Archive for September, 2008

The gift of magic

Posting is a bit intermittent right now because of school holidays! It probably shouldn’t be, but I find these times quite challenging and so far we have one sick kid and a baby who won’t nap when her sisters are around to play with.  I have also been busy working on some website maintenance for an graphic artist, which is fun because I get paid in products.

However things have been lightened up by some acts of wonderful generosity this week. I have joined an online clothes swap group for NZ women which is great because a lot of the members are arty/crafty types and I have been given some funky things and wonderful parcels have been arriving in the mail.  I’ve managed to send a few off as well. As ever Stripy Helen loaded the parcel with amazing extra bits and pieces including this book which is full of magical pictures.

I like this comment from the introduction “What makes one painting seem better than another is not always craftmanship – this can result in a picture looking little different from a photograph – but when a certain magic guides an artist’s eye and hand. Often when I look at art I can’t always describe why something appeals – maybe I don’t have the language or maybe it’s ‘magic’.

I also received the most amazing gift, a very magical picture. Again – thank you SO much. You are exactly right that it is definitely something I would enjoy – even if my partner said “the kids could do that”.  So maybe its something only I would appreciate. Thanks for knowing that :-)

Lastly it was great to connect with E from the Left Bank and The Street Said. Woohoo – someone to go to Mankys with! I notice Eye of the Fish is talking it up now too.

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Wrestling with icons

A while back I posted a bit of a rant about art writing in New Zealand as opposed to critique and stated “Well I am sick of hearing ‘about the artist’ and want to hear about the work“. Unfortunately my comments may have burnt a bridge or two to the author of that article. Because it was well written – just not what I wanted to read. I also have to say that the Listener art reviews have improved a great deal although its still a little patchy.

The point to this being that I have of course been guilty of writing about the artist rather than the work myself, although I try not to. The problem occurs when you are talking about icons. As this seems to be the year of Rita Angus, that is a good place to start. Again on reflection one of the worrisome things has been the intense focus on Rita the woman. The argument is that you can’t separate the art and the person but I think the emphasis on the personal influencing the art, can go too far.

I have recently been contemplating a trip up the Whanaganui River to Hiruharama and on to Raetihi as for a long time I’ve felt draw to the place of Baxter’s commune and the catholic mission there. Baxter is another tricky icon and I read this great piece today by Andrew Johnston. He writes…

“I suspect it’s going to be a few more generations before we’ve done with the contradictions that make up James K. Baxter, before we have any kind of settled picture of his legacy. If we’re talking legacy, though, why get hung up on his life? Why not stick to the poems? It’s a fit enough question with most writers, but Baxter’s work demands that we read it against his life. As he said himself, his poems are his autobiography”

Maybe Angus demands this too? More along these lines the wonderful essay “Jim Afloat” by Gregory O’Brien which begins with:

Almost October and the sky is jammed
with radio stations and biographies of Baxter . . .’

(G. O’Brien, ‘Along the verge’, NZ Listener, Dec. 1983)

The Holy Life and Death of Concrete Grady  –by JK Baxter (1976)
cover design by Colin McCahon

And so back to McCahon – an icon that I wrestle with a lot. The many layered meanings of I AM, my favourites being the misquote “I AM the light” because it seems to answer the words taken from Casselberg

Oh God it’s Dark. The heart beats and
from the fields there comes no answering
hark of hearer and no one to speak.”

But connections and parallels everywhere including this from Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines (a favourite book of mine)

‘I have a vision of the Songlines stretching across the continents and ages; that wherever men have trodden they have left a trail of song; and that these trails must reach back, in time and space, to an isolated pocket in the African savannah, where the First man shouted the opening stanza of the World Song, “I AM”‘.

Tingari” – Ronnie Tjampitjinpa (Songline painting)

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Presidential qualifications

I have had no cause until now to talk about the US Presidential elections. I find it it a bit sick-making and since Palin entered the fray – quite frightening. Anyhow I read this today and it made more sense to me than most things I’ve read on the topic so far.

A Black American President? About time? Or more of the same white fare in the form of John McCain as many put it?  Much more radical would be for a Native American President to emerge and capture the White House.”

So would Obama or McCain be immortalised by Warhol? Obama maybe, but the suggestion of Russell Means for President or even the Republic of Lakota brings hope. So Mr Obama – a Native Amercian President really would be change.

American Indian Series – Russell Means (1976) Andy Warhol

And if things go really badly with the US elections or our own – there is always this

From the streets of London

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Windmills of your mind

I had a bit of a snipe recently about the layout of the Rita Angus exhibition. What I didn’t mention was the reasoning for that layout. Again I refer to Bronwyn lloyd.

Rita Angus’s own description of the ideal way to present her art has determined the structure of the ‘Rita Angus Life & Vision’ exhibition, beautifully curated by Jill Trevelyan and William McAloon. Angus’s friend John Money recalled that she imagined her work displayed as a ‘kind of temple of art’ with her three Goddess paintings at the centre surrounded by a series of small chapels containing smaller paintings and watercolours related one to the other.”

On reflection and when I put aside my personal aversion to mazes (a true but long story) I am reminded of the film Being John Malkovich where apuppeteer discovers a door in his office which turns out to be a portal that allows him to enter the mind and life of John Malkovich. So maybe my discomfort with the exhibition design was that we were being led into Rita Angus’s imagination? I have enough trouble with my own mind without going on trip into anyone else’s.

This week the main art in my life has been dance with my 5-year-old in her first ballet show. It all seems a bit intenseto me, and I encountered for the first time the monster they call “stage-mother” (no – not me). I was wondering if there is a visual art equivalent and then recalled some stories about Thelma Clairmont, so I guess the answer to that is “yes”.

Picasso Curtain for the Diaghilev Ballet Le Train Bleu*

Following on from my post on McCahon’s Victory Over Death, it was pointed out I made little mention of style, technique etc. Although I am even less qualified to discuss that, I may look at it in a future post. One thing I did think of was that if it was painted in house paint, then wiping the vegemite off wouldn’t be too big a problem.

*Ballerinas actually appear to be much smaller in real life – don’t get me started on impossible body images and dance though

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