Thursday, December 25, 2014

George Davis, master draftsman.

Essie Davis actress.
Charcoal drawing & pastel 1990.

Tasmanian artist George Davis’ exhibition currently showing at TMAG in Hobart covers a vast field of human visual experience. It covers sixty-five years of drawing from his early twenties the present. The survey of George’s drawings coincides with the release of Hendrik Kolenberg’s book on his work that may be purchases at TMAG.  This survey includes a number of portraits and landscape paintings as well as the drawings. The drawings reinforce Davis reputation as one of Australia’s finest draughtsman. Self-portraits of twenty year old George hang alongside a number of portraits of family and friends executed over a lifetime. Beautiful anatomical correct figure drawings from life class to atmospherically tonal rending of London houses and landscapes demonstrate his years of observation. In the 1950s George spent a few years studying on a Tasmanian scholarship at the Royal Academy in London. Davis learnt to draw in the now unfashionable manner of learning to see accurately, to work from plaster casts, seeing the world around you enables development of hand eye co-ordination so essential to fine art. I first meet George Davis some thirty to forty years ago, we have over the years spent many hours discussing different approaches to art practice, and at times despairing at the current direction of art training in this country. Too much old fashion discipline has been discarded and lost in the haste to incorporate new fashionable technology.


George Davis is more than simply an artist, but a scientist and collector of a vast array natural insects, shell fish and native wildlife as well, all of which he painstakingly draws in great detail. These drawings however are not the lifeless illustrations often found in science books, but images that at times live on the page. Over the years George has spent considerable time drawing and painting the bird life on the many islands off the Tasmanian coast once travelling to Macquarie Island on the Antarctic ship Nella Dam to draw albatross and other nesting sea birds, never willing to rely on  observations of others. Included in this exhibition are working drawings for the sixty foot mosaic mural adorning Hobart Conservatorium of Music, constructed with over 123,000 Italian glass tiles, the work took over two years to create.
Nella Dam, south wharf Melbourne
pencil 1978.

Among the detailed scientific drawings of shells, bones and animal parts are many delightful drawings of nesting seabirds, penguins that live in the present. These are not casual observations, but drawings that have a life of their own as they fight their way off the page into the living world of the viewer. Davis has the ability to take his work to a new level. It is not hard to understand that here is an artist who has learnt to see by accurate observation, an artist who looks carefully and then able to capture the essence of things with a few rapid strokes. Seeing is the key, a discipline that has almost become extinct from art schools. A particularly lovely drawing of newly hatcher Albatross chicks seem to dance before your eyes, truly a wonderful experience.

Gentoo penguins disturbed.
pencil 1987

Gentoo penguins at Bauer Bay, Macquarie Island.
pencil 1978
There are a number of paintings, some bordering on abstraction without losing the essence of the landscape. George has spent months on end on unhabituated islands off Tasmanian north coast, painting rookeries at times having to lash himself to the rock face in order to paint his subject. These paintings express more than the rocky outcrops of steep slopes that plunge into the sea below, but also express the abstract form and tone of nature herself. You feel the wind as it whistles off the surface into the face of the viewer. At times the colour borders on impressionistic, but contained within structured form. This is an exhibition well worth the effort to view it.

Pam, London. Reed pen & ink 1954

Tasmanian freshwater crayfish. Pencil 1984

Weddel seal pup. pencil 1983.

Forocactus peninsulae . pencil 1976..

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First World War, Begining of the Modern World.

Reflections on World War One:


As 2014 draws to a close, the centenary year that saw the beginning of that blood bath World War 1, it seems opportune to look back and consider those macabre events. To evaluate and analyse, whether the world has learnt anything from those experiences over the last one hundred years. Apart from the trauma many combatants experienced for the remainder of their lives, the senseless killings of thousands by long range artillery, death by injury and disease, the war saw the recreation of modern day Europe and the Near East. Empires fell, Russian, German, Austrian/Hungarian and Ottoman existed no more. The map of Europe was redrawn; Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and other smaller states once more appeared on the world map. The seeds of the current conflict in the near east were created with arbitrary borders showing little concern for the ethnic and religious beliefs of the inhabitants. Armenia despite all the good intentions of the Allies was driven from its historic homeland.

Reading through the diaries, soldiers’ letters, political slogans and speeches of the major players leave any impartial enquirer with a sense of the futile nature of war. Looking back, it seems the great hope of that age still remain unfulfilled today. History teaches us that greed and the pursuit of national self- interest always win. Reading a letter written by Valentine Fleming [ Grandfather of Ian Fleming, author of ‘James Bond’ novels.], who at the time was serving on the Western Front, the letter was written to Winston Churchill who later experience firsthand the hardship of trench warfare. Reading the letter it is impossible not to visualise the reality of a technical conflict. Fleming informed Winston of ‘the absolutely indescribable ravages of modern artillery fire, not only upon all men, animals and buildings within its zone, but upon the very face of nature itself. Imagine, he wrote ‘a broad belt, ten miles or so wide, stretching from the Channel to the German frontier near Basle, which is positively littered with bodies of men and scarified with their rude graves; in which farms, villages and cottages are shapeless heaps of blackened masonry; in which fields, roads and trees are pitted and torn and twisted by shells and disfigured by dead horses, cattle, sheep and goats, scattered in every attitude of repulsive distortion and dismemberment.’ A zone continually made ‘more hideous by the incessant crash and whistle and roar of every sort of projectile, by sinister columns of smoke and flame, by the cries of wounded men, by the piteous calls of animals of all sorts, abandoned, starved, wounded’.

Without being judgemental is it possible consider this new technology of conflict heroic? Firing an artillery shell from distances of up to 75 miles to kill combatants and civilians alike is not heroic. This is not to suggest that there were not many heroic acts carried out during the war, simply that such acts should be acts of personal valour and courage not impersonal killing.

It is hard to believe that any thinking person with knowledge of the carnage of this war, ten million soldiers dead would not understand the urgency for a better mechanism to resolve national political ambition .President Wilson’s fourteen points outlined in his January speech to the United State Congress in 1918 seems a good starting point many of these ideas were incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles,  but unbelievably the Senate failed to vote for the USA to become a member of the  League of Nations. Not that other political and military leaders on all sides had seemed to have  been in any hurry to advance the cause of peace through the war. As the Treaty was formed on the assumption that the US would be a  member its absents ensured to a great extent that the League would not be the success many hoped.

Wilson’s fourteen points outlined in his speech, suggest Diplomacy and treaty making should be ‘frank and in public view’. That freedom to navigate the high seas assured for all. Economic barriers removed and equality of trading conditions established among all nations. That the interests of all people whether colonial or not given equal weight in terms of sovereignty. Military armament to be reduced, all nationalities within the Ottoman Empire assured of a secure sovereignty and autonomous development. All nations guaranteed political independence, no matter how large or small. All fine ideas, but how many have been implemented over the last 100 years. It is a sad comment on humanity’s priorities that many of Wilson’s ideals are still just that, ideals. Would the current chaos in the Near East still exist if it had not been for national greed? Unfortunately the First World War resolved very little in how to build a better world. Hopefully as we remember the sacrifices made one hundred years ago over the next four years, serious thought will be given to all these outstanding issues or was it all only a dream.