Thursday, October 17, 2013

Responding to words and ideas that resonate...

Since finding his writing in the mid 90's Ive often picked up a book, poem or quote by Ben Okri and more often than not would discover an idea that resonated or spoke to work I was doing at the time. I've borrowed his words for titles of artwork frequently and painted works where I've included his text.

From Wiki: Ben Okri OBE FRSL (born 15 March 1959) is a Nigerian poet and novelist.[1] Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions[2][3] and has been compared favorably with authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.[4]

This small booklet is an example of employing the text in a visual mode. I loved the way the colour worked against the mat brown paper and the white ink text speaks out of the dark ground. I produced several booklets like this around Xmas and one friend who received this gift found the same deeply effecting quality in his words that I do... so was touched by the potency of word and image!

The pile of artworks on the left are what I worked on earlier this week... 50 watercolour
works on 300gm cotton paper completed as a series in 2 very long sittings!

'Mental Fight', in part inspired by William Blake, was published in London in 1999 excerpts were  featured in the London Times as the new Millennium approached.

I found these excerpts this morning which give you a taste of the work which I have mined on many occasions for the dense material it contains. 

Mental Fight: An anti-spell for the 21st Century
By Ben Okri

A few selected extracts

Already, the future is converging with the past.
Already the world is converging.
The diverse ways of the world
Will create wonderful new forms,
Lovely cultural explosions
In the centuries to come.
Already I sense future forms of art,
Of painting, sculpture, humour,
Already I sense future novels,
Plays, poems, dances.
Already I sense the great orchestras
Of humanity, a world symphony,
A world jam, in which the diverse
Genius of the human race -
It's rich tapestry of differences -
Will combine, weave, heighten,
Harmonise all its varied ways
And bring about a universal flowering
In all the vast numbers of disciplines
And among the unnumbered people.
Already I can hear this distant music
Of the future,
The magic poetry of time,
The distillation of all our different gifts.

Will you be at the harvest,
Among the gatherers of new fruits?
Then you must begin today to remake
Your mental and spiritual world,
And join the warriors and celebrants
Of freedom, realisers of great dreams.

You can't remake the world
Without remaking yourself
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.
We could use it to turn on
Our inward lights.
We could use it to use even the dark
And negative things positively.
We could use the new era
To clean our eyes,
To see the world differently,
To see ourselves more clearly.
Only free people can make a free world.
Infect the world with your light.
Help fulfill the golden prophecies
Press forward the human genius.
Our future is greater than our past.

We are better than that.
We are greater than our despair.
The negative aspects of humanity
Are not the most real and authentic;
The most authentic thing about us
Is our capacity to create, to overcome,
To endure, to transform, to love,
And to be greater than our suffering.
We are best defined by the mystery
That we are still here, and can still rise
Upwards, still create better civilisations,
That we can face our raw realities,
And that we will survive
The greater despair
That the greater future might bring.

From "Mental Fight - an anti-spell for the 21st century", Phoenix House 1999
(Reprinted by the Community Development Resource Association -

'This epic poem by Booker Prize winner Ben Okri is an intimate song of rage and restoration. It speaks to each new moment and each person, like sunlight or like pain. It is an anthem to our ascending dreams, and a hymn of inspiration.' Google Books

This is not the complete work...  just a few pages!

His words prompt much contemplation...

driving home some big themes we often don't care to think about

Today I was reminded of the still immensely relevant call to us he made around the new Millennium to remake the world with vision and courage for the unknown future coming at us

A friend who works tirelessly as an advocate for the future of a fairer, healthier Food System in this country has been chewing over some big questions... some of which aligns with the work I do through Homage to the Seed ... and some simply because of our common human experience and concerns over the future colliding with the planetary civilisation we've cultivated being so out of step with the limit's of nature. 

I find it critical to have these conversations whether or not others care to.  Just as we don't want a bad news diagnosis from our doctors we don't really want to hear the Science community telling us of the quickening of this ailing planet. I understand the resistance... but will always argue that not responding makes it far worse than the effort to be in the conversation and acting on overwhelming evidence that we must do something. Being in contact with Plant scientists, reading news coming in from all quarters leaves me in no doubt as to the scale of concerns.

"Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past." - Nature study lead author Camilo Mora
More here... if you dare!

Quality discussion allows a greater sense of resiliance and connectedness to result than does digging in and turning away from what's ahead. Instead of a dull dread gnawing away somewhat unconsciously it means I get to participate in solutions, in the development of cultural and educational responses that can grow and support change on all levels. 

I feel very much drawn to this as one might be drawn to nurture one's precious child. Its one thing to paint, to be an artist... the much bigger picture that calls me however is a desire to put what I do, as an artist, as a human being, in the service of something far greater than a personal career. 

If all one did was listened to news from Science quarters it could be overwhelming. Mind you there are  scientists who are hugely engaging,  variously involved in tremendously exciting ventures, working in a multitude of ways that can inspire and certainly offer a fresh sense of perspective.

Turning to the poets, the deep explorers of other frontiers of thought is a counterbalance for the science... both are necessary, both matter!

The '50 paintings on cotton paper' series

210 x 100 mm sized 300 gm paper 

they came in a package of 50

Interesting to observe where some work succeeds 
in having a life-force about it... and others do not.

this one seemed to go somewhere else

these paired works offer contradictions

I particularly liked this pairing

and broke out a little below
 introducing the purple here

I spent two long days working on this after most of the previous week's distraction of fighting a virus that really zapped my energy. This painting series was an unleashing of sorts. Listening to Radio National at length, hardly breaking away from the work to push the most out of this simple motif, the limited colour palate and a heightened desire to make really animated small works that could speak for something intangible and strong that was pre-occupying me on some level.

The best result in the making of 50 small works was a growing fluency ... not unlike what it used to feel like after hours practicing at the piano working towards the accomplishment of something more difficult. I liked the brain-work of the exercise... wandering off on tangents of thought or staying very present to the making of compositions, trying out numerous approaches to bring rhythmic variation, spacial depth into the works... or alternatively paring back, reducing down to essences, going linear, delicate, minimal. 

Finally last night I managed to commit to the design for my new business card ...spending hours designing then ordering a series of postcards, business cards and so on in preparation for the upcoming Studio launch which will be held on Saturday November 23rd. If you are in Brisbane that weekend and would like to come along this space for further info or email for details here.

The card introduces a new departure... I've mused for months on what to call the studio. 

With a plan to build momentum for setting up engagements with others I wish to promote my base as a multi-dimensional work and interactive space. Focusing on Plant Science, dialogue on Biodiversity in eco-systems and cultural terms plus Art concerns and seed + plant collecting I toyed with the idea of the laboratory.

Clearly it communicates an intention to give the exploration of Science space and that is a good place to start for the next phase of my work.. 

Seed.Art.Lab took some getting used to ... and I have had months to consider it... but now as I seetle my mind on where I'm heading it feels like the next stage of a venture whose time has well and truly come. The dialogue between disciplines, knowledge bases, between people of different backgrounds, ages, persuasions and interests is important as never before. 

Rejecting the unfamiliar may be a strong tendency for we humans.... but building the kind of complex 'response-ability' that is critically called for at this time takes courage and willingness to look into the unfamiliar. One approach to the new is quiet considered enthusiasm or I guess run and hide ... I for one will be very excited to attempt to keep the dialogue open and the cross-pollinations richly rewarding in my very new 'laboratory'!

Here goes!

Best to you all who come by and take time to read...  its much appreciated!

Friday, October 4, 2013

paint, brushes, water and somewhere to work....

Each passing week increases the feeling of pleasure of being settled and working again.

Distractions have been many and ... well... rather frustrating! Getting internet on took months and that's for starters. Finding one's printer has died, watching an expensive repair list growing.... for my car, computer, digital projector ... you name it ... is no fun.

However... Ive decided that every time my brain starts to seize up due to unhelpful agitation whilst tackling another hold-up I will unplug and turn focus to the garden,  or what I'm painting or even to inviting someone for a home-cooked meal and good conversation. 

This week I was pleased as punch to get my new fold-up push-bike going. It fits in the back of my car so I can easily access Brisbane bike-path networks running beside creek catchment areas bringing the opportunity for getting to know the lay of the land from a different perspective. Over the last few years visiting the coast north of here I've noticed really great bike-paths beside ocean, rivers and cool shady nature reserves. The fresh air and safe path-ways make riding so much more appealing than city streets ... plus I can look out for seedpods whilst riding along and keep the camera handy.

Back to the studio I've so enjoyed getting into painting again after having successfully suppressed the need to paint for 6 months or more. It was hard to start back... but at some point in the last few weeks I went from feeling incredibly rusty and awkward to reconnecting with an undying passion for paint and intense hunger for working at it.

The timing was right ... it was exactly what I need to do to be ready for what's coming!

Preparing for a NOVEMBER STUDIO LAUNCH, for which I am currently checking dates before announcing officially, I've devised some new developments in the studio which will be ready for the launch in mid-late November.

Here is a glimpse of what I'm up to... a brand-new series of Biodiversity Conversation Plates that will be a fascinating part of the bigger Homage to the seed project. WATCH THIS SPACE!

These hand-painted porcelain plates are one-off, unique works based on seed species, some very abstracted, other not so much.

The restricted palette allows for a unity that might not otherwise be evident.

I'm using new and second hand porcelain plates

The paints are water-based, don't need excessive layering and are fixed by heat and very durable. I know this from having used this product 20 years ago and with the pieces I kept its proved to be a  permanent and reliable product which I'm delighted to have more or less mastered(figure of speech!) the use of long ago.

I have used them on my table ... however one precaution I take is using them only as a vessel for dry items like bread, nuts and so on. I would never paint a bowl and fill it with hot, moist food even though the chance of contamination is excessively minor. 

They have such a wonderful decorative and symbolic application in the work I do that I am excited to have returned to making this concept series.

As for painting on larger surfaces I'm re-working a theme from an earlier period, 2010, which has a natural parallel to the round plates.... staying with a very similar restricted palette that feels apt for the moment.

"Seed Calendar", 80 x 80 cm, acrylic and pigmented ink on linen

So thats things for this week. Think it going to be paintbrushes-kind-of-weekend here ... monday is a public holiday so its a chance to give up on worrying about tech glitches and machinery going south and celebrate the world if ideas and paint.

Have a great weekend wont you?