(f)ART

Wednesday 5 August 2009

One of the more interesting aspects of the exhibition “American Impressionism and Realism: A Landmark Exhibition from the Met”, which I saw in Brisbane was, while showing American artists that were inspired by the Europeans, the Australian artists hung alongside that themselves were influenced in style by the Americans. More than 30 works from Australian artists, including Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, Frederick McCubbin and Rupert Bunny, were displayed highlighting how Australian artists responded to the key artistic developments of the time. Roberts et al I had the fortune to have heard of before, even being quite familiar with their works, but there was also a number of exquisite paintings by an artist new to me: Hugh Ramsay.

Ramsay was an incredibly talented man. Dame Nellie Melba, realising his talent, became his patron and, in 1902, took him to London where he set about becoming a portrait artist of great demand. Ramsay was not just an incredible artist but also a shrewd businessman and so, knowing that the greatest chance for a successful art career was an early painful death, decided to contract tuberculosis. Taken back to Melbourne he died 4 years later at the ripe old age of 29, his name etched in the stone of Ozzy Art.

In his debilitating final years, under the care of his sisters, he painted one of his more beautiful works: The Sisters. While Ramsay had three sisters, the painting is peculiar for only containing two figures but, in much the same way that the cockatrice was a mythical creature with the body of a serpent and the head and legs of a rooster, the sister lounging on the right is made of the body of one sister and the head of another. I suppose that’s why she’s got her hand on her chin – she’s propping her head up making sure it doesn’t roll off.

Anyway, back to me in the Queensland Art Gallery.

I’m standing in front of this beautiful work, which is life size I should add, when a tour joined me. I’m not usually one for the tour, preferring to appreciate the work in my own space and time, but it was interesting to listen to the guide talk about Ramsay’s life and draw our attention to his delicate lace brushstrokes. In the group was an old woman, who must have been at least three hundred, resting her fragile frame on a wheeled walker, and her mature aged daughter. In the old woman’s hand was a plastic ring binder sleeve containing a black and white photo. The daughter put up her hand for attention.

“My mother,” she said pointing to the smiling woman next to her, “My mother, her grandmother was Hugh Ramsay’s sister.” And the old woman held up the plastic sleeve. The photo was of the three sisters.

What a lovely stroke of luck, I thought, a real moment with a living piece of art history. The guide was obviously very delighted to have a art celebrity on her tour and she, the daughter and the mother chatted away about Ramsay and his work. Eventually the guide realised her five minute Wikipedia search on the gentleman was no match to the actual flesh and blood before her, so hurried the tour onto the next room, leaving the mother and daughter in front of the giant work. I dawdled in front of another work for a while to put a bit of distance between me and the tour, then sauntered along.

The next room was themed around women and children so there were lots of hugging mums and children posing in their bestest gowns. Beautiful work – rosy cheeks and crystal eyes. After viewing the American pieces I came to the Australian example – another work by Ramsay: Portrait of Miss Nellie Patterson. There with me was also the mother and daughter – how the old woman was able to scoot along that fast I will never know. After a while the daughter moved on to the next work but the old woman stayed to admire her relative longer. Not wanting to interrupt this family reunion I stood a short distance away and behind her. Thank goodness I did, for in one of the more silent moments the old woman let out a very long and wobbly fart. And she didn’t even blink.

Well! The works lost all meaning for me after that! The mood was gone being unable to concentrate on another oil on canvas, not matter how beautiful it was. I simply had to leave, though I did buy the catalogue as I hurried out the door.

Back in the hotel I thumbed through the book and re-enjoyed the many paintings. But then I turned the page and there was Miss Nellie Patterson. As lovely as it is all I could hear was that woman’s sloppy arse rumble.

Ruined, I thought, ruined! Hugh Ramsay’s brilliance to me can sadly never be thanks to the calling of a bowel movement. Resigned, I packed the catalogue into the bottom of my suitcase. Three weeks on, it lays there still.

–+–

It happened again! Last week, while browsing through the Art Gallery NSW shop, a woman farted while examining the silk scarves. Is it the art? Is it the passion? I reckon it’s just the old ducks enjoying a good fart and an art gallery is as good a place as anywhere… BRING ON OLD DUCKDOM!!!


What I did on my holidays – Brisbane for two days

Wednesday 22 July 2009

On the train out to my sister’s. Shouldn’t be much longer. I’ve got no idea when my stop is and relying on the gentleman voice over to tell when to get off.

JUST WHERE DO YOU GET OFF MATE??
Umm… Wacol Station.

Quite proud of myself for remembering where the Sportsman Hotel is (stop just called – my station is next) – down the road and up the hill, though I don’t remember the hill being that steep. Still, I’m all checked in. Instead of a mint they’ve left on my pillow a condom and sachet of lube. Positive thinking, how nice of them. With a gay bar downstairs, here’s hoping.

(Damn. There’s a carpark on both sides of the track. I can’t remember which way to go. I’ll stand at the top and hopefully someone will wave.)

–+–

Back at the train station waiting for my return ride. Louise (my sister’s partner) was good enough to drive me from their house. For a station they say is “just around the corner” it’s a bloody big corner.

What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon: playing Uncle. I haven’t seen my nephew Zackary and niece Lucy since March last year and I was surprised how much they have aged. Zack is so much more literate and considered; Lucy co-ordinated and elegant. It does sadden me that I’m not there in their lives, except these few rare visits (depending on what exhibition is on at the gallery) because it does bring me joy and allow me to feel I am making some influence and contribution into their lives. I suppose, though, being in Exotic Sydney, at least I can be the one they run away to in their teenage years. Just don’t try to hit me for any money.

We jumped on the trampoline and read books and were shown assorted prized toys and talked about moon phases and dancing and how Lucy’s not going to have a baby (apparently they hurt). After their dinner I tucked them into bed and they both complained about my scraggy beard (I’m in desperate need of a trim). Louise came home from work and she, Michelle (that’s my sister) and I had a roast pork dinner piled high with veggies. Considering that Michelle was such a bastard eater I was quite surprised. Her potatoes and pumpkin were particularly superb. I asked what was her secret. She took a packet from the cupboard and tossed it across the table:

McCORMICK
Produce Partners
Country Style Roast Potatoes

“You’re secret’s safe with me,” I said.

–+–

The whole “hangin’ with the kids” thing did get me thinking of a conversation that Anita and I had sitting while sipping tea in front of a large open fire in Margaret River. For some reason (I can’t remember why but it seemed a sensible question at the time) Anita asked me if I wanted to be a father. I answered truthfully: I don’t think my life will ever be fully complete and I will go to my crematorium a slightly sad man knowing full well that I will never have the opportunity to father children. It’s very true. I think parenting is one of the greatest gifts and greatest responsibilities of Life, and it bitters me to think it is wasted on so many people who have no desire, respect or appreciation of this… greatest thing. This is not some Darwinian theory of forwarding on your genes for a greater society (if this was the case can I start the list of those who should be neutered now?), it is solely about being there and comforting and teaching and guiding a new being; hoping to teach that child what is right in the world and to allow that person the opportunities to see what a huge influence they can make. And on saying that it so terribly saddens me that I know with all my heart that I can never be whole because I am a gay man and will never father. I would go as far as saying that I envy my friends who discover their “gayness” late in life, after they were married (though I also believe they were fooling themselves into a life of “normality” the entire time… until they woke up to themselves) as they at least from their slight adventure have children. Not that I would have to think that children are some sort of prize, like a kewpie doll – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll this is not – but they have… I don’t know… made an input into the next generation. And I think that’s a swell thing. And at times I look at the bottom of my glass knowing it’s not mine.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m Todd McKenney! Thank Gods for that!

On saying this, Zackary did keep calling me by the wrong name. Zack has a gay couple set of uncles who are friends with Louise and Michelle and he kept calling me by their names – a small mistake. While I was happy that Zack had some sort of male role models, Louise did tell me that the two had recently adopted a set (very Franklin Mint) of children whom they have named “Will” and “Grace”. Perhaps there is a reason why gay men can’t have children after all…

Got me thinking, though, what would I name my children. Well, if it were a girl, it would have to be Kylie. If it were a boy, then something really butch… like Madonna.

Back at the hotel I had a few too many beers.

–+–

Next day, Friday, I got up exceedingly late – after 12 – then hurried to the gallery to see the American Impressionist exhibition. Beautiful show full of artists I have heard of and works I have never seen. One of the greatest things an exhibition can achieve is a sense of honour that you have witness these pieces away from home, and this show certainly achieved that. It was certainly a case of the wrong shoes as I was tired standing looking at these masterpieces. At one stage there were no chairs for an entire two rooms! I had to force myself to fully appreciate their brilliance before moving to the next room and having a bit of a sit down; I could see the chairs in the next room but I wasn’t allowed to go a rest the toes till studying every available work. It’s very much a case of Mr Bean: “I look at the pictures” for me, or – my preference – Mr Chance: “I like to watch” (actually, I’ve got another blog about these two stored away, I’ll pull out sometime). I love Art – capital A, and art – little a, and shudder at a life without it. To look at these beautiful things is a joy that so few will ever understand.

I’ve been known to burst into tears at Art. It was a 1904 Frederick McCubbin work called The Pioneer at the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria. Have a look at it; it’s beautiful. The first time I saw this work I sat in front of it on the perfectly positioned stool and I sat and I stared. This work is speaks of two generations who have live/fought Australia’s landscape, the second generation burying the first and in tern being buried by the New World. That’s how I see it. So I sat in front of this work and I looked at it and allowed my mind to experience everything that McCubbin was trying to suggest one hundred years’ earlier. And I looked at the immense hope and the intent sorrow that this represents, and I started to cry. I allowed myself to pleasure of tears trickling down cheeks; that strange mix of happiness and sorrow that comes through such an action; and to a certain level I felt cleansed. It’s nice to have a cry. Then a bunch of schoolboys rambled in and I quickly wiped my eyes and left the room. It’s one thing being in touch with your motions – it’s another being called a silly by someone who uses Clearasil.

You should also check out (check out?) other McCubbin works, such as Lost and On the Wallaby Track to understand what a superb artist this man was.

On the subject (this does link, me joining Heidelberg artists to London’s West End, believe it or not), that night I saw a new production of Cats. Now, if you would ask me (and believe me, not enough ever do) what my favourite musical of all time was I would promptly say Cats. I don’t’ think it is the best musical – I mean there are so many Gilbert and Sullivans out there, but I think they’re excluded being Operettas, but also My Fair Lady which is horribly perfect in every way, A Chorus Line, or new works like The Producers (a perfect stage play) or – quelle supreme! – Mamma Mia! – but I will always say it was my favourite musical is Cats. Why? Well I will tell you.

My parents used to own a corner shop, a local deli. I still don’t know how I feel about that time. I wasn’t very receptive to the change, I had other interests, I was unwilling to work in the store, but in my defense I was stupid and 17, so that I apologise about. On the other hand I did find the store nothing more than an excuse for my parents to not participate in my life (“Oh we have to be at the store”, they would say to every reportorial show I was in. Now I’m not saying I was performing Shakespeare, but I do, to this day, still rue them for seeing only two shows in my entire nine year theatrical career.) but I still thank them for one thing above all others. In 1989, there was a lady who used to visit the store who said she was going to see the original production of Cats and Mah said that I would like to see it. The lady invited me along and Mah allowed me to go.

I sat there in this huge room, the Festival Theatre in Adelaide, biggest room I had ever been it, and it was chocka block full of people, and the lights dimmed and the room went silent. Then the overture began and the stage started to sparkle with lights representing the night sky, as the overture for Cats works, and I burst into tears. It was that exact moment that I knew that all I wanted to do for the rest of my life is sit in darkened rooms and have people entertain me. And I was 16.

Since then I have done everything I can to see every show, being it professional or amateur, since. I don’t care, I love being… entertained. It’s not that, that sort of cheapens it. It’s more than that. It’s the talent of the artists, it’s the music and the direction, it’s the escapism, that keeps me in this imaginary world of lights and make-up. There is a lot of envy too, I know I could never be good enough to be in this world – and I blame both myself and my parents for that – so I please myself by sitting in the bleachers and watching.

People in my life, I take them to shows, but they usually disappoint me by not valuing them as I do. It has never bothered me buying a single seat, but it is so nice to drink a glass of bubbles with someone and to see their face and for it to hopefully suggest that blind awe that mine did when I first saw these shows. There are times where I have been so disappointed – one time I vowed never to share a theatrical experience again – but others have been worth it – my Dah seeing The Lion King is one of them, my Beautiful Creature seeing The 39 Steps is another.

Anyway, enough of this.

–+–

Back at the Sportsman Hotel there was drag shows on ground and Karaoke in basement. In the Karaoke Bar a gentleman came up to me.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I said back.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he said.

“No, sorry,” I said.

“Last night,” he said. Then it dawned on me.

“Oh, I have completely lost a lot of last night, I’m really sorry if that offends you,” I said.

“Not at all,” he said, “but I can tell you, you had a good time.”

Upstairs a handsome boy in a blue singlet was bopping along to the music. Anyone who even caught his glance he would approach. “Oh no mate, I’m straight,” he would claim. All that I watched said something on the lines of “Yeah, whatever,” and carried on with their conversations.

In the far corner, by the pool table, was a chap I do remember chatting to in the toilets the night before. He was a tall thin shearer complete with flannel shirt, brimmed hat and a front tooth missing. There was something so incredibly physically attractive about him, even though he was with his wife and you completely knew he was “Out-of-Bounds”. Anyway, we’d got talking at some time, I think it was because I had commented on his hat; it was a very nice hat. So there is me talking about this fantastic hat and he was talking about how he was straight, and I think “well done” to him, though I can’t work out why he was in this bar – perhaps he as staying the night, it’s very cheap and very central. But as we talk he tells me he was going to sue that movie – you know the one, that movie – Brokeback Mountain – as it painted a negative image of shearers and suggested that all “cowboys” they were gay. “I was gonna sue, you can’t do that sort of thing, it’s wrong,” he said. I dried my hands and left.

On the walls of the toilets are posters for AIDS awareness, which are great thing. This horrible – yet completely preventable – disease continues to grow. It did bother me, though that the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities – or QAHC. My trouble is if you pronounce it with the ‘Q” being hard it says “kak”, which is not the best promotion of Queenslandic health. On saying that, if you say the ‘Q” with a faked “U” it would come out “kwak”, which is even worse, being the worst possible advertisement of northern Australian AIDS related awareness. It did get me thinking – what they needed was to rebadge themselves as the Queensland Association of Medical Awareness – or QAMA (“khama”) or Queensland AIDS Caring Communities’ Alliance, or “kwakka”, or perhaps I’ve just been overly influence by my time in Western Australia…

–+–

To cut a long story short, I didn’t get a root and instead simply got incredibly durnk drunk, but still woke up and was able to get out and to the airport with plenty of time before my 12 noon flight back to Sydney.

one more to go…