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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Blogging Fairy Princess

A while back I was tagged by Deborah of In A Strange Land. I am a little late in nominating my 7 blogs but I really hate playing favourites and I am a bit reticent about the chain letter aspect of memes. However I’ve been thinking about blogs I like to read every day and keep checking my RSS feed for their latest post. Here are my 7 (which is a bit like Blake’s 7 only different).

My friend and loyal commenter Merc at Love is a Symbol
Wooster Collective along with
A grouping of Streetarse, Component and The Street Said
The awesome project of Helen Squared
The challenging feminism at The Hand Mirror
Always something interesting to think about at Art, Life, TV, etc
and lastly a look in a mirror that may alter your perception – Luca Antara

All these SAY something worthwhile and meaningful (to me) but the list could be much longer. A special mention also needs to go to my homies at MercProductions too (a closed forum).

Speaking of RSS feeds – let me say they are wonderful things and I’d recommend a look at this on setting one up. One of the links even goes to a little “how to video”. Makes keeping up with the blogospshere SO much easier.

I’ve also been looking with interest at my blog statistics recently after a spate of visits from Roswell and Waco (really!). Lately I have been getting an average of 150 visits a day and this month looks like its going to be the best so far. Most of my visitors come from New Zealand and I can tell that people at the big art institutions and universities visit here regularly which is always nice (although they could be reading for the laugh factor). I guess one shouldn’t dwell on these things but a big thanks to all my readers and especially those who comment – makes it less like I am talking to an empty room!

And in lieu of some ‘real’ art today how about these recently issued kiwiana stamps? Actually art on stamps would make a whole post on its own.

(click image for larger picture)

BTW: You have to have watched the cartoon “Cow and Chicken” to understand the title of this post.

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A constant flow of light

I have been mulling over this post for some time. I got thinking when I read this in Jack Ross’s post on the Rita Angus Symposium.

Wystan [Curnow] just doesn’t think the Goddess paintings are any “good” (whatever that means), but more to the point, he doesn’t think that the exploration of personal symbolism is a valid way of explicating pictures.” (my emphasis)

You see I have this theory. Its not original or unique and probably quite ill-informed and I have written about it before. I feel that any artwork is multilayered. It is composed of the artists intent and of our own personal reading. There are also layers of critique and academic deconstruction if the work has undergone such scrutiny, or if the viewer has that set of skills. So on one hand I don’t think you can discount what the artist is/was trying to say, but on the other maybe we can read too much into that as well and that impedes our own interpretations.

So let me, an “enthusiastic amateur“, run though this idea with an example. Let’s choose a BIG one.

Victory Over Death 2 (1970) from Collection of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

There is nothing I can write about this painting that hasn’t already been covered beautifully by Justin Paton in the chapter “One Big Painting” in his book “How to Look at a Painting” (which has just been put out in a hardback edition). I found some cool little audio clips of Paton talking about this painting and reading from his book here.  As Paton says, McCahon is the subject of “hectares of written commentary” but I haven’t read too much of it. I know a little of McCahon’s existential struggles and questioning of faith, for example the academic, Peter James Smith writes that Victory Over Death 2 is a prophetic attempt to annihilate self-doubt“. But when I look at this painting I simply think “what’s he saying, what am I seeing/hearing?”

You see, to me, the woman on the street, there are two keys to this painting. Firstly, Paton writes: “…and several places where it is possible to see painted out words – including, looming in the darkness, an enormous version of the bright white AM that appears later in the painting. The effect is subtle and simple: it turns what looks like a proclamation into an engulfing question: AM I?” (which I guess could be what Smith was saying). The I AM refers to the biblical quotation “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”which is the spiritual Victory over Death. But the “AM I?” puts a different spin on it – the doubt creeps in…Initially my thoughts were that there is no physical victory over death, only the spiritual victory offered by Christianity and some other religions, but in some respects McCahon proves there is. While pondering this post someone pointed me to an article in the latest Landfall (215) “Practical Religion: On the after-life of Colin McCahon” by Butler and Simmonds. McCahon’s victory over death is his legacy, his art, the many words written about him, his students – the fact that I’m even bothering with this post (although everyone’s writing about McCahon these days). So maybe we can answer his “AM I?” with “I AM”. But what about the rest of us, who aren’t a great artists or writers or anyone of “significance”, can we say I AM? Of course. Its all here. For me this is, as John Wheelwright said, “art which is at once a benediction and a judgement“.

But there is another thing I like to take from this painting, and here is where I diverge from what I imagine McCahon was trying to tell us. It’s from another biblical passage -“I AM the light“. Because like it or not (and it’s a hugely debatable point) McCahon wasthe light. He was doing something different for his time and in an era when the theory of the special quality of our light’s impact on New Zealand art was prominent. The light is my second key and is pointed to in a phrase repeated in many words, including another huge, “I AM” painting Gate IIIas there is a constant flow of light we are born into a pure land“. The light is constant, but we are not.

And now I will crawl back into my un-educated corner.

EDIT: Please note this is a very personal viewpoint – I am not sermonising.

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More Connections

Or just call it “lookalikes”

Bill Burroughs – photo by Annie Liebowitz

Dante’s Deathmask

Bill Burroughs – photo by Annie Liebowitz

I like the parallels. Burroughs’ Divine Comedy! Whatever – Liebowitz’s photos are superb and “The Priest” has a special place in my heart.

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