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.