‘A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.’
― Walter Benjamin, responding to a small ink print drawn by the artist Paul Klee. Encountering this excerpt, it appeared to me as the distilled brilliance of an extraordinary intellect responding to an artwork in a deeply personal, idiosyncratic manner. This is how one should respond to art - with freedom and imagination!
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.
Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:
Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now
Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business
Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
- Ted Hughes
‘The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or that kid that was your partner in line last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.’
- J. D. Salinger, Catcher In The Rye.
This is me with my freshly printed-and-framed work ‘You Greet Her Ghost’- I’m delighted that it’s all ready to be exhibited as a finalist image in the 2016 RACT Tasmanian Portraiture Prize! The exhibition opens 17th September at the Long Gallery, Salamanca Place. If you are in Hobart between 17th September - 1st October please do come along to see some wonderful portraiture!
‘The unexamined life is surely worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining? It seems a strange question until one realises how much of our so-called mental life is about the lives we are not living, the lives we are missing out on, the lives we could be leading but for some reason are not.’
- Adam Phillips
‘A rough sound was polished until it became a smoother sound, which was polished until it became music. Then the music was polished until it became the memory of a night in Venice when tears of the sea fell from the Bridge of Sighs, which in turn was polished until it ceased to be and in its place stood the empty home of a heart in trouble.’
- Mark Strand, The Everyday Enchantment of Music
‘We are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.’
- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Exhilaration is the Breeze
We soberly descend,
- Emily Dickinson
May passes by quickly. I’d been working a lot and had no time take photographs or write. Life feels colourless when I am not doing something creative. Unless my mind is lively with swirling images and words I fall into nothingness.
Sensing the awful emptiness beginning to set in, I make a solitary escape to a cabin on the east coast of Tasmania to spend a few nights. After driving for hours I arrive in the little town where I’d be staying. Entering my cabin, I delight intensely as I enclosed myself in my own little world. I unpacked and made myself a small nest filled with music, books and delicious food. Revelling in my space I’d wake up dawn to write and plan a photo series that I hoped to one day turn into a book. I began to feel wonderful little embers of creative passion glowing within me.
In the afternoons I’d go for walks in the nearby national park. I’d found a beautiful river bordered by cold blue stones and swaying, sighing eucalypts. One afternoon I spent hours in the fading afternoon light rock hopping along the riverbed collecting many splendid river-things; wet pebbles and colourful dying leaves. Away from human company I felt the liberty to behave like a child, marvelling at the simple, beautiful things that I’d collected.
Another afternoon was spent sitting on the stones by the water, studying the reflections. I cast my mind over the water like a net and caught the quietness of the place. The light became tangled and golden in the eucalypts, setting fire to the reflections that quavered on the surface like flames. I reached down and trailed my fingers through the trembling impressions on the water. As my finger cut through the reflections they closed again, as though I had never touched them. I imagined that this river, alight with a burning cacophony of colours and shapes, represented eternity and the arched trail of my fingers was my lifetime. Eternity closed so quickly over my little life. The joys and struggles that seem so immense to me were so tiny when compared to the largeness of time and space. The tiny moments of the sublime that occur in everyday life seem all the more fleeting and precious. I considered what the meaning of it all was.
A small rivulet burbled nearby and I noticed two golden ferns, clinging to a stone as the waters of the small cascade swept over them. Earthy, grimy, browning at their edges, the pair of ferns were entwined as they decomposed. They would become increasingly entangled as they decayed, until eventually they would be one and the same piece of blackened detritus. I thought it was exquisitely beautiful. I regarded the pair of ferns as Tom and I. What a wonderful thing it was, that in all of eternity we happened to be trailing our fingers at the same time. Together we would grow old and frail as cascades of time ruthlessly swept over us. We would fade until we were both no more than the same silt intermingled after spending a lifetime entwined by love. Fleeting and meaningless as our lives were to eternity, at least we were meaningful to one another. I took a photograph to serve as a reminder.
It was late summer. The air was heavy with heat and smoke. The sky was filled with haze and an unnatural orange colour. It was a bushfire sky. A frightening sky. About an hour’s drive away a small rural town had been burned to the ground. An uncontrolled bushfire had torn through at such a speed that the locals had no time to evacuate. They threw themselves into the river and crowded under the jetty for shelter. They could do nothing but watch on with tears and smoke stinging their eyes as the fire devoured their homes and left only cinders.
We had been listening to the reports on the radio as we moved our belongings into our new apartment by the sea. In the days prior, I’d been glowing with excitement at the thought of making a home with Tom. I was alight with the wonderful anticipation of creating our own space. Filling shelves with marvellous books, decorating walls with beautiful images, cooking delicious food and planting a small garden. The sentimentality of assembling a home and filling it with love had been burning so brightly in my mind that my heart was breaking for the people who’d had their homes snatched away by the fire.
All of the lifting and unpacking in the heat had left our clothes clinging to us. We went to the river at dusk to cool down. Beams of light angled through the canopy of tall trees lining the river bank. As the sun sank lower, the colours and shadows in the water intensified. We decide to slip out of our clothes and swim. The water embraces me, its cold caress feels incredible. I embrace the present moment, which is all that we ever truly have.
I recall the old saying that you can never step into the same river twice, for new waters are always sweeping all around you. I imagined that river surging was actually time passing. We will never again be the same young people laying together in the same river. The passing of time transforms us. Perhaps we are not the same people as we were, even in the moment just prior. A terrifying idea. I search for Tom’s hand to hold. The endless torrents of time will eventually age us and wear us away. It will sculpt us, smooth us and we will diminish. Over time, will we be smoothed and refined into the essence of who we are, like beautiful river stone? Or perhaps we will simply become smaller and more vulnerable to no particular end. It is difficult to navigate through life together when we are constantly metamorphosing such as this. To attempt to remain together is difficult and lovely and very human.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver
If I look up from my desk I can see the water and the valley beyond framed by the lower branches of the walnut tree. Its leaves reach out like seven-fingered hands to within a few feet of the studio window and its higher branches rustle and sway above the red tiles of the roof. Thirty feet from the doorway the silver-grey, deeply rutted trunk, which measures ten feet around its girth, rises only twelve feet above ground-level before spreading out in a fountain of great limbs. They writhe and twist sixty feet into the air and spread nearly seventy feet from side to side. It is magnificent. It makes me eternally grateful to those of our forebears who planned for future generations rather than for their own. It is certain that whoever planted the seed and tended the sapling did not live to see it reach maturity, but I have a feeling that he knew exactly what he was doing and enjoyed great satisfaction in doing it. When I look at the tree in the dark days of winter, its huge green-black skeleton silhouetted against the ashen sky, or hear its tracery seething in a westerly gale as I lie snug and warm in bed, I wonder who it was that planted this giant for so many generations to enjoy. And in the balmy days of summer when its leaves are overlaid like the breast feathers of a great bird to form high domes of rounded foliage, I wish I could call back this gentle spirit of the past and say: ‘This is your tree. Look at it now, for it is gracious beyond words.
- Norman Thelwell, 1978
This landscape is imbued with stories. The Indigenous Australians had no written words. Instead they recorded their history, shared their accumulated knowledge and their spirituality by telling Dreamtime stories. Told repeatedly, to every generation, since the beginning of time. I can’t pretend to understand the deep, cultural significance that these stories have to the Australia’s First People. However, visiting Central Australia, and reading quite a number of Dreamtime stories led me to consider the nature of stories and truth. I notice a phenomena to which stories, when told repeatedly, are often subject. Over time, a story attains a sort of symmetry which it certainly never had in the beginning. Each retelling buffed off a little of its irregularity. Each time it is told, it is polished a little smoother. I wonder if this refining makes a story less or more true. Whether in becoming less factual, it became more truthful. Whether, with irrelevancies sloughed away, what was left was, if not the actual truth then more the essence of the matter. Perhaps by whittling the story into a symmetrical shape the story has a greater chance of slotting into the pigeonholes of memory. These Dreamtime stories, told and retold for thousands of years, appeared to me as bright, gleaming globes. Perhaps the purest examples humans attempting to describe their existence I have every encountered. I collected them like jewels to store in my memory.
Emblem of a little life that didn’t need all of the love in the world.
What does it feel like to be alive?
Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!
It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.
- Annie Dillard.
The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning
as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.
He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,
how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.
Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,
except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,
you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.
- Billy Collins
Arthur Boyd’s Bride paintings were completed in Melbourne between 1957 and 1959. They were inspired by a journey he took to Central Australia in 1953. He undertook the journey with the intention to fill his sketchbook with aspects of the landscape that caught his attention, however he became increasingly drawn to the plight of Indigenous inhabitants. It was the first time he had witnessed the abject living conditions of the Aboriginal people, who had become dispossessed and detribalised by the inhumane assimilation policies of the 1930s. Their alienation struck a chord with the artist and he created this moving series of images about a about the marriage between a mixed-race Indigenous man and his betrothed, whose racial inheritance is left deliberately unclear. It is ultimately a poetic portrayal of persecuted lovers, suffering and loss. The painting Reflected Bride depicts an Indigenous man peering into a creek at night and seeing a ghostly vision of his bride in the water. The image was extremely moving to me. Arthur Boyd is one of my favourite artists.
Let’s crumple calendars,
Let’s throw ropes around the Moon,
never stop swallowing its linens.
Let’s recline the way the horizon does,
every evening, yawning across Tropic lines.
Let’s fill a hammock with limes.
Let’s fall asleep on the reef,
stare up through clear water at trembling stars.
Let’s climb a coconut tree & squeal like monkeys.
Let’s ride a trade wind like paper airplanes.
Let’s watch the sky wheel & wheel from under straw hats.
Let’s count a billion stars, lose track at a billion minus one,
then start over, until we glitter with white sand.
Let’s tumble together until the earth is flat.
Let me sail like Magellan into you, unfold the maps of your roundness.
Let’s hope for the volcano.
Let’s reinvent the godless universe ballooning.
Let’s crawl into a conch shell & bang on a bongo.
Let’s build a bonfire that boils away the atmosphere.
Let’s sublimate, evaporate, condense.
Let’s get drunk on the real stars—
helium engines strumming our own cores to a glow.
Let me wear your warm skin.
Let’s simplify: skin, nerve, synapse, nucleus, hydrogen, quark, the unpronounceable….
- Mike Dockins
I even hear the mountains
the way they laugh
up and down their blue sides
and down in the water
the fish cry
and the water
is their tears.
I listen to the water
on nights I drink away
and the sadness becomes so great
I hear it in my clock
it becomes knobs upon my dresser
it becomes paper on the floor
it becomes a shoehorn
a laundry ticket
climbing a chapel of dark vines…
it matters little
very little love is not so bad
or very little life
is waiting on walls
I was born for this
I was born to hustle roses down the avenues of the dead.
- Charles Bukowski