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.