Thursday, 15 September 2022

Failure to find crocus flowering

For the art group I was in town yesterday and because the Art Gallery of New South Wales is situated in the Domain I popped into the Botanic Gardens to see if I could find some crocus flowering.

I took photos of what I thought were the right type of flower but when I got home and checked on Google I found that what I’d photographed were daffodils.

Crocus are central to a poem I wrote on 29 January 2014, titled ‘Mother’.

If I should die tonight then it’ll be
this that settles accounts so that you can
know the burden of this sickness for me
retarded time to a moment of pain

enduring in the heart of the havoc
of intemperate wind snug in the stays
of a barquentine surging through sea wrack
as it comes home to the harbour of days.

Someone will find me immured in my bed
and my memory shall be like a wound
that weeps perpetually (saffron heads
of crocus that preen their stems aboveground).

Candle an orange with goodwill like cloves
and perfume the date that bespeaks my love.

I’d this month started a new series of paramontages that are square with a sonnet featuring at the centre of each one, but my failure to find crocus so that I could photograph them has put pause to my efforts. On the same trip I’d popped into the print shop in Chippendale to drop off more files for processing, and I’ll get those images back probably early next week. In the meantime I still have to find some flowering crocus so if anyone has an idea, I urge you to get in touch. If I don’t find the things soon I’ll have to wait another year to get the photos.

It's not clear to me now why I chose crocus to mention in the poem, I suppose it could have been any kind of spring-flowering plant. I guess thinking back that it was the sound of the word, but I also think it was a misapprehension stemming from a failure to correctly identify the plant on a drawing pad I had when I was young and that I used to use for sketching. On the cover of the sketch block was a stylised flower, I seem to remember but memory is so hazardous that I cannot be sure from this far off in time. I used to keep my sketch blocks in a drawer in my closet at home in Vaucluse growing up, a drawer that also contained model aeroplanes build from kits and that were carefully painted with enamels.

There is a mismatch here – another one, to add to the several I’ve already drawn readers’ attention to – between the fickle nature of recall compared to the iron logic of the manufactured model, which demands specific parts be assembled in a specified order. If you connect the wrong part in the wrong place you’ll get nothing like the plane you thought you’d bought. 

Growing up I never considered it possible for a moment that my parents could steer me in the wrong direction, and I played along wanting above all else that peace reigned in the household. Like gluing small grey parts together I stuck bits of my experience together to create the sonnet you can see above, a poem that reflects on the mistakes of my parents dealing with someone like me.

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Noles of an old Cranbrook boy

The older I get the more clearly I see things, I never understood when I was young – barely a teenager, then barely a man – how unhappy life made me. Now that I’m a pensioner I search for ways to alleviate the pain of existence of a world where there is little effort made to know why events unfold the way they do. It seems to me, now, that there is an unending supply of suffering and that everyone is putting all their effort into alleviating the resulting pain apart from the obvious, which is to be kind. Why we cannot do so seems to lie squarely in the lap of the gods.

We fear them so we don’t risk being kind to those around us, it’s too dangerous to put on the line the small guaranteed source of pleasure we might have at any given moment. Better to seek out more pleasure, even more, even more.

Even now life gives me reasons to hate it. When I was young I was an actor, trying to fit in because, having seen what life had done to my brother, who was bullied at school, it was safer to run with a pack. I was so good at deceiving those around me that, when I not so long ago said how unhappy I was when I was at school, someone from those days unfollowed me on Facebook. 

Is that the right word, “unfollowed”? Is it not “unfriended”? I don’t think either word is accurate, there is nothing remotely friendly about social media, the way that people conduct themselves, although it has helped me to understand the species. It frightens me.

In fact James was once my friend but on Facebook he was something else, just a participant in an endless evolving costume drama where we package ourselves for public consumption like directors on a fashion shoot. Our public personae have little to do with our real selves, so Facebook is profiting from the same fear that caused the Cranbrook boys to mercilessly persecute my beloved brother – who was always to good to me – and that causes people on Twitter to say the most appalling things about journalists, people they don’t know but whom they patronise inexcusably when they don’t say the right things. They want the reporters, show hosts, weathermen, interviewers, and other professionals, people with years of experience, to be performing monkeys mouthing platitudes that satisfy a community grown accustomed to the mediocrity of Netflix and Stan. They don’t want the truth, they want the same comforting lies that make people post pictures of glasses of wine, on a table, in a restaurant, with a pleasant backdrop framing the whole. Along with the quick line of carefully composed text the image says, “Envy me.”

I didn’t go to the recent school reunion (delayed by Covid, it should’ve been held two years ago) partly because of James’ actions but also because I didn’t want to stand in a room full of loud men – grown up children, really – boasting about what they’d achieved in life. 

I have better things to do with my time so in my old age I am devoting my life to the thing that was taken away from me when I was 17, which is art. I have time now to do what I want, time that I should’ve had during the 25 years I worked in offices, but that my school and my father – both of whom should’ve known better than to tempt fate, because their actions almost destroyed me – deprived me of, out of a sense that the world doesn’t care about art.

I think it does but it needs to be told what is good, whereas I have never needed such instruction, having an innate curiosity that enabled me to understand what was good and what was merely fashion. It’s even better now that I’m ageing. Old enough to start forgetting why I entered a room, though not quite old enough to go out without my socks on. Still young enough to fear.

Friday, 9 September 2022

Farewell Elizabeth II

Because I was busy making things and because I’ve been busy making things all my life – including making trouble for various people – I put together a successful type-2 paramontage back in May featuring the Queen. I think the reason for the success of this type 2 is that the colour red and its lighter similar, pink, are so prominent, repeated in image after image like a bass note in a pop song. Thin Lizzie finally met her end and we’re all about to find out what it means to know ourselves.

QE2 wasn’t the most successful queen, according to one Japanese person I know but then again Japan’s royal family has its weaknesses, including a tendency to exclusively favour men over women in terms of the succession. I’m not sure how the succession will go in Australia, Charles III has a faint ring of autocracy to it due to the way the first Charles died (killed by Parliament) though my father always liked Charles II on account of his returning to the throne.

I became a staunch monarchist when Donald Trump became US president, it seems to me now a no-brainer that the symbolic and executive functions of leadership need to be separated in order to have a successful polity. The ways that people identify with the former can get in the way of the operations of the latter so that by keeping people’s minds focused on one thing at a time you allow them room to make mistakes without bringing down the whole house of cards. We’ll see what happens on account of the contents of Trump’s safe in Mar-a-Lago.

My mother was about the same age as QE2, mum was married in 1955 at about the time of the queen’s visit to Australia. Mum was given away at the altar by her brother as my grandfather had died of cancer of the skin, mum for her part had fond memories of the visit and talked about it sometimes in a way that made me realise how much QE2 meant to her personally, and this is the thing you cannot fabricate such links, they happen despite interventions and I feel sorry for the British peoples now in their moment of reckoning.

In Australia the media coverage is going to be saturation-level for a few days but we’re sheltered from the worst of the negative feelings because our vice-regal body is appointed by the government and is not a true son of the blood. No doubt we’ll see the governor-general talking on TV at some point and I welcome the intervention hopefully it’ll give people something meaningful to latch on to as they process their grief.

I have no doubt but that many people will feel the passing of QE2 keenly. It occurs to me that death has profound repercussions for those who remain alive, and this is why we have rituals when faced with death. Death is a pervasive element of popular culture, along with love, though you could say that the existence of the latter makes the former more potent, and losing love might be traumatic. The loss of a loved one is doubly so. 

Farewell QE2.

Thursday, 1 September 2022

New type-11 paramontages started

Some time in the past I made a new type of paramontage, a type 11. See photo below showing the framed item near the centre. I’m using the photo because it was taken by a wonderful friend of mine named John who organised a get-together at my place. In fact he took this shot while the party was happening, I was elsewhere showing people around the art.

These small works of mine were printed at 28cm square and I got them framed in Alexandria at a place on O’Riordan Street in a large complex full of homewares stores, my usual framer had been incommunicado due to health problems and the floods so I went somewhere else for a change, they did a good job and I was happy with the results.

I picked up the items on 5 August and it just so happened that I drove out to see my regular framer four days later. I hung these items up on the wall on 6 August and at the same time brought down from my bedroom the James Drinkwater painting (the scary-looking one) to put above the Ari Athans. After the party one woman, named Cristina, said how much she liked the second of these works Athans trained as a geologist so has the knowledge available to her for the purpose of painting something that looks like a crystal.

Normally under the paramontages there’s a red plush chair but someone was using it when the photo was taken, the red of the chair goes with the Athans and the Drinkwater, it also goes with the couch, which is like a plum colour.

There are eight items in this small hang, one of which is different from the others. Seven of them are made with a set of photos overlayed as well as a short, 6-line poem, but there’s one with a sonnet, and this forms the impetus for my new series of paramontages, which I call type 11.

‘Bad dreams III’ is made with a photo inherited from mum, it’s one of my Dean forebears and because of how my family operates I have no idea who the subject is. This is a dismal shame but the Deans are so unfussy and unpretentious that they’d prefer to let a memory dissolve into obscurity than be accused of hubris.

The poem was written on 6 September 2013; 3, 6, 7 and 23 December 2020; 29 January 2021; 3 July 2022. It dates in its inception to a time when I was living in southeast Queensland in a small town. I would get up early in the morning – as I do nowadays – and work writing at my desk. The apartment I lived in looked over a park where in the afternoon men would come to play sport. On weekends games of rugby took place there.

Between 2013 and 2020 I dealt with my mother’s passing. In March 2014 she was diagnosed with dementia then later that year, I think it was in September, she was diagnosed with a serious blood disease. In December 2014 I moved her to a nursing home and she passed away 18 months later. Along with dealing with my own health things got in the way of me working on the poem until December 2020, at a time when I was between homes having sold my apartment. Being on the road and being virtually homeless was nothing compared to the sorrow that was associated for me with my mother.

The other photos used in ‘Bad dreams III’ include a shot of trees taken in 2010 when I took mum to visit her niece. We drove there in my Aurion and for her it was a trial, I remember on the way back to Maroochydore we stopped at Tweed Heads to stay overnight, breaking the trip into two sections, my cousin lived in New South Wales north of Newcastle.

‘Bad dreams III’

Unconscious disquiet – the proximate sound
of the waves relieves the burdens of sleep,
seeding ideas before dawn comes around.
I was wrong in some ways and harbour deep

reservations about my past conduct
so scrutinise memory for guidance.
Can yet-unformed commodities deduct
from the heavy cost of memory’s chance – 

dead leaves and whirligigs of dust and sand,
silent shards of mirrors, unceasing pain,
and joy like gouts of music overland,
or pulses of moonlight, or bouts of rain?

Are they still unaware of what transpired?
Regardless, the market’s robust. You’re fired.

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Talking about Georgia O'Keeffe

My birthday inspired friends I know to take notice and one woman came over to cook fish and beetroot salad. The next day another friend talked about Georgia O’Keeffe as I’d been reading a biography of the American artist, it was a broad-ranging discussion during which we aimed our minds at diverse things such as women’s rugby league and the Finnish president with part of the discussion centring around the use of art.

Basia signed off as it was getting to the end of the day in Poland, where she lives, just as I was prepared to go downstairs to eat the leftovers from the day before. Later, I ironed the shirts I’d washed and dried, and during this activity thought about how milk is formed. I’d eaten some cheese and mused to myself how close to the taste of blood it is. Earlier, I’d held myself back from completing another paramontage as I didn’t have photos of fog over the city.

Before I ate I added a coda to my discussion with Basia, who’d refused my idea of artistic control. “Surrealism is achieved with less cropping,” I messaged to her and though I won’t divulge her reply it wasn’t to entirely reject what I’d said in the electronic interface we’d been relying on for the previous hour to communicate ideas.

I usually have a range of photos in order to make a paramontage, and with the type 10s I’m making at the moment I need five images for the job, each assemblage having a different design but because the images I add to the digital file are taller than they are wide and since photographs are wider than they are tall (unless you rotate the camera through 90 degrees) I need to crop them all. My comment to Basia was prompted by my disinclination to crop images, it seems to me more honest if there’s less manipulation of an image involved in making an artwork, but for obvious reasons I have to crop what I find in order to fit them into the schema.

Cropping less enables you to find strange correspondences, for example a line in one image created by a shadow (say) can continue in the next-door image in a piece of equipment or a tree branch. These correspondences are intriguing because they happen without thought, design, or plan, they are entirely fortuitous but add to the ability of a work to create meaning. 

The strength of a dark line is that it helps to compose a picture, it gives structure upon which the viewer is able to hang emotions and feelings inspired by contemplation in front of the finished object.

A dark line, a dark shape. It’s not conforming to a pattern to say that this kind of correspondence has something surreal about it, I think, an ability of the work of art to reveal hidden meanings, to elicit strange feelings in the viewer, to show them something they might’ve suspected but never admitted, a fear perhaps or a worry.

Or a source of joy. Happiness is elusive and even in the most perfect life it will be challenged by other emotions, anxiety or hatred. Finding correspondences is a kind of happiness and for the artist involved in creation’s processes you’re like an explorer on a path that animals only had ever used. There’s a kind of hard glee in being the first to “see”, to understand what a shadow is really about. What do the leaves on the ground portend? Is the pavement like God’s cup?

Friday, 19 August 2022

Writing a new sonnet ('In the know') for a sequence: 'Salve'

Establishing the Eastern Suburbs Art Group functions as a kind of watershed in combination with the production of paramontages. The latter dates from the end of April the former from mid-July. This month I went back to ‘Salve’ and added a new sonnet, the last one having been written for the sequence in the middle of 2021, a poem titled ‘Arrival’ in which I talk about moving to the new house.

It seems that the new house, and my plans for making art, are central to the artistic process. I remember meeting with the estate agents at the place in Beaconsfield and praising the property but adding that I wanted a studio. At that point they asked me if I wanted to see a place in Botany where the owner was building homes for his family.

‘Arrival’ also mentions friends, and Esag complements its convivial push, somehow all this has resulted in the creation this morning of ‘In the know’.

The shadows that we build our childhoods on
race tremendous against a frothy track
the walk to the bus-stop, the horizon,
the wind from yesterday pressing our back

or a segment on the evening news
about tiger cubs born two months ago
reminding me why we need bloody zoos
and infill development. We would do

so much more to care for the fragile light
but are dissuaded by the shame and fear.
We compensate with the play and the fight
of politics and sport because they’re near

the rightness of the dark patch by the kerb,
the formidable noun, the struggling verb.

In ‘Salve’ there are sections and ‘In the know’ sits in ‘The city’, with the poem coming before it having been written over several years (25 February 2017, 2 December 2020, 11 August 2021, 3 and 28 July 2022), it’s titled ‘Guardians of the city’ and it talks about the Pyrmont apartment where, living there, I’d hear birds call out and cars race up the street. In the distance the buildings of the central business district like evidence of permanence in the fact of settlement.

Somehow moving away from the city into a larger house has freed me of a burden, or maybe it’s just that I don’t notice the aeroplanes taking off like I used to do the automobiles charging up Bowman Street. I think it’s the space, the staircase, the capacity given also by having gotten past the silent trauma of mum’s death.

It took me about 18 months to recover some equilibrium after the fact, I’ve got photos I took of me sitting at my desk overlooking the city with its lines of concrete buildings, each face slightly different, perhaps I’ll use them one day along with a poem about drinking, for I gave up the booze three years ago, I don’t regret the loss for an instant it makes my life so much simpler not having to worry about getting into trouble, I can jump in the car at any time without a qualm.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Google Lens approximations of living room hang

In mid-August I rehung the living room wall, pulling down some pictures and bringing others from different parts of the house to put in their places. What follows is an experiment inspired by the range of approximations Google Lens delivered to different aspects of the same hang. It’s instructive as it shows how AI (artificial intelligence) might not always be able to mimic human cognition, memory, and imagination. In fact this demonstrates a distinct failure on the part of the algorithm to even come close to exhibiting human characteristics though because of the wide encyclopedia of images its draws from the results are still interesting.

I’ll start with the wide-angle view of the hang (see below), which contains in prime position a painting by James Drinkwater titled ‘Victoria Road’. In fact the landscape is a central theme of the hang.

I put this image into Lens and got the following results at the top of the results window.

It’s clear that Lens has understood that we’re talking about a TV surrounded by pictures on a wall, so five points for being correct in the broad sense. As to what kinds of pictures the database holds, I think my selection is far more interesting that what Lens delivered.

The second view is from the side, privileging the Drinkwater (see below). This view was taken during the day so that the light is good, the light comes in from the big windows that form one wall of the room.

The painting under the Drinkwater is Ari Athans’ ‘Champagne Afternoon in the Off-world Colonies’ which came from Brisbane (I don’t remember when but it’s quite recent) and is also has the land as a theme. This is what Lens came up with.

Lens has ignored the Athans and gone full-bore inspired by the Drinkwater, dredging up pictures that feature something like a face with its mouth open. I’m not entirely convinced by the resemblances, but again it’s fairly accurate in a vague sense. Five points, again.

The third view privileges Nancy Toovey’s ‘Burrill Lake’, a watercolour I bought via Facebook Marketplace for 20 dollars. I drove out to a place near Blacktown and the M7 to pick up this painting from a man with an Indonesian name who resided in a large free-standing home on a quiet street.

Lens this time ignores everything except the Toovey.

Snow or water, the program has identified that the Toovey contains trees and blank spaces that might be either. I’ll give it eight points this time, it seems to cope better with figurative works than with works that are abstract or expressionist.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Classification and the species

Despite being busy with the art group I’ve still been making paramontages though at a reduced rate. At the beginning I’d usually take along a USB stick with new images when I picked up prints in Chippendale but it’s different now that I’ve got Eastern Suburbs Art Group to look after, an activity that makes me very happy.

So I’m happy on two counts.

With the art, I’ve been making type-1 and -10 paramontages, the latter being a new format (see below) that provides a space for sonnets but with fewer images and less busy-ness than a type 2.

The image shows ‘Waiting for the doctor’s report’, a sonnet written in 16 February 2013 that was updated on 11 August 2021 and 28 July 2022. The photos are from 31 December 2008, at a time when I was still living in Sydney before my relocation to Queensland. Over a few days I visited Maroochydore to see mum and dad and took a large number of photos, something I’m grateful for now because once I moved to the region I didn’t take many at all apart from touristy snaps. The poem goes like this:
The sky’s metal and the primary green
of the sward unbend as the rain applauds
above the black cul-de-sac’s glossy sheen,
when it falls from the slow flanks of the clouds.

Parakeets careen loudly across the park
where footy players cry out their routine
while water’s plucked up by the paperbark
that stands tall. Harnessing a force, unseen

in bruit the chambered dawn bevels a hymn
as I contemplate what mortality
provides in an endless moment of time
visiting within this locality.

It is what I see; I dread to confide
what creatures flutter in on the flood tide.
This work is being framed so I can hang it on a wall or else send it to someone. I chose a silver frame to go with it and a lilac mount. 

I’ve been out to the framers by car. In fact it was Tuesday 9 August when I drove there along the Eastern Distributor, the Harbour Tunnel, the Lane Cove Tunnel, the M2 and the M7, retracing and surpassing a route I’d use to get to mum’s nursing home back in the day when she was still alive. 
It’s a road I know well.

I also know well the signs of a panic attack so I was wary at the beginning, before I got onto the fast roads, when my heart was beating insistently but not breaking through into a trot.

For the type 2s I chose a natural wood frame, the classification of my work being integral to the process because it allows me to concentrate on the specifics while following a pattern for the design. Specifics include which original image to put in each quarter, and how to enlarge and crop them. It includes the choice of backing colour for the text, a calculation that also involves choosing a density for the field of colour – a lighter tone brings out more of the image sitting underneath. It involves cropping the colour field and the underlying central image, and it also means choosing a font and the colour for the text.
Because there are many variables in the specific characteristics of the layout it helps to have a structure upon which to rely when deciding them. Classification has always been part of humanity’s arsenal of abilities when confronted by a hostile world, consider the Cinq Ports (see image below), which is an archaic system of defensive infrastructure in England.

It’s fascinating to imagine that the government of the country spent a lot of time in negotiations, in building, in spending, in levying taxes, all based on a set of ephemeral words used to classify places and their inhabitants. 

More than fascinating, it’s enchanting. That was hundreds of years ago, and now, in the year of Our Lord 2022 classification is just as relevant on a micro scale to help me make art. 

We classify all the time. It’s essential for the survival of the species, for example in our use of special words for discrete individuals, where “sister” has an entirely different set of feelings associated with it compared to “friend”. The class of people known as “friend” includes those who are not related by blood (though a sister can still be a friend and not an enemy). It’s this need conditioned by biology to set rules relevant to consanguinity that demands a certain sequence of letters when looking for a label for a person.

The word “sister” is a semantic marker that biology demands. It’s not an accident. It’s doesn’t have “no meaning”. It’s mandatory if we’re to survive as a viable race of biological organisms. You could say that it’s been so successful that disaster looms as wildfires ravage Europe and western United States, and floods crippled eastern Australia and the east coast of the US.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Testing Google Lens

When I opened up my browser as usual this morning I had a small surprise when Google gave me as the first tab an outline of new functions, one of which (the tope one) was Google Lens, an AI-powered search tool that gives mixed results. To test the functionality I dropped some images into a new browser window, I’ll add four different searches here to show how it works.

Search 1: Photo of art supplies

The above photo is the cache of materials my art group co-founder dropped off as supplies for artists in Sydney if they want to come and pick them up. Simon and I have to catalogue the items so that a list can be put on the group’s blog. Here’s what Lens thought:

This is quite nice because Lens accurately identifies that we’re talking about stationery or something like that. It’s correctly generated a range of images showing things that you’d buy from Officeworks in a jumble.

Search 2: Painting of a South African landscape

I bought this little oil via Facebook Marketplace though actually it cost me nothing, the handyman in charge of part of a deceased estate just wanted to get rid of things. Here's what Lens wanted:

You can see that it "gets" that we're talking about paintings, and it has accurately brought out pictures showing landscapes. Pretty good result, though the South African angle isn't covered.
Search 3: ABC news segment on Uluru Statement

I took this photo of the tele the other day when news of the government response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart was to be announced. The prime minister was at the Garma Festival for the event, and after the journalists were on-camera Albanese fronted the gathering and made an address to the nation. It was an historic occasion and the number of journalists in volved in the ABC’s coverage attested to this. Here’s what Lens did with the image:

Complete fail, Lens thinking we’re dealing with men’s fashion, specifically ties. There’s a sweat shirt picture in the results as well, so clothing seems to have been the main focus of the AI.

Search 4: paramontage ‘On madness (William Cowper)’

This is one of my artworks and I was curious as to how Lens would cope with the fractured, multi-image nature of this file. Here’s what it found:

Well, it got the fact that we’re dealing with real estate alright, but that’s about as far as it was able to go without failing. Interesting attempt, however …

Search 5: painting of wildflowers in a glass jar

I bought this painting in 2008 and it's on the wall in my middle bedroom. It shows a range of things, a still-life view of the world. Here's what Lens found:

All of the resulting images show paintings of yellow flowers in a glass jar, so pretty high marks for the AI. The artist who made my work, Melissa Selby Brown, is however not acknowledged. Also, the phone and pencil sharpener are missing from the results.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Starting to redo early works

It’s been a few days since I posted and in the meantime I’ve gone back to identify photos that can be used with a new type-2 paramontage that will be a reworking of an early work, ‘Incipiens’. The sonnet that goes with this selection of photos is, as follows:

The colours of dawn in the countryside
are a delight: lemon sky and black tree,
miasma pink across the hills, these brides
of night with its brilliant blanket of sky.

Then like a fantastic trumpet the sun
disarticulates our nocturnal phase,
so the parakeets and the shadows run
brushing the bush on the blare of its rays.

But how different the time after morning
when the sun quells any urge to escape,
and kangaroos, lifeless as mannequins,
lie hidden in the expectant landscape.

Just like this might a sensation flutter
through the new-waked mind to seed an idea.

Written on 12 January 2014, 19 July 2020 and 15 May 2022, this sonnet’s subject matter is obvious as it’s included in words inside, I’m just adding a vibrant setting with the photos, some of which you can see in the last post I put up.

While most of the poem was written eight years ago I did some edits a couple of years ago in order to improve the rhyme. The edits done this year (two months ago) were done for the same reason, I always want to give good value and for me rhyme is a kind of reward for reading, you’re flattering the person consuming the time needed to give attention to the poem by delivering something unexpected but logical. Something fitting and right. Something that we can all agree is appropriate because of the sounds.

While I was getting up the fortitude needed to tackle remaking this paramontage I also did edits on a range of other sonnets, but ones in a different sequence. ‘Incipiens’ is from ‘Water Creature’ and the following is from the book’s introduction:

I wrote part of this book in February 2013, after tropical Cyclone Oswald formed over the Gulf of Carpentaria in mid-January and made landfall to the southwest of Borroloola, a town in the Northern Territory, early on the 19th of the month. It moved slowly down the east coast of Queensland. A high-pressure system over New Zealand blocked the low-pressure system from moving east, away from the Queensland coast. Oswald ended up on the final days of the month causing authorities to issue flood warnings for northern New South Wales. Minor flooding and road closures were experienced as far south as the Hunter Valley.

I had to add “part of” to this section of text because I decided at a point after that time in early 2013 to add more poems about the countryside, including some poems inspired by driving through the tablelands of New England. That part of the world is where ‘Incipiens’ finds its birth, as the new paramontage will show.

But this is not all I have been busy with. The other sonnets I worked on in recent days are in a sequence titled ‘Salve’ that I began to put together on 1 December 2020 when I was in the process of moving house, so the theme of travel applies in this case as well. These sonnets were written over a period of many years, the earliest in the sequence is from October 2007. The sequence is broken into separate sections, for example there is one section about family, one about domestic affairs, one titled ‘Corporeal’, there is even one titled ‘Night’. The one that’ll go with the photos that are also accompanying ‘Incipiens’ is titled ‘Waiting for the doctor’s report’, and it goes like this:

The sky’s metal and the primary green
of the sward unbend as the rain applauds
above the black cul-de-sac’s glossy sheen,
when it falls from the slow flanks of the clouds.

Parakeets careen loudly across the park
where footy players cry out their routine
while water’s plucked up by the paperbark
that stands tall. Harnessing a force, unseen

in bruit the chambered dawn bevels a hymn
as I contemplate what mortality
provides in an endless moment of time
visiting within this locality.

It is what I see; I dread to confide
what creatures flutter in on the flood tide.

My reason for choosing this poem as a companion to photos taken in late December 2008 is that the trip that resulted in the images took me through New England to the Sunshine Coast. I have a wide selection of subjects to choose from with the photos, but as well I have identified photos from 2010, 2011 and 2012 that deal with similar things: trees, the Maroochy River, and the heavy, cloudy skies of southeast Queensland.

‘Waiting for the doctor’s report’ was written on 16 February 2013, 11 August 2021 and 28 July 2022, so initially in the summer just before Cyclone Oswald made its strenuous way south. ‘Incipiens’ is also from the summer, but a year later. The second edits for both poems were made in winter after a period of years (almost a decade) had gone by, and there was some tidying up done at a later date.

One thing I think is important is to make sure that rhymes aren’t borrowed from other poems. In many cases I won’t be aware of a repetition until a period of years has passed. I might be reading a sonnet and realise with dismay that the rhyme I’ve used at this location is the same as a rhyme in a different poem written another time so I have to go in a change one of the rhymes.

So that there’s no agreement.

With the images I have a similar issue with reusing photos in two or more paramontages, and though I try not to do this sometimes it’s unavoidable. I wonder if the sin of repetition is as egregious with images as it is with words.

I’ve not been doing assemblages in the past week, and in fact when I go to the print shop today to pick up some works I won’t be taking along my USB stick with new files, unusual for me as for the most part since the beginning of May I’ve been picking up completed works at the same time as I drop off new JPGs.

Part of the reason for the change is due to the administrative work associated with setting up the Eastern Suburbs Art Group but it’s also because I hit this snag where I wanted to redo some works using the type-2 method where they’d originally been type-6 works. As I mentioned in the last post type 6s are imperfect because the poem resulting in the final print is too small to read from the room, but summoning up the spiritual wherewithal in order to redo a paramontage is for some reason difficult, I’m not sure why it might be a certain reticence in the matter of admitting that I got it wrong the first time.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Urge to redo early works

In the past few weeks the amount of actual work on making paramontages has dropped and has been replaced by administration tasks as the Eastern Suburbs Art Group ramps up. This morning I made sure my records to help me find works were up to date, and at the same time I thought about how I’d given up manufacturing pieces on a grid, which was how the first ones had been structured.

Below is ‘Incipiens’, a paramontage using a sonnet written on 12 January 2014, 19 July 2020 and 15 May 2022, the last undertaking coinciding with when it was made. In fact most of the work was done eight years ago.

As usual I include indicators showing when work was actually performed partly because I keep this information for sonnets but also partly to illustrate how far I’ve moved since those early days of paramontage making. 

Below is a more recent one, ‘The trumpets, or, the constitutional rising of the 1820s’, which was written on 16, 17, 24 and 29 November, and 9 December, 2020; 9, 20 March and 15 September 2021. The actual work was on 27 May and on 12 July at which time I improved it.

The main benefit of the new method is that, relative to the images, the poem is larger, hopefully large enough to read when the framed item is hanging on a wall in a room. The type-6 (grid) method keeps the poem too small to read, so spoils the point of the whole assemblage, but I’m not quite sure how the type-2 method (used for ‘The trumpets’) reads from the room because I haven’t got any of this type framed and hung yet.

This explanation is a bit confusing, I’m aware, especially since I came up with the names for the different methods after I’d started on the path of paramontage. In actual fact type 6 comes chronologically before type 2. Apologies for the difficulty in understanding but I didn’t start to classify my works until I’d already been making them for quite a number of weeks, and when I did start classifying images I found I wanted to privilege the more favoured methods over the methods that had already been paused (though it’s possible that I might, in future, restart making type 6s).

At the time this blogpost was made type 2 was one of the dominant methods and indeed the last time I went to the print shop – yesterday – I dropped off files for two more type 2s.

This brings me back to the point I started off wanting to write about with this post, and that is the urge to redo type 6s as type 2s. I kind of like the grid layout but the fact that you can’t read the poem from the room bothers me a lot. What do you think I should do? Comments welcome.

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Getting feedback on paramontages

It’s been a few days since I stopped taking the medication for the back pain. The pain has gone away but there are some slight remnants of it in muscle memory, just aches in certain regions of my lower back that remind me of what had gone before. 

On Friday evening a friend came over because he was in the area. I made him some food and he gave me some comments about my paramontages, also about the house, which he hadn’t seen. He liked both and I was grateful on both counts, though especially for what he said about my work it’s very useful to get feedback even from someone who knows you well because it validates your efforts but, more importantly, it confirms or counters your intuition about how the general community is going to receive your work.

The last time I posted here I talked about delaying work and about waiting for inspiration to strike. At that time I had ideas about what to do, mental bookmarks having been placed in the diurnal ledger at some stray moment – you might be watching TV or cooking or interrupting a conversation you’re having with someone about food or money – and I’d been saving up the satisfaction of making for another time.

When I talked with my friend I addressed some of these feelings when I said that I am happy when I wake up in the morning. Instead of working for a wage, I said, I was free to indulge a hobby, and when I got out of bed I had tunes in my head I was so content with my life. He said this was good. I told him again, as probably I had done many times over my life, how I’d been living the dream of my father up until April (when I started making paramontages), but in reality what was important to remember about life was that the moment was all that counted.

We both agreed that we aren’t getting any younger. 

Also important to remember is that this conservation of energies, this greedy saving up of happiness (the making) if done when you’re at work will draw the ire of your boss, who just wants you to get down to doing what you’re being paid to do. But I like to feel the moment. I remember when I was young running a race around the school’s athletics track tapping my toes on the ground between steps, which hindered my progress but which was a kind of guarantee against the disappointment of losing despite my best efforts. Each foot had to be tapped in turn, I was careful to distribute the impacts equally on one side or the other, but someone who was watching me (I remember) and who saw the taps called out in an excited voice.

I like to feel the moment however, so in my new project I am writing about my process and chronicling even as I produce new items to get printed. I plan to go to the printer tomorrow as I have some items to pick up, but I also have two items to drop off, items I made in past days during parts of the making.

Both of these paramontages have something important in common because they use the “left side large” system, where I’ve privileged the left-hand side of the work over the right-hand side. The left-hand side is the “past”, and by putting more weight here in the overall scheme of things the final assemblage feels more appropriate because the right-hand side is going to carry more weight in the grand scheme due to our innate bias to favour the right. Like me tapping with my foot while running round the track, privileging the left grounds me in the past so that I can more effectively dream. 

I dream while awake. The paramontage I talked about last Wednesday was the first time I’d used a “left side large” construction and, what’s more, in fact I had a specific poem in mind when I went out in Botany with my cameras to take photos, I knew what I wanted and collected images with them, images specifically designed to accompany the sonnet, which was written on 16, 17, 24 and 29 November, and 9 December, 2020, and on 9, 20 March and 15 September 2021.

So, on eight separate days.

The first draft of a poem is the most important and usually the tone, the subject, and other major structural considerations are locked in place at that time. In this case it was at a time when I’d just read a book of history about the 19th century’s revolutions. I was homeless in those days as the warm weather was returning to the land, because I’d sold my apartment but had to wait until my house was finished and the approval by the certifier had been granted. 

By March 2021 I was living in the new house and the cold weather was returning, a happier time before the disaster of war arrived to prevent me from spending so much time with books. 

War is a man’s activity and the revolutionary movements the book examins was full of stories of the exploits of men. My foray into the streets of Botany was also designed to look at what men do which, today in Australia, is in many cases the building of houses. 

Everybody needs a home but it’s mostly men who build them, the number of women on building sites in this country is very low especially in trades (2 percent) so my survey of the suburb I moved to in 2021 is appropriately matched by a poem about civil discord that paved the way for civil harmony. It’s fitting that the post you’re reading, a post about the process of construction, should focus on a poem and on a paramontage about building, which is mainly the province of men. 

I am a man so I fit in here as well. What struck me about my male friend’s comments was his surprise, and I was happy to feel his delight, which seemed genuine, and especially valued a comment he made about a type-1 paramontage titled ‘Politics’. Here’s the poem:

We harness
the body
of the king

to fit
the steeds
of our desires. 

The image that goes with this poem is a fuzzy one taken with two cameras showing a city street but there are upright elements in it that might be horses and yet they might not, and he pointed at these bright artefacts, these white blobs, and asked, “Are these horses?” I was very excited at this moment as this was precisely the reaction that I’d aimed to inspire in my audience, yet I worried, too, because if you give someone something that they have to use their imagination to complete you might annoy them and they might then react negatively with respect to your work.

‘The trumpets, or, The constitutional risings of the 1820s’, written over eight days in 2020 and 2021 is, in the paramontage, paired with the reality of life in a peaceful country where real estate is the primary subject of BBQ conversations. When I sat down with my friend we didn’t talk about property (though we talked about his job) and on the same day we spoke Nine Entertainment advertised a new season of ‘The Block’.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Delay making new works until inspiration takes

The past week or so has been complicated by a very bad back, on Tuesday I saw my GP who said it was quite common for the muscles in the lower back to spasm. He gave me a script for muscle relaxants, which I filled at the local chemist here near my home, at which time the woman working in the shop had concerns about issuing the drug because she made a point of coming to the front desk where I was waiting to ask what they were for. I told her I had a sore back and she was relieved.

The pills have worked to a certain degree but I am still a bit tender down there, and getting up out of a chair is a task. It’s been two days since I started taking the pills and my doctor said in our consultation that I should be fine after a day or two. 

On the creative front my tentativeness due to the back problem is evident in how I put off making new paramontages. On Thursday morning I planned out a new one using a poem written in 2020 around the time I was homeless due to moving house. To go with this sonnet I had photos from a shoot done in 2009 when I met with University of New South Wales students who’d built a solar car. In fact I’d been given a commission back then to do a story for a magazine but what I shot with my camera weren’t in the end used with the story on the website.

The theme of the sonnet is technology and so to go with the photos of the electric car I identified images taken while watching TV in May and June this year. I keep notes in a folder to help my memory when it comes time to making a paramontage, and I sketched down the names of some folders where the files are located. This information will help me when the time comes for me to find the inspiration needed to do the work.

Feeling frail because of the back pain that had diminished but that still lingered in aches when I moved I put off doing the work. Most of the time the work is done before dawn at a time when I am free of distractions and interruptions, but sometimes I also work in the afternoon if I find the urge building to get it done. I obey my instincts, something that for most people is hard as they work in offices where managers tell them how to go about their labours, or else they’re responding to customer orders.

Working in an office it’s impossible to do the kind of work I enjoy so much nowadays, I remember being berated by a manager for lingering over a task, the recollection of those days is bitter and I don’t dwell on my feelings of inadequacy, feelings that remain despite the passage of a decade’s time. 

It’s not strange how such thoughts intrude on my consciousness and I reward them by giving in to emotions they raise. Do we become used to resentment at the expense of other, more useful, emotions, or else is resentment – usually so destructive, especially when it arises in the public sphere – potentially useful if it’s channelled into constructive activities like making art or writing?

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Paramontage analysis: 'The trumpets'

In this post I’m going to talk about the development of a paramontage made initially in May but revised this month. I had two versions of ‘The trumpets’ printed and I’ll start by showing the first version. 

I chose ‘The trumpets’ because it seems quite successful with the secondary images down the left side being larger than the ones down the right side. In my paramontages I normally privilege one photo above the others, in this case it’s the main photo is the house with the chimney and a garden with a flowering tree in it. In this layout the house occupies pride of place, stretching from the middle of the piece right down to the bottom. 

To the left of this photo you can see buildings including more houses but they’re smaller photos. Even though they’re smaller because they’re twinned they have a strong presence, and I also put in two photos showing a road because cars are a secondary theme in the paramontage against the idea of housing. The poem that goes with these images is, as follows.

Do you hear, comrades? Anarchy redounds
on each peak, in each valley and each croft.
Here’s our answer. A posse feints its rounds.
Hung on pennants people’s hope’s wrought aloft:

the King and Christ! A Constitution, now –
on a Dagger pointed at arbitrary rule’s
dark Heart, in opening my eyes I vow
to mimic the righteous, History’s fools,

who emerged in recent times from the Womb
of America, of Spain, and of France.

Recalling the martyrs of Greece and Rome
we march valiantly, our horses prance

and Glory gives her countenance to greet
the beggars who stand waiting at their feet.

This sonnet is consciously copying an old style, in fact it points back to the 18th century with its earnestness and enthusiasm, or even, indeed, to the 19th century, a time when revolution in Europe was in the air. I wanted to put the poem next to photos showing factories and houses and cars because it’s a very masculine story.

Below you can see the second layout.

To achieve this new look I made the poem bigger and stretched its backing box across two of the photos on the right-hand side: one shows a tree in a garden and one shows a tree in the street. Trees perform a major role in this paramontage, because like pipes and telephone lines they’re full of conduits, and looking after such equipment is normally the province of men. I wanted to show how the revolutionary impulse of 200 years ago has been channelled into property markets, where men with families own homes, often more than one, in a prosperous community.

I’m much happier with the second layout because it’s more open, the poem has room to breathe whereas in the first version it was a bit cramped by the photos on the right-hand side of the piece.

Monday, 18 July 2022

Paramontage showing No. 6 - 'The church - III' (a type-2)

On 28 May 2019 during a Middle East trip with a friend I visited Ayasofya. The paramontage you’re looking at forms a pair with the one about a building in Jerusalem described last time. 

The last one is titled ‘The church – II’ and this one is ‘The church – III’. Ayasofya is also called Hagia Sofia; your choice of name will depend on your ideas and education, on where you were born and where your allegiances lie. It’s a relative term. The building itself doesn’t care much what you call it, I guess, it’s always happy to receive guests. The poem, which was written on four days (20 October and 12 and 24 November, 2020, and 15 September the following year), goes like this.

I am sure that nowhere else can you see
interiors of such magnificence
where anyone meets ageless majesty
of defunct cousinage honour resents – 

who clasped their lovers tightly to their breasts,
regretted their part in an injustice,
mentioned a desire to commit to fasts,
or hurried to do some urgent business.

We carry our phones since the view is grand,
our bags because we’ll be busy all day,
our sensibilities are close at hand
as are our wallets since always we pay.

The writing on the walls as sharp as suns,
the men at the doors carry machineguns.

‘The church – III’ forms a companion piece to ‘The church – I’, which was also written on four days (20 and 21 October, and 9 December, 2020, and 15 September 2021), and goes like this:

Once more, it’s been converted to a mosque
and secular powers’ chauvinist decree
sees the sphinx rip off lazily its mask
while granite and marble and porphyry – 

each class of rock a notch in the compass –
make an accompaniment for the Word,
as the reds and whites the greens embarrass.
From circa 540, to humour God – 

so the general might be the victor –
this stone harlequin ideally suited
application of universal law
so all could enjoy the peace it mooted

but who in the world today could applaud
vivifying an unregretted lord?

15 September 2021 was nine months after I moved into the new house. All of the poems are part of ‘The Words to Say’, a sequence I started to put together in the middle of October 2020 at a time when I was between domiciles having sold my apartment in Pyrmont. 

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Eastern Suburbs Art Group establishment

Yesterday I met with a man named Simon and we talked about what to do with an art group in our area. Over coffee in Eastgardens we chatted for about 30 minutes mulling over topics as diverse as careers and the subjective and objective approaches to making art. 

Web page photo is a view of the city (Sydney) from Watsons Bay, where I grew up.

The conversation was easy so we decided to go ahead and set up Facebook and Nextdoor pages, which I did when I got home. Our first studio meeting will be in my home on 31 July.

This morning I did some admin work on the web pages in order to choose the right image to go with them and to set up some rules for discussion. I also at the same time updated my LinkedIn page which had been referring to me as a journalist. I’d previously added a “role” as visual artist but the substance of my public profile didn’t reflect my new calling suitably and I remedied the situation.

Simon graduated from the National Art School some years ago and while we discussed his fondness for Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami he didn’t bring along samples of his work so I don’t know much yet. I showed him some images of my paramontage in miniature on my iPhone but didn’t say anything about his choosing – to this point in time – to use a Blackberry. He says he’ll be getting a smartphone soon as his carrier no longer supports his device.

The coffee was strong and hot and the setting for our inaugural meeting was conducive to productive chat and inspired by what I’d heard I got to work as soon as I got home. I’d told Simon that I’d talk to him about options but once I sat down to figure out how to make the group page on Facebook I just went ahead and did it. When I messaged the co-founder of the Eastern Suburbs Art Group he said he’d seen the Nextdoor group page and thought it was good. I took that as an endorsement. The group is open to people in Sydney, not just to those living in the eastern suburbs.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Paramontage showing No. 5 - 'The church - II' (a type-2)

In May three years ago I visited the Middle East including Israel, and ‘The church – II’ shows a building in Jerusalem called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is ostensibly the site of Christ’s burial. The sonnet is self-explanatory.

The sun warms the city walls as women
walk the road under bougainvillea
and a busker – black hat and regimen –
sings in Hebrew to electric guitar

he strums alone. Using gestures I ask
for leave to snap – a tote with a strap that
occludes letters, setting the brain a task
to parse “rainin’” and a small gift shop’s tat – 

 “Shalom y’all”– echoes the whispering church
where a priest walks by swinging a censer
with a bell as crowds of the devout lurch
their bodies pressing on a barrier.

He’s said to have been put under a stone
we brush with our hands.
As though to atone.

I started writing the poem on 19 October 2020 in the middle of house moving. I was to all intents and purposes homeless for a period of months while my new place was finished: by October I’d moved out of my old place in Pyrmont and wouldn’t inhabit the house in Botany until January the following year. 

The poem took patience. I did more work on 12 November 2020 then continued with edits on 11 and 20 March and 26 September in 2021, so writing was delayed by about a year initially. With my sonnets I need time to get the necessary perspective, at the start I fall in love with all of them and find it hard to “see” them properly without a stretch of time to refresh my cognitive palate. Most of the poem was written at the first go but refining it so that it flowed – and made sense! – took time.

It’s not clear in this video but the font I used for the poem is quite square despite being a serif font, with heavy downstrokes and a blocky appearance. I wanted to use a contrasting colour for the text, so chose a purply-blue to go with the gold of the background. The background was selected to complement the gold inside the church, which you can see in the central photo. This photo was given pride of place because the poem ends with a description that matches it.

The church was built around 325AD and it attracts tons of visitors, as the photos show. The friend I went with accompanied me across the border from Jordan in a bus and after Jerusalem we visited Istanbul. The next paramontage I show will feature a building in that city.

Jerusalem is a very multicultural place, which is demonstrated in the street signs, in three languages. I fell in love with the country, the people are so kind and thoughtful. We had one taxi driver who tried to rip us off but most people were nice. I recommend visiting it’s slightly giddy-making to be confronted by so much history, though I’m not sure I’d want to live there: so many police and soldiers in the streets with machineguns.

Monday, 11 July 2022

Take two: Colour, Victoria Finlay

I bought this book on the same outing that I bought the David Bailey one, at Abbey’s in the CBD.

I didn’t choose a particular painting to go with this book cover, it’s just what’s visible when I sit at my desk. I had houseguests on the day this photo was taken so I didn’t want to go roaming around the house making noise. Here's my Patreon review in case you're interested in reading more.

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Paramontage showing No. 4 - 'United' (a type-1)

This paramontage contains a photo taken one day in Newtown, a place I love but this is painful. It’s titled ‘United’ which represents what happened in our childhood when my brother and I found cause to come together. Other times we were bickering but our fear of our father gave us common cause.

Dad had a rough childhood, his father was a migrant and he was taunted – in fact they both were – so that when he grew up he hated Ginger Meggs because, he said in his memoir, the type had been so abrasive. Most of his adult life was spent escaping the past, I feel, and his attendance at the ballet, his admiration for classical music – especially Beethoven and Brahms – his wanting to be in sunny, warm places near the sea – it all stemmed from hardship.

The poem in this work goes like this:

His memories
won’t protect
his children

from the thing
that dwells
in this house.

I had a comment in response to my last video (‘Syntax prescribes – I’), a video that includes a very complex poem reflecting decades of thinking about First Nations people and colonialism. It was the third work in a series on Myall Creek, where, in 1838, about 30 women, children and old people were slaughtered by settlers. It’s a very sombre moment for many people and the only thing the woman thought to comment on was my accent.

She said she thought I was from Britain. Now, all my life I’ve had this kind of response to my way of speaking. It’s either English or American, I can’t fathom why it’s important and it’s better than someone like Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott who bung on Ocker accents to disguise their roots. I never have tried to cover up who I am. I don’t like it when people talk about how I speak especially when the whole point of the video is to start a discussion – as the Uluru Statement from the Heart asks us to do – on dispossession and Reconciliation. 

These are big themes and in this term of government we’ll be asked to change the very nature of the polity in response. I think that it’s more significant than one Anglo woman’s curiosity about origins. Where I come from is a house where there dwelled something sinister, something powerful and malevolent.

Monday, 4 July 2022

Paramontage showing No. 3 - 'Syntax prescribes - I' (a type-2)

I had a comment on Instagram from a friend who laughed when she saw the last video because I’d been telling her, when we talked about art, that I don’t like the commentaries that go with paintings in galleries. You know the ones, those long discursive explanations or glosses that go with works of art telling the viewer how to interpret them. 

Sometimes it takes longer to read the gloss than it takes to see the painting itself so my friend thought it was ironic to see me doing the same thing with paramontage. Not so, I thought to myself, because paramontage are a new type of artwork and need some commentary. I also wanted to discuss the different provenances of each photo making up the work, and this sort of detail helps the viewer understand the creative process. 

The paramontage you’re seeing now uses mainly photos from the 2009 Myall Creek commemoration. The large photo in bottom-left comes from the previous year (2008) and it’s blurred to denote a kind of dream-time referring to the past. I chose yellow for the poem itself, which goes like this:

Subject and object form their bloody vows
but can function perfectly to the end.
We use ritual and – so – ochre the brows
of the messengers commissioned to send

on its way the expected warlike band:
a phrase moulding moments to make windows
like spiders’ nests anchored deep in the sand.
On the integument a hot wind blows

but what preserves my “I” if not my “you”? 
Fix the third-person possessive pronoun
next-door to the name of the mark which grew
with every successive trading mission

on the blessed land that time won’t forget.
Do they deign to accept the lesson yet?

The poem took a bit of effort to get right, it was written on 5, 9, 12, 15 December 2020; and 7, 11, 14 January, 8, 9, 11, 20 March and 15, 23 September 2021. That’s 13 separate days! A struggle because it’s a conceptual poem, part of ‘The Words to Say’ a sequence I started to put together two years ago and that has 88 poems in it.

In the paramontage children feature strongly, you can see two kids playing near the memorial rock during a speech. The man speaking is pointing up and in the photo above him children are involved in a dance. Paul Lynch, a NSW state politician is speaking with a microphone in another photo.

The poem talks about miscommunication, the tendency, where understanding is absent, for grammar to set the rules of engagement. If you think in terms of “us” and “them” then the outcome sort of takes care of itself. If you want to have a healthy relationship you need to think in terms of commonalities, of shared qualities, of common goals, of similarities not differences. The poem can be thought to contain these messages but it also talks about the land. 

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Paramontage showing No. 2 - 'On the way to New England' (a type-2)

Like the last paramontage featured, ‘On the way to New England’ focuses on the Myall Creek massacre commemoration, this time the one held in 2008. My first time there so there’re lots of photos, in fact I walked around during the proceedings snapping away with my camera as if there were no tomorrow.

Politician Peter Garrett was there, you can see him in the central photo of mourners near the memorial rock as speakers addressed the gathering. He attended to present a document to the committee regarding heritage listing of the site. The sonnet goes like this:

Hugging the vast bulk of the continent
the range extends its fat botanic paws.
Their scrubby sides are thick with such ancient,
grey species of kindling as follow laws

inscribed in larval marks on peeling trunks.
They softly swoon amid peals of bell-birds,
an aural liquor that may make you drunk.
You steer your big machine by cautious thirds

up the road to Cunninghams Gap; past that,
you shoot through the tablelands, retracing
passes forged by hardy knaves who worked flat-chat
to fashion them into the bones we sing. 

The squatter’s curse was once lord of the realm,
a safer pair of hands at nature’s helm.

Cunninghams Gap is shown with its descent to the coast, in the top-left photo, which was taken on a different journey in the same year. The dark, brooding photo at top right was taken – also in the same year – during a trip from Melbourne to Brisbane on the Newell Highway, and while strictly it sits outside the “New England” theme I wanted it to add drama to the blackness of the central photo. Black and white dominate in this paramontage where green was the main colour in ‘Return’, which featured in showing No. 1.

In 2008 I stayed I think in Inverell at a motel and driving back to that town after the ceremony I stopped next to a field of sunflowers, that had turned brown, to take more photos. The sky had by afternoon come over cloudy in parts, mixing a sombre note reflecting the suppressed emotions of the event I’d recently participated in, though my fluttering around like a butterfly taking photos was at odds with the rest of the group.

I’d learned about the ceremony on TV when during an episode of ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ Peter Stewart’s ‘Demons At Dusk’ had featured, historian Peter Fitzsimons adding colour in a way that at once appealed to me. On the strength of his observations I jumped in the car one Friday after work and motored north to New England. 

I did a lot of driving that year for reasons I can’t quite fathom now, the distance created by time erasing the remnants of feelings that the photographs summon up like magicians, I can still remember standing on the path as clumps of people filed past, there was something about the curve of the track that appealed to me. It still seems appropriate at this remove the way the walkers go in one direction then, coming around the bend, change to face the opposite way while still attaining the same goal.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Paramontage showing No. 1 - 'Return' (a type-2)

I chose this paramontage titled ‘Return’ to start this series of videos having taken it the day before to a meeting of friends at a cafĂ© in Alexandria. I showed the work round and the feedback was generally positive. The video below goes for about 3 minutes and you're reading the script.

The small poem was written in 2021 and the sonnet was written on 19 November 2010. The photos were taken at the time of the massacre commemorative event in 2011. The short poem goes like this:

I long for
a path,

in the valley
of dreams

I named the paramontage after the short poem when I made it this year. Myall Creek came up as a topic of discussion at the lunch not only because of the artwork but because a woman who was there is related to Denny Day, the magistrate who was the first of many people in positions of authority to investigate the crimes, which took place in 1838. Catherine showed me a web page about another ancestor that had a painted portrait on it.

In the paramontage you can see a man named Lyall Monro and I made him prominent because of the central role he played in the establishment of the memorial, which took place in 2000. I had to crop and blow up one photo in my collection to make him large enough to feature, though you can also see him standing in other photos taken at the time.

Myall Creek is unique in many ways as a site of reconciliation and the event is held every year during the queen’s birthday weekend. I went a few times but it’s too far for my heart nowadays. At this year’s event hundreds of people turned up with an estimated 40 percent being newcomers.

The sonnet goes like this:

Fire’s the best thing for murder’s disguising.
Caw, caw, carrion crow. Hey, Derry down.
Dark shapes hop about and smoke is rising
up on the tablelands where there’s no town,

no women and no magistrate, just scrub
fit only to clear to make room for kine.
In the silence the black heads swivel up
as a presence moves along the incline,

and now footfalls sound among the earthward-
slung branches and grey leaves; the crows retreat
and a man surveys the remains, his sword
like a wing grossly swinging in the heat.

There were some women but this day they’re gone
writ in the lists of the wretched and torn.

I didn’t take so many photos in 2011 because it was my third time attending and the novelty had become diluted somewhat, though I stay involved in other ways. Since its establishment the site has been developed and there’s now an amphitheatre for dances. Further enhancements are planned.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Like Horatio on holidays from university

A nice video by a friend on the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois formed part of my morning’s entertainment. I’d finished processing her comments on my blogposts, making tea, and putting the sheets in the clothes dryer when I decided to sit down again to write this piece you’re reading (or “creading”, as we create when we read, making sense in headspace from what’s in the pagespace) about fathers.

Basia’s video on the sculptor is related to fathers because she talks about her father’s death and this is in the context of Bourgeois’ commentary, in her art, on her own father. My father’s influence on me was on the corrosive side of the spectrum from loving to destructive, he was like the acid used to make an etching, whereas my mother was like the stylus used to cut the plate or metal. I’m not sure what role my grandmother (who lived with us when I was growing up) played though like mum she for the most part enabled my father’s aggressive need to control.

When I had finally left home I made a meme which goes like this:

Control is the manifestation of joy.

This strange pronouncement is all of a piece with the broken figure I made as I walked the corridors of Sydney University or strolled on a sunny day across Victoria Park to my apartment, I wrote a poem about the Stack in 2013, here it is:

Walk over the squishy linoleum
and rise, inside a lift, to the ninth floor
and enter an aerial museum.
All accessed from their temporary store.

Taking an hour out from nothing, I browse.
Marks flashed interminably in my eyes.
A pure gift – I think this one Basia knows – 
I’ve seen this and it’s a pack of lies.

How many hours and days pass in this guise?
How many times did I go up the stair?
How long ago did how many hopes rise?
Wonder why I feel as if I’m still there …

Next to the Stack’s copper cladding you stand near
the largest in the southern hemisphere.

This sonnet is titled ‘Hunting in Fisher Library’ and it was written on 10 February 2013 as well as 26 and 29 November 2020 (I date sonnet construction, showing how control is the manifestation of joy). It’s part of a long sequence of poems called ‘The Words to Say’ and this, funnily enough, is the final poem in the collection. It’s entirely of a piece with reality that Basia features in this poem, as we’ve recently been talking about art and artmaking.

Dad took photographs. I have one of his constructions in my collection of art, a montage comprised of three photos taken seconds apart showing the view from an apartment balcony where my mother is walking down the street, she’s probably on her way back from buying something at the grocery store or from the real estate agents’ to pick up a document. I cannot know what she was doing but the important thing is that dad got the photos developed and printed by cutting the negatives or by cutting prints, sticking them together, and taking a photo of the resulting montage so that it could be developed. I cannot know how he made it though if I asked a photographer who’s used traditional techniques perhaps I could get a better idea.

Reading the poem now I’m transported back to the aimless days when I tried to engage with the course of study but often felt alienated from the subjects I was asked to focus on with my mind and memory. I read a lot of American novels. I made linocuts in my unit, as well, wielding the busy knives (I still have several of those productions) at times when essays weren’t demanding my attention. When I eventually lost everything due to ill health dad would tell people even if they didn’t ask that I’d graduated from Sydney University, as though this fact were some sort of proof of his own skill.

After I came back to Australia, homeless, I’d write poetry instead of making art because by this time I was alienated from visual art by the trauma I’d experienced. Poetry became an alternative way for me to express myself and to find comfort in a largely indifferent world without resorting to pen and paper, or to brush and palette. Writing was an “out” from an impasse forged by iron laws. I was reclaiming control, though infrequently felt joy. 

These days joy comes from thinking about art, reading about art, wondering about other people who – due to whatever alchemical process nature devised – have made art. It’s a holiday resort of the mind, like the TV ads I watch in the late afternoons in the breaks between news segments. I watch news about car crashes, fires, military invasions, stock market plunges, I watch storms carry loads of moisture over miles of land. Before I started making art I’d return to reruns of crime dramas after the news, switching from the ABC to a secondary digital channel where ‘Father Brown’ or ‘Death in Paradise’ could be seen in the evenings.

Now that I’ve started making paramontages I’ve stopped doing this. I might instead watch ‘7.30’ (a magazine-style current affairs program) then get ready for bed. 

I even made a paramontage talking about these evenings, it’s called ‘TV’. Here it is:

This assemblage uses a photo of TV news where men were losing their jobs making cars. I matched it with a shot taken while driving in 2008 in Sydney. A work like this might seem overly pessimistic unless you understand that I spent 25 years working in offices doing things I had little aptitude for and that were predicated on the need to earn a wage because of the course of life chosen for me by my meddling father. Nowadays, if I rise after 4am I’m very happy though even if I’m forced out of bed at 2am I can make things or write things that mean something to me. I can ignore the soft torture of coursework. I can try to forget the boredom and time spent sitting at a desk, though with the computer and the software I’m ironically still cemented to an office desk.

Some habits become ingrained. Horatio was visiting on holidays from university when the bulk of ‘Hamlet’ played out in the fictive space. For myself, I never have to go back there again.