Saturday, April 08, 2006

Daytripper, yeah

Yesterday I had a last-minute chance to go to Sydney for the day as a tag-along to a student excursion. A couple of students had slept in after their assessments and failed to make the bus deadline. So, my phone rang at 7.30am with the offer, and I was out on Northbourne Ave within ten minutes so they could pick me up along the way. Hooray! I hadn't been to Sydney for at least 18 months.

A full day's art fix is very rare for me these days. Funnily enough, working at the coalface of making doesn't leave a lot of time for gallery browsing. This particular day's fix had the theme of portraiture. We saw:

VOLTE FACE: Mike Parr at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Just stunning. At the moment I work in the same studio as the man who printed every single plate, John Loane. I'm in total awe of his skills. I've saved up some technical questions to ask when I next see him.

MASQUERADE: Representation and the self in contemporary art, also at the MCA. A couple of names jumped out for me here:

1. Yasumasa Morimura, a Japanese man who dresses up and poses as characters (of both genders) from mythology, fantasy and art history. I'm in love with these pears, which I found on the link I just provided.

Tim Noble & Sue Webster, a UK pair who make 'junk' assemblages that throw accurate self-portrait silhouettes (not fussed on the shadows, but the objects themselves are fascinating).

Then a few of us walked around through the Botanic Gardens to the Art Gallery of NSW while the rest got a lift in the bus. It was a gorgeous day. The walk was just what I needed. I always get a lump in my throat as I look at the Macquarie Lighthouse on South Head. I used to live in the sandstone house next to it (it used to be Army quarters) and it's where I feel my late brother's presence very strongly. Seeing it across the water is, in a perverse way, a tonic.

I'm not sharing that poignant snippet of ducky juvenalia for nothing; at the AGNSW we looked at Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary. Many good things, including the catalogue, which contains twice as much art as the actual exhibition.

One such good thing was a painting that hit my grief nerves, twanged on the walk over as explained above. It's by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) and called Self-portrait (with Hourglass and Skull). My link doesn't do it justice; most of the detail is lost, including the way his eyes are absolutely dead. This is the self-portrait of a man who has recently lost his 16-month old beloved son to a stupid accident. He was so distraught he buried himself in his work. The notes to the painting spout lots of fine stuff about vanitas themes, the irony of life in the face of death and philosophical debates about laughter and madness, and that is all good and well, but the bottom line with this image is a man who is miserable. The torture of a Christian martyr in the background, a flayed figure next to him on the shelf, the mockery of the skull and the wistfulness of the Latin (art is immortal, life is short); all are this formal man's soul crying. I almost wept on the spot.

Other good things: Frida Karlo's exquisite little portrait on tin and glass; Pierre Bonnard's colour frenzy; Charley Toorop's starling gaze; Stanley Spencer's ugly second wife, and Jenny Saville's enormous back squished onto the wall.

Also caught the Archibald fluff. It always shits me up the wall how 'in-house' it is, private jokes between mates and the same-old, same-old. Mind you, the winner was actually really, really good. How anyone can say it's not a portrait when it is the most glorious portrait-in-the-round! The subject is painted over 20 times in different poses throughout the composition. Perfect depiction of a sculptor on the go. I also liked Michael Zavros' self portrait, not because it was different, but for the simple reason that it's an image of himself lying on his studio floor, listening to his ipod, and he actually uses a line of the song as his title. Michael Zavros can't paint/ the wind is whistling through the house.The song? King of the Mountain by Kate Bush. I hummed the song as I looked at him lying on his back listening to her, and I was there with him, having a minor creative crisis. Yeah, baby.

A quick squizz at Artexpress 2006, and then it was time to go home. I expected, when I got on the bus in the morning, to find the students all in their own ipod worlds. Not an ipod in sight, but there was a Nintendo gameboy playing Zelda and a laptop playing Family Guy! I read the paper and then Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist until the light got too bad, and then the conversations started. One girl tried drawing in the dark, and very much liked what she saw when we stopped for a roadside junkfest... never a dull moment with art students :)

Oh yes: today I earned my Senior First Aid Certificate, after a day of blowing and pumping rubber torsos and learning to immobilise limbs with bandages. Qualified. Me. Qualified. Heh. Watch out world.

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