I had four months in isolation this year when I found it impossible to lift a pencil or brush, despite having time on my hands. A combination of anxiety, depression and brain fog due to being locked down during the covid pandemic made it very hard to focus or concentrate. I could barely get out of bed in the morning and despite feeling lonely, I found it hard to talk to friends, even through social media.
Three weeks ago, I escaped to rural Victoria on a care visit to my Mum and sister, who had fractured a wrist and fibula respectively. I had a covid test when I arrived and isolated for three nights in a hotel. Then… I was free! I feel for my Melbourne friends who are still under a curfew, although a bubble for single people living alone has been introduced. We will get through this, but it has been tough on everyone in different ways, according to their living situation.
For the first time in months I was able to do some quick sketches on paint colour swatches. I can feel my artistic motivation returning 🙂
Recently I noticed in the new seasons fashions in my local boutique, there was a lot of pink. Fuschia, cranberry, peach, hot pink etc. I resolved to buy a few new items of clothing because I can’t remember the last time we had so much strong pink around.
Strangely when I popped in to see my florist friend, she also mentioned that the trend in flowers is also currently ‘pink’. I was inspired to get out my pink paints and my beloved fluoro pink at the studio:
The other interesting thing about pink is how emotive a colour it is. From babyhood, girls are traditionally dressed in pink and boys in blue… I have heard people say they hate pink! Shocking Pink was the signature colour of Elsa Schiaperelli. Bright pinks certainly polarise opinion. I can unashamedly say I love pink 💕 and also red and pink together (as seen in Marimekko designs). Viva la rose!
My friend David graduated from RMIT Visual Arts (Sculpture) recently. The RMIT graduate show was amazing, a rabbit warren of rooms in three buildings on Swanston Street. My main criticism was that instead of having labels on the work, or even numbers, there are maps of the various rooms and spaces. This makes it really hard to work out whose work you are looking at. (There’s nothing to stop students making their own labels though!)
Highlights for me were some of sculptural pieces (in particular the orange spectacular by Fiz) and some hanging rice paper works by Yanqi Zhao. I also loved a glowing red/pink sphere but unfortunately could not find the artist’s name.
The exhibition was well worth another look but unfortunately it closes on November 27. Well done, RMIT graduates!
When I was at the White on White opening I remembered an idea I’d had before when at exhibition openings — photographing a series of people’s shoes. The idea of portraits of people’s shoes interests me, and it’s interesting how many people feel braver in wearing colourful/wacky accessories like earrings or shoes than in their clothing. I think the photos give a good sense of the event as well…
Presenting the first installment of a series:
White on White: celebrating 20 years of the Fiona Myer Award at Victoria University, 18 November 2019.
Last night I attended an exhibition opening held by Victoria University, my old art school. Fiona Myer has been the patron of VU’s Visual Arts course for the past 20 years, and every graduate show she awards art prizes (one for a travel proposal) for a couple of lucky students.
For White on White, eight previous award winners were invited to submit work on the concept of ‘white’ and the interpretations were varied and interesting. It was also lovely to catch up with some former fellow students and lecturers.
Love Letters by En-En See (detail)
Love Letters by En-En See (detail)
My favourite piece is by En-En See, called Love Letters. At first I wasn’t sure if it was an artwork, because it is made up of a number of hand cut vinyl flowers, scattered seemingly randomly, on the floor. It wasn’t taped or roped off and there weren’t any signs saying ‘do not touch’, so I assumed it was part of a decorative install. People walked on them and some of them got crumpled and folded over, just like real flowers would. En-En explained that the artwork was a response to a story about a white flower that grows in halves – one half grows near the sea, the other in the mountains, and together they form one perfect bloom (based on the legend of Nakapau). I’m a big fan of ephemeral art and this was a beautiful piece. I loved the way it wasn’t precious and roped off, like most art work, and was in fact more like street art, which slowly deteriorates in the weather, or gets peeled off or covered or tagged, evolving over time.
The exhibition is at White Story House, 48 Kelso Street, Cremorne for two days only, and closes 20 November 2019.
I find reading a great inspiration for my work and a pleasure, in fact I’ve been a bookworm since childhood. My favourite books from 2019 include: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s depressing, bleak and heartbreaking, but also wonderful, especially in its depiction of friendship. French Exit by Patrick de Witt (witty, charming and hilarious) and Less by Andrew Sean Greer, about a 50ish middle aged novelist who has been dumped by his lover, are both good reads. The Last Days of Jeanne D’Arc by Ali Alizadeh was a touching portrayal of Jeanne D’Arc’s life and exciting behind the scenes history, and I also loved Rules for Visiting by Jessica Frances Kane. This is a quietly wonderful novel that draws you into May Attaway’s (botanist, tree lover and introvert) world. All highly recommended.
Instagram is a great platform for visual artists and looking at art. I’ve found some amazing artists there while scrolling around looking for inspiration. Three of my favourite insta artists are:
Melissa McGill is an abstract artist from Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work combines painting, and drawing in a free sketchy way and her use of colour is subtle. She works on canvas and paper and lives in the desert. I love the freedom and the layers of texture and colour in her paintings.
Claire des Jardins, another abstract painter, uses bright juicy colour and often pours and drips paint onto her canvases. She lives in Quebec, Canada and paints full time in her studio. Her work is exuberant and makes me feel happy.
Melbourne artist and illustrator Miranda Costa or ‘McDrawn’ draws and paints realistic and fantasy images, often of birds and flowers. Her work is delicate, painstaking and inspired by nature, and very beautiful.
I recently came across an 80 year old female artist I’d never heard of. She was a pioneer of the feminist art movement in the 1960s and 70s in the US.
Her early working life was lonely and she was mostly broke. “I didn’t make myself an outsider,” she says. “The art world made me an outsider. Of course, isolation is essential to the creative act. You have to be with yourself, with your ideas. Virginia Woolf talked about it as fishing: you sit on the shore, you drop your line, and you wait for the fish to jump. But I also had to protect myself from the craziness, all the antagonism, around me. It was difficult. I’m not going to say it was anything else. Not everybody could have managed it.”
What did she sacrifice along the way? “Children. There was no way on this earth I could have had children and the career I’ve had. But you know what? I don’t care how much I had to give up. This was what I wanted. You have to make choices. You can’t have everything in life.”
As for her elaborate 1979 megasculpture The Dinner Party, a provocatively feminist work which celebrates the lives and work of 1,038 notable women, you can forget what the critics say (the late Robert Hughes called it: “Mainly cliché… with the colours of a Taiwanese souvenir factory”; Hilton Kramer of the New York Times called it: “Very bad art… failed art… art so mired in the pieties of a cause that it quite fails to capture any independent artistic life of its own”
With three retrospective exhibitions in the UK in 2012 and increasing acclaim for her work in the past decade, she has finally achieved the respect she deserves. Her famous work The Dinner Party comprises triangular table laid with 39 place settings, each one designed to reflect the accomplishments of a woman – included are Hildegard of Bingen, Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf. Beneath the table is a ‘heritage floor’, the names of a further 999 women (Catherine of Aragon, Colette, Clytemnestra) inscribed on its tiles. It sounds uncontroversial, celebrating, as it does, the history of women through applied arts such as embroidery and china painting. But then you look at the plates. Each one is decorated with a symbol that resembles a vulva. Depending on your point of view, this is either reductive, vulgar and semi-pornographic, or it’s celebratory, taboo-breaking and bracingly political.
Art-world statistics, in particular, still make for depressing reading. Work by women artists comprises just 3–5% of major permanent collections in the US and Europe. “It’s alarming. In our institutions, women are still an add-on to a male-centred curriculum,” she says.
Born in England to a wealthy family, artist Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) lived most of her life in Mexico and died aged 94 in Mexico City. She was a rebellious girl, expelled from two schools, discouraged from pursuing art by her parents, but finally allowed to attend art school in London.
She became involved in the Surrealist art movement, meeting Max Ernst and moving to France to live with him in 1937. When Ernst was interned as an enemy alien in 1939, Carrington left France for America via Madrid, where she had a spectacular mental breakdown and spent months in an asylum.
The experience of emotional suffering, painful medical treatment, and forced incarceration profoundly affected her, and despite the trauma of this period, it led Carrington to understand the alchemical potential of the body, an idea that would deeply inform her later work. When she learned that her family had arranged for her to stay in another mental institution in South Africa—presumably for the long term—Carrington hatched an escape plan, enlisting help from a Mexican diplomat she had met through Pablo Picasso. Carrington and the diplomat quickly married in Lisbon, and secured boat passage to Mexico.
In Europe, the rise of fascism meant restricted movement and ever-tighter borders, but Mexico flung its doors open to the world. An artistic and intellectual community flourished: European artists like André Breton, Remedios Varo (who became a great friend to Carrington), as well as revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky, encountered Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Carrington’s paintings explore transformation, with a menangerie of animals, humans, and hybrid creatures. She often painted a white horse or a hyena as a symbol of herself in these magical compositions. In her paintings, bodies are unstable, moving between genders, species, life, and death, but her paintings have a dreamy amorphous quality, they are not macabre or dark. They are like strange dreams or fantastic portals to another reality.
The first artwork I saw of street artist Vexta was the dramatic Orb Rising wall art facing the subway entrance to Flinders Street Station on Degraves Street. I was immediately smitten with the fluoro colours, bold geometric triangular shapes inside a arch, and strategic dripping, which adds a looseness to the composition. It’s stunning!
Vexta is a self taught artist from Sydney, Australia. She mainly paints geometric shapes, birds, humans and animals. She is very successful and has completed street art commissions all over the world, and lives in New York city and Tulum, Mexico. I’m saving up to buy one of her circular orb prints.
Her website has more information about her work and practice.