Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Very quick sketch of St. Carlo. [The only one i have].
Entering Rome is always an exciting experience no matter how you do it. Whether driving down the Appian Way, sweeping past the Lombardy populars, each a living legacy to Ancient Rome's Christian candles that once lite the way. Carl Jung felt that this was one of the most concentrated place on earth, the spirit vibrations often felt by travelers seems to enforce this.

It is hard not to feel the same euphoria, treading your way through Rome's chaotic traffic, dodging the Fiat 500s. Vespas mount the footpath to avoid the traffic lights, one once ran over my foot as I waited to cross the road. Then there is the appearance of the people, everyone dressed in their best as though on their way to a wedding. Beautiful young women in ridiculously high heeled shoes, eyes set straight ahead without any outward sign that they are aware of the world around them. Always dressed in the hight of fashion, hair piled high, fresh from the hairdressing saloon as they negotiated the crowded street. Even builder's labourers  carry their work cloths in bags only to be worn when they get to their job.Italians would never be seen in the 60's wearing anything draggy.

Rome is so full of must see sights that often my walks would draw me from the most direct route towards the art school. Starting in Trastevere , were I lived , I would negotiate one of Mussolini half built staircases, wooden at the top, but built of marble at the bottom were it was wide enough for twenty people abreast to descend in a line. This is one of the delights of the city, everything is conceived and built on a grand scale.

Sometimes after crossing Piazza Venezia, I would be tempted into a short detour into Rome's past instead of continuing down Via del Corso. Past the Pantheon for a quick coffee in the local cafe, I often wondered what the Pantheon would look like if it still possessed it's bronze roof cladding, instead of having it stripped by the Barberini family to build the Tabernacle standing over the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican. There is a saying in the city "what the barbarians never did the Barberini did", such is the ego of Popes.

Then I could walk on to Piazza Navona, former site for Roman chariot racing, now one of the most elegant piazza in the city. The figure on Bernini's fountain holding up his hand in fear that his arch rival Borromini's church  St. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane would fall on his fountain. The church houses Bernini "The Ecstasy of St. Therese" one of the most sensual sculptures in Rome. Later when I meet my future wife Heather I would continually give her tour guides around this magic city relating it's story. It is hard to convey this joy of discovery to anyone who has not experienced it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cargo Cult.

The cargo cult of New Guinea was still very much alive and living when I was there in the 1950's. Whether the practice still exists I do not know, but at the time alter like structure built of heaped stones on ridges or some prominent spot. The idea developed after the native population observed the allied soldiers constructing markers for the dropping of supplies by parachute.

Various tribal groups took the idea to heart and after the end of hostilities built their own biblical like structures,and surmounted them with carved wooden sculptures in the form of an aircraft. Sometimes the sculptures were constructed from found objects. Whether the images were kept in the spirit house I have never found out, But the wooden ones were often painted and were highly original.

The idea of an after life were departed spirits could supply the living with substance and other useful objects had great attraction. Unfortunately I have never been able to acquire an example.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Primative Art. Sepik River ,New Guinea.

Sepik River New Guinea.
Traditional mask woven mask, height top to tail approx 36ins.

Constructed of woven rattan and grasses with bird's feathers. The piece is then painted with natural ochers.

Front View of woven mask.

While serving in the merchant navy in New Guinea with Burns Philip I started collecting native artifacts and wooden sculpture. Often while some members of the crew were out collecting tropical fish for Taronga
Park Zoo in Sydney I would go walkabout. The ports of Madang and Wewak were best due to their relative proximity to the Sepik River region. The wickerwork head mask above  were worn by the Iatmul people . These masks are relatively rare since they could only be worn by the leader in initiation ceremonies into manhood.  When the Sepik River region was first discovered in the 1912 , the explorers were very surprised to find it inhabited by as yet an undisturbed native peoples.

Their art was considered as very significance, unfortunately the life span of much  native art works is fairly short due to the high tropical humidity resulting in  the disintegration of many wooden object. Due to this I have never felt guilty about removing work  to Australia. Many of the best examples from  this area  of New Guinea are now to be found in Berlin.

Wall Panel from the Men's House
150cms high x 33cms wide.
Painted  tropical wood carved in open high relief. Natural ochers are used.

Close up view of the above carving

Top section
Various tropical birds and animals are incorporated into these panels

Ancestor figure , Sepik River
33cms high.

Papuans and Melanesian in general believe humans have many souls. Often these souls linger around the grave before disappearing into the realm of the dead. The descendants often carve small figures for these souls to inhabit so as to assure their continued existence. These figures were kept in the men's house. Some times they would be given to a wise man for use in magic ritual.

Wicker Yam Mask. Sepik River
10ins high.

Side view of Yam Mask.

Ceramic Sculpture by Peter Kreet 1994

I produced a number of ceramic works based on New Guinea art during the 1990's
The above is an example, I only used earth colours particularly iron red the colour of blood and life.

Sepik cooking pot

Incised surface of the cooking pot.

These pot are made of earthen ware and hand modeled.
They are heaped in a pile and the fire is built over them.
Generally they are therefor very low fired, approx 300/400 degrees and are thus very fragile.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quality Food you won't Forget

"Queen of Navarra's Palace, Olite"
Watercolour sketch from our hotel window. 2004.

Great culinary moments don't happen every day, such memorable delights are even more magical when they are unexpected. Descending down the perilous slopes of the Pyrenees by the pilgrim route to Santiago, we stumbled across the old Roman town of Olite ,ancient capital of Navarre. Surround by Basque vineyards the region is renowned for fine dining and Olite did not disappoint. Navigating the narrow cobbled streets we eventually emerged into Plaza De Carlos III looking for somewhere to stay. My eye caught a sign above a cafe door in the square offering rooms, so after walking through to the back ,I asked the receptionist for accommodation. Her reply was somewhat surprising as she asked, " of course but do you also require lunch, the restaurant is on the first floor?"

The dinning room was packed to the ceiling even though it was only 1pm, Spaniards eat late 2 - 4. There did not appear to be any room at any of the long trellis tables , everyone was higher animated and some one waved us over to his table were he squeeze a couple of chairs around an already crowed table. It turned out that he had driven over 130km just to have lunch here! The menu consisted of a fixed French type, two entree, two main and deserts.Another Spanish couple at our table asked if we ate here often and when I replied no assured me we would be surprised.

The dishes could best be described as Basque country fare and the main for today were pig's cheek or baby squid cook in their ink. This dish was wonderful and although I don't know whether this was the chief recipe I have quoted a possible one from a Spanish cook book.

1kg baby squid
1 table spoon of squid ink [ you may be able to buy it frozen]
60gms diced ham, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
large peeled onion
1/2 cup fish stock.
Served with rice or potatoes and side salad.

If you have not tried this dish before you should and there is no need to go to Olite.
One of the wonderful benefits of mass migration to Australia has been the contribution of our 200 odd nationalities to the country's  kitchen. Gone are the days when spaghetti came in a tin of tomato sauce from Hinze. Many of these dishes are no longer considered exotic. When I first arrived in Australia I recall asking in a deli for sour cream and was told very forcefully that they only sold fresh produce.

The meals here were so good that we extended our stay from one day to five and put on a lot of weight!

Between meals there is plenty to see, the fairytale palace [ see above watercolour], the castle, churches and wineries. Heather and I even won a fine bottle of 1995 Cab.Sauv. made by Evena putting a fine finishing touch to our stay.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why Abstract Art is Important.

"Berthing at dawn"
Mono print by Peter Kreet. 1985.

The creation of art is best described as a method of self-realization. The purpose of this journey is to create a visual form of the subconscious.  Only by freeing yourself from objective reality is this quest achievable.

There are no laws governing art, the only requirement is courage to undertake the journey. There are three stages to any artistic development.

1. The struggle to acquire technique and an independent attitude to what art is.
2. Only with experiment by undertaking risk will the artist succeed.
3. This is the most difficult ,when technical skill has been acquired and the artist's knows what they want to say, but have difficulty in conveying this knowledge to the viewer. A viewer needs to search for the emotional and subconscious meaning within the painting not on the surface.

Central to much abstract  painting are the writings of Carl Jung. Abstraction is a vehicle for visual psychic meaning.
Most abstract expressionists artist would claim that their decisions are purely passive rather than active. They are spontaneous actions.

My current work is very much grounded in moral substratum [Fragment series], by this I mean it is not abstract in a pure sense but has a connection with the physical world. Although I use spontaneous gestural technique in parts of the work, I try to keep the painting grounded in our physical world not purely in subconscious. However this has not always been the case as the work above "Berthing at Dawn' , although not gestural work evolved from the subconscious as an expression of the sea , ships and dawn.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Roman Sketch Book.

"Spanish Steps"
Pen and ink drawing. Rome 1961
I spent a lot of time during my first few months in Rome walking around the city drawing in pen and ink. I liked the technique as there is no turning back, the first line was always the last, The discipline of not being able to correct a drawing is to be highly recommend. It reminded me of a drawing class at I had experienced at Desiderius Orban's Art School at Circular Quay, Sydney a few years before were we were given 30 sec. per drawing. He would run up and down the studio urging his students to go faster, faster. Only draw from the shoulder not the wrist, he would shout. Not that pen and ink was anything like that, but the requirement to draw instinctively has remained. Too much caution will quickly tighten up the work so it becomes wooden, only direct drawing retains the life and integrity .Another technique of Orban's was never take the charcoal off the page. A Scot's friend in our class possessed the same philosophy , he taught me a lot and was highly skilled draughtsman. 

Only recently returned from Egypt were he had been  doing National Service in the aborted invasion of Suez by the British and French trying to regain control after Nasser had nationalise Suez.  Gordon was very supportive and encouraging, later becoming lecturer in printmaking at the Liverpool School of Art.

"Roman apartments"
Pen and ink drawing. Rome  1961

Rome is such a visual city that the only way to really enjoy the sights is on foot. Around every corner there is a new delight. I have been told that it is possible to discover worthwhile visual experience every day for four years without repeating yourself. The city becomes even more alive the more you study her history. Only a short distance from the Academe stands the Arch of Titus erected to commemorate the sacking of Jerusalem with it's relief sculptures of the spoils being brought back to Rome. The council is not beyond the practice of dropping off a few broken pieces of sculpture for tourists to photo.

"Baroque Doorway"
Pen and ink drawing. Rome 1961.

"Roman Palazzo"
Pen and ink drawing. Rome 1961

Another very good friend of mine the Canadian painter Brian Fisher would spend hours wandering around the city, avoiding the street dropping of the dog population while looking for the unusual. At night  both  being short of money we would frequent the Roman Council Cafe for the poorer members of the community. The food by our standards was quite reasonable and cheap, but when I took my Italian friend I had meet on the ship there he was not overly impressed, claiming pasta should never be served without butter! At other times we would visit offal restaurants in the poorer quarters of the city, personally I had no objection to this type of food but Brian found the experience unpleasant. On his return to Canada he became quite successful painting the large mural at Montreal's airport. Most likely many of my Canadian readers are familiar with his work as he is represented in most Canadian Art Galleries'

"Trevi Fountain"
Pen and Ink Drawing. Rome 1961

" Church Doorway"
Pen and ink drawing. Rome. 1961

There were many South American students in Rome at this time, generally left wing politically ,who for one reason or another were happy to be out of their countries. Franco was still in power in Spain, so Italy was their natural choice to keep out of harms way. I often wonder what happened to many them, particularly those from the Argentine as it was only a few years till the Generals came to power, hopefully they are still all alive.

'View from my window"
Pen and Ink Drawing. Rome. 1961

One of the great delights of old cities is looking out across the rooftops, observing all the additions made over the centuries.  Japanese artists love the different textures of all the materials. When I ran the Harrington Street Gallery years later in the 1970's , I used to import many woodblock prints from Japan and I still marvel at the variety of textural treatment .

"Old City apartment"
Pen and Ink Drawing. Rome 1961

"Typical Balcony"
Pen and Ink Drawing. Rome. 1961

New Year's eve is always great entrainment, Romans throw all their unwanted garbage, furniture and so on out the window or from the balcony. One year legion has it that a husband throw out his wife, but such is life in the Eternal City.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Roma, Accademia de Belli Arti

Pen and Ink Drawing of a fellow student. 1961.

Arrivals in strange and foreign cities are often both exciting and traumatic; particularly if you are without language and have limited financial resources. Naples with it's swarming mass of  under employed  guides and porters seeming intent on fleecing any unsuspecting souls, you have to experience that sense helplessness to fully appreciate trauma. Fortunately, I had befriended a returning Italian migrant on board ship who was returning to Rome, much disillusioned with the good life Australia had promised and with his help, I eventually arrived in Rome by train. He helped me find  temporary accommodation the night. in a boarding house, the Signora who ran the establishment being reluctant to turn away any likely new source of income.

After a week with my friend's help I  installed myself in a room over looking Piazza Cavour, while waiting to enrol at the Academia De Belli Arti just down the road. It soon became obvious that I was somehow going to have to find more suitable quarters ,were I could paint without upsetting the owners by using their rooms as a studio. A fellow Australian student in my class knew an American artist about to vacate his room in the old red quarter of Rome, as he was going to ear french fries in Paris. The student had been living in Rome for a number of years, so she was quite fluent in Italian and was able to secure the room for me. The elderly pensioner whose owned the apartment was easy to get on with and need a small extra income. My room overlooked the convent garden of St. Callisto ,so I was woken early each morning by the convent bell calling the nuns to prey. It was a very peace full scene,  I  often sat and contemplated  the mood which was in complete contrast to the noise, bustle and confusion in the street outside. I was to live here for a year and greatly enjoyed the odd pasta dish my host cooked for me, Often he would take at least two days just preparing the sauce as the pig  fat base had to be rendered down to next to nothing before starting.

Pen and ink drawing of my first apartment building. 1961

The academy was very different to what I had experienced in Sydney, the duration of the drawing class only lasted three hours each morning. Your professor would arrive about ten minutes before noon, walk around the class shouting bravo, bravo, before disappearing for a long lunch. Food is very important in Italy as in most Mediterranean countries and generally runs to several hours so we only saw him once a day. The instruction such as it was, was carried out by his assistant, we spent each and ever day drawing  from life a rather large and rotund Sicilian girl, her awesome bulk had to be seen to be believed everyone assumed she must have been a relative of our instructor as it would be hard to imagine why he continue to employ her foe the best part of six months. Our model was so large and fat that knowing were the various parts of her anatomy started and finished became highly problematical. Henry Gibbons instance at Julian Ashton that you must search for the bone structure and muscles tone was next to impossible. Luckily her younger sister replaced her as our model half way through the year with the added bonus that she was very attractive.

Pen and ink drawing life class, 1961.

Unlike Australian art school each department had various teachers who specialised in different approaches, so a student could work with someone who taught in the academic tradition of the 19th cent, or you could pursue an impressionist's pallet or abstract expressionism. Therefor the class you attended became very important, I joined the modernist group as did most of the students, when you are young only the latest style will do. The class was packed with every nationality on earth so we experience a truly international vision of humankind. Printmaking, sculpture, theatre design and history were also taught. The theatre group were very lucky as apart from studying costume design over the centuries, they would go out to Rome's film studio for lectures from the great Italian directors such as Fellini and Antonioni. In addition we were required to copy the old masters in black and white in order to develop our composition and tonal layout. This was compulsory no matter who you studied under. I have heard of classic black and white films being used to the same end were the film would be stopped ,while the students would examine the compositional frame work of the director. Really do an audience appreciate the thought that goes into the making great art films.

Three times a week we were treated to a lecture in art history and aesthetics by Professor Rivesici a close friend of the great Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce. Croce has published many books on aesthetics as well as other subjects, central to his thinking is the concept of art as a pure form of knowledge. His lectures were always well attended even though they dealt with the analysis of Caravaggio and Berni for the best part of two years. Even with my limited Italian  ,I enjoyed his lectures  as  my knowledge of the Italian Baroque was very limited.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hobart Art Prize. 2011

This year's exhibition would best be described as a mixed bag. There appears to be some entries that have to be questionable and others unresolved. However over all the standard is high. Most likely the reason for the unevenness in hung works is simply that the criteria of wood and paper required the material play a major role in submitted entries. By this I mean, the use of say paper , in a new or original way would take prescience over say a drawing, were it would only be a support. In this sense the requirements are somewhat different to previous years. I don't mean to imply that the content of the work was not important, simply that artists had to engage in a wider view of what is meant by wood or paper. This is an interesting development for art commitment.

The wood prize was awarded to Colin Langride's "Bulb", best described as a modified cone were the base has been finished as a half sphere, somewhat pear shaped. The work stands at a 45degree angle to perpendicular with the top ending in a suggested dangerous point. In the artist's own words, we are invited to confront an unknown form as a vision into a world full of ambiguity. Constructed of wood the form is very organic and the random painted finished suggests an old painted wall scraped down through layers of history.

The paper prize went to Megan Keating for her "Pulp & Smoke". Using a Japanese technique of stencil cutting she has arranged her cut paper pieces into interlocking pattens. The artist's intent is to draw our attention to both the organic and technical aspects of forestry. I was somewhat struck by the suggested musical presence of many of the shapes, such as trumpets, drum discs and accordions. Interpretation can be a fairly loose depending on your viewpoint. I felt the piece was somewhat decorative and the two sides of the work almost mirror images of each other despite their political and design complexity.

The other two works that caught my eye were Jan Berg's "Skin". This took the use of paper into another realm, while the skin could be a metaphor for bark. In a more traditional manner Pei Pei He Chinese scroll drawing demonstrated how much detail, movement and tone  can be achieved by the simple use of parallel lines.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Road to Rome

In 1960 I decided to study fine art in Rome, fortunately there were numerous ships docking in Sydney discharging thousands of migrants , in a way they were all boat people of one sort or another, the displaced from war torn Europe looking for a better life. Many happy still to be alive, people who no longer had a past, only hope in an unknown future. Yet here was I going the other way.

The influences that prompted me to select Italy were threefold, apart from my exposure to the classical world  of the Renascence ,the Italian Government was offering free tutorial scholarships to young people from around the world as part of their war retribution for  supporting the  the National Socialists in Nazi Germany.As my finances were meager this seemed highly attractive, living in the country was cheap compared to Paris or London.

A Russian friend of mine from Shanghai assured me Rome was one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the girls equally beautiful what more could a young man ask for. So I set sail with only a few pounds in my pocket for a new adventure that was to last several years. At times I became very hungry,my friends told me later they were afraid I would die of malnutrition. In many ways I had become a gypsy, unable to settle in one place for long, always looking for new visions of the world, for greener grass, but that is what makes life worth living.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sunday Live/ Tom Vincent Jazz Trio.

ABC's Concert Live should be just that alive not only in a physical sense, but also in terms of atmosphere, unfortunately the later was lacking in last Sunday's performance. Jazz should have a life of it's own with a variety of texture and the unexpected tonal variety a free form. It needs a certain atmosphere often smoke filled, but a least a venue that is alive. A large  formal concert hall and static audience just will not do. On top of that one musician wore a suit and tie, there was no since of adventure into the open ended world of jazz.

Tom Vincent the piano player claimed they never rehearse, but play off each others melodies. This play off quality seemed to be lacking as most pieces followed his piano melody and with a few variations ended quite unexpectedly. In general each bracket sounded very much like the last. Not that this is wrong but they music lacked variation in both texture and tonal contrast. Each bracket remained constant somewhat like background music. Neither the drummer or bass player ever took any initiative or control. All of this was quite disappointing as the performance lacked vibe and life, even the musicians themselves look very uncomfortable sitting there on the large stage without any repore with the audience.