Miss April Advises: Underdazzled

Dear Miss April,

I have attended a performance by Rufus Wainwright at the revised Hamer hall. The performance was dire, underwhelming, phoned in; but that’s not what I’m writing to you about. I had a pre dinner drink and went down to the underworld of the theater to take my allocated seat. I endured the show and with the lumpen throngs exited conventionally up a sets of escalators planned like jack knifed semi trailers tumbling through a cement boot. Arriving at the top and facing away from the exit then redirected by doorstop docents, I trudged with the masses to the exit, like so many heifers at the RNA show toward the front door. An object caught my gaze on exit.At first I thought it the new chandelier as is expected of great concert halls. But it emitted no light, merely reflections from a series of carbuncles growing from tubular space frames. My stunned look elicited a comment from a passer-whizzing-by. “Its art” they blurted. It was in fact forgettable but what I do remember was that it was like an enlarge reproduction of an accessory from my little unicorn that had been vajazzled or some new organic surveillance system.
If you’re passing pop in and tell me what you think it might be.
Even under the heady influence of a dragging performance and now appropriate numbers of pre show drinks , I’m still unsure what I saw.

Please advise.

Underdazzled

Dear Underdazzled

You appear to be undertaking the role of Aesthetics Arbiter with noble dedication. Do be careful to not exhaust yourself!

I visited the venue with the mind to formulate arguments in support of artistic interpretation and to dispel your disquieting disdain. As I gazed upon the suspended artwork I found myself painted into a wee bit of a corner, and felt rather amused at my pickle of a situation.

Firstly, let me say if you know of anyone who vajazzles unicorns please slip a note to their therapist. Secondly, I would write a stern letter to the toy manufacturer enquiring as to why they even made it possible to vajazzle their weird little horse dolls.

That said, are you aware of the practice of lauded Australian artist Robert Owen? Geometric abstractionist, interesting colourist, successful public architecture collaborationist? No / Oui? Well, you might be surprised to learn the installation you refer to is in fact the collaborative efforts of Mr Owen and lighting designer Rachel Burke. They are very happy and very proud of Silence. The staff at the art centre are a little more divided perhaps. One kept mentioning that the ‘big chandelier’ is not coming back because it ‘doesn’t fit’, with genuine sadness in her tone. Another younger, eager spokesperson was much more enthusiastic and very proudly told me that no less than 22,000 (!) Swarovzki crystals – I believe that is called Bling Power in TV shopping network circles – were used in the creation of the new Hamer Hall suspended masterpiece.

Alas, we can’t win all of them can we? And that does go for talented artists as well (there is also another dubious construction by way of a building in Southbank which I don’t believe quite makes it either, in my humble opinion). I acknowledge the reference to the art centre spire – the fractal geometric design that seems mandatory for all key Melbourne developments these days. What I do find interesting is the philosophy behind the Art Centre’s decision to ‘reclaim’ it as their own, to point out to all and sundry that they were the originator of this architectural signature and not bleeping Federation Square. A little too insecure for my liking, I mean surely the cute logo spire would have sufficed? However, the light, shadow and movement which the installation achieves also designed with this same message – I was here first – should be appreciated as a worthy effort.

But my responsibility is to defend my position, and I do. I applaud the emotion and the reasoning, but sadly I do think you are right, the installation screams more of My Little Unicorn rather than glamorous artistic achievement. The steel constructions appear paltry and thin within their surroundings, and dare I say it, I believe it would have benefited from more obvious wizzbang rather than the glitter dust and craft kit bedazzling it seems to have received. The distance, the height, the lack of weight of the sculpture does not compliment the materials. I entered absolutely determined to like anything I see if it achieved one thing: inspired the venue going audience to dress well for their event, and abolish this insulting fad of wearing jeans to the theatre. Sadly, I can see that it would only encourage said audience to ornament their prison garb with a home-made bedazzler kit and feel right at home. But it is here to stay, so we should feel lucky that we have kindly neighbours to inform confused guests that indeed ‘it’s art’.

So alas Underdazzled, let us mourn Arcturus together for that brightest star shines no more at Hamer Hall.

Don’t fret too much it only encourages wrinkles, yours in good faith
Miss April

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Invisible Architecture at Greenwood Street: string, sex-appeal and Sandback

In actual fact I’m referring to the memory of walking into the house on my favourite street in Melbourne. It’s possibly my favourite house in my beloved city. It is a modernists dream,  I was trying to concentrate on the friendly lady inhabitant but the impact of the experience of walking into larger space was almost overwhelming. I’m talking about SPACE. Not walls, rooms, building, home, decor, house, architecture, these all melted away  – that was all completely invisible. All I experienced was being in a space, seeing into other space where I could wander, a flow of SPACE. It was all so fluid – a little invisible architecture waterslide for my visual perception. It was brilliant.

Fast Forward. Add Keanu Reeves. He’s dressed in a black trench coat and looks exotic, super fit and really serious. We are standing next to a Fred Sandback sculpture/thing/idea/installation. This is our matrix. We do black flips, kill baddies, my hair is perfect, we land on our feet and then we pash. Sexual fantasies ensue. Thank you Fred. I figure if a multimillionaire can open a private art museum to meet chicks then poor people can go to art exhibitions and indulge in fantasies. The string hums.

I like art that is cleverer than I am. Because art demands an emotional response before before an intellectual engagement. So it is must more satisfying if it is a challenging destination at the end of the road.

At the moment there is vibrant blue string tautly tormenting me and delighting me, because it is smarter than I am.

String.

However it does have brass fittings. There you go, it has some complexity to it. It zings, it hums, it has created space. No, not delineation, not replication of a room, nothing so literal, it has created a sense of something that suggests to me that one day I might even slightly understand quantam physics. It’s there, it could be there, its next to me and I’m in it, and here again I’m outside of it. For some reason, its also kind of funny.

I am not dedicated to abstraction. I wrote a 25,000 word thesis on erotica in religious art for God’s sake. But you know, I understand the dedication. Some people need God, some people need aliens, some people need abstraction.

Fred Sandback installation at the Fox/Jense & Greenwood Street Project in the left corner. Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Cornered Construction), 2008 (& 1982), Blue acrylic yarn. Fred Sandback Estate number 2566 110 x 140 cm. USD $185,000. Photo taken August 2012.

If you want to experience Fred Sandback’s work in person and you live in Australia you will need to save up for an international air fare, or wait. The only way to see it down here is to keep abreast of Jensen Gallery’s exhibitions. I was lucky enough to have my experiential happening at Greenwood Street Projects during Melbourne Art Fair time. Word on the street is that there is also an installation currently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I’m not sure if we really understand how completely cool it is for a commercial gallery to provide access to work of this international calibre. The internet, photographs, books, only go so far. For some work, it’s all about the experience.

FRED SANDBACK
Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Cornered Construction) 1982
Blue Acrylic Yarn
Fred Sandback Estate Number 2566
Image courtesy Jensen Gallery

FRED SANDBACK
Untitled (Sculptural Study, Two-part Cornered Construction) 2008
Blue Acrylic Yarn
Fred Sandback Estate Number 2566
Detail from Greenwood Street Projects installation.
It just looks like a close up of string? That’s because it is.

Awww. We wear our sunglasses at night…and inside. Photo just for the hell of it and from the public domain. From the Matrix film.

It continues! Hayes’ show at Dark Horse Experiment has been extended so you still have this week to go and see it. It’s attracted great attendance, media attention, academic interest – not bad for a cancelled show! The gallery is open Wed – Sat 12 – 6 at 110 Franklin St, Melbourne.

Museum of Love and Mortality

In 2004 I helped Cameron Hayes put together a publication to accompany his solo show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. When I went to deliver some to be stocked at the Arts Bookshop a rather peeved employee there complained: “but you don’t have any information in here about the artist!”

It’s true. I did try, but he refused, genuinely seeing it as erroneous information. “Just show the pictures”, Hayes instructed, “and the only text should be about the stories.” So that’s what we did.  No biography, nor exhibition history, not even a birth date. This time however, I happened to get a bit more out of him. So here goes:

Cameron Hayes is first and foremost a narrative painter. Usually his style of work consists of densely painted large scale canvases filled with figures and scenery, animals and architecture, playing havoc with retinal activity. Have a look at Mathias Ulungura…

View original post 2,354 more words

That art show I wrote about is on

A couple of months ago I posted a piece on the forthcoming show of Melbourne based artist Cameron Hayes. The ‘forthcoming’ aspect of the show was rather short lived, but was reborn again at Dark Horse Experiment, 110 Franklin Street, Melbourne. The exhibition The Incomplete History of Milikapiti is currently on so have a sticky-beak before it closes on the 1st September.

The artist explains in a bit more detail the events surrounding the cancellation of the show in this report on the ABC’s current affairs show 7.30 which aired on the 3rd August, 2012.

Click here to watch the report

Cameron Hayes, Waiting for a confession – 31 October 1976, 2012,
Oil on linen

It’s that Art time of year again

Apparently galleries are dead and art fairs are where its at. Usually this sentiment goes hand-in-hand with an article about art fair oligarchs so I’m not sure if this is a permanent truism, but it is Melbourne Art Fair season and that’s always a bit of fun.

The Vernissage is done and dusted, loads of champagne, strict no service deadline, people trying to steal bottles over the bar (shh), perhaps not as a busy or buzzy vibe as past years but its the biggest thing on Melbourne’s art calendar still so lets not get too above our own station.

I’m quite partial to the odd wall sculpture myself, and Japan consistently delivers with Yamaki Art Gallery from Osaka becoming a regular exhibitor. Masayuki Tsubota’s beautiful work has become quite a draw card along with Toshimatsu Kuremoto’s tiny men.

I know how he feels. Small scale wall sculpture by Toshimatsu Kuremoto.

More miniature men appear in a bit of interior mind action going on in Ewen Coates sculptures. And again in Kendal Murray’s assemblages, along with miniature ladies and melodrama.

Fox/Jensen Gallery oblige us with some very fancy international artists. Is this so strange? Actually, yes. Australian galleries have Australian artists so it is quite a privilege to be able to see first hand the work of some illustrious names of the abstract ilk. A few home grown artists make the cut though, Tomislav Nikolic and Jude Rae are there. It’s hard to miss Nikolic’s one-two punch – they are fiery personalities. Berlin based  Arndt Gallery were here also exhibiting Sophie Calle.  Word is they are doing another project here in Melbourne soon so will keep you posted.

I suspect they want to be noticed. Gorgeous and not shy diptych by Tomislav Nikolic at the Fox/Jensen stand.

PAINT. Love it. Rex Irwin shows paint by Tim McMonagle. Yum.

We love our pavlova here. Tim McMonagle’s sensual handling of paint, glorious paint at Rex Irwin.

However, for lovers and friends and frenemies of art there are other things happening as well over the Art Fair weekend and beyond. Like…

Fox/Jensen again. Over at Greenwood Street ProjectsUmmm, yes, they do like abstraction. I love serious Germans and their Serious Art. This project is akin to a pop-up museum of international art.

The Cameron Hayes show which I wrote about last month is currently open at Dark Horse Experiment and will be until September 2. Receiving some media attention and discussion already, deservedly so. Nice one.

The New Fair – a pretty ballsy new start up fair by KalimanRawlins but for some reason they keep reminding me via Facebook that I am not VIP enough to score an invitation to the preview. I actually don’t require that persistent reminder. I am comfortably self-aware.

The Notfair.

Its the weekend to go and see art in Melbourne. Please do so.

Upon departure. Footpath 10.30pm outside Royal Exhibition Building 1st August. In the art world we call this detritus but that is so 5 years ago. Now we are back to calling it rubbish. Wasteful sad sacks – pick up your rubbish.

The approach to Cameron Hayes

In 2004 I helped Cameron Hayes put together a publication to accompany his solo show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. When I went to deliver some to be stocked at the Arts Bookshop a rather peeved employee there complained: “but you don’t have any information in here about the artist!”

It’s true. I did try, but he refused, genuinely seeing it as erroneous information. “Just show the pictures”, Hayes instructed, “and the only text should be about the stories.” So that’s what we did.  No biography, nor exhibition history, not even a birth date. This time however, I happened to get a bit more out of him. So here goes:

Cameron Hayes is first and foremost a narrative painter. Usually his style of work consists of densely painted large scale canvases filled with figures and scenery, animals and architecture, playing havoc with retinal activity. Have a look at Mathias Ulungura captures Hajime Toyashima – 19th February 1942 – this is indicative of his usual style.

Mathias Ulungura captures Hajime Toyashima – 19th February 1942, 2006, oil on linen, 167.5 x 254 cm.

But the Milikapiti show is slightly different. There are large canvases with empty spaces and small canvases with intimate scenes. This body of work, some painted in 2006, some as recently as this year, is in essence one work. Instead of many scenes in one canvas, individual scenes get their own canvas, and some characters have even evolved into soft sculpture format.

Hayes has decided to speak about this body of work, something he hasn’t done often in the past. I think he is frustrated. Of being misunderstood, of people not taking the time and care to look at his work in equal measure to the care he puts into creating it. It can be frustrating. One thing I have noticed following Hayes’ work is that he often tackles subject matter before the rest of us are quite ready to deal with it, or even recognise it. Years ago he painted a magnificent lolly coloured painting that investigated corporate paedophilia, the marketing of sexuality and childhood. A couple of years later it was a hot topic in the media. I’m not suggesting he is some sort of trend-forecasting zeitgeist, but that’s what happens when you have an observer like Hayes. They see things before other people do because he’s not participating. He’s watching and recording.

14 Kurdish refugees land in Milikapiti and ask, “is this Australia?” – 4th November 2003, 2012, oil on linen, 61 x 81 cm

Marketing and branding is something that still interests him today with this body of work. Many of these paintings were painted during an 18-month period when Hayes was living in a small Aboriginal community called Milikapiti Melville Island north of Darwin (Northern Territory, Australia) the home to the Tiwi people for the last 7,000 years or so. Fascinated by the clash and melding of Tiwi culture and European culture, the community life and Tiwi history acts as a backdrop. It is a microcosm for a global pattern of displacement, expansion of dominant nations, corporate/social branding taking over culture and identity. Take the painting The least convincing rap band in the world – 11 August 1997; or 14 Kurdish refugees land in Milikapiti and ask, “is this Austraila?” – 4th November 2003.  The latter work referencing the sinister use of marketing in politics and the media. Based on a true story, a group of refugees were spotted on a vessel in the bay at Milikapiti. The conservative Howard Government of the time did a fantastic job of instilling a fear and hatred campaign of refugees through the media, basically branding them as potential terrorists and possible carriers of unknown diseases. It worked. So pervasive was this strategic political message that it even reached across the nation from capital cities to remote small communities. So here we have asylum seekers in the guise of The Raft of the Medusa, instead of ragged cloth they are waving brand name t-shirts representing our new dominant culture – the well marketed Brand. Would they have more success by appealing, not to empathetic fellow people, not to other displaced victims, but to those who like the same brands – who do you identify with? Are you Nike or more of a Burberry? Are you Apple or PC? Are you Right or Left?

The least convincing rap band in the world – 11 August 1997, 2012, oil on linen, 31 x 41 cm

Displaced people. We have a world full of them now, don’t we? Indigenous people, migrants, refugees, the old, the young, women, the battered, the misunderstood, the abused, hell, even just the lonely. Hayes believes his role as an artist is “to tell a story” and in the Milikapiti works the story is this:

“Most art has a sub-text and a text. The text is the scenery and the characters, the location. The subtext is the motivation, the idea behind it. The Tiwi islands are just the text. The stories are mainly about what happens when you have a group of people and someone from elsewhere comes into the group. No matter what happens, even when someone has good intentions to do everyone a favour, usually that person usurps someone, their position within the group. Milikapiti is a good metaphor for that, because when the Europeans came in they (mostly) tried to help, and even then the result was that it did someone out of a job. For instance, when they gave everyone the dole [welfare] it meant that Tiwi hunters weren’t required to provide food, or when they gave everyone ladders, the best tree climbers that could reach mangoes were out of a job. And so that is part of the story of Milikapiti, the celebrity status of a lot of people had been lost. Their purpose had been lost. “

Dog torturers behind the Milikapiti Clinic – 17th June 1979, 2006, oil on linen, 213.5 x 198 cm

Halfway to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29th July 1964, 2005, oil on linen, 213.5 x 198 cm

The Missionaries themselves are a good example of this type of displacement, from various angles. Half way to Milikapiti from Darwin the old Tiwi man admitted they were lost – 29 July 1964. “The nuns come in to try and help, and overall they probably did, but there were a lot of casualties along the way.” Hayes doesn’t judge these individual missionaries, on the contrary he seems to have a real affinity for their sense of adventure and bravery, in essence their own displacement. But what does it achieve all of these good intentions? A perceived superiority of technology, values, lifestyle, or belief systems – what happens when people meet, groups combine, cultures collide, and one inevitably has more power than the other?

Painted in 2012 Waiting for a confession 31st October 1967 shows the absurdity of the formal ritual of confession taking place in the incongruous context of the bush.  A 20-year-old priest takes confessions of octogenarian Tiwi people. He’s somehow dragged a portable confessional that is placed in the untamed bush. They’ve lived a long life so the list is long!

The humour found in the incongruous meeting of cultures has also been used in the soft sculpture installation The Hunters, 2012. Three elderly women are going hunting. They are wearing inappropriate t-shirts. Those who have ever lived in remote communities would recognise such a scene. Often there is only one shop with limited stock, usually the clothing range is t-shirts featuring popular rap bands, song titles and slogans, or multi-national brands. Here Hayes has used the lyrics from a song called “Horny” (yes, really) by Mousse T, a ludicrously banal pop song that was very popular on Australian radio. The figure is also carrying a ‘Hello Kitty’ bag, one of the world’s largest brands it has permeated nearly every remote corner on earth! The incongruity of the cuteness, the inappropriate slogans, the blood, and carcases – it displays the unique way of life, the idiosyncrasies of the Tiwi people. Hayes also uses this simple, funny scene as a metaphor for what he describes as an ‘ill-fitting culture’. The European choices, the white Australian lifestyle just doesn’t quite meet the women’s needs.

Three Tiwi women, three Hello Kitty handbags and bits of hard to identify axed up native animal – 31st March 2012 (or The Hunters), 2012, felt and mixed media, dimensions variable around 50 cm high

The soft sculpture installations are interesting aesthetic devices. They are visual references to scenes and motifs in the paintings, but they also act as light relief, objects of colour and texture, fictional characters in 3-dimensions. They bind the 2-dimensional works together as a series, much the same way as the artist uses visual devices in his large-scale canvases to link different scenes together – whether that be repeated characters (human or animals) and patterns (poles, trees, rivers) or colours. Hayes describes his formal approach to painting as such:

“In reality there is very little difference when you walk around the streets between colours when you look at things. They’re quite close. The problem is when you are a kid and you start painting you paint a red dress, blue pants, and a white background. But in reality that dress is either dark red or light red and the pants are the same and everything looks quite similar in tone. So that is something you learn as you get experience. If you don’t want it to look amateurish, or to be like a Mondrian or Matisse picture, most colours are quite similar. Also it’s a lot easier to look at if you haven’t got colours jarring against each other, and when you are painting you try and make everything conservative which leaves you the option of doing bold colours later to attract peoples attention in different directions. So you paint a picture, you try and get the colours – say if 1 is white and 10 is black – you try to keep everything about 5 & 6 so that at the end of the picture you can use your black & your white, or bold colours as highlights, as a way of directing. Because if you start off with bold colours you’ve got nowhere to go because your eyes just look at the bold colours first and everything is compared to that. You lose control of the viewer looking at a picture if you use too many bold colours because people look straight at that.”

Installation shot of soft sculpture poles, teeth, and various animals, felt and mixed media, dimensions variable, about 170 cm high at highest point

This body of work spans over 8 years. It is a compelling approach to universal themes from a considered and accomplished artist. Some of the artist’s own text used in his work is perhaps misleading, or like his work, a type of fiction. It is not a re-telling of Milikapiti history as much as it is a narrative ploy. He uses his experiences, the visual feast of Tiwi culture and history, as a metaphor for the issues discussed above: displacement, global branding, homogenising culture.  The fallout of this is a growing trend of alternative cultures, ideas, values, anything that contravenes the structure and value system of the dominant society becoming victimised casualties along the way.

But wait, there’s more!

Semi-authorised abridged artist biography in point form:

  • Cameron’s full name is Cameron Kingsley Hayes. He was born on Halloween in 1969. He’s lived in Sydney, Melbourne and Melville Island. He works in his studio every single day – EVERY SINGLE DAY. I have only known him to take a break on rare family holidays and trips to attend exhibition openings in New York. Even then he will suffer great anxiety about leaving his studio and will assuage his guilt by sketching, planning and conducting research for further work.
  • For his larger scale canvases, which is the majority of his work, it takes approximately 3 – 4 months to complete, and he will often work simultaneously on 2 – 3 canvases at a time.
  • He doesn’t have studio assistants, every brushstroke is his and every sculpture is hand made. He even taught himself to sew to do the soft sculptures. He went to art school at RMIT, Melbourne.
  • He admires the work of Cat Rabbit, Henry Darger and Hieronymous Bosch. The idea of creating soft, toy-like sculptures was inspired by fellow artist Chris Humphries.
  • He can often be found at the Melbourne City Library doing research. He reads a great deal about every subject he paints about.
  • If you ever truly wanted to get a different perspective on something, problem, social issues, political figure, anything really, he would be the person to ask. He will enlighten the topic from such a vastly different perspective it will amaze you.  If he ever stopped being an artist (which will never happen) he could get a job as someone who thinks so far outside of the box he could revolutionalise think tanks. However, he’d probably unintentionally offend you at the same time.
  • He runs every day and clocks up to 100 kms a week. He umpires A grade Amateurs football.
  • If, for some reason, you needed someone to take care of $50,000 in cash you could give it to Cameron. Even if you couldn’t pick it up for 10 years or more, you can be sure it would still be there and he wouldn’t have spent a dollar.
  • He doesn’t like to ask for favours.
  • In response to the question “how are you, Cameron?”, he will respond “I’m the same”, without exception.
  • Even as a child he was an observer, and already much like an old man. Observations of his elders influenced a very strong code of ethics.
  • When he was at St Kevin’s he was the captain of the cross country and known as a good artist. His family lost everything when his father was sent to prison. His school kept him on with a scholarship.
  • He has had the same haircut forever. He has never been drunk and has never taken drugs.
  • When the warm months start to turn cold he wears less clothes because he thinks it is a good way to train his body to get used to winter. When he catches a cold he wears a raincoat to go jogging because he thinks he can sweat it out.
  • When I warned him that I was going to “do something different which you probably won’t like” by doing this bio section, he responded “anything but flattery”.
  • His greatest fear is running out of time before he gets to complete all of his paintings.

Dr Clyde Fenton delivers yet another baby – March 7 1932, 2006, oil on linen, 44.5 x 53.5 cm. Dr Clyde Fenton was the Northern Territory’s first Flying Doctor in the 1930s. He attended Xavier College, and although he did graduate as a medical doctor in 1925 from Melbourne University, he was a self-taught pilot. A disaster to the Civil Aviation Department, but a hero to the Tiwi people, as he was their only hope for medical assistance at the time.

REFERENCE:

Cameron Hayes is represented by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York,  http://feldmangallery.com

http://cordite.org.au/features/the-last-cameron-by-evan-maloney/

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/20/1074360762196.html

Schwerin, Marielle & Hayes, Cameron, Cameron Hayes, 2004, ISBN 0-646-42962-0

(http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=4096660882&searchurl=isbn%3D0646429620%26x%3D56%26y%3D20)

http://www.villagevoice.com/2011-04-20/art/cameron-hayes-jozef-robakowski-art-sewn-tradition-innovation-expression/

A fabulous video preview of some of Hayes’ earlier work in the series by Boyd Hicklin

Another fabulous video preview of Cameron Hayes’ painting What happens when pretend politicians pretend to be terrorists by film maker Sarah Lewis.

Fantastic video by Sarah Lewis about Cameron Hayes – a must watch!

POSTSCRIPT:

This body of work was scheduled to be exhibited in Melbourne in June. Unfortunately, this exhibition was cancelled. There was some call for censorship due to the artist’s use of indigenous subject matter. Not only was this a seeming misunderstanding and reduction of Cameron Hayes’ work it was a serious censorship of discussion about the role of art in current social discourse and the relationship between indigenous and contemporary art in Australia. No doubt there will be further developments on this story! …. And there is! : This body of work is scheduled to be exhibited at Dark Horse Experiment in Melbourne, August 1st to September 2nd 2012. So people can see it for themselves, and talk!

Kick after the siren, Tapalinga Hawks vs. Milikapiti Magpies – 3 December 2002, 2004, oil on linen, 101 x 152.5 cm.
“History is subjective, people can pick out events and stories that they think are important.” And that is what Hayes is referring to by making up past dates to accompany the images in this body of work. This painting (above) was painted in Milikapiti. The artist’s local neighbours would visit him at work, an easel set up under the house. This painting was quite popular. Someone suggested it should be on display in the community club; another neighbour found it funny , stating it reminded her of how it used to be when she was a child. The community now has strict regulations regarding alcohol consumption, no alcohol was permitted at football matches while the artist was there. Hayes says of this work: “The main part of the story is how white Australian culture tries to order Tiwi life. In the background rubbish is burnt (Tiwi) rather than collected – rubbish pile burn offs, and this helps to explain why they are all over the field. One as an aesthetic device and two to reinforce the theme of the picture. Two ways of handling a problem in concert. Football is another analogy for white culture trying to order Tiwi life according to their rules, in this case footy rules. Here the whole team is standing on the mark, opposing team members are hugging. The rules work to a degree, but are adapted by the local culture, not fully accepted.
The beer cans I’ve used as an aesthetic device too. They are quite easily understood as they were everywhere, and on the footy field, the sun fades them and they become aqua in colour, they actually look quite beautiful. And when I was there it wasn’t a judgement that there were beer cans or that it was an embarrassment.”
This work was also included in the local art competition The Footy Art exhibition in 2005, where Kevin Sheedy (Essendon FC Coach at the time) awarded it First Prize.

Swimming caught fish – 12 October 2011, 2012, oil on linen, 35 x 35 cm

Caressing the Cross: A Spanish Devotional Brooch

My St Francis Xavier Devotional Brooch. Note the cross formation, note the understated decorative motifs, note the beautiful painted miniature!

There is something to say about being brought up in the Catholic tradition, well, actually there are many things to say, but one aspect in particular I am very grateful for: a world of unadulterated visual pleasure. Being schooled in Catholicism is also being schooled in art history. There is an extraordinarily rich layered history of imaginative and creative visual narrative. Writhing men and women in various forms of undress; seductive vermillion and luscious cerulean; breathtakingly gorgeous human mien of peculiarly androgynous form; blood, lots and lots of blood; death.

It informs ones imagination. It feeds ones delight for curiosity. It inspires one. However,  it never terrified me, which I suspect was the intention behind many painted tales. But then again, I love watching True Blood, so…

St Francis Xavier Preaching by Rubens 1617-18

Note the downward gaze and the caressed cross

Strange images to some make sense to me. Show me a handsome young man pierced with arrows and I’ll show you St Sebastian. Show me a wading burly bearded man  with a baby on his shoulder I’ll introduce you to St Christopher. Headless corpse, St John the Baptist. Voluptuous & often naked long-haired beauty, St Mary Magdalene. Woman in ecstasy, St Theresa (la petite mort perhaps?) . A man caressing a cross like a long-lost love, well that could be a number of Saints but in this case I believe it is St Francis Xavier – Jesuit, Missionary, and Catholic hero of the Counter Reformation.

Who was Francis? And why would you, an unknown person of circa 1700, wear him on your person in a rather lovely brooch? Born 1506, died 1552, beatified 1619, canonized 1637; Francis Jassu y Xavier was born of noble birth in his family’s castle of Xavier in Basque country, the Kingdom of Navarre, now known as  a part of Northern Spain. An intelligent child, a gifted scholar, he studied philosophy in Paris and apparently was a rather good dancer to boot. But here is where it gets interesting, within the power struggles of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation Francis shines as an important player, a personification of all that the Counter Reformation stood for and a powerful political poster boy for pro-Papal Catholics everywhere. He was St Ignatius’ right hand man, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus – those that stood for chastity, poverty, obedience to God, AND loyalty to the Pope.

With his usual attributes

Yes, a Jesuit. A smart cookie, fueled by passionate sacred love that scorned the physical but ironically kind of had to be obsessed by it to scorn it quite that much. Francis is famous for his actions in revoking his nobility and all material pleasures, living and healing the repulsively sick, and remarkable missionary accomplishments, particularly in India. The Jesuits recognised the power of story-telling through the lives of the saints, art, education, language, to spread the word of Jesus. St Francis is still buried in India now, minus one arm (the one that did the baptising) which was taken back to Rome because it was just that special (!).

St Francis Devotional Brooch from the side. Note the faceted edges, the closed & high settings, the rose cut garnets/garnet pastes. LOVE!

Note the faceted edges of this English piece dated 1704, so similar to our St Francis brooch. These faceted edges do something to me I can not explain. I adore this detail.

So it is not only a devout Christian that wears a miniature of St Francis Xavier, particularly this style of brooch –  a cross, austere and sombre use of botanical motifs, dark garnets instead of popular emeralds, a traditionally sombre palette utilised for portraiture (oh those serious Spaniards!), the cross & missionary staff attributes. It is a person who believes in the power of Saints, in the Virgin Mary as central to faith, in faith plus action, has allegiance to the power of the Pope, recognises his central authority, aligns political power with the Church. One who recognises the power of visual narrative – a noble family member, a religious figure, a political leader – in that day and age if you were one, you were probably all three!

I can see this piece, perhaps it was once a slide or pendant, maybe it was always a brooch, but I see it on heavy black fabric. The stark simplicity contrasting against the dramatic backdrop. The robes, the beard, the cross, the staff, the tender caress of absolute devotion – an unapologetic statement.

There is one little tale in the life of Francis that tickles my fancy. There is a story – when Francis was on a ship in dangerous waters travelling betwixt cannibal islands of the south east, kind of hoping he would be killed and eaten in the name of Jesus, a great storm rose. Francis took out his crucifix which he carried with him always, he dipped it into the raging waters and it immediately abated. Alas, the crucifix though was lost to him. Grief stricken, he reached the shores of Baranura and to his utmost joy he witnessed a lobster appearing from the rabid waters gallantly crawling ashore, and yes, carrying in its modest little orange claws the crucifix lost and now returned to our adventurous hero St Francis Xavier.  Now THAT would make a good painting.

This is the St Francis Devotional Brooch as it appears on reverse. Silver gilt, pinned stones, hello gorgeous engraving akin to other miniature cases of the era, almost heraldic like in this particular example.

Hello my name is simply stunning and I’m a 1680-1700 Spanish pendant in the collection of the V & A Museum. Note the abundance of botanical decorative motifs, the use of emeralds, made for a woman of means and nobility.

Note the engraved surface.

The Volcano Lover

Have you read it?

The Volcano Lover written by Susan Sontag (yes, she!) is an historical fictional romance starring the characters  of Sir William Hamilton, his young second wife Lady Emma Hamilton and later introducing her lover Lord Nelson. It is peppered with prominent artists and writers of the period, coloured with passion and lust. But what is most seductive about this piece of writing is its sheer poetic beauty. It is a magnificent opera of drama and wry humour. There is a contagious obsession with  beauty – within  landscape, objects and people, but with deft artistry the writer sinks us into the depths of utmost human depravity.

I particularly responded to the wax lyrical of Hamilton’s collecting zeal.

Sir William Hamilton by Joshua Reynolds, 1776.

“So the collector is a dissember, someone whose joys are never unalloyed with anxiety. Because there is always more. Or an ideal completing of your collection. But this ideal completion for which every collector hungers is a delusive goal.

A great private collection is a material concentrate that continually stimulates, that overexcites. Not only because it can always be added to, but because it is already too much. The collector’s need is precisely for excess, for surfeit, for profusion.

It’s too much-and it’s just enough for me. Someone who hesitates, who asks, Do I need this? Is this really necessary: is not a collector. A collection is always more than is necessary.” P 72

Unfortunately, the above spoke to me quite disarmingly directly. I say ‘unfortunately’ because I felt the guilt of truth within, guilt to admit that truth for myself (if I was not restrained by practical financial considerations). But also guilt that perhaps that is only one type of collector, and perhaps the bad sort? Oh dear, am I in the category of ‘bad, lustful, greedy’ collector? Then why does it feel so good? (Then empty, then good again, ad infinitum).

Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante by Elizabeth Vigee-Le Brun,c 1790. The artist made an appearance in Sontag’s book. Note the erupting volcano Mt Vesuvius in the background. Lovely Emma performed dances in sheer costumes for their many lucky visitors.

Sontag also struck a chord when she described others responses to a personal collection – and this could be anything – art, jewellery, gemstones, smurfs, aprons…The collector keenly shows their well considered mini-museum of objects, but the response from the audience doesn’t really quite reach the levels of the collector’s anticipation. Isn’t that a familiar feeling?

“This passion was about what always surprised, alarmed; what exceeded all expectations; and what never evoked the response that the Cavaliere wanted. But then, to the obsessed collector, the appreciations of other people always seem off-key, withholding, never appreciative enough.

Collections unite. Collections isolate. They unite those who love the same thing. (But no one loves the same as I do; enough.) They isolate from those who don’t share the passion. (Alas, almost everyone.) Then I’ll try not to talk about what interests me most. I’ll talk about what interests you. But this will remind me, often, of what I can’t share with you. Oh, listen, Don’t you see. Don’t you see how beautiful it is.” p.p. 28-29.

Ms Sontag knew The Collector psyche very well. But the novel doesn’t wallow in gratuitousness. There is a moral or two to the tale so to speak, and more then merely ‘owning’ things the author celebrates that which surrounds the practice – culture, ideas, intellect and relationships. The depth of the novel is much more than collecting.

Anyway, read it if you haven’t already. It’s quite a treat.

Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover, Vintage, London, 1993 (is the copy I read, hence the page references).