Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Story of Us

Five years ago I was holding an infant Hazel and had a whirling dervish of a son who was crazy about Lego. I think it was Stevie who came home one day with something to show us – a blog titled Leo’s Lego Lab. It was a delightful document of creativity; Leo, aged five at the time, posted various Lego creations with the help of his mum. I remember liking this little kid, and the world captured in his blog. I felt an immediate sense of kinship with his mum. When I read that Leo had taken a break from blogging with the arrival of his little sister Hazel – who not only shared the same name but was the same age as mine – I just knew we were fated for friendship. Other than a vague sense that this crew were Melbourne based I really had nothing to go on. We continued to read Leo’s blog. Hazel learned to crawl.

At the tail end of summer we celebrated a friend’s sixth birthday in the Edinburgh Gardens. The playground was a mangle of kids when Otto found himself in a confusing disagreement with a mum about Hazel. I've got a Hazel, he said. I've got a Hazel, she replied. There were two Hazels. That mum turned out to be the tough, smart, creative and highly original Emma G.

In the years since Otto and Leo have developed a strong friendship. The Hazel's, not so much. Emma and I have drunk our fair share of tea mostly over her kitchen table. Of all of his friends Leo's home is the one in which Otto feels most comfortable. I sometimes wonder whether Otto senses the common thread between us; a life that revolves around art, music, books and family.

Driving down Sydney Road after a play at Leo's last weekend Otto and Hazel asked me to tell them once again the story of how we came to meet Leo and his family, the one recounted here. We started at the beginning. They love to tell it, hear it and add to it. We think of it as the story of us.

Photo of my feet and Emma's shoes by Emma Byrnes. She belongs in this story too. It was her daughter's birthday that we were attending that fateful day in the Ed Gardens.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Open the door: Noah Baumbach's When We're Young

Noah Baumbach's new feature, When We're Young, opens with a quote from one of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's plays from turn of the century – that would be the 20th century. It carries the age-old sentiment of a middle aged generation not understanding the one that follows it. In it the sceptic is urged to "Open the door" on the young. I was left wondering about this piece of advice after leaving the cinema. Was it a really such a good idea? Judging by the film – a wry intergenerational satire – I wasn't so sure. It starts out promisingly. Josh, a documentary filmmaker is approached by the twenty-something Jamie (Girls' Adam Driver) after delivering a lecture on documentary film and quickly initiates a friendship based on his admiration for Josh's rarely screened documentary. Jamie introduces Josh to his wife, the ravishing Amanda Seyfried, and along with Josh's wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) they become inseparable. Baumbach captures the romance of new friendships as the pairs borrow mannerisms, style tips and ideas from one another. There's no doubt Josh and Cornelia are enlivened by the relationship. It comes at a critical juncture; Cornelia is making peace with being childless as their best friend's adjust to life with a newborn. Josh is at a creative impasse after a decade working on his documentary about war and the American "system". His rough cut sits at six hours. He's not sure he can cut anything out. But what do newlyweds Jamie and Darcy get from the arrangement? While the older couple envy the young pairs energy and openness, Jamie most certainly covets Josh's ready-made life that includes a well connected film producer wife. I don't think its any kind of spoiler to say it ends in tears. Adam Driver is a terrific foil for Ben Stiller, the difference in height, already comedic. Driver brings a physical expansiveness to the role that sits well beside Stiller's contained presence. The film belongs to them. It's not simply a matter of performance. Baumbach fleshes these characters out. The climax – played out at a swanky award ceremony overlooking Manhattan – is between these two and about the nature of documentary. When it comes down to it Josh and Jamie are fundamentally different. Baumbach you feel sides with the principled Josh while making it clear that success comes to the Jamie's of this world. When We're Young finishes on a cute upbeat note. I was thankful for it but it was not enough to offset the swirl of conflicted emotions inside of me or the sense that middle age is a shit sandwich and, all things considered, I would still prefer to be young and feckless than old and weary. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Brent Harris: Dreamer

There's no contemporary Australian artist I admire more than Brent Harris. Is there another artist as inventive, courageous, surprising and plain well skilled? Can't think of one. Sometimes when someone has had such a consistent, prolific practice – and Harris has exhibited prodigiously for 30 years – it's difficult to know where to begin? As an artist who has worked across printmaking and painting there's a lot to account for. I'm not going to attempt it here (though keep an eye out for a forthcoming article by M Zagala – she's putting some ideas together on Harris' printmaking in long form). If Harris' current exhibition is anything to go by he is in the rare situation of being both a critical and commercial success.

Dreamer is a beautiful exhibition. I liked the hang that positioned Harris' small canvases close to Tolarno's gallery entry. They have a vignette-like quality, a shifting plane of figurative and abstract elements that recall the figure groupings of religious Italian Renaissance paintings by way of Turner. Harris' brush work is a riveting combination of flat scrubbed back surfaces overlaid with buttery paint strokes. But Harris' real gift to the viewer is the way in which he brings the process to the fore. There is a sense of chance, discovery and serendipity articulated in the compositions that might appear tentative but actually reflect Harris' enormous experience.

In the larger canvases whimsical faces emerge, some tiny little proto-beings,  not more than graphic linear gestures animated by cartoon-like eyes. I was intrigued by the different propositions contained in single works – late 19th century landscape traditions, psychedelic colours, and the human form. In all the paintings it's the human figure – searching, fugitive – that lend these abstracted landscapes a slightly unsettling quality. In them the spectre of the unconscious hovers like an inky presence drawing together the complex spheres of the social, sexual and religious.

Brent Harris
12 February - 4 April 2015

Images courtesy of Tolarno Galleries

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Polka dot: Habbot's Bell grey loafer

What is it about closing a definitive chapter in your work-life that sends you shoe shopping? It's got me wondering whether there is a uniquely symbolic dimension to shoes that I haven't considered until now. I cyber stalked these Habbot flats last week and followed it up with an in-store visit just the other day. This is the shoe crafted by an Italian artisan for an eastern suburbs housewife. The leather! Hand-hole punched detailing! The tassle! I love them.

At $390 they are way more than I like to pay for a pair of shoes. On the other hand I am in a vulnerable – or is that open – state of mind?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trente Parke - The Black Rose

Last week I flew to Adelaide for the opening of the Trent Parke exhibition, The Black Rose, at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The exhibition, co-curated by Maria Zagala and Julie Robinson had been a topic of daily conversation between my twin and I for months, if not years.  There was no way I was going to miss it. Sharing my life with two curators I’ve come to understand that every now and again – and it’s really not that often – curator and exhibition subject connect in a powerful way.  I had a feeling that this was that kind of show.

A few things pointed in this direction: Trent Parke’s remarkable personal story, the project’s ambition (only seven years in the making) and the scale of the exhibition (carte blanche to the entire temporary exhibition space). In his early thirties, and newly a father, Parke’s thoughts turned to the traumatic memory of his mother’s sudden and unexpected death from an asthma attack when he was 13 years old. The exhibition charts Parke’s odyssey – an epic emotional, cosmic and vast geographical journey – undertaken with his own young family across the country and ending at his childhood home in Newcastle, NSW. Documenting birth, death, and the everyday banalities of suburban life, Parke and the exhibition curators have collated a selection of the thousands of mostly black and white photographs, in addition to multimedia and installation works, into a series of self-contained rooms that articulated the exhibitions themes.

Apart from the visual material, Parke wrote some 15,000 words to accompany the project: a diaristic collection of notes, recollections, dreams and observation, some of which appear on the walls and as part of the exhibition catalogue. These form an interesting adjunct to the visual works. The photographs, all formally exquisite and technically precise recall the documentary style of iconic mid 20th century magazines like Life.  (Parke is Australia’s only Magnum photographer – a difficult feat and rare honour). Parke acknowledges that he is not a writer in the short film that introduces the exhibition, and reiterates the statement in the catalogue despite identifying as a storyteller. His prose –  unabashedly pulpy and overwrought – is everywhere.  Parke’s widely divergent skills as a artist and writer had an interesting effect. I literally flipped between Amazing! and Terrible! every second step. The juxtaposition of very different modes – professional and amateur – added a compelling dimension to the exhibition. For Parke, this project was a total excavation.  

Parke’s exhausting and exhaustive search for meaning by way of documentary, vernacular and theatrical form powerfully conveys the messy, dislocating experience of trauma. At the exhibitions end I was in awe of Parke’s capacity for risk – emotional, professional and financial. It seemed to me the definition of courage.

Trent Parke, Black Butterfly from The Black Rose, 2014 gelatin silver hand print 120 x 152cm

The Black Rose
Art Gallery of South Australia
14 March – 10 May 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

sweetpolka website is live

We are live! Big thanks to Michelle Diconoski for help with words, Heartland Projects for photography and web support and you friends for your kind encouragement in getting this off the ground.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sketch pad

Heartland Projects whizz Emma (see my Heartland Projects love-in post, then read Emma's) is sending through shots from my folio shoot. Here's a sneak peak – a page from my sketchpad– that will make its way to my new website. That's right, mercury is no longer retrograde. Get set for some action.