All posts by Adrienne Williams

I pumped up the bicycle tyres.

This is not a metaphor. I did it. I just pumped up the bicycle tyres. It’s more like a shiny miracle than anything else. It’s right up there with vacuuming all of the dog hair out of the back of my car.

Which is what I did this morning too. What in the ‘Sam Hill’ is going on? I haven’t even told ‘Nearest‘ about the vacuuming. He simply will not believe it!

So, yes, the next step is to actually get on the bike, but it’s dark now, and windy, and time for sleep. Today I finished the first piece for 2018, and the first piece for an upcoming show in Brisbane. It grew out of a little sunset walk, a small scribble, and a full sheet of Fabriano paper. A bit like the bike – I haven’t used Fabriano for many, many years.

072 Late Blush Pandanus

Four layers of washy watercolour, some liberal slabs of masking fluid, and some watery gouache marks that nearly killed it—and then resuscitated it—at the front end of a small series of works on paper needed for mid March. I have three other works on the go, but this one gets a name and a place on that strange and mysterious list of ‘done’, where the line between disaster and done is quite fuzzy and explicable to anyone but ourselves.

073 Late Blush Pandanus

Last Blush, Pandanus, 2018, watercolour and gouache on Fabriano 300gsm, 56cm x 76cm. The bones of the sketch are all there, and it felt essential to know where the masking was going to sit, a known structure, and then the watercolour tends to take things from there. The next studio day is six days away which feels like another country.

074 Late Blush Pandanus

Another scribble awaits, masked paper ready. No reason to not just hook in when that day rolls around… straight after a little bike ride through the pandanus. 😀

 

Advertisements

Soundtracks: hooked and hung

067 Art TransportI love buying art.

I wish I could buy more.

But the practical (less wall space) economiser (less wall space) in me has slowed the gatherings … though not halted 😀

As we plucked the last pieces from the walls of the little Queenslander cottage Nearest noted “It’s not much without the art on the walls”. Those 100+ year old horizontally jointed, tongue and groove walls hold stories of their own but for us the tales were attached to everything we had attached to them.

None of it valuable to anyone but us. And there again, like the bookshelves, marinated with our memory. At the new place we set to, drilling a peg-board of holes in almost-pristine (but not fresh) plasterboard.  Across a whole day, simultaneously working our way through old CD’s on the ‘low-fi’, applying a heavy hand to an already loaded brush with nostalgia.

Eras.

Years.

Romantic souvenirs.

071 berwick ducksBerwick ducks from Nearest’s family kitchen fly towards Peter Nambarlambarl’s Sugar Bag Spirit; the souvenir from Oenpelli and Kakadu, when we moved from north to south in ’97. Moving.

With less wall space comes the salon-hang. Requirements:
1 patient and useful handy-human (not me),
1 x pedantic, possibly annoying, director of placement (yes me),
1 x canine for comic relief, and
4 x CD’s from the 90’s.

068 salon hang design

070 wombat hole

Peruvian kids from 1988 jostle with 2/6 Industrial Bin, linocut, 2011, by Cameron Eaton, a throwback 2003 Wombat Hole study of mine chats with a joyful lady by a 2001 painting group pal, Lavinia.

Some needed a little space of their own. When stranded with friends in Alice Springs in 2001 by the collapse of Ansett Airlines—during the same week as 9/11—what to do but sit on the cool, carpeted floor of the Papunya Tula Artists gallery and fall for this painting about women and walking tracks, by Wintjiya Napaltjarri.

069 Papunya TulaThe shopping joy, quickly fading as we boarded the bus 2 days later for a 42.5 hour ride back to home and work, then returned when the paintings arrived a week on, to become the marker of that memory.

The ease with which I now see imagery—drooling over the devices (guilty, yes) at what becomes a scrolling kaleidoscope that’s a bit awesome (but not as good as a real kaleidoscope)—has produced a laziness in me. Those images don’t hold memory, nor are they committed to memory. Sure, I get a momentary buzz / inspo / giggle (raccoons) and I won’t stop doing it, but it doesn’t have meaning when compared with sitting in front of an artwork in a gallery, or in my own lounge room.

There’s a good thing to do on this final day of 2017. Maybe sit in front of your pictures and ‘listen’ for the soundtrack that extends much further back than this year.

Here’s a plan, pop on My Friend the Chocolate Cake while you’re there. Hah, the 90’s! You’re welcome.

HNY

Soundtracks: perfect bound.

064 Bookshelf 02

I love reading fiction.

I wish I could read more.

I wish I could read more non-fiction, but I just don’t reserve the time. I save those rare and precious reading times for the suspension of my current life – to shape shift fully into the lives in the novel on the bedside table.

We recently moved. And I packed the books for the move from a bookshelf that’s grown only slightly in the 8 years since it’s last relocation. I had made a commitment to libraries rather than purchases, but still occasionally am drawn into the magnetised world of the book shop and want to buy it ALL.

So, the packing…

066 Bookshelf 04… the nostalgia, the flooding memories. Above, two novels by a Sydney writer whose wife I met 20 years ago through work. And I love her, she’s an amazing human. (He’s totes amaze too) It’s the introductions to the books that bring back the memories. That person recommended this book, my fellow blogger gifted me that book (or did she loan it!). Every single book held it’s own story on a timeline. It surprised me. The feeling.

Even Nearest’s non-fiction shelves held my memories!

063 Bookshelf 01

It was like flicking through photo albums (which I did as well… this was a looooong pack), or thumbing through the record/cassette/CD collection.

Eras.

Years.

Genres.

Absorbed, dismissed, revisited, kept.

The bedside table now holds First Person by Richard Flanagan. I read small snippets alone, and then out loud with fellow slow reader and co-bloggette, Wendy.

This book is a keeper. And it’s place in the shelf will mark a moment. But only for me.

Go and sit in front of your book shelves for 15 minutes.

It is moving.

065 Bookshelf 03

No’vim’ber

New word alert! It may delight or horrify David Astle, the word nerd featured in this wonderful interview on the joy of words: click click click

Is it a pre-xmas, not-enough-sleep , post-penguin-demount malaise? Who knows, but I’ve got it bad. I’d rather spend the month trying to grow a moustache for charity, but it seems that’s still a year or two in my future. No’vim’ber Antedote #1 was to trundle off to Brisbane last weekend to the opening of ‘Life is the heart of a rainbow’, the Yayoi Kusama survey exhibition at QAGAMA.

061 Dreams of the Girls Yayoi Kusama 2016

The exhibition publication states that now, at age 88, she paints every day in her Tokyo studio “completing a painting every few days for her epic series My Eternal Soul. Begun in 2009, this series now counts over 500 paintings…”

Let’s pause there—because I need a lie down at the thought—500 since 2009. 500.

I’d never seen her paintings up close, only the amazing polka dotted sculptures and mirrored installations. More than 20 paintings were hung in a stunning cheek-by-jowl salon hang that had us yelping with joy. The pic above, Dreams of the Girls, 2016, acrylic on canvas, hanging in a room of colour. Then the room next door all lines and solids in black and white, silkscreened on canvas.

Overnight at my friends house, I sleep beside another salon hang with a 2003 piece of mine and the latest series of works by friend’s daughter.

060 1993 Abstract and Edies drawings

Seeing that piece fed into what’s also been a tremendous wave of nostalgia washing around me all month. Missing my mum, seeing my 91 year old dad, chipper and fit that he is, thank Dog. Starting back to oil painting after an 8 month break, it’s impossible to avoid the circular—and definitely useless—thought-loop of what am I doing, will I ever do anything okay again. Such a waste of existential angst when I could be worrying about growing a moustache, and other associated ageing gifts. Aaaah, but how else would I start a new chunk of work but with this?

No’vim’ber Antedote #2 is to paint and paint and then paint some more. Then paint again. With a show ahead in mid April 2018 at Red Hill Gallery it feels like my usual process is too lengthy, too heavy, to meet the timeframes. How does Kusama make 6+ works per month?

062 Pumpkins and Mirrors YK.jpg

Sure, 7 decades of art practice has to help.  And a master’s grasp of pretty much everything. Ever. But there’s simplicity and repetition at play too.

This week the paper comes out, and I’ll go back to sketching in colour. Antidote #3. Drawing and painting little gouache pieces, especially outdoors, always makes me brim with vim. And as we lug boxes, and furniture, move chaos from one living location to another, I get to see the new landscapes near the new home in different ways. It always brings me back to what landscape is to me, why do I bother painting it. Knowing that, and feeling that pull is the ‘heart of a rainbow’.

In the radio podcast link up top, Astle talks about a UK study on the language of children. As examples he states that 30% of them could identify a magpie, and 90% could identify a Dalek. Okay, so I agree, that’s not a bad thing 😀 but because of ‘space’ in our modern life, the Junior Oxford Dictionary last year had to drop nectar, nettle and willow for words like meme, hashtag, chatroom and podcast. The dictionary just doesn’t have room for all the words and the squids need words added that are relevant to their life now.

Astle says that we are starting to lose words that connect with nature, and this sentence from him affected me greatly:

“The words that we shape in our mouths are the means of those notions affording purchase in our hearts, and if we stop using these words, or have less use for these words, then we start to drown in abstract space rather than natural space.”

Go, be in Kusamas abstract space, you can’t drown there, you can only be buoyed up.

 

When doves cry

RoyDove1-Bladerunner2-movie.com

“Where did that dove come from?”

That was one of my fellow thought-terrainer’s first questions as the lights came up in the Moncrieff cinema last night in Bundaberg, and the impacts of one of the final scenes in Bladerunner sat freshly planted in our non-replicant memory.

Not so much Purple Rain as acid rain washed over almost every scene of this cracker 1982 sci-fi classic, and as per WD’s blog today, yep, it was I who saw it in ’82—under the guise of study—in our Science Fiction in Literature and Film subject in first year at art college. Woot? I did not make that up! Who wouldn’t choose that subject? Quite honestly the best 6 months of the 3 years there.

Which is why I so keenly wanted to see this film last night, and 5 minutes in I was so, so thrilled to be sitting there. It was going to be a flashback, a trip down memory lane, a reliving of part of a misspent youth. Conceptually it was all of those things but in reality it’s like I’d been beamed up to one of the off-world colonies and had my memory completely erased, and I was almost seeing the film for the first time.

And hey, that still works, because every scene is so beautifully designed and shot in all it’s smoky, grey, rainy, grainy, strobe-lit darkness, that left WD and I so hilariously animated in the seats when the house lights shone bright, that a friend approaching us thought we were signing to each other!

And half way through it was so clear as to why it had blown me away as an 18 year old. (Irrelevant fact: Prince was 24). Then add to that some gorgeous operatic twists on the terrifying high fashion of that year that had us increasing our shoulder pad proportions with popcorn and cigarette butts before we’d even left the cinema. We were dagging around in torn and knotted op-shop clothes in a confused mash of Bowie’s Thin White Duke and Madonna the million dollar vagabond. But hey, we were still aspirational!

rachels shoulder pads
Rachel does shoulder pads, cue the replicant owl background, right.
darrel hannah
Daryl Hannah does dollies and dark eyes.
rachel in coat
Rachel does assymetrics

And like Wendy, I was so transfixed by the images and colours on screen, by the warm greys and blacks pushed up against beautiful blue backgrounds. Our largest screen at home is a 23″ monitor but mostly we watch on line on a 17″ laptop, and it had been tooooo long since I’d sat in the dark of the cinema with a big screen filling my vision.

Maybe it makes sense to keep watching at home on a small screen. It makes the wonder of the big screen so very fun!

I had to consult Wiki to confirm which version of the film I’d seen, as such the International Cut, as opposed to the Directors Cut (1992) we saw last night – which by all reports is substantially better and truer to Ridly Scott’s intentions.

Let’s just pretend I knew that, yar, yar, of course, but it makes me want to see that first released ’82 version again. To be honest, I’d watch any version again at this point.

One of two comic moments came via Harrison Ford’s shirt design which you never really saw well until he was back in his grim apartment disrobing to wash. Everything else had been grey, brown, black, dark, wet, and this Mondrian-meets-The Models shirt was way too jaunty to resist a chortle, and I heard WD chortle up the row too.

HF in shirt
HF as Deckard, 5 years after Star Wars. More olives and greys against blue, teamed with swarthy.

And the second comic moment was the terrifically cliched appearance of the dove of peace, and it’s corny, slow-mo, film-clip style exit shortly after. But it was outweighed by the scene design and delivery as we watched the final replicant die… or did we. Oh how I’d even forgotten the ‘Deckard is also replicant’ debate explained here for Bladerunner nerds.

Oooooh what will they tell us in Bladerunner 2049, coming to the Moncrieff, not soon enough!

No spoilers please 😀

And it has literally taken me 24 hours to remember the other movie we studied which cemented a love of classic sci-fi: Metropolis by Fritz Lang in 1927. Did I study the script? It seems a Giorgio Moroder restoration came out in 1984. Maybe I am a replicant, making up new memories, but it could be time to pester our local cinema for a Sci Fi classics series?

Epic fail. Wild success. And then this happened…

055 CH Whole Vault BRG DG LR

Meme-speak meets click-bait: cue picture of naked birds.

The Epic Fail: I failed at blogging this year. It’s been six months since I last blogged, and another 3 months to the previous. And I’ve quite missed doing it. The pause is a perfectly illustrated example of one of my blogging themes (oh do tell. snore). That is, talking about making art, and how to do that around the stuff of life. Stuff such as making a living (mostly separate to making art), keeping the tumbleweeds of dog hair from forming armies with the spider webs and completely consuming humans and house. Staying well. Keeping a sense of humour.

056 CH Klee quote Vault BRG DG LR

So nine months ago I went into the usual pre-exhibition hibernation cave. Friends and family a little neglected, spiders so very happy. But I turned up to ‘work work’ in a state mostly fit for the public, carried out duties, and turned down the dial on over-commitment. And I was so grateful for the ‘work work’ as this was the first exhibition I’d proposed where nothing was for sale. And it had been six exhibitions since I had simultaneously ‘work worked’ alongside preparing for a show.

So, yes, less important things lay broken, pushed to the side, occasional carrots limped their way around their own juices in the bottom of the fridge, and every single day for 9 months I was at least 3 weeks behind on my self-written, pretty generous, exhibition schedule. There was a tension around that, but I don’t think it was stressful. And every month I’d reassess, and change the exhibition content wish-list to suit the dwindling time. Let stuff go.

And I made it. To install. Without a meltdown and yelling at the studio walls. And it looks different to what I imagined, more realism crept in, but instead of yelling at that too, I just let it.

059 CH Megaherbs Vault BRAG DG LR

Now it’s time to ‘fess up – I did have a secret weapon. His name was Andy Wilson, an old friend, a musician, sound designer and composer.

I knew that the soundscape Andy was making was going to be superb. Heck, I possibly could have stuck an inkjet photo of a penguin on the wall and it would still be amazing. I visited him in Sydney months earlier, and we sat and talked about what it could be, what I had experienced on the beaches of Macquarie Island.

He played one long note on a keyboard in his studio, and it’s all I needed to hear. And it’s all I did hear, until close to installation. And I loved that process. He’s an artist, let him do his thang. And we’d never worked together before. But I just knew it would be superb and sublime.

057 Me and Andy at Install 2007

Andy flew up for installation—of player, amplifier, 6 speakers—and ‘boom’ I flew instantly back to those beaches in the middle of the Southern Ocean with his mix of penguin sounds and haunting tones, watery trickles and stormy surges. It IS a wild success when the only tears I leak on exhibition prep are when you’re overwhelmed with something so beautiful… made by someone else (though Nearest may well have been weeping each time he reached into the vegetable crisper across this year).

It is surround-sound in a tiny space, and without it the show is just drawings on a wall. With it, it is transporting. The kicker is, it’s not just me riding the teleporter. ‘Work work’ is also the gallery where the show hangs, and almost daily I get to see people hanging out in the space, laying on the bean bags with tail flippers, sitting on the gallery bench, spending time. It’s a really accessible show, it’s easy.

What I know now, that I didn’t now before, is that even small woodcuts take many hours to carve but it is one of the few things I can do at night under lights. I know that I can no longer get recycled bean bag fill, and that filling a bean bag on your own is a slapstick affair worthy of an animated feature film.

I know that working on the 2.7m long pieces of arches paper was the most art fun I’d had in a long time. I would dance around the big flat sheets for a few hours—tidying studio, sketching elsewhere—and then put down a double act of carefully placed water and wildly dropped ink. Then wait for it to dry – sometimes hours or overnight if there were large pools.

And I know that not being the solo act in an exhibition is a really valuable experience. You can be immeasurably raised up by the work of others.

I’m excited by it.

AW17_CH_BRG Megaherbalicious E

Megaherbalicious Woodblock print and ink wash on Arches paper book, 38cm x 110cm 

(All exhibition photos by David Graham. Thanks Dave 😀 )

Birdbrained

Time flies. It is a three full months since my last blog. And I have much to say about birds —in particular finches and penguins—so this could take a while. And I posit that you won’t really learn anything about either bird by the end.

In 1995, while living in Darwin with Nearest, I met the most wonderful young scientist. He was studying the decreasing population of the Gouldian Finch – one of the most colourful, teeny tiny squeezable (but not too hard because it’s a finch) birds in Australia. As a commercial illustrator I was not amazing, okay, no need to guild that lily – no counter comments of support required. I had friends in the business who were, and still are, amazing at it. So I don’t put this up as finery, but really as example of how past lives always inform the present in our work. And how surprising and fun it can be, to be asked to dip back into a past life, and the birds themselves made this illustration the sweetest of things.

049_Finches 1Let’s call him Peter, as that’s his name: Peter commissioned me to paint some Gouldian Finches for a poster asking the public to report sightings. This is pre-photoshop. (I know kids, what even is that?) And some of the finches had to be vanishing. Cue the hand made ‘opacity slider’.

So with poster produced, birds and scientist and illustrator continue doing what they do. Twenty years later the poster artwork boards a plane and wings its way to me for some alterations. Peter and Robin (that’s a human, not a bird) have had the work framed and on the wall. We’d always talked about a minor addition to the area that had been left vacant for the poster text. And it was time. As time had flown. *continues with tragic bird wirds*

050_Finches 2I quickly realised I was even less of an illustrator now, but it was lovely to ‘revisit’ the dry season grass plains of northern Australia. And, fortunately, I could add in some soft washy grass that wouldn’t compete with the little birds as I don’t think I’m actually capable of realism any more! Hah! Here’s a musical interlude: Elbow ‘Starlings’

A week later I stood in an installation at QAGOMA, shallow breathing while Gouldian Finches fluttered around my head and whizzed past en route to coat hanger perches and stuffed stocking hidey-holes.

052_Finches 04

I was initially conflicted by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s musical installation of live finches, From here to ear (v.13) 2010. These lovely alive little creatures flitting about inside a gallery space for 3 months? But I overheard a member of the Queensland Finch Society speaking so lovingly about the birds to a visitor that I ‘calmed the flock down’ (thanks Karen) and rested into the soundscape and the experience. And it was magical. AND the birds had begun breeding in the installation and laying eggs! GET OUT! (which is what the invigilator said nicely to me as it became obvious I was never going to leave that gallery)

Here Céleste Boursier-Mougenot talks about the sound. And just re-watching that video reminds me of why I love to write on a blog. The writing itself now feels part of the art making. And so today, when I didn’t really have time to write *so insanely slow at it* I realised it might be what I needed to shift me back to my own upcoming installation work and to be able to talk with the sound composer about what it is I’m doing.

Just as soon as I know what I’m doing.

When you’re not an installation artist, to say you’re working on an installation sounds preposterous. A celebration of drawing, and a sharing of an experience is my intention. The drawings will be installed along with a soundscape. QAGOMA printed material quotes Celeste that the piece was created ‘for listening and experiencing’ and that his aim is to ‘amplify our feeling of the present moment’.

54_me on MacQ 2013It’s really rare to see wildlife en masse in a wilderness environment. It’s rare for them to exist that way on our planet now, and subsequently rare to see it. It’s an absurd goal to attempt to convey this experience: 40,000 penguins on a beach, 20,000 in a rookery, hundreds coming in and out of the sea all day long. I sat on that Macquarie Island beach while one waddled up and sniffed my rain jacket. It. Was. Unforgettable.

So, colour is back in the cupboard for now, and I’m drawing. For me too, this is the resumption of blogging as it is plaited together with thinking about the working day now.  And I’ll record some penguin progress here as ‘Calling Home’ moves towards installation in late August in The Vault at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery.

053_Penguin charcoal

 

Withandwithoutspace

I had the opportunity to see my old studio after Christmas. When I say studio, I mean the partially open garage under our old house. I worked part time there for 9 years, winter and summer. I stumbled through 6 solo shows, made some gems, made some rubbish, hosted friends there with their easels, blasted the neighbours and their pets with everything from Bjork to the Bee Gees, and made some more rubbish.

I would trundle down the back stairs with car keys, reverse the bubble car out onto the street, and shazam I had a studio! Anyone who works in a tight space totally understands the need for room to move. Sure, sure, I would occasionally shuffle backwards into another car, or over a saw horse (who left that there?), and even the agitation of the washing machine did not (sigh) agitate me. I had space.

I had space. And concrete. And ventilation.

047_2016-paint-space-at-42
Version 2016
044_2007-reeds-painting-at-42
Version 2007

There are many things I’m laughing about in this Version 2007 photo. Let’s start with the choice of safety boots whilst using a compressor powered staple gun. In other photos in this collection Nearest is assisting – in steel caps and safety glasses!

045_2007-starting-comm-at-42And there’s my beautiful easel and the home made, heavy as all get out, stretcher frames: working any way we could to make things a little cheaper. Behind the stretched canvas is a little cupboard which actually held auto parts to accompany the line of oil and grease containers under the bench. For days I worked alongside a friends car as it lay disembowelled, engine suspended by block and tackle, awaiting closing surgery. It was a productive place.

So you’re currently on—hopefully still on—my little nostalgia trip. Places we live and work have such a huge impact on our happiness, our processing, our peace, our chaos. I left this studio in mourning. For my mother. I had spent the final 10 months hanging in there, committed to an exhibition, using an energy to paint that was flagged. And it bore some soggy fruit, that’s for sure. The 2009 GFC had just kicked in and nothing sold. I shipped the pieces out to friends walls, packed up and headed to the next life.

The next three years or so was spent working in a space half the size. It was pretty dysfunctional and unproductive. Or, rather, I was IN it. And the downsizing did seem to have a tightening effect on the work, and I often used the lack of space as a tired excuse to not work. When not castigating self on that period, I also reflect that the Spotted Gum series came from that tiny space and planted me firmly into my new surrounds.

046_reeds-study-for-frogs-25-x-30-x-2-2003
Study for Frogs, 2003, Oil on Canvas (diptych), 25cm x 30cm x 2

After visiting the old studio I stayed at a friends house the night to help break up the road trip home. And walked smack bang into a little study painting from 2003 on her wall from my first solo exhibition. With room to grow, this 60cm study led to a 2m wide piece. The opportunity to paint so large back then was an exciting experience.

In late 2012 we built a studio. It’s a rare thing to custom order your own space. I suspect it may only happen once in a lifetime.  If I got the chance to do it again, I really wouldn’t change anything about it. It has the 3 main ingredients: space, concrete and ventilation. And the luxury of a giant storage cupboard and painting racks and an extraordinary view.

This new studio totally transformed my life. I step into it and don’t want to step out – so much so I forgot to go sketching out bush for a couple of years! Now when I’m away from it I pine for it, and I thank it every single time I step into it. It’s solidified my art practice in terms of routine and process. And if I ever have to leave it there will be tears, but it’s just a big room in the end, and I would take with me some valuable experiences.

I learned a lot about myself in that garage in Brisbane. And I gave myself permission to let the studio space have priority over the living space (with gentle consideration to partner and his living space). I think we can box our practice into a make-do area when we should actually let it leak out into our life… because it is our life. The more room there is, the more you can do, the more you can make, the more people you can invite to share the space, and so your art life, thoughts and practice are more activated. And buzzing.
Buzzing is good.

Footnote: cool concrete is essential for your studio assistants.

048_concrete-and-puppy

 

Cloud 999

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.

042_us-iconAbout 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

43_theres-lichen-everywhere-today-2003

Cross Roads

by Jenny Gilbertson, our guest blogger.

It was dark. Not too late, but well into the night. Driving home along a country road, thoughts wandering, alert for kangaroos crossing, or lurking in the verges. It’s not uncommon to come across roadkill; far too common in fact. Stopping to remove a dead animal from the road is a regular occurrence if you live in the country, or at least, it is for me.

For as long as I can remember, well, ever since I first got my drivers licence, I’ve almost always stopped; even when that means turning around further along the road and going back. Especially for macropods.

Barn Owl profile
Barn Owl  |  Photograph used with permission, copyright Kim Wormald  |  lirralirra.com

First up, check if it is a female and check the pouch for surviving young. Same holds true for echidnas. Well, really, first up is to try to help the animal, if it is still alive. They rarely are. Most often just a partially mangled heap. And some hit with such force, smashed up so badly, their bodies, or parts of them, are spread right across the road. But I digress. Picking up the pieces of another death and gently placing them away from the road – out of the way of further destruction by oblivious drivers and enabling scavengers a safer meal – is, as I said, an all too regular occurrence.

For the past few years I have contributed to an international community arts project Not With Us Anymore, initiated by Monika Thomas and Tea Makipaa, documenting, ‘witnessing’ they would say, the devastating numbers of road deaths that go unrecorded. The literally millions of animals and birds who lose their lives on our roads each year. Perhaps each week. So, for a few years now, I have stopped to remove the animal, but also to photograph it. If there are no other vehicles and the road has good visibility, I take a shot exactly where it lies. If the spot is too dangerous, I take it off the road first and photograph it there. Sometimes while driving I ponder the roadside crosses, erected by family or friends for lost loved ones, and envisage a forest of crosses for all who lose their lives on the roads. Because it really would be a forest. So many deaths. Mammals, birds and reptiles, but mostly kangaroos. It’s always a sad job, but one I do regardless – surely someone has to do it?

Anyway, this night, last night, was much the same. But a little different. I spotted the small crumpled heap as I approached and slowed down, turning around a few hundred metres up the road. Pulling up with the headlights shining on the little body I muttered to myself, oh, it’s a bird. Yes, a bird. A beautiful speckled barn owl, still warm, but beyond help. I gently cradled it in my hands, unsure of what to do. I should photograph it. But I couldn’t. I just wandered back and forth in indecision, cradling this small bundle of oh-so-soft feathers.

Eventually I decided I would not take a photograph. It just felt too inappropriate. Enough trauma had already been suffered, with the shock of impact, a badly broken leg, my headlights shining into those (now dead) eyes, adapted for darkness … a ‘snapshot’ seemed like a final indignity. So there was no record of this death. Laid gently into a hollow beside the road.

But I wept. I wondered, for the umpteenth time, why people can’t even be bothered to stop and take these creatures off the road, let alone see if they can help the individual they have hit. They don’t of course. That job is left to others. So I continued my journey home, completed my evening and headed off to bed. With that owl firmly lodged in my thoughts. All night. No record. No photograph to bear witness to its’ passing. Nothing. Until now.

With thanks again to Kim Wormald from lirralirra.com for use of her beautiful image.
Guest blogging is new, and random, like our own blogs.