There’s the Leonard Cohen line from “famous blue raincoat” …

…”You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.…”

The product I make is artwork – a part of my imagination, reason, history, future. If I can’t sell it, it’s because the market doesn’t want it. The reasons could be many. I’m working for a-buck-an-hour. I can’t go any lower than that. Sometimes I want to cry out of frustration but I can’t see the point in that. That’s self-pity. I met my doppelganger over 2 decades ago and it taught me to turn around and face what fears you.

Do I have to change what I do? Yes, I have to modify my approach – even change tack – so, be flexible. As often as required.

Do you compromise? Not with ‘who’ you are.

I remember reading about well-known artists who gave up or almost gave up and came back with something reborn. In order to fail those artists were cleansed by alchemy. What they produced after the pause was extraordinary.

I’m thinking of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Francis Bacon, Brett Whiteley, Georgia O’Keeffe

Gallen-Kallela changed within two years after the death of his daughter. Francis Bacon destroyed most of his works early in his career, like Whiteley (after New York). O’Keeffe rejected the way she was working her art and almost walked away from it all. Only to be reborn in the desert.

The other extreme is to die like in a wreck, broken, poor and be recognized after the event of your life… I remember Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt (who went bankrupt a few times), Hercules Seghers, Clarice Beckett

Vemeer died from stress from money problems. His work was executed slowly and there aren’t many Vemeers around. His works were mainly  bought by a particular collector and as such the monopoly caused his work to un-flourish in popularity – he just wasn’t well known outside of his home town. Seghers isn’t well known today! Rembrandt bought his works and experimented with them further. Becket spent her time looking after ailing parents and putting in work before morning and at night. A grueling routine. Once her parents died she succumbed a few years later largely un-credited and forgotten until after her death.

I still feel this palm-sized smooth stone in my hand that is my artist’s life. It is better to have failed from trying than to fail from not trying at all.

We are simply a scratch on the rock of this earth. My life, per se, isn’t much as a scratch. How many artists just fall into obscurity, how many street musicians never make it, or dancers who are great but don’t get selected. It hurts when you don’t achieve a measure of success or recognition and you say ‘I’ve given my best’ and ‘that’s all I got’….It won’t do to say ‘Yes, well keep trying’ and ‘you’ll get there one day’. That’s patronizing. Perhaps it’s better to say to yourself, with honesty, and bluntness ‘what went wrong’ and ‘how can I do this better’ or ‘what do I need to change’ or ‘where should I be going?’ and ‘does this still feed me/feed my soul’….

I take a daily reading from The Word for Today.  On 30 October it said:

The three important questions are:
What’s my present position?
What’s my desired destination?
What are the in–between steps?

The last step is often the most nebulous.

“Don’t expect them to be quick or easy. Creativity is messy. It’s far from an exact science. But unless you know where you want to go and identify the steps that will get you there, ten years from now you’ll still be where you are today. So the word for you today is: Make the most of every opportunity.’ ”

(from The Word for Today,  Thursday, 30 October 2014)




Urban Mileage

I am exploring spaces and people in my work. Also the spirit of a place. The genus loci.

The city is a poem. Not a classical poem, a poem tidily centred a subject. It is rather a poem that unfolds a message. It is this message that we try to grasp and make sing. (Barthes 1986:97).

To understand the messages of a place is like learning a new language. The language of the streets, footpaths, buildings and broken down walls. These objects speak of their creator, their users, abusers and current state of mind. We are creators. Empty boxes don’t exist in nature.  We deign the message about our places that we live in.  We are also conditioned by the actions of others. Brunner (1965:13) in his novel the “Squares of the City” writes “where the buildings said proudly ‘Prosperity!’…The laughter on the faces of youth said ‘Success!’ The satisfied look of businessmen said ‘Progress!’ “. If I lived in such a place I would personally be creeped out.  What are we aiming for here? A city of a thousand designers of different temperament and ideologies.

To live in a city, a town or suburb, is to breath, smell, taste the odours, walk between buildings and enter into a relationship: A semi-autonomous relationship that is strengthened by routines and conventions of society (Preziosi, 1979:13). It’s more than this too. We actively and consciously perceive a space and place, a city block, a row of houses, a backyard, a manhole, even the “Late Lady!” (From Janet Frame’s book “To the Is-Land”, 2008:30). These markers give distance, time, memories and futures. The images and feelings for a place are emotional – whether it “terrorizes or charms” (Ledrut 1986:222). It is the association we have with a place – real or imagined. Where you had your first job, where you met your first lover, where you saw a wonderful piece of theatre. Or maybe it’s less romantic. Where you had your first fight, where you saw your friend vomit, where you got attacked by a magpie. Well you get the picture.

Hence, our images of where we live are rich and varied “soaked in memories and meanings…in relation to its surroundings, the sequence of events leading up to it, the meaning of past experiences” (Lynch 1960:1)

Art and wine #2

“OH NO You said it would hurt – you lying dog!” As said to a doctor as he injected a needle into the muscle near the shin c. 1999.

Why struggle when you can lie down? Actually, no. That’s not quite right. You can continue to struggle with doubts in you. This is exhausting and after a while one does need a lie down. Or you can pick up your tools and start making a mess, mistakes, small rights, small wrongs. In a previous life, our mantra as lowly public servants went “first you laugh, then you cry, then you laugh again”. Thanks JMW. JMW also shrewdly pointed out that in the dictionary, “apathy” sat between “apartment” and “ape”. But that’s another story.

Is it hard to Get your Art On? Yes. The battle is in you. Believe it or not you are not here to have fun. I don’t believe in ‘fun’. Sounds like I am joyless. That’s not true. I am full of joy most of the time. ‘Fun’ is a poisonous word because it’s a short term jolt without a lasting impact. It is ‘low merriment’ and a diversion (Swift, Walker).  Joy is deeper. It comes with persistence and as a reward of completing a project.

I saw a diagram of 2 intersecting circles. The left circle was labelled “crippling doubt” the right circle labelled “narcissism” and the point of intersection and overlap is “ART”. So true. But if you don’t start making a mess how will you ever know?

Should you paint? Draw? Be a printmaker, dressmaker, screen printer? Make art books or installations? Make Art, trade in Art or manage Art?

If you don’t start you will never start answering the questions. Ask the questions, get the answers. Maybe not straight away. I went to Technical College in 2002 because I wanted to learn how to print t-shirts. I inadvertently enrolled into etching – which changed my life. 12 years later, I don’t screen print often. It doesn’t fulfil me like other printmaking techniques. Who would have guessed?

The work we do is not complete. It is taken to a new state. “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it”. (Rabbi Tarpon, 70 AD – 135 AD). Keep on rolling.

Art and Wine #1

One of my heroes is Mustafa Kemal also known as Atatürk, meaning ‘Father Turk’. For those who know the history of the first ANZACS he was a Turkish Colonel in charge of defending the Gallipoli Peninsula against British invasion in 1915. He was a remarkable man in his own right.

A long time ago I read “Birds without Wings” by Louis de Bernières the prequel to the better-known book “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” which details the beginnings (albeit) in novel form about the early Kemal. That’s how I found out about Kemal and thought he was fiction. A friend told me ‘no he’s real alright’…So I dug further and found “Atatürk” by Lord Kinross (Published by Morrow, 1965)  and it’s one of those great books that I’ve started to read again after a 10-year absence. Kemal was very quotable he said ‘A nation devoid of art and artists cannot have a full existence.’ It’s true. But how is that Implemented? To use town planning parlance. And what does that even mean?

Art doesn’t just happen over a glass of red wine.

The artist – visual artist, performing artist, writing artist, must have a problem to solve and then demonstrate how it is resolved.  It’s Logic in a creative way. Creativity is the missing link between action and mark making in newspapers, music sheets, canvas, twitters, texting, and even words written as law. Virginia Wolfe said in a rare recorded interview ‘Words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind’. In other words, use those words, pictures, images. Or as Wayne Bennett’s book is titled…“Don’t Die with the Music in You”.

Creativity is the missing link between cause and effect. Our creative nature binds all the logic and fact we naturally gravitate towards. Kemal said “Science is the most reliable guide in life.” That’s true. Yet that search, for ‘fact’ or ‘scientific fact’, at the same time repels us further into a state of non-knowing: Like trying to catch Whiting in a swell with your bare hands. The fish and the water are real. But the fish keep just out of reach teasing you to move into deeper waters: The water at the same time magnifying the fish and distorting the field-depth vision. Circa 1987 Cylinder Beach. Our creative nature is that undefined time and space between the hands and the fish.

When Kemal said that  ‘A nation devoid of art and artists cannot have a full existence’ I don’t think he was referring to a little section of the country set aside for arty types. His vision was broader – it always was. In each of us is a creator. WHAT! Yes. You may be a business owner, fisherman, engineer, accountant, bureaucrat, writer, painter. If you are passionate about what you do  – if it fulfils you then you’re creating…and you are truly alive.

When you create it is Genius! Steven Pressfield in his book “The War of Art” (Black Irish Books, 2002) talks about Genius. Roughly paraphrased, ‘Not the way we use the word today. But the way Ancient Romans defined the word. We, each of us have our own unique Genius’. It is ‘our inner spirit, holy and inviolable’, ‘watching over is, and guiding us….’ And ‘It’s our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our BEING IN POTENTIAL , our star’s beacon and POLARIS.’ ‘Everyone who creates, operates from this sacramental centre.’ (Pressfield 2002:15).

Is it hard to work on your Genius. My oath it is. It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.