The ABC's Token Gesture To The Arts

Not him again!  Yes, it's him again.  Anh Do's brush with bullshit makes its return to ABC television.  As I've argued before, there must be hundreds of thousands of visual artists in this country and just one guy gets all this exposure.  Why?  So what if he is a refugee who made good.  It's time we got over it and focused attention on other artists in this country.

Anh do.jpg

What makes me sad is I can remember the days when there was very good arts coverage on the ABC and SBS.  I have the DVD's to prove it (many of them dubbed from VHS - some of the programs being THAT old.)  

I'm sure the more enlightened of you would have figured out that Anh's Brush With Fame is not about art at all, it's about the "celebrities".  The attraction of the show for the ABC is that it's cheap to make as there is no research, just a friendly chat show whilst the guy is painting and it might as well be a morning cooking show.  All very sad really and it represents a dumbing down of arts coverage on free to air TV.

The Charm (Perhaps) Of Lonely Places

Subtract the word Perhaps and you have the title of a blog from the School Of Life.  It is argued that when we imagine a place where we are at our happiest, we often imagine being with friends or family in a cosy home, at a party, at our favourite bar or on a busy street teaming with people.

 Dunolly Plains                        Oil On Canvas                            2013

Dunolly Plains                        Oil On Canvas                            2013

But a case is made for "locations that are starkly downbeat, empty, melancholic, architecturally compromised and isolated".  It's argued we may feel a deep pull to these places, to feel far more at home there than in a busy social setting. 

"We may have an instinctive sense that we are true natives of the isolated motorway diner at 11pm. Or of the open road, under a boundless sky in which a billion stars are starting to appear." It's argued that in these places, we can recover a sense of who we are by getting in contact with the disavowed sides of our character and have internal conversations which are drowned out by the chatter of our regular lives.  But that would surely depend on the histories our "disavowed sides" contain.  Would it be better to let sleeping dogs lie?

We can make plans, deal with regrets and excitements "without any pressure to be reassuring, purposeful or just (so-called) normal."   In other words, chill out.  It's also argued that the bleakness all around is a relief from the false comforts of home.  But what if "home" turned out to be not so uncomfortable after all?  Perhaps the bleakness may lead to a reassessment of "home".

"The fellow outsiders we encounter in these lonely places seem closer to offering us the true community we crave than the friends we should supposedly rely on."  I'm not so sure of this either.  I met some pretty strange souls when I moved to North-Central Victoria a few years ago. "They seem like our true brothers and sisters...."  Well, no.  Not in my experience.

 "Then And Now"                       Oil On Canvas                                2018

"Then And Now"                       Oil On Canvas                                2018

I discovered during my self-imposed loneliness a few years ago that I was more gregarious than I thought.  And it took some difficult soul searching to discover this.  Perhaps the message being relayed by this blog is that we don't need an expensive holiday on a lush tropical island to gain the benefits of "chilling out"; any lonely, non-descript location will do.  Just don't over do it.

The White Canvas

There was a time when the white canvas totally intimidated me.   I’m pleased to report those days are gone.  But I felt rather better about my initial hesitancy after seeing a program on Russell Drysdale.  Shortly before I acquired my first VCR (if only…) the ABC screened a program dating back to 1966 when Drysdale received a visit from an old pal George Johnston, a writer and journalist who wanted his portrait painted.

White canvas.jpg

I once heard Drysdale described as the artist who ran away from the canvas.  Did he what!!  He would get Johnston into position in a chair and then faff about looking for distractions.  They would go fishing one day, then visit an old mate at the local boozer the next.  I can recall the camera focusing on the near blank canvas regularly. 

Drysdale.jpg

After about 2 weeks, Johnston gave up and returned to Sydney convinced his portrait would never be completed.  Drysdale must have made some progress during Johnston's stay because I can remember him saying it was as if Drysdale gone into a trance in front of the canvas.  Some 6 weeks later, Johnston gets the call, “I’ve finished”.

George Johnston 1966.jpg

These days the white canvas represents possibilities and I focus on just getting something happening as quickly as possible.  So the next time I walk into the studio I can see I’ve made at least some progress – there is so much psychology involved.  To a point, I let the painting develop a life of its own although I do have a final image in the back of my mind.

Getting The Message Across

Images of poverty and exclusion are abundant in 19th Century revolutionary French art, one only has to think of Millet or Daumier but I'm not sure if the work of the French was as psychologically charged as that of late 19th Century Russian art.  Nicholai Yaroshencko's "Everywhere There Is Life" shows are family of political prisoners about to be freighted off to Siberia throwing crumbs to the birds outside the carriage.

 Yaroshenko              Everywhere There Is Life                     1888

Yaroshenko              Everywhere There Is Life                     1888

Yaroshenko became influenced by the Russian revolutionary democrats and their journals became his favourite reading material.  He fell in with the peredvizhniki (the itinerants - see previous post) and he began exhibiting with them from 1875.

 Yaroshenko                     The Prisoner                     1878

Yaroshenko                     The Prisoner                     1878

In "The Prisoner" Yaroshenko is expressing sympathy for the fighters for freedom and democracy, and by this time he'd been elected to the board of the Society Of The Peredvizhniki.  Lenin described Yaroshenko as a marvelous artist and wonderful psychologist of real life.

 Yaroshenko                        The Blind                        1879

Yaroshenko                        The Blind                        1879

Ilya Repin is probably best known for his painting "Barge Haulers Of The Volga" a stinging rebuke of the exploitation of labour, but I prefer the painting below called "They Did Not Expect Him".  A political exile has returned from the gulags to a surprised family.  Critics considered it the finest artistic achievement of a social point of view of the peredvizhniki. (George H Hamilton) 

repin-they did not expect him.jpeg

 

 

 

Source: https://geoff-harrison.squarespace.com/blo...

A True Poet Of Nature

The Russians referred to them as the Peredvizhniki, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon calls them the Wanderers but mostly they are referred to as the Itinerants.  They were a group of young Russian artists from the late 19th century who rebelled against the strict academism that characterized art teaching at the time.  One of the most notable among them was Isaac Levitan (1860-1900).

 Levitan - Eternal Peace

Levitan - Eternal Peace

Like many of his peers, Levitan explored the lyrical beauty of the simple unpretentious Russian landscape.  One of Levitan's teachers Alexei Savrasov is credited with "seeking out in the most ordinary and commonplace phenomena the intimate, infinitely touching and often melancholy features which are so strongly felt in our native scenery and which invoke an overwhelming response in our soul." 

 Levitan - In The Vicinity Of Sawino-Storozhevsky

Levitan - In The Vicinity Of Sawino-Storozhevsky

In his own teachings, Levitan taught his pupils to "feel nature so deeply, to give it so much of their soul, faith and hopes, and so understand its moods as had never been the case before."  But Levitan also touched on social issues as well, such as the painting Vladimirka Road which was the road taken by dissidents "chains clanging" to Siberia.  The lowering sky and desolate landscape emphasising the sense of anguish and oppression.

 

 Levitan - Vladimirka Road

Levitan - Vladimirka Road

For me however, it's the light, the cool light and amazing depth of his imagery that impresses most.  Then there is the amount of feeling he evokes in the most simple of scenes, such as the one below.  Savrasov encouraged his pupils to draw inspiration from the French Barbizon school and Levitan was known to be impressed with the paintings of Corot.  Graham-Dixon referred to the almost hypnotic realism in Levitan's work and I can only agree.

 Levitan - A River

Levitan - A River

Ref: Alexei Fiodorov-Davydov "Levitan"

A City In Flux

The city of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III underwent massive changes due, in part, to the migration of hordes of rural workers into the city as a result of the industrial revolution.  Artists such a Eduard Manet witnessed these changes and depicted them in their art.  According to a recent Four Corners episode on the ABC, Victoria's population grew by one million in the 10 years to 2016.  I'm not sure if this transformation is the motivation behind the painting below, but it may have been.

 The Roar Of The Approaching Night           Oil On Canvas               75 cm x 150 cm

The Roar Of The Approaching Night           Oil On Canvas               75 cm x 150 cm

Nowhere is this transformation more evident than in the docklands area on the west side of Melbourne's Spencer Street where an entirely new central business district seems to be evolving housing, so it seems, a new class of the upwardly mobile.

 Melbourne's Docklands today

Melbourne's Docklands today

Presumably, recreation for these residents would involve visiting the various restaurants and other attractions of the inner city, or jetting off interstate or overseas, rather than hopping in the car for a picnic in the countryside which, lets face it, would take all day to get there, given the suburban sprawl.

 West of Spencer Street viewed from Transport House, 1985

West of Spencer Street viewed from Transport House, 1985

Another motivation for my painting could be my brief and disastrous return to the workforce in 2008, when I discovered the recent trends to toxic working environments to be a reality, not a myth.  Anyway, Melbourne is a city in flux that I have trouble recognising, and this painting is intended to represent my increasing alienation from it.  The title of the painting is a line from the song "Tender Is The Night" by Jackson Browne.

Art Of The Night

Night time has been described as the time when reality disappears and imaginings begin.  People somehow seem less sane at night.  Shakespeare described night as the witching time and the night seems to have been a particularly productive time for Vincent Van Gogh.

 Moonlight Near Roxby Downs                      Oil On Canvas                       101 cm x 142 cm

Moonlight Near Roxby Downs                      Oil On Canvas                       101 cm x 142 cm

I completed the above work in 2014.  It was inspired by a photo I saw of a lightning strike in the area and I was particularly interested in the sheen on the water created by the lightning fork.  So I decided to turn the scene into a moonlit night time image, partly because of the challenge it presented and partly to highlight the isolation of the scene.

And yet, the cold moonlight perhaps gives the scene a softness and harmony that may not be present during the daytime when you could image the appalling heat during the summer  months.  Interestingly, I found reproducing the sheen on the water the most difficult task - making it look authentic.  The vegetation in the foreground is largely an invention, through necessity as I couldn't make out the detail in the photograph.