Pineapple II

Pineapple II (Jingdezhen Jar)Pineapple II (Ming-A-Ling), 2018. Acrylics on wood panel.

I collaged an actual tissue paper underglaze decal from China onto the jar…so the image of boys playing chequers is not paint or ink, at all, but blue clay sealed under layers of acrylic medium…

Tissue paper decals are designs made from coloured clay (underglazes) that have been silkscreened onto tissue paper. The tissue designs are laid face-down on unfired clay, moistened on the back, and then the paper is peeled away, leaving a crisp design on the clay, which is then fired in a kiln.


Frai-Pan (Entrée The Dragon), 2018. Acrylic, pencil and ink on wood panel.

My love for the Southeast Asian kitchen was expressing itself in this one…painted in a playful rush, I never meant to show this one to anybody. But I had so few paintings for Tropical Gothic that I gave it a varnish and threw it into the exhibition at the last minute.

Frai-Pan (Entrée The Dragon)


An old one, Sopa de Sirena, painted in Venezuela in 2015, but it has never been shown, so I included it in the Tropical Gothic exhibition.

Sopa de Sirena (Mermaid Soup) is a commentary on the difference between affluent countries, and non-affluent ones. In Australia or the US, a mermaid is a whimsical creature that exists for no other purpose than to be enchanting and to decorate a lot of pearlescent, sequined, glitter-encrusted or holographic merchandise.
Where I was born, and then in Venezuela where I made this, a mermaid would probably have been seen as just one more thing for hungry people to eat. A big fish with lots of meat on it.
As one Mexican visitor to the exhibition opening commented knowingly, “Hay que comer…” (“One must eat…”)

Mermaid Soup


This last painting is called Mouth Wash. I have tried to photograph (and even scan) it several times, and it never turned out. Finally settled for a strangely blurred and milky shot…like there was fog inside my phone’s camera lens, but at least you could see the painting. So then I tried to sharpen the blurred image in a photo editor, and this is what I was left with after I clicked the ‘SAVE’ button: digital distortion. I had saved over the original photo, and accidentally deleted the copy that was on my phone.

Maybe this painting is jinxed. It can hardly be haunted…I used my own mouth as the model for gums and lips (but not the teeth, thank you very much). If it makes it back from the exhibition in one piece, I will try to take another photograph. In the meantime, I rather like this bizarre, striped version…

Mouth Wash, 2018. Acrylic on canvas.

Pineapple I

UntitledThis small painting came out of me in a rush. It took two days, with the idea of the snake replacing the idea of eyes on the evening between the two. It’s good when something is so compelling that the work just flows, and before I can become bored or exasperated with the subject, it’s done.
UntitledIt’s not really as ‘dark’ as it seems…to me, this painting is humorous. I love snakes; I think they’re beautiful and I don’t associate them with anything sinister, biblical, or superstitious. They’re graceful, muscular little reptiles, like lizards, and many have beautiful markings and colours.
Untitled

This, and a few other small works of mine, were created for the group show Tropical Gothic: A Selection of Dark Works for Warm Climates. If you’re in Darwin around the time of the festival—and the lights are too bright, the smiles seem mocking, the hubbub is alienating and the town’s party vibes are filling you with a strange sense of weltschmerz—consider yourself invited to our group show. Pineapple I will be hanging in the company of works by my friends Marita Albers, Sandra Kendell, and Sonia Martignon.

Opening night’s on Thursday, August 9th, at 6PM, at Mayfair Gallery in Harriet Place, Darwin CBD.

Tropical Gothic invite

An unexpected gig

imageSo here’s a little story that I forgot to say anything about, back in April when it happened…

The phone rang at work, one afternoon, and a lady asked me if we (Jackson’s Drawing Supplies, an art materials shop) knew anybody who would do some calligraphy in a hurry. It’s been a long time since any calligrapher left a business card with us, so I told her “Sorry, no active calligraphers that we know of…except maybe…”

“Except?”

I assumed it was for a wedding, and that she wanted someone to address the envelopes in a curly copperplate-style script. I can do that, surely, I’ve been writing envelopes all month…

“Well, I sort of do it…only…I don’t know whether my work is good enough…I’ve never done it for a client before, you see…”

“Please send me a sample of your calligraphy work today.”

What? Today? I took a photo of some amateurish sign I’d made for the shop’s calligraphy section (“Clearance Sale— Calligraphy Nibs”), added a nicer shot of outgoing Scarlet Letterbox envelopes I’d written in gold on black, and e-mailed them to her.

“We would love for you to do the job for us,” she wrote back the next day. And so they sent me the project specifications.


“What the F*(#”

It turned out that I’d been speaking to a representative of Darwin’s Government House—a historical building in the city—and that the gig was a page in their huge visitor’s book, to commemorate a visit from Prince Charles in less than two weeks’ time.UntitledThe lettering wasn’t in copperplate at all…they wanted Gothic blackletter, or at least batarde. I would have to learn to write an entirely new lettering style. Nothing could stand more opposite to the swashy “cupcake shop” script I had been practicing. Also, they wanted an heraldic badge, the Prince of Wales’ feathers, at the top…in colours and gold. One page had been marked in the book…I would have just one shot at it, and there were less than 10 days to do it.

Holy ostrich feathers, Batman, what had I gotten myself into? When I told friends, via facebook, what I had been asked to do, most made very strange comments like “Congrats! They picked the best person for the job,” or “They should be honored that you have consented to do the art work.”

I reeled in confusion…who were these glib and cheering people that seemed to know me so very little, after all these years? Only Helen grasped the utter weirdness of a job like this winding up in the reluctant, sweaty palms of a royaltyoblivious troglodyte like me, and she alone said something I could actually relate to:

Screen shot 2018-06-29 at 7.28.19 PM


imageThe story ends happily. I managed the heraldic badge admirably (I think so, anyway), and although the letters are a bit ho-hum—no virtuoso gothic writer, me—they are readable, and clean, and centered.

I only spent 19 hours agonising over this simple page—most calligraphers would have dashed it off between breakfast and tea time—but it was delivered on schedule, in one piece, and Bonny Prince Charlie signed the recto page…probably without glancing at my verso page, because the poor man only has to appear at dreary official engagements—ribbon cutting, guestbook signing, niceties-mumbling, tea slurping and biscuit nibbling—about 12 times a week (he is described as “the hardest-working member of the royal family”) and he’s actually a deeply intelligent and compassionate person with serious philanthropic, philosophical and environmental interests, so that it really seems he had the tougher gig between the two of us, and who can blame him for being blind to visitor’s books?

His Royal Highness Prince of WalesThe ladies of Government House very kindly sent me photos of the signed guest book, afterwards. This is the closest I will ever be to royalty…but a hand’s breadth between my writing and his, is pretty close.

I was more deeply honoured by this incongruous juxtaposition of our scribbles than I let on because, while I don’t give a rat’s ass about the titles one inherits at birth from one’s forebears, I respect the man: the way he has chosen to spend his time on earth, the efforts he has made to understand the issues, to help others, perform his duties, and still be himself. He cops a lot of flak for some of these things, but any person who believes passionately in anything, and does something about his convictions, will have critics, no?

His Royal Highness Prince of WalesAll ends well!

Except that I am still waiting to be paid for this job that I did in early April; but I rang my clients yesterday and they seemed surprised to hear that I haven’t received my fees, so maybe something will happen.

Any day now.

Any.
Day.
Now.

Monsoon Dervish on ETSY

It only took a month and a half of pleading, nagging, cajoling…

Kris finally opened his own ETSY shop.

Can you believe it?! Oh, he still grumbles about it, but hey, at least it’s up, and you can now purchase physical copies of his four books, as well as the PDF file of his Manual of Sextant Navigation, directly from him.

www.MonsoonDervishBooks.ETSY.com

 

jungles real & imagined

We Go...
We Go In Search Of Our Dreams, 2017.30x40cm. (12×16″) acrylics and alkyds.

My friends organised a group show while I was in Guatemala, called Gypsies, Vagabonds, and Wild Mad Women (open from 13th April – 7 May at Tactile Arts, Fannie Bay, NT), and included me. When I got back to Darwin in October of last year, I found it so difficult to do the work for it. Of the 7 small canvases I prepared, I only managed to paint 2 in the end. This painting was one of them.

Unlike most of the other things I made for the show, this one practically painted itself. That’s partly because realistic stuff is actually quite easy to paint…I’m not really inventing anything from scratch: trees, plants, jungle backgrounds, lianas, ferns, backpackers…I’ve seen them all, at some point in my life, and know roughly how they ought to look. Putting all these elements together may be a kind of inventing, but I’m really just layering one familiar image on top of another.

The other reason this painting came so easily is that I have fairly recent memories of jungles like this. Kris and I spent 5 months up a river in Guyana, surrounded by riverine jungle…and very little else.

Jungle Trail

I have some photographs from this part of our trip, but looking at them now somehow doesn’t recall the way it felt to be there. That’s the danger of relying on photographs to preserve your memories: very few of the photographs we take do the experience justice. With a camera in hand, I tend not to observe as much of my surroundings…I don’t stop to gaze at one thing, burning it into a complex memory that includes sounds, smells, textures, movement. I am counting on the digital record to reproduce all of that for me, later. But the camera can’t record smells or textures or sound (not mine, not well), and it focuses on no single thing; unless I’ve taken a macro of some flower or other small object, most of my shots of “the jungle” are just a mess to look at: a million leaves, a tangle of branches and vines, every skinny palm tree or rotting log is there, in the poor light that filters down through the canopy. The photographs show everything; and yet, often, show nothing. A green and brown shadowy chaos.

DSC_0206

If I hadn’t spent hours upon hours just paddling around, gazing up at the forest canopy, or walking around with my eyes glued to the forest floor; if I hadn’t taken individual plant specimens home to carefully sketch, or written page upon page of what it was like, at that moment, to be sitting on deck, looking up at canyon walls covered in trees and snaking vines…I would not remember Guyana as vividly as I do.

jungle underpainting

All that actual looking, writing, smelling, touching, sketching paid off. As I painted each layer of this canvas, I heard the whooping bird calls again, the yip-yip-yip of toucans colourful as piñatas; the drawn-out roars of howler monkeys  echoing from deep among the trees; the boiling surface of the murky river, as great fanged arapaimas hunted blindly for the smaller piranhas; the ghostly lights of giant fireflies floating among the buttress-roots of giant trees. I saw again the up-and-down floaty bounce of morpho butterflies—their Dutch Blue wings flashing in and out of sunlit patches. Felt the cool air of the forest floor on my face, and heard the muffled patter of fat raindrops falling through the jungle canopy in a storm.

Jungle Trail

This painting became a doorway back to that world, that time in my life. I got misty eyed quite often, painting this (even though the finished painting is hardly fine art) and the memories flooded me with rapture—How can this wild, primeval memory be mine? How have I deserved to be the owner of such magnificent sensations?—and regret, because I could have spent a decade in that jungle, and still be a stranger to its secrets. I am sorry I could not spend more time…not just in Guyana, but in all of the places we visited and fell in love with.jungle underpainting

Still, to have been there at all is a miracle. I never dreamed I would make it to any place so wild and beautiful. And I have my memories, scented and intricate and rich, tucked inside: a miniature door that I pray will continue to open for me, when I need it, given the right touch, turning the right key.

Art and the garden

The Magic Garden

We’d like to invite you to our garden-themed group exhibition, The Magic Garden. Hope to see you there!