Sunday 25 December 2022

Collage in Japanese

It’s been a week since I started playing with line and Posca pens. A Mitsubishi product, Poscas are like a cross between a Biro and a paintbrush, delivering a heavy, colourful and permanent mark on any surface. I was kindly introduced to Poscas by Sophie Gee, who took one of our Esag classes, she even gifted me several for me to use but I’d already gone to buy some so had a selection of colours to work with. I showed Sophie what I’d done and she was enthusiastic, something very nice to hear. 

Basia, another friend, also liked the paintings and I did two using Japanese sayings given to me by my family in Japan. 

I wanted to use Japanese for several reasons, partly because you can fit more text in the same space with Japanese. What I found as well is that it’s a lot of fun to make the complex Chinese characters that Japanese uses, I find being successful at executing a clip without damaging the unit’s integrity (though as Basia said you can always glue it in place even if you rip it) as much fun as making a good couplet when writing poetry.

It's a matter of skill.

I had by this time come up with a process that starts with identifying the saying to render. Once this is done I can think of what image I want to make to accompany the script, then I draw it on two sheets of pre-folded A4 paper so that just using pencil I can make a model of what I’ll paint with water – even before I’ve wet my brush.

I get a sheet of A5 paper ready and paint in the outline required to make the shape I want, using plain clean water. I then apply colours to the wet patch and repeat the process on all of the remaining sheets.

Now comes the time to wait, as the water has to partially dry before I fill in the body of the image I’ve outlined in negative using bright colours, often including gold. In about five minutes the paper will be ready for the second coat, applied with the same brush to the remaining (empty) spaces, with me making sure to keep some of the white still visible so that the existence of the object isn’t completely obscured.

I then let the sheets dry, soaking off excess water and mopping the table with a paper towel. After the stickiness has gone I weigh the sheets down with heavy books to make them flat, but you have to be careful not to damage the pigmented areas.

Once dry I go through magazines looking for areas of picture that are of the right colour to make script, and I cut all of the elements out before any gluing is done. I lay elements out on my paper sheets then glue them in place. After this process is complete I use Poscas to draw in the outlines of the required shapes.

For the kite work I had to try three times to get the top-right panel correct as initially I didn’t get the seam matching properly. The image continues from frame to frame and the work has to have integrity when all frames are in place, so making the borders agree is important. The object on the top border has to sit right with its continuation on the bottom one.

'At a loose end' (Kite on a broken string)', 2022.

'Birds of a feather' (Being the same summons friends)', 2022.

Having done these two Japanese works I find myself a bit marooned. To add contrast I wrote a poem in a mode I haven’t used since starting to make art in April. 

The theme of the poem is dislocation because I feel as though I am travelling from one place to another. I worked at a desk all my life from the time when I was a child, so writing poetry is closer to my sunrise. Since the 1970s at school, through university in the 1980s, then at work from the 80s to 2012, and afterward writing poetry at a desk, I’ve spent so much time at a desk that it feels awkward to instead sit at the dining table making watercolours.

I started making watercolours in November so it’s only been two months of trying but I’ve arrived at a situation where it seems necessary to look back to check the route of the journey thus far. 
The opposing shore has its own riverbank.

Here’s the thing: I should be going full-steam ahead but rather than start the next work I want to take a break. It’s almost as though I’ve tried to reach a goal and, having reached it, I chuck it all in and look for another goal to pursue.

Is it just me or are humans never happy?

A friend of mine said that this is where an artist differs from an artisan because where the latter makes perfect works without stopping, making them to order for example, the former wants to find something new all the time. This friend is an artist herself and has spent the past 30 years making art. We talk from time to time and exchange emails, it’s useful to stay in touch with peers because this journey is singular and not everyone has the ability to make it.

Some people are satisfied with the rudiments like a house, enough money for three meals a day, some associates to share a drink with once a week, maybe a night out at the movies. A new car every ten years. The occasional ticket to see football, soccer or cricket.

Then there are the outcasts.

Of course it could just be the holiday season with its particular burdens, the chore of trying not to spend time alone, the obligations of friendship, celebrating and the like. It could be that there has been so much water under the bridge that it got washed away without my noticing. I’m crossing the river by feeling the stones with my feet.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Making 'Tick tick boom'

On Sunday I started using Posca pens (made by Mitsubishi a Japanese company) which are sort of like a cross between a Biro and a paintbrush, laying down a thick impasto when used on paper. They allow you to run right over bits of collage, even newsprint, leaving a heavy trace to see.

I’d collected in my phone the phrase “tick tick boom” and when I was watching the news about Nathaniel Train I decided to do a work including his face. As a result of all these ideas I made the watercolour panels and when they dried as usual I applied the collage letters.

Then I stopped.

I finished the letters one evening and decided to leave the Posca marks until the next day. When morning arrived I still hadn’t made up my mind to start, I was a bit worried about making a mistake, but the delay meant I could think about the colour to use for the Posca marks, and I settled on blue and white to point to the police. I emailed a friend talking about my quandary but in the evening I settled in to do the marking anyway even without her feedback. By the time her email arrived I’d finished (see below).

My friend said the best way to deal with this sort of fear is to confront it. “What are you afraid of anyway” If I wasted a sheet of paper, so what? I had written:
Have started a new work, 'Tick tick boom', but I'm a bit scared of the Posca stage. I put down the collage y'day afternoon so now I just have to draw in the figures and other objects but am thinking to try first with a pencil. I've done two of these Posca-ornamented works so far and both turned out OK but this time there's a face and I'm a little bit scared of doing it wrong and making a mistake.
After I read Basia’s email I wrote in response:
The face is in top left panel, though the beard continues in bottom left. I think it turned out ok, but it was supposed to b on a bigger angle and the ear is too large. I sort of like how it looks a bit like something from ‘The Simpsons’.
When I conceptualised the painting I didn’t know it would turn out looking like a character from ‘The Simpsons’, I wonder who it might be, but I had put down the yellow and green obviously (Australia’s sporting colours) to get to this stage of uncertainty. 

I might’ve done a better job if I’d used Pencil first (and rubbed out the residue later) but the cartoonish aspect of the figure would’ve been different perhaps.

For the next work I did the execution differently, taking more time with the drawing BEFORE the painting, and mocking up the figure on two sheets of folded A4 to start with. The process evolves as I progress, coming up with solutions to technical problems as the idea settles in place and clicks.

Monday 19 December 2022

Using better paper and Poscas

I’m a bit at a loss because I didn’t record precisely on what day I started using the better paper, the 320gsm stuff bought at the store in the National Art School, but I went down to the Rocks on Friday to buy more of the same paper from Parker’s.

The new paper changed my life.

In the last blogpost I wrote about my art practice but the images that I put up were all of paintings made on the poor-quality paper that curls when it’s dry. It’s hard to frame because when you flatten it it buckles (“cockles” says Amanda, the framer) and looks bad, so I took a chance with the $2-a-sheet stuff made in India from recycled clothes, which works brilliantly because even though it curls when wet by the time it’s dry it’s flat.

On Saturday I went to see a show with Sophie and while there I showed her the new paintings. She made some comments that made me think I wasn’t adventurous enough. Because of the way she spoke I thought that the paintings were not quite the thing, and she’d given me some Posca pens to use (I’d also bought some a few weeks earlier) so when I got home I used Posca pen on the watercolour-collages to see what effect it would have.

The Poscas made all the difference.

Using the pens, which lay down a thick impasto but in a controlled manner, like a combination of a paintbrush and a Biro, I can outline shapes suggested by the watercolour, and the pens let me glide right over the boundaries of the cut-out letters as well. 

The result is a more convincing image.

'Around Sydney', 2022.

'Double Africa', 2022.

This model of proceeding involves more risk because you might stuff up the drawing and ruin a day’s work in an instant, but doing something risky is sort of the purpose of art, it allows taking risks with less physical danger, so what the heck.

Using better paper and drawing with Poscas have made it more interesting and satisfying to manufacture things. Accidents can be good for us, what the world serves up as a surprise can help us by offering different paths to walk along in our dream-state, what one person thinks coming via language to our skulled brain. 

A bolt of lightning, a shock of new like a new hairdo.

I’m still at a loss but who cares? If I go around wondering/worrying it hardly makes any difference to the world, which carries on being mad without my involvement. All I can do is wait for the courage to take up the pen and start.

Friday 16 December 2022

Making more watercolurs vs Dexter from Accounting's email

I’ve been making more collages, a process started about a month ago, although probably more accurately it started on the last day of October with the collage-watercolour class of Eastern Suburbs Art Group.

I'm coming from, 2022.

Ripe darkness, 2022.

Vera Stanhope, 2022.

Whatever the time distance at play it’s enjoyable to spend hours doing what I was born to do, and I think about my father and the lost years every day. The lost years making money for someone else. The lost years of hard graft sitting at desks doing jobs that took all my concentration but that had nothing to do with me, with my ideas, with my thoughts.

I’m not a big fan of ‘The Matrix’ however.

It’s a funny film franchise, the corniness equalled by how badly it’s developed over time, the first one just silly and the most recent one completely incomprehensible. Yet its durability is testament to the dissatisfaction so many feel at how the world is organised.

My father was a leading player in the Matrix.

I worked in a range of different organisations. I worked in companies, in the public service, and at a university, so I have a wide experience. I’ve also freelanced. Work is deadening. It crushes the Will, that vital essence that makes the world come alive. People complain of cost-of-living pressures but the supply of recreational drugs continues day by day, casinos are used to launder the proceeds of crime, and we all tune into the latest show about one Mexican cartel or another eager to feed our abiding appetite for escape. 

Why escape when you can make art? For my part I’ve got other problems, mostly to do with my creative practice, I’m used to its demands. 

For example paper. I started out using 200 grams-per-square-metre (gsm) watercolour paper but it cockles (a term my framer taught me), in other words once its dry and you flatten it out to put under the mat preparatory to framing, the centre buckles up away from the backing material. Cockling can mar the appearance of the finished object, and I’m very interested in framing so it bothers me.

To try to fix the problem I bought heavier, 300gsm paper but it still didn’t do the job. Then the other day I was up at the National Art School looking at the Grad Show and I popped into the supplies shop on campus. There, I found even heavier paper (320gsm) and when I got home and found some time to do painting I used it instead of the Reeves paper.

It started out not so well as for whatever reason the watercolour washes I use dry faster on the new paper. Because of this I had to throw away some sheets (which cost about $2 each) and start those panels again. Once I’d finished the requisite four panels I went out to a poetry reading and when I came back home later saw that the paintings had dried flat.

One problem solved meant another one arose, viz the problem of what words to use for the composition. Each of the four panels shows part of the continent of Africa, in different colours, and I normally use either 10 or 12 letters to make the collage, picking the paper out of magazines. In the current case it’s either “Rain in Africa” or “Double Africa” what do you think? The map is bright and uses a range of colours, for example blue and green and orange. I think “Rain in Africa” is good because it’s got the pop culture reference to the Toto song, but “Double Africa” has the idea of multiples, either in the sense embodied in the multicoloured South African flag or else in the sense that all people came out of Africa so that continent was effectively doubled.

It's a small problem but it’s my problem. Sure beats worrying about what Dexter from Accounting is going to do, how his email might impact my boss’s boss, and how that decision might filter down to my cubicle. Humbug!

Thursday 1 December 2022

TV review: 'Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story' (2022), Netflix

It’s not often that I watch anything on Netflix but a friend recommended ‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ to me so I made an exception and logged onto the OTT service to catch the drama.

It turned out to be revelatory, and I’m not entirely sure if this is because I normally spend time with reruns like ‘Poirot’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’. ‘Monster’ is really excellent and takes the viewer on a journey that has some surprising twists and turns but more importantly has meaning. This is not just an edge-of-seater, it raises really interesting issues. 

And it’s not just about one man. What is actually at stake in the show is contemporary American society (though serial killers also exist in other countries, as we know) and its unwieldy values, indeed at times you are drawn gently to reflect on larger things including history itself, and the Western legacy.

Running to ten episodes, ‘Monster’ uses a range of characters to make its points, though Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters) stands or sits (like a spider) at the centre of the web. No, that’s not right. Peters creates a compelling villain and the writers and director have given the main character multiple facets that refract the major issues – independence, escape, transcendence, mortality, consumerism – in a variety of ways. Peters’ Dahmer is mercurial, bumptiously charming, forceful though restrained, determined and inventive. 

The authorities (and, by extension, modern America) come off looking remarkably pallid, slothful, lazy, biased, and ineffective. The police, especially, seem to have almost conspired with Dahmer to make sure that more victims appeared, witnesses and families being brushed off as inconvenient as Dahmer went on his sustained crime spree frequenting gay bars where he picked up unsuspecting Black men.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s father Lionel (Richard Jenkins) is also very well done, he plays a key role in cementing Jeffrey’s place in middle America, rendering him as a nice boy from a normal part of the country who went haywire. The filmmakers make sure to emphasise the serendipitous nature of Dahmer’s psyche, and avoid make pat conclusions so that the show finishes being open-ended and suggestive. Was it education? Was it is mother’s (Penelope Ann Miller) use of prescription drugs during pregnancy? Was it the hobbies Lionel encouraged where Jeffrey cut up roadkill in his spare time?

Heaven knows, but given that serial killers continue to emerge perhaps we’re failing to learn lessons early exponents like Dahmer give us for OUR education. Given this gap perhaps Dahmer should be talked about more. Perhaps it is being talked about but I don’t inhabit those parts of the web, and in any case there’s always something on OTT to fill in for what’s just been trending.

Monday 28 November 2022

Watercolour-collage 'Sunset garden'

I made the watercolours for ‘Sunset garden’ on Saturday during the Eastern Suburbs Art Group painting session organised for the afternoon. It was fun to sit around inside making little paintings of the dark green colocasia leaves, the reddish-black stems, and the white pebbles of the light well. 

There were three of us there and we all had different solutions to the problem of representation, a topical issue as on the day there was an election in Victoria. Figurative art never seems to go away though for a while there it seemed that high art had completely abandoned figuration – there’s an exhibition on at Chau Chak Wing Museum at the moment of 70s and 80 abstract art – but artists in 2022 have it available if they feel inclined to work out ways to extract the abstract from actual views of the world.

I went to see a show on at Damien Minton’s little gallery in Waterloo where Sidney Teodoruk’s lovely paintings – some oils and others collages combining cut-up paintings, words, and colours – inspired me to continue a trend in my own work that’d started a bit earlier when I was making colour-field paintings and sticking collage on top.

Yesterday I took this idea further by combining it with the figurative play of the Colocasia paintings, helped by my iPhone where I’d been noting down words with six letters. I chose “sunset” and “garden” then decided what source material to use for the collage. 

As usual I didn’t think too much about this part of the exercise though I’d already decided to use a waste paramontage that features a poem written on 11 March, and 15, 23 and 26 September 2021. The Bondi photos were taken on 9 March 2008 just before a major episode that I did survive and the poem features an historical subject, the idea that major political centres often get established on waterways, I was thinking when writing the poem of how the Vikings settled beaches then towns grew up around the resulting entrepots.

The reason why the paramontage was waste is because it’d been printed at the wrong size. I started making paramontages in April and got the grid-form ones done early in the process, the type-6 paramontages eventually being rejected in favour of works with different-sized photos in them. This type 6 is titled ‘Oswald eats a peach’ and it has a poem that goes like this.
Archers and melons make suitable sport
for these ambitious sons, fixing to sing.
A model once formed is a new resort
from the loathing and fear twisting the ring 
as immigrants fit our linguistic rules
and letters in books that land on the beach
infest our guts so that His very stools
nourish crops nourishing men within reach. 
Strict recitative fumbles a button
while priests magnificent with verbal tools
inscribe His reluctant fiat upon
the warbands scrappy as next-morning fools. 
When streets are laid out it becomes a port 
once a warrior’s seat – becomes a court.
Here is the set of watercolours and I’ve decided to get them framed when I go to Richmond for that purpose on Wednesday.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

'Social animals' series of collages

In the past few days I’ve been doing a lot of works in the ‘Social animals’ series that is developing alongside other works as the inspiration takes me. It started with several iterations of Television Man then came four exemplars of Flip-phone Dog and finally Computer Mouse, the theme connecting them all is our symbiotic relationship with machines, we seem to be tied very closely to these complex manufactured items and we surround ourselves with images and sounds that come from them. 

Television Man

We use machines to transport us from one place to another, achieving in minutes what in an earlier age took days to accomplish. We spend hours each day watching a device play content manufactured for our use by people on a different continent, people we’ll never meet or communicate with apart from in our own minds.

Flip-phone Dog

Science fiction 100 years ago never predicted what we throw away nowadays as rubbish when it no longer works. We leave discarded devices on the street kerb to get wet in the rain and count it lucky if we don’t get fined. We give away items that once would’ve been considered magical if they no longer serve us, or if we decide to go to a different continent (the journey taking a few hours) and need to empty our house quickly.

Computer Mouse

Documents that we’ve made when we got up at dawn to write are now stored for safekeeping in machines located on that distant continent, the storage achieved without our even concerning ourselves about it. We’ve eclipsed the old shamans and their spirits in our service to mythical objects that are advertised while we’re plugged into the news of the day streaming at the speed of light through the atmosphere.

The spirits of our ancestors beckon us but we’re too busy watching Netflix or Prime. We’re the odd angle in the tree of evolution, we are breaking new paths and editing the material of descent with new machines that our elected representatives haven’t yet understood or, for that matter, bargained for. 

The world is changing in the Anthropocene.

Friday 11 November 2022

Watercolour- and collage-making

A few days ago I started making watercolour collages starting with flowers, something simple and happy, something not too demanding, something fun. I was drawing on the Eastern Suburbs Art Group session of 29 October, when we did something similar together in my front room overlooking the street.

I made about five or six flower paintings with magazines I’d picked up for the group, there are women’s magazines, New Scientist, a stack of motoring magazines, a whole range of things salvaged from landfill. When I was talking to my friend Basia – who’s always been very supportive of my artmaking efforts – and as I was outlining the reasons making collages is so much fun I mentioned this aspect or collage-making, the fact that you’re recycling and giving a new use to something most people would see as rubbish.

The next series I made had rockets in them. The photo above shows one of these, and it’s one that Roger, who I went to school with 45 years ago, identified as his favourite from the set. He liked the humour, and I guess that collage lends itself to making fun because of this reuse aspect.

Although the watercolour part determined the use of rockets because I wanted a theme to use the bleed in the centre, where the excess liquid has damaged the pristine line, infiltrated the swatch of paint, it’s impossible with collage to anticipate exactly what will happen in the creative process. I look at magazine pages and just pick out things that appeal to me, then when I’m assembling the collage I just pick things up off the table top and glue them down in a seamless movement. 

There’s thought but it’s all done on the fly. The next series I did was cars, and I used a square of water from the beginning to get the TV-like shape in the middle that’s filled with bleeding colour. The car series are quite self-conscious in this way and I got images of cars out of the motorsport magazines to link to the cut-shape cars I made with scissors. There’s a good deal of skill involved in making these figures, you have to know where to turn the paper to get the right outline.

After the cars I turned to the theme of death because I’d been talking with Basia and she had shown me photos of dead birds she’d made in the 80s. The colour is still joyous but the works’re getting more serious, more contemplative, more difficult.

I returned to the TV-shaped bleeds in the television man series, which’re just silly little things with a subtext, I like the way that they make fun of themselves, the electric zaps at the top were quite hard to do and the hands often wouldn’t stick down the first time. Unlike one of the birds I didn’t tear any of these.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Doorbell/intercom breaks down again

Ok so after Dan the electrician got the Akuvox doorbell installed on my house the thing worked for exactly ONE DAY before it broke down. I got it to buzz reliably on one occasion and then when a friend came to visit he had to call me from outside on the pavement because I wasn’t answering. 

I wasn’t answering because the doorbell didn’t sound. This was because it had broken down again. I was back in groundhog day, sort of like enjoying sunny days in Sydney in November 2022. For a few hours the sun shines and then BANG the clouds come overhead and it starts to spit.

My doorbell is raining on my parade.

Dan came and tinkered around in the ceiling, then tinkered around in the wall, then did something with a bunch of wires. I asked him at the end about what the problem was and he said something about the wires pulling out of their contacts because of pressure. Apparently he’d combined all the wires into one strand or something – who KNOWS?

When I worked for Yamatake-Honeywell in the nineties we had the sales company and the service company and now I know why they have a separate arm just for service. Because you KNOW that as soon as there’s an opportunity for something to go wrong it’s going to go wrong and it’s going to inconvenience the largest number of people. Just by writing this post I’m jinxing the machine, the machine is watching it’s got an AI component reading every blog in the world and it’s going to see what I’ve so recklessly written and start plotting to take out my doorbell so that my life falls apart.

I still haven’t worked out what to do with the old parts from the previous doorbell/intercom. They’ll probably sit on my bookshelf for 10 years and then get thrown in the garbage. Life is like a box of junk, you think it’s worth something but it turns out the valuables are just taking up space.

Thursday 27 October 2022

Getting a new doorbell installed

When I scroll through WhatsApp to find conversations I can see that on 20 September I asked my neighbour the builder if the electrician would be coming to fix the doorbell. Dan got in touch with me after Joe nudged him and Dan said he’d come to fix the doorbell but I had a crew filming at my place so had to delay replacement until 24 October. I’d first contacted him on 5 March because the doorbell wasn’t working properly and in fact it entirely stopped working on 9 July.

I now have a box full of unneeded intercom panels and some sort of hidden power supply so if anyone wants these they can have them. For the moment I’ve put the box down in the garage on a bookshelf.

When you have no doorbell it’s difficult to enjoy a normal life. I know this sounds like a first-world problem where comparatively Ukrainians are being asked to go without heating in a European winter, or being killed in their homes by guided missiles. But I’ve had people visit, buzz me, and – not hearing any response – simply walking away. This happened with one person coming to my place for the art group as well as a man who’d been asked to travel from Ryde to help tidy up the place after the filming ended.

Dan had a whole day of fine weather yesterday. He’d had to change the day for his visit due to rain (of course) and then got to work installing the new equipment. Then something wouldn’t work and he couldn’t get onto the distributor by phone. He struggled with the device, tapping his foot and scratching his chin until he got onto the representative for the second time in the afternoon, and eventually worked out that because I’d opted NOT to have the gate strike operable via mobile phone the remote configuration had to be redone.


Technology is unbearable at the best of times because it’ll always break down. God knows how the Mars voyage will end up if travellers are unable to get a spare part en route to the red planet. Technology is more unbearable when it is involved with something as essential as being able to admit someone into your own home. Being unable to unlock the gate from June to October was bearable but I was forced to constantly tell people to “message me from the street when you arrive” in order to go about daily business.

I told Dan that I wasn’t interested in the doorbell communicating with me via the cloud and he seemed ok with that, but apparently if you’re an electrician and you want plug-and-play your customer has to want all the bells and whistles. Akuvox seemingly thinks that all customers will want internet connectivity and whatnot, everything in the world accessible from a mobile device, they’ll be landing rovers on the moon from the White House next it’s mad.

It's a mad mad mad mad world and we’re caught in the digital matrix. When I worked in Tokyo in the 1990s the buzzword that never seemed to get off the ground was “home automation” but now you get electricians struggling to install a freaking doorbell because you’re SUPPOSED to want it. I don’t care about home automation, I need my home to reliably do a few simple things that save me time and money, or that improve my quality of life like the pool chlorinator cell running on the pumps. I don’t care about seeing if a burglar is about to try to open my front gate. I trust my door to work to keep the bad guys out. I don’t trust the intercom to allow friends to come inside the house.

Saturday 15 October 2022

Search for flowering crocus continues in Earlwood

Last month I wrote about finding wild iris in Botany, but alas my quest in search of crocus continued. I had a tip-off that crocus could be found in Earlwood and even had an address, so in the afternoon one day at the beginning of this month I drove over there in the car and near Wyatt Avenue, on the corner of Bexley Road, I found a parking spot. At certain hours it’s a clearway but I was just inside the limit so I dashed across the road and snapped some photos of the pink flowers.

On arriving home I did a Google Lens search using the photos I’d taken but the name that came up was different from what I’d hoped, these are watsonia.

I think the season for crocus has ended this year so to make my paramontage using the poem written all those years ago will have to wait at least until next year.

The Japanese have a word I think for that sadness that is only inspired by temporary things, such as youth. And such as life. I don’t remember what it is, but the Japanese for sad is “sabishii” and I guess that’ll have to do for the purposes of this post. I feel a bit sad because I haven’t found something that only lasts a few weeks, a crocus flower.

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

Notes 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.