
Vale Prince, a Gemini, who died last week. I wonder how many decades will be needed before his contribution to song writing can be correctly assessed. Nothing Compares 2U is an amazing feat of writing, although perhaps, being a sung lyric, it has a lightness that a poem does not. You could not imagine Shakespeare’s sonnet Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? being sung, though perhaps it could be set to music. Nevertheless, you could still see Prince as a poet, as having the ability to fix that form of words that expressed completely and perfectly what you wanted to say. He was also an innovator in the musical sphere; I played When Doves Cry yesterday; a friend said that as a piece of music it blended several genres. He was able to play several instruments, which is what musical innovation requires. On Youtube I found an interview where Prince was expressing the most bizarre ideas about world domination; of course, being a Jehovah’ Witness, he would have felt himself an outsider.
Prince’s life does not need yet another voice extolling; my purpose was to mention a test performed in the UK about the health of older citizens; three groups were selected: one did more exercise daily, the second did puzzles, the third stood for a couple of hours doing life drawing. The group which improved the most was the third: to my mind the doing of art is something science has yet to come to with begging bowl in hand, acknowledging its ignorance. I think the spectacle of a lovely naked body being contemplated certainly contributes. But the doing of art, it has been over-looked; it is a holistic, organic experience, that engages parts of the mind in combinations not yet studied.
Currently, throughout the city of London there are billboards that form part of a campaign captioned “what would London look like without gays?” The gay media that posted this on Facebook attracted a number of responses from gay people, mostly frivolous and light-hearted. Though, I don’t know why. Oscar Wilde described us as the love that dare not tell its name, for fear of legal penalty. Before and since then, we have lived in a cloud of invisibility created by hetero-normativity. These days, various issues enable the majority to congratulate itself on its political broad-mindedness, while being also able to withdraw into invisibility when difficult issues emerge, such as adoption and probate.
Given the cultural insanity of radicalisation, child kidnapping and so forth, I believe that art and its practises and meditations is the best medecine, the cultural cure for excesses. Having watched a recent expose of the radicalised moslems from Belgium and their mental instability, I am reminded how cyclical things are: in the 1970’s/1980’s it was Jim Jones in California and South America.
Although, I am not sure how such material is capable of satisfactory metamorphosis?