Monday, March 17, 2014

Interior things

For the past 2 weeks I've felt incredibly quiet and sought out considerable alone time, mostly in the studio... whilst also not writing, talking, emailing or working/communicating online much at the moment.

It seems after a period of noisy, busy exterior activity there's a craving for the opposite to balance out again ... then gradually I am lured back to externals and so the cycle continues.

A day spent at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens last Monday was relaxing .... led
to many photos and some seedy finds! This was a flowering South African Tree.

Ive been painting over these couple of weeks. I was so shocked to actually find time to focus on painting ... it'd seemed to be eluding me! Plus when I think about it painting usually does quieten me down and increase the desire to withdraw. There were the days of extreme tiredness as well that made me question if I was ill... even imagine all kinds of things wrong. All in all... this quiet, slow period felt dreadfully important. Much was being processed ...  painting, work and life in general.

Last friday evening I was exceptionally pleased to attend a lecture at QUT by UK based Barrister turned Eco-Law advocate Polly Higgins. You can read her website here or the website for Eradicating Ecocide.

With Charles Eisenstein and Polly Higgins at MÃ¥nefisken.
                                                                      Image from her Facebook Page

Watch her TED talk here and go to the Facebook page here.


Ecocide is the missing fifth Crime Against Peace
Our mission is to stop the extensive damage to the environment and people’s lives by making Ecocide the fifth International Crime Against Peace.
Company Overview
In March 2010 international barrister and award winning author Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be made the fifth Crime Against Peace.
There are currently four Crimes Against Peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. Ecocide is the missing fifth crime – it is a crime against humanity, against current and future generations, and against all life on Earth
Ecocide is the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.
Another image from her FB Page.

She was an exceptionally fluid, easy-to-listen-to speaker. I had booked to attend weeks ahead and  started wavering on the commitment last week. Feeling jaded and unwell enough to prompt a visit to the doctor midweek did I really want to hear about Ecocide I asked myself?

For the past ten years Ecocide has been the lens through which I've looked at the planet all too frequently (even without that name for it)! Late night sleeplessness is occasionally brought on by worrying over the madness of being in a chronically under-financed Artistic vocation or some variation on that theme... but more often I'm kept awake wondering how we under-prepared, often head-in-the-sand humans will manage climate shifts that are and will escalate all kinds of critical issues. 

Conducting a project like Homage to the Seed makes me feel a lot better about waking up each day but it does not take away the waves of dread and horror that come with thinking about eco-systems breaking down and leading to ever more complex issues. Clearly no longer the "maybe" scenarios they once were. 

Its happening ... we already are where we don't want to be.

So... the lecture on Ecocide.

It was brilliant and it was tremendously uplifting. Not because of any hyped-up grand fantasies about the future but because here was a woman with the gravity and leadership of someone that Nelson Mandela might have been proud to shake hands with. Grace and inner strength in abundance... hers is a kind of vision that is so large it includes us all.... and it crosses over work many others are already doing... it just gives it a stronger name and direction. She was not, I might add, anti business or corporation ...  but utterly convincing on changing laws to curtail and end environmental damage...  clearly that calls to the big end of town to get with the program... but... via Legal mechanisms ... something tangible that can be argued and not pushed out of court.

Her incredibly well-reasoned argument came without noise and fanfare. No heavily packaged tour... just a hardworking, well connected, global-hopping self-contained woman with a vision that happens to make a lot of sense. She is doggedly working with Nations, Organisations and individuals toward making an amendment to the Crimes against Peace to include the crime of Ecocide.

From the Campaign

Early on she lightly touched on one of the tough but unspoken things about this era concerning advocates who throw themselves into work to bring forward crucial new agendas in society... and the fact that whether such advocates are quiet souls or larger than life  ... there can be a toll on the person who sees the change needed and comes to feels discouraged in the face of continued stuck-ness and ongoing Eco-destruction. She talked of the fact people can get to the point they give up.... even give up on life. Choose not to stay and watch further damage after having worked continuously for that very thing. It was an aside, a momentary one, but I appreciated this honesty.

I personally was very pleased to hear this mentioned. I realised when asked at the Doctors what was the matter the other day I couldn't quite admit I felt heart-sick for the planet and tired of complacency, govt incompetence and civilisation marching on as if nothing was different.  I'm overcome with anxiety from time to time, then I bounce back and get distracted in activity. I've been finding others  similarly affected despite being very active campaigners and workers for change across all kinds of sectors. As we have discussed this is not because we are naturally gloom & doom types... but simply because it is a time where the global population and our way of living are not remotely sustainable  with the status quo. And short term economic goals and projects simply speed up the worst case scenarios!

Mostly I am just glad to do something useful and get on with it... feeling motivated to be working to offer something to children in particular. I see them inheriting our mess a bit like how someone might feel moving into a new home only to find its been left trashed and needing absolutely everything attended to, there's no money to do it... and energy is committed elsewhere... so how to get through? Only the scale of the problems we are handing down to our children are much larger and more complex than that. And yet we've not begun to accept there is a problem and work as a team to tackle it yet.

Lately I've been somewhat torn trying to work out the best focus of my somewhat limited energy and resources. It's gotten to me temporarily ... an overwhelming sadness for the planet who's natural inheritance is valued way below its commodities and is being discarded over and over and over where it matters. I'll pick myself up again and keep on. It doesn't hurt to wail at the moon every now and then.

Curiously I've also had many positive experiences of late. New friendships have formed and connections have been renewed with treasured long-term friends. Good teaching opportunities have come about or are being planned. Some exciting proposals have been floated... time will tell how they go. A new residency venture will happen soonish which I am truly excited about. Last month I broke into my rainy day/Noah's Arc fund (?!) and now have a newish car as the old one was no longer trust-worthy ... a smart, safe set of wheels to go on trips and enjoy. And some place to visit which are looking good!

So back to the studio ... these works on paper have kicked off a series of paintings.

Its slow, layered work that means adding and subtracting as I decide on compositional adjustments.

You can see the work on paper in the foreground above ... and on the left of a new work on linen a large canvas that had been hidden away ... looks like I may have just found it a home with some lovely people who noticed it and asked after it!

These works are all in progress... minor adjustments are best applied slowly and after deliberation at this point! These paints suit my mood.... a dry, dusty textural quality subdues the colour yet allows for a depth of hue I find pleasing. 

Below is virtually the same image put through a watercolour app... what this did was allow me to consider the composition and balance in a curiously simple way.

It also highlights for me something about this palette... the colours are called Australian Grey, Burnt Umber, Deep Ultra and Blue haze... and in the previous post I talked about the company Art Spectrum which is based in Melbourne and developed their colours specifically to evoke truer colours that one sees in this country.... although it must be said ... it's a large and extremely geographically varied continent. I always found the colours of the Subtropics where I've grown up (and now live again) so utterly different from the geographically inspired palette of say Melbourne where I spent 12 years and found the straw coloured landscape of summer so alien!

I'm making slow progress on about 5 paintings at the moment... working on each at length and then leaving off to think for awhile, then returning to finesse or change something if needs be.

This one needs a better photo... hard to get accurate colours.

I'm pleased to be working with a strong, engaging theme ...  the whole series feels shaped by this earlier work from January which was titled "Seed Collector's Notations". I've been able to bring a fresh element to something more perennial in my art practice!

I feel as though 'Seed Collector's Notations' is actually the name of a whole series of works... rather than a single painting. It essentially ties many important threads together. I am enjoying a welcome sense of integration in the studio at the moment ... its as if the visual ideas are marrying with the research I've pursued and the impetus behind the project Homage to the Seed.  A quiet but welcome feeling ... I'm not about to shake things up... and that feels good for one who found last year's domestic and work-life changes impossibly upsetting, drawn out and tedious!

I've been thinking about these blues tinged with red... they lean towards purple and mauve ... and the combination with a warm, red toned brown means when mixed with the warm grey or in any combination there are so many hues that bring back to mind childhood reveries under Jacaranda Trees in a country town in NSW obsessed enough with them to hold an annual festival in it honour.

In Festival season when Jacaranda trees were at their best, blooming profusely, laying a glorious mauve carpet under their spreading boughs, all one could see were the mauve blooms and brown limbs of the tree. And then there is the faded memory of all the brown seed pods I picked up... curiously observing their structure, absorbing the colours and textures all those years ago of pods, blossoms and bark textures. Stormy skies were by far the most dramatic back-drop to the mauve blooms. And when mature trees were intensely in full-bloom there were few green leaves to distract from this purple brown palette.

More recently I've thought more about this annual festival held to celebrate an introduced species. 

In the same way I've thought about my twice weekly piano lessons with the Sisters of Mercy at the convent by the river,  from the time I was 8 through to 16 when I changed Piano teachers. I'd wondered over those years why European composers were almost always the only ones we studied.  Indigenous culture... that was a topic banished from halls of education I moved through. I didn't study Geography nor Science to any useful degree. History... well that was about Europe!

Only when I became a teacher did indigenous topics finally surface out of a pressing need in me to explore and discuss what had been so kept down and why! The silence on Indigenous concerns of any kind remained stuck or behind closed door in the early 80's when I first taught in schools. I taught in cities and country towns ... it was the same everywhere at the time... suppressing indigenous culture made NO sense whatsoever in the presence of these proud yet massively shamed people.... even more so when teaching in small towns with a population of indigenous people that extended way back int time. 

 It continued on and on...  I left teaching in 1986 disgusted and glad to be in London for a couple of years. Where I was circulating in that city, intellectual hothouse of cultures and ideas that it was after the tiny country NSW town I'd lived in previously... these critical discussions were not at all suppressed in 80's London ... far from it!

Perhaps in painting these particular works, where the associations of the colours run so deep, I am sifting through essential matters. It's a timely re-engagement with how it came to be that so many of us have come to this continent to live yet take so long to engage at all with what was here  and is here now that is enduring.

Some have remarked at the aboriginal sensibility of these works.

For this reason I have placed images of this painting here. This is the structural foundation for many a work I have painted over decades now. Geometry and architecture I've always loved and have an affinity for... not all but many works I do on canvas have some architectural structuring in them. Incidently I spent several years from age 13 drawing house-plans and imagining I would be an architect when I grew up. Design work I did was often highly structured. 

But never was I afraid of the organic line... nor drawn to hard-edges or tightness. I liked space... negative space and ambiguity.

My work between 2001 and 2007 was often a curious juxtaposition between organic, fluid layers and architecturally complex structures. And then there were to forms and the symbols that would never disappear ... they'd keep coming back and felt often at odds with what else was going on.

Its been a lot of work to integrate these profoundly diverse compelling elements in my art-making. 

When recently asked to spend a whole day working with a group of Year 12 Students on Expressive Mark-making I dug into that rich stream in my work to find inspiration, examples, exercises and direction for a long days work with highly energised students. 
When teaching Adult courses in Melbourne in the 90's I gave emphasis to this expressive way of working and stressed at great length that one has a certain signature or expressive manner or way of working to uncover that will resonate and feel stronger and more authentic... and for this reason not everyone will find their way through life drawing and classical training. Nor do we all look in the same direction for what we require to be able to grow and mature as an artist.

I found myself teaching what I was trying to learn for myself ... as one very often does. Its took me years to work out what was essentially true for myself as it was often contradictory and that is why it perhaps took longer and demanded that I counter oppositional compulsions and approaches until there was a gradual inner and outer dialogue I could grow into that really made sense.

Two years ago asked to lecture on "The Senses in my Art Practice" I was again reminded of another rich seam of exploration I've lived by over years... also taught in my Melbourne courses on Journal Practice and Colour Exploration. Both these courses relied heavily on exploring the senses from all directions. I often get restless with teaching material and tend to want to create whole new programs when actually a focus on the senses is an incredibly rich and important departure point for creating... and in contemporary life begs us to take notice on a highly critical level re what we are making and why.

The senses can really bring us to a much clearer appreciation for things... far more multi-dimenional experiencing and noticing. Attuning oneself to a simple leaf can be through sight, touch, sound, smell and taste. And sight is not just one thing either... to really notice the colours brings an artfulness to the effort... one aspect of seeing amongst many! Its easy to march into a store and buy endless colours with an assumption that anything goes. Consumer society allows us to pick and choose yet remain very, very undeveloped in our choices because fashion can dictate and take away any need to fathom, learn, respond, observe, become familiar with anything that exists in the world in its pure form.

It can be quite wonderful to find inspiration in other artists and creatives, and hopefully over the years the artists will change even if some remain perennial favourites. Yet in taking on colours, mediums or approaches of others, whilst fine up to a point, at the end of the day stalls something important in us. More seems to be required of us than replicating things we love when pursuing art with some diligence and devotion.

Which is an interesting moment to mention painter Paul Klee who was, as a young student a great inspiration to me... an again in several key stages over the years he would be so again. He has written powerfully about seeds and was greatly influenced by plant life and gardens but it was through musical references that I was drawn to him years ago.... and the structural aspect of his work... structure that would collapse and dissolve and go somewhere else.

Reading how he studied music very seriously for years and might easily have remained in that profession interested me ... and that he did commit to painting at a certain key point. I felt this musicality in his work ... immersion in European traditions... but then there was a divergence at some point ... time spent in North Africa must have shaped not only his visual language but also other aspects of his sensibility. 

In 2006 I met a mature female artist from NZ who discussed at length why she felt revisiting Klee was such a vital wellspring for anyone coming to terms with abstraction ... or investigating it all over again. She felt he was one of the most crucially important artists for abstract painters to look deeply into and we discussed how many incredibly different abstract painters from around the globe still pay tribute to Klee as a foundation in their thinking about painting. Often painters who one doesn't easily equate an influence in.

Why I revisited Klee at key times was because somehow the say he structured many of his works really resonated. However as I was seriously developing my art practice I was at pains not to copy or derive direction from his work. That's the challenge of being influenced. You work with certain devices and approaches and you push off hopefully in search of a more resonant story or way. There have been many, many influences in actual fact. 

Another strong influence is Hundertwasser. Not so much visually... although I did rather like his instinctive way of handling paint and composition... and his exuberance in taking that and putting it on buildings and the rest!  However ... it was his ideas... the obsessive way he stayed with developing themes that run across all his preoccupations and mediums he worked with. I applaud the way he named the need for eco-warriors for the future. He got the message out and it was never lost or muddied or irrelevant even it some would find him far too quirky and offbeat. He won people's hearts and changed things ... affected how people thought. And he kept painting. I also loved his manifesto about straight lines making us crazy... our cities being far too hard-edged and isolating. Permaculture looks familiar with him coming before putting trees and plants everywhere and making irregular lines, spirals and symbols people could interact with in the built environment.

The idea of notations had obsessed me with the above work. The desire was there to layer on transparent pages of notations... counting seeds, marks and symbols... layer upon layer as if notations across time. Seed collector's through time keeping count!

In discussing the layers of ideas, influences and indeed decades of reckoning with things that I've moved through and around ... perhaps the reading of something 'aboriginal' in my work won't be touched on too lightly or carelessly after reading this. The recent works aren't derivative of or originating from the influence of work by indigenous painters. In saying that I have to say I'm  exceptionally interested in the art of a great many indigenous artists and have been deeply nourished by range of their vision and the rich cultural legacy they share with newcomers to this country like myself. It would be hard to live in Australia and not be impacted, influenced and touched by the enormous wealth of Indigenous painting. But I wonder if what influences me more than their immensely beautiful visual languages is the message that comes through to me of there being other ways to live and to see the world. The (perhaps watered-down) European vision I was born into has worked brilliantly for some aspects of living and disastrously for other dimensions of life.

My work on seeds and plants from this continent has given me an quiet entry point into indigenous culture ... its been slow, gentle and deeply revealing. Not been a fact-finding mission instead its a slow, quiet thing of getting to see and understand bit by bit how life is shaped from responding to being in an utterly unique bio-region. Understanding the complexity and diversity of bio-regions, how small and unique they can be and still right next to quite different environs is  a consciousness that I seem to have understood so much more through seeds. In the same way introduced species overshadowed my childhood appreciation of the place I grew up in... introduced cultural lifestyles completely overshadowed a way of knowing and appreciating local indigenous inhabitants. 

The seed pods I used to pick up on childhood walks... some of the rainforest species I like to draw and learn about now ... they were perhaps the one thing that kept a genuine link alive to the stories not told, the histories not learnt and the landscape not truly engaged with. I was quite competent at playing Bach and Debussy, did well enough in my study of Modern (German) History but was frightfully unknowing of the place I grew up in. 

The work of the last two weeks is essentially a pared back version of the January work...  colours, shapes, and markings are all pared back, allowing me to enter a more open space to ponder and refine something in this persistent visual language.

from the 'Seed Collector's Notations' Series
There is a push-pull thing that is so strong much of the time in my work... a tension between structure and  organic, fluid, open, moving spaces. Tightness and looseness. Things coming forward and things receding. It takes quite a time for these paintings to fully resolve even though they can seem to be coming together at a certain point. Its a process of constantly adding and subtracting till a moment to cease arrives!

I've spent little time blogging this year ... partly it's finding a new routine in a new home and studio set-up. Making headway with other aspects of work takes time too and there's planning and setting new goals.

The desire for changing the way I engage online is also a factor. I had no immediate answers but the question that came with me into this new phase at SEED.ART.LAB  centred on how to do being online differently. To date that simply means not keeping up with any old expectations I placed on myself. Maybe , hopefully, it might just work itself out without too much thought.

I suspect that more than anything what has really changed is what I wish to bring to the online experience... I'd like to deepen content here to address this very particular time. I find myself far less able to keep up in a meaningful way with the panorama of wonderful people I've met online and I regret that. What I'm realising however is I really want to dig down into things and give shape to my own thinking more effectively and thoroughly at this time. This makes me less able to take things in... to absorb and respond.

So... Why still post here?

Well ... despite all the material in circulation out there... who knows... there's maybe still room for an honest, searching voice that is endeavouring to discuss both where I am heading, and where we are collectively heading, wanting to acknowledge human vulnerability and resilience, find strength in different possibilities for creating, connecting and see where that takes things. 

To read such a long blog post is a big ask. I certainly won't be expecting anyone to attempt that!
Sending all my very best wishes!
May you be well and find much to reward your days,
x Sophie

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

what happened to February?

Just noticed the last time I posted here was January 24th and its now March 5th.

An unheard of gap from me at this blog... but indicative of being busy elsewhere. Ive had a few painting bursts though and written various applications and associated material and generally am getting organised for the year.

Images from Instagram with different app finishes
ALSO included on a Flipagram video which i've just tried!

Too early to say what's unfolding .... but something's cooking!

I have left notes or images is at these sites:

Studio blog + New work!


Facebook Page

A week ago I bought these paints... three colours... that's led to a series of works on paper started Friday night...  and then yesterday, a small reworked canvas, a larger work close to finishing and another getting started.

A quick midweek, unplanned visit to the Art store led to a purchase of 3 colours... in keeping with the colour story Ive returned to over months now. This primer paint is an unusually thick, dry, chalky paint... but solid and stable and not powdery when dry. Its normally a base for working in Pastels but does well as a mixed media substance and for painting direct on paper or canvas.

The grey is based on the colour of a gum tree... australian grey.... very apt.

Working on heavy watercolour paper was just perfect for this experiment with these paints... I've  used them before but more in conjunction with other media. Excuse the photo... it does give a sense of the work though.

I have many more photos of subsequent work... yet to download. I'll be back with those images.

Best wishes all,