Monday, April 30, 2012

A Tale of Lost Legs

A few years ago a farming neighbour of mine enquired as to whether I had lost any legs lately. At first, I was some what perplex, but assured him that the last time I looked everything was still there. No. no, he replied, I mean have you lost any pigs legs. He explained, that he had recently changed his abattoirs because because after some consignment, the old meat works deducted payment for various parts of the carcass. It may be a leg, sometimes half of the rib section, the head and so on. I assured him, I had not experienced any problems of this nature, apart from difficulty in loading large bacon pigs on to the truck, that gave a whole new meaning to the expression of pigheadedness.

He related how on enquiry, he would be told that the missing parts had been condemned, and no, he was unable to inspect the missing parts as they had been deposed of. It was never explained, why a leg and part of the rib cage was not fit for human consumption, while the rest of the animal was fine. All the more so, when the pigs were in tip top condition when leaving the farm. Apparently, this became a major problem around Christmas time for the condition of hind legs, it seemed that often both legs would become contaminated at this time of the year. One can only assume that their loading ramps needed urgent attention. All this goes to show how dangerous transporting livestock can be. Who knows what they are likely to eat on their journey into town.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day in the life of an exiled Cossack

Acrylic painting from my Fragments of memory series.

I first meet Sasha in one of those old converted Sydney wine bars in the 1950's. They were the sort of establishments much despised by the local Sydney population, but were much sort after by newly arrived migrants from Italy. These early post-war settlers, would turn them into successful wine bars come coffee shops, with the odd plate of pasta thrown in. At the time they reflected an Australian version of a Parisian street cafe, attracting a rebellious crowd of writers, artist, musicians, and anyone else who felt dissatisfied with colonial life. It seemed at the time, that turn of the century Paris had arrived in Australia. This was the age of Sarte, the dawn of the postwar age, when it seemed anything was possble.

Sasha, had fled China, as did many Russians after Mao's victory in 1949. He always described himself as a displaced Shanghai Cossack, and  could best  be described as a lively eccentric. We both got along famously from our first meeting,  no doubt as he saw me as someone from his part of the world. I had quite recently "come ashore", after several years of seafaring, and spent many long hours in these wine bars drinking coffee or red wine, after spending the day drawing plaster casts at Julian Ashton Art School. Later we shared a house together for a few months in Balmain, with other "displaced individuals". Sydney at this time viewed most non locals with considerable disdain, any one wearing suede shoes or corduroy was suspect. One could be abused on the bus or train for not speaking English. One of his greatest delights was to get out his saber, and after wavering it around for a few minutes would depart to buy cigarettes. This task seemed to consist of visiting the local garage and smashing the window with his saber to obtain his "free cigarettes". On his return, he would give us a demonstration of how you use a saber. As some of you may know, it is worn upside down, that is the cutting blade is facing up, this weapon has a round nob at the handle end, so that the user could hit the nob with the side of their hand, thus drawing out the blade with one movement, followed by one downward movement presumably removing any heads that were in the way. Cossacks he told, could by this system simply turn their wrist and do further damage on the way up as well.

But, Sasha most outrages exploits, was what he referred to as his Carpet Gang. This involved himself, and one other person dressed in workman's overalls, calling on up market hotels and offices. According to him, it was a fairly simple operation, they would drive up to their targeted site, and claim to had come to collect the rugs and carpets for dry cleaning. Nine times out of ten apparently, the person on duty accepted the request, and they were allowed to role up expensive rugs and casually walk out the door, never to be seen again. How they were able to get away with this I never found out. Luckily, I departed shortly afterwards for Italy and never saw them again. Whether they eventually met the arm of the law, I have no idea.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Armenian Memorial Day & Anzac Day

There is a certain amount of irony, that Anzac day follows Armenian Memorial Day, 24th April. A day that remembers the beginning of the Armenian genocide, or should I say night. It was on this day 24th April 1915, that the Turkish Ittihad Party, gave the order that Constantinople Armenian cultural leaders, their writers, artists,  clergymen, teachers and so on, were all to be arrested in the middle of the night. In hind sight, they should have realised that something was a foot. Thus the first 250 songbirds of Armenian culture were removed from positions of influence. Little did they realise, that they were the first of some one and half million of their countrymen earmarked for extermination.  The spiritual leader of all Sunni Muslims, Sheikh-ul-Lslam had already announced on steps of Fathi Mosque on 14th November,1914, that a jihad had been declared against all "infidels" and other "enemies of the faith". The Armenia, as the first country to adopt Christianity was an easy target. The fact that they had lived in the country, we now called Turkey, for over two and half thousand years counted for little. Not of course, all Turks subscribed to this policy,  I should mention many lost their lives due to their objection. The issue that sticks in the throat of modern day Armenians, is the fact, that Turkish governments over the last eighty five years have maintained total denial that such events ever took place.

Thus, we come to Anzac Day, and an ill fated landing in the Dardanelles, the very next day, 25th April, 1915. The day, when the first lorry load of Armenians were being removed from their homes. One of the tragic side effects of these events is that the genocide, the removal of an entire people, from their homeland would be repeated twenty four years later in Nationalist Germany. Whether the German advisers played any part at the time is hard to say. But it is not difficult to see a template for future events. This century has witness so many ethnic cleansing, Armenian, the Holocaust, Ukraine, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and recently Dar fur, there seems no end. Turkey is one of the few countries who even today, refuses to admit any responsibility, as the recent out cry over the French Government's declaring that denial of the Armenian Genocide is a crime in France. I do not wish to suggest that ex-Turkish soldiers should not honor their dead war heroes, but whether they should do so in Anzac Day marches remains questionable.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ship Wrecks , design blocks for abstruction.

On this  the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I would like to share with you my own personal thoughts about ship wrecks, as basic starting points for abstract painting. Whether it is my own experience of viewing wrecks around the world, the left overs from the Second World War in places like New Guinea, or my life for many years at sea as a non swimmer, I can't say. But ships in all their shapes and sizes continual forms draw me to them. The underlying organized structure gives them strength. A strength that evolves with time, formed and reformed by natures elements. The wind ,sea, sand all have played their part to resurrect a life lost to a new one. All good painting needs a  strong grid like underbelly to make them work.

Unlike, landscape based abstraction, were  the natural random design elements of nature dominate, the engineering discipline of a wreck, now modified plays a major part. The natural erosion of the elements soften the impression, and unlike a formal French garden like Versailles, never look contrived. Luckily, were I live, we have a wonderful wreck on the shore of the D'Entrecusteaux Channel, south of Hobart. The steam ferry "Laura" ran aground here around 1923, and has become a favorite sanitary for fish and seabirds alike. She was built I believe in Newcastle, of steel and rivet construction, and though she no longer looks her best offer any visitor bothering to walk along the shore line a welcome. In her working days the "Laura" plied the Channel Ports collecting apples, milk, and and other agricultural products for the Hobart market. At this time there was no satisfactory road to the city. The highway as such was built during the great depression in the 1930's.

Over the years, I have taken many photos of the "Laura", and produced several painting based on her. I have attempted in these photos to capture the beauty and charm of such a sight. I know many people only look for perfection, the perfect reality without the realisation that everything in this world is always in a state of flux. Things never remain the same for one moment, to fully understand the visual world, we must always try to look with new eyes.

Tasmania has many wrecks scattered around her coast, no doubt due to the location of the island in the roaring 40's, a latitude that allows the wind to roar around the world without hindrance.  Many a sailing ship in the age of sail meet there doom on this rocky coastline. Most of course, now lie at the bottom of the sea, so I am lucky to have accesses to one without getting my feet wet. Here are a few images of the "Laura", so you can appreciate the abstract possibilities of wrecks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The hazzards of the grape harvest

Every year it seems to be the same, rain, rain, and more rain. It is almost as though some entity, unknown to mere mortals, decides the sugars are not allowed to reach an acceptable level. In many ways, this is somewhat like running a water hoses into the wine vat. You see, we try to make a wine without irrigation, a wine made by natural methods using the wild vine yeasts, a wine not laced with chemical to prolong it's  shelf life. Every time it rain falls, the vine takes up the moisture, and thus dilutes the sugar level in the berries. This in turn causes a lower conversion rate of sugar into alcohol, resulting in a thin wine without body.

The real frustration of poor results after the pruning, care, netting and so on is hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced it. You may think that is all part of farming, this of course is true, but it does not make it any better to bear. Last year a wasp attack sucked the crop dry, before we were able to pick. They came in swarms straight through the bird netting.Fortunately, this year we set dozens of traps, and caught bucket loads. I exaggerate not, we must have caught tens of kilos of wasps, at least they make good compost. The strange thing about wasps is they seem to undergo a change of diet throughout the summer, at times they crave sugar, at others  rotten meat. Still, while they are gauging themselves they are too blotted to sting.

In the meantime, all we can do is clean out the press and wait.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Love affair with Crete. ]Palace of Knossos]

Snake Goddess. Crete

Before the age of mass tourism, it was possible to sit on King Minos'  throne, and eat your lunch of sandwiches. How many Athenian boys and girls made this same journey to the Cretan King's Knossos Palace all those centuries ago, we will never know. A journey, that saw their lives end in  devouring jaws of the Minotaur.  This annual tribute of seven boys and  seven girls of course  is pure mythology, but it is pleasing to see that even then, there appeared to be gender equality. But, Sir Arthur Evans' reconstructed palace is very real, and whether you approve of its " restoration" or not is of little importance. What really is rather sad however, is how that open world, has now been confined behind guards, ropes and no entry signs. When I was young, you could wander from room to room, up and down the grand staircases, admire the frescoes of dancing girls and charging bulls. You could  feel, what life might have been like, some three to four thousands years ago.

Early Mimoan house that may have line Europe's oldest Street in Knossos'

To enter the Queen's bedroom with its en-suit bathroom [who said all these things belong to the modern world]. View its ancient plumbing, her clay bath, and  toilet, complete with other ancient wonders. Still, even today, it is still possible to stroll down Europe's oldest street; built long before the Romans were even thought of, to imagine this street lined with ancient Minoan houses. The cobble stones are still there, slightly worn to a smooth glow.


Archaeological site of Phaestos, currently work is going on. This is perhaps the second most important dig on Crete.

Heather and I travel to Crete, as often as finances, and the opportunity allows, with its proud people and checked history. When we first visited the island in our youth, the elders still wore traditional dress, baggy pants and long black boots with an large elaborate silver handled dagger trust through their belt. The civil war had not long finished,  and you felt then that you were standing on the
 edge of the world. Both of us fell in love with this island, a love that still burns bright even today.

Harbour of Agis Galini, along the southern coast from Phaestos.

 This land that had sent troops to the Trojan War, has known  occupancy from many conquers over the centuries. An island that has been fought over time and time again. The Germans during the 2nd World War, the Ottoman Turks, the Venetians, Byzantines, Romans, even Egyptian consorts, each bring their own brand of havoc. The Ottomans and Venetians seemed to take it in turn to conqueror Crete time and time again. Each Turkish occupations saw  half the population perish, with tens of thousands put to death, either through massacres or draconian laws. Over the centuries, this island was a sort of cutting edge between Islam and Christianity, even today one's  belief is taken very seriously.

Chania Harbour looking down onto the quay.

On a recent visit to Crete, we had the good fortune to find accommodation in an old Venetian Palace, at the end of the harbour quay in Chania. Often at night, you would feel a coldness come over the room, even though it was mid summer. It often seemed, that you could feel the presence of departed spirits and souls from the past.

Particularly, when walking down stairs, a rush of cold air would go past despite there being no source whar ever. Once,  Heather felt as though she had been pushed over, our landlord informed us that once everyone in the building had been put to the sword by the Turks. So the palace had a bloody history on more than one occasion. The Christians would persecute the Muslims, who in turn did the same thing back when their turn came. Still, despite its bloody history  Crete is an enchanted world, a  world were everyone is treated as family. The sort of world, that seems to be sadly fast disappearing, bu teven today, all over the Greek islands, that sense of the sacred still lives on. Who knows whether that stranger is a god returning  to the human world for some dalliance.

Minoan Snake Goddess.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Truckies Motel, Mt. Remarkable.

On the road again.

There seems to be no end to what is possible in the world of "movable" housing. It seems as though
half the country is driving around in ever bigger circles. In Australia this new generation are called "gray nomads", not that they are all that "new" being mainly retirees. But one of the great delights of such an activity is the discovery of the unexpected. While travelling to the Flinder's Rangers in South Australia, I ventured into the town of Melrose at the foot of Mt. Remarkable National Park, only to discover a most extraordinary collection of ancient truck accommodation. They were part of a hotel complex, and from what I could gather, were available to wayward travellers. All these "motel rooms" were built on top of old trucks of various vintages. What a wonderful example of what the creative imagination can think up to add to a towns tourist potential. Most trucks were from the 1930's through to the 50's, and had been reborn as kinky, and most unusual  accommodation in an array of colours. Who ever thought up the idea deserves full marks for originality, it is only a great pity that these workhorse of yesterday can not take to the road again.

Diggers Dream, an old army truck.

Melrose is the oldest town in the Flinder's Ranges sitting at the foot of Mt. Remarkable National Park. The park itself offers a wide range of hikes across its  hills and gullies .

Hills of Mt. Remarkable

It is possible to walk for hours on end through this park, and unlike our Tasmanian parks the country is fairly open. There are both short and three day walk, often through a vista of wild flowers in Alligator Gorge not that I saw any fortunately. The energetic may climb to the top for Mt Remarkable [ 960m] for the view across the ranges. As usual I spent the best part of several days drawing up in the hills. Strangely the vegetation was very green due the recent heavy rains, and not at all like Central Australian colours. Hans Heysen, the pioneer Australian artist who first painted the outback had to create a new colour pallet for himself in order to record this new environment. It is only since the Second World War that artists have discovered this image of "true" Australia.

Afternoon stroll, Melrose

Child's Delight.