Archive for August, 2008

Art in Nature

It was a fantastic day here, so I took the opportunity for a walk on the beach with the kids. When you live this close to the sea you can sometimes take it for granted and with thoughts of moving inland in the air, I am trying to make the most of it while we are here.

Anyway in between stopping the one-year-old eating too much sand and explaining the morphology of pumice to a 3-year-old I got thinking about art in nature. Here is some driftwood.

Photo by Stu Lloyd (from Flickr)

Here is some more

Photo by Pogorita (from Flickr)

Art is where you find it OR it becomes ART when it is ‘framed’ in a photograph? I guess you could get into a whole debate over art photography here. If you look for such things there is art in nature everywhere so why is it art when its ‘natures hand’ but ART when reproduced by an artist? Here is the all-time clichéd example.

Photo by Chris Heaton (from Flickr)

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A while ago I was asking around about the politics behind the gentrification of street art. Well yesterday I came across this about the restoration of street art in New York.

“Within the past year, two highly-prized, old school graffiti works have been retouched on the walls of lower Manhattan, while, this summer, a third work has been repainted in its entirety onto the brickwork of the Lower East Side. “

Personally I think money may be at the root of this more than simply a “new found reverence” for street art.

“[they] had been told by the building’s previous landlord that a Jean-Michel Basquiat work lay hidden in the building somewhere. Though the pair didn’t find one neatly-formed work behind the walls, the art they did uncover was perhaps of greater significance: a floor-to-ceiling hash of tags, throw-ups and burners belonging to such old school graffiti writers as Fab 5 Freddy, Futura 2000, Nesto, Ramellzee, as well as Basquiat.”

and of course Basquiat is worth bazillions so

“Irgang managed to remove and remount the graffiti to a lightweight panel, using a tissue paper, cheesecloth, adhesive, chisels and stiff fabric… the mural is due to join the collection of a major museum.”

– Am I being cynical? Also the restoration of Haring’s first major outdoor artwork seems a little off when “Keith himself covered over the work once the paint started to fade.”

Well – whatever. In other news I have found a interim solution for my desire for a mid century house (a la Plischke) – a mid century modern birdhouse

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I am currently looking at the possibility of returning to the provinces. OK, I am already halfway there but being only 45 mins from the Capital with good public transport makes it not quite feel so isolated.

Its not all bad of course. It is quite possible that I can even return to a Plischke suburb [.pdf file] which the nearest I’ll probably ever get to living in one of his houses, its a University town, has a reasonable gallery, many friends live there and just how often do I get into Wellington anyway? Also as a friend said, they do have the Internet there.

But, I also quite like my current seaside existence even if one geographical feature heavily dominates the landscape and the artwork.

Waikanae (1951) Rita Angus

Of course nothing is definite yet so I shall just keep “deaccessioning” and packing.

There is a lot of debate about how surroundings and domicle impact on people psychologically and I guess this is often reflected in art as well. For example McCahon’s Titirangi, Muriwai etc. Woolaston’s Nelson, Ronnie van Hout’s Christchurch house(s). There should be a travel guide to artistic NZ like the defunct literary one. Now there’s a project, in two volumes (art and literature), entertainingly written, hansomely photographed – anyone in?

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Discussions in the last few days have illustrated how, like me, there are many creative people (women) feeling frustrated by circumstance and a little starved of culture because of ‘domestic contraints’.

Now I can be a bit intolerant of stories of housewives emerging from their domestic coocons into creative butterflies because too often they are dismissive of families and partners, but in light of yesterday’s post I’d like to share this from a 1996 article about Patti Smith – which is somewhat different.

“Most surprising, to me, was a reference she made to a conversation she’d had with her late husband about the garbage disposal, in which she quoted him as calling her “Trisha.” This is clearly Smith’s altar ego: Trisha Smith, housewife, mother and part-time poet. We may not have suspected Trisha’s existence,  but I think we feared her nonetheless” 

So I suggest that when we feel down and in the creative doldrums we think about Trisha and Patti. And then maybe reach for the nearest Keri Smith book.

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I have been thinking for days how to frame my next piece and finally while watching “Patti Smith: Dream of Life” last night I got it. A review reads “Patti Smith is fascinating, but this documentary Is unfocused and wandering“. I disagree with the unfocused, but I’ve decided that wandering is sometimes a fine approach.

After my visit to the Rita Angus exhibition, I was feeling a bit tense and felt compelled to race upstairs and visit with Colin and let the Northland Panels work their magic on me. I also wandered about to see other favourites and I had the revelation that “I AM” is an anthem in a way. Anyhow this was a good way of switching mindsets before attending the Writer’s Read event at Massey University to hear Martin Edmond.

I have a great deal of admiration for Martin’s writing and am a frequent reader of his Luca Antara blog and find his books the kind that I often return to. Ingrid Horrocks was chairing the session and described some of his writing as “prose poems” which I think is true, for example this. His work does range over a broad scope of subjects and landscapes as well as genres, which was mentioned in Greg O’Briens article in the latest Listener on the state on NZ literature. For me there is a dream-like quality in the writing. It was a pleasure to meet Martin and listen to him read some familiar and new pieces. Also for me (the suburban shut-in who actually hasn’t been out for a whole evening in 2+ years!) the evening was a great social occasion with intelligent, stimulating conversation, good food and interesting people. I now have all sorts of new avenues to explore (including ‘outsider art’). Thanks to all!

And so to Patti. I came to her late – I wasn’t a teen that endlessly played “Horses”. I think I discovered her via Robert Mapplethorpe and then her poetry rather than the music. This documentary, I think fits her very well. It took over 10 years to make and is full of loosely connected moments, across her life, poetry, music, art, politics and more. Perhaps, because of my association of her and Mapplethorpe, the moment of her opening a tiny Persian urn and spilling his ashes (‘remains’) into her hand was startling, touching and sad. If you have any interest in Smith – see this film.

Robert’s urn

And maybe because its been a literary few days, her poem/song “Spell” (Holy) really struck me

“…the madman is
holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is
holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady…

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A visit with Rita

Yes – I got there! Even with a sick child I managed to get into Wellington for an admittedly quick dash around the Rita Angus exhibit at Te Papa. I need to go back again, and I need to read the catalogue (which oddly costs more than the wonderful Angus biography). When I got there I found that there was a curators talk/tour on that night at the same time as a reading I was on my way to, so I had to skip it. Maybe it would have explained some of the misgivings I have about the show.

Mounting a retrospective is always going to be tricky. How will you arrange it- chronologically? style? subject? – a million other factors and with a huge selection of material in this case as well (apparently 600+ left after Angus’s death). So probably it’s as good as it could be. The series of ‘rooms’ representing groupings of work was probably a good approach as well. However, I was a little uncomfortable with the ‘rat in a maze” effect compounded by the little map provided. This maybe because I have a weird phobia of mazes though. Once I got through, I wandered back in the reverse direction which I would recommend. Also I found the green colour scheme unsettling. OK, there is critique of stark white gallery walls but…this reminded me of being sea-sick. Its also the colour of my kitchen which again is not a joyful place right now so that may have had an influence. I know I am being picky so lets just move on.

I was immediately surprised how small and intimate the earlier pieces were but and it was a joy to see familiar faces (Betty Curnow) and always Rita looking back at you. Like Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits (done from a mirror) there is a feeling of being directly addressed by the sitter, and this show had many portraits – self and other. Even the face of Marjorie Marshall, although looking away, was saying something to me.

I made a point of NOT reading the the information on the walls and just experience the art. It was good. The inclusion of unfinished works let us see her technique and as some one else commented, the labour that went into these 200+ images. Standouts for me were the grouping of the three goddesses (Rutu, Mercy and Sun), important to see them together I thought, and a small water colour of Angus’s parents’ garden at Waikanae. The garden is long gone but you can stand at this spot in Waikanae and recognise the hill in the background. Last time I was there, it was like the painting from my memory superimposed itself on the current landscape – a ghostly and transporting experience.

Something I want to look into further is the comparision of this exhibition, Jill Trevelyan’s biography and Gaylene Preston’s film, in their treatment of Angus’s life and work.

My question in an exhibition like this is “Was Rita there?” and like the quote from Martin Edmond about Clairmont, that he “haunts the paintings”,  I think she was.

EDIT: The Angus garden is actually still largely intact in Waikanae. I was looking in the wrong place when I wrote this entry.

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I have been thinking how dismal my blog has got. I bit like this actually. The stresses going on in my life and the wet and cold winter have seriously impacted on me here. What I find interesting is that in times of hardship the art has almost disappeared from my life. Theoretically I would have thought it would provide some escape, but actually the last thing I want to do is look at art, especially anything challenging. Right now a large proportion of it is just making me irritated. Thankfully others are writing great entertaining stuff.

However there are some things that have been worth seeing. Firstly, Scoop’s poem of the weekagain really hits home for me and a great followup to Diana Wichtel’s excellent Sam Hunt story in the latest Listener (great photos by Jane Ussher).

Talking of the Weather by Sam Hunt

Also as usual Wooster Collective makes my day. I loved this

Bruno Taylor “Play as you go”

And to cheer things along I appear actually to be able to GO OUT to something. Martin Edmond is reading in Wellington tomorrow night as part of a NZ “tour”. That is if his voice holds out. and if things go really well I will get to see Rita too.

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