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

 

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Belated reflection on writing

I spent the weekend doing the thing that all educators should do on a regular basis.

I became a student.

I don’t do it often enough. I don’t think teachers do it often enough. There’s a difference between sitting through some professional development session with a group of colleagues to actually putting yourself out on a limb and participating in a workshop as a student with other people (who may or may not be teachers).

What’s the difference? I’ll give you a hint. One scenario often involves a degree of cynicism and frustration at being “made” to participate in some kind of training that someone else has decided is essential for you. The other scenario means you have chosen to learn something new for your own enlightenment. So you have to leave your  ego at the door and give yourself over to the learning experience.

That means answering questions when you’re not sure if you’re right or wrong. It means trying when you think you are wrong or hopeless. It means sharing your work with the class and teachers even if you don’t want to, and your heart is pounding in your chest, your mouth is dry and you just want to hide under a conveniently located table.

I wrote more about it here:

 

All the books I have not read

I seem to have lost the ability to read.

Don’t freak out. I mean I can read words just like normal.

The problem arises when they are placed sequentially in a fancy, literary-type book.

I’ve noticed this little issue for a while and it’s been growing and growing. I can’t be bothered reading award winning literary fiction any more. It does my head in. I have no patience for it. It’s slow. It ponderous. It makes me fall asleep. Is the problem with me or the books?

Most recently I’ve failed to get past the opening pages of The Poisonwood Bible even though I’ve had it on loan from a patient friend for over a year. Meanwhile I’ve re-read all of LM Montgomery (Anne, Emily and the like), every autobiography or memoir of a writer, comedian or actor that’s been release in the last couple of years (Tina Fey, Rob Lowe (x2), Amy Poehler, all of Caitlin Moran’s books, Graham Norton, basically any British comedy with a half-arsed idea for a book – Rob Brydon, David Mitchell, Russell Brand and the like). In the past year or so, I’ve also read all of Freya North’s chick-lit, and everything by Alexander McCall Smith set in Edinburgh. I’ve managed the latest Ian Rankin’s bar two.

So I guess it’s not that I can’t read. I just can’t get my brain to focus on certain kinds of reading. Why?

Well I’ve done a lot of staring into space over the last few days and I’ve come up with the following reasons.

My attention span is short. I do blame social media even though I like it and think it serves a useful purpose most of the time. (a topic for another post)
My attention span for anything more complicated than Frankie magazine or the latest Buzzfeed listicle is also kaput. I blame completing a PhD. My brain had to work very hard for a long time. It got tired.
Some books are really thick and big and look boring. I would rather watch the film/TV series/read the Wikipedia summary. It’s quicker.
Books that win prizes (Booker, Pulitzer, Miles Franklin etc etc) are often more about writing than reading. Just a rash, unsupported statement there. Do with it what you will. See points 1 and 2 for why I’m not expanding on it here.
So this non-reading thing has been coming on for a while. And it’s concerning me because now that I’m bona-fide librarian surely I should be reading “worthy, proper books”. Well we all realise that is a snobby sentence of the highest order and that the high-low culture dichotomy collapsed some decades ago (see cultural studies 101 for further details). But still, surely some of these books I don’t seem to be able to read are lovely?

So with that in mind I’ve set myself a reading challenge. It’s called All the Light We Cannot See. I’ve got the rest of the holidays to read it. I’ve deleted FB from my phone to avoid the endless, mindless scrolling and liking. Twitter will be next. At the moment I’m allowed to keep Instagram.

I’ve read the first few pages. I’d tell you what they were about but I can’t remember so I’m going to have to read them over. To succeed I am going to have to read in the morning, sitting up in a chair with a cup of tea. I may have to take notes.

Wish me luck.

14.04.17 Update

I did it. I finished the book. I read the whole thing. It was great. Sometimes I fell asleep, but not immediately. I read it in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. I even got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get home so I could keep reading! Success. Achievement unlocked. Hurrah for me. etc.

FB is still absent from my phone. Not that I haven’t replaced that mindless scrolling with mindless scrolling through twitter and instagram but I guess it’s one less app to mindlessly scroll through which has to be something right? My current rule is that I can use FB when I am sitting at my computer which is less than 6000 times a day so I think I’m cracking the FB habit.

I”m also on the lookout for my next book that isn’t on my Kindle.

Reading.

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

 

How do you “cope”?

Firstly, congratulations to me for waiting 24 hours to write this post instead of ripping it yesterday when I had my Ranty McRantface happening.

Breathe.

In through the nose.

Out through the mouth.

Repeat for 24 hours.

But, I hear you ask in great wonderment, what had you so riled Wendy that you were ready to claw someone’s face off just like in the movie Face Off (note: haven’t seen Face Off so I’m not sure if that is the plot but let’s say it is for the purposes of this post)?

Excellent question lovely readers. You’re very lovely. Well done.

Let me eventually get to the point by restating to you a question that was asked of moi twice in a 72 hour period by intelligent, bright people who I really like and have lots of time for.

Q: Say Wendy, how do you cope, you know, intellectually, living in Bundaberg?

WTF. Had they turned into snobs while I wasn’t looking? Or were they really curious? Either way Houston we have a problem. Before we get down to business, I’ll just point out a couple of things.

  1. This is not the first time in my life I have been asked this question
  2. One of the questioners actually lived here for 20 years, raising a family, working, doing stuff, you know, the whole box and dice.

(Two things. I pointed out two things)

So I guess the thing about this question is it immediately implies that Bundaberg is an intellectual wasteland located in a cultural desert devoid of anyone of any smarts, interestingness, capacity to hold a conversation in words of more than one syllable, ability to form opinions about the world and our place in it and other such qualities which are clearly available only to those who are blessed and clever enough to be living in our capital cities and their immediate surrounds.

I may exaggerate here given that part of my reaction to the question was to feel tremendously insulted and patronised. As a result, in both instances, I stumbled out a response that probably appeared to apologise for my life and did nothing to further either questioner’s impression of the aforementioned intellectual wasteland that, in their minds, is regional Australia.

I tweeted out a little of my rage yesterday afternoon and as usual Twitter came back with the commonsense and support I have come to expect from my little corner of this life-saving social media platform. Thanks twitter sphere. Ace.

So in no particular order here are some of the things I shoulda/coulda responded with:

  1. I don’t understand. I’ve spent so long repressing any semblance of my intellectual capabilities and dumbing myself down so I can fit in with the locals that I don’t reflect on my life or my circle of like-minded people. I just play the pokies from 11am onwards using my Newstart allowance while I leave the kids in the car with the family pet during the long hot days of summer.
  2. Mmmm, cope intellectually you say. Well, I’ve just this minute arrived from a string quartet rehearsal where we worked on the first movement of Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major under the guidance of a retired professional musician who (among other things in a long and successful career) was a close personal friend of Sir Neville Marriner from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? No? Heavens to Betsy and you call yourself chockas with culture living down there in the big city.
  3. Cope? Intellectually? Well I’ve never had to worry about those two words in the same sentence or question before. I’ve been too busy chatting with my awesome friends and family about things like music, art, education, politics, and other such topics on a daily basis. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. They’re quite popular as conversational issues.
  4. Intellectual coping skills? Oh no. I don’t have any. I just wake every morning weeping at my own idiocy for living here where it only takes 5 mins to get to the grocery shop, beach, doctors, movies, cafes. Did I mention there are no toll roads or confusing tunnels and we have real chai available? Oh we’re also able to listen to exactly the same radio programs on RN AS YOU CAN IN THE CITY and we do also have the same TV stations. Have you heard of Netflix, Stan, ITunes? NO – of well we have access to them too so we keep up pretty well.
  5. Social media? Oh, sorry, you refuse to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Social Media platform of your choice. How do you manage to read the New York Times, The Guardian, Slate, The Atlantic, The Saturday Paper, read First Dog on the Moon cartoons, read Longreads, and the zillion other great intellectually stimulating and interesting stuff that comes into my phone everyday? What’s that? You subscribe to The Australian? In hard copy? Oh….I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.

Okay, so maybe Ranty McRantface hasn’t disappeared completely (and perhaps has been joined by Sarcastic McCynicalFace) but I’m tired of this garbage. Let me state in no uncertain terms just so we’re all clear.

There are smart and stupid people everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. Even in the city.

There are good and bad people everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. Even in the city.

There are boring people everywhere. Yes. Everywhere. Even in the city.

There are kindred spirits for each and everyone of us. Sometimes they’re in the city and sometimes they’re in the regions. Sometimes they’re online and you’ve never met them IRL. That doesn’t even matter. I “cope” by seeking them out. By stumbling across them and being delighted. I do just what you do living in the big smoke. We’re all the same.

So check your metropolitan-intellectual privilege at the door please if you’re coming to visit me. I ain’t got time for that shit.

Shout out to my tribe of kindred spirits. You’re all totes amazing.

Farewell 2016

Hello 2017. I’m taking a leaf out of the amazing Pip Lincolne’s blog and taking stock, looking back at 2016 just a little bit and thinking about what is happening in my life right now.

 

Making : some new tops and skirts for work which starts on 16 January. Best get cracking.
Cooking : Nigella’s chocolate festive biscuits (turned out great) and rocky road for Christmas. The kitchen was as surprised as I was at this sudden culinary turn.
Drinking : Sparkling mineral water. So cool. So fizzy. So good for summer. Plus a little bit of the old Bundy Ginger Beer. Pinot Grigio if wine is called for.
Reading: Tom Cox’s books about his cats. Just discovered. Loving them.
Trawling: the internet for clothes bargains. May be slightly addicted to this now.
Wanting: To be less obsessed with my phone

Looking: at the computer screen.
Deciding: How to balance work, life, exercise, social life and music activities in 2017

Wishing: Donald Trump was not going to be the President of the USA

Enjoying: the week between Christmas and New Year. Cocooning, recharging time for this introvert.
Waiting: for autumn. I know. It’s a while off yet.

Liking: this song by Justin Timberlake which is surprising because I’m not a JT fan at all.

Wondering: why the cat always chooses to sit in the hottest room in the house in summer

Loving: going to the gym which is completely surprising to me and everyone person who knows me.

Pondering: what 2017 holds

Listening: to lots of Stevie Wonder. Legend. And podcasts….always podcasts.
Considering: what to do first today.

Buying: fabric, clothes, shoes, music – all those great things

Watching: Seinfeld on Stan from start to finish, Flesh and Bone on Stan (even though it’s totes too much for me – one episode a day), lots of old movies on Netflix and iTunes
Hoping: that the new Sherlock is good tomorrow.

Marvelling: at extroverts. How do they do it day after day?
Cringing: daily at President elect Trump
Needing: to tidy up my music room and music cupboard

Questioning: our obsession with fireworks on NYE.
Smelling: a beautiful jasmine and green tea candle

Wearing: my jim jams as I write this. My new gold saltwater sandals whenever I go out. GOLD. (as well as other clothes)

Noticing: People who talk with you compared to People who talk at you.
Knowing: I need to go to the grocery shop.
Thinking: I don’t want to go to the grocery shop
Admiring: All my amazingly talented and kind friends
Getting: a headache I think.
Bookmarking: lots of articles to do with teacher librarianship.

Disliking: photos of sunrises. Yes I know you’re up at the crack of dawn. Stop showing off. (Inner Grinch: released momentarily)

Opening: a new year full of possibilities
Closing: the door on 2016
Feeling: contented most of the time. that’s got to be good right?
Hearing: cicadas
Celebrating: becoming an aunty in 2017
Pretending: that I’ll tidy the house today. Unlikely.
Embracing: music-making

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

Playing the piano in pigtails aka the Christmas epiphany

This blog post is about two things

  1. Playing the piano
  2. Pigtails

Here we go then.

I had a little epiphany about me and the piano recently. This is it:

I’ve become a very lazy pianist.

Simple. Perhaps I might have realised this earlier but I was too busy being lazy, never practising, never playing for fun or for myself or even really enjoying the piano. Never mind the fact that I’ve stuck a whopping great grand piano in half my lounge room. It has been gathering dust, unopened for at least a year.

Sure I can still sight read my way through accompaniments. But I had stopped actually “thinking” about the music while I was playing. Autopilot was most definitely on. Something was askew. I’ll come back to this and hopefully make a point shortly.

The pigtails.

I’ve been wrestling with my hair recently. Not literally I’m sure you’ll understand because you’re very clever and obviously realise that “wrestling with hair” is not a thing. (Unless you google it and find that it is some weird niche thing that happens out in the world. I don’t need to know). It’s just at that “difficult” length (lots of scare quotes today….). Too long to leave down for summer coolness, not quite long enough to pull back into a tidy ponytail without all the sides falling out.

I needed a solution and I needed one fast. Pigtails. When did they stop being part of my hairstyling repertoire? Was it grade 4 perhaps? Well I’m bringing pigtails back. As of yesterday. I announced it on Instagram and everything. Took a selfie. So you know that’s for reals. Pigtails allow all hair to be off my neck. They are also the most practical for lying down and napping as well as lying on my back at the gym and doing the crunchy exercises because there is NO PONYTAIL DIGGING IN THE BACK OF YOUR SKULL.

So where are we then? We have a lazy pianist wearing pigtails who needs to get her act together. And we are at the time of the year….what I like to think of the “cocoon, hide away from the world and just recharge awesome time between Christmas and New Year”. So this afternoon I set myself a little challenge. I will play the piano everyday and post a little video of me doing that to the Facebook. I will do it wearing my hair pigtails because I can and I want to.

So that’s actually two epiphanies. I’ve become a lazy pianist and pigtails are the best way to wear my hair in summer.

Merry Christmas.

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.

 

Nature vs inertia

I’m at an art hideaway – housesitting, pet minding, chicken whispering, plant watering, painting and refuelling.

I’ve brought some pieces to finish for delivery to the gallery in Brisbane late next week and naturally, because there’s a sense of ‘deadline’, I’m goofing off! I’m spending the days moving between the pillowed chairs on the spectacular verandah, the pool lounges, the meandering mown tracks in the paddocks, and the glass palette and paints on the table out back.

041_chicken-on-drop-sheet
Eggsistential angst: local critic passes between me and the easel.

Yesterday I spent 6 hours at the easel, today 4. A decline towards the weekend? Definitely.

Some of what I’m painting right now is a bit of a mystery. It is challenging, and rewarding: using some elements/marks/motifs that have been developing throughout this year and using them in ways that I’m not sure are working. And trying to make them work, when they’re not working. And then going and sitting in a comfy chair when they stop working, and wondering ‘WTF’?

Author of beautiful fiction and National Treasure, Tim Winton, has just released a new book—a memoir called ‘The Boy Behind the Curtain‘—which I’m yet to read. As always, there are some stated gems in this nearly hour-long interview on ABC radio. Australian friends, have a listen.

He refers to his first childhood trip to a major art gallery with his family, barefoot, as “an introduction to what people were capable of, beyond the world that I lived in“. What a beautiful way to describe something new and mysterious.

He weaves a link between his beloved surfing and being a writer – long hours of contemplation, waiting for that wave to come over the horizon and carry you in. In commenting that the point of surfing is that “well, there is no point” he also says:
“Art doesn’t need a point. It is. There’s something liberating in it’s lack of utility. It doesn’t have to do a job, and even if it’s there to celebrate beauty and to provoke and promote contemplation and introspection – that’s use enough in my view.”

And while I’m hearing what I want to hear in this interview, and grappling with abstracted elements alongside representation, I’m listening harder to his comments about writing non-fiction and fiction:
(With non-fiction) I feel like I have to get it right. In short story and novel writing I only have to get it right in itself, i have to get it organically right and i have to make it true to itself and coherent. It doesn’t have any other responsibility.”
Surely this is similar when a visual artist steps away from realism?
So, yes the artwork needs to be true to itself, to have reached some point of resolution.  But it probably only needs to be coherent to me – to be coherent to others is a bonus.
Mystery. It is.