Painting and feelings – my journey with art

Art is in doing. Take the first step and be yourself. Brutally honest will do fine.

Luisa, one of our resident Friday morning Drawing and Painting students, has generously shared her reflection on her time at MAC, and how art has impacted her life.

I have been attending at Melbourne Art Class for a year. And in that year, I have not only discovered more about art, but also about myself. Art, and specifically painting, unlocks stuff. Opens doors you did not know existed. It can best be described by quoting Joan Mitchell, who in 1986 said:

Feeling, existing, living, I think it’s all the same except for quality. Existing is survival; it does not mean necessarily feeling. Feeling is something more: it’s feeling your existence. It’s not just survival. Painting is a means of feeling “living” … Painting is the only art form except still photography which is without time. Music takes time to listen to and ends; movies, ideas, and even sculpture take time. Painting does not. It never ends, it is the only thing that is both continuous and still.

Yves, 1991. Oil on canvas, 110 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches (280 x 200 cm). Private collection. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Mitchell was one of the few female abstract expressionist painters who gained critical and public acclaim in the 20th century. I read her quote often and only slightly disagree with her views on music. (Yes, music depends on time, but where does a note start and where does it end?) Abstraction in art, is by its very nature, abandons objectivity and moves into ethereal exploration.

One of the leading avant-garde jazz pianists, Craig Taborn, produced a recent album Daylight Ghosts. Taborn modified the sustain pedal of his piano in order to imagine a note when it is no longer audible. He then plays different notes and chords to talk to that note wherever it exists. He often visits art museums in New York to collect ideas for his music.

Once upon a time, I was a lawyer. And every day felt like groundhog day. Only voices, places and faces changed. The constant was a treadmill, self-doubt and a vulnerable ego. A mistake, a lost case and everything imploded. Happiness was as elusive as a good night’s sleep. The lawyer was moderately successful, but that only meant groundhog day was longer and more intense. People said the lawyer was eccentric, thought outside the square, had a creative streak. All I wanted was to feel the wind on my cheek and have the fragrances of plants and flowers linger forever. I wanted to step into every soft pastel orange sunset.

One day I did a Google search for art classes in Melbourne. The first one I stumbled upon was www.melbourneartclass.com. I enrolled in the only class available at the time, Portraiture with Marco Corsini. It was a fortuitous decision. In the beginning, I believed I was hopelessly out of my depth, wasting everybody’s time. At the time I did not realise the reach of Marco’s empathy and patience. Four weeks later I could produce a fairly accurate self-portrait and a week later I began painting with oils. It speaks volumes about the quality of the classes; the extent of their reach. I now paint things as I imagine and feel about them. I am no Joan Mitchell or Craig Taborn, but I think I know what they were aspiring to. There is more to life than survival or winning or being better; best; most.

I believe everybody is blessed with creativity. Granted some are more aware or talented than others. This “more talented” thing is an aberration, not an excuse. We meet more talented people every day in every aspect of life and we try to manage it without thinking or resentment. I also believe that we should not to confuse skill with creativity. Anybody who is reading this has a wealth of experience that feeds intuition which, in turn, is the basis of creativity. Do not compare or be judgemental. Artists, like Cezanne, Jackson Pollock and Rauschenberg were not great technical painters. They were magnificent artists and their influence will continue to resonate and open doors in our minds.

Art is in doing. Take the first step and be yourself. Brutally honest will do fine. Feel the wind on your cheek, smell the flowers and paint it. Integrity cannot be faked and it is often what makes art great. Everything else, like a prize or a sale, are simply bonuses. The reward is in expressing yourself on a canvas without rules, comparisons or judgement.

I am not a good technical painter. I am rather rough. Everything I do, is intuitive. Despite that, I have against all expectations, sold three paintings. It was not supposed to happen. The bigger reward is that I am content with my lot in life and happy that I no longer live groundhog day. The black shutter in my mind has lifted.

For me the key to painting is fluidity. The movement away from temporal to “a temporal”. Observing to feeling. For me it is spiritual; in a material world, everything has time limits. The idea I am exploring is to transcend this, to emphasise the nature of metaphysics as something that is forever. A place where time does not exist.

I recently looked at some eucalypt leaves in various states of decay that a friend of mine painted. I told her that she painted delicate evanescence and that it was beautiful. I could see a forever. Evanescence suggests the leaves will fade away. It does not mean they are gone. To make my point graphically, I enlarged her paintings with the edges of the leaves cropped off. Separated content from form or borders, her work entered a new dimension. Something that I saw and felt. It is beautiful and stirs curiosity.

Another way to phrase it is to “stop and smell the roses”. They linger in memory or on a canvas.

I love walking in the bush after the rain. Thousands of fragrances hanging in the air and my nose weaves through them. I pause when I enjoy something more.

‘Struggling artist’ sounds good. Should have tried it decades ago.

Written by Luisa Blignaut

 

Kate Kondakova – Winner of Black Swan Youth Portraiture Prize!

Kate Kondakova with her portrait (right) of Morris Gleitzman

We are extremely proud to announce that Kate has won the Black Swan Youth Portraiture Prize (Year 9 and 10), with her painting of her favourite author, Morris Gleitzman.

Kate has been a MAC student and now works as a teaching assistant for our children’s classes. Congratulations Kate on winning this esteemed portraiture prize!

Kate’s animation work is also being shown in an exhibition at ACMI.

Kate Kondakova, Portrait of Morris Gleitzman, oil on canvas, 2018

Banana Flower – Georgia O’Keefe

After visiting the MoMA exhibition recently, I was struck by the power and dynamism of the art movements from the 1880s onwards. What also left an impression on me was that I was in the company of incredible male artists and figureheads who drove the direction of modern art. Female artists were definitely in the minority.

Within the exhibition, to the left of Dali’s Persistence of Time (which was so shockingly smaller than anticipated) were two modest drawings, both charcoal on paper (though with their incredible execution, you could have mistaken them for ink or oils). They were drawn by Georgia O’Keefe, America’s “Mother of Modernism”. The drawing in particular that spoke to me was Banana Flowers, pictured below. It hung silently, yet confidently on the wall, and the masterful skill and the sensitivity of the drawing compelled me to examine it up close. It was unlike any other work in the exhibition.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Banana Flower, charcoal on paper, 1934

These drawings could have been easily missed amongst the intriguing worlds of Giorgio de Chirico and others in the same space. Hopefully this was not the case, however I wanted to highlight this one incredible drawing in this month’s newsletter.

Georgia O’Keefe (1887 – 1986) studied art formally, however she found that being taught how to draw and paint like other artists was not inspiring. After a hiatus, the work of artist/teacher Arthur Wesley Dow piqued her interest and she begun drawing and painting as she liked. She spent many months of the year in New Mexico, where she fell deeply in love with the landscape. She had an intense response to nature and a need to recreate the equivalent in art.

Her relationship with photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz proved challenging to O’Keefe when he applied Freudian interpretations to her abstract art, which, in turn, influenced art critics’ opinions. She had also posed nude for Stieglitz’ photography, and the link between exploring her sexuality through art was even stronger for it. However, this was not at all the case. She turned to creating works of recognisable objects, still lifes, and her famous close-up, large-scale flowers to try and dislodge this falsely created persona. Flowers, however, did not escape the same interpretation.

To this day there is still discussion around whether O’Keefe’s flower works depict female genitalia; in 2016, Tate Modern curated a Retrospective with 100 or her works offering alternative views on this theory. The exhibition aimed to dispel these myths by presenting works spanning six decades. The large-scale, cropped flowers for which most of the clichés about her work persist, were influenced by modern photography of the 1920s. A love for nature and landscape inarguable flows through her work and the exhibition portrayed this as her most persistent source of inspiration.

Written by Lauren Ottaway

Honouring Vale Pam Hallandal 1929 – 2018

Former Head of Drawing VCA

A brief perspective from a past student, colleague, and friend.

Pam Hallandal was committed to, and passionate about drawing. She regarded it as an important discipline that informed other mediums such as painting, printmaking, graphics, and sculpture. Pam was devoted to her own art practice which initially consisted of sculpture, then drawing and printmaking. Her teaching career spanned four decades, and her personal focus was always to elevate the status of drawing within the art world.

Portrait of the artist’s mother. Pam Hallandal. Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery collection

Pam was appointed Senior Lecturer of Drawing at Prahran College of Technology in the 1970s. Later named the Prahran College of Advanced Education, the institute eventually merged with the VCA in the early 1990s. Uniquely, this course enabled students to exclusively study the discipline of Drawing in a full-time capacity, achieving a Bachelor of Fine Art.

As a brief overview of the nature of the Drawing Department established by Pam, first-year students were required to participate in core subjects including weekly classes in Life Drawing, Structural Drawing and General Drawing. In essence, this meant drawing basically between the hours of 9am to 4pm, four days a week. On Wednesday, Art History, tutorials, and electives such as Painting, Sculpture, Photography or Print Making were taken.

During the second year, the course enabled participants to pursue more personal approaches to drawing and select relevant subject matter. In the third year, students were allocated individual studio spaces, but were still required to participate in weekly Life Drawing classes.

The structure of the course was clearly defined. Pam encouraged students to work from observation in the studio and develop the language of drawing primarily through the use of black and white mediums, such as charcoal, pastel, pencils and ink wash on paper. Alternatively, students would be encouraged to make small studies out on field locations in sketchbooks and in visual diaries. From these initial responses, more sustained drawings were developed back in the Drawing Department studios.

Pam was never interested in teaching set techniques, regimented rules, theories or formulas. She believed in allowing the drawing to develop intuitively in response to the subject matter, and in students developing a personal vision through a visual dialogue expressing one’s own intentions. She presented drawing as an exciting prospect requiring discipline, dedication, understanding, and practice. She intrigued the imagination of her students, encouraging, enlightening and provoking the curiosity of those who came into contact with her.

Periodically, Pam would arrange for visiting artists to teach a “block” of study in addition to the regular course. This provided further insight and stimulation to a specific topic in their area of expertise. For example, Rick Amor would take students for a workshop related to the urban environment, drawing buildings and the Chapel Street area. He would discuss the application of the Golden Mean and other compositional devices. Guy Stuart would accompany students on day trips to the Botanical Gardens, providing the opportunity to work from public statues and exotic plant forms. Other strategies included presenting a series of personal drawings to a prominent artist in a group critique situation. Guests included Brian Dunlop and Michael Shannon.

Regular lecturers within the Drawing Department would take groups out on day trips to draw at the Melbourne Zoo, St Kilda foreshore or perhaps to a local dancing studio. The focus was often on gaining an understanding of the importance of “gesture” within a drawing.

Students participated in annual Drawing camps and would head off to a beachside or river location, for example, to immerse themselves in a rugged and unruly natural environment. This provided a strong contrast to the College Studio located in the heart of busy Prahran, surrounded by people, trams, trains, cement buildings, power lines, and bitumen roads.

Pam orchestrated a rich and fertile learning environment for her students, personally monitoring their progress throughout the course, and afterwards as they forged their own identities, careers and status in the art world and workplace. She led by example – her own hands and fingers were usually embedded with and stained from constant use of black compressed charcoal.

Many have been fortunate to benefit from the rich experience of her teaching practice. Others have simply enjoyed viewing the quality of her drawings, prints and sculpture which now belong in national and state gallery collections, as well as in universities and libraries collections throughout Australia. Pam’s career highlights included winning the Australian Dobell Drawing Prize for excellence in drawing in 1996 and 2009 (the only female to do so). This prize has been held in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Pam has been included in “Backlash” at the NGV in 1986, in many major drawing related exhibitions at Heide, Mornington Peninsula, Gold Coast City Art Prize, The Centre Gallery, S.H. Erwin Gallery, Sydney, Kedumba Invitation Art Award, NSW, Australian Drawing Biennial, ANU and a recent major solo at Ballarat Art Gallery.

Past and current tutors employed at Melbourne Art Class have benefited directly from Pam Hallandal’s teaching, wisdom and expertise. These include Maree Woolley, Michelle Caithness and myself.

Written by Michelle Zuccolo

 

 

The artist as thief or as innovator? Damien Hirst’s Hymn

Guest blogger: Amy Davis

In 2000, Damien Hirst was ordered to pay an undisclosed settlement to the makers of a toy which he had copied, resulting in a massive sculpture with very little change from the original’s appearance. Hirst’s strategy is called appropriation, but what does this mean, and is it stealing or is it innovation?

Appropriation in art is the incorporation of pre-existing images, ideas, or artworks with minor transformations or little adjustments to create a new work. Although appropriation has been used in various ways throughout history, it has now become a common practice for artists to remix and resample images.

Damien Hirst’s Hymn (1999), is an exact replica of Humbrol Limited’s Young Scientist Anatomy Set. The toy sold for only £14.99 while Hirst’s sculpture sold for one million pounds. Hirst has magnified the scale of the toy to a sculpture of about six metres tall and changed the materials from plastic to bronze, gold and silver. Hirst has also altered the art piece’s context from a medical toy to its placement in the contemporary art gallery. His minimal change of the original toy design resulted in a court case accusing him of plagiarising. Hirst was found guilty and was ordered to pay a settlement for his appropriation.

Source: Damien Hirst, 1999-2005, Hymm, bronze, gold and silver sculpture
Source: ZapWow, 2015, Young Scientist Anatomy Set Bluebird Toys 1996 Hirst Sculpture

Whilst Hirst’s sculpture appears to merely be a copy, it also operates at a deeper level; referencing religion and art history. The title, Hymn, is a pun on the masculine pronoun and reflects a religious song or poem of praise to God or a god. This sculpture is obviously not a poem or a song, but perhaps could be identified as an image that reflects a representation of an object used in worship. The sculpture’s materials include bronze, silver and gold components just as in idol worship around the world, where it is common practice for statues to be made using the finest and most expensive materials, detail and precision.

Hymn also conveys a modern representation of ancient Greek sculptures. During the Classical Period, Greek sculptures rapidly changed from using various clays to metal elements in order to keep the shape of the figure, regardless of how intricate they were. Bronze became a popular medium to use as it could be steadied inside the hollow of the feet by using lead weights. Typically, Ancient Greek sculptures are nude, have their arms hanging close to the body, and were created in appreciation of the human anatomy, sometimes representing a god. Making the naked form the subject of many art forms showed the great skill and technique of the artist. Not only were these art pieces created using metal elements, but scientists have also discovered artists would sometimes also paint them, like Hymn’s bronze statue that has been painted.

Source: Unknown, 2018, Male Torso (Mercury?), Museum of Fine Arts Boston

From an aesthetic point of view, the experience of the now-massive toy design, significantly extends our understanding and perception of the original object. It does this by creating an entirely new context of size and location with which to appreciate the original design. The title of the work indicates that there is a conceptual consideration being encouraged in the viewer. Whilst Hirst’s Hymn looks like theft, and in some ways possibly is, it is also the innovative use of appropriation to create a new art piece that has its own scale, context and intelligently references religion and art history.

Guest blogger: Amy Davis

 

 

Identity and its refusal

Australian artist, Gordon Bennett (1955 – 2014), spent most of his life and career struggling against how he was perceived. This struggle went from being an experience of extremely low self-esteem to producing a powerful and highly articulate art practice. Several years after his untimely death, Bennett’s work illuminates our understanding of how identity operates in our society.

Bennett was raised in a cultural climate where, until he was twelve years old, his Aboriginal mother was not a legitimate Australian citizen. For, it was not until a 1967 referendum when ‘Aborigines’ where given the right to be counted in the census as Australian citizens. Until Bennett was in his early teens he believed his father’s Scottish and English origins was his only heritage. He then realised his mother was Aboriginal. This began Bennett’s struggle with his self-identity, for at this point, his identity shifted from identifying with being in the mainstream of Australian society, to being Aboriginal. Overnight, Bennett went from being the ‘cowboy’ to be the ‘indian’, from ‘light’ to being ‘dark’. Of course, the binaries of dark and light are not true or real identities, but their ingrained pervasiveness and how he was perceived by others, created turmoil for Bennett.


Gordon Bennett, Self portrait (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys), 1990, oil on canvas, 150.0 x 260.0 cm
Private collection, Brisbane © Courtesy of the artist Photography: Phillip Andrews https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/gordonbennett/education/02.html

Bennett’s 1990 painting, Self portrait (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys) describes this turmoil well. There he is, as a boy in a cowboy uniform, seemingly oblivious to the complexities of social identity operating upon him. But it is Bennett, the man who has chosen to paint this as his Self portrait. A Self portrait that is not attempting to describe his own physical appearance, rather it is describing how he has been represented by others. Bennett appears caught between the words, I AM LIGHT, I AM DARK. A colonial battle is placed in the background of the right panel. Bennett’s own identity has become a colonial war. The title (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys), suggests that this is an expression of desire to be perceived as being on the right side, the light side, the good guys. Bennett seems to be describing himself as torn away from the mainstream identity he thought he enjoyed and cast into the place of being ‘other’, the bad guy, the ‘indian’. But the painting is not a lament and Bennett never comes across as feeling sorry for himself; rather it is about the exposure of the structures of identity operating within Australian society. These structures are primarily based on a binary; if you are not part of the mainstream, you are something else, you are ‘other’.

When Bennett left school, he took on an apprenticeship with Telecom. During the years of working with Telecom, he witnessed considerable racism towards indigenous Australians until he quit to then go on to art school at the age of thirty. After later becoming well known as an artist with a powerful Post-colonial project, Bennett had to struggle against the politics of identity that continually labelled him as the ‘Aboriginal artist’ or ‘urban Aboriginal artist’. During considerable success through the 1990s, Bennett just wanted to be known as an artist, refusing to be labelled by race. It was not until he gained international recognition in the last years of his life, that Bennett began to be considered a ‘contemporary artist’.

Colin McCahon,Victory over death 2 1970, synthetic polymer paint on unstretched canvas, 207.5 x 597.7 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the New Zealand Government 1978
© Colin McCahon Research & Publication Trust

The large letters I AM, are appropriated from New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon’s (1919–1987) Victory over death 2, of 1970. McCahon uses ‘I AM’ to question his own Christian faith and subsequent identity. ‘I am that I am’, from Exodus 3:14, is God’s response to Moses who had asked after God’s name. God’s response is actually a refusal to a name, or to be named. With letters towering at over two meters tall, McCahon’s monumental I AM impressed me powerfully when I saw it as a teenager. It seems to embody the sense of God being origin and of being infinity, all without being named.

Bennett’s appropriation of the I AM works on several levels. Firstly, it references a Judeo Christian tradition of spiritual identity based in God as origin and seems to be referencing a similar quest for identity as McCahon has. Except Bennett appears to be locked out from I AM by the experience of being labelled the ‘other’ identity. On another level, Bennett is quoting the words of a God who refuses to be named. Bennett’s painting is all about names and Bennett seems to be indicating that he, as a person, cannot be defined by the names being applied to him. So it seems that, if as in the Judeo Christian tradition, men and woman are made in the image of God, a God who refuses to be named, then Bennett exists beyond the names being placed upon him. With two powerful words Bennett seems to indicate his true identity as existing beyond all that has been placed upon him. Bennett refuses to be named.

Colonisation has been effective in taking hold of land, peoples, and resources by stripping away a true, complex and self-articulated identity expressed through culture, ritual and language. It replaced these identities with an imposed name, which, in many different ways, disempowered the bearer by denying their true nature. Bennett’s work often articulates the oppressive mechanics of identity in Australian society which have their origins in a colonial society. Self portrait (But I always wanted to be one of the good guys) gives us a clearer understanding of how these imposed identities operate, but it also goes deeper by indicating the nature of the human person as being an un-namable I AM.

Written by Marco Corsini

Guest blog – What is Art?

We are fortunate to have Luisa Blignaut, one of our dedicated and talented students, guest blog for us this month.

Luisa Blignaut, Jaime, acrylic on canvas, 2018

What constitutes art? It is a question that I have been asking for most of my life. It defies simple metaphors or descriptions. It is utterly subjective.

In the beginning, it was simple. I grew up in country South Africa. School and church said apartheid had God’s blessing. Everything was divided into boxes. Black or white. Christian or communist. English or Afrikaans. By the age of six I could milk a cow and draw a picture. The pictures I drew told stories. I believed all art was visual. After all, at school we had an hour a day to draw or to colour in books with crayons. It was art class. Crayons became coloured pencils. We learnt about tracing paper. The teacher decided what was art. Art had to be realistic.

At home my father collected paintings. Landscapes mostly. Ornate and ostentatious frames dominated the paintings. My father said the paintings were decorative investments. During my second year at school I developed rheumatic fever. In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise. I missed seven months of school. In turn, my mother, who was English speaking, subscribed to a weekly educational magazine for me called Look and Learn. The first issue that I saw had an article about Vincent van Gogh. My understanding of art burst the dam walls built by Afrikaner Christian Nationalism and its concomitant school curricula and censorship. I remember returning to school and talking about Van Gogh who painted the night as blue waves on which a yellow moon and stars floated. The teacher deflated my enthusiasm by saying he was a mad man who cut off his ear for a woman. I became the laughing stock of the class and the teacher proclaimed that Rembrandt was the greatest artist ever. Afrikaans as a language was a derivative of Dutch. She did not mention Rembrandt’s shadows where wonder resides. The next day she showed a picture of Rembrandt’s Night Watch to the class. White men stepping into the light. She compared it to white people bringing light to darkest Africa. Art was political.

I continued to draw andpaintwater colours. My family had a cottage in the Drakensberg Mountains, splendid in its isolation. It had secrets in its many gullies, densely wooded by indigenous flora including huge yellowwood trees and large ferns. A vagabond called Willy Chalmers, who used to live in the cottage, was a sculptor. In the rocks next to singing streams, he created rock carvings of women and faces. Hid them. Not too far away, were San rock paintings; the reason why Chalmers found his way to the Drakensberg Mountains.

My understanding of art was evolving. The San people or Bushmen,hunter gatherers, were South Africa’s original inhabitants that were squeezed out by negroid people from the north and whites from the south. Bushmen lived in rhythm with nature. They did not recognise “property”. Cattle, like wild animals, were gifts from the spirits. Cattle owners did not take kindly to people who killed their property and ate it. Bushmen became thieves, pests that were hunted. They moved to the deserts of Southern Africa but left their rock art behind. Drawings, paintings of people, animals and hybrid animals and people, in rock shelters and caves. I could look at these paintings all day and marvel at people who acknowledged all life; drew people with hooves running with antelope. I realised that art was cultural, a spiritual chronicle, a history book. Art transcended politics and racism.

I recall a day that I went with my mother to the English Anglican church in town. I had an argument with my father about religion and questioned why black people were not welcome in the white Afrikaner Church. The Anglican church was a small building with stained glass windows. Black and white people worshipped together. This was a new experience for me. During the service sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, accentuating andblurringcolour, touching my face, my mind. It was a magical, fleeting moment. I returned the next few Sundays, but the light was gone. Art is ephemeral.

The next huge step in understanding art was at university. I lived in a residence hall at Stellenbosch University. The residence was built around a quad where residents gathered for tea and coffee. I thinkIlearnt more from debates around the coffee and tea cans than what I learnt in classes. I discovered that Monet and Manet were not spelling mistakes but two different artists. I fell in love with Seurat, Cezanne, Kandinsky and Georgia O’ Keefe. I Also learnt a new word. Kitsch.

I started work in Cape Town in the same year that Hundertwasser had an exhibition in the city. Glorious shapesandcolours, political and environmental themes all over the place. I attended the exhibition four times and purchased at least twenty postcard-reproductions of his work. I pasted them on a plywood board that I hung from the wall. Rows of colour. Hundertwasser lead to Klimt. I returned to Stellenbosch to do a post graduate law degree. To finance my studies, I free lanced for a leading Cape Town daily newspaper. I called in stories from a public pay telephone and dictated them to a man called Abe. Every Friday afternoon I returned to Cape Town to meet up with friends, discussions with the News editor and coffee with Abe. Next to the Cape Times was an old neglected building that housed an art gallery. I visited every Friday. The paintings were stacked against the wall and I leafed through them as if I was paging a book. The proprietor became familiar with what I liked and one day told me to take a painting home. I told her I was a student and could not afford it. “Nonsense” she said, “How about $10 a month” That was 1979 and I continued to buy art from her until I left South Africa in 1999.

In 1991 I visited New York. I went to the Museum of Modern Art and turned a corner. Rothko literally arrested me. A huge canvass that jailed me. I became lost in variationsofcolour that left the huge canvas and continued all the way past Samuel Beckett.

So, what is art? I have no idea. It depends on what you see and feel.

It is everywhere.

Written by Luisa Blignaut – artist and MAC student

Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice

Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice, oil on canvas, 1823-24

Last Tuesday, Melbourne was recorded as being the most freezing city on earth at 6am, which is one reason why I thought it would be poignant to look at Friedrich’s work, The Sea of Ice.

German-born Caspar David Friedrich was a nineteenth-century Romantic landscape painter, and alongside other Romantic painters, he helped position landscape painting as a major genre within Western art. In his generation, he was a significant painter, and like so many artists, his work gained recognition after his death in 1840.

Landscapes have a magical quality of being able to convey the artists’ feelings of pain, love and suffering just as powerfully as figurative work, or prose. Looking past the connection we can make with the temperature of this work and wintery Melbourne mornings, Friedrich believed that the harshness of nature could console the sorrow of the human condition. When contemplating the violent collision of the ice sheets in his work, it takes us out of ourselves and moves us beyond our own problems in life, reducing our sense of personal persecution, rendering us insignificant in the natural world, much like the tiny toppled ship in the mass of broken ice. Many of Friedrich’s stark, beautiful landscapes give us access to a state of mind where we are acutely aware of the largeness of space and helps us reframe our sadness.

Art collector Johann Gottlob von Quandt commissioned The Sea of Ice, however, its composition was deemed too radical and the painting was sold after Friedrich’s death.

Written by Lauren Ottaway

The clown in the ruins

The clown in the painting was like those I saw at the circus when I was a boy. Except I was standing close to this clown, close enough to see that the seated man dressed as a clown pensive and vulnerable. Behind the clown lay the ruins of Rotterdam; the title told me enough to for me to know that this was Rotterdam in 1940, shortly after the Luftwaffe demolished the historic city centre so as to force the Dutch to capitulate.

Charley Toorop, Clown in the Ruins of Rotterdam, 1940-41, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterloo

The painting seemed to lack time. As I looked, I struggled to reconcile my knowledge of the bombing of Rotterdam, my historical distance from the event, with an immediacy of human emotion conveyed and the character of the man ‘as a clown’ before me. The painting itself, its handling and the brush marks, seemed to be telling me this was painted a few days ago. It looked fresh; I could have easily believed that this was a recent event and that somewhere in Rotterdam I would find this man, wandering, questioning, somewhere in the ruins. When viewing this painting more than sixty years after the actual event, I had an experience of being for a moment in the midst of a broken man who had witnessed the consequences of shameful crime.

In art, we find traces of others that have been left behind, little messages in bottles that for some reason resonate on the shores of our consciousness at the right time for us. In our studio, often, someone who has been working will have left their most recent work which others later notice and comment favourably on. I’ve watched people walk in and upon seeing the new artwork, seem to connect with it momentarily. Having myself been in the studio most of the time between the making and seeing of the artwork, it seems like the artwork has the capacity to hurdle between the time which the work was put down and the time when the viewer sees it.

Despite the appearance of new works, we come back to a studio because it is one of those key places in our lives we keep as a constant. We set the studio up to remain unchanged. Perhaps, in reality, while we are away the dust settles, the paintings dry and the fridge compressor hums in rhythm with a slow dripping of a tap.  When we are not there, the morning light stream in through the window and then shifts shadows across the floor until the light ultimately subsides. The world around the studio moves to a rhythm, but what we ask of the studio is that it remain as it is until we return.

Cyclical movements of growth then decline. The waves of the sea rise, surge forward, swell and then recede, again and again. Tides rise and fall, drawn by the moon, which itself has phases in our sky. Seasons pass, the seasons of the year, the seasons of our lives. At first I was unaware of this passing, but, I have memory of standing at the back of my family home when I was three years old and looking up the sun and realising that I was no longer what I was, I was becoming something different; I was growing. Somewhere, perhaps, reverberates the vibration of our laughter as that three-year-old child, a parent drawing us near and holding us tightly. Somewhere, is our first spouting of intelligent five-year-old rhetoric, a newfound intellectual fluency speaking back into the adult world of logic, reasoning and values.

Our seasons pass. Our seasons such as Spring, when we walked out the school gate for the last time embracing hope and possibility; our bountiful Summer; our Autumn as the time of loss, of being stripped bare; and then our Winter, the time of working and persisting, believing but with no evidence for our faith.

In the midst of our seasons, the studio remains the same, like the womb we can return to so that we can make contact with our craft, with our language, with our selves. So that we can cleave off a material expression which conveys the season we are in. And that expression is timeless and goes out, after being nurtured and raised by us, to inform the consciousness of others. The clown I met, may no longer be sitting in the ruins of Rotterdam, but I am aware that he, or perhaps she, is now sitting in the ruins of another devastated city.

Written  by Marco Corsini

Learning to Fly – Marco Corsini’s upcoming exhibition

Exhibition dates: 4 – 17 April

Opening: 6 April 6pm – 9pm

Location: Brunswick Street Gallery

I began to reflect on the King River as a source. Its river stone beds and shallow streams, sometimes bubbling around arrangements of boulders, sometimes disappearing into deep, dark, still waters, which had never been beautiful to me when growing up and I had never thought of its significance in our lives beyond its supply of water. The river as a source which had branded a primordial sense of dependency and intimacy within me over my half lifetime. The river that constantly flowed, had always flowed, will always flow. The river that bound us around itself and preserved us. I slowly connected to the idea of source and slowly felt that my own dependency on this source was being revealed. That I had felt a need for years now, to constantly return to this source. I began to connect with the notion of origin and that just as I sat on the banks of this river or swam or drank from it, all I could ever do was draw close to it, to be within in, return to it. I had to return to this river. I have always returned to the King River.

From, Returning to the river, Marco Corsini, 2016

Marco Corsini’s paintings feature the landscape and his immediate environment. Using shifts in viewpoint and perspective and often painted over extended periods of time, the works explore perception and the nature of painting as a recorder of experience rather than as a representative tool. Alongside a phenomenological interest in consciousness and experience, Corsini’s work also incorporates personal motifs such as the horse, indicating the artist’s own presence. The paintings explore perception and subjectivity, asking us to go beyond everyday discourse into deeper engagement with the nature of our existence.

Originally published on Thursday, 29 March, 2018 by Marco Corsini