Friday, December 27, 2013

Parsian Walks, Viaduc des Arts.

                                                                    Viaduc des Arts,

Paris, Viaduc des Arts.
Paris must be high on the list of walkers paradises, the pleasure it affords anyone who makes time and effort to enjoy the aesthetic offerings will be truly rewarded. No matter where you wander in central Paris rarely will you encounter a jarring note to distract from your enjoyment. The Parisian Council or French Government should be congratulated for the diligence displayed over the years to ensure that scale, colour, texture, design and so on of buildings are compatible with existing architecture  resulting in a beautiful city without parallel. The best part they continue to do so, there are naturally blemishes but they are few. Walking affords the best way to discover a city, to explore the small gems tucked away from main though fares in small squares or narrow back streets. There is always the added knowledge that generally a small café or bar will never be far away.
Viaduc des Arts near the Bastille is one such gem. A park created on top of an old railway viaduct would have to rate as highly imaginative. The viaduct built in 1859 offers a blend of the old and new with its fifty odd designer shops/studios tucked away underneath a walk through park, having fallen into disuse the viaduct was restored in 1994 and the studios built into the rose stone archways to create this art centre. I only discovered the complex by chance on a walk and was surprised by the quality of the activities taking place. Studios for the restoration of art works and frames, displays of craft glass, designer lights or fabrics are all there. Personally I would like to have seen more actual workshop activity rather than showroom display, but possibly this is not allowed.
The greatest surprise is the walk way itself on the viaduct roof, you may walk several kms along the old railway track now a paved path to the Vincennes woods. Both sides of the walk are lined with shady trees and flowering shrubs that hide to some extent prying eyes looking into peoples apartments. This vantage point however allowed me the opportunity to undertake a new batch of Parisian rooftop drawings on both sides of the walkway that I am carrying out as reference for future paintings. Often the buildings are close enough to nearly touch, so there was no problem with recording detail. Every now and then there would be park benches under a tree often occupied by lovers who seemed to appreciate the council thoughtfulness. On sunny days no doubt Parisian sunbake up here as well, the day I carried out my walk the Vincennes wood area was covered with Parisian soaking up the last rays of summer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jewish Cemetery, Prague.

 PRAGUE’S Jewish Cemetery.

The importance of any cemetery to the casual visitors depends on who is buried there or why the site exists in historical terms. It may be important to a viewer for family reasons, or some historical figure or figures, or events that required the cemetery to be established in the first place. Military cemeteries symbolise not only a nations’ loss of young lives often for futile causes, but also a country’s remembrance of their fallen sons. Other cemeteries such as Dutch ones only allows occupancy for set time periods of twenty to thirty years before being dug up to make room for the next generation.


Tucked away in the heart of Prague’s Jewish quarter is a cemetery of a more sinister nature, macabre in the sense that the quarter was left intact during the Nazi occupation of Prague during the 2nd World War, apparently because it was earmarked by Germany’s higher command as a possible museum to the future extinct race of Jewish people when the National Socialist Government completed their cleansing task. It had been my intention to visit the current Jewish Museum and graveyard. However after wondering around the narrow cobbled streets looking for the entrance and learning that the entry fee was excessive at some $20 per person I decided against the idea. I must say this is the first time I have ever been asked to pay to visit a cemetery. My reading suggested that the graveyard was overly crowded with headstones, many cheek to jowl were you would be hard pressed to find space to sit down. Headstone leaning at all sorts of angles often touching one another, naturally this was to be expected, after all this cemetery had been here for several hundreds of years.


                                                             Outside Kafka Museum.
            Comment on the state of the Republic. Citizens urinating themselves on the National map.

Prague, like many Eastern European cities had a large Jewish population and as was the custom at the time they were required to live and be buried in their own quarter. I am not sure whether Franz Kafka is buried there, but he most certainly lived in the neighbourhood. Later in the afternoon  I visited Kafka’s own museum on the other side of the river,  exhibits afforded there gave a good insight into the lives of Prague’s Jewish population in the late 19th and early 20th cent. It is common knowledge that Kafka view of Czech society was one of a pointless bureaucratic nature that lead to his psychological and masochistic nature much of which is expressed in his writing. Difficult relations with his father are outlined in ‘Letter to Father’ that also  deals with many of the problems encountered by Jews at that time.   Their stained relations with their German and Czech fallow citizens are well illustrated and examined in various exhibits.


Luck seemed to be with me for on my walk back to the city for I decided to visit the Museum of Applied Arts, were  much to my surprise I discovered that some windows on the upper floor overlooked the Jewish Cemetery. My wife informed me there was a very good view from the Ladies toilet window. This would have resulted in a fairly unique photo of the graveyard unfortunately my camera was set unknowingly on video and only much later did I realise that the photographic  effort had been in vain. Still you can appreciate the overcrowded congested nature of the graves, headstones have taken up their own individual poses, some at rakish angles other in quite sedate pose from a small sketch I made from memory.

                                             Sketch of the Jewish Cemetery, Prague.
                                  View from the Ladies Toilet, Museum of Applied Art.

Friday, December 13, 2013

An extoridinery film maker, Sergey Parajanov.

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Fortunately a guest at our hotel suggested that we visit Sergey Parajanov Museum. I recalled that years ago I had watched a film called The Colour of Pomegranates, based on the writings of the Armenian poet Sayat-Nov  dreams, but did not  at the time make the connection with Parajanov. All I remembered was the film was quite unusual and filmed in Armenia. His images however have haunted me ever since, particularly the priest among the sheep inside a church. At the time I knew next to nothing about Parjianov apart from the fact his films were very surreal and seemed to be pushing the bounds of film making. Recently I have viewed two films made by Parajanov the above The Colour of Pomegranates and Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors. In making these films Sergey was to spend a considerable time in prison. Both films are highly symbolic, the first in a religious sense, while the second deals with our ancestral past, however why they should offend the Soviet Government is hard to understand.



The opportunity to visit his museum in Yerevan was too big a temptation to miss and my wife and I hurried down to the other end of town to have a look. The museum occupies his last Yerevan home and is spread over two floors and what an experience it is. I had no idea his output not only covered film, but painting, college and sculpture, apparently film makers love to paint and draw to sketch their frames and characters. I recall examining film stills by great film makers used to be an exercise in pictorial composition in some art schools. Sergey Parajanov however takes the drawing process to a new level, his work are not mere dabbling’s, but fine works of art.  I’m sure most visitors will be blown away by the originality of his images. I felt his work a key to understanding Armenian culture, a bridge between reality and the absurd. The trauma of the genocide and struggle to re-establish their identity are dissected.

His own life was not without its own trauma, jailed for some eleven years for speaking his mind on issues best left untouched and not following accepted stereotypes. Whether this is because he consistently breaks the rules I don’t know, but the range of his visual arts is nothing short of amazing. His years in jail in some ways were a blessing as it allowed him to develop a large body of college work a numerous ball point pen drawings. It is hard for me to do justice to the range of his work, but I have attempted to illustrate as many directions as possible. No matter what you may think Sergey Parajanov is without doubt one of the greatest 20th cent. figures in the world of cinema.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Montparness Ccmentery. Shadows of the Past.

Brancusi  "Kiss Headstone"

Brancusi  "Kiss" side view.

Montparnasse Cemetery, Shadow of the Past.

Visiting cemeteries is not everyone’s idea of how to spend a pleasant afternoon, but Montparnasse is no ordinary one, if there is such a thing in the world of cemeteries.  Montparnasse during the first decades of the 20th cent. was a thriving artistic and literary hub of Paris. Home to painters, sculptors, poets, writers and all the other fringe individuals who make up the cultural and intellectual life of a city. Many of these individuals became famous, while other provide a background atmosphere to the area.


The cemetery located just around the corner from our hotel offered an opportunity to make a closer acquaintance with its residents. We entered via the Av. Du Maine gate and were immediately confronted by Brancusi “Kiss”, a head stone renowned for the economy of means in its execution. Brancusi took the sculptural form to a new level of simplicity as any visitor to his studio outside the Pompidou Centre will testify. He is just one of the many left bank personalities now calling this corner of Paris home.


Montparnasse Cemetery is packed with vaults and graves of famous families and personalities. Petain, Vichy Frances’ war time leader under the National Socialists had the rather unfortunate choice of cooperation with Hitler, or allow France to undergo another appalling loss of young men as she experience during the 1st. World War when some 30% of her young men under 35 years perished or were maimed.


Along with Petain, there is Alfred Dreyfus the Jewish army officer unjustly accused of treason in 1894 that created a political storm. The case provided an opportunity for Anti-Semites in France and elsewhere to voice their ideology  and deeply divide the intellectual world. His innocence only being confirmed when German military documents were uncovered in the 1930s. It could be argued that the case influence Hitler in the formation of his ideas.


Charles Baudelaire, France’s great 19th cent. poet is now locked in the same family vault with his dreaded  step-father along with his loving mother. Samuel Becket as though attempting to give support is living or sleeping nearby. A large tower stands guard in one corner the sole remains of a 17th cent. windmill that belonged to the Brothers of Charity who owned this parcel of land before Napoleon ordered the creation of a cemetery on the site to improve 19th cent. Parisian health.


There are so many important and exciting graves scattered throughout the site many with interesting sculptural head stones. Henri Laurens [French sculptor 1885-1954] and a leading figure in the Cubist movement is represented with a fine piece of work in black marble. A crouched figure with its head in his hands is very striking and would not be out of place in any Art Museum. Many graves are marked in a more light hearted manner, one that caught my eye was a large fish that appeared to look like a sardine, no doubt the lasting last testimony of a fisherman or fishmonger. Simone de Beauvoir and her love Jean-Paul Sarte who lived nearby now snuggle up together against a far wall. Not far away lie Chaim Soutine, Man Ray, the list goes on for this is no ordinary cemetery.


A retired lawyer told me over lunch yesterday that people on the left bank think differently to those on the right. No doubt this applies to political though as well, but the residents of Montparnasse Cemetery seems to conform their individuality. My friend informed he was waiting his turn to join his wife who took up residence here a few years before. In the meantime he enjoyed his daily lunch and conservation with strangers in this café. The food I my add was excellent and was a joy to the taste buds along with fine conservation.


Finally I must add many of the doors to the vaults were heavily chained with several locks apparently to keep the inmates in. Others however had more liberal guardians their doors remained ajar to allow coming and going in the night. Others appeared to be attempting to lift their heavy marble slabs skywards trying to re-join society. The experience was not only interesting, but a pleasant outing, strange but satisfying, after all in the end we must all find our final home somewhere like this, so it is best to check out the better addresses.


General View when you entry the gate.

                                                         Looking across the cemetery.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Armenia, an outsiders view.

Armenia, an outsiders’ view.


Over the years my thoughts have often dwelt on Armenia and my desire to visit strengthened over that time. This interested goes back to my paternal grandmother, father’s mother who never learnt to speak English and I suppose for cultural reason never really got on with my mother, or for that matter members of her family. My father at the time of his death possessed in his library a book written by his brother Petros Creet about George V. After his death a few weeks before end of the second world war, my Mother’s decided to migrated to Australia, so that I lost contact with the Armenian side of our family. Apart from the   occasional letter from his elder brother Leo and my grandmother,  I would never have realised that I had any Armenian heritage at all.  Later I discovered that the book about George V, who was the Supreme Catholicos of All Armenians, from 1911-1930, during that dark stain on Armenian history the 1915  Genocide. He attempted to aid and organizes relief for the thousands of people driven from their homes, no small task.  As an added bonus he was the person who appeared in our family photo album,  naturally I felt curious about his life. When I decided to visit the country I had no idea who he really was or why my Uncle had written the book.

                                                           George V and Uncle Petros.

 During my recent visit I decided to attend a High Sung Mass held at St. Echmiastsin Cathedral outside of Yerevan Armenia's Mother Church,  the service was wonderful, both the male and female parts lead by great singers was an experience in itself. After the service, I decided to  show the photo in my uncle’s book to a priest asking whether he knew who this person was, and it was only then that I discovered his true identity.  Much to my surprise he told me he was buried right next door to the Cathedral entrance and showed me the grave. He was a much loved bishop and as Supreme Catholicos during the Armenian Genocide of 1915 had the task of organizing relief for the refugees and wounded soldiers and their families.


                                                    His grave is the second on the left in the front row.

The city of Yerevan itself proved to be an even greater surprise, not the typical grey Soviet style city suggested in guide books, but instead I was confronted with what seemingly on the surface at least was a modern city of wide tree lined boulevards, smartly dressed citizens, and extremely attractive young women searching the shop windows for the latest Parisian fashions. All this did not equate to the guide book description of a very poor country with a very low wage structure, nor did the description equate with the packed street café and restaurants. It would appear that the city has somehow reinvented itself since the collapse of the USSR. New building everywhere in the soft pink Armenian stone embellished with relief sculptures for which the country is famous. An abundance of parks, squares and fountains all created a very pleasant experience. One of the most satisfying aspects was the recognition of Armenian song birds, the poets, artists, composers and creative former intellectuals with the erection of memorial sculptures and statues to pay homage to them.

                                                        Heather relaxing at a street café.

                                                         Public Sculpture, Yerevan.

                                                               City Fountain.

Over the next few weeks I was able to explore this inner city and its many surprises. I have been lead to believe that a lot of this development is due to the Diaspora Armenians living all over the world who offer financial support. The development of the Cascade an extraordinary construction of galleries and Centre for the Arts built by Gerald Cafesjian offers a good example of this generosity, this American diasporan philanthropist has set  a high standard. Not only did he complete an abanded project at the time of independence in 2001, but contributed many of the art works. At the foot of this structure is a large plaza with several dozen sculptures running down each side. Fernando  Boleros’  Cat and Roman Warrior being two.




                                                   Lower Fountain Cascade. Yerevan.


Yerevan is blessed with many fine restaurants, both indoors and out, while its parks and squares provide many sites for fountains. I was privileged to attend several concerts at unbelievable prices. On a more critical note it is hard to understand why Russia striped all the factories of their equipment at the time of the collapse of the USSR. When you drive out into the country side the onlooker is confronted with rusting buildings and machinery that no doubt was too heavy to carry way. In order to overcome unemployment many government institutions are over employers. At the airport some twenty girls were on duty to look at a hundred odd passengers’ passports . Armenia not being blessed with oil is a somewhat poor cousin in this part of the world. Having no land corridor to the outside world other than Iran and Georgia has made exports difficult. Much to their credit the Armenians are developing a medical tourist industry. The general option in the street is that a lot of corruption still exists.  A few years ago I think around 2003 a gunman walked into parliament shot three members of parliament  and casually walk out how is beyond reasonable explanation!


There are many issues that I shall try to explore over the next few weeks, but one of the greatest qualities of the Armenians is the glue that binds them together. Their culture, language and religion seem deeply entrenched. Whether the ability of the six to eight million Armenians living aboard will be able to hold together over the coming years as their descendants grow up in other cultures remains to be seen. Many modern day Armenians feel the Genocide has bounded them together in a new way. For the moment I shall leave further comments for a later blog as there are so many issues that need examination.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Parisian Apartment.

Parisian Apartment.

There is always something mysterious about attics, whether they be places of storage or accommodation inherited from childhood. That sense of hidden treasure or old forgotten toy from some distant past. I have always had a fascination about attics; they give you that sense of superiority to look down on the world, something that is impossible if you happen to live in a basement. Years ago when I first married we lived in a basement apartment in Rome with all its attendant problems. On one occasion a large slab from the concrete ceiling came crashing down into the middle of the living room, luckily no one was hurt. The most amusing event arising from the experience was watching the Italian workman carry out the repair.

After loading up his trowel with fresh soft cement he would casually throw the mixture over his left shoulder in the general direction of the hole in offending ceiling with mixed results. Somehow he was able to deposit cement on the outside of the door even   though it was shut. Being a basement it was bitterly cold during the winter months, so much so that we rigged up a make shift gas fire that one night nearly gassed us.


Naturally in our latter years with these experiences behind us an attic apartment in Paris appealed, at least we could claim to have moved up in the world. Rome and Paris have always been two of my most favourite cities and to have the opportunity to live in St. Germain Des Pres proved too much to resist. One of the great advantages of attic apartments is the view they offer of Parisian rooftops in a wonderful assortment of shapes, textures and colour.  This new vantage point offers many exciting visuals and I set about drawing some fifty odd watercolours over the next few weeks. I decided to develop these sketches into surrealist paintings with the views spilling in through the window and then dribbling down the wall.

The windows themselves come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and offer a view
of the nightly activities of the neighbours. No matter what the hour there  was       always some sort of festivities in the street cafes below, so much so that you could never feel Isolated. The apartment itself was some  three metres wide and about twenty metres long, very comfortable and cosy. The only drawback to life being the likelihood of banging your head several times a day on sloping walls.  


Over the weeks that followed I extended the area of roof tops  drawings to take in St. Germain, Paris’ oldest church and St. Sulpice and onto the Luxembourg Gardens. There were times that I felt that I could spend the whole year here drawing without repeating myself. That is one of those wonderful things about the city of Paris its endless visual variety.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Penang, revisited, a second look.

Penang, on a more positive note is renowned for the quality of it's kitchen. The large and varied menus available would satisfy most food fanatics .Restaurants, cafes and many food markets offer many specialist and personal dishes. The " old town" which is still mainly in tact is unfortunately in a state deterioration and in need of some serious maintenance. I was told by a local that they did not want renovation, but rather restoration, an entirely different outcome. The last thing they wanted was a Melaka make over were the tourist is king. Much renovation results in a façade with a new building behind. To restore something you need to use original materials and techniques, not new plastic or incompatible material laid over the old. The Blue Mansion should be the model.

This central old town classified as heritage badly need attention. I believe rent controls and other unhelpful government measures, designed to stop demolition are a major draw back. Unfortunately this results in a total lack of maintenance by owners that naturally results in run down buildings. Given that this area is now classified as protected, and provided there is no political corruption there must be some way to encourage owners to repair and paint these structures and not demolish them if given the chance. It could be some tax incentive is required.

This is not a unique Penang problem, excessive greed is world wide, but it does offer the opportunity for some creative thinking on the part of the government in addressing the problem. Strong and honest government should be able to solve many of these difficulties. The city is more than worth the effort, so Penang can truly call itself the Pearl of the Orient.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Penang Island, Malaysia

We are finally on the road home after some three months of travel. I'm not sure if it is old age, but I am starting to look forward to that last air journey. I last visited Penang in the early 1950's during the time of the political struggle by the communists, when the survival of Malaya was very much at stake. I was quite young then and everything was an adventure. It was not hard to see that life here and in Singapore was hard for the local population. How have things changed? Well Singapore speaks for itself, a first world economy and continually goes from strength to strength. How about Malaysia, has the same progress been made. I can only speak as an outsider and express a view as such. there is no doubt much has been done, but I am not sure enough focus is being directed to improving services. I'm talking about tourism now as I am not qualified to discuss the Malaysian economy in general terms. Tourism should be a strong focal point to draw in foreign exchange, but I have found too many people intent on the selling and not enough on service. Penang has many attractions, but they are too often poorly developed, often sit in what to some may be described as a garbage dump. You would think that the Botanical Gardens would have a proper cafe to have lunch. That restaurants would be more interested in selling their food than beer, that  money travel cards would be an accepted means of payment and cash withdrawals from banks would be possible. Such facilities are available in Armenia hardly an economic power house. Sadly not in Malaysia, I have tried several banks to no avail, often spending a day to retrieve my card after the ATM machine has swallowed it. Tourists all over the world use debit cards why not Malaysia. I could go on, but if Malaysia wants a tourist industry they need to improve their act. Luckily I had some euros in my pocket as otherwise I would have been stranded here without any cash. There are however some bright spots, people are trying to preserve their heritage and I wish them well. I do not wish to sound negative, but Penang has been a disappointment.  Hopefully things will improve.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Prague. Old town Churches.

I have been in Prague for a few days now and have visited several "Old Town" churches. What has surprised me has been the non_spiritual nature of these buildings. Lots of gold guilt in the manner of Spanish Baroque, but what is even more  surprising is the pews are all roped off suggesting these buildings are not for spiritual use. Any pew that was available would be hidden away behind a pillar.

These churches are presented as museums were you may only walk down the central isle along with dozens of tour groups. Most visitors treat the church indifferently, feet put up on walls, loud talking and general disrespect. Whether this is due to sixty years of Soviet rule I do not know, but it seems Christian belief is well and truly dead. The churches in the old town do not seem to be considered religious buildings of worship any more. The major use of them seems to be to hold almost nightly concerts, sales outlets for postcards, and requests foe donations. There did not seem to be a candle, light or otherwise in sight, nor any suggestion that anyone visited to pray. Spiritual belief, along with culture and language are the glue that hold society together no matter whether they be Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu.

If western Europe is to withstand the wave of Islam currently taking place, they will need to re-valuate their secular and spiritual agenda if Christianity is to survive into the next century.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chinese Excentries. Tao-chai early Ch'ing painting.

Tao-chai 'A man in a house'
ink on paper nu Wa Chai Collection.


Chinese Individualists Artists, search for true meaning.

The visual impact of Tao-chi had on me some fifty years ago still remains. Here was an extraordinary artist, a creative genius who was able to use his skill to bore into the very essence of existence. Tao-chi images still have that sense of excitement for me whenever my acquiesce with them is renewed, there is a senses of visual truth. The viewer is confronted with the very act of creation. When you look at ‘A Man in a House beneath a cliff’ you realise that Tao-chi is not simply depicting rocks, rather he is presenting to our senses the forces of the earth that mould and destroy rocks. It is almost as though the artist’s fingers have clawed at the cliff face in a search for the meaning of life. I am not sure whether this ink drawing is painted solely with a brush, or whether fingers and nails have come into play. Many Chinese finger artists placed cotton wool under their nails so as to increase the ink reserve available when drawing. We can experience the movement of his hands as he searched for this spontaneous moment. I love the way the colour has been applied in random dots freely across the picture plain without regard to boundaries, pulling the viewer into the mountain by creating this extraordinary surface excitement. The lines between the rocks act as arteries and veins of a living thing. The west would have to wait another hundred and fifty years for Van Gogh to enliven a painted surface in this manner.


This is as it should be for Chinese artists, unlike their western cousins who base their imagery on Greek Humanism, placing the human figure in the foreground. Chinese painting is all about the power and dominance of nature, the healing effects of isolation were the figures are small and subservient to the natural world. These Eccentric painters or scholars as they were called [great Chinese artists were amateurs, not professional] would appear during times of crises. When what we would call now days a regime change, those periods of strife between  Dynasties, Tao-chi, a descendant of Ming Emperors was searching for peace in nature away from social and political responsibilities. Like many educated men at such times Tao-chi renounced worldly affairs and sought solitude. Offering his paintings  as gifts to friends. His art was not based on a literal realism, Chinese artists don't walk out into the countryside to paint what they see, rather their work is more of a memory of what they felt. Constantine Brancusi once remarked, ‘What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things. It is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its external surface.’  The Chinese have fully understood this concept and have over the centuries attempted to express this essence.

Tao-chi 1641-1717
'A Man in a House beneath a cliff' detail
Ink and colour on Paper
Nu Wa Chai Collection.


Another ink hand scroll by Tao-chi, ‘The Peach Blossom Spring’, achieves almost the same intense pictorial excitement. Here a fisherman returns to his village, after discovering a hidden valley in which the descendants of refugees from the tyranny of the first Ch’in Emperor have been living in peace for centuries. Naturally the villagers sent out a search party without success. This search for peace and solitude underlines much of the Individualists and Eccentrics artists output. You can see the fisherman talking to the villagers, while the hidden valley remains under a cloudy cover on the left. There is still the same energy in the execution in this painting and random application of colour, there is no attempt at realism in a western sense.

Tao-chi 'Peach Blossom Spring' detail
Hand scroll ink and colour on paper.
Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C'

Tao-chi with the fall of the Ming took vows to become a Buddhist monk and spent many years travelling around, visiting friends before settling down in Yang-chou. All this of course is of little importance in terms of his artistic abilities. His belief in the ‘single brushstroke’ as the ‘origin of existence and the root of every phenomena’ was his guiding light. His landscapes have been identified with the second reality of Confucian thought. His visuals are universal visuals, one mountain becomes all mountains.

These are questions we all need to address and I would love to hear further comment from any readers.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A rehearsal with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. World premier of Schultz's New commission.

J.M.W. Turner "Peace, Burial at Sea' [detail] Tate Gallery, London.

TSO Rehearsal:

The creation of any new art work always has that sense of both panic and excitement, not that there was any doubt about Schultz’s new commission. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra rehearsal of this work. Attendance at these rehearsals, offers the listener the opportunity to hear and observe the individual relationships between conductor and musicians and their interpretation of a composer’s composition. The drawing out of the balance, colour and structure that a conductor imposes on his musicians is very personal. I watched as Marko Letonja spoke to his them as they made pencil notes on their score to adjust the sound and timing he required. This was the first time I fully appreciated the conductor’s role in orchestral performances, how he is able to put his own mark on the piece. How a conductor reinterprets in a creative way the original score. We are all used to watching a conductor wave his arms around in concert without always fully understanding what he is doing. Not that this was what happened with Schultz’s work, after all he was sitting in the middle of the auditorium listening to his music being brought to life.


One of the first novelties for first time attendees at rehearsals was the bright casual dress of all concerned that most certainly lifted the visual impact. Generally rehearsals begin with a bar or two until the conductor feels an adjustment is required and he explains exactly how he wants the flow or highlight of the passage played. All of this reinforces the often forgotten role of conductors in music making, his individual interpretation of a composers work. Naturally the composer is central, but many scores are left fairly open as to how they should be played. At this rehearsal a creative music teacher had brought along his class to expand and hopefully inspire them to greater musical appreciation. Introducing them to the joy, discipline, and technical competence of classical musical training.


I am always overwhelmed when listening to live music, you are at the very coal face of creation, were a collection of inanimate objects suddenly burst into life in the hands of musicians creating sounds that soar up into the heavens like a plume of smoke. The power of an unstoppable sound rolling over you like waves of the sea. Violins give way to wind which in turn make way for percussion, only to be softened again by the string section. All held in the conductor’s hands as the music moves back and forth not necessarily in any structural order.


While the TSO fine-tuned Schultz’s world premier for the evening performance, I was enveloped in the sense of drama and force of this music. The composition was so full of force as it swept over you, there times the listener felt the need to hang on to the edge of their seat, as the unpredictable music burst forth. Melodious passages intercepted the dramatic presence of wind and percussion. At times the piece had a rather eyrie sound as though the listener was standing on the edge of an abyss, the percussion adding a sense of an unknown past, while the peal of pipes suggested a religious presence. It occurred to me this musical composition would act as a wonderful backdrop to an appropriate poem or commentary.


Soft passages built tension as you were being transported through a heavy foggy mist at dawn in a desolate landscape. You were either looking into the future or back to some destroyed past for no matter where you looked there was this sense of destruction. Every now and then the composition would break into a melodious passage offering some sort of redemption among the wilderness. I am sure this piece of music will be well received by the general public, there is so much emotion expressed in both it’s sound and structure that it tapes into the listeners inner-self. Passages cry out for help as though trying to express the torment of the age. Personally, I found the music the most satisfactory and dramatic I have heard for some time. The balance of old and new, peace and drama, held together in a strong undertow of emotion standing on the edge of time.

Finally, after the rehearsal I spoke to the second violinist, who told me the composer had spoken to the orchestra early in the day saying the music was inspired by a painting by J.M.B. Turner the ‘Peace- Burial at Sea’. Schultz has certainly captured the foreboding expressed in Turner’s work, you are not sure whether you are about to sail to a new life or towards doom.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Impressions of a Country Show, Tasmania.

Local visitor calls in.

Impressions of a Country Show.

Flying flags activate the air among the pine and popular trees, while the green valley stage prepares itself for prancing hoofs. Grey hacks flick adorned manes and tails to gain the crowds’ attention.  One striking black beauty pored the turf in a welcome gesture to the Huon Valley Annual Show. The Clydesdales always a favourite arrived to full fanfare, their leather studded collars gleaming in the overcast light while coloured ribbons enlivened their dancing tails. Draught horse ploughing was still important in this part of the country, were people take great delight in their skill.


Prancing among the streaming crowd, horses of every hue pranced trot with pricked ears, their riders coolly sitting upon their mounts with matching tops and caps while waving to friends and strangers alike. A scene of animation greets the eye, blacksmiths at the forge, hawkers of every sort baying to attract attention to their wears, while the children’s train completes its fifteen minute journey around the ring.


Cloudy, with the red and black pompoms will be hard to beat, as he folds off one straight furrow after another, a few grazing horses on a nearby hill amble across to gain a better view nodding their heads in approval over the fence. The scene was set for an entertaining afternoon. I have often wondered why people year after year drive out to country towns across Australia for this annual renewal with their pioneering past. The children gaze with longing eyes at small tan puppies playing in their pen while waiting to be claimed.

“Mummy why can’t I have one” they cry.

“Jane, I have told you a hundred times, no.” comes the reply.

Older children are more intent on trying out their skill at the shooting booth where tin rabbits dance upon a stage, while others explore numerous sideshow attractions. However, livestock sheds claim the greatest attraction as people crowd around three little pigs busily digging among the straw for traces of lost food. Delilah, an angora goat gazes across at them with considerable distain from her nearby pen, a bored look etched across her face. Another popular attraction appears to be the multi coloured rabbits playing in the next door pen, much to the children’s’ delight. A Netherland Dwarf appears to be the winner here, as a serious possie of judges exchange their notes and start pining ribbons on anyone who stands still long enough.


Blackface sheep heads turn as though one, to observe the judges critical eyes taking notes, their attentive look appears to be one of disgust. Nearby, the Country Women’s Association stall demonstrate the art of spinning and weaving wool,  heavy loaded tables stand near by ready to dispatch  an array of high cholesterol laden cakes to the waiting crowd. Music was supplied from the poultry shed were roosters of assorted size and colour complete with bag pipe players turning up their instruments for the Grand parade. Charlie, the Herford bull peacefully slept through the concert, while a white faced Angus cow quietly stands and chews her cud. Running in and out of this chaotic scene country boys carried buckets of water for their charges, while their sisters combed manes and brushed silky coats.


Dogs barked, roosters crowed, children shouted demands at harassed parents demanding more fairy floss and ice cream when the loud speaker announced the beginning of the parade. Last minute hamburgers needed to be purchased, donuts sales moved into top gear. Cloudy was grand champion draughthorse for another year. The central arena started to fill as every animal known to man took their place. Children clutching dolls were lifted onto father’s shoulders, while others crawled between crowded legs to obtain front row views. Sleeping livestock attendants woke from their afternoon slumber as the ambulance completed one more round between batman masked children.


The horses on the hill returned for one last look, the tug of war had been won, people clutching their steak sandwiches shouted greetings to one another.  Bare legged  pipers lead the parade, by now the oval was full of cattle, horses, sheep and every conceivable animal imaginable, their owners walking one step behind towards the exist. White, brown, grey, coloured animals contrasted with the coloured balloons, bright coloured cloths and movement in the middle of the arena turned into a mass of madness all moving in different direction. The crowd smiled between their mouthfuls of food, and as they disappeared out the gate to the oblivion for another year to the strain of Bonny Prince Charlie.
Waiting their turn.
One of the favourites.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

'What is the meaning of life?'

What is the meaning of life?


I once in my youth I asked this question of an old Greek man in Crete, he replies and said he didn’t know the ultimate meaning, but that there was meaning to be found in daily life if you look for it.

He pulled out a small piece of broken mirror which he said he had found when he was a small boy, and he had used it to reflect light into dark and shadowy places. He was not the light he said, but he had the capacity to reflect it and as he grew up he realised this was his place in the scheme of things in terms of wisdom and knowledge. He could by the life he lived reflect light into places where it needed to be.

That comes as close as anything to my life. Where this piece of wisdom originated I have no idea, but it would stand the test for anyone who needs to know the meaning of life.

Monday, July 29, 2013

20th Hobart Art Prize.

Stutter by Anthony Johnson.

20th Hobart Art Prize.

Judging by the number of letters into the Mercury not many viewers are impressed by this year’s offering. The winning entry, Stutter has provoked considerable debate. On the one hand Anthony Johnson has attempted to create a random or accidental piece, although both new shelves have been disfigured in similar places and so defeat the purpose of accidental. So what is the artist trying to tell the viewer?

 According to his statement he wants us to examine quote, ‘how people experience time and space through often banal experiences and objects’.

It has often seemed to me that far too much contemporary art relies on such statements, rather than the work itself. Having now viewed this exhibition twice, I have been unable to extract any meaning from this work or see how the artist’s statement has any relevance. If we accept that we live in a world of over indulgence, a world of the throw way, a world of disinterest in the  sustainable, then this is for you. Whether this was Johnson's intent, I can not say. It is possible to claim that this mirror image is the only purpose of art, and to a great extent you would be correct. To most people Dada has come and gone and very little has been contributed to the movement in recent years. It is debatable whether two shelves costing $17 deserve the $30,000 prize.  Personally, I think such a philosophy of rehashing these Dada ideas is a dead end and I am surprised, that any thinking person would support such a position let alone feel obliged to give it airtime.

This is Hobart's major art prize, and I am disappointed in the lack of new ideas in the exhibits. There is little that is new, or has a wow factor, what the rejects were like we will never know. Hobart's' ratepayers deserve better.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Blitz revisited.

.The Blitz Revisited.

   Watching Clair Dawson Entertains on a cold winter’s night, my mind wandered back to my early childhood experiences during the early  war years of 1940/41. During this time, the village in which I lived was subjected to almost nightly raids due to its location as Southern Command Headquarters, defending Britain from the German air onslaught. Clair Dawson’s musical however, revolved around the love life of a young Liverpool girl. All the popular war time songs were given an outing, which of course was reasonable, but somehow I was unable to relate to the musical entertainment, my mind kept drifting back to those broken nights as the wail of the sirens awoke our family from their sleep. Looking skyward at the piecing shafts of search lights lighting up the night sky, listening for the soft drone of approaching aircraft engines, always sent shivers down our spines. Then, there was that desperate race to the shelter before the drones became a louder reality as the raid began.


   As a young child, I was obliged to use a saucepan as my air raid helmet, an idea of mother’s as we didn't not possess children’s sizes. These helmets were stored in a cupboard under the stairs, along with World War One gas masks reissued at the out break of hostilities. Our house was a good hundred metres from the air raid bunker located in the small wood located at the bottom of the garden. We would run past the fruit trees in the orchard, and the National Guard hiding inside their sand bag fort, where they manoeuvred their anti-air craft gun into position. I cannot  recall anyone ever firing this gun, but that is not surprising as we would all be well and truly hidden inside our shelter. Our bunker was an underground structure built of concrete, and covered with a foot or so of grassed topsoil. Towards the latter part of the war the family decided not to use the bunker, and it became an excellent children’s’ cubby house, that is until our gardener decided to grow mushroom there. Why my parents built their shelter so far from the house was never explained to me, but I supposed the reason was that they felt the further away the better. There were two exists, one at each end as a safe guard against a cave in during a bombing raid.


   Mother had decorated our Bunker in her usual theatrical way, large wooden Indian tea boxes turned into tables with bright red table cloths thrown over them, some with war maps of the current political position in Europe printed on them. As a small boy, I loved the Hurricane lamps suspended from wall brackets that provided a party atmosphere, and a sense of some secret place. The bunker was well provided with a supply of water and food to last several days. My father didn’t always accompany us on these nightly excursions as he was the medical officer for the nearby RAF base. The walls were hung with hessian drops to give a cosy feeling, some of which had painted designs on them, others hangings had fun cartoon characters of Hitler and Mussolini, and other war time personalities. The drawing were based on the cut out cardboard marinates you could buy at the post office to help the war effort.


   On most nights we arrived before the first series of bombs started to fall, there would be a flash of light as the earth started to vibrate and move from the shock. Often after these air raids our house would be turned into a temporary field hospital, as my father administered what medical treatment possible. If one of the injured happened to be a young   German pilot, Mother would have to act as interpreter. On one occasion  a young airman landed on the wrought iron spiked fence around the church opposite, impaling himself in the process. On these occasions the house would be overrun with soldiers, mainly French Canadians who were stationed near the village. After basic medical treatment the hapless prisoner would be carted off back to base, there was little sympathy shown to prisoners as he would be thrown into the back of a lorry and carted back to base for interrogation. Meanwhile the local fire brigade would be out quenching any fires. The mornings after were the worst when the local residents counted the loss of their fellows, and to inspected bomb damaged buildings.


Towards the end of the war, a new peril appeared in the form of the doodle bomb, these rockets inflicted untold damage on the civilian population. The Allies were very lucky that the Germans had not developed their rocket earlier, in a way the western allies were fortunate to gain the experience of Jewish scientists who fled Germany for America. Whenever you heard one of these rockets approaching people would sit in stony silence as they listened to the soft, soft, sound of these approaching messengers of death, waiting from the engine to fall silent, holding their breath, waiting for the explosion. People became quite expert in working out the likely distance and time required before these devices arrived.

One evening as I listen to the engine of a rockets stop suddenly, it seemed to be just outside my window, frozen in terror I watched the bedroom window fly across the room, the air filled with dust and broken glass. Then flash of light and noise blinded me as I was thrown to the floor. The house next door was engulfed in flames, as the occupants died an unkindly death. This was my memory of the Blitz, a time of tremendous stress and deprivation.