4 December 2016

Art from Milingimbi : taking memories back

This exhibition at AGNSW (link) resurfaced some of my recent concerns about museums, their collections and the politics and power imbalance of groups (20-Nov-2016).

Tom Djawa Djarrka (water goanna)

Tom Djawa
Djarrka (water goanna)

The descriptions of individual works mix personal and clan group significance with formal critical concepts. For example of Djarrka (water goanna)
by Tom Djawa we are informed:
In ‘Djarrka (water goanna)’ c1959 Djäwa provides an image of the black and yellow Mertens’ water monitor that relates to his mother’s clan group. The animated forms of the goannas are exquisitely realised, with intricate detailing of fine dots, dashes, line work and cross-hatching. Set against a plain ground, their dynamic forms give a sense of dimensionality, their seemingly suspended bodies anchored by the assured yellow line that dissects the composition, dividing the male goannas from the female.

There are placards with images and biographical information on each of the identified artists. According to the signage at the entrance many of the works were collected 1949 to 1959 by the mission superintendent. The sign concludes “Working with the Milingimbi community to realise this exhibition and the accompanying publication, has also allowed the artists’ descendants to reclaim their cultural inheritance and play an active role in the interpretation and presentation of the artworks … to take their memories back”. Presumably that’s reflected in those descriptions mentioned earlier. I didn’t detect other active participation in the exhibition space.

Am I too cynical, too negative, too guilty? During the week I finished reading the simplest words: a storyletter’s journey by Alex Miller. In the life experiences of this Australian immigrant from the UK, the friendships he has formed, the stories he tells, there is hope – that the story isn’t finished. It’s probably still true the best I can do is keep out of peoples’ way, but maybe I should add some trust and hope.

Nude: art from the Tate collection
I did a quick reconnoiter of this exhibition the day it opened, and two more visits this week. Still lots to see – there are around 100 items (the magic number at the moment, including from the British Museum (20-Nov-2016) and in Sculpture by the sea (6-Nov-2016). I suppose it’s needed for “blockbuster” status.)

sketch20161202_01Nude: Fitzroy Street no. 1 (1916) by Matthew Smith has captured me every visit. I’ve been excited by his work before – in AGNSW’s collection (31-Jan-2014) and at Carrick Hill (16-Oct-2016). Wonderful red in all of them – making photographs particularly disappointing.

In this painting the strong complementary colours could riot, but the spine of the nude anchors the composition. The body stretches, expands to more than fill the canvas from the elbow extending beyond the frame to the tip-toe feet. Complex angles in bands of colour create a space to hold the volume of the nude. The relatively subdued yellow of the chair stabilizes, provides rest. On the same wall in the gallery space are Pablo Picasso’s Nude woman in a red armchair (Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge) (1932) (link) and Matisse’s Draped nude (Femme nue drapée) (1936) (link) – both fascinating, but don’t demand my attention in the same way.

Actually I think it would be easy to spend a few days sitting looking at that wall. The way the body has been placed within each picture, relating to the space…

When working on my related collage (below) it occurred to me the lost elbow avoided a disruptive pointed angle – a distracting flaw and loss of flow in my quick sketches.

Repetition Collage
Quickly apparent that it was a good idea to include the word average in the brief for this investigation (see 27-Nov-2016). I’m keeping quick and intuitive, waiting for more experience and a body of examples before looking critically at results.

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2. Matthew. Printed out section of life drawing. Paper strip stencil, roughly painted corners in black (attempted monoprint, but forgot how quickly this paint dries.
3. Fingerprint. Stenciled repeated thumb prints (very directly identity and body) through a circular stencil. Played with the idea of a medal on a ribbon, ended playing with different sides and orientations of patterned paper.
4. Nancy’s burden. The shape keeps reminding me of a cross. Fabric from an old dress – the owner has been in high level care for almost 6 years now. The background was scrap from an earlier day – another quick decision.
5. Kiss. An image of Rodin’s The Kiss from AGNSW publicity material. Distorted hessian overlaid to reveal and conceal.
6. Presence or absence? Slices of John Currin’s Honeymoon nude, again from publicity for Nude:art from the Tate collection.
Practice version

Practice version

7. From Matthew Smith. Based on my examination of Nude: Fitzroy Street no. 1 in the exhibition. Sadly this version is weaker than my first impression or the practice version.
7. Ascending. A variation on the shapes and imagery I’ve been playing with so far.

I started the week still working with croquis cafe, but began to lose confidence in basic shapes and proportions (have mislaid a handout from Matthew). This is why I’ve started and stopped before – repeating the same thing didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Quite suddenly remembered a recently purchased book on human figure drawing (how did that slip my mind?) – Daniela Brambilla Human Figure Drawing: Drawing gestures, postures and movements.. Could I work with that?

On Tuesday night I tried to find some energy, looking at the model posing on the screen, trying to surround the shape. There was no energy – not in me, after the work day, but also not in the static pose of the model.

Wednesday morning bus I was reading John Berger’s Bento’s sketchbook, a bit about drawing María Muñoz, a description of the dancer’s preparatory position, the Bridge, …”between those two fixed points the whole body is expectant, waiting, suspended.”

Parts from both Berger and Brambilla seemed to click, I was seeing people moving around me differently. In the food court at lunch, the next day in the local plaza, I tried to see fleeting moments, bodies in space.

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They don’t look like much, nothing different – but my energy and attitude were.

Then another shift of gear – a last minute opportunity for a day’s Life Drawing Workshop with Sue Vesely at Sydney Community College. It’s now late Sunday and no time for a detailed story, but a few quick notes I want to remember:

The importance of grounding with feet; the vaguer you are the move the viewer will read something into it; pair lines that echo|answer each other; editing lighting – choose what you want to use, simplify; measure, check, accuracy – or poetic, the grace of the figure, the emotional response; find the line of the spine, then shoulders and hips, then stick figure, and build on framework.

Sue gave demonstrations and her own notes on that last part, also tips on drawing the head (see the eggs she’d made for the class in the slideshow), handling light, drawing eyes and hands… We had a male model in the morning and a female in the afternoon. I used charcoal and a full A2 sheet each attempt. An intense and satisfying day. Unfortunately I didn’t have any fixative, and wouldn’t have wanted to use it in the confines of the class, so everything is already a bit extra blurred and messy.

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Reading: Joke Robaard How do you repair a weaving flaw
This reading is from http://makebelieve.ie/, one of the links given by Jessica Hemmings (27-Nov-2016). I’m not going to discuss the ideas presented in the article. Instead this is a list of questions and ideas that occurred to me while reading. The quotes included are taken out of context and re-interpreted according to my personal interests.

“The gap is the very essence of weaving.” I’ve been focused on the orthogonal warp and weft, but this could lead to presence and absence, literal or metaphorical gaps.
Purposefully leaving holes, the choice of whether to make connections. A hole is not equal to a flaw. (hole or whole?)
“fastening off the edges in a good manner” How could one explore “a good manner”?
“Weaving” – an object; an (ongoing?) activity
“the idea of manipulability” ???
“the level of pure chaos” – is it suggesting that is at a macro level? In weaving the detail is controlled, placed. Also at the level of the spun thread, fibres aligned. We can (can we?) choose to give space to chaos.
Each participant speaking with expertise and subjectivity.

Too late. Too incoherent. Darn.
Try again next week 🙂

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