Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lightning strike

Guess what I was doing on Tuesday evening? That's right: I was out on the veranda at about 9:00pm, fiddling with my (old) little digital camera, taking photos of the lightning storm out to sea. I don't have anything flashy, certainly nothing which will take consecutive shots in the dark. This photo was a fluke: I had the camera balanced on the edge of our outdoor table and the exposure time was 2 seconds. Luckily the lightning flashed right at the end of the two seconds.

I forgot to tell you that I spent a very nice day with our friend Elsbeth last week, sneaking off to Grafton while dearest husband and darling daughter were away together on the class camp.

There are two routes up to Grafton (pronounced "Gra-a-a-fton", apparently, not "Graff - ton" as I usually say it): one up the Pacific Highway - yuk - and one up the back roads through Coramba, Nana Glen and Glenreagh. This route is MUCH nicer: leafy greeness and straight roads through the hills, so off we toddled after a quick trip into town for money and petrol.

Every year Grafton hosts the Jacaranda festival, a couple of weeks in October when the many Jacaranda trees are in bloom and the town is a sea of mauve petals. It's a bit like the Japanese Cherry Blossom festivals but purple. We were slightly in advance of that but managed a visit to the second hand bookstore and the art shop in South Grafton before arriving at the Regional Gallery for lunch and a look around. Lunch at Grafton Regional Gallery is usually a good bet: Georgie's Cafe Restaurant is in the courtyard and although a shower of rain forced us under the veranda we had half an hour at a central table smelling the jasmine and admiring the gardens as we ordered.

There were various exhibitions to see but we focused on two: "Prints from Jilamara" and "Form, Fire and Fruition", an exhibition of ceramics by Geoff Crispin. I'd never heard of Jilamara but apparently it is an arts and crafts association of Tiwi artists on Melville Island, north of Darwin. Being a printmaker I was rather fascinated and spent a good hour walking round and dissecting the prints! There were various techniques in evidence but the ones I loved were geometric images using two colour plates and chine colle. The resulting pictures were quite subtle and deceptively simple - like and yet unlike mainland Aboriginal art. Yes, some of the pictures used dots and the colours were sometimes redolent of the ochres and earth tones I'm familiar with, but there was a quite different feel. The printmaking was confident and sophisticated with a rhythmic, fluid energy moving within the constraints of the lines... I don't know that I'm making much sense of the imagery when I can't show you any pictures to help you interpret my words but it was a deeply satisfying show. I always wander around with a small moleskine notebook and a black ink pen, scribbling and drawing away, and I had a lot to look at in a short space of time. The ceramics were also interesting but I think I was more intrigued by the photos of Geoff Crispin building his own kilns than the work, which was great, but I was just fascinated by the DIY approach to it all.

The other thing we was was a small room filled with prints for sale as a fundraiser for the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, which is an annual event. If you click on the link it takes you to the 2010 entries and you can fossick around among the weird and the wonderful. I love this award which might seem strange when drawing apparently plays so little part in my practice, but it is there, honest! You just don't get to see it. I should really do more drawing and part of the fantasy of my studio (apart from bookshelves heavy with interesting tomes to read, an empty table to work upon and my special chair with a view) is that I will conjure up the time and head-space to do more drawing. And about bloody time, frankly. Remember I said last time that Willis had rung me up to have a nag? Well the beggar rang me again today - whilst waiting to have an operation at the local hospital, would you believe - to nag, nag, nag all over again. Hmph.

Anyway, back to that room full of prints. I didn't even know it was there or why until Nigel Killalea, a local artist, rang me a few days beforehand to ask me if I was going to Grafton Regional Gallery that evening and if so, could I please give him a lift? I was clueless and had to look it up on the internet, and then felt slightly peeved that I hadn't been asked to contribute a print to the sale since I am a very local artist... This was in fact a question that I asked the woman who unlocked the room for us so that we could look at the remaining unsold prints! The answer was that they had me on their database (somehow) but hadn't identified me as a printmaker, didn't realise I was a professional artist and hadn't got me on their mailing list - despite me having met the gallery director professionally a couple of times, been to openings and, I'm sure, waved my business card around! Oh well. Just goes to show my public profile isn't yet quite as big as my slightly-put-out head... The woman I spoke to was very nice and I suspect that I might get a call when they next do a fundraiser.

The prints, meantime, were a very mixed bag. I love Christine Willcock's work, for example and there was an edition of a digital piece that I've seen before (not, sadly, one of her etchings on card - just HOW does she do them?), as well as people like Bernhardine Mueller, Gosia Wlodarczack and Rachel Newling. Also Alun Leach-Jones, but I'm afraid that despite his high profile I can't warm to his work. Oh well. It turned out that he had been teacher and mentor to the husband of the woman on the front desk so sadly my lack of enthusiasm was noted...

There you go. Enough blethering. I am going to phone the hospital and see if Willis is OK and then it's back to trying to sort out my daughter's holiday social life while quietly cursing all the mums who are playing hard-to-get while darling daughter mournfully plays in her room by herself. Not because she's unpopular, you understand, more because no-one seems to be able to get their heads together enough to arrange anything. Aaargh.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Starting something

Yes I know, I've been very quiet of late. There have been all sorts of reasons: my email software was playing up, dearest husband and darling daughter were away on the school camp, I haven't been at my desk much recently... but in fact the real excuse is that I've been busy doing other things! And primarily the 'other thing' has been getting my studio sufficiently organised that I could - in theory - do some work. Willis came round a week or so ago and had a bit of a nag but in the process dropped me a wise hint: don't get studio block, he said but of course it was too late... I realised I was afraid of getting started, afraid of really getting stuck into some work, afraid I'll be rubbish and everything that comes out of my studio will be rubbish. But eventually I bored myself, realised that half the reason I wasn't doing anything was because a) I was tired and b) it was hard to resolve where to put anything when my poor printing bench was in such a state after being used as a kitchen for eight months! So the first job was to strip the poor thing down, sand it, prime it and paint it. Then I could put stuff on it, unpack some boxes and get going. So I did.

And this is the result: still no press in there yet, no wall taps for the paper bath, and the acid bath is still in the shed. But it's a start.

It's been a dream for the last few years to have a work table that I can walk around. Et voila! There's even the beginnings of a print: a collagraph plate of one of the bronze horses in St Mark's Square in Venice that I've been working on for an unmentionable amount of time, primarily because I haven't been sure what I wanted to do with it. Now I do know what I want to do but it involves carborundum grit and damn it if I haven't lost the stuff...

This is my reading chair. For years and years I've dreamed of a place to sit and read arty books in my arty studio. Et voila! This is a 1950s nursing chair bought by my mother to nurse me, years and years ago, but I've recovered it in a natty raspberry pink tweed (of which she would have thoroughly approved!) and it's sitting in my studio, facing the view with a suitably arty book on the seat that I've already started reading.

Meanwhile, back in the real world... lovely orchids flowering on our verandah!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Blimey! It's been an interesting couple of weeks for all sorts of reasons. Not only have we been slaving away with the whole moving house/studio/office business but I've had the privilege of participating in my first Australian parliamentary elections... and what an election to start with.

Now, when you've been through the whole process of obtaining citizenship there actually isn't an Australian Politics 101 course to enlighten you about the political parties, the electoral system or the history. You are spoon-fed a whole pile of blurb about your rights and responsibilities as a citizen, including the important fact that voting is compulsory and not voting will land you with a hefty fine (which I applaud, on the whole, since I do feel that if you have the luck to live in a democracy it behoves you to ensure that such luck continues), but no-one prepares you for the enormities of the ballot papers.

MY GOD! Two ballot papers and eighty-odd names! And everyone's bandying about phrases such as 'Above the line' and 'Below the line', and you are supposed to know what it all means by osmosis! In the end I was compelled to ask two dear friends of ours what it all meant, and found it all rather amusing.

If you vote above the line you are simply selecting a political party and endorsing whichever candidates it chooses to field. If you vote below the line you are being picky and putting the individual candidates in order of preference - and you're spoilt for choice. Since it was my first election and I've been loosely following things with a measure of incredulity I decided to vote below the line, starting with my least favourite candidates which in my case included everyone from the Families First party and the Christian Democratic Party. The Australian Sex Party were a lot further up my list you will be unsurprised to hear, not because their manifesto coincides with my personal peccidilloes but because they have a great small 'l' liberal approach to life which I like. In the end I found myself quite torn about my top preferences: I am a natural leftie and voted Labour in the UK all my life but Labour means different things in Australia. I am also concerned about the environment and would liked to have been able to vote Green with a clear conscience but some of their policies on things like education worried me.

Anyway, I won't bore on about the details of my (limited) political views: what has astonished me has been the last 17 days' worth of bizarre posturing that has resulted from a very close vote! Madness! The entire nation has been left dangling, waiting to see which party would offer the Indepent candidates the best deal in return for their vote and finally this afternoon the Labour party has been able to declare a minority government after schmoozing the Independents to best effect. As someone who has grown up with 'first past the post' voting it has been very strange, and 17 days of wondering is LONG time... but in the end perhaps it is a good thing? The Independent candidates have pinned the major parties to the wall and demanded their way over all sorts of issues and, in the end, as new Prime Minister Julia Gillard has commented, her minority government is going to be held to account as never before. I wonder what will happen now?

Oh well, never mind the government. What about my studio? I can't give you a final result yet: at this rate it may take more than 17 days to work it all out! But here are the first pictures:

Lots of stuff stacked outside...

Lots of lovely space inside! Although sadly it isn't going to remain calm and peaceful inside for long. I'll let you know how I get on in due course, but I'm having a bit of a break from it for the next few days until the excitement (I mean damned hard work) of the school's Spring Fair on Sunday is out of the way.


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