Monday 27 August 2012

Food and Feasts, Heroes and Heroines! Tales from the Studio

We have just completed a great four weeks in the studio, with the 6-8 year olds exploring food and feasting in art, and the 9-12 year olds looking at the way artists portray heroes and heroines.

After a mouth-watering brainstorm about feasts and the types of food the children like at parties, we experimented with sculptural techniques including object design, cardboard construction and papier mache. We had conversations about the many ways artists have explored food in art – from religious and historic feasts, still life paintings, artworks about food production, as well as artists that use food as a raw material (like Richard Maloy’s butter painting in Toi Aotearoa).

Gallery educator Selina offering some different portrayals of food in art

We also managed a visit to the Auckland Art Gallery café to discuss the art of cake decoration! Using paint and mixed media the children decorated their party food objects, and invited their families to our party on the last day.

The 9-12 year olds looked at a number of works of heroes in the Gallery (including William Theed’s busts of Roman gods and goddesses and Juan de Juanes’ painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria) to explore posture, body language and expression, and the way artists use symbols to provide clues about the work.

After brainstorming our ideas of what makes somebody a hero, the children used sculptural techniques to construct a hero personal to them, using wire, foil, plaster and paint. Heroes ranged from skateboarders, Mark Todd, grandfathers, superheroes and priests. Their pieces were photographed against a watercolour background to provide a setting for the character. The results were outstanding, and all parents (and gallery staff) were impressed with the works! Great work everyone!

Bookings are open for our next four-week studio classes which begin on Sunday 2 September. The 6-8 year olds are exploring artists’ interpretations of landscapes, and the 9-12 year olds will be looking at the way animals are used as symbols for characters and emotions.

Friday 24 August 2012

Ian Fairweather

Geoff Hawkshaw Ian Fairweather at Bribie Island, Queensland, January 1966
courtesy of the National Library of Australia
I know I have written about Ian Fairweather before but I have just re-read Murray Bail’s book Fairweather (Sydney, Craftsman House, 1994) with its lovely suite of essays by Murray, Pierre Ryckmans, Mary Eagle, Drusilla Modjeska, Martin Armiger and Joana Capon. What a terrific group of writers, all offering their diverse responses to one of Australia’s most impressive artists.

For me, Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) is an archetypical art maverick. A Scotsman, traditionally trained at London’s Slade School of Art, he left before he graduated. Travelled to Canada, China, Hong Kong and Bali before arriving in Melbourne during 1934. Then spent 8 years wandering around South-East Asia, returning to Australia landing up at Bribie Island off Brisbane’s coast. Set off again to Asia and Europe, but came back to Bribie Island in 1955.

Artist unknown Ian Fairweather in his Bribie Island studio c1965
courtesy of the National Archives of Australia
ID: A6135, K24/11/72/1
The Chartwell Collection owns one of Ian Fairweather’s key late paintings – Nebula of 1963. It was created at a time when many of his paintings reflected musical themes. On one hand, Nebula is connected with the raw, sandy landscape around the artist’s island hut. Yet, it also plays with ideas about close silhouettes and deep space. Fairweather’s paintings are fascinating because they look as if they have been painted at great speed but the opposite is true – they are always altered and then altered and then altered again.

Ian Fairweather, Nebula, 1963
synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard laid on composition board
Chartwell Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 1988

Two years after he created Nebula, he commented in an interview with Hazel de Berg that ‘Painting to me is something of a tightrope act; it is between representation and the other thing – whatever that is. It is difficult to keep one’s balance.’

Next time you are visiting an Australian state gallery, look out for Ian Fairweather's work. His art is not as glitzy-swoopy as Brett Whiteley’s or as instantly beautiful (thankfully for that). Fairweather has the gutsiness and integrity of Tony Tuckson’s work as well as the atmospheric sensitivity of that arch aesthete, Clarice Beckett. Like their art, Fairweather’s work just gets better and better.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Remembering Rita Angus

I recently asked on this blog what Rita Angus’s voice sounded like. I was telephoned by Petar Vuletic and he told me that he knew her well towards the end of her life. I asked Petar to draft some recollections about the artist. Petar kindly sent me the following memoir; which I have illustrated with a painting that Rita painted shortly before she met him.
I first met Rita Angus when I bowled up to her home in the 60s. I was a young university student. I arrived unannounced and she graciously received me. After that, we would meet whenever I came to Wellington. This was over a period and I have not thought about it really until now when someone mentioned your blog and that you were interested in what Rita had sounded like.

We would go for long walks around Wellington -for hours at a time and on one occasion for nearly 6 hours. I recall on the last walk we ever had, we would pause every 100 yards or so, for her to rest and then carry on. During these walks, she would be pointing things out that were of interest and relevance to her. For example - the pile of gravestones that had been uprooted from a cemetery to make way for a motorway. This was a short distance from where she lived, landmarks such as the French Maid coffeehouse. On these walks we would be discussing art, what had influenced her and in particular what had influenced her the most. I recall in this regard her telling me that what had been the seminal influence on her art had been an exhibition of Canadian Regional Art (in the 1930s).

I recall her also telling me how upset she was about some of what was being written about her and her art and how strongly she disagreed with it. She disagreed about there being a so-called ‘harsh quality of New Zealand light”. It has nothing to do with my work she had said more than once. Also she showed me some of her works which included small abstract paintings one of which was I thought exceptional. I believe that this work went to North America and I have never seen it since. Curiously, it reminded me of both Malevich and Kandinsky. We talked about other art and artists such as Theo Schoon. I recall her talking about the Milligans who used to host regular meetings for artists in their circle.

After our walks; and sometimes before we set out, she would make me a cup of tea at her home. The china was English bone china. As a consequence of our long walks and the time spent together I have a very distinct recollection of her voice. As you may appreciate, it is difficult to describe such things.

However, as my first language is not English, I have always been interested in accents, and in the different forms of regional and class dialects in New Zealand (as an outsider -born here, but nonetheless apart.) Some districts have terms peculiar to that region for example - containers in which strawberries are sold were called variously: pottles, (Dunedin), punnets, (Wellington), and chips. (Auckland). New Zealanders have considerable variation from province to province and island to island. It may seem less so to those whose first language is English, as one never perceives that one has an accent oneself, instead, it is all about other people.

From my perspective, I should describe her speaking voice as strong and firm, not loud but quite forceful. Clear in enunciation, precise, and never mumbling or indistinct. I should describe her as having a New Zealand educated, provincial accent. Not twangy, reflecting or so it seemed an accent more usual when one is from a comfortable financial background- but particularly such as found in the Hawke’s Bay and lower North Island. Not like the Remuera version of the received pronunciation of English. Nor was it like the Fred Dagg parody of New Zealand English, so beloved by advertising agencies and others who like to over exaggerate, to make a difference when the subtleties are there, anyway.

I have a 92 year old aunt, born in Carterton, and educated there and in Horowhenua, whose grandmother was a teacher and father a farmer, whose accent reminds me very much of Rita Angus. Words and phrases from those places and those times recur in her speech and also remind me of Rita.

This is how it seems to me looking back now after all these years. Rita seemed to like me. She was very open and forthcoming. I doubt that I was unique in this. Over the years I have found it upsetting to hear her described as unpleasant, ill mannered and difficult to approach or talk to. That was not my experience. I found her warm, gracious; receptive to ideas; and to the discussion of art. She did feel used by factions in the art establishment of the time. She did not like this and was quite forceful to me about this. It would not be surprising then if those who tried to manipulate her and her work to their own ends found her unreceptive.
Petar Vuletic

Rita Angus
Scrub burning, Northern Hawke's Bay 1965
oil on board
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 1966

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Mike Parr: Talking Back to Power

Performance artist Mike Parr has generously given us permission to reproduce his speech from the opening night of The Walters Prize 2012.

Young Yvonne

Hers sheathed in black velvet embroidered in gold thread and sequined panthered and ankled  Napoleonic by couches to turbaned tantamount no less, slender more supple even than Antoinette young Yvonne’s body lay ever more African than Arab quite purple-frogged in pink-flowered tumult. Turquoise was caftan enquired at cost as whose black velvet glossed  was/were gold embossed shoes in repeat sequins do distantly recall Bohain’s cross-legged frocks of old for then there of which the plucked from a rich blue ground formed in a plum-red blouse slashed and swagged pants sumptuously oranged before our Arnoud herself arranged front to back onto green-and-creamed Javanese batik sashed silks. She’s boredom she said her open book unread personified on their laps lay the day the long limbed and her quirky for the feature before the cash fabulously shot silk sample books stashed and seemed several shy over sensitive and sensuously damasked bladed upholstered next to their skin. In Henri’s hotel rooms demonstrably magnolia marvellous but threadbare posing arabesque meandering profusion though far from happy Yvonne’s undoubtedly light airs whereas Lissette longs herself on lounges for frivolous yet’s twisted listless in toile de Jouy job lots and stands at open windows flush with fresh onto ocean frilly as actress less Italian than French as angular as Antoinette.
- Wystan Curnow

Very difficult to read. The piece includes three internal full stops, one forward slash a few hyphened words and one isolated comma. That bemused me. And very difficult to type out, because of the line lengths. Even re-setting my margin widths didn’t really do it, so I had to opt for 10point.

I first read this poem in the LRB in December 2011.  To make matters worse, it was preceded by an article entitled, “Are You Part Neanderthal” and immediately followed by another called, “Making Money”, while the poem itself was embedded in a piece called, “Doing it Ourselves: David Patrikarakos writes about Iran’s Nuclear Programme”.

Hard to read and hard to see. So the risk of mangling the work is part of the work. Reminds me of the difficulty of one of my early performance scripts. “Eat what you read. Record the sonic content of the work”.

And then there’s Spurling in paraphrase, because Hilary Spurling’s magisterial biography of Matisse immediately comes to mind. “vase of anemones or carnations, couple of lemons, frilled muslin dressing-table, green umbrella, mauve stockings, dark bows, chunky high heels, vertical strips of beach & sea beyond, Italian straw hat, single white ostrich plume curling + frothing over the brim, blue-black ribbon looped, pink parasol, old-fashioned, high-necked, long-sleeved white frock, turquoise-blue flower pots, blue balustrade. Fur, feathers, fluff, fabric, flowers…you’ll recognize the cadences.

The tremendous horizontality of Curnow’s poem is its essential content and the means to recapitulate something of Matisse’s psychology. The delirium of his sensuous identification and the prohibition on touching. His eye-full. “The splendid face-value of his painting”, as John Golding put it. But also a kind of emptiness. Glossy dilation.

I think it was his friend Signac or was it Henri-Edmond Cross who described Matisse as “anxious, madly anxious”.

The difficulties, like the stimulating difficulties of the works in this year’s Walters, are structural, performative, conceptual…

Young Yvonne is actually Yvonne Landsberg and the encounter between her and Matisse was a one-off closely patrolled by her brother and mother. The resultant painting completed just before the outbreak of WW1 is one of Matisse’s strangest & most haunting works. Monochromatic, blind eyes, the figure & pose of the young woman is repeated by echoing curves and arabesques of gouged paint, but in a disorientating way Curnow’s work conceals this preferring to imagine her as an odalisque.

Spurling refers to her “hopelessly unfashionable looks”, while Pierre Matisse explains, “that it was felt that her defects would be absorbed by the deformations of a modern painter” as though her defects were also the painter’s defects.

And Spurling again talking about the painting… “slight, grave, pale figure within a vortex of whorls and claw marks conveying a poignant sense of human vulnerability and endurance”.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In Autumn of 1940 Picasso was living in occupied Paris. One day he was visited in his studio by a group of German officers. He handed out photographs of Guernica and one of them asked, “Did you do this?” and Picasso replied, “No you did”.

Talking back to power is what Guernica is about and double-talk is the essential structure of the picture’s address, because Picasso’s sketchbooks of the 1930’s reveal that its iconography of raping bulls, desolated women, violent dismemberment are essentially domestic, what Gustav Jung characterized as Picasso’s schizoid absence of effect…

Punctum, punchline, performance…

From my point of view, from the point of view of performance as art, the photograph of Guernica is enough, or Picasso’s anecdote is enough. Enough Guernica.

Braque’s remark after the Cubist solidarity says it all. “Picasso use to be a great painter, now he’s merely a genius”, but from our point of view now, Picasso’s balloon like expansion, his painting in public, his irresponsible pastiche, is actually a contemporary stance and in this respect Picasso’s shadow is dragged ahead of him, to announce the end of Modernism and the beginnings of a kind of institutionality, in which the artist is half court jester and half idiot savant; a kind of poised virulence without definite form…

I wonder what Adorno really meant when he said, “That poetry after Auschwitz is impossible”. Did he mean that the ecstasy of transcendence was impossible after Auschwitz, because transcendence was set at the wrong end of time, or did he mean to say that Auschwitz had severed signifier and signified once and for all. That after Auschwitz we are all, ineluctably, deprived of language that truly matters. That language, and with it, our secure sense of our own humanity, have been irrevocably estranged. That after Auschwitz poetry could only be a special kind of gobbledegook.

Gobbledegook then is our new material. The fierce realism of forms that fail.

Mike Parr 3. 8. 2012

Thursday 2 August 2012

Migration, Diaspora and Trans-experience: Part II

Last week, I blogged about how the concept of the homeland is not a memory of a fixed place in time. Rather it is discourse that engages the past, present and future all at once.

Trans-experience is a development of the term diaspora. It emphasizes an identity in flux constantly changing and responding to influences both past and present simultaneously. This term, trans-experience, describes an evolving identity that can change any time due to the memory of the homeland while being in the new environment.1

Rejecting any fixed representations, the artists within Home AKL propose hybrid identities. They negotiate an art practice where past, present and future memories of the homeland simultaneously influence the new ‘Home’ they live in, Auckland. This is evident in Siliga David Setoga’s Blackboard Work and Greg Semu's self portraits with his pe’a tattoo.

Siliga David Setoga, Blackboard Work, 2010-2012
blackboard, chalk, courtesy of the artist

Setoga’s work is universal in commentary and applicable to any minority group migrating to New Zealand and the struggles they face assimilating as young students to the New Zealand ‘norm’. The first Blackboard Work addresses the issue of replacing a child’s birth name, from Samoan culture with a first name to assimilate into a primary school classroom. Setoga is displaying a hybrid cultural memory of his childhood, where tradition just as important as assimilation.

Greg Semu, Self-portrait with side of pe'a, Sentinel Road, Herne Bay, 2012, digital print, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2012
In contrast, Greg Semu celebrates his ritualistic roots of pe’a through documentary photography. Semu fully reveals all and documents publicly his tattoos for the world to see. Semu is asking; what are the politics of identity? Do my tattoos define who I am? Alternatively, is it a critical interpretation of the self and the ‘other?’

- Shahriar Asdollah-zadeh

1. Chiu, Melissa, “Breakout Chinese art, outside China.” Milano, Italy: Edizioni Charta, 2006.