Grasping a tear in the rain

Fans of old sci-fi might be familiar with Bladerunner and in particular, the lines

“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… [laughs] Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like [coughs] tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”

If you haven’t, have a look here

I wouldn’t say my art piece was inspired by the lines, rather, the lines articulated what I felt about life and art. The drawings were doodles made in response to information flowing through my mind during university lectures. In a sense, each one is a raindrop transformed into a tear that I am briefly grasping before it inevitably slips between my fingers and is lost in the rain once more.

Tears in the Rain (2010)

Tears in the Rain (2010)

Thinking about “Taboo” in a new way

meetingplacecanberra

 

There is a personality that likes boundaries and in the art world, those boundaries have created a taboo on cultural appropriation. Then there are people like me who exist and operate across the boundaries. Genetically and culturally, there just isn’t category that I belong or want to belong to.

In a 2010 exhibition titled Meeting Place  (named after the Aboriginal word from where Canberra came from) which both expressed my individual personality and transgressed the the attempt to impose boundaries in art. The exhibition was a collection of my works that had been influenced by Australian Aboriginal art, Asian art, traditional Australian art and European art.

 

In art, does education blind us to the truth?

Doors of Perception (2013)

Doors of Perception (2013)

I’ve always been quite fascinated with the William Blake quote,

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

The  idea that social construction, either by culture or education, could blind someone to possibilities was a theme that seemed to have been picked up by Pablo Picasso when he said,

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” 

It was also an idea that inspired Kasimir Malevich to produce a manifesto for Suprematism, which was basically Abstract Expressionism. According to Malevich,

“Suprematism is the rediscovery of pure art which, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of “things.”

Ironically, the idea that education somehow prevents us from seeing has filtered into educational institutions. To apply the theory, many art educators don’t teach. Instead, art students basically do what they want and then justify to the teachers why they deserve a high distinction. Peter Timms gave an example of the type of art this produces in his book, “What’s Wrong with Contemporary Art”

“I remember seeing an exhibition at the Canberra School of Art which comprised a series of constructions using forms of abuse against gay men: the words ‘poofta’ and ‘faggot’ for example, were spelt out in Lego or woven into little tapestries. Naturally, one assumed that their perpetrator was gay and therefore using the terms ironically, although no specific clue was provided. Had he been a skinhead fascist, he probably would not have got to honours level. It was all very fetching, of course, but I wondered what did this student actually have to say and how was he demonstrating, through these rather desultory tableaux, that he had actually learnt anything during his years at art school. All the same, he got his Phd. The important thing was that his work looked the part, that it expressed the right attitudes, and that it lent itself to written or verbal explanation.”

Basically, a belief in the importance of escaping indoctrination has become a form of indoctrination in many art institutions.

Looking through art history, I could have used a written or verbal explanation to make an argument about where I sit on the issue, but I find that words can only take me so far. Words tend to be the tools of the logical mind, the realm of definition, but visual art takes us beyond that definition and beyond those narrow chinks in our cavern.

Art, my umbilical chord to the world

Many artists want to express their individuality through their work. I can understand the appeal but for me art is almost like an umbilical chord to the world around me. Consequently, wherever I have lived, my art has allowed me to tap into something in my surroundings and in turn be nourished by it.

While I could give me examples of my art style changing in response of my environment, the evolving motif of the DNA serpent perhaps best indicates my approach. It commenced when I was thinking of the Australian expression, “as mad as a cut snake”, which means crazy. As I played with oil paints, an image of a threaded snake unravelling around a tornado appeal on the board before me.

As Mad as a Cut Snake

As Mad as a Cut Snake (1999)

About 6 years later, I returned for a holiday in Australia after living in Asia for a number of years. With my eyes changed from foreign experience, I looked at my homeland with an awakened spirit of curiosity. In particular, I felt an especially close attraction to the environment and I spent some time walking along river banks and sitting under tress. Additionally, I read through a book on Australian art and came across the quote from a 19th century bushman:

“A queer country, so old that as you walk on and on, there’s a feeling comes over you that you are gone back to Genesis.”

It was a quote that resonated with me, but I was not sure why. As I thought about it, I painted a picture of my split snake with threads around an apple. In my mind, it was partly a metaphor of the kind of sentiments expressed in the William Blake quote:

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

My thoughts of genesis didn’t just access the story of genesis within the bible or the ideas of William Blake, it also accessed the story of genesis as told in many Aboriginal religions. These stories propose that a great rainbow serpent emerged from the earth and as it writhed from side to side, all the animals and plants of the world emerged from its body. In a way, the story of the rainbow serpent reminded with of my scientific knowledge of DNA in that it speaks of a common origin between all plants and animals, which is told in our DNA. Specifically, we share over 98% of our genes with some chimps and 80 % with cows and 60% with bananas. I like to think of those origins as it encourages me to see all the flora and fauna of the world as kind of family.

Conception of Genesis (2006)

Conception of Genesis

After finishing the painting, I returned to Asia where I started experimenting with Chinese ink, then experimenting with Chinese aesthetic approaches to art. When I returned to Australia again, the land once more pulled me. I started splitting sedimentary rocks and in the process, marvelled at the story told with the flow of colours. In a way, I felt like I was holding a sunset in my sunset in my hands and I could understand how thousands of generations of humans before me had looked at such land and thought of a rainbow serpent. Responding to my feelings of flow, I applied my DNA serpent upon the rock, which in turn took my art in a whole new direction.

Threads (2009)

Threads (2009)

With rock as my first choice medium, I became interested in the human story and the story of our relationship to the land and ecosystems around us. From those thoughts, my mind produced Ants Attack their Genes in the Rainbow Serpents DNA.

antsattacktheirgenesintherainbowserprentsdna

Ants Attack Their Genes in the Rainbow Serpent’s DNA

Over the following years, I continued to shape and evolve versions of the snake motif in response to many different issues. I feel like it is a symbol of connectivity and how the lines are drawn and the nature of its integrity speak to me about how I feel about the connectivity.

It was out of that appreciation for connectivity that I developed a philosophy that art is a culture and culture is shared. When it becomes isolated, colours lose their vibrancy and art has no life.

Genesis of i (2010)

Genesis of i (2010)

#arttalk Changing power of the gallery

I was just contemplating that the ability for artists to profit from work stems from the construction of boundaries that separate artists from non-artists and art from non-art. Most non-western countries have not had these boundaries. As a result, art has been a part of life, not a segment of it to be bought and sold.

The gallery was the key western institution that allowed the boundaries to be built between the art and non-art world. Ironically, the gallery (and its media arms) also provided the means for western artists to profit by expanding the boundaries in a way that allowed the artists to be seen as influential.  For example, Marcel Duchamp put a urinal into a gallery and said it was art. In this way, he took a form of creativity that might be found in a bathroom display room and gave it an elitist quality. Andy Warhol did something similar with his prints. Specifically, he took creative imagery that might be found on supermarket shelves or in advertising agencies, put it in a gallery and again gave it an elitist quality. Finally, Damien Hirst put a preserved shark in a gallery. Basically, all he did was take something that might be found in a well resourced biology department, put it in a gallery, and then have himself applauded as an innovative artist.

In response to criticisms that his work could be done by anyone, Hirst would respond, “But you didn’t make it did you.” It wasn’t a fair comment. Not everyone had access to the gallery or its associated media machine to celebrate the revolutionary work. In short, many had done the same thing, but they didn’t have access to the right galleries to expand the definition of art.