Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Friday

Easter Friday, charcoal and oil on paper, 90 x 60 cm

Good Friday, season of crucifixion and time for reflection on our crosses.

Time to look in a mirror.

I head outside to my cold studio, take charcoal and paint in hand, just for 15 minutes, before returning to warm rooms and warm hot-cross buns

I hang the mirror next to my easel. What do i see? I can't think what i see. I can only muster enough discipline to make these few quick marks.

My arm arcs rapidly over the gesso'd craft paper as the the CD player sings:
"He was despiz-ed,
  Despiz-ed and re-ject-ed,
  Rejek-ed-ded of men,
  A man of sorrows,
  A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief".
Enough. I toss the brush into turps (even Pilate washed his hands).

I flee back inside for  the comfort of a Lindt bunny to leave Dorian Grey out here, alone, to face the music.

Meanwhile, back safe inside with a cup of tea, Dr. Jekyll has reverted, to feel as wise and normal as the daily paper.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fukushima Hero

Fukushima Hero IV, oil monoprint on paper, 42 x 30 cm

The fourth work in my Fukushima 50 Series, a contemplation of the anonymous workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Nuclear experts in various parts of the world are saying some of these workers will most certainly die from their radiation exposure. This risk is not incidental. These workers have knowingly worked beyond the safe levels of exposure. TEPCO and the government seem only too willing to allow them to do so.

So in this work i wanted to capture some sense of kamikaze self immolation while at the same time exposing the violence being perpetrated upon these men. It is bloodless, it is technical, it is hidden under hazmat suits. But it is violence nonetheless. It is a suicide mission nonetheless.

The work was made by crushing a paper respirator mask into the wet oil-paint of the monoprint and leaving it in a press for a week under pressure.

I felt this was an apt process, symbolic of the intense and unremitting pressure these men have had to work under - the respirator and hazmat suit iconic of these latter-day samurai.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tide Out on the Tamar River, "Tamar Mud"

Tamar Mud, oil on cotton, 122 x 91 cm
(prints and cards for sale from HERE)

A Tasmanian landscape painting from Launceston, this work is a celebration of the Tamar’s mud, inexorable, ambiguous,  eye-sore, engineering conundrum, despoiler of moorings, shipping hazard, tourism turn-off, flood risk; yet also home of gastropods, wetland bird platform, hydrodynamic marvel, shifting installation, thing of beauty.  

As much as Launceston hates it, the mud is integral to the city. The CBD is visible from its glistening flats. Effluvia of the Cataract Gorge, it is the child and rememberancer of the ‘untamed’, come to tame the heart of urban commerce.

Whether we keep watch, or whether we sleep, it settles and silently goes about its business - the business of challenging our certainties and unsettling our imaginations.

I entered this painting in the 2011 Tasmanian Art Award, 9 April to 17 April, where it hung by a bay window in the wonderful old "Eskleigh" manor, named after the Esk River that flows down to the Launceston Cataract Gorge).

This 'post-modern' work is banded into three zones. The upper formalist zone references the structure of, and human control inherent in, city buildings, levies and parks; a middle transition zone (between city and nature ) of fractured reflections; and a lower zone of free flowing marks where the image, like a projective Rorschach, emerges from the plasticity of the medium itself to signify mud - deep and dark as the Unconscious and all those primal forces that ooze and sweep down the Cataract Gorge.

But ...

It didn't sell at the Tasmanian Art Award exhibition and is now back home in my studio.

What to do next?

Try and place it with a gallery?

Just let it gather dust until one day i have a landscape exhibition?

Well, it can hang about for a while (big and cumbersome as it is) as a learning exercise.

Friday, April 15, 2011

'The Case Worker' by Konrád György (George Konrad), cover by Harry Kent

front cover of The Case Worker

My painting, Egon Schiele III, has just been published on the cover of  Hungarian writer Konrád György's novel, The Case Worker.

Korean publishing firm,  Sigongsa, chose a painting from my Egon Schiele series for the book cover of their Korean translation of The Case Worker.  I am doubly delighted.

Firstly, because i find the idea of my painting appearing on book stands around South Korea most satisfying. Somehow it appeals even more than being in an exhibition, maybe because my work enters into the lives of people where they live and work rather than being set apart in a special building. I guess that's also why i was so comfortable exhibiting and selling through The Edge Cafe .

Secondly, because my work appears on the cover of a creative work of fiction, The Case Worker, by a  renowned writer - Konrád György (aka George Konrad in the English-speaking publishing world).

I am proud that my work should be in any way associated with a thinker, novelist and essayist who has been such an advocate of individual freedom in both word and deed. 

Konrad took part in the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet occupation, his writing was banned in the 1970's and 80's because of his out-spoken defence of human dignity and freedom, and he has been imprisoned for raising his voice in defence of human worth. 

The Case Worker sets the mood in its opening paragraph:

Go on, I say to my client. Out of habit, because I can guess what he’s going to say, and doubt his truthfulness. He complains some more, justifies himself, puts the blame on others. From time to time he bursts into tears. Half of what he says is beside the point; he reels off platitudes, he unburdens himself. He thinks his situation is desperate; seems perfectly normal to me. He swears his cross is too heavy; seems quite bearable to me. He hints at suicide; I let it pass. He thinks I can save him; I can’t tell him how wrong he is.

At one point the case worker reflects on his role working with damaged and damaging human beings:

"I must huddle and render judgement. Don't throw the newborn into the garbage pail. Don't let your infant starve. If baby is ill, call a doctor. It is not advisable to tie a baby to his crib, sit him down on a hot stove, shut him up in the ice box, put his finger in an electric socket, or beat him with a trouser belt, rolling pin, chair leg, carpet beater, wooden spoon, broom stick, clothes line or shoe heel. Refrain from raping teenage girls, particularly your own. While making love do not crush your sleeping child against the wall. Do not feed him brandy, don't pawn his winter coat, don't give your girl friend his supper, don't let him be devoured by lice, don't call his mother a whore or his father a bastard, don't threaten him with your service pistol, don't send him out begging, don't sell him to elderly queers, don't urinate in his school bag, don't leave him behind on the train, don't cheat him, don't laugh at him, don't shout him down, don't bellow at him, don't shame him; in a word, as far as possible respect the innocence of his beginnings."

I love that, like myself,  Konrad has a background in psychology and sociology. I love that Konrad's writing (he has been called the "true heir of Kafka") is seen as an anti-sentimental exploration of the human condition,  as a striving after honesty, as mapping human limitations and frailty yet remaining unbowed and undefeated in the face of those. I love his sober celebration of what it is to be human in an imperfect world.

I can identify with that. It is what i have been striving for in my portrait painting. 

One reviewer summaries the thrust of the novel with "We don’t get anywhere in the plot because there is nowhere to go. Here we are, we’re getting nowhere, but we keep going."

Another reviewer concludes that The Case Worker, "is a bleak and grim book. I know there are lots of readers who quite understandably prefer not to read books like this. But if you can handle it, the writing is stellar, and the questions raised are profound."

And i would like to think that this may be true of my portraits. They are not what one would buy to decorate a wall. I don't even offer them for sale (though i have requests to buy through Saatchi Online that i have ignored to date).

Perhaps Konrad's unflinching exploration of the human condition is what Sigongsa saw in my work. Perhaps it is the reason they chose my uncompromising depiction of Egon Schiele in this painting - Egon the damaged, yet Egon the beautiful. I hope so.

What i do know is that Minji Kim of Sigongsa has been a real delight to work with. Friendly, efficient, hard working, she had the whole thing done and dusted in a couple of days!

And i love what she has done with the painting on the back cover as well. And the cute little logo from the painting on the spine. My complimentary copies have just arrived in the mail fresh from the printer (and the royalty payment won't go amiss either).

back cover of The Case Worker

Thank you Sigongsa, thank you Minji Kim, and especially thank you Konrád György.

Anyone wishing to buy a copy of this Korean translation can do from this bookshop,

헝가리 현대문학계의 살아 있는 거장 콘라드 죄르지의 대표작
콘라드, 이 책 한 권으로 유럽 문학의 중심에 서다
콘라드 죄르지는 2002년 노벨문학상 수상자 임레 케르테스와 더불어, 헝가리 현대문학계의 양대 산맥을 이루는 거장이다. 헝가리 문학을 논할 때 가장 먼저 언급되는 그는, 팔순을 바라보는 현재까지 유럽 현대문학계의 ‘명예 대사’이자 ‘살아 있는 전설’로서, 끊임없는 집필 활동은 물론 왕성한 대외적 활동을 이어가고 있다.

or read more about the book at this Korean blog.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cataract Gorge in flood, "Wild Water"

Wild Water, oil on cotton, 91 x 122 cm  SOLD

This recent painting is my celebration of the Cataract Gorge in flood. The paint was applied with abundance, vigour and speed in the spirit of the raging waters themselves.

I entered this painting in the 2011 Tasmanian Art Award, 9 April to 17 April, where it presently hangs with a satisfying red sticker on the label.

The Launceston Cataract Gorge is an amazing place , all the more so for being adjacent to the CBD. Tamed to a sedate trickle by hydro-engineering and picnic tables, the Gorge patiently dozes under the keel of tourist boat rides.

But annually it wakes, shakes off the tourist excursions, and rages towards the city centre to surge spume under Kings Bridge. Alongside observation platforms its waters heave and buck with gouging force, brown with mud, whipped white with unpenned fury (see a Youtube clip).

In this spirit, the paint was liberally applied with energy and speed. Picasso once said, "If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse... but surely you will see the wildness!". I made that my aim. Stylized dark and brooding rock forms combine with stylized swirling and roiling white marks for water to create a composition of diagonals, a wedge driving inexorably towards the light - and towards human habitation.

Locals make the annual pilgrimage, bringing their children, just as they were brought when they were children, to do homage. They stand, spell-bound and silenced by cusec thunder, awed by primal force, elated and unnerved by the Untamed and the Unstoppable.

Painted last December. The labour on this painting was one of the reasons why my portrait production dried up at the time. I had sold an oil landscape the previous year at the the Tasmanian Art Award but that was significantly smaller in size.

I figured i haven't got time to waste, so went for broke.   


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fukushima 50

Fukushima Hero I, oil monoprint on paper, 42 x 30 cm

Continuing my series on Fukushima Daiichi power plant nuclear disaster, i wanted to dwell on the brave anonymous souls who ventured down into the dark tunnels awash with radioactive water.

Fukushima 50 is the name the media gave to a group of employees of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Station who remained on-site after 750 other workers were evacuated following a serious fire at the plant's unit 4 on 15 March 2011. Since then, over 1,000 other workers have re-joined them, working in shifts of 50 men due to the extremely hazardous radiation present. These include firemen, power-line electricians, soldiers, engineers, young and old. The Japanese Prime minister has said these men are prepared to die. At least 20 have already been injured, some with radiation burns.

Fukushima Hero II, oil monoprint on paper, 42 x 30 cm

I had the sense of them being x-ray ghosts ambiguously emerging from or being swallowed by the darkness all around - hazmat forms vaguely discernible through radioactive steam and the acrid smoke of burning generators and burnout out reactor pumps.

I am moved by the words of one such worker :

“In the midst of the tsunami alarm  at 3am in the night when we couldn’t even see where we going, we carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realisation that this could be certain death. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work. Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away.”

Fukushima Hero III, oil monoprint on paper, 42 x 30 cm

The reality may also have included business suit wearing engineers, draped in blue dust-coats, desperately twiddling knobs in brightly lit clinically clean control rooms and corridors. They too faced the radiation.

However, for me, these images are the doomed and dirty Fukushima Heroes , the Fukushima 50 of my imagination.

The three images were made using a monoprint process.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Fukushima Samurai

Fukushima Samurai, charcoal and acrylic on paper, 59 x 42 cm

This work continues my personal response to the events at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Tokyo Electric's President, Masataka Shimizu, was too upset to apologize in person. The task of ritual apology, whatever that is worth, was delegated further down the food-chain to Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata.

Shimizu rested, as nameless neo-samurai  - the Fukushims 50 aka 'Atomic Samurai' - waded into radioactive waters, leaky protective gear failing to fend off the water-born radioactive isotopes soaking in round their ankles. Working in shifts of 50 at a time, Japan is hailing them as heroes. Because they have already exceeded the allowable radiation dose deemed safe, the government sprang into action. Leak-proof hazmat suits? Nope. It simply raised the legal maximum radiation dose.

When Shimizu did appear on TV to 'apologize', rather than accept a president's responsibility for his company's safety practices and contingency planning, he blamed "marvels of nature that we have never experienced before" - like earth quakes and tsunamis in Japan, i suppose.

I don't expect TEPCO executives to immolate themselves like the samurai of old as an honorable way out of their loss of face (and to avoid facing up to their failure). I'm not actually all that concerned about their sense of inadequacy. Rather, I'm concerned about the victims of the failed power-plant and of the ineffective remedial measures to contain the radiation to date.

I'm even concerned for the 1,000 tsunami dead whose bodies cannot be recovered in the radiation zone. And how do you cremate a radio-active corpse without creating further airborne contamination? How will they rest in peace?

But especially I'm concerned about the white hazmat-clad samurai working down in those dark tunnels. I wish the company's executives would poetically lead from the front.  Pull on a hazmat suit and climb down into those water-logged tunnels to turn whatever valves need turning. Share the radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium with your nameless workers.

Now that would be accountability.

That would make an apology worth something.

To my weary eyes, that would be Samurai.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Portrait of Fukushima Daiichi

Fukushima Future, mixed media on paper, 50 x 42 cm

This work is a personal response to the events at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I am particularly struck by the depersonalisation of the elderly  and infants  receiving radiation screening.

One minute you're a mum going shopping. A piece of technology reacts when placed near you or your child by an anonymous masked figure wearing a white-cowled blue-striped jump-suit. Next minute, through no fault or choice of your own, your social status changes from 'shopper' to that of 'public safety risk' and 'medical case'.

I had a similar sense a couple of years back when i was flying to Europe and the swine flu panic was in full swing. At Asian airports everyone was running round in white surgical masks.

At every international airport i passed through a temperature scanner. If the device were to detect a fever, i would have been pulled out of line and marched off somewhere to enter a traveller’s limbo.

The situation is even more pronounced now with backscatter X-ray security scanners for airport passenger screening. The assurances law enforcment agencies gave, that the images would not and could not be stored turned out to be false.

Depersonalized, de-humanised images of travellers stripped of all dignity and privacy in the name of preventing terrorism flicker off screens.

The State has turned on its own citizens, airlines on their own customers, all in the name of “public safety”.

Meanwhile, helicopter gunships loose their canons at mere moving images on their sensor screens, people as Nintendo targets, as in the case of the recent Bagdad attack on driver (Saeed Chmagh) and photographer (Namir Noor-Eldeen) employed by the Reuters news service

Each in our own way, we all have a Fukushima future.