Saturday, August 14, 2010

The 'Fairsea' docks at Fremantle

Landfall, automotive enamel and oil on hardboard, 90 x 60 cm
(click on image to enlarge)

This painting is from a very small black and white photo taken of my family upon our arrival in Australia as émigrés from war-torn Europe. Our ship, the Fairsea (link here), had just docked briefly in Fremantle on its passage to Melbourne, our destination. But we got off the boat just so our feet could be on Australian soil and we could be sure the dream was real. 

I didn't know much about Australia other than that it had poisonous snakes and you could fry eggs on rocks in the desert sun. And that it had never known war. No more scrambling through the rubble of bombed-out buildings searching for few pfennig of scrap metal, for me.

To my right sit my mother and father. To my left, my brother. All are dead now.

I sit in my blue corduroy bib-trousers, my best and favourite piece of clothing. I could still wear them at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp (here and here) but at Glenroy Primary School i learnt that often one has to discard what one loves, and hide what one is, in order to fit in.

Thank you Ritaflo for your nostalgic portrait of me (link) in my beloved bib trousers, school satchel on my back.

I have made the figures small because i felt very small. I have located the group on a featureless black surround because I had arrived in Terra Incognita (link). I have, ever since, struggled to get my bearings.

This is still a self-portrait. But it also marks the beginning of some family portraits i have commenced based on family snaps (photos) from my formative years.

I want to paint the recollected family rather than the physical family, the echoes of emotion rather than naturalistic representation.

Stay tuned, gentle reader.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Thing of Rags and Patches

Thing of Rags, fabric, crepe bandages and oil on board, 60 x 70 cm

A wandering minstrel I —
A thing of shreds and patches ...
Through every passion ranging,
And to your humours changing
I tune my supple song!

from A Wandering Minstrel, I , Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado

“Après un certain âge tout homme est responsable do son visage.” Albert Camus in La Chute, aka The Fall

"At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves".   George Orwell's final entry in his notebooks.

My journey into expressive mark-making in portrait painting has led me to search for heavier texture. I was seeking for a low-cost solution that would bulk the surface into a decided relief, and in itself add underlying texture. I wanted a creative process that was essentially constructivist, building up an image of my face rather as i have been constructed over decades through the agency of social learning and personal experience.

I found a satisfying symbolism in using bandages to form the substructure of my self-portrait. They brought to mind the Invisible Man made visible, Frankenstein's creature taped and tacked together, the Mummy risen from its sarcophagus, trailing the emblems of its internment.

view of the thickness of paint compared to 4mm thick board

In a sense, each of us is a creation. First we are created physically by our parents. And then socially by our families, schools and friends.

And ultimately, we create our own selves through our life choices. Over the decades, within the limits of our genes, we craft our bodies and our character.

Camus and George Orwell would have us believe we thereby craft our own faces after decades of self-expression.

This is what it feels like to have mine.

close-up (detail) of A Thing of Rags