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I paint, make collages and mixed media work. I write poetry. I reflect on the Tao.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arts giving

This post was contributed by Deborah Vaughan and first published in Strata, the Tasmanian Arts Magazine.

I’d like to spotlight individual giving to the arts.
Many conversations about art in Australia revolve around a lack of income. In Tasmania this is a particular challenge, with our small population and economy, and high travel and freight costs thanks to Bass Strait. To counteract this (at least in part), we need to get better at giving. Conversely, arts companies need to get better at asking.
Independent research tells us individual giving is growing in this country, but for many Australians, philanthropy is a hit and miss affair. Contrast Americans. In 2009, their individual giving was measured at $227.4 billion ($741 per American). In Australia last year we gave $7.7 billion, or $342 each.
Taking economic differences into account, Americans give around 1.6 per cent of their GDP, while Australians give around 0.7 per cent. Whichever way you look at it, they’re more than twice as generous as we are.
We all know there is phenomenal wealth in the USA, and they formalised a philanthropic culture back in 1601 with a Statute of Charitable Causes, but there’s some solid wealth here too — surely we could do better than a measly $342 each?
Regrettably, both countries give the least amount to the arts. Welfare, community projects, health, religious institutions, international aid, education, the environment, animal welfare, and sporting and recreational causes all attract more cash donations than the arts.
I probably should have expected this, but actually I found it slightly staggering. Art feeds our spirit, soothes, heals, entertains and provides identity. This is important and valuable stuff!
Compounding the Australian culture around individual giving is that many arts companies are just plain bad at asking for financial gifts. Compare the charity sector, where fundraising campaigns are planned and implemented, measured and analysed, and consequently produce continual improvement. It’s an illuminating study.
In a nutshell: more giving, better asking. It’s not a quick-fix area, but I do know that if everyone just gave a little bit, more often, we would all benefit exponentially.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Would that I could

Would that I could
go once more to where
my hummingbird heart hovered
sipping sweet nectar
from open petals.

But the garden is barred.
No innocence lost
–as innocence must be–
to wisdom’s fruit,
but ripped bleeding
from naked child flesh
left dying in a darkened room
behind discrete curtains
of shared conspiracy.

Crucified between the thieves
of thought and feeling,
forsaken by the will to rage
pierced by despair
I surrender to the silent stillness.

Liminal light illuminates
terra incognita:
the dark corners
where the ash of memory congeals,
the deep chasm
like a raw wound that never scars,
the wide deserts
where heartless sand corrodes.

What shame conceals
some hidden grace reveals:
his pale shape curled
unopened moonlit flower.

Let your tears resume.
Wash him in the river of remorse.
Bathe him in the ocean of light.
And if his heart is opened
by your opening heart,
might once more there be
the taste of nectar
on my tongue.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Muse on shock

As a child, I found the thrill seeking rides at the shows quite puzzling. The result was either terror (&puke) or boredom. Either way it seemed a waste of money to me.

I was reminded of this by reading Penny Thow’s excellently descriptive article of the current exhibition Altared by Rodney Pople (Despard Gallery, Hobart, Tasmania).

(I’d like to reference the article, but I just cannot find it on The Mercury’s website (

Pople is quite open about his intention to shock the viewer. In his view, there are two kinds of painting There is the banal, mediocre and boring and then there are those that are meant to be shocking”. I guess that makes the Mona Lisa banal, mediocre and boring?

He juxtaposes images of the Catholic church with contradictory images (a zebra, a shark, naked women and explicit sex acts). “The most powerful and confronting painting in the exhibition is Pope with Altar Boy. It shows a young boy with exposed genitals standing in front of a headless pope.” For Pople, this sums up the hypocrisy of the Church.

Of course, this is shocking if you are attached to the notion of the church as a moral bastion. If you view the church as a social institution, subject like all institutions to corruption and hypocrisy, and if you have been aware of churchmen’s 2,000 plus years history of socially and religiously prohibited sexual deviance, it’s really not shocking—tragic, appalling, inhumane, but not shocking.

Indeed the juxtaposition only works because religion is seen as separate from nature and sexuality. The juxtapositions start to teeter on the comical if you view religion as a debased institutionalised form of spirituality and see no division between the sacred and nature:

To see a world in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour

William Blake
Now, art has a respectable pedigree as social critique, for example, Francisco Goya’s The Shootings of May Third or Edouard Manet’s Execution of the Emperor Maximilian. or Picasso’s Guernica.

A visual image may be able to make a critical point more tellingly, more shockingly than words. However, I am not convinced that painting is as an effective visual medium of social critique as are photographs. I have yet to view a painting which has the same power to shock the viewer, as the photograph of a naked screaming nine year old girl, running down a road, after a napalm bomb was dropped on her village during the Vietnam war.ị_Kim_Phúc. This image haunts me still and retains its power to shock.

Part of the difference I suspect is that news photographs, while not an objective medium, nevertheless have an aura of authenticity about them. This moment actually happened. A painting, by contrast, no matter how realistic, is always and obviously a result of artifice. “All artists are liars” Picasso reportedly said. The lie is obvious, no matter how carefully concealed.
But even if a painting could strike home with shock and make the telling point, what then? If there is nothing else, then what we have is an illustration of a socio-political criticism that could just have easily been made in words.

What sets those works by Goya, Manet and Picasso apart is that something else. They transcend their context. They move from the particular to the universal human condition. My response is neither shock nor boredom, but rather one of empathetic engagement with the inhuman horror.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

But would is love

But would is love
or feeling loathe.

Essence spirals down in image.
Essence spirals up in substance.
Dissolved in the earth valley
the maiden passed
she to me, water to stone,
naked and unobserved,
but not unfelt.

Not in myself desire
but eyes knowing fire
blacken the unknown
and would is love
that might pierce
the darkened heart.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some thoughts from an exhibition

…art objects are lures attracting certain kinds of spirits and they’re containers for that spirit. Thomas Moore The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life

When I first read these words, they resonated strongly with me as a description of what my art work is about. In the creation of an art work by letting go of the rational controlling mind and allowing the soul and heart to act through my hands, I am creating a temenos, an in-dwelling place for a specific spirit. I issue an invitation to the spirit, hoping that my poor work will find favour.
Thomas Moore again: Art can be merely aesthetically pleasing, philosophically meaningful, and personally expressive, or it can have the special power to evoke and transmit a particular spirit to those who come into contact with it.

I know when I come into contact with a work of art that has this special power. Firstly it has a compelling power. This is a subtle thing. Very few of the works of art that are like this rely on shock (in fact, I can’t think of one). But, there is something intriguing about the work that draws me in and holds me there. Next, there is some mystery about the work that requires me to look beyond the surface, to engage with the work imaginatively.

Dorothea Tanning: My work is about the enigmatic; it’s about leaving the door open to imagination. You see enigma is a very healthy thing, because it encourages the viewer to look beyond the obvious and the commonplace. (From The Artist Observed by John Gruen).
Lastly I leave the art work with my experience of life deepened and broadened by the encounter with the mysterious spirit who has taken up residence within the art work.
This is where I part company with a lot of contemporary art. To me, much of it seems to be without soul or spirit–sometimes clever, sometimes intellectually engaging, sometimes shocking and sometimes all three and just plain silly as well. Rarely do I find something that hints at a deeper mystery.
So it was with fairly low expectations that I went to visit the exhibition Contemporary Encounters at the National Gallery Victoria’s Ian Potter Centre (on until 9 Jan 2011).( what’s on> Exhibitions – current > Contemporary Encounters).
In spite of the spirited description of the exhibition:
Reflecting on the often confounding nature of human existence and the complex cultural, artistic, social and political mores of our times, contemporary artists are at the vanguard of current thought and inquiry. In challenging and compelling ways Contemporary encounters presents a broad spectrum of artists working in a diverse range of media including painting, sculpture, installation, photography, prints and drawings, video and multimedia. Works collide, repel, fuse and coalesce, revealing each artist’s unique engagement with the prevailing issues of contemporary life and artistic practice. Poetic, experimental, enigmatic, and sometimes ordinary, each work resonates in unexpected ways for contemporary audiences.

Given previous experience, I was expecting less poetic and enigmatic and more experimental and ordinary.
At first it looked like my expectations were going to be met, until I turned a corner, and there, whispering at my elbow was a work by John Wolseley ( ). I ignored the whisper and charged around another corner (perverse, I know, but you need to experience the layout of the exhibition space to understand that it is made up of alcoves and corners and recesses …not quite labyrinthine, but near enough). Further poking about, confirmed my initial expectations, so I sidled up to the Wolsley to make an acquaintance and became entranced with his meanderings and wanderings.

Rare and unexpected sightings of the Embroidered Merops and the Spinifex Grasswren

Others may find their spirit in other works in the Exhibition, for I may be blind and deaf to the spirirts that reside in other works. Perhaps, at the time I was too deep within my own darkness to be receptive to the works of Aida Tomescu:

and needed the more gentle approach of John Wolsley , in his words “an expression of the more meditative gentle areas of the subconscious” (quoted in John Wolseley Landmarks by Sasha Grishin).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A little ramble through the recesses of my mind

I recently had an argument with my wife concerning a tweet I had posted. I had poured scorn on the notion that actors could be described as artists. While conceding that not all Hollywood stars could be considered artists, she was strong in arguing that the two actors in question (Russell Crowe and Kate Blanchett) could be so described. I was equally strong in arguing that no, only visual artists should be called artists and all others were merely trying to appropriate the term, because it conferred status on their activities. Well, like the Lion and the Unicorn,

we beat each other up and down the town, until I finally stopped ranting and started listening (There’s a lesson in there!).
I realised we were both so vehement in our opinions, because the term “artist” did mean something special to both of us. We finally worked out, mutually and collegially, that it wasn’t that notion of status, but rather that the people we regarded as artists were connected, and re-connected us, to our soul and spirit through the workings of the imagination.
Of course, the old academic in me couldn’t leave it there, so I have spent some fruitless time trying to research the issue of definition. At the end of my patience, I’m reminded of Wittgenstein’s aphorism “Philosophers have the habit of kicking up the dust and then complaining that they cannot see”.

So for my reader who cares (hello, Fred), I could rationalise my belief by reference to Aristotle’s notion of essences, Kantian ideas of aesthetics and Rand’s epistemological basis for art…but I won’t.
I’d rather be inclusive and embrace all fellow workers in imagination, and to hell with the labels. Later…

Still, it remained important to me and I couldn’t seem to let go of the issue. I realised that it was actually important to me, if only to be able to understand where I stand as a person who describes himself as an artist and what he makes as art. So, without argument or justification, here is what I believe, for better or worse…

Art is that which immerses us in the experience of another reality defined by, and in terms of, the art work itself. Art demands engagement of the soul. Imagination is the portal.

Which sort of reminded me of this lovely quote by Curtis Verdun
“Grand is the prospect of new worlds and altered realities, which is, by birthright, deeply inherent in the unrepressed imaginations of all men.”
And, do yourself a favour and visit his website

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Scholar and the Bureaucrat

(with deepest apologies to the Reverend Dodson and Miss Liddell)

The Scholar and the Bureaucrat
Were cutting quite a dash;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of cash:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "we could be flash!"

"If seven profs with seven trusts
Milked it for sixty weeks.
Do you suppose," the Scholar said,
"They could clean it so it squeaks?"
"I doubt it," said the Bureaucrat,
And plugged some tiny leaks.

"O Artists, come and make us rich!"
The Scholar did issue.
"An artist’s name, an artist’s fame,
Is what we offer you:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a show to two."

The eldest Artist looked at him,
But nary a sketch he gave:
The eldest Artist stroked his beard,
And gave a cheeky wave--
Meaning to say he really thought
The scholar was a knave.

But four young Artists hurried up,
All eager for their due:
Their art was rushed, their C.Vs writ,
Their folios were blue--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They didn’t have a clue.

Four other Artists followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All jumping through the Scholar’s hoops,
And eager to the core.

The Scholar and the Bureaucrat
Planned for a day or so,
And then they issued a proposal
Likely just for show:
And all the little Artists stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Scholar said,
"To talk of many things:
Of trusts--and boards--and career paths--
Of junkets--and flings--
And why my salary is so low--
And giving piggies wings."

"But half a mo," the Artists cried,
"Before we do our art;
For some of us are new to this,
And all of us are smart!"
"No worries!" said the Bureaucrat.
and waved the flag to start.

"A course on art," the Scholar said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Degrees and P. H. Ds besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Artists dear,
We can begin to weed."

"But not poor us!" the Artists cried,
Doing their degrees.
"After all our work, you have to
Give us “As” not “Cs”!"
"The course is fine," the Scholar said.
"Shall we increase the fees?

"It was so kind of you to try!
I have passed almost half!"
The Bureaucrat said nothing but
"Give me lots more staff:
I wish you wouldn’t talk so much--
You really make me laugh!”

"This is the game," the Scholar said,
"For us to get rich quick,
We’ve given them great careers
And dirty boots to lick!"
The Bureaucrat said nothing but
"The money's spread too thick!"

"I deconstruct," the Scholar said:
"Those I have despised."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those whose art he prized,
Using his personal prejudice
Cleverly disguised.

"O Artists," said the Bureaucrat,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be going round again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd shafted every one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art From Trash, Far from Trashy

I have been visiting the Art From Trash exhibition at Salamanca Long Gallery in Hobart. I quote from their site:

Art From Trash is an annual community event that encourages the reuse of discarded materials in the production of visual art. The exhibition is open to all ages and is a great opportunity for many first time and emerging artists. Art From Trash is instrumental in promoting creative reuse, and, while the exhibition is a lot of fun, there is an underlying message to use the earth’s resources wisely and to minimize the inappropriate disposal of limited resources.

You can view the winners here and learn more about the exhibition here

Closes Monday 2nd August., so rush down to the Salamanca Long Gallery if you can.

The exhibition blows me away with the inventiveness, diversity and wit of the art works, created by everyone from school children to grandparents, professional and non-professional artists and craftworkers.

Without slighting the other artists, here are some of my personal favourites.

First, through the door “Are we Dancer” by Terry Byrne (Sorry about the relatively poor quality of the photograph), a seemingly simple piece that re-pays slow looking as you engage in the interplay of text and image and track from left to right across the piece.

Right beside this piece, two scarecrows by the Lenah Valley Primary school, to delight the eye, intrigue with their ingenuity and raise a smile. Enjoy looking, because you cannot have these scarecrows at any price. They are destined for the school ground to replace the wooden scarecrows torched by mindless vandals.

Or perhaps you might prefer something a bit more flamboyant and theatrical? Then check out Ian Hawkin’s work, a baroque assemblage inspired by Medieval and Renaissance examples. You can explore his work on his website

Oh, there’s so much more. Ali Frost’s intricate and intimate pieces

and Heather Blaikie’s witty pieces. Here is someone I relate strongly to (The Insomniac)

Quite clearly my preference (or should that be prejudice) for assemblage work is showing through, since this is the type of work I do (and yes, I confess, I have some work in the show).
So I should also mention that there is a much greater variety of objects (e.g. handbags from recycled materials by Sonja Cook, a garden bench from salvaged steel by Simon Parkhurst).

And finally, for me, the piece de resistance. (drum roll, please)…the winner of the Trash Rat Youth Art Award, the Taroona Primary School students with a display of mini robots constructed from discarded metal parts. Funny, inventive, witty, a sheer delight…as Picasso said,

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

MONA, CLOACA and real soulfood

Cristina Ruiz has recently written about the new Museum of Old and Modern Art being developed by gambling millionaire David Walsh in little old Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. A museum like no other, it is described by Walsh as an “unmuseum” and a “subversive Disneyland”. I highly commend the article in its entirety.

I was amused by the description of Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca.
“The machine, which simulates the human digestive process, creates excrement which is apparently indistinguishable from the real thing. It will be the first version of the work which Delvoye has sold to a museum.”

I understand its artistic pedigree (out of Bosch by Duchamp); confronting the unpleasant reality of the universal human condition and challenging the concept of art as something higher. I also grasp its intellectual point; humans as digestive and excreting machines (a point denied by the imaginative and technical faculties that conceived and realised the piece).

However, I am quickly bored with such intellectual parlour games. I prefer art before which my intellect is silenced and my soul engaged. This is not necessarily sublime, uplifting or beautiful. Sometimes it is downright ugly, depressing and shocking. But it is always profound.

So here is something far more human and pleasant for the digestive faculty. Some real soulfood: a spontaneous creation from intuition with love, made in the spirit of wu wei.

Espontaneidad (Eng: spontaneity)

Olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 lean pork steak medallions, cut into small cubes and dried
4 slices of lean bacon
1 teaspoon of Mexican spice seasoning (I get mine from the Spice Shop in Hobart)
1 teaspoon of mild smoked paprika
A little salt
4 roasted garlic cloves
Half a cup of stock or white wine
1 can of diced tomatoes
4 potatoes, peeled cubed and parboiled
Corn from 1 cob
1 Tablespoon of chopped parsley

To serve:
1 corn tortilla per person, warmed in oven
Generous amount of sharp cheese, grated
Mexican Salsa sauce (mild to hot, as preferred)
(Optional) Chopped Jalopena chillis

Cook the onion in a generous amount of olive oil on a medium temperature until softened and starting to brown. Remove onion from pan, reserving as much oil as possible. Return pan to heat and turn up to high. When oil begins to smoke, add pork and brown. Turn heat down to medium high. Add bacon. When a brown crust starts to form on the base, add the spices and the roast garlic. Stir and add the wine or stock. Scrape up all the crust from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, potatoes and corn. Turn heat down and allow to simmer and thicken. Add parsley.

Lightly grease a pancake pan or griddle. Heat griller. Place tortilla on pan, spoon mix over, top with cheese and melt cheese under griller. Top with Salsa and chillis.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cooking with M.O.M. (Monet, Olsen and Me)

The recent exhibition by John Olsen of paintings of meals captures the sensual pleasure and passion of food.

I particularly liked The Bouillabaisse

It got me musing on the relationship between making art and the preparation and consumption of food. There are artists, like John Olsen, for whom the enjoyment of food is an integral part of the sensuous enjoyment of life. His diary excerpts in “Drawn from Life” are peppered (pun intended) with notes of meals enjoyed and recipes.

You can find his recipe for Poulet Picasso at the Artist’s Lunch website

Photographer Sarah Rhodes and writer Alice McCormick visited the homes and private studios of Australia's pre-eminent artists, including John Olsen. As they say,

The culinary arts and visual arts are linked by colour, texture, form and taste, and to see the process by which each artist combined these elements was captivating and revelatory.
What follows in these pages are eighteen invitations to dine with the most surprising and engaging selection of bon viveurs. Like that game about who you'd like to invite to your ideal dinner party; forget the high-minded nonsense about wanting your companions to be Aristotle, Voltaire, Jefferson, let me assure you that you want to dine with artists. Artists do it better.

Monet is another artist for whom the enjoyment of food was an essential part of his lifestyle. There is even a cookbook of the master’s recipes.
Monet's Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet by Claire Joyes, Jean-Bernard Naudin, and Joel Robuchon.

I wasn’t going to give a recipe, but having cooked chicken this way myself, I couldn’t resist this one from the Claude Monet Foundation

Chicken with onions
Choose a good big chicken, 16 to 20 onions according to their size.A half pound of butter, some flour, parsley, sugar, salt and pepper. Brown the chicken in warm butter. Cut the onions in four, and put them around. When the chicken is well browned on all faces, sprinkle it with a very little bit of flour. Salt, pepper and add 2 sticks of parsley. Cover and let it cook. From time to time, lift the lid up to drop the mist. Take care so that onions do not stick to the saucepan. At mid cooking, add a half glass of bouillon or, if not available, hot water. In a saucepan, brown one dozen small onions in butter, a little bit of sugar, salt and pepper. Serve the chicken surrounded with onions.
Two things I would add. Cook the chicken in a covered casserole dish (preferably a creuset). Cook the chicken in a SLOW oven (about 150 degrees Celsius).

You could deduce from these examples that there is some connection between the enjoyment of food and the sensuousity of the art.
Alas, van Gogh destroys that argument. While he produced some of the most sensuous art of all time, his diet mostly consisted of bread and coffee, supplemented occasionally by onions, chestnuts, olives and fish. Indeed one writer suggests that much of Vincent’s erratic behaviour and mental condition may be attributed to chronic hunger and near starvation:

To conclude, there would seem to be no necessary connection between the arts of painting and cooking. It really depends on the personality of the artist.

For me, cooking and art have this is common. When I am cooking, I go into the same calm, focused and egoless state from which I make art. The difference is when I make a meal, the reward is fairly immediate. With art, as Fats Waller put it, “One never knows. Do one?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Art of place

I recently visited “Unnerved: The New Zealand Project” at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane (Australia). ( )
Having lived in New Zealand for the last three years, I was struck by how familiar the exhibition felt. At the same time I wondered how strange it must seem to anyone who has not spent a good deal of time in New Zealand.
How do you get McCahon’s use of signage, if you haven’t absorbed the casual roadside signage along a secondary New Zealand road? That rapidly disappearing feature of the New Zealand landscape is documented in this exhibition, yet easily passed by.
How do you grasp the significance of this image

Lisa Reihana Ngāpuhi: Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tu New Zealand b.1964 Dandy (from Digital Marae 2001–ongoing) 2007

if you are not aware of the significance of colonial, Victorian and Edwardian portraits of Maori, such as those by Charles Frederick Goldie?

Portrait of Te Aho-te-Rangi Wharepu, Ngati Mahuta. Also known as “A Good Joke”

Connections and contrasts–Maori with moko in western dress, Goldie’s elderly Maori, the 'noble relic of a noble race' contra Reihana’s man in his prime, Goldie’s photorealism and the virtual realism of digital photography. But how do you come to grasp this, without the socio-cultural and historical context? Is it possible to make art which is of place and yet beyond place?