A gentleman and an artist

I’d like the first post from blog HQ here in Newtown to be one of massive joy and hope and promise, because really, there’s so much of all of those things. But tonight I am sad. Today James Gleeson passed away.

I didn’t know the man but I know what his work means to me. He further opened my eyes to the almost indecipherable blur between dream and reality, and helped me to realise that you should stay the course always, and stay true to yourself, and people would eventually come to understand you. Or at least to humour you.

An hour ago his Wikipedia entry wrote about what he does. Now it writes about what he did. That makes me feel sad too.

Today the world lost a great man and an artistic genius and it’s a great loss indeed.

Hooray for the internet

My days right now consist of pushing my way through piles of shite created by other people, and quelling my work-induced homicidal tendencies. So, stands to reason that when I get back to CFG HQ the last thing I want to do is talk to people. Or think about people. Or see people. Well, most people.

Bless the internet and its anonymous, informative ways.

Tonight, while pushing around the series of tubes that is the information super highway, I came across Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m not actually sure how I got there – I think I Googled a book I’d heard about (somewhere), which took me to some blog about books, which took me to a blog about, well, all sorts of things, which had a link to Fallingwater.

Wait – a house built OVER A WATERFALL!?< !

Dark matter

This post has been building up for almost a week now. I was avoiding it altogether – this is not one of those blogs that pitches for controversy. The second you weigh into this kind of debate publicly, not knowing your audience, the second you open yourself up to the flaming. But oh well. I think it’s an important debate to have.

I have been familiar with the art of Bill Henson for a little while now. I remember seeing one of this photographs at a gallery in Surry Hills when I first moved to Sydney (a crowd scene), and the image stayed with me for some time. When the Art Gallery of NSW did a (large) retrospective of his work in 2005 I went not only to the exhibition, but to a viewing of a film about his work and his creative process.

If only the greater public could have seen this film.

I was captivated by the exhibition. I was also a little disturbed by it but here’s the thing – not at ALL in a sexual way. Not in the way the world is spinning themselves crazy about this right now. The unease I felt came from the tension in the photographs – from the lighting and the landscape and the sense of doom about the images. ALL the images – the ones containing portraits of people and adolescents, and the ones that didn’t. His Paris Opera series left me breathless and his landscape photographs left you feeling a little off-centre, like the wind could whip you off your feet at any moment.

I’ve listened to and read nearly every face of this argument from the time the lid blew open on Thursday last week. While I have strong opinions on the issue, my head is also in a massive state of confusion.

First, Henson has been taking photographs of adolescents in various states (clothed or otherwise) for several years now. I have a hardcover copy of his (beautiful) book Mnemosyne – we were looking at it on the weekend and some of those images are decades old. The issue here is the sexualisation of children – but who is seeing and crying out about the sexuality in these images? Not the art world of Sydney, Australia or the rest of the world. Not the thousands of people who have seen every one of his works hanging in numerous galleries all over the world prior to last week. Not the models or the parents of the models that gave their children permission to pose. Heck, not even Cate Blanchett, a mother herself, who has come out in support of Henson this week. It is the people making the complaints that are sexualising these children. It’s a tragedy I think that we can’t look at a naked body, of any age, without automatically jumping to that conclusion. By crowing about the innocence of this girl being lost, you’re effectively stripping this model and this art of any innocence it had.

Second, the International art world is looking at us now, whether we like it or not. They are closely monitoring our reaction to this, and to the way we’re dealing with it. They’re watching our debate about censoring art and they’re scratching their heads no doubt, thinking that perhaps they were mistaken about us being more culturally mature then this.

Third, the black and white nature of this argument seems clumsy and ill informed to me. That the sexualisation of children is a heinous and inexcusable crime? Absolutely. That the naked body of a person under the age of 18 MUST be sexual? Absolutely not. Why so black and white? You could go on forever with this stuff, like the tube tops and hot pants being sold for 8 year olds in department stores. Or make up for little girls, with cherry flavoured lipstick and glitter purple eye shadow. Emanating their mothers, or the sexualisation of children? More socially acceptable but I’m confused as to why.

This article by John McDonald for the Sydney Morning Herald is well-written and articulates much more eloquently (and succinctly) what I’m trying for here.

I think there were some mistakes made though. The gallery should really look at their marketing of this exhibition – to put THAT photograph on the front of the invitation to the opening, cropped in that context, was asking for this sort of attention. I’m sure they were initially courting the hoohar, but I wonder if they realised the impact that particular image would have.

Also, for whatever reason, these photographs (at least, the ones I’ve seen), ARE a little different. Each Henson shot of a waif-like adolescent I’ve seen previous to this exhibition has been in some sort of context – either situated in an apocalyptic landscape or in amongst smashed car bodies or on the edge of a cliff in front of a glimmering horizon. For these photographs, for reasons only known to the artist, he’s stripped all the background and landscape away. The figures stand alone, beautifully lit, maintaining all the tension of the previous images, but without any sort of context at all. It makes it harder to explain. And right now the poor bastard is in the position of having to explain himself.

The media in all this has a lot to answer for. You slap the words ‘child’ and ‘pornography’ in the same headline and you’re bound to get hits and sell newspapers. And the general public seems to have been whipped up in the hysteria. The shame of it all is that if the girl in the images in question didn’t feel violated beforehand, I’m certain she does now. And I think the irony of that will be lost on most people.

Art is why I get up in the morning

After a week that pitched and heaved from beginning to end I’ve settled on this here Sunday in the possession of a nourished mind, a sense of dread about the oncoming week, a full heart and a diabolical headache.

It was one of those weeks where the world refused to stay upright. Where people didn’t fall in, where plans unraveled, and where more often then not I found myself metaphorically ass up, not knowing my hands from my feet. I don’t actually mind feeling that way every so often. Sometimes it’s good to get a bit dizzy and discombobulated – it helps put everything else into perspective. I’m at the point tonight, though, where I want to be turned up the right way, because the blood is rushing to my head and the nausea is getting a little old.

I remember sitting with a very pregnant Hellen some time late last year, ruminating about 2007 and how much had happened to both of us. We both agreed, however, that 2008 was going to be serious humdinger. I don’t know why, but we both knew without doubt that there would be changes this year unlike either of us had ever experienced.

And it’s only May. Hey 2008 – ease up a little buddy, there’s like 6 good months of the year left. Don’t spend it all at once.

The only thing that got me through this week was art. Well, the pursuit of it, and the discussion of it, and the experience of it. Hearing Jeanette Winterson speak about the essential nature of art in our lives on Tuesday last week was honestly soul food. It validated everything I feel about the place of creative pursuits in our lives, and how a lot of what’s wrong with the world stems from our inability to use our imagination. To look creatively at a situation and find, potentially, a not-so-obvious way around it. To see beauty and assume beauty in everything around us. To react to things in a subconscious and almost animalistic way, and to put things out into the world (be they verbal or visual or musical) that represent how we perceive the world around us and our place in it. To recognize there is more to life then what we’re fed through our LCD screens and computer monitors.

And the answer to the question ‘is it worth driving for 6 hours in one day to see an exhibition of paintings by the masters of landscape painting’ is always yes. Just so you know.

I’m going to bed now. I would really like the pounding behind my eyes to stop. This week is going to be better I know it.

We both pull the tricks out of our sleeves

I’m a person who consistently looks to be inspired. One thing I struggle to understand is the seeming willingness of people to shuffle through life existing, rather than seeking the beauty and magic in everything around them. Because really, if you look, there’s magic in just about anything.

I was saying today that I fall for that sort of thing very easily. Give me even a glimmer of magic or whimsy in anything and I am all wide-eyed kid again, mind and body open, stupid grin on my face, completely taken. Something like an austere theatre set with nothing but a wooden chair and a spot light can be transformed by some strobe lighting, bubbles, and circus music. And I just live for that stuff – those little moments that fill your heart and transform your mindset in an instant. It’s the unexpected xylophone in a song or a snatched kiss in the back of an antique store or the way the afternoon light turns everything citrusy or the way Bowie pushes his face into my neck almost like he feels he can never be close enough. All that stuff amounts to some sort of magic that you’ll miss if you’re not looking.

And I’m forever worried about missing it. I’m often in an instant concentrating so much on trying to wring every ounce of it, that I can sometimes over think it and almost miss the experience. I remember, in 2001, standing on the second level of the Eiffel Tower almost chastising myself for not experiencing the moment enough. What does that even mean anyway!? The idea of wasting any amount of any experience gives me some angst at times. And it’s worse when you realise little moments like that are everywhere around you – I feel like I have to be constantly on guard and open, just in case I miss something.

Having said that, I have relaxed a little. It’s a bit easier to let go of the wringing when you’re pretty confident the next little bit of magic is right around the corner.

Anyway, what got me to thinking about all of this tonight was an amazing artistic (well, theatrical) experience yesterday, and a visit to the Brett Whiteley studio today. Whiteley has, for a very long time, been my favourite Australian artist. His work does things to me that I can’t even explain. One thing that fascinates me is what influences people like Whiteley to do what they do – how do they reach that artistic place and what inspires them to get there?

Inspiration is a funny thing, and to look from the outside-in you (well, I) tend to have pre-formed opinions about where it should come from. For instance, in interviews Ani DiFranco is often asked about Dylan, the interviewer presuming he has been a major influence on the modern day folk singer’s music. She will always explain though that while she has respect for the man, he was never a major influence. She always goes on to reference Joni Mitchell and modern day song writers like Greg Brown and Gillian Welch. But it’s probably reasonable to assume Dylan, right?

I on the other hand always presume that an artist with the gravitas of Whiteley will have obscure, never heard of muses – like mysterious Russian poets or little-known 19th Century Czech painters. Musicians I greatly admire, the same thing – I always presume they’ll spend their time listening to strange Bulgarian folk music or folk singers from the 50s that I’ve never heard about. And some of them (bless you Jeff Mangum) do, or did. But going through the Whiteley studio today, and reacquainting myself with his inspiration and his work space, I really began to think about this. Because two of the major influences on Whiteley’s work are A) one of the best known painters the world has ever seen and B) one of the best known singer/songwriters the world has ever seen. Van Gogh and Dylan. And the way he presented those influences through his work, unashamedly and without reserve, is really something to think about.

I feel sometimes like artists of any kind (musical/visual/whatever) try a little too hard to be obscure. Like there’s something wrong with seeing the beauty in a Monet or having your heart rent by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I mean, these things have notoriety for being beautiful for a reason, right? It all heads back to the idea of ironic appreciation – if you love something, and you’re inspired by it, then shout it to the world. And experience it. I think when you start factoring external stuff on what inspires you, or, in your eyes, what creates the magic in your world, then you instantly begin to take away from the experience. And that seems to me to be an awful shame.

And while we’re on magic and beauty and what have you, I wish the whole week was full of Sunday mornings. There is definitely something magical about waking up lazy and remaining completely horizontal, watching the sun peaking in and out of clouds through the window, sharing a set of headphones with your Favourite Person, meaning you have Will Sheff in one ear and their warm, even breath in the other.

And I’m not thinking about work yet. I’ve managed to avoid any thought of it completely this weekend, in amongst the magical bubbles and lazy Sunday haze, and I intend to carry that through until at least 7 tomorrow in the AM.

And I’m going to try and post more this week. Uh huh. Aha we’ll see how we go with that.

Aw yeah

I do a bit of crocheting. I’m not one of those crazy creative types who make whole pieces of furniture out of wool or anything, but I make the odd scarf or rug or bag or what have you. And I’ve found (via my mother, who just knows these things) that the best place to pick up crochet patterns is op shops. Old becomes new again and alla that.

A long, long time ago I picked up the book ‘A Chartwell Guide to Crochet – Super Designs for Babies, Women & Home’. It was first published in 1974. I pulled it down from the shelf tonight and was flicking through it looking for a shawl pattern and honestly, some of this stuff is GOLD. I can’t decide what one is my favourite…

The simple cover-up snood –


The gay gypsy scarf –


Or the glamorous glitter cap for sophisticated parties –


It’s not all that bad. There are some really useful patterns for scarves and bags and stuff, which is probably why I bought the thing in the first place.

SO – who wants me to make them a snood??!

Art is hard

I’m still around.  I’m just packing.  Full tilt.  I’ll be back to this thing full time presently.

While I’m here though, I had my first life drawing class in a series of 8 tonight.  I took a life drawing workshop around 18 months ago over a weekend, and it’s one of the best artistic experiences I’ve ever had.  So I’m going again.  The people in the class are great, the teacher seems really good, and for the first time in a long time my hands and my eyes and my mind want to make art.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Breathe in now

I’ve said this more than once, but one of my favourite things about Sunday is the arts programming on the ABC. Today I turned the TV on at about 3 and there was an interview with Jeanette Winterson. The interview (well, it was a little like a doco too) was specifically about her book ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ because the BBC has made it into a TV series in the UK. I read the book about 2 years ago and the imagery has stayed with me – so much so that it was actually the images of the shorts of the TV series that stopped my channel surfing. It took me about 5 seconds to realise what I was watching, even without knowing it was on.

The book was very grey – the story was a little depressing, and the way she used imagery was effective yet oppressive. I enjoyed reading it though and I’ve read a few books of hers since (Written On The Body is one of the most lusciously beautiful books, language wise, perhaps ever written). Anyway, I digress.

What struck me most about Ms Winterson was her take on the world and the way she candidly spoke about her own history. She looked at where she had been and was grateful for her path, even though she’d experienced a far amount of shit in her time. She saw the pressure of the Church during her childhood as the main reason she sought solace in books and said reading the bible was a great start for a novelist. Also, she had some very well thought out ideas about art and its place in the world.

When asked if she thought art has a place in today’s world of popular culture, she described art as being –

‘An air pocket in an upturned boat.’

When I heard that it’s like a light went on in my head. I was describing it online tonight as some sort of epiphany – she managed to articulate exactly what I’ve been trying to figure out in my own head for a long time. She went on to say that art offers us space, air and silence. We need space to breath to live. Its role is to make the space we need and to stop the noise that bombards us day in day out.

The presenter said to her ‘do you feel like art really has a place in the superficiality of today’s world? She said that it was hard to live any way but superficially today, but art transcends that. She said superficiality does not come through washing the car or bathing the kids or day to day stuff – it’s a state of mind and a way of thinking. She said ‘superficial was to be found in an emptiness of mind and a hollowness of soul’. All people need profundity in their lives, more than just the banal. They need death and drama and beauty. Art offers them all of these things.

Brett Whiteley also said ‘Art is the spark that beats death’. I think he might be right.

After watching that today I kinda felt renewed in some way. I also felt, in a weird way, privileged. I see people every day who are so unaffected by the beauty in the world. They miss so much because they A) have their head rammed up their ass or B) are busy stressing about other things. I feel bad for them – it’s like they’re half living.

I’m living though. At least, I feel like I am. One day at a time.

Soul Meets Body

I’m a war, of head versus heart,
And it’s always this way.
My head is weak, my heart always speaks,
Before I know what it will say.

And you can’t find nothing at all,
If there was nothing there all along.

My name is Karen and I’m a Death Cab for Cutie fan.

Combined with this I actually played Takk by Sigur Ros tonight. A combination of having watched Garden State, 2 glasses of wine and the lamp light made it right. There’s nothing more beautiful than pure sound and music for its own sake. To someone who doesn’t get it, it’s hard to understand, but to listen to music as pure as this makes me clean on the inside. I let go of all the shit in my head for the entire time the album plays – my mind becomes a canvas for the sound in my ears. And when it’s done I feel all at once energised and spent.

It has been a good day for music because I also loaded a lot of new shit on my iPod and got rid of some stuff that has been on there for a while. It’s really hard, because going through the list I’m always going ‘damn it! I can’t get rid of Out of Range because what if I’m feeling misunderstood and must hear Face Up and Sing? And I can’t get rid of the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack because if I need to hear Talk Show Host nothing else will do’. And I’m a bit of a crazy person in that I can’t erase most of an album and leave one song – it’s the whole album or nothing. I feel like things get messy otherwise. Sacrificed today, among other things, was some John Butler Trio, Ben Harper, Alice in Chains and the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. And THAT nearly didn’t get axed because of Little Green Bag.

I KNEW I should have got the 40gig. Oh well.

A felt a little motivation creep back today. I’ve been a bit worried about the apathy I’ve been feeling for my job – I got my ass kicked a bit yesterday for efficiency and it was probably warranted. I tend to get distracted easily at the best of times, and when I’m not really interested in what I’m doing it takes nothing at all. I also think I’m more worried about this exam than I’m even letting on to myself. It’s a big investment, time wise and financially (for the company), so I’m feeling the weight of it a little.

I’m also ruminating over things that need saying. Things that should be said, but I’m not sure I have the courage to say them. I’ve already opened the door, to theoretically the next step should be easy. It’s not always easy though to say stuff like –

I’m begging you, please. PLEASE see how worthwhile you are, and how much you mean to me. Please understand that the people you choose to surround yourself with are taking your strength and giving you nothing in return. You give and give and you’re left empty and hollow on the inside. I need you to see this, because I can’t prop you up any more. Your voice on the phone and sadness I can physically feel emanating from you makes me feel wretched inside. And we’ve fallen into this pattern of you crying me trying to pick up the pieces. I can’t do it anymore, my hands are full. I am tired of putting out fires and wrapping conversations and situations in cottonwool before I hand them to you. Deal with the pointy edges on your own, because I won’t do it for you anymore. You are stronger than this. You don’t need my help. Please see that.

Also, co-dependant relationships with ex’s are not healthy. Take it from me.

I went to Penrith today and stared at seahorses again for about half an hour. Well, until Angela came over and said ‘no, really, are you done yet? That salamander over there is freaking me out’. They are truly the most fascinating things to watch. So delicate and beautiful. Perhaps I’m so attracted to the damn things because delicate and beautiful is a ways removed from what I feel I am the majority of the time.

I’m so drawn to beauty, both aesthetically and musically, but on some level it can be almost too much for me to take all at once. Like, being intimidated by this Sigur Ros album to the point where I was almost too scared to play it. Also, I could never actually own a seahorse, because the idea of being responsible for the death of one slays me. Some people are almost too beautiful to look at, and you feel like no matter how hard you stare you can’t take it all in. Some paintings are like that – like Self Portrait in the Studio by Brett Whiteley or Pan by Sidney Long – when I look at both those paintings a feeling wells up in me and ends up in my throat. The beauty of it knocks me out and it’s almost too much for me to handle.

I ought to try for sleep. Tomorrow will be full of around-the-house stuff that needs doing before the craziness of the next couple of months begins.

And on Monday Tara comes home.