This is quite a bit higher than Cloud 9 and I spent some time up there a few weeks back when I had the chance to re-meet an artist whose work is so extraordinary to me it quite often makes me hold my breath, or hum out loud in a weird dreamy way.
So, for his privacy, I have no photos and I won’t share his name here and I preposterously suggest you cue an image of your own hero/superstar/genius/icon (yes these words are ridiculous, and he would think them so, but how else to emphasise the specialness of it all?). Cue some tea too, this blog goes on and on!
Over the last 10 years there are two letters I wanted to write and didn’t. They were ‘thank you’ letters. One was to Paul Keating (it’s not too late) the other was to Dr Andrew Jenkins (it’s too late) though I did thank the latter many times in person. Perhaps I’m reaching the perfect age for crashing into my own nostalgia. This year of losing music icons has flooded our heads and screens with memory via musical connections that resonated way back when.
About 18 months ago I was preparing to go to the US to work in the desert for a few months, meet new people, meet artists I already knew. I was so excited and energised about ‘tomorrow’ and drawing deep on nostalgia. I thought about the artist I’d met 15 years prior whose words, vision, work, tutelage, and humour—unknowingly to both of us at the time—helped set my direction.
And I’d always wanted to thank him.
“Simple” said a friend in the States,
“Make contact”. So I did.
Okay, I may have pondered it for a year.
And the artist accepted what must have been the oddest call, from someone he would not be able to remember, about something 999,000+ experiences ago, who was then asking something of him (gulps, hoping it was with grace). Which was to meet.
Through 2017 I’ll be working on a drawing/installation/soundscape project about the penguin colonies of Macquarie Island. This too has involved making calls wildly outside of my comfort zone. Subantarctic biologists, super-skilled sound designer and composer. Penguin sound clips arrive in my inbox, and conversations begin. A superbrained friend (he warrants made up words) refers to ‘icon species‘ when we start yarning about wildlife science in his shady backyard. I query the label. “Big fuzzy eyes” he says. So it’s that simple.
I’ve always been focussed on the landscapes that resonate with me (me, me me), and I’ve been hiking and camping in most Australian habitats and watched friends adore rainforest where I couldn’t wait to ‘get out’ and other friends look mildly daunted after days in the desert while I twirled around like I was in a red earth version of The Sound of Music. The diversity of connecting experiences, of small or large obsessions, the repetitive exploring of whatever it is we’re mad for, whatever it is that’s our own ‘icon species’: this is what makes being an artist so normal. And to look into what resonates for someone else is such a great way to see my own connection more clearly, and it’s what excites me about evoking responses to the big fuzzy eyed penguins via my drawing and someone else’s soundscape.
And so after a few exchanges including sending the artist some samples of my work (yes, I may have spent 999 hours choosing just the right ones) we arranged a catch up. I attempt to make that sound casual, just an everyday thing, but there was a happy-dance going on.
It was a glorious day, the journey to the studio, cups of tea shared, viewing his extraordinary works in progress for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (yes, he is an icon species, and no this was not an everyday thing). Then we sat and talked about my penguin show, and he questioned my approach, and I questioned his questioning. And it felt like two artists talking about stuff, when really he was giving knowledge and I was taking. Even though I’d manufactured the visit, it was still a real and relaxed time of soaking up a great artists company and his working space.
It was so meaningful and I feel so grateful.
You’ll be glad to know I did not twirl around or hum out loud.
Image above: Cue the Icon, Monument Valley Arizona USA 2015
‘There’s lichen everywhere today’ 2003
Watercolour, graphite, charcoal on Arches paper