Glorious Descent

Glorious Descent
Acrylic on canvas 60 x 40cm

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Feast for the Future

New years eve brings an ache of nostalgia that grows between sips of champagne, until at midnight you shatter your glass with a torrent of tears. Amidst showers of confetti, fireworks and cheers I feel the least excited. Rather my mind is flooded with unwelcome images of the past, present and future and I fall victim to a destructive onslaught of self reflection.

It is now one minute past Midnight on the 31st of December 2010 and I am putting fingers to keys. Whilst I am determined to not particularly mark the occasion there is a piece of writing that I must begin this New Years Eve. It is a story that weaves the time and places, heart ache and joy of 2010 together with food. It is a story that begins in May at a dinner party, when I realised I hadn't entertained my friends around a table since returning from Canada. A story that climaxed at my closing studio dinner. And a story that closes tonight, over a freshly brewed tea with my first ever tea pot. But most importantly it is a story punctuated in no succinct order with luscious moments of cheese (Amie), Bubbling pots of home made fig Jam (hiliary and naomi), and the torn leaves of an artichoke heart (Claire and the Jacarada tree). The stories will undoubtedly continue to accumulate throughout the years, but as I bow down to the trap of nostalgic reflection I notice that this year's key signifier of experience is food and I am compelled to try and give it some written justice.

1. Dinner in the Music Room. 26 Station St Newtown.

We are a small group of four, gathered around a turn of the century gas iron stove, that cooks our dinner proudly in Claire's beautiful kitchen. Though robust, the oven balances on four skinny legs that anchor to the black and white stone floor of the kitchen. Suspended above the oven is an old ladder that precariously exhibits various dried fruits and vegetables, the odd ladle and plenty of saucepans.
'Help yourself', invites claire, as she draws a large roasting pan from the oven and places it on the bench. Scooping a helping of roasted vegies from the pan I am dazzled by the purple skins of the potatoes and how they complement the orange of the pumpkin. Sweet too, are the whole baby lemons and bay leaves as their scent greets me on my dinner plate.

Guided into the next room we are met with the quaintest of spaces.
'This is the music room' claire proudly declares. 'It seemed only fitting that when I was given this immaculate piano I should dedicate a room to it'. And claire had industriously done so. The timber floors were polished, the walls and ornate architraves freshly painted, even the emerald green velvet couch had been told to steal less of the interior limelight so that the piano could have its rightful place. Spotted around the room were other instruments too, a guitar on a stand, a bongo drum. As we sat down to dinner at the circular timber table, the soft tea lights on their respective doilies illuminated the red wine in our glasses and claire told us the story of the piano.

'I had been wanting a piano for such a long time, asking around, speaking to friends, I was having no luck, but I thought if I just kept positive, put my energy out into the world that eventually the piano would find me. Then one day at work when I was life modelling, I was as usual taking my break in the stairwell -( where the acoustics are so amazing) and singing to myself. When one of the students approached me and said she had been listening to me sing and thought I would really appreciate her piano that she no longer needed. She was planning on delivering it to the tip but would happily bring it around to my house. And so by a lucky singing chance I inherited a piano ! It had had quite the voyage, transported from Berlin to London then to Australia and now a simple terrace in Newtown'.

As we continued to eat, claire refilling our glasses, we talked and muttered, hysterically laughed - it had been months since we had been together. Then, unceremoniously, claire got up and sat before the piano and performed a simple piece that she had been teaching herself. Slow and steady on the pedals a beautiful tune wafted throughout the now practised music and dining room.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Madeleine is now taking commissions

I took up a commission earlier in the year, to complete a landscape oil painting of an English sea port town in Winter. It was to be a nostalgic memento of the client's home town, with the expectation that it would be a realitic 'impression' of the Snow capped location. Some what begrudgingly I agreed, it was not that I was adverse to the money, or actually being paid for my 'trade' but rather i was fiercely protective of my precious studio time and the priority I wished to maintain of my own practice. I did not want to focus my energy on a project that wasn't my own.

In addition to this, already being a landscape painter of sorts, I had reservations as to the extent to which I could adequately render a place that I had not visited and had no personal affinity with. The client had given me a photograph, which again, I had never used as a tool for my painting practice. Even when I was producing a lot of portraiture years ago, my painting was informed by multiple sketches completed during sittings with my subject. When I tried to use photography it often failed, for the drawings in their primary rawness were synonymous with the energy I gained from the person and thus translated more effectively to brush.

With these reservations at the fore front of my mind I wondered how I could honestly approach this task and gain anything from it. My morale drained from odious employment, where I felt like the monkey with a drum, I resented the prospect that I would simply be churning out a painting - 'whipping something up', as my mother likes to tease.

A heated discussion was had on the subject one night at the family dinner table, when I mistakenly expressed my reservations and concerns. The likes of money, integrity, sensibleness and being 'reasonable' were all tossed about the table. For some, including my parents, the issues I had with the commission may seem over the top and ludicrous, but they represented core principles that I felt were being raised about the practice of an artist, and I needed to address how I felt about them. Of course, it wasn't received like that at dinner. I remember a high pitched exasperated screech from my father: 'If some one asks you to do something madeleine, just do it !' - Not the most empathetic response for some one contemplating integrity. Or my mother's comment : 'People love your landscapes madeleine, unlike this ( pointing to a large abstract painting from my honours year )which people just don't get ! you need to consider what people will buy '. My final comment went along the lines of something like this: Art is a bitch, you should never expect to make any money out of it, all you have is the love of it and your integrity to the practice to keep going, you can't compromise this and your time by doing something you don't believe in.

I didn't touch the commission for months.
I hadn't arrived at a decision where I thought completing it was a compromise of my ideals but rather the whole debate that had ensued that night meant I didn't particularly want to revisit the tranquil landscape photo that harboured such conflict. If anything though, it remained a compromise of time and I was too engaged in my own paintings to want to pursue some one else's ideas.

However, I did complete the commission. It features on the top of this blog. And I have a confession to make: I enjoyed the process.
From a technical perspective I found the commission a welcome return to the application of colour theory and draughtsmanship skills that I possess. I appreciated that the parameters of the commission encouraged me to interrogate systems of landscape space, perspective and compostition. I was initially intimidated by the prospect of rendering snow, but once I embarked on the challenge I enjoyed discovering its subtle complexities in colour and realised the cliche - that less is more.

Secondly, a different level of engagement with art making was called upon that I have not used in some time, but certainly have the skills for. In my practice I have become expressive and increasingly abstract in my rendition of the world around me. This is often perceived as the easier alternative to picture making, but as I have learnt, incredibly exhausting too. Its incredibly subjective nature means I am constantly in fits of self criticism and I often don't even know why. It was a welcome relief to focus my brain in a far more mathematical rendition of the world, it was meditative to 'look and put' and satisfying to see obvious success. As I often feel lost in my own reality, by completing this painting I began to relate to the satisfaction gained by workers who apply themselves to regimented tasks. How nice it is to know you have completed the brown under coat and can now put brushes down and walk away with a sense of accomplishment. Much like how I imagine a gardener may feel having dug a flower bed and sowed the seeds or a baker letting his dough rest. Measured levels of accomplishment that exist in a grand plan.

So much of my modivation and art practice is built purely on trust. That instinct will locate ideas, that highs will follow lows, that inspiration will prevail. There are few text books to sewing plushies and making extravagant edible food events. People often don't get it, sometimes I don't either. Therefore it was a welcome reminder that I do understand the building blocks of what I do and where I come from in this great mess they call ART.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A cocktail of love

Sitting up on bar stools we hovered over bright green astro turf, swizzling our gin and tonics un necessarily with a decorative plastic sea horse. Wearing a black suit dress and court shoes amongst hibiscus flowers and bamboo, I appear the stow away on the deck of a tropical ship. It re minds me of when I drank in Seinukville, on the south coast of Cambodia. Make shift beach huts were adorned with everything and anything that could enhance the tropical vibe of the location. The poor cousin of Thailand in the tourist industry, Seinukville had a rustic holiday charm. Whilst there were no 5 star resorts to provide buffets of seafood on the beach and elaborate fire work displays, there were locals who paraded baskets of shrimp on their heads. I remember my love affair with margaritas began in a bar in Seinukville. AT $1.50 a pop I would be washed up from the surf into the shanty of a bar so as to wash one down before inverting and repeating the process.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A day, today

5pm till 7pm is a beautiful time to sit in my bedroom. The sun is at exactly the right position to stream in through my coloured glass windows and reflect pastel colours on my salmon walls. It is even better when there is a sun shower, does anything really beat listening to rain fall when in bed ? Then seeing it glisten on the leaves outside ?

Today I am exhausted, flat on my back recalling my day, I realise I am not so overcome with physical exhaustion but the saturation of information. Imagine how a dog behaves in the park, having spent the day in an apartment or small backyard. They chase their tail in a neurotic frenzy and run around in celebration with the other dogs, panting, digging, chasing a ball for a minute then doing an about turn an following a scent. Their acute sense of smell on over drive as they breathe in all activities of the day in that park. This is my mind sometimes. Some one once complained to me that I couldn't give a concise account of a day, and they were right, on days like today, my minds ability to process all that I have tasted, heard, set eyes upon and imagined is simply not up to an ordered standard.

Right now I am remembering the shimmering breast of quite a unique pigeon that I laid eyes on this morning. It was unusually beautiful, chestnut in colour and it wore a collar of turquoise feathers that glistened like scales on a fish - I think it may have been a royal pigeon. I recall the citrus salad, with sweet potato and crab cakes that I ate for lunch with that un identifiable dipping sauce that added such zing ! And how funny it was when Connie asked for some parmessan for her pasta and the chef defended his dish, arguing how the composition of rich flavours didn't call for added cheese. I think now, How little control we have as creators, with the work we present to the world. As individuals we each bring a different interpretation and a desire to engage with or simply reject what is before us. Our audience is not always open minded. But then neither is the artist, as I learnt during a lively conversation with a friend today. He was convinced that social and political criticism, should it wish to bring about change, should be pursued within the language and parameters of its relevant field. Rather than within the practice of art which was too poetic. If you want o pursue politics become a politician, he exclaimed. My opinion was that the freedom of art was its power which allowed more opportunity to instigate change - that the confines of bureaucracy within politics often limits voices and oppresses individuals that wish to speak. I understand people to be so conditioned now that we don't consider alternatives, be it in communication, opinions or behaviour. As children we would happily climb up the slide of the slippery dip, whilst our parents instructed us to use the stairs. What has happened to this mentality ? It seems detrimental to have lost it. I understood my friends stance though, having witnessed so much bad art for the sake of trying to 'say' and 'do' something, this power that I speak of is actually compromised. The issue we resolved was the junction of language and concept - not whether politics or other could enter art, this was too heirachical and limiting, but to consolidate the overlap. It became apparent that our concerns really lay in the nature of contemporary art and the polarisation of technique and thought. It wasn't that the criticism we spoke of couldn't be done, but that so far it had predominantly failed.

I had to train a new employee today, 'Madeleine will advise you of procedures' said my boss as she left me with Carol, who had just lost her secure secretarial job of 24 years. Mousy and timid carol looked at me - 'I will now instruct you in the art of doing absolutely nothing and everything simultaneously, in no particular order, observe closely carol' as I opened the door for a customer and lead carol to the coffee shop.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Concrete lawns

I have become a sweeper of leaves ! I can't believe it. After all these years of holding a strong stance against these individuals, I have unwittingly become one. Standing this afternoon in the garden, broom in hand, dressed to the nines in blundstones, a skimpy house dress (that really should not have even escaped the walls of my house - not even to the walled confines of my front garden) and mismatched socks. My hair: a frizzy 'up do' that was tumbling with every sweep, the only vague indication that I had actually set foot outside my front door, just hours ago, styled for the likes of Mr David Jones. Looking up from the accumulated leaves, in a moment of time travel, I found myself remembering my bewilderment, years ago, as to why people would sweep. There is a thing called wind - it blows and it will continue to blow leaves onto your garden, months, weeks, days, MINUTES ! After you sweep them away. For heavens sake, do something worthwhile: Put your feet up, hold a beer, watch leaves blow onto your lawn, and then... watch them blow off again. Yes, I sense it too, this blog is shedding light on the suppressed angst and frustration of a suburban childhood. And yet, there I was this afternoon sweeping. Worse still, I must confess, I didn't put all the leaves in the bin or mulch them. No, with guilty glances to my left and right, I hastily swept them onto the footpath and onto the beds around the trees of the street. Stop ! I heard my inner voice tell me. You are turning into that senile neighbour from when you were ten, that glared at you from her porch when you rode past on your bike. She would sweep every morning, not a hair, not a roach, not a grass clipping would tarnish the smooth mission brown concrete off her front path. The path lead to her palace, a red brick one at that and nothing would tarnish her vision of manicured suburban splendour. But where did all the debry go, you may ask ? Who cares, is the correct response, out of sight out of mind, right ? WRONG. And this is what drives me crazy about domestic suburban bliss, its disregard for anything outside the white picket fence - and leaves are just the tip of the ice burg.

Sure enough, I promptly re gathered my leaves and disposed of them into the compost bin out the back. Book in hand, I reclined on my couch, and gave a welcoming smile to the ferns and weeds that were shooting up between the cracks of my concrete lawn.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Top Drawer Jewellery at the Kaleidoscope Gallery Art Market

Made from the finest of recycled materials Top Drawer Jewellery transforms the mundane utensils and miscelaneous debry of your grandma's top drawer into beautiful neck pieces. From the delicately inscibed handle of a butter knife, to the worn copper surface of a penny, each artifact is unique and carries a story all of its own. As metals softly 'chink' against your chest, wonder at the understated beauty of the everyday and reminisce of a time gone by.

Top Drawer Jewellery will be showcased at the Kaleidoscope Gallery Art Market this Christmas. Together with other local artisan products, including photography, print and paper, Top Drawer Jewllery will provide stunning hand made gifts for christmas. To celebrate and shop, join sponsors, Little Creatures, for the event launch on Monday the 13th of December from 6pm or pop into the market any day up untill Christmas eve.

Where: Kaleidoscope Gallery
84 William Street
Paddington, Australia 2021

When: 13th - 24th December 2010
Wed - Fri 11am - 6pm
Sat 10am - 5pm
Sun 12noon - 4pm



Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bird of paradise roast - a tasty distraction

The chicken is in the pan browning and I have just thrown on some sliced tomatoes to sweetly complete the roast - as the aroma of freshly picked rosemary fills the kitchen I am remembering the gratification that used to come from cooking a meal of ones own. But those days are gone. Tonight I am experiencing little of the contentment and pride of the self sufficiently prepared meal - ( oh shit, the browning thighs are, I suspect charing, hang on...... heat turned down, I'll continue) I recognise an un welcome melancholy that simmers beneath the surface of independence and time alone. Is it me or society that encourages such discontentment in the quiet un noticed pursuit of cooking for oneself ? Often I recognise the certain taboo that exits in eating out alone, not so much breakfast or lunch, but there is a certain pity that dwells in the lone dinner diner. When I enter a restaurant at night I am always asked 'table for two ?' and I have to reply with the negative: 'No, just for one please'. Less people dine out alone at dinner, maybe because it is harder to lumber the lap top or the paper or the study notes onto the more formally set dinner table. Or that night is more associated with rest, and so eating with one's head in a text book is a little less convincing. Honestly though, I think I have quite happily conquered this eating out in the evening scenario, I actually quite enjoy a dinner date with Madeleine. Fellow customers are often consumed in quiet intimate conversations which makes the space more contemplative and I can comfortably sink into my booth or couch, un noticed and appreciating the communal environment. Just the other day, as I endured a lunch in a god awful food court, I imagined how much nicer it would be if the environmet was silent. It was actually quite a great food court as far as communal free for all buffet style eating goes. With a trendy lay out and gourmet style food bars, as opposed to mountains of fried noodles sitting in a bay marie. There was however the ever persistant rotating kebab roll, will this phenomena ever die ? - it's grose ! And quite frankly who is enticed by this spit ?

Anyway, As I refill my glass I will continue and express how I never used to feel like this. But it seems my receptiveness to the experience of eating and the context of eating is gaining prominence. Feeling a weighted self pity about cooking and eating dinner alone tonight I am resorting to telling the inter webs about my browning thighs ! Living in a share house usually works, as I hover over the stove, tongs in one hand, wine in the other, I can usually chat to some one who is veging out on the couch or preparing their instant noodles. But this even is a rarity now.

I value the concept of sharing so much, be it with the shared act of cutting the vegies, smelling the garlic or the act of sitting down with another. When eating out alone, whilst you mightn't chat so much, the effort and artistry of preparing food is appreciated, you can see others enjoying their food and one can select off a menu of carefully listed meals. At the very least one can say thankyou when a meal is purchased.

But who wants to tenderly brown thighs and eat in a silent salmon coloured living room. No ! Eating is for far more than nourishment. And I crave a dinner date tonight.

....... David ! My saviour.
T.v on, Bird of Paradise special.
Did you know that the 'bird of paradise' is both a plant and bird ? Oh, and of course, a John Farnhan song.